Category: General

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
By

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.)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
By

French president Nicholas Sarkozy has recommended the formation of a “Council of the Wise,” which would have the task of “elaborating proposals for the future development of Europe.” A recent survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation finds a lot of support for the idea in France, the UK, and Germany. I suppose there are various ways to read this. One, hinted at by the survey story linked above, is that people in the EU are uneasy about the direction Europe is moving and want to establish a counterweight to the politicians in Brussels. More likely, it seems to me, is that this would be one more bureaucratic agency–only this one not actually doing any of the work of government but instead churning out grandiose projects that would gobble up even more of the continent’s tax dollars. All of which leaves aside the at once frightening and amusing title of the group, which calls to mind something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

A long and detailed essay on the topic is available at The Gates of Vienna. A very small sample:

The end of religion, thus, didn’t herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts.

This will take at least an hour of your time, perhaps more, but it’s worthwhile.

Railing against corporate dictatorship, delocator.net helps consumers find locally-owned cafes, bookstores, and movie theatres in their area — alternatives to the “invasion” of Starbucks, Borders, and their ilk. The site itself is actually quite an interesting capitalist idea in its freshness and creativity, and people certainly should eat or drink or shop where they are most comfortable. That’s the beauty of competition! And the kind of community-building that often takes place at familiar, time-tested, local shops is to be encouraged.

But to say local businesses possess some kind of moral magic simply by virtue of being family-owned and homey is preposterous. Such shops may be more ethically run in some ways, partially through close personal ties to the community and to fellow owners and employees. But this bespeaks the virtue of the management, not of the abstract institution of the local business itself (just as it indicates the poor character of the management of a corporate business, and not all of corporate business itself, when one falls into unethical dealings). Also, independent stores are often smaller, so they may provide fewer jobs to people in the community and supply fewer products to their customers. Neither of these are inherently good qualities for businesses to have.

In saying that independent, community-operated businesses “deserve your dime,” delocator.net forgets that consumers may have different preferences, needs, and reasons for choosing bigger stores, and that it is not immoral for them to do so. While it is true that corporate business is not inherently praiseworthy, neither are small businesses — but inherently good things can come out of both types of stores in different circumstances, even if ignoring the economic benefits of competition. Making books more widely available to average people is a good thing. Having a choice of coffee shops — for atmosphere, taste, cost, or convenience — is a good thing. Even facing more snack options at a bigger movie theater is, in its own sense, desirable.

If delocator fans don’t find these things desirable, they should by all means avoid them. But to limit personal choice and to condemn the multiplicity of options seems to defeat the principle of independence that claims to inform them in the first place.

Acton Alum, Andrae McGary, recently launched a blog to offer some perspective on hip hop for the hip hop community. It’s called Street Soul Arts. His latest post discusses Princeton University religion professor, Cornell West, and the release of West’s second rap album. I’m glad to see this blog because he knows this world far better than I ever will.

Lately, I’ve heard one too many emo kids misread T.S. Eliot as being one of their own. In Russell Kirk’s words, it is easy for the “rootless and aimless” of the new generation to over-identify with Eliot, seeing him as a spokesman “for the futility and fatuity of the modern era, all whimper and no bang — a kind of Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism.” And whining, pining, Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism is the cultural trend of the day, whether you look at the musically and lyrically directionless music that tops current charts, the shapelessness and androgyny seeping into high fashion, or the melodramatic and attention-seeking ways teenagers and college students spend their social time (not the least of which takes place on the Internet, through personal blogs, Facebook, and chatting).

Vindicating Eliot won’t restore the Waste Land to health or happiness, but it’s important to wrest him from the claws of both actual and perpetual adolescents who would make him a posterboy for their own disillusionment. As Kirk says, Eliot wanted to expose the soulish devastation modern life creates, but also to “show the way back to permanent things.” Speaking of The Waste Land, Eliot himself wrote, “I may have expressed for [approving critics] their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention.” Careful readers of Eliot will realize that he railed against exactly the kinds of things that misguided existentialist or socialist types promote, such as in this passage from Murder in the Cathedral:

Those who put their faith in worldly order
Not controlled by the order of God,
In confident ignorance, but arrest disorder
Make it fast, breed fatal disease,
Degrade what they exalt.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
By

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam provoked a cottage industry of commentary and debate on the question of “social capital” when he published his book, Bowling Alone, a few years ago. Now he’s at it again with an intriguing study concerning the effects of diversity on civic life.

