Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As this is written, the Justices of the Brazilian Supreme Court (“STF”), in the final stages of judging the “mensalão” cases, have imposed jail sentences on any number of the Gang of 37. Tonight, the Curmudgeon does not rejoice, because this is one more proof of Lord Acton’s most famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Curmudgeon, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Lord Acton, a/k/a John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, (10 January 1834–19 June 1902) was a percipient historian, and is the author of other memorable phrases, among which the Curmudgeon will select the following:

• “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd (sic) the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

José Dirceu and José Genuino, before becoming bagmen for Lula, were great men. They fought for liberty and freedom and against injustice, they were banished and tortured, they persevered, they eventually won out.

But, in 2002, after Lula (“Agora é Lula”) won, they capitulated to heresy. In Lord Acton’s words:

• “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

The original intent of this remark, as was that of his most famous, was to decry the doctrine of Papal infallibility. Lord Acton, a lifelong devout Catholic, did not believe the Papacy could resist the temptations of sanctification by dint of office. More recently, the phrase has become a commonplace in political discourse, where it was (perhaps) not meant to be.

But Lord Acton, a disciple and teacher of Lord Gladstone, was also in tune with political mores:

• “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

O! Dirceu! O! Genoino! Had you but read, marked and understood this phrase, moral suasion might have deterred you from your criminal behavior. For the STF hath spoken: “Thou didst succeed, by force and fraud, in carrying elections.” The tragic truth is that Zé Dirceu and Zé Genuino, did succeed, by force and fraud, in carrying parliamentary elections for “mensalão” is merely a synonym of “force and fraud”.

Those who wish more from Lord Acton and his relevance today will be interested in the following:

• “There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success.”

As we all know, PT, the party of Lula and Dilma and Zé Dirceu and Zé Genoino and many others, has argued that anything the “mensaleiros” did was in a good cause, for it succeeded in reducing inequalities in Brazil. Put another way, they argue that buying votes for Lula’s progressive social program was not bad, because votes bought sanctified the social success. Lord Acton knew better.

And, finally, for the fervent supporters of the Gang of 37, Lord Acton had two thoughts to offer.
First: “There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest men.” Second: “Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.”

The Curmudgeon salutes the Brazilian Prosecutor General and the Brazilian Supreme Court, whose painstaking work has overcome the able defenders of monstrous errors, by removing from secrecy the darkness of the mensalão, bringing it into the light of discussion and publicity which, in the end, it could not bear.


Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


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