Archived Posts August 2008 » Page 3 of 3 | Acton PowerBlog

In this week’s Acton commentary, Solzhenitsyn and His Critics, I point to the criticism that has been leveled for many years at the writer who turned out to be not exactly the sort of dissident that many in the West were waiting for. I suspect that much of this antipathy to Solzhenitsyn was based on his uncompromising moral vision, which seems to offend some people. I say:

Solzhenitsyn’s critique of modern societies went much deeper than ideology. He drew from a Christian moral tradition, not a political platform. He yearned for a “moral doctrine of the value of the individual as the key to the solution of the social problems.”

I received today a copy of the Spring 2008 Ave Maria Law Review in which is published an article titled “The Enduring Achievement of Alexander Solzhenitsyn” by Edward E. Ericson Jr. Ericson, with co-author Daniel J. Mahoney, edited ISI’s Solzhenitsyn Reader, an outstanding one-volume collection drawn from the author’s prodigious life work.

In Ericson’s article, adapted from a lecture he gave at Ave Maria last year, he says that Solzhenitsyn “never did get the hang of the West’s unspoken rule governing free speech, namely self-censorship.” Then there was his Russian Orthodox faith. Ericson:

In 1972, with all hope lost of his ever being published again in the Soviet Union, [Solzhenitsyn] made public the fact that he was a religious believer, specifically, a Russian Orthodox Christian — how quaint. Following his 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, conventional wisdom crystallized into cliche: Solzhenitsyn was objectionable, wrongheaded, retrograde. Case over. Close the books.

Unless Solzhenitsyn’s many critics, on the left and the right, understand him on his own terms — as an artist working from the moral framework of an ancient Christian tradition — they will never understand him or his work.

Even before Solzhenitsyn publicly identified himself as a Christian, those with eyes to see could discern that his fiction operated within what we may call the moral universe, which, in turn, seemed to posit a religious worldview. In 1970, Father Alexander Schmemann described Solzhenitsyn as “a Christian writer” because his writings exhibit “a deep and all-embracing … perception of the world, man, and life, which, historically, was born a grew from Biblical and Christian revelation, and only from it.” Schmemann described the essence of this perception as “the triune intuition of creation, fall, and redemption.”

Is Solzhenitsyn above criticism? Of course not. But understand him in light of his great achievement — the moral courage he displayed and the power of his ideas. Ericson again:

Someone needed to articulate compellingly what everyone knew deep down. Someone needed to say the emperor had no clothes. Solzhenitsyn, more than anyone else, delegitimized the Soviet experiment at home and discredited it abroad. And he hammered home his case through the concreteness that literary art is singularly suited to provide. It helped to have people pushing against the tottering tower from the outside, but external pressures are of less consequence than demolition charges ignited from the inside.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 8, 2008

On an episode of NPR’s Talk of the Nation last month, professor Jay Parini of Middlebury College discussed his role in the criminal justice sentences given to students who were involved in the vandalism of the former summer home of renowned poet Robert Frost.

Some of the younger students involved took part in a class on Robert Frost as part of an alternative sentencing plea agreement. As Prof. Parini says, “It’s a sort of unique punishment, talk about the punishment fitting the crime.”

Be sure to listen to the show to get the details of the whole story. This sounds to me like a perfect example of jurisprudence, that is, wisdom in the application of law. By connecting the offenders to the reality of Robert Frost’s life and work, the real impact of what they had done was communicated to them.

The potential for alternative sentencing agreements like this is just one of the possibilities I discuss in a newly published essay, “To Reform or to Abolish? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice,” Ave Maria Law Review 6, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 481-511. In that piece I lay out a basic scheme for understanding the different Christian approaches to restorative justice, particularly with regard to the relationship between punishment and restoration, along with some of the theological and practical implications for these various streams.

“It seems obvious that from a perspective of personalism,” I write, “relevant contextual differences should be considered in sentencing, and judges should have the ability to exercise prudential judgments on such matters.”