The controversial finding is that the more diverse a community is, the lower its index of social connectedness (measured by volunteer rates, for example). The implications of the finding are significant for all sorts of issues, from immigration to education.

It’s a provocative finding for promoters of Christian social thought, as well. The Christian social vision is dependent on the existence of strong communities made up of close personal bonds. On the one hand, we want to believe that the Christian imperative to love one’s neighbor as oneself trumps any tendency to withdraw from “the other”—anyone who is different in some way. On the other hand, grace is not magic; it builds on nature. Is the natural tendency to associate with those like ourselves a harmful trait that must be eradicated, or is it simply an inherent piece of human nature that must be taken into account?

HT: Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice.

Enthusiastic atheists are on the offensive in an effort to tear down private faith, now that religion has increasingly lost influence in the public square. Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, and Christopher Hitchens’s, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The reason for this attack is because the atheists claim to be committed to justice, while people of faith, along with the divine itself, are and have been purveyors of injustice, according to the new breed of aggressive atheists. It’s an interesting and alien perspective for those with a religious world view, especially those who are familiar with Christ, scripture, and so much of Church history. It is in fact Christ who is the greatest liberator of humanity from evil, and Christian practice and thought that has helped liberate the oppressed, and eased the burdens of the weak.

Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield in a piece entitled Atheist Tracts in the Weekly Standard, discounts the notion that real justice and societal advancement will be empowered by the absence of a belief in the creator. Some essential quotes from Mansfield’s article are provided below:

Atheism isn’t what it was in the eighteenth century. Now, the focus of the attack is not the Church, which is no longer dominant, but religion itself. The disdain one used to hear for “organized religion” extends now to the individual believer’s faith. Despite the change, politics is still the thrust of the attack. It’s just that the delusion of religion is now allowed to be the responsibility of the believer, not of some group that is deluding him. A more direct approach is required.

Edmund Burke said, with a view to the atheism of the French Revolution, that we cannot live justly and happily unless we live under “a power out of ourselves.” By this he meant a power above us, transcendent over our wills and our choices. We must choose to live under a power that limits our choices.

In the contest between religion and atheism, the strength of religion is to recognize two apparently contrary forces in the human soul: the power of injustice and the power, nonetheless, of our desire for justice. The stubborn existence of injustice reminds us that man is not God, while the demand for justice reminds us that we wish for the divine. Religion tries to join these two forces together.

One of the reasons of the failure of atheism to overtake the world is noted by Mansfield in today’s Weekly Standard piece. He notes, “More pointedly, has not the atheist totalitarianism of the twentieth century, with its universal pretensions, proved to be the worst tyranny mankind has ever seen?”

Ironically, it was the atheist dream of utopia which helped secure atheism’s diminishing influence. When put into practice in the twentieth century, it was a hopeless, dark, and dreary mix of bread lines and gulags. It was a Baptist Minister from the American South, Martin Luther King, who was famous for saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Picking up on the themes of the importance of narrative from recent weeks, I pass along this worthy saying of Lord Acton:

“Government rules the present. Literature rules the future.”

In his review of Sanford Levinson’s Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) in the Claremont Review of Books, Randy Barnett highlights some of the same features of the US political structure as particularly unique that Lord Acton emphasized. In conclusion Barnett writes of our Constitution:

It is counter-majoritarian by design. Precisely because the founders feared majoritarian fecklessness and abuse, they inserted the veto points to which Levinson objects. Most people today—whether left, right, or libertarian—still fear majoritarian rule. They believe they have more to fear from their political opponents gaining power than they have to gain from putting their friends in office. Indeed, many Americans revere the Constitution precisely because of its counter-majoritarianism—the checks and balances adopted by the founders.

Or in the words of Lord Acton, “Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”

Here are some other relevant observations from Lord Acton on democracy, federalism, and the Constitution:

For it is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy…were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.

Democracy generally monopolizes and concentrates power.

Federalism is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.

Federalism: The only barrier to Democracy.

Federalism: It is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.

The great novelty of the American Constitution was that it imposed checks on the representatives of the people.

The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded.

Barnett notes too the resistance to advocating the American form of federalist democracy for other nations.

“While most Americans prefer the safety of our counter-majoritarian Constitution, our constitutional ‘experts’ are happy to urge others to live the truly majoritarian ideal. Now Sandy Levinson is urging Americans as well to adopt a more majoritarian constitution. But maybe the time has come instead to let the rest of the world in on our little secret,” he writes.