Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The "Will to Evil"

Don Boudreaux has a great quote from the great historian Gertrude Himmelfarb at his Cafe Hayek blog this morning.  The topic is power, the context is Lord Acton's insightful analysis of this concept, and the source is Himmelfarb's biography of Acton (which I'm going to order immediately after finishing this post!):
The great temptation of history to which most men succumbed, it was apparent to many of Acton’s contemporaries, was power.  It had taken the shattering experiences of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and the nationalist revolutions to explode the illusion of the Enlightenment that power itself was ethically neutral, that its potential for good was as great as for bad, that a benevolent despot was the best of all possible rulers.  Henry Adams, Jacob Burckhardt, Francois Guizot, Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Carlyle, Henry Maine and Herbert Spencer are the more familiar names chosen from the roster of philosophers, historians and even statesmen who warned that the will to power is insensibly transformed into a will to evil. [Emphasis Marc D. Street]