Category: Publications

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, August 29, 2008

Distributism may be a foreign term to many, but it is a movement of some importance in the history of Catholic social and economic thought. Popularized especially in early twentieth-century England by the prolific writers G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, distributism has enjoyed mini-resurgences from time to time on both sides of the Atlantic. That it still packs some punch here in the U.S. is demonstrated, for example, by the recent creation of IHS Press. (IHS is not exclusively a distributist outlet, but distributist literature represents a significant portion of their publishing program.)

In a nutshell, distributism envisions an economic order modeled on the guild-dominated economies of medieval Europe. Advocates take Catholic social teaching seriously; indeed, they frequently insist that CST virtually obligates Catholics to support a distributist program. There is much of value in the distributist vision, including criticism of consumerist culture and an emphasis on wide ownership of property and communal cooperation. (See Wikipedia for a fuller, sympathetic treatment of the subject.) In practice, however, many observers believe that implementation of a distributist agenda would mean major regulation of and restrictions to entry to industries and professions, controls on prices and wages, and heavy-handed government involvement in the economy.

There have been few critiques of distributism published in recent years, but the renewed interest it is receiving demands that some attention be paid. Thus, the latest Christian Social Thought Series, from bestselling and award-winning author Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: Beyond Distributism. Order it now at the Acton Book Shoppe.

With this issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, we introduce a new semi-regular feature section, the Status Quaestionis. Conceived as a complement to our Scholia, the Status Quaestionis features are intended to help us grasp in a more thorough and comprehensive way the state of the scholarly landscape with regard to the modern intersection between religion and economics.

Whereas the Scholia are longer, generally treatise-length works located in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, the Status Quaestionis will typically be shorter, essay-length pieces from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. The first installment of the Status Quaestionis features an essay by Sergey Bulgakov (1871–1944), a renowned and influential Russian Orthodox theologian. His essay included in this issue, “The National Economy and the Religious Personality,” first published in 1909 and translated here by Krassen Stanchev, represents the first and in many ways most lasting Orthodox Christian response to the Weber thesis.

Peter Klein, blogging at Organizations and Markets, considers the Bulgakov translation and notes, “Bulgakov, widely regarded as the greatest 20th-century Orthodox theologian, has been attracting increasing interest in recent decades, in both East and West.”

Indeed, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, says this of Bulgakov’s contribution in economics:

In his early work he picked up the language of creativity and applied it to civic relations. He proposed understanding business, commerce and, in fact, much of daily life in the context of creativity. In his book The Philosophy of Economy (1912) he said there was no such thing as economic man, homo economicus, which was to say, no set of economic answers that could tell us how society ought to be run. The context was Russia’s first 20th-century attempt to modernise by borrowing economic ideas from the west, and already Bulgakov was arguing, against certain German economists, that pure economics wouldn’t work in Russia.

Williams’ interview, which touches on Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, and the broader history of Russia, is wide-ranging and illuminating, especially given current developments in relations between Russia and former Soviet republics.

In the introduction to his translation, “Sergey Bulgakov and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Krassen Stanchev, who serves as board chairman of the Institute for Market Economics, observes that the “language of creativity” and “personalism” identified by Williams in Bulgakov,

was first outlined by Bulgakov in the essay translated here. The economy is a human destiny; the man is ‘master’ (in Russian this word means both ‘an owner’ and ‘a housekeeper’) of the worldly establishments; not a ruler or dictator but the one who humanizes the world. This concept, to my understanding, is compatible with the most enlightened economic thinking of the twentieth century.

For more on recent developments in the relationship between Orthodox theology and economic thinking, see John Couretas‘ review, “An Orthodox View of Contemporary Economics, Politics, and Culture.”

Also in this issue:

  • Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo considers “The Importance and Contemporary Relevance of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth.”

  • Marek Tracz-Tryniecki explores “Natural Law in Tocqueville’s Thought.”
  • Christopher Todd Meredith examines “The Ethical Basis for Taxation in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas.”
  • José Atilano Pena López and José Manuel Sánchez investigate “Smithian Perspective on the Markets of Beliefs: Public Policies and Religion.”
  • Surendra Arjoon discusses ethics in the corporate culture with “Slippery When Wet: The Real Risk in Business.”
  • Gregory Mellema expounds on “Professional Ethics and Complicity in Wrongdoing.”
  • And a number of excellent reviews of recent books, put together under the direction of our book review editor Kevin Schmiesing.

The editorial and article abstracts of current issues, including my “The State of the Question in Religion and Economics,” are freely available to nonsubscribers (you can sign up for a subscription here, including the very affordable electronic-only access option). And as per our “moving wall” policy of two issues, the most recent publicly-available archived issue is volume 10, number 1 (Spring 2007).

