Archived Posts April 2006 - Page 2 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Maximilien Robespierre

The name Robespierre is synonymous with terror and mass murder. But the author of The Terror that accompanied the French Revolution was also the prototype of the revolutionary leader who would become all too familiar in the 20th Century. Robespierre loosed the hordes of hell on his people, utterly convinced that he was preserving the purity of his political movement. In the current City Journal, John Kekes offers a fascinating analysis of Robespierre, the man, and those who have since adopted his method. “Why Robespierre Chose Terror” also looks at the way “reasonable” people filter ideologies by subjecting them to a healthy skepticism:

An ideology is a worldview that makes sense of prevailing political conditions and suggests ways of improving them. Typical ideologies include among their elements a metaphysical outlook that provides a God’s-eye view of the world, a theory about human nature, a system of values whose realization will supposedly ensure human well-being, an explanation of why the actual state of affairs falls short of perfection, and a set of policies intended to close the gap between the actual and ideal. This last component—commitment to a political program and its implementation—is what distinguishes ideologies from religious, personal, aesthetic, or philosophical systems of belief. Ideologies aim to transform society. Other systems of belief do not involve such a commitment; if they do, they become ideological.

In the course of history, many different and incompatible ideologies have held sway, all of them essentially speculative interpretations that go beyond undeniable facts and simple truths. Resting on fallible hypotheses about matters that transcend the existing state of knowledge, they are especially prone to wishful, self-deceiving, anxious, or self-serving thinking—to unchecked flights of fantasy and imagination. Reasonable people therefore regard ideologies, including their own, with robust skepticism and demand of them conformity to elementary standards of reason: logical consistency, the explanation of indisputable and relevant facts, responsiveness to new evidence and serious criticism, and recognition that the success or failure of policies derived from them counts as confirming or disconfirming evidence.

As Kekes points out, the first object of terror for the revolutionary ideologue is often his own people.

But the chief reason that people followed [Robespierre] was fear. No one was safe, and people hastened to testify by words and deeds that they were loyal, enthusiastic supporters. Robespierre wielded his power over life and death as arbitrarily as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao did. Arbitrariness is the key to terror: if there are no rules, justifications, or reasons, then everyone is at risk. People can try to minimize the risk only by outdoing others in toeing the line. Dictators understand that, and it explains much of the “spontaneous demonstrations” and public adulation that they extract from the duped and terrified people at their mercy.

A pretty fair definition of political freedom might begin with — the freedom from fear of one’s rulers.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, April 19, 2006

As Earth Day approaches (April 22), Jordan Ballor reflects on the Kyoto Protocol and some of the results of the “market-based” incentives promised to those who signed on. The Kyoto Protocol created a carbon trading system, a “cap and trade” mechanism where a set number of carbon credits were established based upon the 1990 levels of emissions from the involved countries. These credits could then be sold or bought from other countries.

So what is the problem? As Ballor explains, Kyoto is having “some unintended consequences.” “Russia,” writes Ballor, “currently one of the world’s worst pollutors and emitters of greenhouse gasses, is being rewarded by the carbon credit scheme.” Russia is able to maintain current “efficiency” levels, not curbing their pollution or emissions at all, and still has carbon credits worth some $1 billiion. The so-called market incentives are completely ineffective.

Read the rest of “Cashing in on Carbon Credits” for Ballor’s full critique of the cap and trade scheme that Kyoto has initiated.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This article, “Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of ‘Evangelical’,” which appeared in the New York Times on Easter, is instructive on a number of levels. First off, the article attempts to point out widening “fissures” among evangelicals, in which “new theological and political splits are developing.” While the article does talk at the end about so-called “theological” differences, the bulk of the piece is spent discussing the political divisions.

Michael Luo writes, “Fissures between the traditionalist and centrist camps of evangelicalism have begun to emerge much more prominently in recent months in the political realm.” He points specifically to the issues of global warming and immigration, which recall the topics of a post of mine from a few weeks back. Incidentally, the text of my post somehow found its way onto no less an auspicious locale than the Sojourners site.

The fact that political differences about issues on which there are a variety of defensible biblical positions is viewed as a threat to the unity of evangelicalism says something important about how the movement is more broadly perceived. That is, evangelicalism has become publicly identified as much or more with particular political views than any necessarily corresponding theological position.

Thus, while Rick Warren is identified as “theologically and socially conservative,” the fact that he has generally avoided politics makes him a “centrist” rather than a “traditionalist” evangelical, according to the categories that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life uses. And on climate change, for example, there is “a tension that exists between the traditionalists and the centrists,” according to the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

In my mind, however, this political aspect really is a red herring, albeit one of great interest to the secular media. Aside from the few social issues on which the perspective of Scripture is rather straightforward, evangelicals should be free to express the convictions of their consciences without being perceived as outside the tent.

And the reason that such clear moral evils need to be opposed is because their affirmation would directly undermine the normativity of the Bible. If anything, this is the baseline identifiying characteristic of evangelicalism, as evidenced by the doctrinal basis for the Evangelical Theological Society: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.” (See also the “Statement of Faith” of the National Association of Evangelicals.) But otherwise, where prudential judgments are concerned, evangelicals enjoy a wide freedom and diversity.