The case of the Frost house vandals underscores the value of this perspective, contrasted with that which emphasizes strictly controlled mandatory sentencing, especially for minors and youths. As Parini also says, “Poetry is about reparation and restoration.” The task for the prudential administration of justice is to balance and coordinate the necessity of punishment as an end in itself and as an instrument oriented toward reconciliation.

As an aside, I might also note that Prof. Parini would do his regular college students better service to teach them as he taught the offenders. Talking about his treatment of the Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” “When I teach the class to my students at Middlebury, it’s a you know sophisticated group, I do a fairly post-modern reading of the poem…. In a post-modern reading of that poem it’s more complicated.”

But in teaching the class of offenders Parini emphasized the recognition of metaphoric and symbolic values as a necessary part of coming to grips with the realities and responsibilities of life: “I realized these kids are at a very simple level here and Frost is confronting one of the issues that we have moral choices breaking in front of us at every moment.” This latter approach does more justice, so to speak, to the duties of the moral imagination than the sophistry of a post-modern reading, in which there is really no “wrong” road to take.

The theme of this issue of the Ave Maria Law Review is “The Constitutionality of Faith-Based Prison Units,” and there are some valuable resources for coming to grips with a practical dilemma facing the relationship between church and state in America. Another noteworthy and timely essay in this issue is Edward E. Ericson Jr.’s “The Enduring Achievement of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.”

At Solzhenitsyn’s grave. Donskoy Monastery, Moscow. Aug. 6, 2008.

The Associated Press has published a moving series of photographs from Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s funeral here.

Acathistus

By Alexander Solzhenitsyn

When, oh when did I scatter so madly
All the goodness, the God-given grains?
Was my youth not spent with those who gladly
Sang to You in the glow of Your shrines?

Bookish wisdom, though, sparkled and beckoned,
And it rushed through my arrogant mind,
The world’s mysteries seemed within reckon,
My life’s lot like warm wax in the hand.

My blood seethed, and it spilled and it trickled,
Gleamed ahead with a multihued trace,
Without clamor there quietly crumbled
In my breast the great building of faith.

Then I passed betwixt being and dying,
I fell off and now cling to the edge,
And I gaze back with gratitude, trembling,
On the meaningless life I have led.

Not my reason, nor will, nor desire
Blazed the twists and the turns of its road,
It was purpose-from-High’s steady fire
Not made plain to me till afterward.

Now regaining the measure that’s true,
Having drawn with it water of being,
Oh great God! I believe now anew!
Though denied, You were always with me …

From The Solzhenitsyn Reader. New and Essential Writings 1947-2005 (ISI Books, 2006)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, August 7, 2008
Dr. Luckey

We welcome Acton adjunct scholar Dr. William R. Luckey, Professor of Political Science and Economics at Christendom College, to the PowerBlog. Dr. Luckey has expertise in Political Philosophy, Business and Economics, and Theology, and posts from his excellent Catholic Truths on Economics will be shared here. His tagline explains why he is a perfect fit for the PowerBlog: Guidance on Economics, its importance for Catholics, its importance to civilizations, and what are its objective truths. It might sound boring…but boy, we are all affected by it.

This is from his latest post, Are there economic laws?

In the latest edition of an otherwise scholarly theological journal, a writer, who only ever writes about one subject, attacked the free market as usual. He wrote: “Neither can economics be satisfied with leaving human beings to the mercy of markets with their supposed ‘laws.’. . .” While there is certainly no space to take on his whole article, this part might just be the most serious error in it.

This particular writer, and those trained in his school, which he denies is the German Historical School, but it is, operate from a nominalistic approach. Nominalism, a school of thought begun in the Middle Ages by the Franciscan, William of Ockham, denies that there is any human nature. Therefore, human beings have no necessary consistency in them. In ethics, each person makes up his own code, and the codes can be very much at odds. To a nominalist, everything is will alone, not reason. This is why the writer in question asserts that people are at the “mercy of markets.” To those who think like this, everything is power. Even in moral theology, the reason one obeys the Ten Commandments is that it’s God’s will only, and there is no connection with those commandments and the nature of things. God could have commanded ten other things we were to avoid, and we would be required to obey them, because they are His will, even if they were the opposite of those actually listed. (I am sure many people would not have any trouble with the commandments were that the case) Thus, to those who think in this manner, markets are power, and that’s why there are no laws of economics. That’s why corporations are evil; because money gives them power, which they use to take advantage of others.

