Archived Posts February 2006 - Page 3 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Western Europeans often talk about the homogeneity of American politics and how the parties hardly differ from one another. One reason why Europeans believe this is because they often pay attention to US politics only during a presidential campaign, so they do have some justification. But while their opinion is understandable not only does it fail to reflect the real difference between the left and the right in America; it obscures the homogeneity of Western European political life.

What is interesting about the Western European perspective is that despite a multitude of parties all over the EU, the major ones are all more or less the same: left leaning, big government, egalitarian and morally relativist. There is a lot of noise, but no real serious diversity. Most of them are less distinct from each other than they are from conservatives in the US. In how many countries in Western Europe does there exist real debate about the welfare state, free market solutions to poverty, labor laws, the importance of the family, and the morality of abortion. Issues that are of central importance to many Americans are looked at as unsophisticated by a great many Europeans.

European parties are great in number, but almost none of them support a free economy, minimal government involvement, and strong and vibrant families and churches. If the Europeans want real diversity of thought they should begin to question the social democratic welfare-state model. So far this is usually only done by parties such as the greens or the communists who argue for even more government involvement.

The social democratic welfare state is failing and has sapped the cultural and spiritual energy of Western Europe. Unemployment is high, economic growth stagnant, and the elderly of tomorrow may find themselves out in the cold. They won’t have any children to help them and the government will not be able to take care of them because the dwindling population won’t be able to fund the welfare state. Maybe what the Europeans need in their political life is real diversity: a party that advocates personal responsibility, strong families, free markets, and a culture of life. That would be novel.

Jack Hafer, the producer of the award-winning film, To End All Wars, will be speaking at the 2006 Acton Lecture Series on Wednesday, February 15. This luncheon (which does include a lunch) will be held in the David Cassard room of the Waters Building in downtown Grand Rapids from 12:00pm – 1:30. Mr. Hafer will discuss the challenges of making movies with profound moral messages in today’s Hollywood culture. He will also talk about plans for future projects that break the mold in popular entertainment.

For more information, please visit our lecture series webpage.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
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George H. Taylor, the State Climatologist for Oregon, writes at TCS Daily, “A Consensus About Consensus.” The article is worth reading. It shows that scientific consensus is often overrated, both in terms of its existence and in terms of its relevance.

With resepct to global warming, Taylor looks at some of the claims for scientific consensus, and states, “But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong.” This simply means that the majority can often be terribly wrong.

It is noteworthy that what holds true for consensus in the hard sciences also holds true for efforts in other fields. So, while Christians should take seriously the work of the Copenhagen Consensus, for example, there should not simply be an uncritical move from consensus to specific policy action. Christians are called to critically engage the efforts of science and economics, and the failure to do this on either count is an abdication of responsibility.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
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Earlier this month, we marked the 100th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth on February 4, in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. In a message before the International Bonhoeffer Conference on February 3, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man immersed in a specific cultural heritage, and untroubled by the fact; he was a person of profound and rigorous (and very traditional) personal spirituality; he was someone committed to the ecumenical perspective from very early on in his adult life. But his witness involved him in raising some very stark questions about the value of a culture when it became part of a tyrannous and racist ideology; in challenging the ways in which traditional piety could be allowed to become a protected and private territory, absolving us from the need to act, or rather to let God to act in us; and in insisting that the search for visible unity as an ideal independent of truth and integrity could only produce a pseudo-church.

Discussing Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Acton director of research Samuel Gregg said that the theme of love stood in stark contrast to the ideology of the Nazis. “The idea of hate was actually elevated into a kind of principle, in the sense that the German people were the master race, which meant treating non-Germans as if they were subhuman,” he said. “The idea that all people deserved to be loved was completely foreign to this ideology.”

For those who are interested in learning more about Bonhoeffer’s theology, the true basis for his Christian life, you can check out my article in the current issue of the Journal of Religion, “Christ in Creation: Bonhoeffer’s Orders of Preservation and Natural Theology.” I compare and contrast the approaches of Bonhoeffer with Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, and find that Bonhoeffer has his own unique attitude toward natural theology (rightly understood), specifically finding a basis for ethics in his doctrine of preservation orders. I look primarily at two of Bonhoeffer’s early lectures delivered at the University of Berlin: Creation and Fall and Christ the Center.

Blog author: kwoods
Monday, February 13, 2006
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A friend forwarded a Website link for The Nonprofit Congress recently that was downright scary. It appears to be the epitome of good intentions fraught with unintended consequences. Or perhaps the consequences are not unintended. The Congress is an apparent call to advocacy (i.e., political pressuring) within the National Council of Nonprofit Associations.

To the group’s credit, the “why” is a forthright statement of their view and values: The time has come for nonprofits of all sizes and scope to come together. The nonprofit charitable sector has long served our nation with distinction – from helping individuals survive (through health care, domestic violence centers, meals, and other human services) to helping local communities thrive (through artistic, cultural, educational, environmental, and other enriching services). Every American has been touched at one time or another by the work of a nonprofit. Good intentions.

Unintended consequences: Rather than championing the nonprofits’ unique abilities to provide individualized solutions, the Nonprofit Congress labels such efforts “fragmented and isolated” and frankly seems to be advocating that onerous “one size fits all” strategy for which government programs are so famous.

With that perspective, however, what this Nonprofit Congress wants to DO is not surprising: forge a collective identity based on shared values; develop a unified vision and message; and exercise a collective voice.

I would argue that a primary value of nonprofits is their lack of a collective identity or message and the freedom to contribute or help based on divergent values. That reality has been revealed within the Nonprofit Panel of Independent Sector — literally battling government agencies and federal policy makers for the continued independent existence of the nonprofit sector.

But with a Revere-like ‘call to arms,’ the council invites nonprofits to join the movement, forge a “stronger, bolder, more prominent role for nonprofits.” Hmmm … sounds like burgeoning political power to me, fashioned under the banner of “but we help people and communities. We do good things.”

Peter Drucker, arguably the most visionary management guru of this century, said that it is more important to do the right thing, than to do things right. Doing the right thing — helping individuals and communities–does not include sacrificing nonprofit uniqueness to leverage potential political muscle. And those who think so need to recalibrate their compassion quotient. The nonprofit sector may be “like herding cats,” but “unionizing” isn’t the strategy to help individuals or communities.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Monday, February 13, 2006
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Over the weekend, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore asked, “Why should the Left win the scramble for Africa?” :

[T]he trouble with this subject – perhaps this is why the Left dominates it – is that it attracts posturing. Africa is, among other things, a photo-opportunity. As our own educational system makes it harder and harder to get British pupils to smile at all, so the attraction for politicians of being snapped with rows of black children with happy grins grows ever stronger. The dark continent is awash with “goodwill ambassadors” who fly in for a couple of days to cure Aids before flying out to make the next movie.

There is a worse posturing – the pretence that lots of government money and the interventions of the “international community” are automatically good. It is only in the past 10 years or so, for example, that the World Bank has even begun to consider the possibility that the volume of loans matters less than their quality, or that corruption might be spoiling huge percentages of its work. All across Africa lies the detritus of aid projects which – in some cases literally – ran into the sand.

Such things are not just a waste of money – they are deeply harmful. They divert power and resources to bad people that might otherwise have gone to good. There is still no proper answer to Peter Bauer’s famous dictum that Western government aid largely consists of the payment of money by poor people in rich countries (i.e. our taxes) to rich people in poor countries.

Having spent two years working for the Holy See at the United Nations and five years for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I’ve sat through far too many discussions of Africa’s problems, nearly all of which focused on governmental solutions. Very rarely did anyone have the courage and wisdom to say that governments ARE the problem in Africa, and even more rarely did anyone say that the an expanded private sector is the most obvious solution.

Why is that? Christians are especially obliged to look after the poor but often seem to be the most willing to support further governmental interventions. But this is just passing the buck to unaccountable and faceless bureaucracies. What accounts for this socialist temptation?

My educated guess is that an ideological prejuidice against market economies has been operating in social justice circles for many decades and is only starting to be overcome. Educating people in sound economics, an undoubtedly prosaic if not sometimes downright boring subject, is surely an imperative. Too many lives in Africa have already been lost to the dreams of utopian poets.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 13, 2006
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A brief but timely editorial appears in this month’s issue of Christianity Today, “We Are What We Behold.” Here’s a taste:

“…evangelicals have wrestled with our relationship to power. When in a position of influence (and in our better moments), we leverage power to better the lives of our neighbors. Cultural savvy enables us to successfully translate the gospel for a changing world.

But it’s a double-edged sword—influence and savvy can also dull the gospel’s transcendence. We achieve a royal position, but soon we are using a worship service to Almighty God to hawk Justice Sunday III. We worry that the culture has forgotten the meaning of Christmas, but we cancel Sunday worship because it’s Christmas. We fret because of our culture’s biblical illiteracy, but sign up for the Sunday school class on our pet social-justice cause rather than the Bible or theology track. In short, we complain that the church has sold out to culture, but we subconsciously give our allegiance to a political or social subculture and champion its agenda.”

