Archived Posts July 2006 - Page 4 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

One of the more lively and illuminating discussions at last week’s Advanced Studies in Freedom seminar revolved around the question whether and how classical liberalism is applicable to foreign policy, specifically with regard to questions of war. In the New York Times earlier this week, Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, wrote a lengthy op-ed that bears on the relevant questions, “An American Foreign Policy That Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With.”

Wright argues, “It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists.” He calls this paradigm “progressive realism” and the remainder of the essay outlines the planks of such a platform. Wright’s alternative is rife with important observations and useful principles.

For example, he writes that “the national interest can be served by constraints on America’s behavior when they constrain other nations as well. This logic covers the spectrum of international governance, from global warming (we’ll cut carbon dioxide emissions if you will) to war (we’ll refrain from it if you will).” Even so, the problem beyond the mere curtailment of absolute national sovereignty is the ability of mutual enforcement. America doesn’t want to get stuck being the only one who plays by the rules.

Wright also observes that “domestic security depends increasingly on popular sentiment abroad makes it important for America to be seen as a good global citizen — respecting international laws and norms and sensing the needs of neighbors…. Much of the war on terror isn’t military.” There’s a sense in which what Wright is arguing for is a system of international affairs that will foster some sort of solidarity, an end that advocates of globalization and increasing free trade recognize. Thus Wright says, “A correlation of fortunes — being in the same boat with other nations in matters of economics, environment, security — is what makes international governance serve national interest. It is also what makes enlightened self-interest de facto humanitarian.”

During the discussions last week about classical liberalism and war, my reaction was not to first ask the question: “What is a classical liberal approach to war?” I’m not so concerned with simply finding and articulating a classical liberal position, but instead am focused on finging the right position.

To this end, I contend that we ought to begin with just war theory, an approach that predates by millennia the rise of classical liberal thought and which is officially advocated by the Roman Catholic Church, among others. We then might apply classical liberal principles and see to what extent the two are compatible, and there may be reason to adjust the conclusions of one or the other on the basis of an insight that one of the perspectives provides. It does strike me that on many levels, however, Wright’s “progressive realism” is an approach that has significant cross-over appeal for classical liberalism.

These are questions, of course, of the utmost relevance for today. A worthy post at the Belmont Club (HT: No Left Turns) raises the question of collateral damage and the loss of civilian life in military campaigns. This is an issue that stands at the heart of just war theory.

Detroit News editor Nolan Finley raised the question of our policy toward rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea: “Why don’t we just nuke ‘em?” You can gauge the response to this question from the survey of letters to the editor here. But even so, Finley’s column raises an important and real difficulty with regard to nuclear weapons: “We know as well as our enemies do that we’ll never push the button.”

As one of the faculty observed at the seminar last week, the question of whether it is immoral to possess nuclear weapons is different than the question of whether it is moral to use nuclear weapons, and the two may not be entirely compatible. There is the potential for a paradox, which is what Finley is getting at I think, in that it may well be moral to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent, in the style of mutually-assured destruction, but that it would always violate just war principles to use them. Even Finley’s emphasis on tactical and smart weapons is overwrought, I think, given that even conventional smart weapons almost always result in some sort of collateral damage to civilians. We have seen this most remarkably in the events between Lebanon and Israel in the last few days.

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

My piece on the debate over chimera research and the relevance of your worldview to the debate appears today at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Drawing on the work of C.S. Lewis, and among the questions and conclusions included, I write, “Chimera research may indeed have some potential benefits, but we cannot ignore the question of potential costs. What toll does such research take on the dignity of human beings? Must we destroy the human person in order to save it? As a society, we need to question whether our technological reach has exceeded our moral grasp.”

This issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Bush spoke about the creation of human-animal chimeras in his State of the Union address this past January: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

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

There’s some discussion at Mirror of Justice (here and here) of Martin Marty’s recent piece in The Christian Century, “Snookered,” which raises the issue of the validity of politicians invoking Scripture, using the example of Tom DeLay.

The new progressive Christian approach seems to be to assert, rightly of course, that “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat,” and is rather more nuanced and convincing than, say, “Jesus is a Liberal.”

And since so much politics, aside from a few issues, is about matters of prudence and judgment rather than clear moral principles, it seems correct to assert the difficulty of moving facilely from Scripture to public policy.

Even so, the Bible does give us some rather clear guidelines for making prudential political judgements, doesn’t it? After all, “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (Ecclesiastes 10:2 NIV). Just kidding, of course.

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

These kinds of stories make me sick, and they are all too common. In today’s Washington Post, a lengthy article examines the Livestock Compensation Program, which ran from 2002-2003, and cost over $1.2 billion.

In “No Drought Required For Federal Drought Aid,” Gilbert M. Gaul, Dan Morgan and Sarah Cohen report that over half of that money, “$635 million went to ranchers and dairy farmers in areas where there was moderate drought or none at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. None of the ranchers were required to prove they suffered an actual loss. The government simply sent each of them a check based on the number of cattle they owned.”

Texas rancher Nico de Boer says, “The livestock program was a joke. We had no losses,” de Boer said. “I don’t know what Congress is thinking sometimes.” On the $40,000 he received, de Boer continues, “If there is money available, you might as well take it. You would be a fool not to.”

But the story doesn’t just stop there. The moral ambiguity of simply taking the money that is offered to you is eventually replaced by the incentives to actively seek out and campaign for more funds, effectively defrauding the government.

Under the original terms of the plan, “a rancher had to be in a county that was suffering from a drought and declared a disaster by the agriculture secretary in 2001 or 2002. More than 2,000 counties had such declarations at the time, including many with only modest dry spells.” But once the pork started flowing out of Washington, everyone wanted to get a spot at the trough.

Increasing pressure from lobbyists and special interests eventually made even the original flimsy requirements too onerous. Speaking of 2002, “There was pressure that year to grow emergency declarations for drought,” recalled Hunt Shipman, a former top USDA official who now works as a lobbyist in Washington.

The results? “Under Congress’s new version of the program in 2003, livestock owners could qualify as a result of any type of weather-related disaster declaration by the secretary of agriculture. Or they could become eligible if their county was included in a presidential disaster declaration. Under the new rules, the time period covered also was extended, to Feb. 20, 2003. One rule remained the same: Livestock owners still did not have to prove a loss.”

And under that new situation, “With the rules relaxed by Congress, federal agriculture officials pushed their local offices to find disasters that would make more livestock owners eligible, records and interviews show. It didn’t matter if it was a cold snap or a storm that was two years old.”

There’s not much else to say, I think, besides recognizing the truth that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 NIV).

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A very, very interesting piece in WSJ this week detailing a study by the Business and Media Institute that looks at how businesspeople are portrayed on television:

The study, titled “Bad Company,” looked at the top 12 TV dramas during May and November in 2005, ranging from crime shows like “CSI” to the goofy “Desperate Housewives.” Out of 39 episodes that featured business-related plots, the study found, 77% advanced a negative view of the world of commerce and its practitioners.

On the various “Law & Order” shows, for instance, almost 50% of felonies — mostly murders — were committed by businessmen. In almost all of the primetime programs, when private-sector protagonists showed up, they were usually doing something unethical, cruel or downright criminal.

All businessmen have greasy hair and wear suspenders. TV tells me so.

Of course, the question is which came first, the chicken or the egg, the negative stereotype of the entrepreneur in the general public, or the stories that largely portray entrepreneurs in a negative light? The study’s author, Dan Gainor:

Over time, he says, plots that ritually make entrepreneurs the bad guys have a pernicious effect: “This becomes part of our collective worldview. We think all businessmen are somehow scummy. We think you had to lie, cheat or murder to get ahead.”

Gainor attributes these portrayals as the result of “a shrinking roster of available villains, in a universe where capitalists, along with aliens and Nazis, are one of the few groups left that it is safe to demonize.”

Poor Jack. Does he ever have a GOOD day?

In other words, cliche. Bad art. Pulp. Uncreative writers. Formulaic problem solving. But ought we be surprised? There is not much on television that we could label the paragon of narrative art (although, there are a few very quality shows, 24 not being one of them…sorry folks, if your show depends on Kiefer Sutherland angrily shouting at least five lines per episode, you’ve hit a wall).

So first of all, I think we need to keep things in perspective: this is not a rash of negative portrayals in deeply profound pieces of art. Most of these portrayals (at least the ones I am familiar with) are strawmen, paper tigers; in a word, silliness.

But a dangerous silliness. For on the other hand, we have to understand that television is influential, and even if the chicken did come before the egg, the egg will create another chicken. There are not a whole lot of people who readily recognize how silly this sterotype is, especially since it shows up so often.

So how does one stem the tide? What resources exist to bring this silliness to light, to help right this stereotype of business? Click here for one (slightly self-promoting) answer. Tell your friends!

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett wrote an outstanding piece for USA Today. He argues convincingly that the large-scale and widespread withdrawal of Catholic institutions from many of the nation’s cities has ramifications that extend beyond the interests of Catholics alone.

He notes, too, that government has a role to play in facilitating the flourishing of religious institutions such as Catholic churches and hospitals—mainly by honoring a properly understood separation of church and state:

Is there anything the government and the public can do to protect and invest in our “social capital?” Perhaps. Our Constitution, of course, does not permit the government to run, sponsor or fund churches. That said, legislators and citizens should take care not to add needlessly to their regulatory and other burdens by requiring Catholic hospitals to provide “emergency contraception,” or authorizing lawsuits against religious schools relating to the hiring and firing of teachers and ministers, or by misusing zoning and land-use laws. And urban Catholic schools’ many contributions to the public good provide yet another, entirely secular, reason to embrace school-choice programs.

HT: Domenico Bettinelli at Bettnet.com

Every morning I make a point checking out euobserver.com for unintentionally hilarious news about the workings of the EU bureaucracy.

Yesterday there was this article about an internship program with a twist. Instead of students coming to Brussels, this one is designed for 350 EU senior officials to spend time with small- and medium-sized businesses in member states.

“We don’t need an ivory tower policy,” commented Mr Verheugen, suggesting that by acquiring such a “hands-on experience” in SMEs, the commission’s administrators will understand their problems better and become their “ambassadors.” [....]

Its secretary-general Hans-Werner Muller has welcomed the new initiative, arguing that visiting officials will be able to see for themselves “how the small size of micro-businesses makes them more vulnerable to excessive, unnecessary or over-complex legislation.”

“We hope they take this message back to Brussels,” added Mr Muller.

It may very well be a good idea but I’d suggest something more radical to help the business climate in Europe – cutting the number of senior officials in Brussels permanently. Less officials could mean less regulations and more economic growth for those trying to make an honest living on the Old Continent. Surely these apparatchiks must have some marketable skills….

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

For those of you who are going through World Cup withdrawal after the defeat of the French by the Azzurri have a little comfort. I give you the World Cups of Philosophy and Theology.

‘Nobby’ Hegel leads the Germans onto the pitch.

The first is a two-part video of the Monty Python skit featuring German philosophers against the Greeks (text here). The German side touts Leibniz in goal with strikers Nietzsche and Heidegger. The Greeks have Plato in net, with Aristotle as sweeper and Socrates at forward. The two assistant referees are, by the way, Augustine and Aquinas, while Martin Luther manages the German side.

I find it fitting that theological figures have primacy in this way over the philosophers, since this reflects the proper relationship between the two, with philosophy as the ancilla, or handmaiden, to theology. Karl Marx is a late second-half substition for the Germans.

Heraclitus captains the Ancients to victory.

You’ll need to have Google Video installed to view Part 1 here and Part 2 here (HT: The Sports Economist and Disorganizational Behavior).

Speaking of Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, they give me a good segue to the Theology World Cup, hosted by Finnish theologian Patrik Hagman, which was searching for the greatest systematic theologian of the 20th century. Amazingly, Karl Barth did not make the field, and Pannenberg, the odds-on favorite, was knocked out rather early, losing to eventual finalist Hans Urs von Balthasar. The final featured Jürgen Moltmann against Hans Urs von Balthasar, with Moltmann being declared the victor. This proves rather convincingly that 20th century theology is much more about style than substance.

Karl Rahner was victorious in the consolation match. You can view the championship bracket here, and see how Karl Barth might have fared in the competition here (Dietrich Bonhoeffer also did not make the finals, while such dark horse candidates as T. F. Torrance did).

Blog author: sgrabill
posted by on Monday, July 17, 2006

In Part 4, we saw that post-Enlightenment philosophical currents such as Humean empiricism, utilitarianism, and legal positivism are the real culprits in the demise of natural law and not theological criticism from within Reformation theology, as many today take for granted. If this is so, why is contemporary Protestant theology so critical of natural law?

The most common reason why contemporary Protestants reject natural law is because they think it does not take sin seriously enough. And the second, which we will address in Part 6, is that natural law is thought to elevate “autonomous” human reason above divine revelation and therefore to rival God and Scripture.

To many Protestants, natural law seems to suggest that the order of being in the original creation has not been sufficiently disrupted by the fall. Moreover, they think reason is viewed too optimistically because it is still able to discern a rough outline of God’s will in creation. They think natural law is guilty of elevating reason above revelation as the standard of what is right and wrong, true and false. In other words, they think natural law leads to rationalism where reason is the standard by which everything is judged. Following Barth and his mediators, many think the divine image was fully destroyed with the result that nonbelievers now only experience God’s wrath and judgment and never God’s general providence (or common grace as it is called in some traditions).

Helmut Thielicke, a Lutheran theologian and sympathetic critic of Barth, says, since the fall, we confront at best “orders of preservation.” Yet, despite his affinity with Barth, Thielicke could not fully jettison natural law. He saw that it had abiding significance as a sign of the human quest for justice and right. For him, natural law is a goad to the pursuit of justice in an imperfect world. But it is difficult to respect the common search for justice without more solid theological and anthropological reasons.

But the modern Protestant view of natural law as simply an order of preservation does not do justice to the status it had in the older systems of theology. Reformers such as Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, John Calvin, and Wolfgang Musculus, contrary to popular opinion, incorporated large segments of the medieval as well as the patristic past into their systems of theology.

To be sure, they opposed certain high profile doctrines of late medieval and early sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. But, as historian Richard Muller points out, “It is worth recognizing from the outset that the Reformation altered comparatively few of the major loci [or topics] of theology: the doctrines of justification, the sacraments, and the church received the greatest emphasis, while the doctrines of God, the trinity, creation, providence, predestination, and the last things were taken over by the magisterial Reformation virtually without alteration.” Importantly, the Reformers did not discard the custom, since the time of Thomas Aquinas, of treating ethics as a subdomain of the more fundamental doctrines of God and providence, which, as Muller contends, were carried into the Reformation without any significant alteration.

In Part 6, we will address the second most common Protestant criticism of natural law, namely, that it elevates autonomous human reason and therefore rivals God and Scripture.

This has been cross-posted to my blog on natural law, Common Notions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 14, 2006
Nipsey Russell (1918-2005)

I was flipping stations tonight and passed the Game Show Network, which was showing reruns of Match Game ’74. Nipsey Russell, the so-called “Poet Laureate of Television,” began the show with this poem for prosperity:

To slow down this recession,

and make this economy thrive,

give us our social security now,

we’ll go to work when we’re sixty-five.