If you are a student or a faculty member at an institution of higher learning, please take the time to recommend that your library subscribe to our journal. If you are in interested layperson or independent scholar, please consider subscribing yourself.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 8, 2008

On an episode of NPR’s Talk of the Nation last month, professor Jay Parini of Middlebury College discussed his role in the criminal justice sentences given to students who were involved in the vandalism of the former summer home of renowned poet Robert Frost.

Some of the younger students involved took part in a class on Robert Frost as part of an alternative sentencing plea agreement. As Prof. Parini says, “It’s a sort of unique punishment, talk about the punishment fitting the crime.”

Be sure to listen to the show to get the details of the whole story. This sounds to me like a perfect example of jurisprudence, that is, wisdom in the application of law. By connecting the offenders to the reality of Robert Frost’s life and work, the real impact of what they had done was communicated to them.

The potential for alternative sentencing agreements like this is just one of the possibilities I discuss in a newly published essay, “To Reform or to Abolish? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice,” Ave Maria Law Review 6, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 481-511. In that piece I lay out a basic scheme for understanding the different Christian approaches to restorative justice, particularly with regard to the relationship between punishment and restoration, along with some of the theological and practical implications for these various streams.

“It seems obvious that from a perspective of personalism,” I write, “relevant contextual differences should be considered in sentencing, and judges should have the ability to exercise prudential judgments on such matters.”

The case of the Frost house vandals underscores the value of this perspective, contrasted with that which emphasizes strictly controlled mandatory sentencing, especially for minors and youths. As Parini also says, “Poetry is about reparation and restoration.” The task for the prudential administration of justice is to balance and coordinate the necessity of punishment as an end in itself and as an instrument oriented toward reconciliation.

As an aside, I might also note that Prof. Parini would do his regular college students better service to teach them as he taught the offenders. Talking about his treatment of the Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” “When I teach the class to my students at Middlebury, it’s a you know sophisticated group, I do a fairly post-modern reading of the poem…. In a post-modern reading of that poem it’s more complicated.”

But in teaching the class of offenders Parini emphasized the recognition of metaphoric and symbolic values as a necessary part of coming to grips with the realities and responsibilities of life: “I realized these kids are at a very simple level here and Frost is confronting one of the issues that we have moral choices breaking in front of us at every moment.” This latter approach does more justice, so to speak, to the duties of the moral imagination than the sophistry of a post-modern reading, in which there is really no “wrong” road to take.

The theme of this issue of the Ave Maria Law Review is “The Constitutionality of Faith-Based Prison Units,” and there are some valuable resources for coming to grips with a practical dilemma facing the relationship between church and state in America. Another noteworthy and timely essay in this issue is Edward E. Ericson Jr.’s “The Enduring Achievement of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.”

The Winter issue of Religion & Liberty is now available online. The interview with David W. Miller is titled, “Theology at Work: Faithful Living in the Marketplace.” Miller is the executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, and co-founder and president of the Avodah Institute. Miller brings an unusual “bilingual” perspective to the academic world, having also spent sixteen years in senior executive positions in international business and finance. Miller’s book, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement was published in 2007.

Joseph K. Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, offers his own analysis of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey with a piece titled “Brand Loyalty in the American Religious Marketplace.” Knippenberg notes:

My preliminary bottom line is this: in terms at least of nominal adherents, American Protestantism is doing well, better than any other faith tradition except Hinduism, which has the “advantage” of being a culturally distinctive religion closely identified with a particular community of relatively new immigrants. What’s more, Protestants who leave their childhood denominations are much more likely to move to another Protestant denomination than they are to leave religion behind altogether. Indeed, they are for the most part more likely to move to an evangelical denomination or church than they are to leave religion behind. For our hitherto dominant American religious tradition, the flow toward evangelicalism is stronger than the flow out of religion altogether. I haven’t seen that headline yet.

John Couretas reviews Thomas C. Oden’s Deeds not Words: The Good Works Reader, while I penned a review of Ronald J. Sider’s book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Rev. Robert Sirico’s column offers an analysis of “Ethics and the Job Market.”

Also, Religion & Liberty paid tribute to William F. Buckley who passed away in February of this year. In his autobiography of faith titled Nearer, My God, Buckley declared:

It is of course obvious that it is mostly features of this world from which we take our satisfactions. The love of our family, the company of our friends, the feel of wind on the face, the excitement of the printed page, the delights of color and form and sound; food, wine, sex. But there is that other life that only human beings can experience, and in that life, and from that life, other pulsations are felt. They press upon us, in the Christian vision, one thing again and again, which is that God loves us. The best way to put it is that God would give His life for us and, in Christ, did.

