Category: News and Events

In “The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism,” Arthur C. Brooks argues in the Wall Street Journal that the “major cultural schism” in America today divides those who support capitalism and, on the other side, those who favor socialism. He makes a strong case for the moral foundations of free enterprise and entrepreneurship and points to the recent “tea parties” as evidence that Americans still favor the market economy. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, says Americans are revolting against “absurdities” like the bailout of General Motors that will be financed with ballooning budget deficits and trillions in new federal debt. He writes:

… the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an “ethical populism.” The protesters are homeowners who didn’t walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don’t want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don’t need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right — and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement — maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off “in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.” Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

He also points out that the government has been increasingly “exempting” Americans from paying taxes, an intentional strategy to create a larger class of government-dependent citizens.

My colleague Adam Lerrick showed in [the Wall Street Journal] last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49% from 40% under Mr. Obama’s tax plan. Another 11% will pay less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.

To put a modern twist on the old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 either has no head, or pays no taxes. Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the “sharing economy.” They are fighting a culture war of attrition with economic tools. Defenders of capitalism risk getting caught flat-footed with increasingly antiquated arguments that free enterprise is a Main Street pocketbook issue. Progressives are working relentlessly to see that it is not.

Read the “The Culture of Charity,” the Spring 2007 interview with Brooks in Acton’s Religion & Liberty. Watch a 16-minute video interview with Brooks recorded at the Acton Grand Rapids office in May 2008

The Detroit News published a column yesterday that I wrote about Catholic identity and the controversies sparked by President Obama’s visit to Georgetown and his planned speech at Notre Dame. National Review Online also published a variation of the same column last week under the title, The Catholic Identity Crisis.

Here’s the Detroit News column:

President Barack Obama made an interesting comment on economics during his April 14 speech at Georgetown University. “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand,” he said. “We must build our house upon a rock.”

I doubt anyone would accuse him of plagiarizing here, but what he is paraphrasing came from Jesus’ parable. The man who built the house on sand paid the price. The winds took down the house. The man who built on stone enjoyed a house that withstood the storm.

It is quite appropriate that the parable was quoted at this Catholic university founded by Jesuits. Crucifixes, statues of Mary and other religious items are everywhere, revealing the rich tradition here. (more…)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, April 20, 2009

patriots-day Patriots’ Day commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. It is officially celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine, and is now observed on the third Monday in April to allow for a three day weekend.

Patriots’ Day is also the day upon which the Boston Marathon is held and the Boston Red Sox are always scheduled to play at home with the only official A.M. start in Major League Baseball.

My Patriots’ Day post last year references an excellent book that studies the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord titled Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. This is a terrific account that can’t be recommended too often. I can think of no other book that does a better job of capturing the intensity, seriousness, and overt bravery of the men who took up arms against the British Crown.

The history of colonial American militias is in fact unique. All the men who took up arms that day may not have been able to envision a final outcome or even a final political solution for their grievances, but they knew they were living in a historic time of change. The idea that rights were bestowed not by man but by God had already taken root in the colonies. Furthermore, if government was empowered, it’s purpose in empowerment was to protect the people not to subject them. It’s important to remember Patriots’ Day and ask ourselves about its relevance today.

I recently received a request from a reporter to respond to the recent spate of studies and stories positing a decline in American Christianity. Here’s how I answered:

Broadly speaking, it is silly to think of secularization as a linear process. The prominence of the Christian faith waxes and wanes during different historical periods. As Rodney Stark has pointed out, the old golden age of faith picture of antiquity is not nearly as strong as many believe. There is, however, always a solid and motivated core.

What differs over time is the overall number of people who want to associate themselves with the basic project of the church. Sometimes, that seems advantageous and people do it for reasons of social respectability or advancement. At other times there is little to be gained from it and many turn to spending Sundays on the golf course or with the New York Times.

We happen to be in one of the periods when there is not a lot of social prestige or other benefit to being in the church and thus nominal members are dropping out. They have no desire to meet even modest demands of the church when they see no compensatory benefit.

The drop off in the number of nominal Christians also results from the ascendancy of conservative Christianity in the United States. The more intensely the church stands for something, the less likely it is that people with low commitment will associate themselves with the church. This has always been the church’s dilemma. Should it be a comprehensive church that baptizes babies and includes everyone in a Christendom model? Or should it concentrate on voluntary, adult decisions for a strict faith that actively excludes those not with the program. While mega-churches are often criticized for trying to be all things to all people, doctrinally speaking they are actually pretty orthodox and tilt more in the direction of believers with some commitment.

What has happened in the last fifty years is that the mainline churches which had seemed to prevail during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy actually lost by becoming increasingly liberal. They became so liberal that their membership had nothing to attach themselves too other than being against conservative Christianity. They can do that just as easily on their own as they can in a liberal church. They end up in the “other” or “none” category when religionists are counted.

In summary, the disappearance of the middle option of a semi-orthodox mainline Protestantism and the corresponding rise of conservative Protestantism is the best explanation for the results we see in the ARIS survey and other observances which claim a future of religious decline.

Dr. David W. Miller, who was interviewed in Religion & Liberty for the Winter 2008 issue, was recently on a PBS program discussing corporate morality.

Here is a portion of the PBS interview which relates to the theme in Acton’s R&L interview titled “Theology at Work: Faithful Living in the Marketplace:”

(anchor) ABERNETHY: You, as I said, you used to work in the financial business. What do your friends there, the friends that you have who’ve worked there — what do they tell you about what went wrong; how they feel about it; what they might have done wrong?

Dr. MILLER: Yeah, I work with a group up in Greenwich, Connecticut—we were known as the hedge-fund capital of the world—a group called Greenwich Leadership for people trying to connect their faith and their work and their morals and their values. Some people feel a bit beleaguered by the current situation, because they love their job and they’re good at it, and they are trying to do it in a moral, ethical way and create liquidity and creative instruments for companies. Others, however, realize they’ve bought into something. They’ve almost become addicted to the power and the money. One friend who recently was laid off by AIG, is part of their troubles, privately said he felt that he had made his company his false idol, if you will—that work had become, in his company that he is very proud of actually, had become a false idol, and he was now trying to reorient his life to have balance where faith, family, and other priorities, including his work, would have the right balance, the right perspective.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I argue for simplifying the tax code. It should also be evident that any sort of tax reform should coincide with reforming the way Washington currently operates when it comes to spending.

April 15th is of course tax day, and national protests will also be occurring across this nation under the historically significant title of “tea parties.” One of the points I made in my piece is that it is important that these protests are not just a partisan vessel for bomb throwing and another opportunity to just recite talking points. I think people of most political and ideological persuasions can agree that government spending is out of control. It’s hard for numbers to lie. Repackaging partisan characters who have a large hand in the spending crisis won’t be very effective. Fortunately I think some of the organizers understand this.

Back to the tax code, much of my thinking on this issue can be summed up by noting the tax code is only a very visible problem or symbol of the larger crisis, which is government spending and a never ending need for more revenue. In regards to the lobbyist and special interests, there is a great quote I didn’t include in my commentary that is worth mentioning. In an article written by Bill Theobald titled “Budget 101: easy to spend, tough to tax,” University of Cincinnati professor of Law Paul L. Caron says of tax reform:

Major tax reform is possible in our system, but only if it is truly so fundamental that it creates a constituency greater (in the politicians’ eyes) than the special interests that would be hurt.

rebellion In the new book The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan, James Mann wants you to meet Reagan as the rebel who parted ways from cold war hawks in his own administration and foreign policy “realists” who were loyal to containment. It could be argued that Reagan was the atypical conservative dove in Mann’s view.The author does provide a relatively fresh thesis on Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War, which reinforces his rejection of what he calls “both left wing and right wing extremes.” Mann believes conservatives who champion Reagan as the president who had a well formulated economic and military plan to execute the end of the Soviet Union, and left wing critics who saw Reagan as lucky, overly simplistic and vapid, were both wrong.

When it comes to Soviet diplomacy, Mann’s account is highly praiseworthy of Reagan and his Secretary of State George Schultz. He sees the end of the Cold War as a result of both of men’s instincts and creativity in dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev, rather than the heavy arms build up, resistance to détente, and “saber-rattling” of Reagan’s first term. Critics of Reagan from the right, “failed to see the dynamics that were propelling change [in the Soviet Union]. Reagan would come to grasp the situation better and more quickly than they did,” says Mann. (more…)

I visited Notre Dame last year at this time to meet with a few professors for the purpose of academic networking. My university was hiring and I hoped to hear about Christian doctoral students ready for their first job. As I walked across the snow-covered campus, I was a little in awe of how wonderfully the sacred space had been planned and laid out.

But when I met with one older professor who had been with the university for quite some time, he expressed a great deal of regret for how his student (the current president) was making decisions. Looking around his office, I noticed photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. holding hands with priests protesting the injustice of segregation. I thought to myself, if this man feels something good has been lost at Notre Dame, it must truly be so.

When I heard about Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak and receive an honorary doctorate, I could not believe it. I knew the university had liberalized. I knew many faithful Catholics felt ND had lost its way, but I also knew many fine, Christian scholars populated its offices and classrooms. How could it be that the university many of us point to when we aspire to building a great Christian academic institution would invite a president to speak and receive and honorary doctorate when he could not liberalize abortion laws quickly enough upon taking office?

Has the protection of unborn and newly born life not been a distinctive of the Christian church from the beginning? Did not the Catholic church act convincingly to remind evangelicals and others of their duties to protect life?

All I can think about as I watch this great university rushing to honor a president who considers the question of when life begins to be above his pay grade and yet who acts to liberalize the capacity to extinguish it is that Notre Dame is trading its heritage for the applause of the culture. Friend, Father Jenkins, I pray that you would consider the quality of the culture whose applause you seek.

As Walker Percy, a self-proclaimed bad Catholic who was actually a great one said, there is decline and fall and then there are the options. Choose life instead, sir. I say that to both of these presidents. One, the president of a university, and the other, a president of a nation.

Dear Fr. Jenkins:

You are, no doubt, being inundated with letters, phone calls and emails objecting to the decision of Notre Dame to invite President Obama to give the commencement address this year and to receive an honorary doctorate from your university.

I feel compelled to write to you as a brother priest to express my own dismay at this decision which I see as dangerous for Notre Dame, for the Church, for this country, and frankly Father, for your own soul.

I have had the honor to speak at Notre Dame over the years in my capacity as the president of the Acton Institute. I recall the sparkling discussion and questions from the student body, notably from a number of the Holy Cross Seminarians. I have, in fact, been invited to your campus on a number of occasions and on my last visit I was given a statue of the Lladro Blessed Mother in appreciation of my speech. I was told the statue was blessed by Fr. Hesburgh. It has occupied a special place in our religious community since then.

Father, I have no degree or awards from Notre Dame to return to you to indicate how strongly I feel about this scandalous decision. So here is what I have decided to do:

I am returning this statue to your office because what once evoked a pleasant memory of a venerable Catholic institution now evokes shame and sorrow. The statue is simply too painful a reminder of the damage and scandal Notre Dame has brought to the Church and the cause of human life in this decision.

Moreover, I will encourage the young people from my parish and within our diocese to consider universities other than Notre Dame for their college career and I will further encourage other priests in my diocese to do the same. I will also discourage Notre Dame alumni to make donations to the University.

And you may rest assured that I will make this sentiment known from my pulpit and in other public outlets as the occasions present themselves.

This is not a matter of abortion (I presume we agree on how evil it is); nor is it about free speech (you could have invited the president to a discussion for that). This is about coherence. You no longer know who you are as a Catholic institution.

It pains me to write this letter to you. I ask that you go before the Blessed Sacrament and look into your soul – the soul of priest – and reverse this decision before more scandal is brought to the Church.

You and the students under your pastoral charge will be in my prayers and Lenten sacrifices.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Robert Sirico

rl_18_3 The new issue of Religion & Liberty featuring an interview with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is available online, now in its entirety. From the very beginning, Governor Sanford has been a vocal critic of all bailout and stimulus legislation pouring out of Washington, regardless of who is occupying the White House.

For an update on the stimulus debate, and the governor’s role in the new stimulus law, The Wall Street Journal published Governor Sanford’s March 20 column titled, “Why South Carolina Doesn’t Want ‘Stimulus.’” Our interview is also unique in that Governor Sanford also talks about faith in the public square and the virtues related to spending restraint.

We have some excellent cultural analysis in this issue, which includes “Busting a Pop Culture Illusion” by S.T. Karnick. Karnick is the editor of the American Culture website. He calls the Disney “life without limits mindset, one of the main progenitors of modern, statist liberalism.” Bruce Edward Walker of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy offers a piece that uplifts the moral order over ideology. Walker declares:

For Eliot, the moral imagination derived from his Anglo-Catholicism; for Kirk, his Roman Catholicism. Devoid of moral imagination, all systems–political, social, economic, familial and spiritual–are bound to fail. True conservatives, both men believed, place moral considerations ahead of ideology. In fact, both held that true conservatism is the negation of ideology.

Two books are reviewed in this issue, Kevin Schmiesing reviews Philip Lawler’s The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture and I review Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtual Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch. Schmiesing’s review first appeared on the Powerblog in November.

In this issue we also pay tribute to one of the giants who was pivotal in the destruction of Marxist-Leninism. Alexander Solzhenistyn (1918 – 2008) is the “In The Liberal Tradition” figure for this issue. I was about 14 or 15 when my dad gave me a copy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, and in reading his book it was plain for me that the fundamental flaws of the Soviet System were moral in nature. Nobody has written and articulated that case better and more effectively than Solzhenitsyn did. His works offered the first critique of the Soviet system I had come across from a non-Westerner. It’s not the first time we have written about Solzhenitsyn of course, Religion & Liberty’s Executive Editor John Couretas published “Solzhenitsyn and Russia’s Golgotha” in the Spring issue of 2007.