Category: Political Culture

united-by-differenceI can choose between 350 channels on my television, 170 stations on my satellite radio, 10,000 books at my local bookstore, and millions of websites on the Internet. But on my ballot I have only two real choices. I can vote for a Democrat or I can vote for a Republican.

In an age when even ice cream comes in 31 flavors, having only two choices in electoral politics seems anachronistic. But the limitation has an ironically beneficial effect. For as divisive as politics can be, nothing else has such power to unite our pluralistic nation.

From magazines to coffee to houses of worship, our consumer-oriented culture provides us with an unlimited number of choices. Chances are that you don’t watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, or attend the same concerts as your neighbors. While the range of choices can be individually beneficial, it can be socially atomizing. In the 1950s if you lived in Green Bay you rooted for the Packers — just like everyone else in Wisconsin. Now with satellite broadcast, your favorite “football” team is just as likely to be Manchester United.

The expansion of choices has affected almost all major areas of life, except for one. In electoral politics you are forced to choose between the two dominant political parties. (Technically, other parties are listed on a ballot but the choice is still effectively limited to the two parties. See addendum.) Whether you are a proto-Marxist a theocratic Domnionist or a socially liberal libertarian, your choice of parties is limited to the Democrats or the Republicans. The choice may be nothing more than a vote for the lesser of two evils—Beelzebub rather than Lucifer—but making it requires you to band together with others of varying degrees of unanimity.
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Blog author: ehilton
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
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i-voted-button1I live in a small town. Small enough that everyone votes in the same place.  Small enough that you see at least half a dozen people you know when you vote at 7 a.m.

As I was waiting for the people ahead of me to get their ballots, it struck me that I was truly seeing America. There were farmers, greasy-nailed mechanics, women in business attire. There were moms toting babies in car seats, and dads voting before heading into the office. The polls were manned by retired folk and stay-at-home moms who’d dropped their kids off at school before working the polls.

We were all there to exercise our precious right to vote. (more…)

On Wednesday our country will celebrate one of our most cherished civic holidays: the beginning of the 18-month moratorium on political advertising.

Although almost everyone hates such ads, every election season we are inundated with political advertising that mocks our intelligence and tests our credulity as politicians trash their opponents. But we can at least be thankful modern electioneering is, compared to the nineteenth century, downright polite. Even the rudest campaign ads of the 2014 midterm elections can’t match the nasty, negative campaigning of the election of 1800.

Vladimir PutinOn Tuesday, Acton’s Todd Huizinga took part in a West Michigan World Trade Association panel discussion on “US and EU Sanctions on Russia: How They Affect You.” He was joined by three other panelists who focused respectively on the legal, economic, and political ramifications of the current Russian/Ukrainian conflict and the sanctions it has evoked.

Though each of the panelists focused on a different angle of the conflict, a common thread emerged: the desire of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political regime to return Russia to a position of dominance on the world stage.

Signaling this desire for increased power was the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory, Crimea, in March and its military intervention in Ukraine thereafter, among other events. While these are significant actions in their own right, they also serve a broader purpose in drawing attention from the international community. As Huizinga stated, “they test Western resolve to act.”

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It’s interesting to debate and share idea like freedom of speech, religious liberty or entrepreneurship. Helping folks in the developing world create and sustain businesses if exciting. Watching women who’ve been victimized by human trafficking or their own culture find ways to support themselves and their families is wonderful. But none of this happens without rule of law.

Rule of law is not “sexy.” It doesn’t get the press of a brilliantly successful NGO. There are no great photo ops of folks picketing in front of the Supreme Court with signs touting rule of law. But virtually nothing can happen without it. (more…)

United_States_ConstitutionThis afternoon I delivered the Constitution Day lecture at Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids. The school did an excellent job promoting the event and I was thankful for an opportunity to speak about our founding documents and introduce Acton ideas and thought to law students. Much of my discussion centered upon Calvin Coolidge’s notion that there is a “finality” and rest within our founding principles. When we endeavor to move beyond the principles of our founding; we begin to move backwards not forward. It was Coolidge who said, “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”

Today, we desperately need to recapture the truth that the whole purpose of our Bill of Rights and Constitution is to limit the federal government. As James Madison declared in Federalist #45, “Those powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. In my talk, I stressed the importance of staying faithful to the Constitutional text. My background is theology not constitutional law, but in seminary I was always reminded by my professor Ben Witherington, that “a proof-text without a context, is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.” That is true of our founding documents, just as it is true of Scripture.

Our government exists to protect our natural rights. Coolidge, who was sandwiched between the progressive era and the New Dealers, told Americans something that is just as relevant now as it was then: “The pressing need of the present day is not to change our constitutional rights, but to observe our constitutional rights.” Coolidge and Ronald Reagan probably talked more about the U.S. Constitution than any other 20th century presidents. I concluded my remarks by quoting Ronald Reagan’s 1987 State of the Union Address where he talked about the exceptional nature of our Constitution: (more…)

First-Amendment-Area-490x653The great British statesman Edmund Burke claimed that “to love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.” Burke was referring to the mediating social institutions that that lie between the individual and the state. These “little platoons” include not only the family but our churches, labor unions, charity organizations, and other voluntary associations.

Since the dawn of modernity, intellectuals and politicians have been hostile to mediating structures since they put barriers between the individual and the State. As Brad Lowell Stone has noted, “Hobbes, Rousseau, and Bentham each envisioned an ideal condition in which the state guards the rights and fulfills the needs of unencumbered, desocialized individuals.”

Along with Hobbes, Rousseau, and Bentham we can add Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). Sen. Udall is the sponsor of a resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would limit the power and influence of certain mediating structures by ending the First Amendment protections of political speech.

The second of the proposed amendment’s three sections reads:

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Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
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I have spoken in the past in favor of net neutrality, writing,

Whoever is responsible for and best at enforcing it, net neutrality had this going for it: it was a relatively stable, relatively open playing-field for competition…. [T]he fact that companies tried to get around it via copyright protection privileges shows that it was, in fact, doing something to enforce freedom of competition. Now, without it, there is an opportunity for concentration of power…. As [Walter] Eucken illustrated, concentration can lead to instability, and instability leads to popular calls for state regulation, which tend in practice toward cronyism. Certainly, such a trajectory is not inevitable, but it is now more likely, giving good reason for pause at the idea that we do not need net neutrality — or something like it — in the future.

This week, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi voiced her support for net neutrality as well. So why would I object? Because the measures that Pelosi proposes give much more power to the government, following the trajectory outlined above in the direction of over-regulation. (more…)

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico made an appearance on Thursday afternoon on Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neal Cavuto. Recently, Cavuto has been addressing the topic of multiculturalism in recent shows, featuring guests like Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party in Great Britian, and Alveda King, niece of  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom share deep concerns about the impact of multicultural philosophy and policy on our cultural cohesion.

Yesterday, Neil Cavuto asked whether or not our embrace of multiculturalism and our seeming abandonment of our Judeo-Christian cultural roots is contributing to problems such as the increasing number of American and British citizens who join extremist groups like ISIS. You can see his response in the video player below.

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.

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