Read more. Dr. Luckey takes on questions such as Does John Courtney Murray’s Defense of Freedom Extend to Economics? An Austrian Perspective. He also weighs in on The Calumny Against “Speculators” and Catholics, Calumny and Oil Prices. Great stuff.

Welcome, Bill!

Mark Tooley pens another brilliant critique of the latest endeavors of the religious left in this piece titled “God’s Welfare State” in FrontPage Magazine. The commentary is a response marked with reason and clarity to left-leaning interfaith groups who are calling for more government programs and initiatives to tackle poverty. Tooley also notes in his piece that the signers of the letter calling for Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama to address their party conventions with a ten year plan to end poverty, are the usual suspects who equate “The federal welfare state with God’s Kingdom.” Tooley always seems to have a knack at getting to the heart of the issue, and he concludes by simply noting:

The left-leaning religious officials, guided by 100 years of statist Social Gospel, want to wage a government-led coercive struggle against “poverty” in the abstract. But most of their religious traditions express God’s love for specific poor people, while emphasizing voluntary and relational charity towards the needy. This historic stance of these religions towards the poor understandably has less appeal to the Religious Left, which often is more preoccupied with political power than with concrete compassion.

Pope John XXIII was once asked how many people worked for the Vatican. “About half” he humorously replied, alluding to a workforce not known for its speed and efficiency. Under the pontificates of John Paul II and especially Benedict XVI, however, the Vatican seems to have made some efforts to improve the delivery of various services.

Take for example this interview with the city-state’s head physician, Dr. Giovanni Rocchi, who boasts of minimal waiting periods for patients at Vatican-run health clinics and laboratories. Such medical services are provided to Vatican employees and residents, including the Swiss Guard, local security officials, and the thousands of daily visitors to the Vatican.

Emergency treatment, Dr. Rocchi says, is immediate and often relies on its own ambulance service to transport the injured and sick. Clinical test results are typically received within 2-3 days. Major medical interventions such as heart or back surgery are usually arranged within a maximum of 2-3 weeks upon diagnosis, which is nothing compared to the purgatory Italian citizens must endure in the country’s public health care system for similar and even very minor treatments.

The Vatican’s health care system is small-scale, offering limited medical services such as emergency first aid, clinical analyses, immunization, physical check-ups, with much of the routine care provided by general practitioners. Major medical surgery must be arranged through outsourced medical facilities found in Rome’s private religious hospitals, like the Fatebenefratelli hospital located on the Tiber Island or the Gemelli hospital, which cared for Pope John Paul II on several occasions. (more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, August 7, 2008

From time to time, we’ve drawn attention to and discussed the merits of microfinance.

A recent series of posts on the subject by Christian missionary, Mark Russell, reflects on the relationship between mission and microfinance. It’s a nice articulation of the rationale behind Christian support for such programs, focusing in particular on the economic and cultural environment of central Africa (the Congo).

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, August 6, 2008

In our continuing efforts to remain relevant and “cutting edge” on the Internet, the Acton Institute has rolled out the LOLord Acton Quote Generator widget, visible in the PowerBlog’s upper left-hand corner. The LOLord Acton Quote Generator is an effort to expose the world to Lord Acton wisdom via the use of LOL-ized quotations taken from various letters and writings of Lord Acton. The best part is that the widget is viral – you can get it and install it on your webpage, blog, or Facebook profile so that you can share these quotations with your friends.

LOL text has become an Internet phenomenon, starting with sites like those that feature LOLcats. Theologians from the history of the church have been LOL-ized (early, medieval, Reformation, modern) and now Lord Acton joins the ranks of those figures with wisdom from the past deemed worthy of communication to present generations.

We’ve also added some Facebook integration to the blog, allowing you join our blog network and see updates to the PowerBlog via Facebook.

