Category: News and Events

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Monday, December 7, 2009

My essay in today’s American Spectator Online looks at why Ben Bernanke should not be confirmed to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve:

Two planks in Bernanke’s recovery strategy: Expand the money supply like a banana republic dictator and throw sackfuls of cash at failed companies with a proven track record of mismanaging their assets. The justification? According to the late John Maynard Keynes, this is supposed to restore the “animal spirits” of the cowed consumer, the benighted creature who foolishly imagines that after a period of prodigality and mismanagement, maybe a country should rediscover its inner Dave Ramsey.

The full essay is here.

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Friday, December 4, 2009

I recently gave an interview to the Georgia Family Council (where I worked as a younger fellow) about my book for their website. Here is an excerpt I think might interest readers:

What made you decide to write your book The End of Secularism?

I wrote this book for a few reasons. I detected that the moment might be right for someone to lay out a very rigorous critique of secularism. While it was once plausible to people that secularism might be a good, neutral solution to the “problem” of religious difference, it is more difficult to believe the same today. Secularists embrace a competing orthodoxy and they pursue the fulfillment of it. They like to think of themselves as referees, but they are actually just another team on the field.

In addition, I felt the need to help secularists and Christians to get a better handle on what secularism is and why it is an inferior solution to the separation of church and state rightly understood. We don’t need to evict religion from the public square. We do need to keep the church financially independent of the state — primarily for the good of the church, which I demonstrate through the example of Sweden — but we don’t need to politely excuse our religious beliefs and thoughts when it comes to public debate over values. Religion matters in politics. You can’t get away from it and bad things happen when you try. The Christian faith has been and continues to be hugely influential in encouraging many of the best things about our culture. Christianity is part of why we care about things like liberty, equality, mercy, and the sanctity of life.

Explain what you mean by “secularism” and how has it affected our culture?

The word secular once had a perfectly good meaning. It meant “in the world.” So, by that understanding, the Catholic Church even had secular clergy. But we have transformed the old meaning of “secular” to a new conception which requires that religion retire from the public square. In essence, the idea is that we will all be better off if religion is private, like a hobby. The problem, especially for Christians, is that we believe the resurrection of Christ is a real event in time and space and that if that is true, then it has the potential to affect the way we look at almost everything. And I would argue that influence has been dramatically for the good.

To the extent we embrace secularism, and almost all of us do to some degree, we focus more on material things because that represents reality to us. In America, our materialism mostly manifests as consumeristic and hedonistic pursuits.

Does secularism have an effect on how society views marriage and family?

Unquestionably. If you buy into a purely secular view, marriage is nothing special. It is merely a contract (and not a particularly strong one) that people undergo when they decide to pursue life together for a while. While it can be inconvenient and messy to dissolve that contract, nothing tragic has happened. There has been no violation of any larger law. God’s conception of marriage doesn’t enter in. In fact, maybe marriage is just a cultural artifact that an enlightened, secular government merely needs to tolerate until it can be transitioned away.

Of course, we have seen this kind of change in the way we view marriage. It’s not just the effort to expand the meaning of marriage. The larger problem is that the state no longer values marriage as it once did. There is no bias toward keeping the family together. We no longer have the same concern for how divorce will affect the well-being of children, this despite the wealth of social science evidence chronicling the negative impact.

On the other hand, if you believe marriage represents a special relationship, one ordained by God, then you have a real reason, both as an individual and as a citizen in a political community, to seek to preserve it. This view, long the dominant one in western civilization, reinforces our best instincts about the family. It also happens to be much more humane to children and promotes human flourishing.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 4, 2009

Heather Wilhelm of the Illinois Policy Institute examines the usefulness of Ayn Rand for political engagement by friends of the market economy in a WSJ op-ed, “Is Ayn Rand Bad for the Market?” She concludes,

Rand held some insight on the nature of markets and has sold scads of books, but when it comes to shaping today’s mainstream assumptions, she is a terrible marketer: elitist, cold and laser-focused on the supermen and superwomen of the world.

Wilhelm’s picture of Rand underscores the distinction I’ve made between libertarianism as a world-and-life view and as a political philosophy. Rand is clearly of the former type: a Weltanschauunglich libertarian par excellence.

As Wilhelm writes, “For her fans, Rand’s appeal lies in her big-picture, unified, philosophical approach to man’s purpose and the meaning of life.” But this is also her greatest weakness, in that it opposes her to collaboration with those who might share inclinations toward limited government, but do not buy into the comprehensive “blend of atheism, absolutism and ruthless individualism.”

This is a more thorough-going critique of Rand’s viability as a model than simply noting the vigor of her polemic. As Acton Institute president Rev. Robert A. Sirico says, “If you want to offend, Rand accomplishes that. But if you want to convert—well, for instance, who could imagine Rand debating a health-care bill? I wouldn’t want to take an order from her in a restaurant, let alone negotiate a political point.”

Over at First Thoughts, Joe Carter juxtaposes Frank Capra’s George Bailey (of It’s a Wonderful Life) with Rand’s Harold Roark (of Fountainhead). Carter concludes that the two figures represent sharply different visions. Indeed, “Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: it is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve both true greatness and lasting happiness.”

This is something that Rand and her disciples would find odious. Thus “those who view Roark as a moral model—are not likely to appreciate Wonderful Life. Indeed, the messages are so antithetical that only a schizophrenic personality could truly appreciate both George Bailey and Howard Roark.”

Update: Reason‘s Katherine Mangu-Ward passes along the words of Rand’s “one-time intellectual heir” Nathaniel Branden, as a kind of addendum to Rev. Sirico’s comment:

The luckiest beneficiaries of [Ayn Rand’s] work are the people who read her and never see her, never meet her, never have any reason to deal with her in person. Then they get the best of what she was.

It’s the end of the semester. A degree of giddiness creeps in.

My students and I have been working through the political systems of a variety of nations. Yesterday, we talked about China.

China is a wonderful subject because any professor not completely sold out to Marxist fantasy gains the license to speak judgmentally about Mao’s ridiculous policies of The Great Leap Forward (in which the nation stopped producing food and tried to manufacture steel in backyards) and The Cultural Revolution (in which Mao deputized snotty teenagers to force their elders into self-criticism for improper revolutionary thinking).

But the fun begins to subside as you approach the present day. I was explaining to the students that although the Chinese still have the Communist Party — and it is the only party permitted to operate — the nation has rejected communism. Instead, they engage in a form of state-sponsored capitalism.

I began to say that the U.S. embraces private capitalism versus this state-sponsored capitalism of the Chinese, but then I realized that would be inaccurate. The truth, I realized and said to the students, is that both nations engage in state-sponsored capitalism.

But there is a key difference.

The Chinese government owns companies that make a profit. The United States government only owns companies that lose money.

And that is why they are loaning us money instead of the other way around.

In advance of the Acton Institute’s conference, “Free Enterprise, Poverty, and the Financial Crisis,” which will be held Thursday, Dec. 3, in Rome, the Zenit news agency interviews Dr. Samuel Gregg, Director of Research.

Recipe for Ending Poverty: Think, Then Act
Scholar Laments Lack of Reflection in Tackling Issue

ROME, NOV. 30, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The recipe for alleviating poverty is not a secret, and yet much of the work being done to help the world’s poor is misdirected, according to one expert on the matter.

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, said this to ZENIT when he was discussing a conference on “Free Enterprise, Poverty, and the Financial Crisis.” The conference will be hosted Thursday by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Gregg observed there is plenty of talk about global poverty and yet, he said, it is “striking how much of the conversation is very unreflective.” (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, November 30, 2009

Ryan T. Anderson, editor of the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse site, reviews Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new book, The Modern Papacy, in the Nov. 28 issue of the Weekly Standard. Anderson says the book is “a significant contribution to the study of John Paul and Benedict’s thought.” Excerpt of “The Holy Seers” follows (for the complete article, a Weekly Standard subscription is required):

Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict as more or less united in the main trajectory of their dialogue with modernity. For ease in classification, this can be grouped in four domains: science, reason, faith, and revelation. While the scientific method has provided mankind with many indisputably helpful discoveries, the modern papacy argues that to embrace the instrumental, technocratic rationality at the heart of the scientific process as if it were the entirety of rationality is to narrow the range of realities accessible to rational inquiry. While the scientific approach can discover truths about empirical physical realities, it can provide little help in discussions of justice, love, and beauty–whether they be about earthly domains or transcendent ones. Only by broadening the conception of rationality beyond the empirically verifiable realm of the scientific, John Paul and Benedict argue, can man arrive at the truths necessary to secure his full flourishing. In other words, man needs to embrace science without embracing scientism.

Recovering the sapiential dimension of reason that considers the big questions regarding the meaning and destiny of human existence and the significance of human action is a key part of recapturing a more robust conception of human rationality. As Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict, a major aspect of their engagement with modernity has been to show that reason can discern objective standards of right and wrong, good and evil, as well as ascertain the existence of God and certain key aspects of his nature.

Most important of all is to see, with Benedict, that “at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason.” Gregg explains that, in Benedict’s view, “agnosticism and atheism ultimately rely upon a rational affirmation that all is ultimately based upon irrationality.” But even while defending reason’s lofty vocation, John Paul and Benedict stress that being rational isn’t enough, for rationality itself points to the existence of truths that reason alone cannot grasp, truths that can only be known through God’s revelation, accepted by faith. In other words, man needs to embrace reason without embracing rationalism.

When reason concludes that there are truths about God and the universe that reason itself cannot ascertain, that man’s finite reason cannot exhaust the infinite, this could open the door to legitimizing faith in anything–and everything. Gregg is careful to point out that the modern papacy’s engagement with modernity is just as critical of theistic thinkers who attempt to ground faith’s legitimacy in what amounts to little more than blind leaps.

Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Acton’s Rome office, was asked by Vatican Radio to comment on the debt crisis in Dubai that has been causing concern in world financial markets over the last week. To listen, use 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.

It’s ironic – and tragic – that as the world celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Communism’s defeat in Europe, the comic-opera that is Hugo Chavez’s “21st century socialist” Venezuela is descending to new lows of absurdity. Beneath the buffoonery, however, there’s evidence that life in Venezuela is about to take a turn for the worse.

By buffoonery, I mean President Chavez’s decidedly weird statements of late. These include threatening war against Columbia, advising Venezuelans that it is “more socialist” to shower for only three minutes a day, telling his fellow citizens to eat less because “there are lots of fat people” in Venezuela, eulogizing convicted murderer Carlos the Jackal as “a revolutionary fighter”, defending Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a “brother”, and wondering whether Idi Amin was so bad after all.

It’s not unusual for Latin American caudillos to say things that suggest a growing detachment from reality. The truth, however, is that for all Chavez’s eccentricities, it would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as nothing more than egomaniacal ravings. (more…)

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Dennis O’Donovan this morning on Religion, Politics and the Culture on WLVJ in south Florida for a wide ranging, hour-long discussion on health care reform and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ role in the debate, among other topics. You can listen to the interview by using 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.

Giancarlo Ibárgüen, President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City, Guatemala, received the institute’s first Guardian of Freedom Award in a ceremony at the university’s campus on Nov. 16. More than 250 guests attended the award ceremony including the presidents of leading free market institutions such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Cato Institute, Liberty Fund Inc., the Fund for American Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship.

Rev. Robert Sirico, Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Jeff Sandefer and Giancarlo Ibárgüen at the Award Ceremony
Rev. Robert Sirico, Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Jeff Sandefer and Giancarlo Ibárgüen at the Award Ceremony

Rev. Robert Sirico presented the award sculpture and citation to Giancarlo stating “The Acton Institute proudly recognizes your outstanding commitment to the principles of freedom and the vital importance of your mission as you educate a new generation of men and women striving to live a life marked by a dedication to liberty and graced by the dignity of responsibility.”

Giancarlo’s emotion came through in his remarks. “I am overwhelmed… I just want to repeat that I am overwhelmed and I am very, very thankful with Father Sirico and Kris Mauren who have organized this wonderful event. This recognition that I take not as a personal recognition but as a recognition to those who have come before me at this wonderful institution.” He also thanked the team at UFM saying “I think the applause should be for them because it is really an extraordinary team.” Giancarlo concluded with some words of appreciation for his family, for Jeff Sandefer, and for the guests who came to the celebration.

The event’s program also included remarks from Edward Crane from Cato, Mary Anastasia O’Grady from The Wall Street Journal, Chris Talley and Allan Russell from Liberty Fund, Manuel Ayau from Universidad Francisco Marroquín and Jeff Sandefer from the Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship.

The Guardian of Freedom Award was created by Acton, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in order to recognize the ongoing contributions of leaders who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to liberty.

Mary O’Grady, Edward Crane, Dr. Emilio Pacheco and Lawrence Reed during the Q&A session of the first panelMary O’Grady, Edward Crane, Dr. Emilio Pacheco and Lawrence Reed during the Q&A session of the first panel

Acton also hosted “The Progress of Freedom” conference at the UFM campus on that same day. About 400 participants joined the conference as two panels of experts analyzed the last 50 years of freedom and the challenges ahead.

Participants included:

  • Alejandro A. Chafuen– Atlas Economic Research Foundation
  • Edward H. Crane — Cato Institute
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady — Wall Street Journal
  • Emilio J. Pacheco — Liberty Fund, Inc.
  • Roger R. Ream — Fund for American Studies
  • Lawrence W. Reed — Foundation for Economic Education
  • Jeff Sandefer — Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship
  • Rev. Robert A. Sirico — Acton Institute

About Giancarlo Ibárgüen
Giancarlo Ibárgüen has been President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín since 2003. A university trustee, he has been a member of its board of directors since 1992, serving as secretary general (provost) from 1995 to 2003. His memberships include the Centro de Estudios Económicos Sociales (CEES), the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the Mont Pelerin Society, and the Philadelphia Society. He is a board member at Liberty Fund and currently serves as financial advisor to various industrial, commercial and software companies. He was a member of the board of the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala and the editorial board of Gerencia magazine from 1992 to 1994. He was founding president of the grass-roots Asociación por el Poder Local (APOLO) in 1991, and a founding collaborator of the philosophical magazine Intuición. His articles on economics and telecommunications have appeared in Libertas (Argentina), Telecommunications Policy (Great Britain), the website of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) eLibrary. His editorials have been published in Guatemala’s daily Siglo Veintiuno and in various international publications including The Wall Street Journal. Giancarlo holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University. He has been married to Isabel Dougherty since 1983 and has three children.