We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern: every class is unfit to govern.

- Lord Acton

8 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    If LORD Acton had really felt this way, why did he still call himself LORD? What would have been wrong with Mr. Acton?
    And I presume self-government is alright? Or are we also unfit to govern ourselves?

  • guy herbert

    I’m sure he didn’t call himself that. Other people would have done.

    Acton is not decrying the existence of social classes, let alone proposing their (impossible) abolition. He is repudiating the idea of class government and perhaps also of fit – that is, suitable – government.

  • Nuke, he was obviously having in mind the governing of others. Rather bored today, are we?:-)

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    No, Alisa, I was just caught up in the paradox of a Lord who preached equality. It seems like an oxymoronic statement.

  • Preached equality? Where? Not in the quote he didn’t.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    I thought that bit about ‘no class fit to govern’ was making a political statement. And, in his day, being a Lord carried real political clout.

  • I was indeed a political statement (or maybe anti-political), but it had nothing to do with equality.

    being a Lord carried real political clout

    Being able to look outside oneself and the system one is part of is a sign of maturity – not a bad thing, IMO.

  • Paul Marks

    Lord Acton is making two points.

    Firstly that it is not a safe thing to order other people about (that is what is meant by “govern” in this line) – not safe for the people who are being governed, and not safe for the governors. It may be unavoidable (Acton was not an anarchist), but it is very dangerious (for both governed and for the character of the governors themselves) – so government should be strictly limited (limited institutionally – no just limited by “good intentions” or having “good people” in charge).

    But Acton is also making a second point – the point about “class government”.

    Here we get Aristotle versus Karl Marx.

    Many modern writers are influenced (in one way or another) by Marxist ideas – and so they find Aristotle very difficult to understand (normally they just end up rejecting Aristotle as wrong headed).

    This is because Aristotle draws a big distinction between (on the one hand) monarchy, aristocracy and polity (technically “polity” can mean any government of a polis – but Aristotle normally uses the word to indicate a state where most citizens have voting rights and so on)…… and (on the other hand) tyranny, oligarchy and democracy.

    This makes no sense at all to many moderns – as, to them, monarchy and tyranny mean the same thing (rule of one person), aristocracy and oligarchy mean the same thing (rule by an elite group – normally a rich one) and polity and democracy mean the same thing (rule by the many).

    Real hardcore moderns even reject the whole concept of monarchy/tyranny totally – as (to them) even a single ruler “must” really be governing for a class (even if he or she does not know it).

    So what is Aristotle on about?

    He is talking about the rule of law.

    A monarch is different from a tyrant because he can not do anything he likes to gratify his own desires.

    Ditto an aristocracy is limited in what it can do (by the rule of law) unlike an oligarchy.

    And (under a polity) although citizens have the vote (and so on) they can not just vote themselves the goods of other people (or kill those people for their amusement and so on…).

    To the modern “the rule of law” is just a cover for legislation – i.e. acts of WILL (orders) in the interests of one class or another.

    The idea of objective justice (and from that – objective law) that is not for the interests of any particular class of people, is rejected by moderns.

    Which is why (when the read Aristotle, Cicero and so on) they think they are either reading fools, madmen, or cynical people who hiding their “class interests” under a fog of fine words.