≡ Menu

Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 134 of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s superb 1952 biography of Lord Acton, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (footnote excluded; Himmelfarb here quotes Acton from the latter’s February 26th, 1877, address to the Bridgnorth Institute, “The History of Freedom in Antiquity“:​

In the zeal for the popular interest, however, there was no provision for the unpopular, and the minority soon found itself at the mercy of the majority. The people, now sovereign, felt themselves bound by no rules of right or wrong, no criteria except expediency, no force outside of themselves. They conducted wars in the marketplace and lost them, exploited their dependencies, plundered the rich, and crowned their guilt with the martyrdom of Socrates. The experiment of Athens taught that democracy, the rule of the most numerous and most powerful class, was an evil of the same nature as monarchial absolutism and required restraints of the same sort: institutions to protect it against itself and a permanent source of law to prevent arbitrary revolutions of opinion. Men learned for the first time what later history was to confirm again and again: ‘It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist. But from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason.’