The Sanctification of Office

2010-04-05

Now that I have been selected for an official role at the IETF, I find it more important than ever to remind myself that power corrupts. For instance, an IESG member such as me can put up all sorts of obstacles in the way of publishing an RFC (as I just did by filing my first DISCUSS, on draft-ietf-mediactrl-sip-control-framework). Therefore I have written the words "power tends to corrupt" on my whiteboard at the office, as shorthand for the full quote from Lord Acton:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

Those words of wisdom seem quite consistent with one of the founding principles of the Internet, enunciated by Dave Clark and enshrined in The Tao of the IETF:

We reject: kings, presidents and voting.

We believe in: rough consensus and running code.


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