Lord Acton Quote Archive

“Liberty becomes a question of morals more than of politics.”

“Liberty is the harmony between the will and the law.”

“Free trade, to improve the condition of the people and fit them for freedom.”

“Liberty has not only enemies which it conquers, but perfidious friends, who rob the fruits of its victories: Absolute democracy, socialism.”

“Political atheism: End justifies the means. This is still the most widespread of all the opinions inimical to liberty.”

“The object of civil society is justice, not truth, virtue, wealth, knowledge, glory or power. Justice is followed by equality and liberty.”

“All liberty is conditional, limited and therefore unequal. The state can never do what it likes in its own sphere. It is bound by all kinds of law.”

“Inequality: the Basis of society. We combined and put things in common to protect the weak against the strong.”

“Divided, or rather multiplied, authorities are the foundation of good government.”

“Duty [is] not taught by the state.”

“Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends on liberty.”

“Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.”

“Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power.”

“Bureaucracy tries to establish so many administrative maxims that the minister is as narrowly controlled and guided as the judge.”

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

“Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.”

“Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority but force.”

“Everybody likes to get as much power as circumstances allow, and nobody will vote for a self-denying ordinance.”

“Limitation is essential to authority. A government is legitimate only if it is effectively limited.”

“Socrates taught a law independent of the state and superior to it.”

“If we dealt with institutions, antiquity would be low. It realized no liberty. But in the domain of ideas it ranks high.”

“Towns were the nursery of freedom.”

“The central idea of Machiavelli is that the state power is not bound by the moral law. The law is not above the state, but below it.”

“Burke's Speeches from 1790 to 1795: They are the law and the prophets.”

“For it is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy...were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.”

“A liberal is only a bundle of prejudices until he has mastered, has understood, experienced the philosophy of Conservatism.”

“The will of the people cannot make just that which is unjust.”

“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.”

“Absolute power demoralizes.”

“There should be a law to the People besides its own will.”

“Democracy generally monopolizes and concentrates power.”

“The common vice of democracy is disregard for morality.”

“Federalism is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.”

“Federalism: The only barrier to Democracy.”

“Federalism: It is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.”

“Socialism easily accepts despotism. It requires the strongest execution of power -- power sufficient to interfere with property.”

“All partisanship depends on concealment. Mere strong language and special pleading take in nobody.”

“Conscription is not tolerated by a people that understands and loves freedom.”

“Property, not conscience, is the basis of liberty. For the defence of conscience need not arise. Property is always exposed to interference. It is the constant object of policy.”

“Official truth is not actual truth.”

“Political economy cannot be supreme arbiter in politics. Else you might defend slavery where it is economically sound and reject it where the economic argument applies against it.”

“Every doctrine to become popular, must be made superficial, exaggerated, untrue. We must always distinguish the real essence from the conveyance, especially in political economy.”

“Self-preservation and self-denial, the basis of all political economy.”

“There could never be a revolution less provoked by oppression than America. Thenceforth the right of a nation to judge for itself could not be denied.”

“The Americans, having broken the thread in 1776, spliced it together again. They became eminently conservative in 1787.”

“Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”

“In England Parliament is above the law. In America the law is above Congress.”

“The great novelty of the American Constitution was that it imposed checks on the representatives of the people.”

“Live both in the future and the past. Who does not live in the past does not live in the future.”

“What the French took from the Americans was their theory of revolution, not their theory of government — their cutting, not their sewing.”

“The value of history is certainty - against which opinion is broken up.”

“History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.”

“Progress, the religion of those who have none.”

“Government rules the present. Literature rules the future.”

“Politics = the ethics of public life.”

“It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than people fit to govern others.”

“Moral precepts are constant through the ages and not obedient to circumstances.”

“The notion of sin and repentance waned with the belief in authority. Men thought they could make good the evil they did.”

“A public man has no right to let his actions be determined by particular interests. He does the same thing as a judge who accepts a bribe. Like a judge he must consider what is right, not what is advantageous to a party or class.”

“A convinced man differs from a prejudiced man as an honest man from a liar.”

“There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success.”

“The Laws of [Plato], the Politics of [Aristotle], are, if I may trust my own experience the books from which we may learn the most about the principles of politics.”

“The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded.”

“Example is of the first importance in politics, because political calculations are so complex that we cannot trust theory, if we cannot support it by experience.”

“By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes is his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion.”

“The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.”

“[On France:] The country that had been so proud of its kings, of its nobles, and of its chains, could not learn without teaching that popular power may be tainted with the same poison as personal power.”

“There is another world for the expiation of guilt; but the wages of folly are payable here below.”