Category: Political Culture

The Black Book of CommunismLord Acton’s famous dictum, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has been proven true time and time again throughout history, most vividly in totalitarian systems. The worldwide destruction caused by communism is perhaps the prime example.

According to The Black Book of Communism, communist regimes, inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideology, are responsible for nearly 100 million deaths (and counting). However, in contemporary times there seems to be a tendency to ignore this reality. In The Daily Beast article, “Communism’s Victims Deserve a Museum,” James Kirchick highlights a popular sentiment about communism: “Communism is an excellent idea in theory, it just hasn’t worked in practice.”

A turn through the pages of history, however, to the true tyranny of former communist regimes: gulags, executions, forced famines, and destruction of religious freedom, may cause one to question this optimistic and lighthearted view.

In an effort to expose the inhumanity of communism, the Acton Institute will host a lecture event on November 6th featuring Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art’s education committee chair, Luba Markewycz. The event will place particular focus on the “Holodomor,” the brutal man-made famine imposed on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin’s Communist regime. Markewycz will share her exhibit, “Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child: The Famine Remembered,” composed of artwork created by contemporary children throughout Ukraine. Gregg will discuss the historical context and the ways in which the Holodomor amounted to an assault on human dignity and basic individual liberties. More details will follow.

(more…)

MyWayYourWayI recently had an exchange with a Duke Divinity School student regarding many of things I’ve written at the Acton Institute over the past 12 years. The student said this about me:

When it comes to speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable in our society, there is perhaps no public theological voice more eager than that of Anthony Bradley’s. His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.

Not only had the student actually not read most of the things that I have written but the comment exposes something that Jonathan Haidt explains well that I’ve talked about before: ideological “tribalism.”
(more…)

burialMany people once viewed politics merely as a form entertainment. We could all collectively laugh at the likes of Edwin Edwards even if he was notoriously corrupt. Many folks in Louisiana embraced the former governor for his antics and not merely for his ability to fix every problem in the state. I’m certainly not defending Edwards’s criminal past, but now we look to every politician to solve society’s problems, as if politics could. Because politics is now life and death for so many, it has become too serious for entertainers.

Now the deaths of famous people like Robin Williams are routinely politicized. You’ve probably seen this if you pay attention to social media, 24 hour news shows, or talk radio. Over a decade ago, the Paul Wellstone funeral turned into partisan pep rally for rigid collectivism and electoral success. Politics is everywhere and now in everything. It’s saturated in sports, education, the military, the weather, and history, to just name a few. My own alma mater, The University of Mississippi, is looking to shed its well known and affectionate nickname “Ole Miss” because it could be perceived as politically incorrect.

Now that death is becoming more and more politicized, it’s a powerful reminder of the surge of secularism in society. Death needs to be politicized to give death meaning given that politics is becoming all consuming and the pinnacle of life for so many. Politicizing death expresses, perhaps unbeknown to those guilty of it, this sentiment that there is little or nothing of worth beyond this world. More important to them is the here and now and attempting the impossible, fixing society through politics.
(more…)

ruins kenyaAs a mother of five, there have been times when I was pretty sure “civilized” meant a dinner where no one called a sibling a name, everyone ate with utensils, and whoever got assigned dish duty did it without grumbling. Maybe I was setting my sights a tad low.

Joseph Pearce thoughtfully and concisely tackles the rather large question, “What is civilization?” While Pearce does the obvious (heads to Wikipedia for an answer), it’s clear that “civilization” is more than a complex state that communicates, domesticates both animal and human, and has nice buildings that also have some sort of function. If this is all civilization is, why fight for it? Why bother defending it? Why try to save it?

If those heady thinkers of the Enlightenment had their way, we wouldn’t. You see, even Wikipedia “knows” that “civilization” is simply a construct of the Enlightenment. (more…)

Education is becoming part of juvenile justice in Nicaragua.

Education is becoming part of juvenile justice in Nicaragua.

Rule of law. It’s necessary, vital…and dull. There are no rock stars shouting out about it from the stage at an arena concert. Celebrities don’t staff the phones for rule of law fundraisers. Newscasters are not breathlessly interviewing experts about rule of law.

Yet without it, there is chaos, crime, corruption. The current border crisis bears this out.

The Economist takes a revealing look at crime in Latin America, the confidence that citizens of countries in that region have in their governments, and how this relates to the U.S. border crisis.

