Category: General

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, March 12, 2008

At 93% Muslim—Orthodox churches account for most of the rest—Azerbaijan is the sort of country that tends to lack what some have called “reciprocity,” meaning that Christians enjoy the same freedom relative to the Muslim majority as Muslims do in Christian-majority nations. Amidst the justifiable attention and worry religious liberty advocates have lately devoted to the problem (see our own John Couretas on Turkey), it is good to note instances of progress. Such a story emerges this week from the former Soviet republic, where the pope’s representative was on hand to mark the opening of the country’s first Roman Catholic church.

This is not to say that Azerbaijan has become a paragon of religious liberty (see this summary), but permission to erect a place of public worship is at least a step in the right direction.

Speaking of the history of morality and moral judgments in historiography, Alister MacIntyre makes a pointed observation about a complementary distinction that arises between what might be called “intellectual” and “social” history:

Abstract changes in moral concepts are always embodied in real, particular events. There is a history yet to be written in which the Medici princes, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, Frederick the Great and Napoleon, Walpole and Wilberforce, Jefferson and Robespierre are understood as expressing their actions, often partially and in a variety of different ways, the very same conceptual changes which at the level of philosophical theory are articulated by Machiavelli and Hobbes, by Diderot and Condorcet, by Hume and Adam Smith and Kant. There ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions, the other only by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action.

After Virtue, 2d ed., p. 61

See also: Lord Acton, Lectures on Modern History (1906).

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Vote for Acton - Bloggers ChoiceHelp Acton do well in the 2008 Blogger’s Choice Awards by submitting a vote or two for Acton. We’re nominated in the following categories (you may vote for Acton in each if you’d like or if you feel we deserve it):

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Voting for a blog does require registration, but it doesn’t take long to do. I’ll occasionally post reminders about this here so that those of you who would rather wait for a rainy day will remember to vote for Acton.

In case you’re still not convinced – here are a few reasons why I think we’re the best:

1) We recently updated the look and feel of the PowerBlog – its now much easier to read and connects better with www.acton.org – the main Acton Institute website.

2) Our content is fantastic. If you look over at our tag cloud (showing our most recently covered topics) you can see that we write on everything from environmental stewardship to bible and theology; christianity to economics; socialism to business and society.

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Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Over at the OrthodoxNet.org blog, editor Chris Banescu had an entertaining exchange in the comment boxes with a writer who asserted that “capitalism can be just as infected with materialism and the concomitant need to tyrannize as communism.”

Here is Chris’ response:

Capitalism is really not an ideology. It simply describes reality, like mathematics and economics describe reality. It’s a word that explains how free human beings interact voluntarily with one another to exchange value and how they invest the excess of the fruits of their labors to produce more or gain more value. It is value and morally neutral.

You are positing your argument from the Marxist and leftist ideological point of view that made up this bogeyman they called “capitalism” as if it was some alien force dreamed up by rich to oppress the poor. That is a lie. You should know better than that.

On the other hand you are right that materialism is a moral failure, but that is the fault of the moral choice of individuals and groups, not the fault of capitalism. That’s like saying that it’s the fault of mathematics when someone does a wrong addition or multiplication, or the fault of accounting when someone embezzles money from their employer and writes down the incorrect cash register total.

When man deposits his money in a bank and requires interest payments, he is practicing capitalism!

When he buys food, clothing, furniture, medicine, etc.. from someone who produced it, he is practicing capitalism!

When he expects to be paid a fair salary for the work that he’s doing, he is practicing capitalism!

When he is the beneficiary of any retirement or pension fund, he is practicing capitalism!

When he buys property and hopes value will increase, he is practicing capitalism!

When he lends money to someone else and wants interest in return, he is practicing capitalism!

When he invents something new and unique and wants to sell it to someone else for a profit, he is practicing capitalism!

When he is the beneficiary of any government program providing social assistance, he directly benefits from others who practiced capitalism and created the profits the gov’t can now use and distribute to those in need!

When Churches and Synagogues get donations from people who first had to work and earn it, they are the beneficiaries of capitalism.

Even communists and socialists rely on capitalism to actually produce anything of value and generate the value and returns that fund and fuel their governments.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Zenit News Service’s Father John Flynn, LC, offers an extremely perceptive analysis of a seemingly expanding culture of fear. He manages to tie together climate change hysteria, current electoral politics, and the pope’s recent encyclical. Its conclusion:

A world without God is a world without hope …. Perhaps, then, we should not be surprised at the fear-ridden state of modern society. Along with science, humanity needs to rediscover its faith in God if it is to heal the deeper sources of its fears.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some of the most extensive discussion of a very extensively discussed subject here in the U.S.—religion and politics—occurs at the Pew Forum. The online proceedings of an early December conference on the subject were just brought to my attention. Of particular interest is the transcript of the presentation by John Green. Green, who cooperated with Acton years ago on our survey of economics in seminaries, is arguably the most respected and most widely quoted authority on religion and electoral behavior. Personally, I approach the whole polling industry with a large dose of skepticism, but with all the requisite caveats in place, Green’s work is indeed among the best in the business.

The transcript, with full Q&A, gets rather lengthy, so I’ll focus on a couple points. One is that it is remarkable how the distinction between “active” or “churchgoing” and less active, non-regular churchgoers has assumed preeminence in analysis of religion and politics. Green suggests that the distinction may not be as politically significant this year (and he may be right, although I think that depends greatly on which two candidates end up with the nominations). Yet the difference has clearly become a focus of investigation, a significant (and positive) change from the days when most analysts approached the subject with the blunt categories of “evangelical Protestant,” “mainline Protestant,” and “Catholic.”

The second is that EJ Dionne, with whom I frequently disagree, makes some of the most salient and incisive points. The section begins here. A sampling:

I believe, and this will be a controversial statement, that the era of the religious right is over. Now, as Bill Clinton would say, I suppose that depends on what the meaning of the words “religious right” is, but I believe the religious right, viewed as a conservative political movement within the Republican party that rose from 1978 or 1980, is breaking up, in significant part because the evangelical community itself is changing and also because the issues confronting the country are changing. Again, I’m not predicting that this group will suddenly shift overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, but I think we’re going to see a very different style of politics in the coming years.

If you put untroubled and troubled skeptics together, that’s 26% of the electorate. So if anyone wonders why Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, and all those folks have sold so many books, 26% is a very significant number of Americans. If you combine that 26% with the reluctant believers group, that is over a majority. It is simply not true that if you go out and say how religious you are and talk about it all the time, you are automatically appealing to a majority of the electorate.

But also, I think Huckabee is very interesting because Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who does have strongly conservative positions on the social issues, has actually been broadening the evangelical agenda. He speaks critically of Wall Street; he has linked his Christian commitment to a concern for the poor and their access to education and health care. I think Huckabee may understand better than most politicians how much the religious conversation is changing within his own evangelical community. I think the most interesting criticism of Mike Huckabee came from Fred Thompson, who called him a pro-life liberal. There are, indeed, times when Mike Huckabee sounds a little bit like our friend Jim Wallis.

There are also fascinating differences by state, and I had a long list of these, and I won’t belabor you with them, but I actually once took apart the 2004 exit polls to look at how the religious question played state-by-state. You’ll find that the religion gap barely exists in Louisiana; is enormous in Minnesota and Washington State; and that California was the only state in which Bush failed to secure a majority among weekly churchgoers. Now, all these may have demographic explanations. In Louisiana, the Democratic share among regular church attenders was boosted by African Americans and, to some degree, Cajun Catholics. Minnesota and Washington have relatively small African-American populations, and in California the Democratic vote is boosted by Latino Protestants.

The newly released Charlie Wilson’s War is a film based on a book that chronicles the semi-secret war that led Afghan freedom fighters to defeat the Soviet military during the 1980s. Tom Hanks plays former Democratic Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who is also known as “Good Time Charlie” for his womanizing, drinking, and recreational drug use. The viewer is led to believe Congressman Wilson is not serious about his elected position until he takes up the cause of the Afghan people, who suffered immensely under Soviet aggression. Other starring roles are Julia Roberts as Christian “right wing” financier Joanne Herring, and the late CIA officer Gust Avrakatos, played by actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The dialog between the main characters is intense and entertaining.

First of all this film is not for children. Wilson suffers from a severe bout of immorality, which is graphically depicted. However, the film does teach several important moral and foreign policy lessons. In the 1980s the United States did transition from a policy of containment of the Soviet Union to a more aggressive policy which called for greater engagement, including everything from harassment to actually formulating a policy to reverse Soviet expansion, putting it on the retreat.

While this film does not lack entertainment value, one of the drawbacks is the depiction of the Afghan struggle. America’s support is quickly glossed over, with no background information or deep treatment of the subject ever provided. In addition, some conservative officials in the Reagan administration have criticized the film. Bill Gertz at the Washington Times added:

The movie also erred by showing Mr. Wilson and his CIA collaborator, Gust Avrakotos, as enthusiastic backers of supplying advanced U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Afghan rebels. Fred Ikle, the undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said the CIA initially fought against sending Stingers, while Mr. Wilson was lukewarm on the matter. Both later supported the plan once rebels began downing Soviet gunships with them.

Additionally, some conservatives felt the film’s intent is an attempt at revisionist history by cutting out Ronald Reagan entirely and key members of his cabinet who enthusiastically supported the Afghan Rebels. In fact, Reagan’s epic war against communism can be traced back to his days as a labor leader in Hollywood.

There is certainly enough material in the film to make conservatives wince. Apparently the movie was supposed to be much worse, but Wilson had to step in and demand changes in much of Aaron Sorkin’s script. In the film, Christians are slyly depicted as hypocrites. Additionally, the film needed to be more triumphant at the end. The movie also reinforces the myth that support for the Afghan freedom fighters led to the rise of Osama bin-Laden and his cohorts, who supposedly were armed by the United States.

There are positives however. While it is inaccurate to portray Wilson and his CIA partner as lone mavericks against Soviet aggression, it is right in making a hero out of a committed anti-communist. It also depicts the evil of the Soviet military that specifically wounded Afghani kids, targeting them intentionally. The film also depicts the importance of standing up to and countering communist aggression, and that there was a strong moral component to funding the freedom fighters. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the film is how bipartisanship support was needed to combat America’s enemies, a fact which seems to be lost on Washington today.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 14, 2007

“Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail 1976

As we enter the presidential primary season, a look back at the 1976 Republican Primary is appropriate, considering it was a pivotal moment in American conservatism. It is a presidential race that conservative writer Craig Shirley calls a “successful defeat.” While Ronald Reagan ultimately lost the nomination to incumbent President Gerald Ford, this race would end up transforming the conservative movement, the Republican Party, the country, and eventually the world.

Reagan came into the 1976 North Carolina primary having lost the first five consecutive primaries to Ford. The national party establishment was against Reagan, the media started to write him off, and his campaign was broke and in debt. Needless to say, the pressure to drop out of the race was nearly overwhelming.

Tom Ellis and then Senator Jesse Helms helped resurrect Reagan’s campaign from the dead. By spearheading a grassroots movement and focusing on Reagan’s conservative credentials, it led to a shocking upset in the Tar Heel State. Reagan’s victory meant it was the first time a sitting president had been defeated in a primary of a state where he actively campaigned. Many more primary victories for Reagan would follow.

During the race in the state, Reagan continually brought up the issue of the Panama Canal, following a rumor the Ford Administration was going to turn it over to Panama’s dictator. With heated energy and anger Reagan would repeatedly shout at every campaign stop, “It’s ours! We built it! We paid for it! And we should keep it.!” It was classic Reagan, and North Carolinians loved it.

Reagan also hit the administration hard on federal spending, government regulations, and being soft on Soviet aggression. He also attacked leaders in the other party, taking aim at Senator Ted Kennedy’s universal health care proposal. Reagan warned:

What the nation does not need is another workout of a collectivist formula based on an illusion promoting a delusion and delivering a boon-doggle. It is up to the private sector to provide answers in the onrushing health care political battle. If not, nationalized medicine will represent one more instance of surrendering a freedom by default.

Part of the reason for Reagan’s eventual loss showcased the extreme power of incumbency and Ford’s ability to raise his political game as well. Ford was again overshadowed however, when he invited Reagan down from his sky box at the GOP convention after Ford finished his acceptance speech to lead the party. Reagan delivered some highly inspirational off the cuff remarks, which is still considered one of his best speeches. It has been reported that horrified party activists on the convention floor gasped, “Oh my gosh – we nominated the wrong candidate.” Reagan was 65 years old at the time, some undoubtedly saw his remarks as a farewell to the party.

After the primary the political landscape in the United States changed. Jimmy Carter also ran against Ford as a Washington outsider, who sought to reform government. In addition he was a self avowed born again Christian, who promised to return a high degree of ethics to the oval office in the wake of Watergate.

But Carter’s enduring legacy was mismanaging the country and creating an election ripe for Reagan’s brand of conservatism. However, the 1976 campaign is where it all really started on the national level. Many Reagan biographers are correct in assuming without 1976, there would have been no campaign in 1980. The primary campaign in 1976 saw the power of conservative ideas on a national stage, and a reference to modern conservatism other than Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential campaign in 1964.

That Republican presidential candidates try to emulate Reagan only adds to his glory, but also creates an unrealistic expectation for themselves. But If conservatism is ever going to be revolutionary, anti-establishment, and popular again, the country and candidates will have to recapture some of the Spirit of 76.

[For a complete study of the 1976 Republican Primary Campaign and its significance check out Reagan's Revolution by Craig Shirley]

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taking a cue from No Straw Men, I’m updating the look and feel of the Acton PowerBlog. Jonathan Rick suggests that completely separating your blog from your organization’s main Web site is a bad idea because you cut off access to useful information and create two distinct audiences rather than integrating traffic between two distinct sections of one Web site.

Website Updates
Acton’s blog has always been on the same domain as the main Acton site (www.acton.org) but we’ve recently given the blog its own sub-domain (blog.acton.org). You can still reach us from www.acton.org/blog/ but will be redirected to the new page rather than the old.

We are adding a new navigation menu bar at the top of our blog page to help tie in the blog to Acton’s main site. We hope to encourage people to explore events, programs, and publications from the Acton Institute. Acton has a lot of great content and resources for people who are interested in the intersection between religion and economics.

Finally, we are updating some of our colors in an attempt to make the blog look a bit more like Acton’s main site and also to make it “look a bit more webbish.” But not too webbish, of course.

(By the way, if the blog looks really odd or the same as it did last week, you may need to reload the page so that you get all the new css stylesheets and images.)