Acton made the comments in “A Lecture on the Study of History,” a lecture which he delivered at Cambridge in June 1895.— George P. Landow

omte, the master of better men, believed that we drag a lengthening chain under the gathered weight of the dead hand; and many of our recent classics, Carlyle, Newman, Froude, were persuaded that there is no progress justifying the ways of God to man, and that the mere consolidation of liberty is like the motion of creatures whose advance is in the direction of their tails. They deem that anxious precaution against bad government is an obstruction to good, and degrades morality and mind by placing the capable at the mercy of the incapable, dethroning enlightened virtue for the benefit of the average man. They hold that great and salutary things are done for mankind by power concentrated, not by power balanced and cancelled and dispersed, and that the whig theory, sprung from decomposing sects, the theory that authority is legitimate only by virtue of its checks, and that the sovereign is dependent on the subject, is rebellion against the divine will manifested all down the stream of time.


Lord Acton. A Lecture on the Study of History. 2nd ed. London: Macmilian, 1911. Release Date: June 7, 2008 [EBook #25720] Produced by Irma Spehar and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team based on page images generously made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries].

Last modified 25 July 2018