The University Bookman, a publication of the Russell Kirk Center, reviews Dr. Samuel Gregg’s The Commercial Society: Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age in its Fall 2007 issue. Actually, the Bookman reviewed it twice.
Reviewer Robert Heineman, a professor of political science at Alfred University in New York, described the book as an “exceptionally well written volume” that should be read by anyone concerned about human freedom and progress.
Heineman has this to say about Gregg’s discussion of democracy in the book:
As he so aptly notes, in a democracy, a majority is considered authoritative; whereas, this is definitely not the case in commercial enterprises. Moreover, in democratic politics, the ability to exercise self-restraint is far more difficult than it is in the business world. Interests are continually importuning their representatives for more largesse or other benefits, usually at the expense of commercial enterprises. The trend, then, is inherently toward bigger, more restrictive government, perhaps even arbitrary government. As Gregg shows, Wilhelm Roepke argued persuasively that the expanded welfare state contains disincentives for the kind of behavior—self-discipline, hard work, saving—that is important to commercial activity.
Thomas E. Woods Jr., author of The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy, had this to say about The Commercial Society:
Thankfully for Gregg he has no plans to run for political office, for his chapter on democracy would surely be waved menacingly before the public at every opportunity. As with the rest of his arguments he has much more to say than we can properly analyze here, but he follows F. A. Hayek, who once noted that “unlimited democracy is bound to become egalitarian.” “Democracy,” Gregg writes, “tends to encourage a fixation with creating total equality because it requires everyone to relate to each other through the medium of democratic equality and encourages us first to ignore and then to dislike and seek to reduce all the differences that tend to contradict this equality, particularly wealth disparities.” (H. L. Mencken was more biting: government, he said, is “a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.”)
Gregg, director of research at Acton, also contributed an article to the current issue of the Bookman. In “Tocqueville as Économiste,” Gregg looks at a new work by French scholars Jean-Louis Benoît and Éric Keslassy who have collected some of the economic writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the great commentator on American democracy. In the review, he writes:
Tocqueville’s writings about how to address poverty quickly reveal him to be no radical libertarian. The state, he always believed, had responsibilities in this area. At the same time, Tocqueville was deeply conscious of the limited effectiveness of state action in this area, not to mention the unintended consequences of many interventionist policies about which economists are skilled at reminding those who see state action as the universal elixir to all social problems.
The Commercial Society is available for online purchase from the Acton Institute Book Shoppe.
The Journal of Markets & Morality is one of eight journals that has been selected for indexing in the seminally important ATLA Religion Database in 2007. The American Theological Library Association (ATLA) is a professional association of theological libraries and librarians, with almost 300 institutional and 600 individual members.
From the ATLA’s website: “The ATLA Religion Database (ATLA RDB) currently indexes more than 500 journal titles and approximately 250 polygraphs each year, and considers new titles for evaluation based on member, publisher, and scholar recommendations.”
The Journal of Markets & Morality is one of only 20 journals that have been added to the database since 2002. In that time the database has gone through some major remodeling, including the discontinuation of the indexing of a number of journals.
The fact that our journal is one of the select few that has been added to this important resource during this process of increased competition speaks to the unique interdisciplinary focus of the journal and the high quality with which it is pursued. Of course a great deal of the credit goes to the founding editor of the journal, Dr. Stephen Grabill.
The journal “promotes intellectual exploration of the relationship between economics and morality from both social science and theological perspectives. It seeks to bring together theologians, philosophers, economists, and other scholars for dialogue concerning the morality of the marketplace.”
We’ll be launching a small advertising campaign to highlight this achievement. 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 Georgetown University Press Religion & Ethics catalog and the Westminster John Knox Academic Update (series index):
Titles from Georgetown University Press:
- Matthew S. Holland, Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America–Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln (November 2007).
- Sheila Suess Kennedy and Wolfgang Beilefeld, Charitable Choice at Work: Evaluating Faith-Based Job Programs in the States (2006).
- Stephen V. Monsma and J. Christopher Soper, Faith, Hope, and Jobs: Welfare-to-Work in Los Angeles (2006).
Titles from Westminster John Knox:
- David H. Jensen, Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work (2006).
- Edward Dommen and James D. Bratt, eds., John Calvin Rediscovered: The Impact of His Social and Economic Thought (November 2007).
- Scott H. Hendrix, Recultivating the Vineyard: The Reformation Agendas of Christianization (2004).
The extraordinarily prolific George Weigel has another book out: Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism. Weigel’s books are without fail thought-provoking and clearly stated, though the force, clarity, and breadth of his thought will likely result in at least one or two points of disagreement with any reader.
Another source of Weigel’s controversial character is also one of his most praiseworthy attributes: his willingness to make concrete political and practical recommendations (or, sometimes, exhortations). He is a smart and sophisticated thinker, but his thought does not remain at the level of the ethereal. It is in constant interaction with realities’ limits and deficiencies, rendering it both more convincing and more useful.
His burden in Faith is to demonstrate that Islamic jihadism (no, Marc, not climate change) is the single most urgent problem requiring the attention of civilized folk of all persuasions (Christian, agnostic, Muslim; right, left). I worried temporarily that the book would be in large part an apologia for the current war in Iraq, but it is not. Weigel argues that it is necessary to see the thing through at this point, but his catalogue of errors in the preparation for and waging of the war (82-86) is well done. What he lefts unsaid is that the mistakes he enumerates basically add up to a failure to attain an adequate understanding of the political, religious, and cultural factors at play in Iraq, and therefore to underestimate the difficulty of the task left after the main combat aim had been achieved. But is this not a persistent and perennial (inevitable?) problem attending such military interventions and, therefore, does it not suggest greater reluctance to embark on them?
That question aside, Weigel builds a formidable case. His treatment of the situation in Iran (100ff.) and his warning against the dangers of “self-imposed dhimmitude” (125) evident not only throughout Europe but also in the United States, are indeed bracing and should be wake-up calls to anyone who has slumbered through 9/11, the Madrid and London bombings, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, and the Danish cartoon controversy, to cite only a selection.
It is rare that a call for bipartisanship rises above the level of cynical and rhetorical, but Weigel’s effort does so. The small government conservative and the global warming lefty should be able to agree that the world’s dependence on a handful of nations’ oil reserves (and those nations’ consequent dependence on oil income to the neglect of any broader engagement with a global trade in goods and ideas) is not healthy and we must find ways to overcome it. The believer and the secularist should be able to agree that religion is not going away anytime soon and so we better find a way to live in a religiously pluralist world without resorting to violence. (If you smugly think that we Americans already have and religioius pluralism isn’t going to cause any trouble here, then you better read this book.)
It’s a book well worth a look, and a bit of reflection.
Today’s post will look at the Boydell & Brewer Early Modern & Modern History catalog and the de Gruyter Religious Studies/Jewish Studies/Theology catalog (series index):
Titles from Boydell & Brewer:
- Thomas S. Freeman & Thomas F. Mayer, eds., Martyrs and Martyrdom in England, c. 1400-1700 (April 2007)
- David M. D’Andrea, Civic Christianity in Renaissance Italy: The Hospital of Treviso, 1400-1530 (March 2007).
- Elizabeth T. Hurren, Protesting about Pauperism: Poverty, Politics and Poor Relief in Late-Victorian England, 1870-1900 (September 2007).
Titles from de Grutyer:
- Christoph A. Stumpf, The Grotian Theology of International Law: Hugo Grotius and the Moral Foundations of International Relations (2006).
- Stephen Lake, The Church and the Sick in the Latin West (4th-8th Centuries) (Fall 2007).
- Florian Mühlegger, Hugo Grotius: Ein christlicher Humanist in politischer Verantwortung [Hugo Grotius: A Christian Humanist and His Political Responsibility] (Summer 2007).
- Gene W. Heck, Charlemagne, Muhammad, and the Arab Roots of Capitalism (2006).
I’ve had a number of new book catalogs cross my desk over the last few months. Given the gift-giving season that is upon us, I thought I’d highlight some of the more interesting items from the various publishers. If you share my varied and rather eclectic interests, ranging from scholarly to popular works on a number of subjects, you might find something here you could add to your own Christmas list (although some items are forthcoming for 2008).
Today’s post will look at the Ashgate Reformation Studies catalog and the Crossway Academic & Pastoral Resources catalog:
Titles from Ashgate:
- Mack Holt, ed., Adaptations of Calvinism in Reformation Europe: Essays in Honour of Brian G. Armstrong (December 2007).
- Irena Backus, Life Writing in Reformation Europe: Lives of Reformers by Friends, Disciples and Foes (November 2008).
- John Schofield, Philip Melanchthon and the English Reformation (June 2006).
- Paul F. Grendler, Renaissance Education Between Religion and Politics (April 2006).
Titles from Crossway:
- Steve Monsma, Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy (February 2008).
- Samuel T. Logan Jr., ed., Confronting Global Challenges: A Call to Global Christians to Carry the Burden Together (August 2007).
The Cato Institute and Randal O’Toole offer an appealing new book, The Best Laid Plans—a recounting of the failures of government planning. Think of it as extensive documentation of the truth Hayek observed half a century ago: it is impossible for a central authority to collect all the information or make all the predictions necessary to foresee how economic activity will play out. Therefore, it is impossible to plan centrally the operation of major sectors of the economy such as transportation and land use. (More precisely, it is impossible to do it well.)
Those two items—transportation and land use—are the main focus of O’Toole’s book. A taste, from the introduction:
Somewhere in the United States today, government officials are writing a plan that will profoundly affect other people’s lives, incomes, and property. Though it may be written with the best intentions, the plan will go horribly wrong. The costs will be far higher than anticipated, the benefits will prove far smaller, and various unintended consequences will turn out to be worse than even the plans critics predicted.
This issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality features a scholia translation of Cardinal Cajetan’s (1469-1534) influential treatise On Exchanging Money (1499). Cajetan is the author of the officially approved commentaries on the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, which are easily available in the magnificent Leonine edition of this magnum opus. He is even more famous as the papal legate whom Leo X (1513-1521) dispatched to Germany in a futile effort to bring Martin Luther back into the Roman fold. Economic historians have pointed out that Cajetan’s treatise holds a decisive place in the history of economics because it set forth the fullest and most unqualified defense of the foreign exchange market at its date of publication.
We are also pleased to publish Raymond de Roover’s essay, “Cardinal Cajetan on ‘Cambium’ or Exchange Dealings,” both as an introduction to the Cajetan scholia as well as “a testament to †Raymond de Roover’s original and enduring contribution to the field of economic historiography.” Likewise, this issue’s editorial by Stephen J. Grabill surveys “Raymond de Roover’s Enduring Contribution to Economic History.”
The editorial and article abstracts are freely available to nonsubscribers (you can sign up for a subscription here, including the very affordable electronic-only access option).
Other articles included in this issue:
- “The Price of Freedom: Consumerism and Liberty in Secular Research and Catholic Teaching,” by Andrew V. Abela
- “Ideas, Associations, and the Making of Good Cities,” by Robert Driscoll
- “The Claim for Secularization as a Contemporary Utopia,” by Jan Klos
- “The Fiscal and Tributary Philosophy of Antonio Rosmini,” by Carlos Hoevel
- “A ‘Marketless World’? An Examination of Wealth and Exchange in the Gospels and First-Century Palestine,” by Edd S. Noell
- “Intersubjectivity, Subjectivism, Social Sciences, and the Austrian School of Economics,” by Gabriel J. Zanotti
- “Can Social Justice Be Achieved?” by José Manuel Moreira & Arnaud Pellissier Tanon
Also included is our usual outstanding fare of book reviews, courtesy the editorial oversight of Kevin Schmiesing.
Earlier this month, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson complained about the lack of creative thinking concerning the issue of social security. “Washington’s vaunted think tanks — citadels for public intellectuals both liberal and conservative — have tiptoed around the problem,” he wrote. “Ideally, think tanks expand the public conversation by saying things too controversial for politicians to say on their own. Here, they’ve abdicated that role.”
As though on cue, in the publications pipeline at the time was the latest in Acton’s Christian Social Thought Series, Pensions, Population, and Prosperity by Oskari Juurikkala.
Samuelson states the issue that befuddles policy wonks: “The aging of America is not just a population change or, as a budget problem, an accounting exercise. It involves a profound transformation of the nature of government: Commitments to the older population are slowly overwhelming other public goals; the national government is becoming mainly an income-transfer mechanism from younger workers to older retirees.”
A problem of such proportions requires an innovative solution. Juurikkala combines a closely reasoned analysis of current pension systems around the world with a bold and radical proposal to shift responsibility for old-age care away from the state and back to the family. It’s the only way, he argues, to create a “social security system” that is at once durable and humane.