Category: PowerBlog Ramblings

Last week’s National Prayer Breakfast featured a speech by President Obama which was his most substantive address concerning the future of the faith-based initiative since his Zanesville, Ohio speech of July 2008.

In the Zanesville speech, then-candidate Obama discussed “expansion” of the faith-based initiative, and some details were added as Obama announced his vision for the newly-named Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The announced priorities of the office are fourfold:

  • The Office’s top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.

  • It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
  • The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
  • Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

With the developments in recent days and the formation of this new White House office, this week’s PowerBlog Ramblings question is: “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Ramble on…

Ramblings:

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 5, 2009
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In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

In answering this question we could point to the historical instances of socialist regimes and their abhorrent record on treatment of human beings. But the supporters of socialism might just as well argue that these examples are not truly relevant because each historical instance of socialism has particular contextual corruptions. Thus, these regimes have never really manifested the ideal that socialism offers.

So on a more abstract or ideal level, what is wrong with socialism is that it promotes governmental tyranny. The state becomes the option of first resort rather than last (or no) resort in concerns related to economics, social institutions, the family, and the church. The state in its local, regional, federal, or global form coopts the roles of all kinds of mediating institutions.

On the basis of this critique we can then point to concrete examples where the socialist ideal has been manifest and we can observe what the effects are. In the Acton documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur, George Gilder discusses the “cuckolding” of the man by the welfare state, which preempts the role of the family’s economic provider. But in general the nanny state infantilizes its own citizenry.

Theodore Dalrymple’s recent book discusses the decline of Western civilization, and of his homeland he writes that there are

many people in contemporary Britain with very little of importance to decide for themselves. … They are educated by the state (at least nominally) … the state provides for them in old age and has made savings unnecessary … they are treated and cured by the state when they are ill; they are housed by the state if they cannot otherwise afford decent housing. Their choices concern only sex and shopping.

Maybe “sex” and “shopping” are still relatively free, but rest assured socialism won’t stop until it has undone even these last instances of relative liberty. See, for instance, talks not only about socializing procreation (a max of two children per couple?) but also the encroaching regulations on what can be purchased or consumed (e.g. “sin” taxes in various forms).

So there’s a sense in which what is wrong with socialism is that it has a faulty anthropology. But its anthropology is flawed not only in the sense that it fails to recognize and respect the fundamental place of individual human liberty, but also that it substitutes an inauthentic, disingenuous, and ultimately corrupted form of social relations for those that form God’s orders of human sociality: marriage and the family, work and culture, the church, and divinely-ordained and -limited government.

Because socialism attacks all of these institutions, one or another of them becomes the focus of resistance in the midst of actual socialist regimes. So the church might be the truest bastion of freedom in one socialistic situation, while the family might be the outpost of liberty in another, and free enterprise the haven of flourishing in yet another.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
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In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

I can hardly do better than Pope John Paul II, who wrote in Centesimus Annus, “the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature,” because socialism maintains, “that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice.”

The socialist experiment is attractive because its model is the family, a situation in which each gives according to his ability and receives according to his need—and it works. Unfortunately, the dynamics of family life cannot be replicated at the level of society.

The contention that socialism is unsustainable because of its inherent misapprehension of human nature is supported by the historical record. To my recollection, socialism has only been successful to any significant degree and for any significant amount of time in one institution other than the family: consecrated religious life (e.g., monasteries). Needless to say, there are some rather peculiar dynamics involved there as well, which cannot be replicated across a society.

This lack of success is not for lack of trying. We’re all familiar with the grand national attempts in, for example, the Soviet Union. But socialism has failed on smaller scales as well: in the communes of Brook Farm, Massachusetts; Oneida, New York; and New Harmony, Indiana, to name just a few American instances.

Can a socialist experiment ever succeed? History casts doubt.

In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

Writing well over 2000 years ago, Aristotle answered Plato, whose Republic advocated socialism, thusly:

What is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. People pay most attention to what is their own: they care less for what is common; or, at any rate, they care for it only to the extent to which each is individually concerned. Even when there is no other cause for inattention, people are more prone to neglect their duty when they think that another attending to it . . .

The Republic advocated that women and children also be common property. What Aristotle wrote about sons applies to other things, as well:

[Under the plan of The Republic] each citizen will have a thousand sons; they will not be the sons of each citizen individually; any son whatever will be equally the son of any father whatever. The result will be that all will neglect all.

In other words, the word “son” loses its meaning when abused in this fashion. The same is true of the concept of property.

Aristotle is right. We love the particular, not the general. Good philosophies of government will recognize that and will thus operate on a human scale as much as possible. Socialism fails in that regard and thus loses all the non-coercive power of simple affection and care.

This week we introduce a new regular feature we’re calling “PowerBlog Ramblings” (PBR). The concept is simple: we’ll post a question along with some background for why that question has been selected, and various PowerBlog contributors and guests will respond to that question.

We’ve named this feature “PowerBlog Ramblings” in part as an allusion to the publication with which the institute’s namesake Lord Acton was closely associated for a time, The Rambler, which was in part aimed “to provide a medium for the expression of independent opinion on subjects of the day” on topics including “home and foreign literature, politics, science and art.”

But “ramblings” are also more informal and occasional than other sorts of discursive expression, and in that spirit we’re looking to start conversations and dialogue on questions of the day with the mix of moral, theological, and economic insight you’re used to getting from the PowerBlog. That’s why these questions and answers will sometimes be more polished and sometimes not.

We’ll have a sidebar on the blog main page where we’ll post the main PBR along with all of the posted responses. Old questions and ramblings will be accessible via an archive. As always, we welcome and value your responses. If you’ve got suggestions for questions you’d like to see us tackle, email the PowerBlog staff.

The inspiration for this week’s question is a brief exchange on Fox News Channel, which includes Bob Beckel asking, “What is wrong with some form of socialism in certain areas?” The context of the quote is a discussion about the desirability of lowering domestic economic production out of concern for environmental impact.


Others are making the argument that we ought to “shrink our economy” not out of environmental but rather cultural concerns.

So the PBR question for this week is, “What is wrong with socialism?”

Ramble on…

Ramblings: