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.

Wrong.

…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.

Largest Art Fraud in History Unveiled: Shocking Scale of Theft From Morrisseau

“Norval Morrisseau (Anishinaabe 1931–2007), Children with Tree of Life, ca. 1980–85” Source: AGH

The Smithsonian provides a long-form story about the sort of open fraud that probably deserves far more attention, especially as we debate plagiarism rising due to AI.

Morrisseau, though justifiably incensed [in 2001 about massive scale theft], wasn’t surprised that imitations of his work were being sold as authentic on the open market. As early as 1991, the Toronto Star reported the artist was complaining about being “ripped off” by fraudsters. But for years Canadian law enforcement did little to investigate the artist’s claims that forgers were imitating his work. Eventually, in the face of this inaction, Morrisseau’s lawyers advised him to notify galleries and auctioneers that they were selling fakes and warn them that they could be the subject of a court injunction, civil action or criminal complaint. Still the sales went on.

It wasn’t until this past year, more than 15 years after the artist died from complications related to Parkinson’s, that an unlikely consortium of investigators, led by a homicide cop from the small city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, finally exposed the scheme to defraud Morrisseau. Not even the artist himself could have imagined the scale of the fraud, which in both the number of forged paintings and the profits made from their sale was likely the biggest art fraud in history—not in Canada or North America but anywhere in the world.

Spoiler alert: a lack of any serious investigation by Canadian authorities facilitated long time exploitation and abuse of indigenous children.

Under Lamont’s direction, youths and other Indigenous people in Thunder Bay were paid—or forced at threat of violence—to create Morrisseau look-alikes by the hundreds.

Tyranny of Lord Acton: His Love For Slavery Will Forever Put Him On The Wrong Side of History

Delving into the complexities of historical figures like Lord Acton (1834 – 1902), this blog post scrutinizes his controversial views on slavery and questions their place in the annals of history.

Lord Acton sometimes is cited for writing about Liberal Catholicism, which is held up as evidence he stood in stark contrast to prevailing beliefs of his day. He claimed to ardently support liberal ideologies, for example, to emphasize individual freedom and the state as solely a protector of people’s rights. Acton further is known to claim that he saw a centralized, powerful government as the ultimate threat, the epitome of tyranny.

However, there’s a huge problem with this narrative. Nothing can frame Lord Acton’s views like his awful screeds about the American Civil War. He considered it lost, rather than won, if you see the problem already.

The Civil War notably began when Kansas entered the Union and opted to ban slavery. In reaction to this anti-slavery stance, several pro-slavery states in the South joined forces to form a strong Confederate faction with the explicit aim of spreading slavery further westward and eventually northward.

To understand the contradictions and hypocrisy of Acton, we first should acknowledge a Confederacy of power essentially started a Civil War to prevent independent and new states from having any rights to abolish slavery.

Now think about why Lord Acton did not oppose known wrong and harmful yet widespread beliefs of his time. Why did he refuse to acknowledge that secession was first and foremost intended to preserve slavery? He supported a centralized and strong government aimed at extending and maintaining slavery, promoting power concentrated in the hands of a select few white men to deny the rights of individuals.

In fairness, Acton did express a theoretical condemnation of slavery in general terms. Such a disconnect reminds me of George Washington’s infamously contradictory stance on liberty, since he led a so-called revolution against tyranny (King of England) on the basis of him personally profiting from tyranny (perpetuation and expansion of American slavery). Washington purported concern for freedom while he actively fought against any such realization for Black Americans; as an obvious racist he never rose to the level of American heroes like Robert Carter who demonstrated enlightened perspective of their time.

Acton’s fervent argumentation posited the loss of slaves by the white man as tragedy surpassing any moral reprehensibility of slavery itself. His alignment to centralized power of a Confederate tyranny, inherently grounded in the dehumanization of individuals as property, reveals his paradoxical affinity for a system fundamentally antithetical to individual liberty.

Despite abolition of slavery in England preceding Acton’s birth, his life-long struggle to acknowledge humanity of Black individuals underscores entrenched biases and ideological complexities within his worldview.

Acton’s perspective seems incredulous today given an inherent injustice of slavery, a very obvious failure in his morality. It’s even more starkly put in contrast when you consider the man claimed he was someone who could rise up and oppose prevailing beliefs of his day.

While claiming to deplore slavery, as everyone should have after the early 1800s, Acton instead promoted an extremely toxic idea that individual freedoms were dangerous and could not be allowed where the centralized authority of a slave-holding tyrant might face ruin and destitution. And he held on to such willfully wrong concepts well into the late 1800s long after Civil War had ended.

This is how Acton was exactly backwards on the actual facts of the Civil War. Once he had dismissed Kansas exercising its rights as a state, he bemoaned the effects individual freedoms had on rights of centralized tyrants (e.g. the very concept of plantations, unjust mass incarceration, which the British had tried to ban in the colony of Georgia). Acton in fact argued on behalf of those who Confederated to preserve slavery, which manifested as a military campaign by slaveholders to deny any future states from choosing abolition (prevent another Kansas).

Acton claimed the abolitionists were deeply unsettling because he saw a drastic departure from existing systems of racial oppression that kept power in the hands of a elites, specifically white men. He viewed those advocating for the rights of Black Americans, nearly a century after the global abolitionist movement had gained momentum, as some kind of radical and dangerous version of individual rights.

Acton even went so far as to argue the Union’s efforts to defend itself against attack by slaveholders eroded control over the concept of self-governance… because Blacks being set free from tyranny meant white men would “lose” their cause of “property” accumulation (power and wealth).

Yes, Acton very seriously believed that “self-governance” was consistent with the idea that a few white men could operate a tyranny where self-governance was only allowed for a tiny select few (e.g. how Mussolini later described his plan for fascism). He complained about abolitionism as though it could only be a pretext for subjugating the noble white slaveholder. Acton did not agree with a “radical” end to human trafficking. It was through this corrupt and polluted lens that Acton thought he could characterize the emancipation of people living within the Union as a movement against the Union itself.

…in the United States no such design seems to have presided over the work of emancipation. It has been an act of war, not of statesmanship or humanity. They have treated the slave-owner as an enemy, and have used the slave as an instrument for his destruction.

“They have treated the slave-owner as an enemy…”.

To provide context to this phrase, there was widespread explosive terrorism being carried out by slave-owners against innocent Americans. Constant lynchings and other forms of public/political intimidation made it undeniable how extremely violent militias wanted to be seen as the avowed enemy of anyone who dared to advocate for individual freedom.

Almost every documented lynching between the 1830s and 1960s. Source: Smithsonian. Monroe Work Today/Auut Studio

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln depicted the pervasive dread and horror from widespread terrorism perpetrated by slaveholders to prevent abolition.

Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers; till, dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every road side; and in numbers almost sufficient, to rival the native Spanish moss of the country, as a drapery of the forest.

A quick recap of some of the expansive pro-slavery campaigns that Lincoln was talking about:

  • 1829 David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World is circulated by sailors and U.S. mail “as one of the most important social and political documents of the 19th century”
  • 1831 Nat Turner’s uprising results in white supremacist militias unleashing a ruthless “reign of terror” murdering innocent and free Black Americans
  • 1833 England abolishes slavery and the following year John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton is born
  • 1835 President Jackson orders Postmaster General Amos Kendall to intercept US Mail to impound any publication or speech about abolition. Americans found with a copy of David Walker’s Appeal immediately are jailed, tortured and subjected to surveillance.
  • 1835 the Seminoles, Black Seminoles, and rebel slaves initiate the most coordinated Indigenous and Black people defense against tyranny in the history of the United States (lasting until 1838)
  • 1836 Gag rule created to deny Americans the right to even speak about abolition.
  • 1837 Journalist Elijah Lovejoy tragically murdered by violent pro-slavery militias in what Abraham Lincoln called “the most important single event that ever happened in the new world”

It’s within this history we must consider Acton’s remarks regarding an “enemy” and how the term would land then and now. John Brown, for one simple example, very obviously transitioned in a few short years from being viewed as a traitor to being seen as the epitome of the nation’s conscience. While the concept of freedom became rightly associated with the long-awaited movement of American abolitionism, Acton persisted sticking himself on the wrong side of history.

John Brown grew tired of torture and murder of abolitionists and called for armed defense against expansion of slavery. Curry’s “Tragic Prelude” impressive mural can be seen in the Kansas State Capitol celebrating his moral conviction to defend Americans against Acton’s brand of tyranny.

In this context, the emancipation of Black Americans, achieved through winning the Civil War initiated by slave-owners, seemed to enrage Acton in a perplexing twist of logic. He viewed anyone advocating for the rights of non-white Americans as hostile, lacking in statesmanship or compassion. Furthermore, Acton saw the Southern stance of declaring war (in the name of preserving and expanding slavery) as noble, while condemning the North for leveraging democratic principles of individual liberty that undermined the tyranny of slaveholders.

So, Acton ultimately believed that the Confederate cause was more just. He saw pro-slavery forces as defending white males against radical ideas of individual freedom. To him, the Union represented a threat to the fundamental principles of the United States, particularly a threat to the notion of humans being treated as property. The defeat at Richmond symbolized, for Acton, the loss of control over government by a small elite of white men who were supposed to dictate all laws and consent—a system he ironically likened to Britain’s colonial empire, which was preserved at Waterloo.

Acton’s views resonated widely among the British elites of his time, reflecting a sentiment of disdain toward the progressive Union and a romanticized view of the centralized Confederacy’s struggle to preserve and expand an immoral tyranny over non-white populations.

Perhaps most interestingly, however, is where and how Acton’s views lately have resurfaced.

Today they are resonating with a South African elitist, known for promoting racism, who owns and operates the “largest hate rally in history”.

Acton was wrong. Very wrong. The American politician Robert G. Ingersoll, giving 1890s speeches in direct contradiction of Lord Acton’s views, once said:

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.

To put it in other words “for some people, power seems to bring out their best… power doesn’t corrupt; it heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies”.

X Twitter Keeps Promoting Slavery. It’s No Accident.

Tesla workers described the CEO as someone who encouraged pro-slavery racism in the workplace.

…frequent use of racial slurs and references to the manufacturing site as a plantation or slave ship.

Now that same mindset has shifted to X Twitter, where Elon Musk promotes slavery and generates ad revenue from pro-slavery accounts.

That was several months ago, inviting X Twitter accounts to start promoting slavery. And so indeed, we now see monetization schemes and ad placements on pro-slavery comments such as these.

Pro-slavery hate tweet with 2.9 million views generates ad revenue for Musk… Will Stancil pointed out that Twitter has become “the largest, longest, most sustained hate rally in human history.”

This not some kind of accident. It is a CEO being intentionally, wickedly wrong about slavery for purposes of profiting on it, facilitating and promoting hate crimes.

It reminds me of the kind of willful moral bankruptcy that political scientists pin on a big fan of Confederate General Lee, the infamously anti-democracy Lord Acton.

[Acton’s] insights led him to analyses of the U.S. Civil War that were not merely wrong, but carefully, thoughtfully, wickedly wrong. He identified the cause of the Confederacy as the cause of freedom, even knowing slavery to be evil; and he thought this with firm commitment, for many years.

Acton is a toxic name, someone who thought slavery wasn’t the issue in Civil War, even though it was absolutely and most definitely the issue. Acton corresponded with Lee about Americans being held hostage, tortured and murdered, as some bizarre vision of “freedom”.

Now guess who has been putting up wickedly wrong Acton banners and quotes at the office.