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  • Ethics and PoliticsThe Example of Lord Acton
  • E. D. Watt (bio)
E. D. Watt

Associate Professor, Department of Economics and Political Science, University of Saskatchewan


1. See Allan H. Gilbert, Machiavelli’s Prince and its Forerunners (Durham, N.C., 1938).

2. We are urged by some to believe that Machiavelli was innocent of Machiavellianism. For present purposes it makes no difference, for the “-ism” has outgrown its founder, much as Marxism has done.

3. (Baltimore, 1953).

4. See his Human Society in Ethics and Politics (London, 1954).

5. T. D. Weldon, States and Morals (London, 1950), 221.

6. I am not maintaining that every absolute moral judgement is to be condemned, The prejudice which makes the word “absolute” do duty as a term of abuse, I do not share. I am only pointing out that definiteness (to use a term less abusive) is not the sole desirable feature of an ethical judgement. A judgement may be definite, but mistaken.

7. Quoted by David Mathew in Acton, the Formative Years (London, 1946), 177. See also Acton’s Essays on Church and State, ed. Douglas Woodruff (London, 1952), 327–38.

8. Ibid., 439–40.

9. Acton’s Historical Essays and Studies, ed. J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (London, 1907), 135.

10. Essays on Church and State, 331.

11. Historical Essays and Studies, 136.

12. Ibid., 140.

13. Essays on Church and State, 334.

14. Letters of Lord Acton to Mary, Daughter of the Right Honourable W. E. Gladstone, ed. Herbert Paul (London, 1904), 180–1.

15. More fully examined by Terence Kenny in The Political Thought of John Henry Newman (London, 1957).

16. Letters… to Mary… Gladstone, 180–1.

17. Lionel Kochan, Acton on History (London, 1954), 53.

18. (Durham, N.C., 1960).

19. Kochan, 53.

20. The Prince, ed. L. A. Burd (Oxford, 1891), xxii, xxiv–xxv, xxix–xxxix, xxxiv. See Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Glencoe, Ill., 1958).

21. See Herbert Butterfield, “Lord Acton,” Cambridge Journal VI (1953), 479.

22. Ibid., 483.

23. Acton’s Essays on Freedom and Power, ed. Gertrude Himmelfarb (Boston, 1948), 364.

24. Kochan, 70.

25. Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (London, 1931), 109–10.

26. Historical Essays and Studies, 504.

27. Lord Acton and his Circle, ed. F. A. Gasquet (London, 1906), 3.

28. Butterfield, 109.

29. Essays on Freedom and Power, 362, 368.

30. Acton’s The History of Freedom and Other Essays, ed. J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (London, 1907), 572.

31. J. Maritain, Man and the State (Chicago, 1951), 62, 74.

32. Letters… to Mary… Gladstone, 121.

33. Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, ed. J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (London, 1917), 288–92.

34. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (Chicago, 1952), 66.

35. Butterfield, 65.

36. “The Place of Lord Acton in the Liberal Movement of the Nineteenth Century,” Politics IV (1939), 250.

37. The New Statesman and Nation, XXVII (1944), 355.

38. Letters … to Mary … Gladstone, 104.

39. Mathew, 48; Woodward, 248–9.

40. Woodward, 257.

41. Quoted by F. Engel-Janosi in “The Correspondence between Lord Acton and Bishop Creigh-ton,” Cambridge Historical Journal, VI (1940), 314.

42. See Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton, 153; Letters… to Mary… Gladstone, 199.

43. Himmelfarb, 154, 155.



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