Power Doesn’t Corrupt: “For some people, power seems to bring out their best”

Lord Acton was wrong about a lot of things, especially his views on power.

Lets start with the unavoidable fact that Acton hated the idea of abolitionists spreading power to individuals, as he worried greatly about white male slaveholders abruptly losing their concentration of power (treatment of Blacks as property instead of humans).

In other words, Acton hypocritically framed states’ rights as wrong when they abolished slavery (Kansas). Instead he maintained that slaveholders were the noble ones for centralizing power into an elitist Confederacy to deny abolitionist states’ rights — he unmistakably and incorrectly rejected the individual’s right in order to express his strong preference for preservation and expansion of white supremacist tyranny.

Next, from this important context, let’s look at Acton’s most famous phrase taken from one of his letters to Bishop Creighton in 1887.

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


…for some people, power seems to bring out their best. […] In sum, the study found, power doesn’t corrupt; it heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies.

That’s a relatively new study that blows Acton out of the water, and here’s another one:

I demonstrate that when powerholders attribute their power internally, they tend to participate in more self-interested work behaviors, but when they attribute their power externally, they tend to participate in more global prosocial behaviors.

And here’s another one:

Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power

Acton provably and easily seems a terrible fool.

Really these studies just confirm what we already should have known all this time. New research continues to tell us basically the same things the great American politician Robert G. Ingersoll, had been campaigning about and published in 1895:

Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.

Funny how Americans probably won’t recognize one of their best men, the famous Ingersoll. Honestly, how well do you know Ingersoll’s writings and what he did for America?

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), known as The Great Agnostic, traveled the country for more than thirty years lecturing to capacity crowds on more than twelve hundred occasions. He usually talked for three or four hours straight with no notes. His topics ranged from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, from science to religion. His biggest crowds turned out to hear him denounce religion and the Bible. He was no doubt one of the greatest orators in American history.

He was ahead of his time on social issues such as women’s rights, birth control, and equality of the races. Frederick Douglass is said to have stated that , of all the great men of his personal acquaintance, there were only two in whose presence he could be without feeling that he was regarded as an inferior–Abraham Lincoln and Robert Ingersoll. Yet, his name has been all but forgotten.

1862 Portrait of Robert Ingersoll. Source: “The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. 9 (of 12)”

Abraham Lincoln and Robert Ingersoll. Two names that should never be forgotten.

At the same time, it seems far too many people to this day are regularly exposed to Acton’s wrong-headed British white-supremacist nonsense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.