Past Phrasle (#593)
Saturday, September 9, 2023
absolute power corrupts absolutely
Phrase attributed to Lord Acton, a British historian of the 19th century, in a letter he wrote in 1887. The full quote starts with "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." This quote reflects Lord Acton's views on political and historical matters, stressing the inherent risk of corruption and moral degradation associated with unchecked authority.
The essence of the phrase suggests that when a person gains more power, the likelihood of them abusing or misusing that power increases. With "absolute power," the safeguards that might limit or check bad behavior are diminished, and thus the individual is more likely to engage in corrupt or despotic actions. It serves as a cautionary statement about the dangers of unfettered authority and the need for checks and balances in any system.