Category: Book Review

Useful idiots for collectivism posing as French intellectuals -- Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir entertain the butcher Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1960.

In his novel The Age of Longing, Arthur Koestler skewers many so-called French intellectuals as useful idiots for collectivism, including presumably Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir shown above entertaining the butcher Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1960.


Don’t retire this book! Although Arthur Koestler’s The Age of Longing was published in 1951 – officially making it 65 this year – it’s far too invigoratingly fresh to remove from the anti-Marxist workforce. In fact, the message delivered by Koestler in this novel couldn’t be more relevant than in our contemporary political environment.

Koestler’s penultimate endeavor in literary fiction and the final entry in his quartet of political novels on the inherent dangers of collectivism, The Age of Longing revisits the religious theme prevalent in the author’s first novel, The Gladiators, but subdued or nonexistent in Darkness at Noon and Arrival and Departure. A fifth novel, 1946’s Thieves in the Night, details the political landscape of post-World War II Palestine, which falls outside the convenient rubric of the present conversation – as does The Call Girls, a novel he wrote and published 22 years after The Age of Longing.

Compared to his previous novels and works of journalism, The Age of Longing received short-shrift upon its publication. Since then, it has been granted only brief critical consideration – if at all, considering it’s the only Koestler novel not granted its own Wikipedia entry. This is unfortunate, as this novel-of-ideas is a corker, positing the only salvation of humanity from the allure of collectivism is religious faith. (more…)

For God and Profit“Gregg lays out a careful and detailed argument for the proposition that, done well, financial endeavors can serve the common good,” says Adam J. MacLeod in a review of Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s most recent book For God and Profit: How Banking and Finance Can Serve the Common Good. MacLeod’s review at The Public Discourse, gives praise to Gregg’s book saying that anyone who feels called to the finance industry “can get quite a lot straight by reading this fine book.”

The review starts out by noting how well Gregg is able to explain the ins and outs of the finance industry so anyone can understand it. MacLeod says:

A major barrier to seeing this possibility is widespread ignorance of how finance works. Clearing away misconceptions is a delicate task, especially in a book for a general audience. One wants not to assume too much knowledge but also not to insult readers’ intelligence or good will. Gregg strikes the right balance as he walks through the fundamentals of economics and finance.

He examines the historical foundations of zero-sum economic thinking (which was founded in ancient experiences with zero-sum and exploitative economies), and how the rise of capital during the commercial revolution of the Middle Ages enabled widespread participation in economic growth. He explains financial practices such as short trading, the role that a government’s monetary policy has on inflation and unemployment, and much else. Throughout, he probes financial practices for their underlying logic and purposes. Readers will benefit from his insights, no matter how much economic knowledge they possess at the outset.

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Michael Hamburger, a Jew born in Germany and exiled in England in 1933, borrowed the persona of the previous century’s German Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin to express in verse the madness of the modern world. For Hamburger, Holderlin’s well-documented … shall we approach this delicately? … mental issues, were a proportional response to a world he perceived as approaching the precipice. In his 1941 poem titled “Holderlin,” Hamburger wrote:

I have no tears to mourn forsaken gods
Or my lost voice.
This is my wisdom where no laughter sounds,
No sighs, this is my peace.

Glory is gone, and the swimming clouds;
My dumb hand grips the frozen sky,
A black bare tree in the winter dark.

For truly observant Roman Catholics, the contemporary milieu echoes Hamburger’s lament vis-a-vis Holderlin about “forsaken gods,” or, at the very least, forgotten or casually ignored for convenience’s sake Church history, doctrine, dogma and precepts.

Zmirak

Overtly, one need look no further than recent WikiLeaks’ revelations concerning John Podesta and company’s desire for a “Catholic spring;” the Affordable Care Act’s attempted bulldozing of religious liberties; the media and its “green” allies embracement of many of the pronouncements found in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical; government compulsion of florists and pastry chefs to violate their respective religious conscience; the tragic abortion morass wrought by the Supreme Court’s discovery of an unknown until 1973 penumbra of privacy in the U.S. Constitution; and the combined deleterious effects on the family unit caused by the twinning of the sexual revolution with no-fault divorce.

