Category: General

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 26, 2008
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Awhile back I passed along some insight into J. K. Rowling’s view of tyranny, as expressed in the words of Albus Dumbledore. Here’s another bit from Rowling’s wizard on the related topic of power:

I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p. 718).

That section recalls for me Lord Acton’s famous words, which adorn this blog’s masthead. Here’s that quote, within the context of its surrounding sentences, “Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

Something to keep in mind this election season, I think.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
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The Acton Institute is branching out into the technology sector with its new Acton branded flash drives.

We initially offered these drives to attendees of Acton University where they were received with cheers from bloggers and others who still remember—with a shudder—the horrors of the old 3½ floppies (remember the good old “tape hack” you could use to trick your computer into thinking that it was a DD and not an HD disk?) and even the ginormous 5¼ floppies.

These USB2.0 flash drives hold a handy 1Gb of your favorite portable files, be they MP3s, photos from your recent vacation, or documents for school or work. Just plug one into a USB port (2.0 preferred) on your computer and you’re good to go!

Acton USB Flash Drive

Buy the Acton USB Flash Drive ($20.00 USD) today at the Acton BookShoppe, and support the pursuit of a free and virtuous society.

Don’t forget to check out the other hot sellers including The Call of the Entrepreneur, Slitting the Sycamore, and A Biblical Case for Natural Law.

The problem is not unique to Canada, nor entirely absent from the US, but our neighbors to the north seem to be doing their best at the moment to lead the so-called free world in denying what Americans call the First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.). In fact, the Canadian government’s quashing of the expression of opinion—executed through its “human rights commission”—is downright frightening. It is trite to describe this kind of thing as Orwellian, but that’s what it is.

In Canada and elsewhere, the unpopular opinions most in danger of being declared verboten tend to revolve around two issues: Islam and homosexuality.

The case of Mark Steyn, in hot water for criticizing Islam, has gotten some press, because he’s a well-known writer attached to powerful friends. See here and here.

This recent piece by David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen recounts some other cases, equally disturbing, which have gone less remarked.

Here’s some insight into J. K. Rowling’s perspective on tyranny, in the words of Albus Dumbledore, speaking of the arch-villain of the series:

Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many vicitms, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different! Always he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him. He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action… (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 510).

My most immediate thought upon reading this passage was the account of King Herod in the book of Matthew.

Rowling’s work is worth paying attention to, if not for its insight and its own merits (which there certainly are), then at least for its importance as an influence on popular views of life, liberty, and love.

Also, if you want a truly strange take on the popularity of the Harry Potter series, be sure to check out this article, “Harry Potter: The Archetype of an Abortion Survivor” (HT?: The Point).

On March 29, Carl Anderson’s A Civilization of Love (HarperOne, 2008) first appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list as one of hottest-selling books in America among the “Hard Cover Advice” category. Since then the author has been on an energetic European and American tour to promote his book. In just 200 pages, Anderson writes convincingly to elaborate a treatise to dispel dominant secular ideologies whose ethical frameworks falsely aim at human fulfillment and forming good and just societies.

The author is Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal society, and CEO of its top-rated life insurance company. Anderson brings to his writing a vast amount of practical experience tactfully combined with the rudiments of Catholic philosophy and theology to elucidate his philosophy of love and goodness.

Anderson’s first task is to enlighten his readers on the very meaning of love. He author dedicates his first few chapters to explain that a culture of love is not simply about encouraging romance; and in no way does a culture of love echo the loose liberal ideas behind the hedonistic behavior so vigorously idealized in Western society since the late 1960s. A culture of love is, rather, about self-responsibility, self-denial, hard work, unconditional generosity and steadfast dedication.

And yet, there is something more to love, at least in the Christian sense: Anderson’s primary axiom is that a civilization characterized by love is, above all, one which is rooted in the love of God and is ultimately other-directed. To make his point clear, Anderson spins Descartes’ fundamental existential premise “I think therefore I am” to reveal a deeper insight about man and his relationships: “‘I love therefore I am.’ Or perhaps even more profoundly: ‘I have been first loved, therefore I am.’” Anderson goes on to say that “Divine love implies an other…. Love involves (at least) two persons, two selves.” (chap. 3 “Craftsman of a New Humanity”, pp.35, 37).

Anderson’s second point is that love is marked by the freedom to act and to give; yet it involves a personal liberty which often challenges our spontaneous preferences and natural inclinations for comfort, company and security. “[Freedom] cannot be lived in isolation, that is, unhinged from other values such as equality and human dignity.” (chap. 1, “The Power of Christ to Transform Culture”, p. 10).

