"Behind everything, and notwithstanding something like a cosmic scheme of good and evil in conflict, the whig historian has found it possible to reserve for himself one last curious piece of subtlety. He can choose even to forgive the private life of Fox and save his moral condemnation for 'the repressive policy of Pitt.' For of Lord Acton himself we are informed that 'he had little desire to pry into the private morality of kings and politicians'; and it was Acton who told historians that they must 'suspect power more than vice.' The whig seems to prefer to take his moral stand upon what he calls the larger questions of public policy. So upon the whig interpretation of history we have imposed the peculiar historian's ethics, by which we can overlook the fact that a king is a spendthrift and a rake, but cannot contain our moral passions if a king has too exalted a view of his own office. Burke's dictum, which Acton endorses, that 'the principles of true politics are those of morality enlarged,' may contain a world of truth, but it can be dangerous in the hands of the historian. And not the least of its dangers lies in the fact that it can be so easily inverted."
Herbert Butterfield, The Whig interpretation of history, 1st American ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951 ), 128-129 (chapter entitled "Moral judgments in history"). No comfort here for those tempted to reverse this and suspect vice as much as power (since they would be Whiggish, too), but quite true-to-form nonetheless.
(Those tempted to reverse this and suspect vice as much as power would be forgetting that "moral judgments are useless unless they can be taken to imply a comparison of one man with another", that "it is impossible to make comparisons of this kind unless we compare also [exhaustively] the situation in which men find themselves" (123), that "all history [of this sort] perpetually requires to be corrected by more history" (131), and that, in sum, there is no end to the requisite enumeration of the relevant circumstances on the part of the historian qua historian, no end to pure description, no God's-eye view, no "verdict of History" personified.)
Butterfield may well be right about the historian qua "servant of the servants of God [or the Devil], . . . drudge of all the drudges" (130 ff.), but is his role qua responsible agent or person really this sequestrable? And isn't the claim that there can be for us no end to (an ultimately exonerating) pure description a debilitating assumption?