The Acton Institute is proud to unveil the first edition of our brand new audio podcast, Radio Free Acton! We’re excited about the possibilities of taking our podcast to the next level, and we hope that if you haven’t already subscribed to our feed, that you’ll do so now. Just add this link to whatever podcasting program you use, or subscribe through iTunes right here.
For our first show, I’m joined by Jordan Ballor, Ray Nothstine, and John Couretas to discuss the upcoming Republican primary in Michigan. This particular race has provided a rich vein of material for those interested in the intersection of religion, economics, and politics, and we dig into all of those issues as they relate to candidates Romney and Huckabee especially. Additionally, we hear from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse on how Marxist thinking about the traditional family still influences the modern left.
To download the podcast, click here (13.6 mb mp3 file).
What have many academics and a good number of religious leaders learned from the collapse of communism and the failures of so many utopias of socialism that couldn’t deliver on their promises? Well, nothing. In “The Great Lie: Pope Benedict XVI on Socialism,” Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at a critique of the socialist impulse offered by the Pope in his new encyclical Spe Salvi.
In the article, published on InsideCatholic.com, Rev. Sirico discusses the futility of a salvation based on a materialistic worlview:
History is strewn with intellectuals who imagined that they could save the world — and created hell on earth as a result. The pope counts the socialists among them, and Karl Marx in particular. Here was an intellectual who imagined that salvation could occur without God, and that something approximating the Kingdom of God on earth could be created by adjusting the material conditions of man.
Socialist theorizers simply cannot wish away economic realities. “The economic problem is intractable,” Rev. Sirico writes. “Simply asserting that the new world will magically appear begs critical issues, such as how we are to feed, clothe, and house people.”
Pope Benedict sees this flaw clearly. This is from Spe Salvi:
Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another.
This utopian impulse, Rev. Sirico says, blinds the socialist to unchangeable realities of the economic order:
… the pope has put the problems of economics exactly in the right light: the practical issue that needs to be settled within the framework of a sound morality and understanding of human nature. Socialism fails for a precise and practical reason: It has no system for pricing factors of production to make economic calculation possible. Prices come from the exchange of the very private property with which socialism dispenses.
Read the encyclical letter Spe Salvi on the Vatican Web site here.
A few radio appearances to let you know about today:
Michael Miller made an appearance today on the Accent Radio Network to discuss the role of faith in the public square, especially in light of the ongoing presidential primary process. You can listen to the audio from The Right Balance with Greg Allen by clicking here (2.2 mb mp3 file).
On Monday, Dr. Jay Richards joined host Jim Brown on WRNO in New Orleans, Louisiana to discuss the impact of religion on Mike Huckabee’s win in the Iowa Republican Caucus last week. If you haven’t had a chance to check out that audio yet, you can do so by clicking here (1.4 mb mp3 file).
A new interactive video sharing site for activism and “ideas,” Big Think (HT), including entries from experts like Niall Ferguson, Jagdish Bhagwati, Paul Krugman, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (along with the requisite spate of politicians).
Acton Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media Jay Richards joined the Fox and Friends crew on Fox News Channel this morning to kick off this presidential election year with some analysis of the role of religion in the Republican presidential primary. For those of you who missed it, here’s the clip:
In the Wall Street Journal’s Americas column, Rev. Robert A. Sirico examines the shift in thinking about liberation theology among Catholic Church leaders in Latin America. Excerpt:
Catholic Church bishops, priests and other Church leaders in Latin America were once a reliable ally of the left, owing to the influence of “liberation theology,” which tries to link the Gospel to the socialist cause. Today the Church is coming to recognize the link between socialism and the loss of freedom, and a shift in thinking is taking place.
In a region that is more than 90% Catholic, this change might have enormous implications. A Church that emphasizes liberty could play a role in Latin America similar to that which it played in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, as a counterweight in defense of freedom during a time of rising despotism.
For proof of the change I refer to, consider a recent statement from the Catholic Bishops of Venezuela: It blasted the political agenda of President Hugo Chávez for its assault on liberty under the guise of helping the poor. It is morally unacceptable, the statement said, and will drive the country backward in terms of respect for human rights.
The Bishops’ statement from Caracas was not the first challenge the Church issued to Mr. Chávez. The late Cardinal Rosalio Castillo once laid out the Church’s view of Bolivarian socialism. The government, he explained, though elected democratically was morphing into dictatorship. He worried about the results of this process. “All powers are in the hands of one person who exercises them in an arbitrary and despotic way, not for the purposes of bringing about the greater common good of the nation, but rather for a twisted and archaic political project: that of implanting in Venezuela a disastrous regime like the one Fidel Castro has imposed on Cuba . . .”
Rev. Robert A. Sirico is interviewed by James Freeman, assistant editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, about markets and morality and about the Acton Institute’s Call of the Entrepreneur documentary.
Malika Worrell’s review of The Call of the Entrepreneur is a perfect storm of distorting prejudice, muddle, and simple factual errors. First, she says, “Much of Call’s 58-minute runtime is taken up with talking heads, most of whom are affiliated with the Acton Institute, affirming the film’s ideology that unfettered capitalism is inherently righteous.”
This is incorrect, and I told her it was incorrect in our interview. The majority of interviewees in the film, from Brad Morgan to George Gilder, Michael Novak, Jimmy Lai, and Peter Boettke, are not affiliated with Acton. Moreover, her description of the film’s “ideology” (why not say “argument”?) seems to be describing some other film. What little was said about the free market and capitalism in our film focused on the importance not of “unfettered capitalism” but of private property and rule of law. Such government-enforced “fetters” are preconditions for a successful capitalism. These are the lessons of economic history, not the deliverances of some kind of irrational faith, which Worrell suggests.
She also comments, “The film’s single-minded focus on the virtues of the free market is accompanied by a Calvinist streak. The entrepreneurial impulse contains elements “of God’s original creative act.” This is a quote from the film by Samuel Gregg, a Roman Catholic. The film is based on a book by a Roman Catholic priest, Robert Sirico, which Worrell elsewhere notes. Catholics aren’t Calvinists. Moreover, the idea that human beings are created in God’s image to be creators is a broadly Judeo-Christian idea, one shared even by deists like Thomas Jefferson.
On several occasions, Worrell criticizes the film because, apparently, it isn’t the film she thought we should have made: “Viewers hoping to learn more about the businesses Call’s featured entrepreneurs created will come away frustrated; the film is more interested in ideology than the actual logistics of entrepreneurship.” Again, she prefers the prejudicial word “ideology” to describe a perspective she simply disagrees with. In any case, this isn’t a valid criticism. The film is a response to the ubiquitous stereotype of business entrepreneurs as greedy misers that persists in both the entertainment and news media. It’s not a training film for aspiring entrepreneurs.
One element that came out in the aftermath of “Romney’s religion speech,” an event highly touted in the run-up and in days following, was the charge that Mormonism is essentially a racist faith (or at least was until 1978), and that in unabashedly embracing the “faith of his fathers” so publicly (and uncritically), Mitt Romney did not distance himself from or express enough of a critical attitude toward the official LDS policy regarding membership by blacks before 1978.
One example of a person who raised this concern quite vociferously is political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, who as a guest on the McLaughlin Group on the episode immediately following Romney’s speech, said this of Romney (among many other things):
Here’s the problem. He dare not discuss his religion. And he fools people like Pat Buchanan, who should know better. This was the worst speech, the worst political speech, of my lifetime, because this man stood there and said to you, “This is the faith of my fathers.” And you and none of these commentators who liked this speech realize that the faith of his father is a racist faith. As of 1978, it was an officially racist faith. And for political convenience, in 1978 it switched and it said, “Okay, black people can be in this church.”
Mitt Romney was 31 years-old in 1978 when the LDS church altered its policy toward “priesthood” membership for black males, citing a new revelation. You can check out the entire exchange between O’Donnell and the other members of the McLaughlin Group panel here:
It seems to me that Pat Buchanan misses O’Donnell’s point in the exchange. Buchanan cites scandalous examples from Christianity’s past, such as the condoning of slavery for 1,500 years, in effect to say that all religions have their problems, and that doesn’t mean that we associate every historical evil from a religion’s past with its contemporary adherents. But what O’Donnell’s charge is meant to show is that folks like Pat Buchanan and other Christians are inclined to judge their tradition’s own past, and pronounce that such and such a practice was an objective evil and upon reflection ex post facto, incompatible with the fundamental beliefs of their faith.
From O’Donnell’s perspective it’s precisely this criticism that is lacking in Romney. As Byron York puts it,
But now, Romney is faced with the simple question: Was the church policy before 1978 wrong? This morning, he wouldn’t say, and it might be difficult for him, as a former church leader, to get out in front of the LDS leadership on that. And he certainly can’t cite McConkie’s advice to forget everything that was said before 1978. Given all that, it’s an issue that’s likely to pop up over and over again.
It did pop up on Romney’s Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert the following Sunday morning: