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, de Tocqueville said that there is a danger of the “tyranny of
the majority”. Also, JS Mill thought political wisdom was unequally
distributed and mainly related to education, and that the uneducated
masses may act according to narrow class interest rather than for the
good of others. However, modern liberals see democracy as a virtue
this is because protective democracy checks the power of the
government and advanced individual interests. Active participation of
the population in a democracy advances the education of citizens and