Category: Acton Commentary

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“Indifference to the moral dimension distorts the study of human action in economics,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary, “so too does it deform the discipline that reaches behind that action to the human mind: psychology.”

Built on a sound anthropological foundation and guided by an equally sound morality that is clear on the proper goals of human life, the empirical findings and practical techniques of psychology can foster the flourishing of both persons and communities. Unfortunately, as Theodore Dalrymple argues in his most recent book Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality, contemporary psychology has long been not only hostile to traditional morality but also indifferent to and dismissive of the larger context of Western culture within which it arose. As a result contemporary psychology, according to Dalrymple, “is not a key to self-understanding but a cultural barrier to such understanding as we can achieve.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

acton-commentary-blogimage“For too many of the poor in today’s America, life is essentially that of a client,” says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The government cares for their needs: housing, food, education. Spending one’s life as client creates an entitlement mentality: ‘I am here to receive. I am owed something. I depend on others for my needs and desires.’”

A place is where people are invested. They create homes, send their kids to school and dance lessons, own businesses, shop locally, plant gardens and cooperate in community enrichment. When one belongs in a place, one becomes a citizen.

With the ruins of Baltimore fresh in our minds, one is left to wonder how people of that place could torch businesses and destroy their home. The answer, I believe, lies in the difference between being a citizen, and being a client.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“Three recent events have made me reflect on a certain theme that should be of interest to religious-minded advocates of the free society,” says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary.

The three events were: 1) an interview I gave to an Italian online publication in response to a French professor who claims that capitalism is the root cause of gender theory and other cultural and social revolutions associated with liberalism; 2) a talk given by a German professor on “liberalism as an attitude” at the European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin last month; and 3) the controversy caused by the upcoming papal encyclical on human ecology.

Now, I realize that the term “liberal” can mean many things, but let’s assume that it describes those who, when considering political, social and economic questions, give greater priority to individual freedom than to other goods such as equality, tradition or order. Liberty need not be the only consideration, but it tends to be the dominant one. There are right-wing, moderate and left-wing liberals who disagree on different issues and may prefer another good in a particular instance but none of them question the good of liberty as such.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimageEven children intuitively understand that exchange can and often does mutually benefit those who trade, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. “As it turns out, that mutual benefit is often not only material but, at its base, moral as well.”

I am unsure how it is that Rita ended up with a peanut butter and M&M sandwich in the first place. Certainly not under our current First Lady’s watch — that’s for sure. Perhaps Rita’s mother let her pack a lunch as an exercise in  responsibility, and when her mom wasn’t looking Rita would sneak the red-, green-, brown-, and yellow-covered chocolates into the white bread bookends of her (until then) plain peanut butter sandwich. Or maybe her mother was an economist, and she knew that to pack her daughter a peanut butter and M&M sandwich meant effectively to give Rita her pick of any other sandwich in the classroom.

As Adam Smith (in)famously observed in The Wealth of Nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” Thus the question, “Do you want to trade?” And what third grader wouldn’t consider a peanut butter and M&M sandwich to be in “their own interest”?

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

acton-commentary-blogimage“The primacy of God, which Pope Benedict XVI made a priority of his pontificate, reminds us that reality is intelligible and human reason must be used,” says Bishop Dominique Rey in this week’s Acton Commentary, “reason that is able to recognize the logos, the objective reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Some radical environmental movements (such as those who embrace what is often called “deep ecology”) clearly derive their inspiration from a pagan pantheism, which leads to a deification of nature. Reason is subdued and abdicates its role and dignity. In fact, as Benedict affirmed, “the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life.”

Illuminated by faith, reason allowed the world to cease to be regarded as divine. It helped man to cease worshipping the elements (earth, sky, and water), the stars, the plants and the animals as mythical beings or as multiple facets of the divinity.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

RefuseServiceSignIn today’s Acton Commentary, “The Logic of Economic Discrimination,” I take up a small slice of the larger controversy and discussion surrounding religious liberty laws like the one passed recently in Indiana. My point, drawing out some of the implications of observations made by others, including Ryan Anderson and Shikha Dalmia, is that anti-discrimination boycotts depend on discrimination. Or as Dalmia puts it, “what is deeply ironic is that corporate America was able to wield its right not to do business (and boycott Indiana) by circumscribing the same right of Indiana businesses.”

