Category: News and Events

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, October 16, 2008
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While efforts to explain the financial crisis will continue for years (historians are still debating the causes of the Great Depression, eight decades later), it seems certain that its genesis cannot be fully understood without some recourse to the moral dimension of human action in the economy. Acton Institute commentators—Jonathan Witt, David Milroy, Sam Gregg—have already weighed in on the question.

Economists have long deplored the poor savings rate in the United States, arguing that our ever-increasing debt load (national and personal) would eventually come back to haunt us. British intellectual Peter Heslam points out that this problem is essentially moral, a failure to value the traditional virtue of thrift.

He writes:

Hebrew and Christian scriptures support a theology of thrift. Literally, thrift means ‘prosperity’ or ‘well-being’, meanings encompassed in the Hebrew notion of shalom, which is central to the biblical theme of redemption. True, Jesus warned against laying up treasure on earth. But his warning is against greed and miserliness, which undermine thrift.

The only puzzling note Heslam hits is his final exhortation for government to push the sale of bonds. Granted that treasury bonds represent savings on the part of their buyers and granted that this is a better use of income than gambling, the other side of the coin is that bonds represent government borrowing from its people—not a good strategy for decreasing national indebtedness.

Better to put the money into stocks, corporate bonds, even passbook savings and certificates of deposit. This kind of saving is investment, the lifeblood of the market economy.

(The point here dovetails with Jordan Ballor’s endorsement of stewardship, posted as I typed this.)

In the wake of the global financial crisis, stories from the pundit class and blogosphere abound proclaiming the imminent death of the conservative movement. This is part of a longer and broader discussion with roots in the post-Reagan era of American politics. (As you’ll see in my comments below, I’m not so inclined to think that a move toward particular kinds of populism is necessarily a move away from conservatism.)

Writing in the American Conservative earlier this month, Claes G. Ryn argues that our recognition of the corrupting nature of power shouldn’t make us abdicate all forms of government and authority:

Without some people governing others, basic social order could not exist, to say nothing of effecting desirable change. The prejudice against power-seeking has left politics too much to people with the wrong kind of ambition, most of whom desire power as an end in itself. Yet wanting power need not be immoral. Pursuing it can be a means to good.

Ryn is professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and chairman of the National Humanities Institute. He notes, in agreement with the older liberal tradition, that,

the old American constitutionalism is inseparable from the moral-spiritual culture that gave it birth. Limited government and liberty were made possible by people who, because of who they were, put checks on their appetites, ran their own lives and communities, and generally behaved in ways conducive to freedom under law. Restoring American constitutionalism would presuppose some kind of resurgence of that old culture. Americans would have to rearrange their priorities and start acting differently, placing more emphasis on family, private groups, and local communities. They would have to want to take back much of the power ceded to politicians far away. Is that likely to happen? If not, the Constitution may not be salvageable.

Ryn discusses what he calls the “coup from within,” where under the guise of conservatism, “People of great ambition who want to exercise the power being abdicated by Americans are trying to make us accept and even welcome the final disappearance of constitutionalism and its culture of modesty and self-restraint.”

I’m not as pessimistic as Ryn about the seemingly inevitable outcome of the crisis and the government interventions and consolidations of power, at least in the economic sphere. He says of those perpetrating the coup, “Their response to the crisis, which they have aggravated, will hasten the crumbling of the American constitutional order. Their prescriptions contain the outlines of tyranny.” He may well be right about that, and Ryn’s concerns shouldn’t be limited to the American scene but apply to the international scene as well. As John Witherspoon said, “A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”

But despite all this, common sense folk are realizing again that virtues like frugality, thrift, and self-discipline are necessary parts of a broader view of stewardship. This is in part why the bailout has had difficulty finding any serious measure of popular support…it is a plan that is counter-intuitive on so many levels, and despite the media’s best efforts to sell the bi-partisan scheme, the American citizen isn’t convinced. In fact, the concept of stewardship is a pretty good model for Ryn’s view of the appropriate pursuit of power.

It is certainly an uphill battle to practice traditional virtues against a government and a culture that tells us to spend all we can on credit. We have just about maxed out the credit borrowed from the moral and cultural capital of previous generations. In response to those pushing the expansion of federal and executive power, it’s time to, as Ryn says, “expose their false solutions to what are real problems and to explore by what measures the best of our civilization might, despite daunting odds, be given a new lease on life.”

The impending death of conservatism might just be the kind of big-government conservatism that is virtually indistinguishable from big-government liberalism on the scope and size of the government. If that’s the case, then let us celebrate: “Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism.”

Acton Media’s seventh Birth of Freedom short features Rodney Stark, author of The Victory of Reason. In the video, he discusses the question “Why didn’t China have an industrial revolution before the west?” Although evidence points to the beginnings of an agricultural and industrial revolution in the 10th century, the lack of protection for private property has been a disincentive for innovation and hard work.

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Paola Fantini has expanded her blog post on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s new work on Catholic social doctrine into a book review for the forthcoming Religion & Liberty quarterly published by the Acton Institute. She has also translated the prologue to the book by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill. These articles are, to my knowledge, the first to translate anything from Cardinal Bertone’s “The Ethics of the Common Good in Catholic Social Doctrine” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008) into English. The Italian title is “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa.”

In her review, Fantini writes:

Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”

For Kirill, fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth; he often recalls the duty of serving the nation. At the conclusion of his prologue, he writes, “For us, the principal meaning of our work must be to serve God, our neighbour and the Patria [nation], through the creation of material and spiritual goods fundamental for a worthy life.”

Bertone, by contrast, stresses more universal, “transnational” aspects and never uses the nation-state as a center of focus. Recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus caritas est, Bertone even criticizes the nation-state for crowding out charity with social spending. “The State, presupposing a [strong sense of] solidarity among citizens to realize their rights, makes social spending obligatory. In this way, the State compromises the principle of gratuitousness, denying space to principles other than solidarity.”

In the prologue to the book, Metropolitan Kirill is harshly critical of economic globalization which does not meet the demands of “efficiency and justice.”

History demonstrates that only the aspiration to an ultimate good, the ability to sacrifice material goods in favor of heavenly ones, the ability to pursue duties of a higher order, render society vital and give meaning to the life of every single person. The states and peoples that have negated the value of spiritual life have disappeared from the scene of history. For this reason it is very important, when one speaks of the economy and the growth of well-being, never to forget their ultimate end: to serve the material and spiritual common good, not to hinder but favor man’s salvation.

Read Fantini’s new review here. Read Metropolitan Kirill’s prologue here.

Dirt… we sweep our floors, wipe our shoes, and wash our clothes to get rid of it. But how often do we stop and reflect upon the very fact that without soil life would not be possible?

This November, the popular RBC television program Day of Discovery will launch a three-part series titled “The Wonder of Creation: Soil.”

Acton Institute research fellow Jay W. Richards will be featured as a guest expert in the series. It will air on Ion TV the following days:

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: Foundation of Life, Part I
November 9, 2008 at 7:30 AM

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: Sustainer of Life, Part II
November 16, 2008 at 7:30 AM

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: The Work of Life, Part III
November 23, 2008 at 7:30 AM

Jay W. Richards, Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media, was interviewed for a story in the Grand Rapids Press on the topic of religious and nonreligious views.

The article, written in light of outspoken atheist Bill Maher’s new movie, looks at differing views of people such as Christopher Hitchens and John Ortberg.

Jay Richards debated Christopher Hitchens at Stanford University last January on the topic of atheism vs. theism. Throughout the debate Hitchens grew increasingly angry and by the debate’s end, he had actually turned his back to Richards. “It’s clear he’s (ticked) off at God,” Richards said.

Mark your calendars! Jennifer Roback Morse is coming to Grand Rapids to speak at Aquinas College on Wednesday, November 19 at 7:00pm.

Dr. Morse will speak on the topic of her provocative new book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World.

An excerpt from the prologue:

The sexual revolution has been a disappointment, but people continue to acquiesce in its assumptions because no appealing alternative seems to be on the horizon. Many Americans think the only alternatives are some combination of Leave it to Beaver and the Taliban. They imagine that if it weren’t for the sexual revolution, women would all be at home in dresses and high heels, in their spotless kitchens with cookies in the oven, waiting for the Beaver to come home from school. If it weren’t for the sexual revolution, men and women alike would be in danger of ever-increasing surveillance by the state for deviant sexual acts. Without modern sexual mores, women would be but one step away from the burka and public stoning for adultery.

In her latest book, Morse explains why marriage is in crisis and why we should care. Strong, lasting marriages, she argues, are essential for the survival of a free society, not to mention basic human happiness. She fires the opening shots of a new sexual revolution and shows how everyone, married or single, can help.

This event is free and open to the public but space is limited, so please register online or contact Charissa Romens at 616.454.3080.

In the sixth Birth of Freedom video short, William B. Allen addresses the question, “What was Christianity’s Role in the rise of the idea of human equality?” In his discussion, which traces the Judeo-Christian origins of a “universal perspective,” he concludes that “what informs the spirit of Republicanism in the modern era, is this long development, this slow working-out of a specific revelation from God that leads human beings into the discovery of the fullness of their personality in the recognition of their universal status.”

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 3, 2008
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It looks to me like Obama has this election about wrapped up. Why?

Some of his opponents are resorting to the tired and fallacious reductio ad Hitlerum (aka argumentum ad Hitlerum).

Exhibit A is this video:




(The original context is this video.)

This stuff is just beyond the pale in so many ways. You can find all manner of other similarly odious political rhetoric at YouTube (just check out the “related videos” category). Also, in 2004 Joe Carter discussed what he called “The Hidden Danger Behind the Hitler Comparisons.”

In real Nazi-related news, today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Bishop George Bell, an ecumenist, politician, and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who did his best to support the cause of the nascent opposition movements within Germany.

From Christian Newswire:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Oct. 2 /Christian Newswire/ — The John Jay Institute, a para-academic leadership development center based in downtown Colorado Springs, is pleased to announce a partnership with the Acton Institute, Grand Rapids, Michigan, to premiere the historical documentary film, “The Birth of Freedom” in Colorado.

The screening will take place on Wednesday, November 5th at 7pm in the SaGaJi Theatre at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. John Jay Institute President, Alan Crippen, featured in the film, will moderate a panel discussion after the screening which will include the film’s producers and the president of the Acton Institute, Fr. Robert Sirico. The event will conclude with a dessert reception open to the public.

“We are pleased to partner with the Acton Institute to bring this outstanding documentary to Colorado,” stated John Jay Institute President, Alan R. Crippen, II, “We live in a time when millions around the world still long for liberty. This film explores the origins of what we in this country too often take for granted.”

For tickets to the event, visit the Birth of Freedom website, or contact Mandy Keeler at (800) 345-2286, mkeeler@acton.org.

John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law
601 North Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903
Office Telephone: 719-471-8900