Archived Posts February 2008 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, February 29, 2008

Nicholas Wapshott’s new book Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage offers a fresh look at the political relationship and friendship of two profound leaders in the late 20th Century. While the biographical information is not new for those who have read extensive biographies of Reagan and Thatcher, the author examines some of the deep disagreements the two leaders had in foreign policy. While there were arguments between the two over the Falklands War, Grenada, sanctions, and nuclear disarmament, and were often heated, the rifts healed quickly.

Wapshott initially traces the roots of their family life which helped foster an embracing of fiscal conservatism. While Reagan’s father was a New Dealer and an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he also instilled a sense of optimism in Reagan about the ability to succeed in America through hard work. Both of their fathers were involved in business, and of modest means, especially Reagan’s alcoholic father. Thatcher’s father owned a grocery store, which was still much more modest than many of the backgrounds of conservative party leaders in Great Britain. “Neither Reagan nor Thatcher thought for a moment that to be involved in trade was any less admirable than to be involved in the professions. It provided both of them with a matter of fact approach to life and marked absence of social snobbery,” Wapshott says. Reagan and Thatcher also grew up in homes where the Christian faith was taught, and both shared a devotion to the Protestant work ethic.

In their rise to power Wapshott also declares, “Both were painted by opponents – not least in their own parties – as unrealistic extremists with strange, unworkable ideas.” When Reagan addressed both Houses of Parliament in 1982 with his now famed Westminster Speech, he was considered a divisive figure by many in Britain. 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted his address, which has been considered one of his finest assaults on the Soviet Union. Thatcher toasted Reagan after the speech declaring, “We are so grateful to you for putting freedom on the offensive.” Because of Reagan’s optimism and his faith in developing a missile defense shield, or the Strategic Defense Initiative, he also wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons later in his presidency, while Thatcher who was less optimistic and more of a realist, ascribed to mutual assured destruction (MAD), arguing that a nuclear stalemate prevented conventional war with the Soviets. In the end, the Soviet obsession with SDI, and Reagan’s refusal to abandon the research, did help accelerate the Soviet demise.

Wapshott’s publication shows strength in printing more of the personal correspondence between Reagan and Thatcher. The reader clearly sees there is a level of affection and admiration that transcends just a shared political ideology, national interests, and the occasional sharp disagreements. In public the two always lavishly praised one another and their respected nations, both leaders who were united in conservative principles and committed to expanding freedom at home and abroad.

Reagan wrote Thatcher who attended his 83rd Birthday Party in 1994, and just months before his letter to the American people telling them of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis saying:

Throughout my life, I’ve always believed that life’s path is determined by by a Force more powerful than fate. I feel that the Lord brought us together for a profound purpose, and that I have been richly blessed for having known you. I am proud to call you one of my dearest friends, Margaret; proud to have shared many of life’s dearest moments with you; and thankful that God brought you into my life.

In frail condition from multiple strokes, Thatcher defied medical orders not to travel and attended Reagan’s funeral service in Washington and California. She called Reagan “The Great Liberator” and said in her recorded eulogy:

We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend. In his lifetime Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America’s wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism…Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles – and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively…The President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation. Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity – and nothing was more American.

Blog author: dwbosch
Friday, February 29, 2008

Found a study on sociobiology in The Economist (of all places).

This passage on the development of liberal vice conservative tendencies was worth a chuckle:

Dr Wilson and Dr Storm found several unexpected differences between the groups. Liberal teenagers always felt more stress than conservatives, but were particularly stressed if they could not decide for themselves whom they spent time with. Such choice, or the lack of it, did not change conservative stress levels. Liberals were also loners, spending a quarter of their time on their own. Conservatives were alone for a sixth of the time. That may have been related to the fact that liberals were equally bored by their own company and that of others. Conservatives were far less bored when with other people. They also preferred the company of relatives to non-relatives. Liberals were indifferent. Perhaps most intriguingly, the more religious a liberal teenager claimed to be, the more he was willing to confront his parents with dissenting beliefs. The opposite was true for conservatives.

Stressed out, bored, lonely and confrontational. That explains a lot, including the way progressives see environmental issues more often than not as problems rather than opportunities.

Hug your favorite liberal today – they probably need it.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

There’s a lot of consternation, much of it justified, about the news that now 1% of the population of the United States is incarcerated. Especially noteworthy is a comparison of the rate of imprisonment with institutionalization in mental health facilities over the last century.

But a breathless headline like this just cannot pass without some comment: “Michigan is 1 of 4 states to spend more on prison than college.”

Given the fact that policing, including imprisonment, is pretty clearly a legitimate function of the state (at least as broadly conceived in the Christian tradition, see Romans 13), while providing post-secondary education is not so obviously a responsibility for the government (n.b. I did go to a state school), maybe more states should spend more on prison than college…leaving college to private institutions.

Maybe this just means Michigan’s state government has its spending priorities more in order than other states. That truly would be newsworthy.

Update: Sometime PowerBlog contributor and longtime friend of Acton John H. Armstrong takes a look at the numbers and concludes, “For the overwhelming majority of inmates they are where they should be and we are all much safer, so it seems.” I think Ray expressed some similar sentiments in the office yesterday.

From a CT interview in 1995 by Michael Cromartie:

Certain things which the market authorizes simply in terms of law are unchristian and ought not to be done. The big issue today has to do with the fidelity of marriages. The tendency now to leave your wife because you have an infatuation with a younger woman of tenderer flesh is an enormous temptation. It’s carnal, and it’s also easy to justify with all the solipsistic reasoning that we hear today. That is about the gravest offense that a human being can commit, to throw away a wife.

From this it doesn’t follow that the state should make the law tougher, but rather that the culture needs to be reformed. Modifying the law is only one way, and often not the best, to do that: “…unless we create a virtuous society, it’s not a society that’s going to endure. So the right things should be encouraged and the wrong things discouraged. Today, roughly speaking, there is zero taboo against fornication.”

The whole thing is worth reading, as they say (HT).

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Following up on our discussion of the Pew survey on the American religious landscape, I have a few thoughts as to what plagues American Protestantism, particularly of the evangelical variety, and it has to do precisely with the “catholicity” of Protestantism.

To the extent that people are leaving Protestantism, or are searching for another denomination within the broadly Protestant camp, I think there are at least two connected precipitating causes. (A caveat: there are many, many individual and anecdotal exceptions to the generalizations I will make below, and I think they serve to highlight rather than to undermine this basic picture.)

The first is the lack of historical connection to tradition (with a lower case “t”) among American Protestants. Whether by intention or ignorance, the relation of Protestantism to the broader church’s history is sorely under-recognized.

Part of this phenomena is the anti-creedalism, anti-confessionalism of many evangelicals, such that when something like the Apostle’s Creed is even part of a worship service, the church is confessed to be not one, holy, “catholic,” and apostolic but rather “Christian” (or at best “catholic” with a footnote).

Part of it is simple intellectual laziness (i.e. not having the methodological and academic rigor to take up questions of the origins of the Protestant Reformation in its context). The claims of the reformers to represent the authentic “catholic” Christianity of the church’s tradition, focused especially on their grounding in the patristics, must be dealt with responsibly, even if in the final judgment some find these claims to be untenable. More often than not, the claims to the catholicity of the Reformation are ignored rather than engaged.

The second cause is a lack of connection with worldwide Christianity. The “catholicity” of the Church has not only to do with our connection to the past tradition, but also to contemporary believers who live all over the world. If the Pew survey is bad news for American Christianity (and evangelical Protestantism in particular), then the good news is that the church is not limited to North America and that Christianity is growing both by number and by vigor in the global south and east.

Part of the emergent impulse is I think an inchoate and instinctual response to these realities. Wouldn’t it be tragically ironic if at the height of American evangelicalism’s political influence its spiritual core was failing? We need to be concerned about “whitewashed tomb” syndrome, so focused on the external influence of the church on culture, politics, and society that we abandon the church’s primary spiritual calling.

In addition to an increased historical awareness of the roots of the Reformation, one fruitful avenue to explore in making these connections is in the pursuit of a theology of obedience, suffering, persecution, and martyrdom, a theology more along the lines of Tertullian, Kierkegaard, and Bonhoeffer than of the political and cultural Christendom that has so recently dominated the church in Western civilization.

A sampling of some books worthy of consideration that are indirect popular responses to these problems I identify:

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buckley and Sirico
Buckley & Sirico – Acton’s 2nd Annual Dinner – May 12, 1992

Rev. Robert Sirico reflects on the life of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died in his study on Wednesday, praising him as a friend, a literary genius, and a supporter of the Acton Institute. Sirico writes, “He will be lauded by numerous pendants and scribes for the incredible number of his accomplishments, preeminent of which is his historic role as godfather of the modern conservative/libertarian movement in the founding of the National Review.”

Read “WFB: In Memoriam.”

On this week’s edition of Radio Free Acton, Rev. Robert A. Sirico pays tribute to the late William F. Buckley, the RFA regulars are joined by Professor Joseph Knippenberg from Oglethorp University in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss the Pew Forum’s newly released research on the American religious landscape, and we listen in to some bonus audio from Dr. Glenn Sunshine’s Acton Lecture Series address, Wealth, Work and the Church. You can listen at this link.

With regard to the discussion on the Pew Forum study, you’ll find more information at the following links: