Category: General

Father John Zuhlsdorf, who runs the popular Catholic blog “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” has opened a new discussion thread on the work of the Acton Institute. He explains:

In light of what is going on in the world’s economies, and in light of what will be increasing tension between secular governments and the Church, which has her body of teaching on social issues, it is a good idea to have a strong discussion about Acton and the Church’s social teachings.

Fr. Z, who joined us at Acton University as a blogger last year, started the Acton discussion to address comments that were being raised on another entry regarding Fr. Robert Sirico’s letter to Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins. Here’s Fr. Z’s summary:

Under that other entry, commenter Sarsfield opines:

Sirico is a dissenter from the social magisterium of the Church in favor of the decidedly un-Catholic philosophy of economic liberalism. The very purpose of his organization is to “correct” the “mistakes” of all the Popes who have spoken on the social question since Leo XIII. His choice of the organization’s name is telling if anyone bothers to read a little history. It was Acton, after all, who not only opposed Vatican I’s proposed definition of papal infallibility but tried to use his considerable influence with the British government to induce the anti-Catholic European powers to intervene militarily to prevent the Council from meeting.

Some responses were given to this:

* You may or may not agree with Fr. Sirico’s affinity for economic liberalism, but it is a gross overstatement to accuse him of dissenting from the Magisterium of the Church.
* You are incorrect to categorize Fr. Sirico as a dissenter from the Magisterium for his economics. Though, without more information, I’m not sure if it’s because you are wrong about the Acton Institute, or if it’s because you misunderstand Leo XIII.
* I think a better description of Fr. Sirico’s politics/economic theories rather than “economic liberalism,’ which is the term you use, would be “economic libertarianism.” Or “free market capitalism.” Excuse me for coining the first phrase, but certainly, as I read through the Acton maxim’s on their web site, they have much more to do philosophically with the right wing, or modern conservativism’s “less is more” view of the government’s involvement with all things that affect capitalistic economies. So it just as well could read, “economic conservatism,” for those listening with ears primed with the current left vs. right paradigm labeling conventions. So, while you may mean to convey exactly the same idea, the labeling must certainly give the opposite appearance to eyes and ears more conventionally tuned.

Join the discussion on WDTPRS. Come back here to link your remarks.

I was late in receiving my Richard John Neuhaus tribute issue from First Things, so forgive my mentioning it after many have long read it.

Going through, one thing that stands out is that Richard John Neuhaus was so influential not only because of his tremendous proficiency and prolificity with words, but also because of his gift of friendship. When great groups of friends stay together for a long time, it is often because there is one person standing at the center doing the work and exerting an almost magnetic attraction. Neuhaus stood at the center of an incredible network of brilliant people. That becomes clear as you read the tributes.

I had a friend like that in high school. He made the friendships work. We didn’t have a lot without him. We got together recently in Chicago after twenty years apart. The same dynamic was in place.

Stephen Barr’s tribute underlines the point:

[Neuhaus] also created a particular part of the public square that hadn’t existed before. He created a place where a great throng of religious intellectuals, hitherto isolated from one another and often unaware of one another’s existence, could meet to share their thoughts and pool their intellectual resources.

Quite right. And one man was brilliant at linking those people together in a culturally important way. Who will be next? Robert George? Father Sirico? I wonder . . .

Both of those gentlemen will be at the next Acton University.

I’ve posted a reflection on the future of higher education, with a particular emphasis on the Christian universities, over at the Touchstone Magazine Mere Comments blog. Catch it here.

Here’s a clip:

The economic downturn has had a substantial impact on colleges and universities.

The first shoe dropped when endowments everywhere took big hits from a rapidly falling market. When endowments go underwater, they produce no income and generally can’t be touched.

The other shoe will drop when we see how private colleges and universities do in terms of their student numbers for the fall. My casual conversations with peers indicates that the private schools are running behind in terms of student deposits. The buyers are not feeling flush.

The public universities, on the other hand, have their own problems. The ones that have endowments are down. They also rely on tax subsidies in a time when tax revenues are diminished. The trend of the last several years has been for states to offer less and less financial support. In-state tuition has risen substantially. Where they do not suffer is in terms of student numbers. They will be overwhelmed by bargain seekers in tough economic times. The question is whether they will have state funds to backfill the subsidized education they offer and how many they can admit. As it stands now, their facilities are often severely strained, teaching assistants do an awful lot of the instruction, and there are a large number of cattle call style courses.

We as Americans are very proud of our history. We admire our forefathers who took a stand for liberty to found this great nation, but it would be unwise, as her former colonists, for Americans to overlook the British contribution to human freedom following the events of 1776. Doing so will allow us to understand more fully the role of religion and freedom in our own society.

The beginning of the 19th century was a tumultuous time for those who love liberty. Embroiled in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1793-1815, Great Britain fought and bested every sea power in Europe. With her naval supremacy assured by the victory at Trafalgar in 1805, Britain undertook a new moral enterprise in 1807—the end of the slave trade in the Atlantic.

While Great Britain was the only country with a navy capable of pursuing this endeavor, an underlying question remains unanswered. Why would the British attempt this? Britain was the foremost slave trading power in the two decades preceding the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and her government made tremendous profits by transporting human cargo to the New World. Furthermore, the embattled crown committed 13 percent of her navy to a newly formed, “West Africa Squadron” in order to suppress the illicit industry. The squadron would operate until the 1860s and more than 25 percent of its sailors would die, mostly from malaria and yellow fever. Despite these figures, the Royal Navy freed 150,000 Africans from bondage, captured 1,600 slave ships, and burned slave trading depots from the Cape of Good Hope to Morocco, which effectively ended the trans-Atlantic slave trade by 1866.

(more…)

Last night I watched the latest episode of The Apprentice: Celebrity Edition. I have been pulled into the series this year largely because of the compelling finishes where The Donald lectures celebrities about their work habits and managerial ineptness. Dennis Rodman has been a draw because of his incredibly bad behavior.

This was Dennis’ week. His teammates chose him to be the project manager because they hoped he would rise to the challenge if he was running things. It worked, for a short while, then he drank enough to go past caring. First, he got angry. Then, he absented himself from the project he was supposed to direct.

The men’s team lost, which gave rise to the beautiful moment. Motorcycle entrepeneur and reality star Jesse James confronted Dennis Rodman with his drinking problem. The others readily agreed with the diagnosis. Rodman got angry and defensive, mostly offering support of his own worthiness by adverting to his NBA career which has been over for some time now. Finally, getting nowhere, Rodman said in frustration, “I . . . I could kick all y’all’s a**es. Everyone one here.”

Now, I’m not sure that is actually true. Jesse James, for example, was a professional bodyguard at one point. But James didn’t respond to Rodman’s provocation with a physical challenge. His actual reply was devastating:

Then why don’t you kick our a**es at being a good person?

Rodman sat silent.

I called this a beautiful moment for the natural law because Jesse James put the idea out there for millions of people whether he or they realized it. We know what a good person is. We expect people to aspire to that AND to achieve it.

At a minimum, we expect people to be honest, to keep their promises, to be reliable, and to moderate their own behavior out of respect for others. These are things Thomas Aquinas would say we can reason to from the premise of the social nature of man. Rodman did none of that. And he was kicked out.

This year’s national meeting of the Philadelphia Society was my first. William Campbell of LSU invited me (a young-ish faculty member of Houston Baptist University) after reading a piece I wrote on libertarians and conservatives for the Acton Institute. I am very thankful for the opportunity and enjoyed the event very much. The list of attendees was really quite impressive and people were generally interested in and open to others.

At each meal I sat with a different group of people and found the conversation rewarding. There was a strong sense of fellowship and collegiality. I felt that individuals who offered divergences of opinion were treated respectfully and well. It was, in the best sense of the word, scholarly.

However, I write to offer a suggestion. To me, the panels shaded too much to the hall of famer/veteran side and not enough (or even at all) to rising, young talent needing an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do or what new things they have to say. A meeting of this kind would represent a great way for the distinguished members to identify talent and then to figure out how to promote the careers of young people who can seek to build on the previous generation’s successes.

For every paper delivered by a long-standing member who is confident in what he has said and is ready to say it again, there are young people who will work their brains out for a chance to present something impressive to people they respect. The leadership needs to figure out how to move national meetings in that direction to a greater degree.

The Philadelphia Society’s New Orleans meeting has concluded. This was my first time to be invited. I have some impressions to report about both the society and the town. For this post, I’ll focus on New Orleans.

If I can judge from the French Quarter and the rush hour traffic, New Orleans is back. The downtown area was absolutely hopping and it wasn’t Mardi Gras time. I’ve never seen an American city other than NYC with so much night life.

However, I have to admit I was taken aback by Bourbon Street. On Saturday morning, I visited Cafe du Monde with a fellow academic who’d been a Bush appointee. After eating our beignets, we walked along the sidewalks and were nearly flooded out by a street washing machine that literally poured soapy water all over the streets and walkways. I wondered how often the city conducted that operation. My guess now is every night. By the end of Saturday, I’d seen the Quarter in operation. You run into an awful lot of questionable liquids on the street and sidewalks. Come morning, the wages of overindulgence (and a lot of horse droppings) need to be washed away.

I was stunned by “out there” nature of the sexually-oriented businesses in evidence. That takes a little doing since I live in Houston which is filled with elaborate strip clubs, but there you spin rapidly by them on elevated freeways. In New Orleans, you walk by women in lingerie standing on sidewalks and in doorways to beckon customers inside. I imagine Times Square was like that P.G. (pre-Giuliani).

Having been to 21st century Times Square and seedy Bourbon Street. I’ll take Times Square. One changed for the better. The other stayed the same. Of course, I take into account the admonition of Thomas Aquinas that you can’t use the law to abolish all vice, lest you create a backlash of total rebellion. Still, Rudy G. seems to have done a better job of locating the golden mean than his counterpart Ray N.

Last night I was reading Thoughts of A Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Jim Stockdale (1923-2005). The book is a collection of Stockdale’s speeches and essays over the years. So much of his well thought out writings are words to live by and definitely worth sharing. Here is a timely quote from an essay titled “On Public Virtue” written in 1988:

Those who study the rise and fall of civilizations learn that no shortcoming has been surely fatal to republics as a dearth of public virtue, the unwillingness of those who govern to place the value of their society above personal interest. Yet today we read outcries from conscientious congressman disenchanted with the proceedings of their legislative body and totally disgusted with the log-jamming effect of their peers’ selfish and artful distancing of themselves from critical spending cutbacks, much needed belt-tightening legislation without which the long-term existence of our republic itself is endangered. p. 74

The quote also echoes a sentiment shared by South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford, interviewed in the upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 9, 2009

The World Freedom Atlas, “a geovisualization tool for world statistics,” looks like a very powerful and compelling complement to something like the Gapminder Trendalyzer tool.

Blog author: eschansberg
posted by on Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A staggering piece by Stephen Baskerville in Touchstone…

I’ve written at length that marriage has been damaged much moreso by divorce than by calls for (or movements toward) “same-sex” marriage. Baskerville expands on that and discusses the initial “grand experiment” on marriage– the policies behind the move toward easier divorce.

G. K. Chesterton once observed that the family serves as the principal check on government power, and he suggested that someday the family and the state would confront one another. That day has arrived.

Chesterton was writing about divorce, and despite extensive public attention to almost every other threat to the family, divorce remains the most direct and serious. Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes that “divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.”

Most Americans would be deeply shocked if they knew what goes on today under the name of divorce. Indeed, many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control. Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial. Comprised of family courts and vast, federally funded social services bureaucracies that wield what amount to police powers, the divorce machinery has become the most predatory and repressive sector of government ever created in the United States and is today’s greatest threat to constitutional freedom.

Some four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other….

This startling fact has been ignored by politicians, journalists, academics, and even family advocates. “Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” wrote Gallagher. “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.” No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce….

For more on this post, click here.