Category: News and Events

In a new analysis in Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines “the shifting critiques” of the pontificate of Benedict XVI including the latest appraisal that the world is losing interest in the Catholic Church particularly because of its declining geopolitical “relevance.” But how do some of these critiques understand relevance?

On one reading, it involves comparisons with Benedict’s heroic predecessor, who played an indispensible role in demolishing the Communist thug-ocracies that once brutalized much of Europe. But it’s also a fair bet that “relevance” is understood here in terms of the Church’s capacity to shape immediate policy-debates or exert political influence in various spheres.

Such things have their own importance. Indeed, many of Benedict’s writings are charged with content which shatters the post-Enlightenment half-truths about the nature of freedom, equality, and progress that sharply constrict modern Western political thinking. But Benedict’s entire life as a priest, theologian, bishop, senior curial official and pope also reflects his core conviction that the Church’s primary focus is not first-and-foremost “the world,” let alone politics.

Read “Benedict XVI and the Irrelevance of ‘Relevance’” on the website of Crisis Magazine.

Concerning the HHS mandate, somehow getting lost in the shuffle is the primacy of religious liberty. Mollie Hemingway offers a good post at Ricochet on the media blackout.

Certainly, political partisanship and lust for power is clouding the centrality of the First Amendment. I recently heard two women chatting in a public place about this issue. They had convinced themselves that Rick Santorum wanted to snatch their birth control pills away from them. You have an administration ratcheting up the partisanship to mobilize their base for the reelection. Tuning into the 24 hour news cycle, one can watch punditry on the political right make embarrassing statements and then doubling down to defend it. If you jump on social media, so many are engaged in a “he said,” “she said,” but she said it even worse gotcha game about Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke, and a host of partisan commentators.

Some are now or already have dug into the past of a Georgetown Law student to discredit her opinions, however goofy and misinformed they well may be. The fake outrage when somebody is offended is equally disturbing. It’s all for power, votes, and influence mind you. A friend pointed out: Would you really be sent into a tizzy if a stranger was called an inappropriate name, unless it was your daughter, wife, or a close friend? So much of politics is about symbolism and news bites, until the symbol is used up and cast away.

I know it’s all just a reflection of our modern culture and lack of critical thinking as lightning fast statements and words are rushed to the microphone or publication. That the current executive branch is unwilling to accommodate the Catholic Church on religious conscience is truly troubling. More troubling indeed is a real trampling of the “First Freedom,” religious liberty. It’s all largely lost and subservient to contemporary partisanship.

It used to be with some presidents that their word was golden. And I don’t mean to say we’ve never had a dirt bag president and certainly we will have some in the future too. Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neal cut many deals in the 1980s over the bond of their word. I am currently reading a lot about Calvin Coolidge this year and in almost every election he ran, he refused to mention his opponent by name. After the election, he’d write his opponent a gentlemanly note praising his character, even if his opponent lacked character. Coolidge would then do everything to strengthen their friendship.

Partisanship is good and there are clear moral differences that have to reconciled through governing and the civil authorities. This country faces daunting issues that unfortunately, for the most part, are being sidelined or ignored. The federal debt is over $15 trillion. An alarming number of our problems are really cultural and moral problems and no amount of politcking will solve it. I think David Paul Deavel pointed this out very well in “One Percent or 33: America’s Real Inequality Problem” in Religion & Liberty .

In 2010, Jordan Ballor and I hosted an Acton on Tap on the topic of “Putting Politics in its Place.” The comments we made are worth revisiting. Jordan words are here and you can find my remarks here.

It may not be cool as it once was to like George Washington in this country. But as a leader, he set the benchmark. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee eulogized our first president stating: “The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues.” In a remarkable 2006 essay by David Boaz on Washington, he concluded by saying:

The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.

On February 16th, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico spoke to an audience in Phoenix, Arizona, delivering an address entitled “The Moral Adventure of the Free Society.” We’re pleased to bring you the audio of that address via the audio player below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Pieter de Hooch - A Woman with a Baby in her Lap, and a Small ChildOne of the justifications for the HHS mandates (amended now to require insurance companies to provide contraceptives free of charge) has been purely economic. The idea is that the use of contraceptives saves insurance companies (and by extension the rest of us) money, as it is less expensive to pay for condoms or birth control pills than to pay for a pregnancy and birth.

Of course the calculus to come up with such a conclusion is flawed in myriad ways. But even if we were to assume the veracity of the contention, many questions immediately arise. For instance, why wouldn’t insurance companies voluntarily offer birth control coverage gratis if it would lower their costs? Aren’t these the same profit-maximizing institutions that politicians have been demonizing for years? Aren’t the insurers the professionals, whose business it is to know what ways are available for minimizing exposure? The very fact that up to this point insurance companies have not added free birth control as a preventive care measure is powerful evidence against the economic argument in favor of contraception.
(more…)

Acton On The AirDr. Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, has become something of a regular guest on Kresta in the Afternoon of late; below you’ll find audio of his two most recent appearances.

Leading off, Sam appeared with host Al Kresta on February 15th to discuss Pope Benedict’s concept of the dictatorship of relativism in the context of the HHS mandate debate, and the potential consequences of the death of absolute truth. Listen via the audio player below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Then, on the 22nd, Dr. Gregg made another appearance with Kresta to discuss the concept of ordered liberty, contrasting the concepts of freedom for excellence vs. freedom of indifference. You can listen to the interview below, and if you’re interested, head over to the Acton bookshoppe to pick up a copy of On Ordered Liberty, his book on the same topic.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

On The American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that, “as evidence for the European social model’s severe dysfunctionality continues to mount before our eyes, the American left is acutely aware how much it discredits its decades-old effort to take America down the same economic path.” Against this evidence, some liberals are pinning the blame on passing fiscal and currency imbalances. No, Gregg says, there’s “something even more fundamental” behind the meltdown of the post-war West European social model. (Thanks to RealClearWorld for linking).

… this reality is that the Social Democratic project is coming apart at the seams under the weight of the economic policies and priorities pursued by most Social Democrats (whatever their party-designation) — including the American variety.

From the beginning, post-war Social Democracy’s goal (to which much of Europe’s right also subscribes) was to use the state to realize as much economic security and equality as possible, without resorting to the outright collectivization pursued by the comrades in the East. In policy-terms, that meant extensive regulation, legal privileges for trade unions, “free” healthcare, subsidies and special breaks for politically-connected businesses, ever-growing social security programs, and legions of national and EU public sector workers to “manage” the regulatory-welfare state — all of which was presided over by an increasingly-inbred European political class (Europe’s real “1 percent”) with little-to-no experience of the private sector.

None of this was cost-free. It was financed by punishing taxation and, particularly in recent years, public and private debt. In terms of outcomes, it has produced some of the developed world’s worst long-term unemployment rates, steadily-declining productivity, and risk-averse private sectors.

Above all, it slowly strangled the living daylights out of economic freedom in much of Europe. Without Germany (which, incidentally, also engaged in welfare reform and considerable economic liberalization in the 2000s), it’s hard to avoid concluding that Social Democratic Europe would have imploded long ago.

Read “The American Left’s European Nightmare” by Samuel Gregg on The American Spectator.

A week ago, Dr. Samuel Gregg addressed an audience here at Acton’s Grand Rapids, Michigan office on the topic of “Europe: A Continent in Economic and Cultural Crisis.” If you weren’t able to attend, we’re pleased to present the video of Dr. Gregg’s presentation below.