Less obvious are efforts within the Church itself, which include nuns, laity and clergy promoting government wealth-redistribution efforts under the guise of charity as well as engaging in ill-informed “environmental” activism that pose very real negative threats to the world’s poorest – and consistently contradict the Church’s explicit teachings on such matters. As your writer can attest, post-Vatican II Catholic school education did little to inform its students about the Deposit of the Faith due to focusing on such “social goods” as economic equality and using pop music lyrics to advance squishy theological concepts that tilted heavily toward socialism and pantheism. One need only close one’s eyes to recall the wheat-germ scented nuns of the 1970s agitating for more government programs.

It’s all enough to make someone stand athwart Christian history, yelling Stop! – and that someone is John Zmirak, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide® to Catholicism: The Most Politically Incorrect Institution in the World! (Regnery Publishing, 2016, 370 pp, $21.99). Those of us familiar with Zmirak’s other books and essays shouldn’t be surprised he wields a mighty pen and encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism and many other topics when it comes to demolishing liberal shibboleths and the agendas to which they’re attached. (more…)

51p8Haa6WpL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_“When robots are driving our cars, doing our shopping, writing our blogs and articles, cleaning our homes and providing medical care… what will be left for us to do?” asks Anthony Howard.

In the book Humanise: Why Human-Centred Leadership is the Key to the 21st Century, he argues “it won’t be a question of what we do, though, but of who we are, of what kind of people we are, of how we relate to one another, how we care for one another.”

This reminded me of Father Sirico’s closing address at Acton University in 2015 during which he said, “We know better how to form children, we know better how to care for the dying and sick and to tend to the lonely and the troubled […] precisely because we believe in the dignity of all human life.”

Sometimes the threats to humanising the culture come from attacks on the religious freedom of institutions. Other times, a properly human culture is threatened by a lack of reflection on leadership and ethics, particularly as these involve technology.
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A new collection of essays titled Christianity and Freedom: Historical Perspectives edited by Samuel Shah and Allen D. Hertzke explores the ways that Christian beliefs and institutions have made contributions to the freedoms that are cherished by both Christians and non-Christians today.

Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently gave his analysis of this new collection of essays in a book review published at Public Discourse.  Gregg begins his review by recognizing that while Christians have played a huge role in bringing about religious freedom there have also been many occasions when Christians have been persecutors.  He says:

Any discussion of freedom and Christianity quickly surfaces the numerous instances in which Christians have undermined human liberty. Reference is invariably made to the various Inquisitions, the witch trials conducted by Puritans, forced conversions, and other instances of intolerance.

A particular strength of this collection of essays is that none of the authors denies that Christians and Christian institutions have on many occasions violated the rightful freedoms of others. This frank acknowledgment, however, is accompanied by an argument that permeates many of the papers: that it was, for the most part, Christianity that provided the moral, theological, and cultural principles upon which Christians and others have drawn to condemn unjust coercion. In other words, people have relied, consciously or otherwise, on Christian resources to identify and correct violations of freedom, including those committed in the name of the Christian faith. This suggests that liberalism by itself did not—and perhaps never could—generate the conceptual tools needed for this type of critique.

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The Reformation in the 1500s was more than a movement started by Martin Luther.  He played a crucial role, but there was more to it.  Samuel Gregg recently reviewed a book for the Library of Law and Liberty that explains the historical significance of Catholic and Protestant reformations.  According to Gregg, Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 written by the Yale historian Carlos M.N. Eire “is likely to become one of the definitive studies of this period.”

The year 1517 is considered one of those historical watersheds—like 1789, 1914, or 1968—at which Western societies took a radical turn away from hitherto prevailing political, economic, cultural, or religious settings. Such shifts, however, never come from nowhere. History’s time-bombs are invariably years in the making. (more…)

For God and ProfitThe US Review of Books recently analyzed Samuel Gregg’s latest book, For God and Profit.  John E. Roper, the journalist who wrote the review, gave For God and Profit a “RECOMMENDED” rating.  Beyond the rating, Roper, had some very positive remarks about Gregg’s book.  He said this:

The author knows he has his work cut out for him. Many Christians have been indoctrinated with a general distrust of both money and its effects on society. This often translates into the belief that money, while necessary, is still inherently evil, and that those who trade in it such as banks and other financial institutions are suspect at best. Thankfully Gregg is well-prepared for the challenge in front of him, and in possibly one of the finest books ever written on the subject, he shows how faith and finance do not have to be incompatible.

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