For a quick overview of the current state of appreciation for economics and capitalism among various ‘academics,’ see the newly inaugurated e-journal Fast Capitalism. It might as well be subtitled: Marxism, Alive and Well. Most of the contributors to the first issue are in sociology, communications, or political science. Here’s a sampling:

In “Beyond Beltway and Bible Belt: Re-imagining the Democratic Party and the American Left,” Ben Agger, who teaches sociology and humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington, writes, “Electoral politics now matter. George W. Bush, Jr. and his evangelical-Christian supporters have seen to that. Bush threatens to undo the welfare state, roll back civil liberties (and block new ones), and isolate the United States from the rest of the world. His foreign policy is an admixture of isolationism and unilateral adventurism. Homeland Security, his contribution to our political lexicon, has a Nazi-era resonance. Gays, lesbians, foreigners, liberals, the left have been demonized by a supposedly literal interpretation of the Bible, which drives the Christian right, Bush’s base of support. This has the makings of fascism.” One other tidbit: “FDR’s welfare state, while not perfect, significantly buffered the ravages of capitalism for those without jobs and without hope.” Also check out the planks in his “agenda for American social democracy,” which include “economic restructuring,” in which “the Democratic Party must take the lead in reconceptualizing the United Nations not only as an international police force but as an agent of the redistribution of capital.”

See also Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, who is self-described as “once a minister, still a student of theology, seldom a church-goer.” He writes an encomium to Reinhold Neibuhr, praising him for, among other things, opposing the Ford auto company in the early 20th century. “Though called to serve a traditional, declining urban congregation, Niebuhr, still in his twenties, quickly engaged himself on the side of industrial workers in a city where automobile manufacturing ruled by the hand of Henry Ford who presented himself as the patron saint of economic justice in the offer of then higher wages. Thus began Fordism, born not of fairness, but of greed for efficient production. The higher wages famously broke Marx’s rule on the suppression of labor costs as the key to the extraction of surplus value. But the break was only apparent. The wages were taken back in the purchase of the automobiles labor produced—thereby doubly exploiting the laborer,” he writes.

And don’t miss “Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility,” by Robert W. Williams, who teaches Political Science at Bennett College in North Carolina. His claim, explicitly made within “the Marxist tradition,” is that “there is a dialectic of in/dividuality present in the conjuncture of globalizing capitalism and liberal-democratic policies. The relationships that reduce us as separate selves to digitally mediated signifiers and that “reproduce” those signifiers as dividuals also provide the potential for resistance against the oppressions resulting from digital re(pro)ducibility.”

HT: The Blogora

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, February 10, 2006
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You probably remember when, last year, the Supreme Court upheld the taking of private land by the state for the purpose of private development in its Kelo decision. Sam Gregg highlighted the decision’s dangerous implications at the time. Religious groups were rightly among those worried about those implications, especially with respect to tax-free urban church properties.

Now, in an ironic twist, Catholic sisters in Philadelphia have been party to an attempt to use eminent domain to gain property for a school.

The effort was turned back by the courts, but the occasion remains disturbing for two reasons. First–and notwithstanding the commentary in the article linked above–the court made its decision not out of a desire to limit the abuse of eminent domain, but out of a concern for separation of church and state. In other words, if this hadn’t been a religious group, it appears that the process would have passed muster with the court.

The second problem is the cooperation of Catholic religious in the scheme. Let me be clear that I wish to cast no aspersions on the sisters’ fine work. The neighborhood would certainly benefit from the institution in question and those attempting to bring it to fruition deserve praise. But one has to question the means. Using government coercion to force a woman out of a home she doesn’t wish to sell is a peculiar way to go about rehabilitating a neighborhood. Catholic social teaching would support educational work in depressed areas, to be sure, but it would object to doing so by violating the property rights of one of the area’s residents. Religious leaders should be in the forefront of the building and rebuilding of strong families, neighborhoods, and cities; but if they ever try to accomplish these goals at the expense of the principles that undergird both human dignity and prosperity, then their actions become counterproductive.

HT: Sam Staley at Out of Control.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 10, 2006
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Forbes is featuring a slideshow highlighting a series of the most corrupt countries around the world, based on findings from Transparency International. The list of the “The Most Corrupt Countries” includes Chad, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Haiti, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola, Tajikistan, Sudan, Somalia, Paraguay, Pakistan, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(Jacob Silberberg/AFP/Getty Images)

“Under its current president, Nigeria is making a determined effort to clean up its act. President Olusegun Obasanjo has surrounded himself with a dozen senior government officials who are firmly opposed to the corruption that remains rampant. The president has begun issuing a monthly list of the amounts doled out to each of 33 states and more than 600 municipalities, so the funds can be monitored at the grassroots level. So far, it hasn’t had much impact.”