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Origin of quote - Socrates/Plato

Posted by TheFallen on October 16, 2002

In Reply to: Origin of quote posted by Scott James on October 16, 2002

: Are you sure it was Lord Acton? I have not been able to verify this. What is your source? I have checked with and they could not find it either.

: Thanks

Here's the only "hearsay" attribution I could find regarding Lord Acton:-

Lord Acton once said, "Every institution finally perishes by an excess of its own first principle." (quoted in Lifecraft, by Forest Church, p 70).

I've found similar versions of the phrase attributed to Socrates - "All forms of Government fall from an excess of their best principles" - and allegedly Will Durant, the historian-philosopher expanded upon this tenet, saying:-

"But even Democracy ruins itself by excess.....of Democracy.....Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy. This at first, is a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses. Mob-rule is a rough sea for the ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs the waters and deflects the course."

However, a little further research definitely suggests that it was Plato who came up with at least the concept, in his philosophical work "The Republic". The confusion with Socrates is easily explained, since large chunks of "The Republic" are written by Plato as fictional discussion between Socrates and a series of interlocutors - in this case, "Republic, VIII, 562b-563e" are the relevant sections. I cannot locate a quotation that neatly fits yours, but my best bet would be that Plato is the originator, with all later users of the phrase simply paraphrasing and/or summarising his words.

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