Category: Acton Commentary

Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.

There is, however, a notable correspondence between an Acton Commentary that I wrote earlier this month, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” and a piece that appeared weeks earlier at The Federalist. In “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Is The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Leslie Loftis takes down this miserable tune in devastating fashion. Loftis points out that the song “has a little of everything to loathe. Condescension. Inane inaccuracies. Smugness. Mullets.”

Whether or not you have read my commentary, you should go check out her case against the song now.

I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Matthea Brandenburg helpfully points out some further commentary by Magatte Wade and others about the song over at the PovertyCure blog.

When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever.

No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!

Blog author: sstanley
Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In this week’s commentary, Acton president and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico reflects on Christmas, but also on the things weighing heavily on many hearts. Despite this being a joyful time, we are caught in perilous moment in history due to the meeting of various things: intellectual, financial, militarily, and theologically. President Ronald Reagan gave a similar address in 1981:

Rev. Sirico says:

How to get to the heart of the matter? That, as Shakespeare might say, is the rub. Yet, as a Christian who believes that the redemption of the world was effected by the Incarnation of Christ, I can certainly use the lens of the Incarnation to understand the state of the world and the people in it, even when, indeed, especially when things are perilous.  That is what it means to affirm that Christology is anthropology, i.e., that in order to discover man and what his end truly is, one must study Christ, the perfect man.


In this week’s commentary I argue that “Do They Even Know It’s Christmas?” is the worst Christmas song of all time.

Kanye agrees.Kanye Bono Christmas

To provide a synthesis of Pope Francis’s thinking on the economy is both difficult and easy, says Oskari Juurikkala in this week’s Acton Commentary. “It is difficult, because he has never offered extensive and systematic reflections on such questions; his pronouncements are found here and there, inseparable from a broader moral and spiritual message.”

At the same time, he has said quite a few things about economic questions, and he is deeply interested in economic values and outcomes. Of course, he views them not as isolated technical questions, but as something that also touches upon a Christian pastor of souls. That is what makes my task relatively easy.

Francis’s thinking can only be understood within the context of his moral and spiritual principles. These, in turn, are inseparable from his simple and straightforward personality. I will leave it to others to study specific texts in detail; I will simply summarize the Pope’s message around the notion of Christian poverty. Perhaps we could almost say that Francis is a prophet of Christian poverty, and his papal name is no accident in this respect.

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

Tesla-Badge“The Tesla Model S is a drop-dead gorgeous electric automobile that can go from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and carries a sticker price of $80,000 at the high end,” says Sarah Stanley in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Tesla is also at the center of a debate on cronyism, consumer choice, and innovation”

On October 21, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan signed Enrolled House Bill 5606 into law. Some have rightly nicknamed this the “anti-Tesla bill.” While direct sales from manufacturers to consumers were already illegal under Michigan law (there are six states where Tesla showrooms are illegal), this bill simply loosened the language—making it clear that manufacturers who do not have their own dealers may sell cars through another manufacturer’s dealer networks. Literally, the bill deleted one word from the law. Immediately after signing this bill and siding with auto dealers, Snyder said “the discussion should consider, first and foremost, what is best for Michigan consumers, for expanding economic activity, and for innovation in our state.”

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

What is the connection between private property and conscience rights? “If there is no private property,” says Michael Novak in this week’s Acton Commentary, “there is also no independent leg to stand on in speaking for one’s conscience — and not only one’s individual conscience.”

In Poland and elsewhere, religious communities had inspired and led the nations for hundreds of years. In such places, people were not imprisoned solely in their own individual power, which was little. Sometimes they acted through institutions and associations of their own choosing. Solidarity in Poland, for example, or People Against Violence in Slovakia.

Sometimes they acted through associations and institutions they had been born into, and long been become grateful for. They knew by family history the many ways in which these institutions had nourished, taught, and trained them in the habits of conscience, self-government, and personal responsibility. These institutions had for centuries stood outside the passing follies of the age, and had been the people’s source of independence from the self-centered, decadent, and at times even thuggish “wisdom” of their particular generation.

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, November 12, 2014

Wasn’t toil introduced into human labor as a punishment from God? Yes and no, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary.

Our life is plagued by imperfection and the tragedy of our mortality, but nevertheless God says to Adam, “you shall eat,” that is, “you shall have the means to sustain your life.” Work ought not to be so toilsome — toil, in that sense, is a bad thing — but given that our lives are characterized by sin, sometimes we actually need toil. Sometimes the curse is also grace.

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

Kuyper BavinckIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “The Soul of the System,” I examine a number of images and distinctions related to Hunter Baker’s latest book, The System Has a Soul. In describing Herman Bavinck’s images of the kingdom of God as a pearl and a leaven, and a complementary distinction from Abraham Kuyper of the church as an institute and an organism, a question naturally follows about the relationship between each element of the pairings.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Scottishness and Presbyterianism were once synonymous –- and with it reverence for the Union with England, says Ewan Watt in this week’s Acton Commentary. But secularism and nationalism might change all that.

Before he was arrested and ultimately burnt at the stake, the great Presbyterian martyr George Wishart dissuaded his young disciple John Knox from following him to martyrdom with the famous words, “Nay, return to your bairns and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice.”

Four hundred and sixty-eight years since Wishart was murdered at St. Andrew’s, his native Scotland came closer than expected to seceding from the United Kingdom and becoming an independent country. Although Scotland was a sovereign nation throughout his lifetime, one could make the argument that it’s been the Union with England that has helped cement Wishart and Knox’s greatest legacy, the Reformation and creation of the Church of Scotland. The Kirk’s future was also one of the more silent – but deeply contentious – issues throughout the independence campaign.

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

Cooperation and creativity are essential for both a well-functioning market and the celebration of the Eucharist, says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary.

As he has done in the past, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his encyclical for the beginning of the Orthodox Christian ecclesiastical year (September 1) meditates on “the ongoing and daily destruction of the natural environment.” Environmental damage is the poisoned fruit of “human greed” and the pursuit of “vain profit,” the patriarch writes. Given our place in creation, human sinfulness results in not only a dissonance within the human heart but also a “turbulence in nature,” fracturing as it does nature’s “crown, namely human existence.” Fallen out of love with God, Bartholomew continues, human existence is fractured, our physical survival is threatened. So profound is our estrangement from nature and nature’s God, that we risk His “imminent wrath.”

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