Carl Anderson colorfully speaks of Mother Teresa’s little known struggles while experiencing her own “dark night of the soul” in caring for lepers, drug addicts and AIDS victims in the streets of Calcutta.. Certainly not every day, he explains, was Mother Teresa rewarded with the joy of having improved the well-being of India’s most destitute citizens. Many days were, in fact, quite routine and so physically exerting on her body, that it would be very wrong to speak of any “good feelings” that resulted from her unconditional acts of charity. And yet “throughout her ministry she persevered and did not begrudge her work.” (chap. 4 “A Dignity That Brings Demands, p. 61)

Anderson believes that promoting human responsibility, based on personal acts self-giving and firmly rooted in imitating God’s law and love for his creatures, is the only way to make a culture a civilized one. The end result – as Anderson hopes – will be that human society bows ever the less to man-made social agendas and their accompanying large impersonal governmental agencies. As he writes: “Social engineering, even if well-intended, cannot in itself create a just society. Just society must arise out of the hearts and minds of those that live in it. If the precepts that Leo [XIII] proposed [in the 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum] – which are, after all, specific applications of natural law – were voluntarily obeyed by all people, the need for complicated laws and governments would be greatly reduced.” (chap. 6 “Globalization and the Gospel of Work”, p. 91.)

Carl Anderson gives good reasons to not rely on state welfare as a norm to provide loving care for the nation’s poor. He cites the millions of volunteer hours and financial support which Americans still give to private charities, including impressive contributions from his own Knights of Columbus councils. Yet, despite the inspiring statistics, Anderson warns his readers of seeking the opposite solution to welfare provision with the words of Benedict XVI: “If men have nothing more to expect than what the world offers them, and if they may and must demand all this from the state, they destroy their own selves and every human society.” (p. chap. 1 “The Power of Christ to Transform Culture”, p. 10).

Lastly, Carl Anderson gives perhaps his best example of how modern society may end up, by recounting the personal experiences of Czech playwright and former president, Vaclav Havel. After undergoing decades of forced social engineering, where the very fundamentals of human love and trust all but vanished from Czech society, Havel confesses: “The worst thing is that we lived in a contaminated environment….We learned not to believe anything, to ignore each other, to care only for ourselves. Concepts such as love, compassion, humility, and forgiveness lost their depths and dimensions. The previous regime…reduced man to a force of production and nature to a tool of production.” (chap 7, Ethics in the Marketplace, p. 109).

Carl Anderson’s book brings to light many pressing social issues affecting most modern nations. But unlike many philosophical works, Anderson provides a cause and a solution sustained by real-life examples and their consequences. I would highly recommend reading A Civilization of Love to reinforce many of the same principles promoted by the Acton Institute.

As the Drudge Report today hails the coming of the fuel-efficient Smart car, it might be worth pointing out other ways in which people are adapting to deal with higher fuel prices. I don’t mean to minimize any of the pain associated with skyrocketing energy costs, whether personal (I feel it, too) or economy-wide, but it is interesting to observe the myriad and often unexpected effects of price changes. It’s the market working. Or, to put it another way, it’s the human mind working to adapt creatively to the challenge of scarce resources.

The search for fuel-efficiency has, for example,…

…hurt the trucking industry, but given new life to long-suffering railroads.

…convinced growing numbers of urbanites to use mass transit.

…been a boon for bicycle shops.

…hurt many parts of the auto industry, but has also spurred a sharp advance in hybrid auto sales.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. is remembered fondly by American aviators who defended and sacrificed for this nation in World War II to the present day. He is remembered for his touching poem High Flight, which he penned in 1941.

Magee was born to an American father and British mother in Shanghai, China in 1922. His parents were Christian missionaries in the country. Well educated in China, England, and the United States, Magee received a scholarship to Yale University, where his father was then serving as a chaplain. With the outbreak of World War II, and the British Isles under German threat, Magee postponed college and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. The United States had not yet entered the war, and hundreds of Americans served as combat aviators with the Canadian Air Force.

Magee received his pilot wings in June of 1941. He served in the defense of the British homeland against the Luftwaffe. In August of 1941, Magee was test flying the new Spitfire MK I at high altitude. The inspiration of the flight led him to write High Flight, which came to him in the sky, and he completed the poem on paper soon after landing.

He sent a copy to his parents, and his father reprinted it in church publications. Sadly, Magee died just a few months later in a mid-air collision with another airplane in December of 1941. An English farmer said he saw Magee struggle to open the canopy, and was finally able to bail out, but by then he was too low to the ground for his parachute to open. Magee was only 19 years old.

The poem would however continue to gain praise as the war continued. The Library of Congress featured the work in an exhibit titled ‘Faith and Freedom’ in 1942, and it was published in the New York Times. Also, several biographies were written about Magee as the popularity of the poem skyrocketed.

It is a poem that is loved and cherished by many aviators everywhere, especially those who have defended this nation in the sky. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy memorize the poem. American pilots shot down and tortured in North Vietnamese prison camps during that war drew inspiration from Magee’s words. Lines from the poem are quoted on the headstones of many military pilots buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

It gained still further fame when President Ronald Reagan quoted the first and last lines of the poem in his moving words of tribute to the American astronauts who perished in the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy in 1986. “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,” Reagan said.

