The Evils of Absolute Power

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The Evils of Absolute Power

The above statement was written by a liberal called Lord Acton, he is

what is commonly called a classical liberal. Classical liberalism was

pre-Twentieth century liberalism, before it was revised because of the

progress in industrialisation. However, the consistent central theme

of liberalism in both forms (classical and modern) is individualism.

Classical liberals see humans as being selfish and egoistical beings,

as opposed to the modern liberal thought that humans are altruistic.

Therefore modern liberals have a much more optimistic view of human

beings compared to that of classical liberals.

As I have stated above Lord Acton as a classical liberal believed

humans to be egoistical, and as such thought that if beings got in to

a position of power and authority then the government would be

tyrannical. A tyrannical government is one that rules above the law,

for example Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. Liberals thought that

to prevent tyranny a sovereign state needs to be in place, which would

limit the government’s power. Power would be limited by internal and

external constraints, for example constitutionalism which would mean

that the population would know the extent of the government’s power.

Liberals therefore wanted to prevent tyranny from occurring, but

classical and modern liberals had differing ideas on how this could be

done. Classical liberals, such as Acton, did not believe in democracy

because the majority could crush individual liberty and minority

rights, ...

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...wer. Then this in turn would lead to

tyrannical governments such as those of; Hussein, Mugabe and Stalin.

The implications of liberals believing in this statement are that they

believe that rational individuals should want to sign up to a social

contract to establish a sovereign government. Individuals would want

to do this because life before government was endless civil war, with

life being; solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Life would be

this way because individuals are selfish, greedy and power seeking.

Therefore rational beings would enter into a social contract and

sacrifice a portion of their liberty to set up a system of law; this

would prevent the otherwise inevitable: property and lives being under

constant threat. Seventeenth century writer John Locke said “Where

there is no law there is no freedom.”