Category: Acton University

Acton Institute is pleased to announce both the opening of registration for the 2012 Acton University (AU), and the launch of AU Online, a new internet-based educational resource for exploring the intellectual foundations of a free and virtuous society.

For four days each June, the Acton Institute convenes an ecumenical conference of pastors, seminarians, educators, non-profit managers, business people and philanthropists from more than 50 countries in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here, 700 people of faith gather to integrate and better articulate faith and free enterprise, entrepreneurship, sound public policy, and effective leadership at the local church and community level. With this week of fellowship and discourse, participants build a theological and economic infrastructure for the work of restoring and defending hope and dignity to people around the world.

This year’s Acton University will take place on June 12-15. For the online registration form and complete conference information, please visit university.acton.org.

Acton Institute is also launching AU Online, a new internet-based educational resource for exploring the intellectual foundations of a free and virtuous society. This resource is designed to offer the Acton community another way to experience the first class content and interaction of an Acton sponsored event while at home, at the office, or at school. To celebrate the launch of this new program, we are presenting the same series of foundational lectures offered at Acton University as the four-part pilot series for AU Online. This will allow interested Acton University participants to opt to take these courses in advance and become eligible for alumni course selections at Acton University. This series will take place twice a week, December 6-15 of this year — act quickly to take advantage of this new resource! Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.

Space and scholarship funds for both Acton University and AU Online are limited, so register or apply now! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our programs staff at programs@acton.org or at 616.454.3080. We hope to see you in June!

Tomorrow is a big day at the Acton Institute. November 15th marks the launch of two programs, 2012 Acton University (AU) and AU Online, a new internet-based educational resource for exploring the intellectual foundations of a free and virtuous society.

For the 2012 Acton University conference (June 12-15 in Grand Rapids), we’ve overhauled the registration process to make it more user-friendly and responsive, and we look forward to hearing what you think.

We are also happy to present AU Online. This new digital learning hub will let you access select Acton content from your home, office or classroom, so even if you can’t make it to one of our programs in person, you can hear and interact with the same experts online.

It’s an exciting time here at Acton and I hope you enjoy these new resources as much as we have enjoyed developing them.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 15, 2011

Grand Rapids has been the focus of national attention over the last week or so, most recently for the services surrounding the passing of former First Lady Betty Ford. In the midst of loss and mourning, there’s some cause for levity. See, for instance, this local news story that is getting some coverage around the country, “Angry bird attacks during Ford services.”

I myself have been a victim of this red-winged menace! Some of you may have heard that one of the reasons that Acton University (our premier week-long program held in Grand Rapids) changed venues this year was to accommodate an increase in participants. But now the real reason can be made public: we had to change venues to avoid these angry birds!

Angry Bird!
Well, maybe not. But I still think this red-winged menace must be eliminated! It is a matter of public safety: “The Red-Winged Blackbird can be very aggressive while defending its territory from other animals and birds.” That’s an understatement!

Red Menace

Earlier this year I was invited to participate in a seminar sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies and Students for a Free Economy at Northwood University. In the course of the weekend I was able to establish that while I wasn’t the first theologian to present at an IHS event, I may well have been the first Protestant theologian.

In a talk titled, “From Divine Right to Human Rights: The Foundations of Rights in the Modern World,” I attempted to trace the development of the concept of “rights” in the West historically, from the ancient world to modern times. A corollary purpose was to show the students that liberty and religion are not inimical or diametrically opposed.

Shawn Ritenour, a faculty presenter at last month’s Acton University, pursues a similar purpose in a recent post at his blog, Foundations of Economics (after his book of the same name. Timothy Terrell reviews Ritenour’s book in issue 13.2 of the Journal of Markets & Morality). Ritenour writes, “While it is true that many non-believers embrace and promote the free society and many libertarians despise Christ[, i]t does not follow, however, that Christianity and liberty have nothing to do with one another.” He goes on to provide some more resources for this point, particularly arguing that “a close study of God’s Word reveals that social institutions that promote liberty are positively mandated.”

Human rights are one of these social institutions that promote liberty and are positively mandated by the Bible. In my presentation at the Northwood seminar, I drew on some resources from the Acton film, The Birth of Freedom. In particular, I shared this video featuring John Witte Jr. that addresses the question, “How Has Judaism Contributed to Human Rights?”

As Lord Acton puts it, in ancient Israel “the throne was erected on a compact; and the king was deprived of the right of legislation among a people that recognised no lawgiver but God, whose highest aim in politics was to restore the original purity of the constitution, and to make its government conform to the ideal type that was hallowed by the sanctions of heaven.”

This year’s Acton University was very successful, and we are still seeing its effects through blog posts, tweets, and Facebook messages. Some of our PowerBlog readers may be wondering what they missed out on, or would also like to think back a few weeks to their favorite Acton University moments.

To listen to a favorite lecture, or to find out what was missed, remember that Acton University 2011 lectures can be purchased and downloaded for $1.99.

Joe Gorra of the Evangelical Philosophical Society compiled nine interviews with different Acton University faculty who lectured on countless invigorating topics including, sustainability and the environment, ethics, Nietzche’s critique of Christianity and Caitalism, and free markets. Gorra’s post helps of relive some of the memories he had at Acton University, along with give those who weren’t able to attend the conference a taste of what was missed.

Gorra interviews James Otteson, a professor of philosophy and economics at Yeshiva University. Otteson’s course at Acton University was titled, “Adam Smith: Philosopher and Political Economist.” In the interview Ottenson explains some of the misconceptions associated with Adam Smith:

As you know, some hold various misconceptions about Adam Smith and his work. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time studying Smith and his objectors, what would you say are the top misconceptions that scholars or non-scholars often assert about him and his work and how would you respond?

Misconceptions of Smith come from both political directions, as it were. Some have portrayed Smith as a doctrinaire laissez-faire libertarian, while others, more recently, have portrayed him as something like a contemporary progressive liberal. Neither is accurate. His review of the available historical and economic evidence led him to conclude that, after providing protection for people’s lives, liberty, and property, minimal government interference in people’s lives led to prosperity for all—including especially the poor. So he was genuinely concerned about the least among us, and his policy recommendations were based primarily on concerns about their welfare. Yet his recommendation of limited government was presumptive, not absolute: It served as a default to which exceptions could be made if the evidence for the particular case warranted it. I call his position “pragmatic classical liberalism.”

John Bolt, Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, was also interviewed by Gorra. Bolt’s course, which delved into the works of Alexis de Tocqueville, was called “Centralization and Civil Society.” In the interview, Bolt discusses what the concept of “intermediary institutions” means:

Tocqueville’s concept of “intermediary institutions” is central to his vision of civic life and human flourishing. Can you explain the meaning and significance of that in Tocqueville and how it is indispensable to the maintenance of liberty and social cohesion in a civil society?

Tocqueville realized that the great danger in modern, egalitarian democracy lay in our tendency toward what he called “individualism.” In the U.S., at least, we don’t normally consider this a dangerous notion. But for him, individualism implied not heroism, but a kind of retreat into isolated nothingness and an evasion of responsibility for one’s fellow man. This kind of isolation poses dangers to liberty because as lone, equal individuals, we come face to face with our tremendous weakness. We need someone or something to save us, and having denied God (isn’t God the ultimate affront to a deep belief in equality?), we turn to the state.

Intermediary institutions (clubs, local political organizations, community activities, churches, etc.) tie us – really oblige us – to our neighbors. They train us to recognize the ways we can satisfy our various needs without turning to political power to provide the goods we require. He says these associations teach the art of being free and living responsibly. Without them, we will fall out of practice at self-government.

And in a testament to the success of Acton University, Gorra explains in his blog post, “Why the Acton Institute? Philosophy’s Good Beyond Philosophy,” his reasoning to attending the conference:

The work of the Acton Institute (www.acton.org), and especially their annual Acton University conference, is highly hospitable to this sort endeavor. Over the last several years, I have attended Acton University (second time this year, and happening now!), their Toward a Free and Virtuous Society events, and also co-sponsored Liberty Fund and Acton Institute events.

Honestly, I don’t know of any other conference or organization that intentionally affords the Christian philosopher the unique opportunity to engage in such interdisciplinary work at the intersection of theology, economics, and social policy. As a matter of enrichment (personally and professionally), I “come alive” at their gathering, my imagination is cultivated by the possibilities of how the theoretical and practical  goods of philosophy can converge and collaborate with other bodies of knowledge.

Acton’s intellectual architecture is intelligently designed to permit – no, encourage! – the good of philosophy to be utilized in this way.

Click here to read Gorra’s nine interviews with Acton University faculty.

 

Acton University has been full of thought provoking lectures and stimulating discussion. It is easy to see why the attendees wish the conference was much longer. There are many interesting lectures, one just wishes he or she could attend all of them.

Yesterday Dr. John Bolt, of Calvin Theological Seminary, taught a course titled “Centralization and Civil Society.” Bolt’s course paid special attention to Alexis de Tocqueville and his contributions to defining a civil society. As one can imagine, by bringing Tocqueville into his lecture, Bolt discussed the role of religion and the sense of community in the United States.

Bolt explained that America is self-reliant; however, this self-reliance didn’t come through reflection. The American people didn’t wake up one day and decide they wanted to be more self-reliant. Instead, Bolt explains that America’s self-reliance is habitual. Furthermore, Bolt discussed how Tocqueville demonstrated that America can afford to be self-reliant and individualistic because it was founded on Christian principles and that liberty exists in the United States because of religion and Christian principles.

The dinner lecture was a real treat last night. The Acton Institute has always promoted entrepreneurship and what it means to intertwine faith with entrepreneurship. A panel of successful entrepreneurs shared their insight on how business can promote the common good. Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children and Alliance for School Choice and chairman of the Windquest group, articulated how she finds joy in enterprises that make a difference in other people’s lives. She believes that enterprise is a vehicle we use and invest our God given talents in.

According to Mark Murray, president of Meijer, Inc., entrepreneurs need to be servant leaders. In order to succeed they must remain rooted in integrity. Murray explained how the values found in Christianity, such as humility, are not only applicable but needed in business. Furthermore, we are all created in the mage and likeness of God. We are called to use our God given gifts and express our creativity. Murray believes we put our talents and creativity to use through work, and the development of the human capacity is promoted through business.

Stewardship was highlighted by John Kennedy, president and CEO of Autocam. We are all temporary custodians of everything and have to do the best with the assets we are given. Furthermore, Kennedy said that we must remember people and employees are all assets and leaders must discover the gifts of their employees and how those gifts can most help the enterprise. Not only are employees assets, but so is capital. Entrepreneurs are called to be stewards of both their employees and capital and use all they are given to the fullest extent, and by doing this entrepreneurs demonstrate their appreciation for all God has given and blessed them with.

While there are flawed business leaders who are not examples of how businesses contribute to the common good, Acton University attendees witnessed what it really means to be called to entrepreneurship. When the calling of entrepreneurship is accepted and founded in Christian principles, the entrepreneur is a tool to create and promote the common good.

Continuing the tradition from 2010, Acton University 2011 lectures will be available for purchase online from our secure order page.  New lectures will be posted as they conclude throughout the week, so check back often.

The downloads are in MP3 format and can be transferred to any device that plays audio files such as an iPod or smartphone.

Here are some useful Acton University links:

We now have a live stream of the #ActonU hashtag on Twitter running on the right side of our blog. This tab will keep you updated on the folks who are using this tag in their Twitter posts. Feel free to join in and be featured on the blog! You might even find someone to meet up with between sessions. For those of you who aren’t at Acton University you can use the feed to find out what you’re missing. If you do not see the feed on the right side of the blog you may need to refresh your browser.

Update 6/20/2011: The live stream has been removed since Acton University has concluded.  You can still check out the stream on Twitter if you’re interested.

Over the last 20 years, Acton Institute has worked to discover, cultivate, and encourage current and future business leaders and cultural influencers. Last week’s 20th Anniversary Dinner gave testimony to two decades of great effort. It is often easy to recognize current leaders like Kate O’Beirne (MC for the evening) and Richard M. DeVos (recipient of the 2010 Faith and Freedom award) but the future leaders are often less obvious to the untrained eye.

However, it was clear that the two Acton alumni who spoke at the dinner are a prime example of the many future leaders within the Acton network.

Armando Regil Velasco is the president and founder of the Agora Institute for Strategic Thinking (IPEA), a non-profit and independent policy think tank that focuses on market-oriented research and education. He has used the ideas learned at Acton University and the Liberty and Markets conferences to support his institute and spread ideas of freedom and virtue throughout Mexico.

While he was in Grand Rapids for the dinner, Armando shared that he had been recently featured in the 2010 Los Potencialistas (The 2010 Potentials) sponsored by Gatopardo magazine and American Express. This list is comprised of 10 individuals who are realizing their potential in Mexico. Armando is noted for “changing the world at 25” and leading the youth by his strong example.

We are proud of Armando’s hard work and commitment to promoting the principles of a free, prosperous, and virtuous society.

Last Saturday’s New York Times contains an entertaining, edifying but ultimately sad tale on what ails the Italian economy.

Entitled “Is Italy Too Italian?“, the Global Business article seeks to explain why Italy often tops “the informal list of Nations That Worry Europe” economically. Part of the problem may be the reluctance to use modern industrial techniques that can reduce costs of production – can you afford to pay $4,000 for a suit??? – or the large public debt run up by its profligate government, but the more important issue is the utter lack of growth and hence opportunity in the Italian economy.

Our friends at Istituto Bruno Leoni have documented the excruciating details of the situation. I’ll save you the trouble and let you know that both the New York Times and IBL make it clear that the Italians are being done in by the impediments to the free-market economy, deriving in many cases from a fear of open, honest competition in the marketplace.

Nowhere is this fear more evident than in the system of guilds that still dominates many sectors of the Italian economy. Guilds, in effect, are associations meant protect certain industries from competition in the name of cooperation/collusion among the suppliers of a good or service. And the recovery of guilds is often at the heart of a school of thought known as distributism that seeks a “third way” between capitalism and socialism.

(Thomas Woods explained the problem in his Acton monograph Beyond Distributism and I summarized the case in my recent Acton University lecture on the same subject.)

It is most unfortunate that some conservative religious-minded people have fallen for the “charms” of distributism, many of which are romantic longings for a more self-sufficient, localized economy made up of many (“well-distributed”) small-property owners, as opposed to large monopolistic, corporate holders of property.

Of course no one with any religious sensibilities really wants to (or can for that matter) defend capitalism, let alone the status quo, unconditionally. At its best, distributism can remind us that we are not economic automatons, that we shouldn’t become “wage-slaves”, and that as free, morally-responsible persons, we can and must choose how we ought to live. But it should also be obvious that a return to the guilds, with its limitations on free competition, is no way to correct the excesses of 21st-century capitalism. Just ask the Italians….