The Rev. Edmund Opitz, a longtime champion of liberty, passed away on Feb. 11. Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, looks back on Ed’s remarkable life in an article today on National Review Online (also available on the Acton site as a PDF).
Never to be mistaken for an “economic fundamentalist,” much less a theocrat of any variety, Ed was always careful to note that Christianity qua Christianity offered no specific economic model any more than economics qua economics has any specific moral model to proffer — which is precisely why they both need each other.
In 2003, Rev. Opitz was interviewed for Acton’s Religion & Liberty. In “Religion, Morality and the Private Property Order,” he talked about scarcity and stewardship in opposition to the practices of planned economies.
What has happened is that modern man, freed from the “superstitions” of the past and energized by “Science,” believes he has become as God who can create the world anew and establish a heaven on earth. The teachings of the economists, however, stand directly athwart this mood. Wilhelm Roepke, a ranking economist and social philosopher of our time, reminds us that “Economics is an anti-utopian, anti-ideological, disillusioning science.” The great social drift during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is based on the delusion of a few thinkers involved in the French Revolution that “Mankind has now come of age and can take charge of its own affairs.” Translated into practice, this means that inordinate power comes into the hands of a self-chosen elite to operate a society as if it were an army, that is to say, by command and drill.
Rev. Opitz had an early and important relationship with Acton. He was a founding member of the institute’s advisory board, wrote and spoke widely for Acton, and donated a personal collection of books now housed in the Opitz Library here. Acton carries two of Opitz’s works in its Book Shoppe: Religion and Capitalism: Allies, not Enemies and Religion: Foundation of the Free Society.