Now there are lots of other angles and significant points to explore surrounding this enormously complex and important debate. Many have criticized the hypocrisy of corporations like Apple for doing business in places like China and Saudi Arabia even while they grandstand against Indiana. Others are now pointing to the actions of many in Silicon Valley, which despite the proclamations of support for social justice, have actually created huge inequalities. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are great, it seems, unless you are a woman, have a family, or are a blue-collar worker.

Indiana politicians, under massive scrutiny, have since moved to “clarify” the RFRA law that was passed, a move that has mollified some but not others. From the beginning, these conversations about religious liberty and economic rights have, in my view, insufficiently included sensitivity to considerations like freedom of association. Hopefully the larger context and interactions of contracts and rights, not merely “religious liberty” narrowly defined, can help broaden and mature the conversation.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“States and municipalities craft laws that reflect local cultures, and this proximity to the people has market consequences,” says James Bruce in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Let’s call it free-market federalism, the encouragement of local markets by permitting states and municipalities to frame, as much as possible, the laws by which the communities engage in commerce.”

In a spirited defense of decentralization, Abraham Kuyper argues that a central government can only supplement local governments and families. Put another way, the central government exists because local governments and families already do. It exists for them. They do not exist for it. So Kuyper’s idea of sphere sovereignty supports free-market federalism. Regional governments and municipalities exist as their own sovereign spheres, and they must continue to do so. “To centralize all power in the one central government is to violate the ordinances that God has given for nations and families,” Kuyper wrote. “It destroys the natural divisions that give a nation vitality, and thus destroys the energy of the individual life-spheres and of the individual persons.” This vitality extends to national, regional, and individual economic life.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Charles Malik. Photo credit: LIFE Magazine.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I highlight a little book by the Lebanese diplomat, philosopher, and theologian Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis (1962). With regard to its continuing relevance, I write,

Malik would urge us to have the courage to take up our crosses today, each in our own capacities and competencies, putting the life of the spirit first, not settling for easy answers and scorning all distractions. “There are three unpardonable sins today,” wrote Malik in 1962 — but just as relevant now — “to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation; to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion.”

Above all, Christians can never be ashamed of Jesus Christ. “To be fair, to be positive, to be thankful — these are highly desirable Christian virtues today,” wrote Malik. But he did not stop at that commendable fairness, cautioning, “And of course you are not fair at all if, in trying to be fair to others, you are so fair as to cease to be fair to Christ Himself — Christ who was much more than just fair to you and me when He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross.”

Malik’s impressive work deserves more attention than it has received in recent years. And his record speaks for itself: In addition to co-drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, sitting as president of the U.N.’s General Assembly in 1958, acting as Lebanese ambassador to the United States, and dedicating his life to fighting communism and defending human rights, Malik was also a philosopher and theologian and served as vice president of the United Bible Societies from 1966 to 1972 and president of the World Council on Christian Education from 1967 to 1971. Such monumental work for both the common good and the kingdom of God ought not to remain obscure to Christians today.

You can read my full commentary on his 1962 work Christ and Crisis here.

acton-commentary-blogimage“What could possibly go wrong with a regulatory power grab by a government agency applying an 80-year-old law to the most dynamic and innovative aspect of the world’s economy?” asks Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary.

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted along partisan lines for passage of network neutrality regulations. The first two attempts were both defeated in U.S. Circuit Court, and one hopes this third try meets the same fate.

The latest strategy deployed by the FCC is reclassification of the Internet from a Title I information service to a Title II communications service. Whereas Title I prescribes a light regulatory touch, Title II opens the floodgates for the agency to regulate as a utility all aspects of the Internet under the 1934 Communications Act. The 1934 law was devised specifically to police landline phones as common carriers with the unfortunate unforeseen consequence of establishing a decades-long telephone monopoly by creating significant barriers of entry for start-ups and smaller companies.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

ISIS Al-Qaeda Militants Fighting Syrian Civil WarThe rapid rise and threat of the jihadist group Islamic State has confounded the secularist West. The idea that their motivations could truly be driven by religious ideology simply fails to register with those who view religion as an individualistic, private affair.

If we are going to defeat ISIS, though, this will have to change. As Kishore Jayabalan says, it’s time to start taking the relationship between religion and politics seriously:
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