Category: Political Culture

Blog author: abradley
Thursday, December 29, 2016
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On December 27, 2016, at the age of 86, Thomas Sowell published his last column. After publishing dozens of books and hundreds of columns, Dr. Sowell’s retirement may mark the beginning of the end of an era of black intellectuals who were champions of political and economic liberty. Other black scholars like Walter Williams, W.B. Allen, and Shelby Steele are all in the 70s or 80s and there does not seem to be a cadre of like-minded black scholars in their wake.
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Prime Minister Matteo Renzo and his constiutional referendum were rejected last week.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his constitutional referendum were rejected last week.

Just as Acton concluded its ‘Reclaiming the West: Freedom and Responsibility‘conference series in London on Dec. 1, Italy was getting ready to decide its own fate among troubled Western democracies.  On Dec. 4,  the storied homeland to some of the greatest intellectual, political, religious and artistic genius over the last 2,500 years voted to implement or reject deep political reform via the ruling Partito Democratico’s proposed constitutional referendum.

No doubt it was a fundamental decision about freedom and responsibility. But apparently not a ‘do or die’ proposition, as billed from the left-wing party’s bully pulpit.

On Dec. 5, a record poll turnout (70%) resulted in Italians putting their feet down, a clear and decisive stop to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ‘December Revolution’. The ‘No’ vote won by a landslide margin: 20 percentage points (60% to 40%).

It is as if Italy had tuned in to Acton’s conference ‘The Crisis of Liberty in the West’, where outspoken Europeans advocated for ordered liberty. They called for deeper reflection on core human values and steadfastness in upholding timeless truths, rather than seeking change for its own sake or for some momentary advantage, thereby creating bastions of relativism and utilitarianism among civic institutions. This is challenging advice for Italians, who historically have been seduced by the brilliant sophistry of their scheming political leaders.

Last week, however, Italian voters stood united. They showed they were sick and tired of being hoodwinked during debates and ultimately at the polls. Enough was enough: Basta! No longer would their suffrage be cashed out for any party’s short-term political gain.

In short, Italian voters smelled a rat – a ruse used for a political power play. (more…)

In a recent article for The Telegraph, Sir Roger Scruton discusses the importance of national borders in Europe and the threat that the EU poses to them.  He explains how religion once united Europe but since religion began to fade in the 17th century, territory took over as the principle that Europeans turn to in order to find unity.  Scruton says this:

European civilisation has been steadily replacing religion with territory as the source of political unity. The process began in the 17th century, as the call for popular sovereignty and national unity began to be heard above the noise of religious conflict.  Following the French Revolution and Napoleon’s failed attempt at a pan-European Empire, Europe emerged as a collection of nation states.

Scruton goes on to talk about how national identity contributed to the outcome of the Second World War: (more…)

Yesterday, Hillary’s concession and Donald’s victory speeches would be made only one mile apart at the Midtown Hilton at the Javits Center in New York City. As the night wore on, the Clinton party quickly soured in the ballroom while the Trump camp began uncorking the bubbly. The opposing sentiments set the two camps a world apart.

Clinton’s presidential campaign director John Podesta, with aplomb, delivered unwanted news: for now the Democrats’ dream had died and all those sobbing at the Javits Center should wipe dry the tears and call it a night. They would get some rest to renew their political fight.

The reaction, however, was far from noble among Clinton’s media ‘adorables’ here in Italy. There was weeping to be sure, but also gnashing of teeth. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, November 10, 2016
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In his best-selling book The Black Swan, probabilist Nassim Nicholas Taleb warns against the need for easy narratives to explain the unexpected. Given how unexpected the result of this Tuesday’s election was, it is worth taking some time to review what Taleb calls “the narrative fallacy.”

According to Taleb,

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

Yesterday, I reviewed New York Times exit polling data to try to look at what we actually know about who voted for president-elect Donald Trump or Sec. Hillary Clinton. The results, as I noted, were often surprising.

The reason they are surprising is precisely because of what Taleb gets at here: we have a tendency to want everything to fit into neat-and-tidy narratives. But reality rarely works that way, especially in the case of unexpected events. Donald Trump’s win was a Black Swan event to many.

By nearly every poll, Hillary Clinton was the favorite to win (and, of course, it appears she did win the popular vote). The most cautious index I saw was FiveThirtyEight, where to their credit they stressed the probabilistic nature of their forecast. They basically put the odds at 2-to-1 in favor of Clinton, and they even said that her chances were not as good as President Obama’s reelection in 2012. Even so, they too have been reeling at the inaccuracy of, again, basically every poll.

So Trump won. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility (obviously now), but it was certainly unexpected to most, even some of those who gave him a better chance than others. How did it happen? (more…)

As, no doubt, many readers are getting flooded on social media with think pieces and hot takes (not to mention apocalyptic worry or celebration), the point of this post is simply to look at what the data seems to indicate about those who voted for President-elect Donald Trump and his opponent, Sec. Hillary Clinton. I’ll add a few thoughts at the end, but I am mostly just fascinated with the result, which shows more diverse support for each candidate than I had expect. However, I am also, like many, disappointed at the passions, particularly anger, that motivated some voters and which will remain with us, no matter what our party preferences, if we do not make a point to address them.

That said, there is a temptation, especially as of late, to paint supporters of either candidate with broad brushes (often unfavorably but sometimes overly flattering too). Neither serves the virtues of wisdom, prudence, or love, which ought to be at the forefront of any Christian social engagement. So, with the encouragement of those virtues as my goal, lets look at that some of the most interesting demographic groups this year.

I’ll be using New York Times exit polling data throughout. You can view it all and compare with past elections here. (more…)

On November 3rd, Acton welcomed Victoria C. G. Coates, cultural historian and Ph.D, to talk about her argument that democracy has had a unique capacity to inspire some of the greatest artistic achievements of western civilization. She lays out this thesis in her latest book, David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art. In her Acton Lecture Series address, Coates takes as her case studies Michelangelo’s “David” and Albert Bierstadt’s “Rocky Mountains: Lander’s Peak“, describing the roles each played in their respective civilizations as well as the underlying political meanings of each piece.

You can watch Victoria Coates’ lecture via the video player below.