Few know his name, but John Dalberg-Acton, otherwise known as Lord Acton, gave us insight and a warning that millions of people recite, perhaps now than ever. A British historian, politician, and writer from the 1800s, he told posterity, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Today we are faced with centers of absolute power that, one can argue, have done serious harm to the fabric of our democracy. Education, elections, politics, have all become concentrations of power where someone speaking the truth to such power runs the risk of being sued for defamation or worse.
A rare handful of individuals have the means of confronting that power. Harvard's president, who presided over a campus culture that made anti-Semitism acceptable, was called to account by hedge fund manager Bill Ackman who had the means and the will to call her out. Not content with the resignation of Claudine Gay, he is now confronting the Harvard Board of Trustees for, essentially, aiding and abetting her ideology.
Josh Hammer, a commentator and legal scholar, called her resignation a "fight for civilizational sanity."
These victories, however, are few and far between in a nation where the constitutional right to representative government is now in play by the "ballot bandits." That assault comes in many forms and with devious strategies.
Consider the latest move by New York Governor Kathy Hochul. In alliance with a progressive majority in the state legislature, she has signed a bill to move local elections to even numbered years. So what, you ask? It is a stealth move designed to assist Democratic candidates in presidential election years, when voter turnout will presumably be higher.
The bill has not gone unnoticed. The New York State Association of Counties issued a statement, saying, "At a time when we should be keeping the divisiveness at the federal and state levels out of our local communities, this bill does the opposite, burying the local issues that impact New Yorkers' daily lives at the back of exceedingly long ballots."
Needless to say, the Republicans are challenging this version of ballot banditry, but it is indicative of how absolute power can corrupt. It is a reflection of what is occurring elsewhere in anticipation of what will be a historic 2024 presidential election campaign. One response comes from the Republican National Committee. It has announced the creation of an Election Integrity Department, whose job will be to instruct tens of thousands of poll watchers for this year.
If our democracy is to survive, our nation's citizens need to be mindful of Lord Acton's warning, as well as that of founding father Benjamin Franklin, who, upon leaving Independence Hall, told a bystander that America will have a republic, "if you can keep it."
Lawrence Kadish serves on the Board of Governors of Gatestone Institute.