Acton Institute Powerblog

Virtues, once again

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“Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It,” by David L. Bahnsen; Foreward by David French; PostHill Press, 2018; 170 pp.; $26.

It’s been a long, hard slog on humanity’s path to the current century and its peculiar predicaments. Along the way, there have been numerous guidebooks to assist our respective generations’ quests for living honorable lives in the face of varyingly difficult circumstances. To list them, in fact, would create a magnificent bibliography that would include Plato, the Bible, Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” and James Davison Hunter’s “The Death of Character;” a list that barely skims the surface.

While it would be ideal to read and internalize much of the aforementioned works, some of us, unfortunately, have not – and for many others, the time to play catch-up is short and the clock is quickly winding down. This brings us to David L. Bahnsen’s “Crisis of Responsibility,” a brief but concise primer on the value and importance of pursuing a virtuous life.

The premise employed by Bahnsen is simple: What’s left once there’s nothing else externally to blame for all the ills upon which contemporary society is beset? The answer, Bahnsen asserts, is simple: The same problems will continue to bedevil societies if fundamental flaws are not addressed on a personal level. A virtuous society, in other words, requires people who interact with one another as virtuous individuals.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,” wrote perhaps the best secular chronicler of the human condition, William Shakespeare. Extrapolating on Cassius, Bahnsen declares that blame and whataboutism are too-easily trotted out when ascribing root causes to quotidian issues.
Pointing fingers often is wrongheaded and counterproductive, says Bahnsen, because the heroes and villains are too frequently cast as some monolithic abstraction. It makes no sense to think Washington or big-business can be both the source and the solution of our problems by more rigid enforcement or enactment of more laws and regulations if, when all is said and done, we have not adjusted our moral compass at ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

“The cultural deterioration we see today started when the social fabric of what was once a virtuous working class began to unravel,” he writes. He concludes not only with 10 rules for individual responsibility but as well recommendations for reforming Main Street. Some are simple in concept but bear repeating, such as foregoing materialist consumption in favor of production; generously contribute to charities; and teaching offspring the tools of financial independence. Others rules might seem counterintuitive, such as those questioning the value of homeownership and higher education as inherently necessary to attaining the American Dream.

All of this written in a lively, engaging, conversational style that should be required reading for every young adult. In fact, it would make a perfect high-school graduation gift.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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