Here’s another new production from Acton Media – The Effective Stewardship Curriculum. The Effective Stewardship Curriculum is a series of five video lessons, geared toward church small groups or other faith-based educational settings exploring how Christians live out the call to be stewards of our talents, the environment, our fellow man, institutions, and our finances.

Expect the curriculum to be available for sale at the end of this summer. A study guide will also be available to help stimulate discussions and explore the ideas presented in the video lessons. A couple of sample pages from the study guide are available on the Effective Stewardship website. A trailer is available right here, but there are also introductory clips to each lesson that are available on the Effective Stewardship website.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The prolific Thomas Woods has a new book out (with co-author Kevin Guzman): Who Killed the Constitution?

Woods is the author of the Templeton Enterprise-award-winning The Church and the Market, a volume in the Lexington Books series, Studies in Ethics and Economics, which is edited by Acton’s Sam Gregg.

I haven’t yet read Woods’ latest, but his work is always interesting and forcefully argued. And I’m inclined to agree with any effort to reassert some constitutional limits around our legal/political affairs.

Here’s Publishers’ Weekly:

Woods and Gutzman (two bestselling authors in the Politically Incorrect Guide series) appeal to both left and right in this constitutionalist jeremiad. Liberals will agree about the unconstitutionality of the draft, warrantless wiretapping and presidential signing statements. Conservatives will agree about the unconstitutionality of school busing, bans on school prayer and Roosevelt’s suspension of the gold standard. The common thread is the authors’ brief for a federal government strictly limited to the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution. The authors’ exegeses of the Constitution and court decisions, heavy on original intent arguments, are lucid and telling.

A sneak preview: Woods is the author of the forthcoming volume 13 in the Christian Social Thought Series, not yet available for purchase. He marshals Catholic social teaching, history, and economics in the cause of a powerful critique of distributism.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 30, 2008

The latest issue of Christian Scholar’s Review (vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2008) features a contribution from me, “Bonhoeffer in America—A Review Essay.” Using the rubric of Bonhoeffer’s two trips to America in 1930-31 and 1939, I examine his reception in the United States and the broader English-speaking world via a number of recent texts by and about the German theologian.

Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church recognized Bonhoeffer as a Christian martyr, the first recognition of its kind for that denomination.

One of the books I consider in the review essay is Craig Slane’s excellent study, Bonhoeffer as Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment. One of the nice things about this book is its attention to the historical development of martyrdom and suffering as a phenomenon in the Christian church, as well as the focus on bringing their significance to bear in the modern West.

Also forthcoming from me in the more distant future is a contribution to the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present on the assassination plot of July 20, 1944, related to the work of the resistance circle of which Bonhoeffer was a part.

A feature film, Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise is due out next February and “is based on the July 20 Plot of German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler.” (An interview with Ralph Winter, who produced previous films by Valkyrie director Bryan Singer, appears in the Autumn 2005 issue of Religion & Liberty.)

The newest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been posted. The publication of this volume fulfills a full decade of production of the journal under the continuing leadership of founding and executive editor Stephen J. Grabill.

This issue of the journal features a scholia translation of Leonardus Lessius, “On Buying and Selling” from 1605. Lessius was a Jesuit theologian considered to be an important figure in the development of pre-Smithian economics by scholars like Joseph Schumpeter, John T. Noonan, and Raymond de Roover. Wim Decock provides both a translation of Lessius’ work as well as an introduction placing him in his early modern context of scholasticism and moral theology.

The articles in this volume are an especially excellent collection, including a piece by Mary Ann Glendon, who was recently named the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, “John Paul II’s Challenges to the Social Sciences.” Other contributors include John R. Schneider (Calvin College), Dr. Donald P. Condit (a medical doctor), Pamela Z. Jackson (Augusta State University), Jonathan E. Leightner (Augusta State University), John Meadowcroft (King’s College London), Edward J. O’Boyle (Mayo Research Institute). Dr. Condit’s article is of particular contemporary relevance, as he inquires, “Should Business Be Responsible for Employee Health Care?”

We also have a number of excellent reviews of recent books, put together under the direction of our book review editor Kevin Schmiesing. And as per our “moving wall” policy of two issues, the most recent publicly-available archived issue is volume 9, number 2 (Fall 2006).

If you are a student or a faculty member at an institution of higher learning, please take the time to recommend that your library subscribe to our journal. If you are in interested layperson or independent scholar, please consider subscribing yourself.

Today’s post will look at the Hendrickson Publishers Academic Catalog 2008 and the Brill Biblical Studies & Religious Studies 2007 catalog (series index):

Titles from Hendrickson:

Titles from Brill:

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, January 4, 2008

Having been informed that my evaluation of George Weigel’s new book was posted a few days before it went on sale, I gladly give notice once more, this time with a link to Amazon. Well worth a look.