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Latin America is the only region in the world where murder rates increased in the first decade of this century. Robberies have nearly trebled over the past 25 years; extortion is growing fast. So fed up are clothing businesses in Gamarra, the centre of Lima’s rag trade, with paying an average of $3,000 a month to extortionists that they held a conference in June to publicise the problem.

Plenty of factors explain Latin America’s crime disease. The external demand for cocaine, and attempts to suppress the drug trade, prompted the spread of organised criminal mafias; growth in domestic consumption of drugs has since compounded the problem. A bulge in the number of young men, many of whom are poorly educated and command low wages in the legal economy, is another factor.

(more…)

pinheiroJohn C. Pinheiro, Professor of History and Chair Director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Acton Lecture Series lecturer, has written a new book, recently reviewed at First Things. Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War argues that virulent anti-Catholicism was the “defining attitude undergirding the early Republic and antebellum years.”

Alan Cornett of First Things calls Pinheiro’s book “fresh” and “convincing.” Pinheiro asks his reader to recall that Catholics were seen as invading a primarily Protestant United States, bringing a superstitious faith with them. Lyman Beecher, the famed abolitionist, began the Native American Party to combat Catholicism:

The new Native American Party gave Beecher’s ideological framework political expression. Casting themselves as a non-partisan and patriotic alternative to the corrupt Democrats and Whigs, the Native Americans pointed to rising Irish Catholic immigration and the influx of Jesuits as dangers from which American republicanism must be protected. (more…)

decPerhaps the most enduring legacy of the Declaration of Independence is that it sought to overturn the long abuses and powers of tyrants. It revealed the truth of self-government and that power is inherent in the people. In the second introduction of the document, Jefferson declared:

…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Jefferson, always the philosopher, reminds the reader that governments are instituted to protect the natural rights of man, to preserve their freedom above all else. Government is not intended to serve the bureaucracy, rulers, or an elite class.
(more…)

The Liberty Bell in PhiladelphiaRegarding the Hobby Lobby decision and the Supreme Court, I believe the National Review editors summed it up best: “That this increase in freedom makes some people so very upset tells us more about them than about the Court’s ruling.”

I address this rapid politicization and misunderstanding of religious liberty and natural rights in today’s Acton commentary. The vitriolic reaction to the ruling is obviously not a good sign for religious liberty and we’re almost certainly going to continue down the path of losing rights of conscience and free expression. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. But I wanted to step back and take a more comprehensive look at where we are now.

One point I make in the piece is that our federal lawmakers no longer hold a consensus to protect religious liberty, as they did with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Back then, there was overwhelming unification and bipartisanship to protect and strengthen religious liberty, that is a thing of the past and it has been swallowed up by partisan politics. Our collective partisan politics is becoming bigger than our once common understanding of natural rights.

Another point I stress is that there is an obvious difference on the very meaning of religious liberty that cuts through our country. This is well known to those who pay attention to these issues. Many saw the Hobby Lobby ruling not as a ruling in favor of the rights of conscience and liberty, but only a temporary setback in divorcing religion from public human affairs.

The Supreme Court ruling is being politicized in a myriad of vicious ways and that by itself is a bad sign for religious liberty. It will be a tough task going forward to educate people on the necessity of a vibrant understanding of religious liberty and natural rights that promotes the common good.

Supreme_CourtSupreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.

Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:

As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.

Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.

Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

coolidgebAs we read about the increase of scandal, mismanagement, and corruption within our federal agencies, it is essential once again to revisit the words of Calvin Coolidge. Recent actions at the IRS, Veterans Administration, and the ATF gunwalking scandal all point to systemic problems that come from an entrenched bureaucracy. As more and more of the responsibilities of civil society is passed over to centralized powers in Washington, federal agencies have exploded with power and control, leading to greater opportunities for abuse. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a favorite stump speech line of former presidential candidate George Wallace was, “When I get to Washington, I am going to throw the briefcases of the pointy headed intellectuals into the Potomac.” Wallace was of course speaking about the entrenched bureaucracy in the nation’s capital.

Bureaucracy of some form is necessary under government. But we live in an era where constitutional constraints are eschewed and the bureaucratic machine is becoming more politicized. “Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power,” declared Lord Acton. Bureaucracy, by its nature, is problematic to the notion of self-government.

Bureaucracy is a threat to liberty and it’s not accountable to the people, that is the main point Coolidge is reminding Americans in the excerpt from a speech he gave as president at the College of William & Mary in 1926:

No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic, and being autocratic they resist all development. Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretense of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody.