Category: Political Culture

witherspoonIn the spring of 1776, John Witherspoon preached his first sermon on political matters, about a month before he was elected to the Continental Congress. The sermon, “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” is a fascinating exploration of how God can work through human crises, and how even the “wrath of man” can lead us to glorify God in unexpected ways.

Surrounded by the conflict of the Revolution, Witherspoon calls on his countrymen to “return to duty,” neither letting blind rage get the best of them, nor retreating out of fear or for idols of security and “peace.” Yet while all this is directed specifically to the crisis of his time, I’m struck by how far his wisdom actually applies.

In today’s context, our conflicts vary, from economic woes to fights about religious liberty to racial tensions to terrorist threats to brazen abuses of power and authority within the halls of our own government. In each area, we can benefit from Witherspoon’s advice, learning to “hearken the rod” when times get tough, not only in terms of our own salvation, but for the sake and the cause of a free and virtuous society. (more…)

Raphael Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – a systematic, murderous campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire against its Armenian population, killing 1.5 million and leaving millions more displaced.

Though these atrocities have been verified through survivor accounts and historical records, to this day, not all countries have recognized the atrocities as “genocide” – the foremost being Turkey, along with others, including the United States.

In a Huffington Post article, “The United States Should Remember Raphael Lemkin’s Words and Formally Recognize the Armenian Genocide,” H.A. Goodman draws particular focus to Turkey’s animosity toward the genocide label, even threatening other countries that recognize the tragedy as genocide.

Most recently, Turkey’s resistance was displayed when Pope Francis referred to the slaughter as the “first genocide of the 20th century.” The Turkish government responded by recalling its ambassador to the Holy See.

But perhaps an even more shocking reality surrounding the Armenian Genocide is this: at the time the Ottoman Empire began exterminating the Armenians in 1915, its actions were not considered illegal. It would be another 33 years before genocide was named a crime under international law, through the United Nations’ adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, after which the word “genocide” was created and used for the first time, only 4 years prior. For these two significant actions we have one man to thank, a largely unknown Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin.

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Abdel-Latif Derian

Abdel-Latif Derian

Joe Carter put up a very good clarifying post on Wednesday about Western politicians and religious leaders envisioning a moderate Islam that might follow the template of the Protestant Reformation. In “Let’s Stop Asking Islam to Be Christian,” Carter wrote that what Western elites really want is for Muslims “to be like liberal mainline Christianity: all the trappings of the faith without all that pesky doctrine that might stir up trouble.”

Indeed, Christians and Muslims hold radically different notions about the “true faith” and the nature of God. This would have been unquestionably obvious to St. John of Damascus (676-749) who authored the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith and served as a high counselor to Muslim rulers.

Now some of the same Christian communities that date to the era of the Damascene church father — or earlier — have been wiped out or targeted for extinction by Islamic terrorists. Read “Syrian Christian refugees feel fortunate to have fled Islamic State,” an L.A. Times report on the “several thousand Assyrian Christians who fled in late February as the militants advanced into dozens of largely Christian villages along the Khabur River in eastern Syria.” (more…)

For us the rebirth of Russia is inextricably tied, first of all, with spiritual rebirth … and if Russia is the largest Orthodox power [pravoslavnaya dershava], then Greece and Athos are its source. —Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Mount Athos, September 2005.

Writing for the Carnegie Council, Nicolai N. Petro says that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “call for greater respect for traditional cultural and religious identities was either missed or ignored in the West. One reason, I suspect, is that it was couched in a language that Western elites no longer use.” Summary of his report:

For many analysts the term Russky mir, or Russian World, epitomizes an expansionist and messianic Russian foreign policy, the perverse intersection of the interests of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Little noted is that the term actually means something quite different for each party. For the state it is a tool for expanding Russia’s cultural and political influence, while for the Russian Orthodox Church it is a spiritual concept, a reminder that through the baptism of Rus, God consecrated these people to the task of building a Holy Rus.

The close symphonic relationship between the Orthodox Church and state in Russia thus provides Russian foreign policy with a definable moral framework, one that, given its popularity, is likely to continue to shape the country’s policies well into the future.

More on Putinism: (more…)

There will be some twists and turns here, so hold on. Earlier this month, the BBC highlighted what it called “YouTube sensation ‘I, Russian Occupier'” the hit propaganda film that “feels more like the opening sequence of a big budget Hollywood movie than a homemade political message.” So far, it’s racked up 5.6 million views and more than 31,000 comments. (“likes” are outpacing down votes by a 5-1 margin. The video also “attacks Western values, dropping in visual references to same-sex parenting, and rounds off by ‘sending’ the entire message to US President Barack Obama.”

The BBC identified the creator of the video as Evgeny Zhurov, a 29-year-old motion graphics designer from Russia, who claimed he was not paid for the work. “A full-scale information war is being waged against Russia. I’m just taking part in the war on Russia’s side,” Zhurov told the BBC. “My goal is high-quality pro-Russian propaganda.”

Or were the creators working for Russians at the highest level? The Age, an Australian newspaper, reports that the video was actually funded by the Russian Orthodox Church. Nick Miller, citing Russian website Medialeaks.ru and a broadcast report, identifies producers from a studio called My Duck’s Vision (MDV) who “confessed” it was their work. When pressed, the producer said: “It was an order from [the] Russian Orthodox Church. It was not our idea.” He added that, “it was an order we’ve been paid, but still for us it’s just a stupid script, we’ve made [it] for fun.” (more…)

de Soto

de Soto

The work of Hernando de Soto has been followed closely for years at Acton and more recently at PovertyCure. See the 2001 interview “The Poor are the Solution, Not the Problem” in Religion & Liberty and a short film clip of de Soto talking about property rights and rule of law at PovertyCure. Search both sites and you’ll find much more. De Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else is essential reading for those interested in his work and is available in the Acton book shop.

David Freddoso profiled de Soto earlier this week at Investor’s Business Daily.

Informality is a central concept in de Soto’s work on poverty. It describes the realm to which the Third World’s poorest are relegated — banished from their nations’ official economies to what he has called “the grubby basement of the precapitalist world.”

He argues that their exclusion — the product of a lack of enforceable property rights — holds back them and the entire world economy. It’s why capitalism, despite its triumph over communism and its wealth generation in America and Western Europe, has failed elsewhere. (more…)

fairest of them allAny parent or teacher has heard the cry: “It’s not fair!” It can be a battle over who gets to ride in the front seat, who gets to stay up late, or who gets anything perceived as a special privilege. “Fairness” to children means, “I should get what I want.” Apparently, it’s the same with politicians.

Daniel Hannan, Conservative Member of the European Parliament (and last year’s speaker at Acton’s Annual Dinner) tackles “fairness” in terms of politics at CapX. Hannan knows that the word is “elastic” – it has come to mean anything from equality to entitlement to need. In today’s political realm, Hannan says, “fairness” is whatever one needs it to be:

It is used, rather, as a way to signal the speaker’s virtue. “I believe in fairness” has come, in politics, to mean “I am a kind and compassionate human being”. (more…)

Angelina and Sarah Grimke

Angelina and Sarah Grimke

March is Women’s History Month, and during this month the Acton PowerBlog will be highlighting a number of women who have helped advance the cause of liberty and a free and virtuous society.

A month or so ago, I read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, which is a fictionalized account (in part) of the lives of the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina. When I realized it was based on two real-life women, it gave me the impetus to learn more regarding these two amazing women. (more…)

Authenticity1Last week former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani set off a firestorm of debate and criticism by openly questioning whether President Obama “loves America.”

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

It would be easy to completely dismiss Giuliani’s comments as dumb, uncharitable, and partisan because the comment was dumb, uncharitable, and partisan. But I believe the mayor has an intuitive sense about something that he can’t articulate, and probably doesn’t understand.

The reality is that Obama and Giuliani both love America. Obama and Giuliani are both patriots. Yet their idea of what love of country means and what patriotism requires of them are likely to be significantly different. To understand this difference let’s look back to a comment from 2007.

As candidate for president in 2007, Barack Obama was questioned about why he did not wear a flag pin on his lapel. His explanation was that he had done so once but he believed it had become a substitute for “true patriotism” since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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anglosphere-300x150Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, asks whether or not the Anglosphere nations (Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States) continue to be a viable political force in the world today at the Library of Law and Liberty.

Gregg begins with his unique Anglosphere experience:

Given that I am of Scottish and English descent, grew up in Australia, did my doctorate in Britain, and now live and work in America, I am about as much a product of what is often called “the Anglosphere” as it gets. That such a sphere exists, culturally speaking, has never seemed in doubt to me, even beyond the common linguistic and historical connections to the British Isles of this grouping of nations.

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