Category: Acton Commentary

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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Perhaps no other adjective better captures the American political climate than fearful, says Andrew Knot in this week’s Acton Commentary (published May 25). “The past decade has witnessed a spike in fear-driven politics, at least accusations of such. The coming election appears no different,” he adds. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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In my Acton Commentary this week, “Good Work Never Ends,” I look at the example of two local personalities, John Izenbaard of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Fred Carl Hamilton of Wyoming, Michigan, to argue that “the good work of service to others ought never end as long as we live.”

Izenbaard in particular is a striking example of perseverance in serving others. The 90 year-old Izenbaard has been working at Hoekstra’s True Value Hardware for 74 years, and has no plans to retire.

During his conversation with Rev. Sirico at Acton University last week, Michael Novak observed that at the heart of every business is an idea, some new good or service that is produced. In my talk on “The Church and God’s Economy,” I outlined what I call the 4 P’s of God’s economy. The P for the realm of work is that of “production,” precisely in the same sense used by Novak. Work is the realm of productive service of others. When work is defined in this way it causes us to rethink from the ground up the worldly notion of retirement.

In this week’s piece I also refer to the formula “from success to significance.” As I point out, a good way of understanding this formula is not necessarily as a temporal transition from career into retirement, but rather as a shift in perspective. On that score, we might also talk about moving “from success to service,” or even defining success in terms of productive service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a helpful insight into what this might look like in relation to the challenge of being faithful in the midst of the daily grind:

The unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day, is found because finding the You of God behind the It of the day’s work is what Paul means by his admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). The prayer of the Christian reaches, therefore, beyond the time allocated to it and extends into the midst of the work. It surrounds the whole day, and in so doing, it does not hinder the work; it promotes work, affirms work, gives work great significance and joyfulness. Thus every word, every deed, every piece of work of the Christian becomes a prayer, not in the unreal sense of being constantly distracted from the task that must be done, but in a real breakthrough from the hard It to the gracious You.

I also note Lester DeKoster’s fine book on work in the context of this week’s piece, and his argument helps us realize that the dynamic of serving others and serving God is not an either/or proposition. As he writes, work “gives meaning to life because it is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others, and thus to God.”

Wis. Gov. Scott Walker

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg demolishes the left’s knee-jerk explanation for labor union decline, which blames “the machinations of conservative intellectuals, free-market-inclined governments, and businesses who, over time, have successfully worked to diminish organized labor, thereby crushing the proverbial ‘little guy.'”

Gregg writes:

“The truth, however, is rather more complex. One factor at work is economic globalization. Businesses fed up with unions who think that their industry should be immune from competition are now in a position to move their operations elsewhere — ranging from the southern states of America, to China, India, and other developing countries — where people and governments enthusiastically welcome the influx of knowledge, capital, and jobs. In this regard, it’s always struck me as ironic that unions in developed countries regularly act in ways that essentially hamper economic and employment growth in developing nations. So much for the “international solidarity of workers.” Comradeship apparently stops at the Rio Grande. (more…)

Writing on The American Spectator website, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the strange notion of European fiscal “austerity” even as more old continent economies veer toward the abyss. Is America far behind?

Needless to say, Greece is Europe’s poster child for reform-failure. Throughout 2011, the Greek parliament passed reforms that diminished regulations that applied to many professions in the economy’s service sector. But as two Wall Street Journal journalists demonstrated one year later, “despite the change in the law, the change never became reality. Many professions remain under the control of professional guilds that uphold old turf rules, fix prices and restrict opportunities for newcomers.” In the words of one frustrated advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Even when the Greek Parliament passes laws, nothing changes.”

Politics helps explain many governments’ aversion to reform. Proposals for substantial deregulation generates opposition from groups ranging from businesses who benefit from an absence of competition, union officials who fear losing their middle-man role, to bureaucrats whose jobs would be rendered irrelevant by liberalization. The rather meek measures that Europeans call austerity have already provoked voter backlashes against most of its implementers. Not surprisingly, many governments calculate that pursuing serious economic reform will result in ever-greater electoral punishment.

