Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dr. Rao on Lord Acton

his essay, Lord Acton Tends to Corrupt

But it is necessary at this point to note something very central to the particular corruption toward which the Actonian system actually tends. Acton speaks of “power” and not “authority”. If what he really intended to say was that a raw, stubborn, unbending power tended to corrupt, he would have been correct, and would not have encountered the criticism that he did from nineteenth century counterrevolutionary opponents in the Catholic camp. Unfortunately, what Acton meant by “power” was precisely the activity of that mesh of social authorities, guided by a sense of philosophical and religious responsibilities and hierarchical organization, developed by Greco-Roman culture and Catholic thinkers tying natural wisdom together with the message of the Incarnation. It was this mesh that had, through its tendency to heighten awareness of the burden and the exalted mission of authority, tamed illicit strength and hemmed in its possible misuse at the hands of passionate and ignorant men. What Acton, in his assault on a social authority incorrectly identified as raw power was, in fact, urging, was a flight from an accurate and responsible use of a tool demanded by God and well developed, as a “seed of the Logos”, in the natural world of Greece and Rome. What he was really calling for was creation of a social jungle in which the kind of truly raw power that ultimately destroys both the strong and weak would happily flourish. This wicked power, which definitely does tend to corrupt, and, if absolute, corrupt absolutely, would then be limited by absolutely nothing substantive. How could it be? For every effective attempt to control its evil would involve the use of authority of some kind or another, be it philosophical, religious, or traditional, and would be condemned by Acton as a step backwards into tyranny! The irony of this position is only surprising to someone unaware of the whole syllabus of ironies of the modern world that Acton loved so deeply. Remember, just to take one other example, that this civilization is one that praises as a glorious founder of the modern commitment to human liberty a Luther who believed that the concept of free will was a total absurdity.

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