Dedicated to those who have given their life in defense of the nation, High Flight is printed in its entirety below:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

There is a fascinating article from City Journal‘s Myron Magnet titled, “Mr. Sammler’s City,” which gives some insight and background to Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet. This is one of Bellow’s novels I read for my research on Henderson the Rain King, and Magnet’s piece serves as an excellent primer.

Here’s a sample:

Sammler, for his part, can’t help recalling that almost all modern revolutions, from the Jacobins to the Nazis and the Communists, have ended with the streets running with blood, because murder has been at their heart, rather than an incidental means to an end. For revolutionary leaders like Stalin, “the really great prize of power was unobstructed enjoyment of murder,” while the revolutionary masses in turn “loved the man strong enough to take blood guilt on himself. For them an elite must prove itself in this ability to murder.”

Each modern revolution (the American one alone excepted) overturned civilization’s ultimate restraint and became “a conspiracy against the sacredness of life.”

As they say, read the whole thing. And then go read the book.

Colonel Robinson Risner 1973 – Retired as Brigadier General in 1976

“I want to show that the smartest and the bravest rely on their faith in God and our way of life,” was Robinson Risner’s answer to why he wrote The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese. 2008 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of American prisoners of war from North Vietnam and the publication of Risner’s often horrific but ultimately triumphant account.

Many books written by and about American military prisoners during the Vietnam War focus on the deep Christian faith of many of these captives. Their prayers and cries to God depict desperate circumstances, but also a sustaining and unwavering faith in the face of horrendous torture and cruelty. Risner’s account expresses a beautifully simple faith. By simple I mean he absolutely believed in the power of prayer and for God to give him strength to endure his dark trial. He notes in his book:

To make it, I prayed by the hour. It was automatic, almost subconscious. I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me strength to endure it. When it would get so bad that I did not think I could stand it, I would ask God to ease it and somehow I would make it. He kept me.

Finally, though, the pain and aching increased to where I did not think I could stand it any longer. One day I prayed, ‘Lord, I have to some relief from this pain.’ I quoted the Biblical verse that He would hear us and that we would never be called upon to take more than we could bear.

Risner was shot down twice over North Vietnam. He was captured the second time in September of 1965 and taken to the Hanoi Hilton. As a senior ranking officer Risner was marked for additional torture and solitary confinement while in prison. Eventually he would spend a number of years in solitary confinement.

Risner was also featured on a Time Magazine Cover in April of 1965 as an American pilot serving in Vietnam. Risner’s picture on the cover of Time undoubtedly contributed to his abuse and the resolve of the North Vietnamese to break his spirit and beliefs. The North Vietnamese felt he was a celebrity figure in America, and breaking him would lessen the resolve of others who looked to him for leadership. Senator John McCain, the most well known prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton, credited Robinson Risner as one of the leaders who helped sustain him and that Risner would always be a hero to him.

Risner and other senior officers orchestrated a campaign of resistance to limit and sabotage the use of military prisoners for propaganda purposes and to maintain a military posture and morale all despite continued torture. Risner showed his resolve after spending 32 days in stocks attached to his bed, and forced to lie in his own waste. When he was brought to his first torture session his arms were bound and his shoulders were pulled out of his sockets. Then his feet were hoisted up behind him, and his ribs were separated. Risner tried to slam his head against the cement in order to knock himself out because the pain was so unbearable. Risner describes the pain as incredibly horrific and the screams were so deep and vicious he did not think they were his own.

He discusses a time when he was in stocks for so long he had to get out and by prayer he says he was able to unlock them. Another time he prayed for the annoying prison speaker to stop its incessant noise and it ceased. Risner’s book is full of fascinating stories and the will of so many American fighters to always resist in whatever way they could. He talks about the importance of communication, the tap code, and how it saved lives.

Risner was especially adroit at showing little emotion when the North Vietnamese tried a carrot and stick approach. In fact, when American prisoners finally felt like they were going to leave for real after being informed, they showed no emotion. They would not give their captors the satisfaction. (more…)

This is just a brief note to mark today the third anniversary of the PowerBlog. We’ve worked hard to bring a variety of viewpoints and thoughtful perspectives to bear on a range of topics, with an attempt to keep the focus generally on issues we think would be of interest to our readers. The last few months have seen a number of new contributors crack the PowerBlog lineup, and we’re pleased with the results. We hope you are too.

In the future we plan to bring you more book and movie reviews and more translations and opinions from our international contributors, while continuing to bring attention to the intersection between religion and liberty. As always, suggestions for improvement, questions, and comments are welcome. We also want to continue to engage more thoughtfully and purposefully the vast potential of social networking, Web 2.0 and beyond.

For keeping us abreast of the current trends and continually making innovative changes to the blog’s functional and aesthetic structure, special recognition goes to our webmaster Jonathan Spalink. His advice and insight has been solicited by numerous folks duly impressed with his work.

Thanks to the faithful and occasional readers of the PowerBlog for providing us a lively forum in which to engage the issues of the day. Without you, none of this would be worthwhile.

Acton Institute PowerBlog