In any event, America presently has little to boast about in this area. States such as Wisconsin have successfully implemented change and are starting to see the benefits. But there’s also fiscal basket-cases such as (surprise, surprise) California and Illinois that continue burying themselves under a mountain of debt and regulations.

Read “Why Austerity Isn’t Enough” by Samuel Gregg on The American Spectator.

In this week’s commentary, I take a look at Calvin Coolidge and his views on government. Coolidge is important today for many reasons. Chiefly, he’s a striking contrast to our current culture of government and the bloated state.

Coolidge was sandwiched in between the progressive era and the rise of the New Dealers. And in his era of leadership, tyrannical leaders who preached the supremacy of the state rose to power abroad. Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini in Italy are two examples. Coolidge preached limited government and saw himself as a civic educator who wanted to remind America of its founding freedom.

In watching what just transpired with the recall election in Wisconsin and the debate over public sector unions, there is again a connection to Coolidge. His rise to national prominence came as governor of Massachusetts when he took on a public union. Coolidge’s firm stand against the Boston Police Strike of 1919 later led him to reflect saying, “The people will respond to the truth.” Coolidge famously declared during the strike that, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” Ronald Reagan would find inspiration from Coolidge’s hardline when he terminated the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 as president.

I have enjoyed reading through the speeches and biographies of Coolidge. I have read a lot of original sources such as Have Faith in Massachusetts, which is a collection of messages and speeches delivered by Coolidge during his political career in the Bay State. After reading through that, you get a picture of the depth of his conservative thought and how he was able to articulate it so well to the citizenry.

His most brilliant speech which is really a denunciation of the progressive era and a triumphant praise of America’s Founding is his remarkable address on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. If you don’t read anything else by Coolidge, that speech is a must read. Finally, keep the forthcoming Coolidge biography by Amity Shlaes on your radar.

In this week’s Acton Commentary (published May 30), Anthony Bradley argues that racial discrimination is no match for the power of competition: “While companies were free to discriminate against blacks it was not in their economic interests to do so because, at the end of the day, every company’s favorite color is green.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Contagious Community,” I look at the positive as well as the negative aspects of coordination and cooperation between human beings on a global scale. The film Contagion provided the occasion for these reflections, and I argue that

while the film is clear about the dangers of globalized human relationships, it also teaches a more subtle lesson. Even as disease represents a danger that can have worldwide impact, such dangers remain the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, the film portrays quite well how global networks of information and exchange are absolutely foundational for our contemporary world.

Abraham Kuyper on Common Grace in Science & ArtI was reminded of this uniquely human social characteristic again while reading through Abraham Kuyper’s Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art this week. Kuyper makes the point that human pursuit of scientific knowledge is a communal endeavor. In fact, he writes,

Science is thus constructed not on the basis of what one person observes, discovers, imagines, and organizes into one system in his or her thinking. Rather, science arises from the fruit of the thinking, imagining, and reflecting of successive generations in the course of centuries, and by means of the cooperation of everyone.

What we have in the case of the development of human knowledge, then, is a communal endeavor defined not just in spatial terms (i.e. globally) but also temporally, including the successive ages of human beings from the past and their discoveries as they have been built upon and communicated to us today.

When discussing the idea of the invisible church, theologians include both the living and dead (who now enjoy the revelation of the blessed in the intermediate state) as making up “the communion of saints.” But similarly with respect to science as a common grace enterprise, we have a communion of common grace that likewise includes the living as well as the dead.

No single person can comprehend science in an “exalted sense,” which for Kuyper “originates only through the cooperation of many people,” the living as well as the dead. In the same way, no single person knows how to manufacture a pencil or build a chair, in part because none of us who are alive today got where we are on our own. We (and our civilization) are the products of those who have come before.

Recognition of this should instill in us a pretty healthy sense of humility and gratefulness for the graces of human community.