And it is with respect to the theological differences that the NYT article truly gets to the heart of real cracks in the evangelical edifice. Ultimately the unity of any group of Christian believers must be founded on doctrinal agreement. Practice is informed by belief. The eventual failure of the Life and Work and the Faith and Order movements of the ecumenical enterprise to remain completely separate testify to this reality

This is why creeds and confessional statements have enjoy such an important place in the history of Christianity, and why the NAE and the ETS define themselves in theological and doctrinal rather than political, practical, or social terms.

If the unity of evangelicalism is threatened by disagreements, however sharp, over prudential political concerns, then the so-called “unity” is something more like the unity enjoyed by political parties and factions rather than that of the body of Christ. One characteristic of the spirit of sectarianism is that it makes matters of moral prudence and permissibility a litmus test of true Christianity.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Monday, April 17, 2006

Jay Richards, Director of Media and a research fellow at Acton, is quoted in the cover article in the new issue of World Magazine. The article, “Greener Than Thou” explores the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) and questions the clarity of its vision and the accuracy of its claims regarding global warming and human-induced climate change. The ECI is the latest environmental policy initiative from evangelical leaders, signed by 86 people including Rick Warren (author of the Purpose Driven Life) and Jack Hayford (president of the Four Square Church). Read the article at World Magazine’s website.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, April 17, 2006

Having completed his discussion of the covenant of redemption, Herman Witsius writes the following at the conclusion of Book II of his De oeconomia foderum Dei cum hominibus:

What penetration of men or angels was capable of devising things so mysterious, so sublime, and so far surpassing the capacity of all created beings? How adorable do the wisdom and justice, the holiness, the truth, the goodness, and the philanthropy of God, display themselves in contriving, giving, and perfecting this means of our salvation? How calmly does conscience, overwhelmed with the burden of its sins, acquiesce in such a Surety, and in such a suretiship; when here at length, apprised of a method of reconciliation, both worthy of God, and safe for man? Who on contemplating these things in the light of the Spirit, would not break out into the praises of the most holy, the most righteous, the most true, the most gracious, and the most high God? O! the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God! O the height of mysteries, which angels desire to look into! Glory to the Father, who raised up, accepted, and gave us such a Surety! Glory to the Son, who clothing himself in human flesh, so willingly, so patiently, and so constantly performed such an engagement for us. Glory to the Holy Ghost, the revealer, the witness, and the earnest of so great happiness for us. All hail! O Christ Jesus, true and eternal God, and true and holy man, all in one, who retains the properties of both natures in the unity of thy person. Thee we acknowledge, thee we worship, to thee we betake ourselves, at thy feet we fall down, from thy hand alone we look for salvation. Thou art the only Saviour; we desire to be they peculiar property, we are so by thy grace, and shall remain such for ever. Let the whole world of thine elect, with us, know, acknowledge, and adore thee, and thus at length be saved by thee. This is the sum of our faith, and hope, and this is the top of all our wishes. Amen.

Amen, indeed. Something like this in the middle of a scholarly treatise might be surprising to some, but it does show how piety and learning were closely integrated in the work of this Dutch Reformed theologian.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, April 14, 2006

Almighty Father, who hast given thy only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: Give us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “Friday in Easter Week.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery hast established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “Thursday in Easter Week.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

Regarding biblical economics at St. Maximos’ Hut, Andy Morriss writes on John 10:9-16: “Shepherds care for their flocks because their flocks belong to them; hirelings will not sacrifice for their flocks because the flocks do not belong to them. What better illustration of the value of property rights in encouraging stewardship could there be?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

Here’s an abstract of some recent NBER research:

“Why Does Democracy Need Education?,” by Edward Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetto, Andrei Shleifer

“Across countries, education and democracy are highly correlated. We motivate empirically and then model a causal mechanism explaining this correlation. In our model, schooling teaches people to interact with others and raises the benefits of civic participation, including voting and organizing. In the battle between democracy and dictatorship, democracy has a wide potential base of support but offers weak incentives to its defenders. Dictatorship provides stronger incentives to a narrower base. As education raises the benefits of civic participation, it raises the support for more democratic regimes relative to dictatorships. This increases the likelihood of democratic revolutions against dictatorships, and reduces that of successful anti-democratic coups.”

But here’s a follow-up question: Does a top-down, dictatorial model of eduation undermine education’s tendency to support democracy? If so, then it seems the best model for education in a democracy would be the vigorous and free schooling provided by the private sector.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

When I was in college, living in the dorms, friends of mine would play a game called bigger and better. In this game, they would take an object–something that they owned–and trade it up for something that was worth a bit more to them, but worth a bit less to the person that they were trading with.

This is a perfect example of a market economy. You have something that you can trade, somebody else has something that they can trade, and both parties are better off for the transaction. My friends could go out with a pen and come home with a couch for the dorm. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always this successful. It usually involved a little bit of time, but it made for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Then I found this website, a blog, where a man documents his game of bigger-and-better. He started out with a little red paper-clip. Right now he’s looking to trade one year in Phoenix (which includes one year free rent in the heart of downtown Phoenix. [If needed, the apartment can also come fully furnished] and roundtrip airfare for two from any major airport in North America) for something bigger-and-better. His goal is to own a house at the end of his game.

A small example of how having something of little value to yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage what you have on the market to find something of greater value to yourself.