Another great new feature, also on the left side-bar, is the inclusion of a PowerBlog Food For Thought box. This box will update several times a day and will give you access to some of the things that we’re reading. Don’t miss out on important news – keep up with us and be informed! We’ve added a poll feature on the right side-bar, so you can cast your vote on pressing questions of the day.

And finally, we’ve also included an Acton News & Commentary box that links our most recent weekly commentaries. Our weekly commentaries provide opinion and discussion on current issues and events and should be part of your weekly reading.

Solzhenitsyn

“During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known. Finally, at the age of 42, this secret authorship began to wear me down. The most difficult thing of all to bear was that I could not get my works judged by people with literary training. In 1961, after the 22nd Congress of the U.S.S.R. Communist Party and Tvardovsky’s speech at this, I decided to emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s momentous decision to publish his slim volume on Gulag life (he feared not only the destruction of his manuscript but “my own life”) ended his period of “secret authorship” and put him on the path of a literary career that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. But his work meant so much more than that. Solzhenitsyn, who died yesterday in Moscow at the age of 89, did more than any other single figure to expose the horrors of Soviet communism and lay bare the lies that propped it up. His life was dedicated to chronicling and explaining the Bolshevik Revolution and the tragic effects it wrought for Russia during the 20th Century. His was a first-person account.

In “Solzhenitsyn & the Modern World,” an essay on Solzhenitsyn published by the Acton Institute in 1994, Edward E. Ericson Jr. predicted that Solzhenitsyn’s influence would continue to expand. With his passing, there is good reason to hope, with Ericson, that Solzhenitsyn’s “world-historical importance” will be appreciated on a deeper level. “His most direct contribution lies in his delegitimizing of Communist power, and especially in the eyes of his surreptitious Soviet readers,” Ericson wrote.

At the publication of the Gulag Archipelago, Leonid Brezhnev complained: “By law, we have every basis for putting him in jail. He has tried to undermine all we hold sacred: Lenin, the Soviet system, Soviet power – everything dear to us. … This hooligan Solzhenitsyn is out of control.” A week later, the newspaper Pravda called him a “traitor.” On Feb. 12, 1974, he was arrested and charged with treason. The next day, he was stripped of his citizenship and put on a plane to West Germany. He would spend the next 20 years in exile.

When summoned for deportation in 1974, he made a damning written statement to the authorities: “Given the widespread and unrestrained lawlessness that has reigned in our country for many years, and an eight-year campaign of slander and persecution against me, I refuse to recognize the legality of your summons.

“Before asking that citizens obey the law, learn how to observe it yourselves,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “Free the innocent, and punish those guilty of mass murder.”

The Gulag Archipelago was described by George F. Kennan, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union and the chief architect of postwar U.S. foreign policy, as “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.”

In my review of the “Solzhenitsyn Reader,” edited by Ericson and Daniel J. Mahoney, in the Spring 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty, I wrote that the Solzhenitsyn “could only understand what happened to Russia in terms of good and evil. Those who engineered and imposed the Bolshevik and Soviet nightmare were not merely ideologues, they were evildoers.” A former communist, the writer returned to his Russian Orthodox Christian roots after his experience of the Soviet prison camps. In the review, I said:

Ericson and Mahoney state simply that, “Solzhenitsyn was the most eloquent scourge of ideology in the twentieth century.” The editors are right to remind us of that. And any news account, biography or political history of the twentieth Century that talks about who “won” the Cold War—a complicated historical reality for sure—and does not include Solzhenitsyn with Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II is not only incomplete but wrong. Solzhenitsyn was the inside man.

In an editorial published today, the editors of National Review Online said this of Solzhenitsyn: “There was no greater or more effective foe of Communism, or of totalitarianism in general.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Solzhenitsyn “one of the greatest consciences of 20th century Russia” and an heir to Dostoevsky. Mr Sarkozy added: “He belongs to the pantheon of world history.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote in a telegram to Solzhenitsyn’s family that the Soviet-era dissident, whose books exposed the horrors of the Communist Gulag, had been “a strong, courageous person with enormous dignity.”

“We are proud that Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was our compatriot and contemporary,” said Putin, who served in the same KGB that persecuted the author for “anti-Soviet” activities.

Mikhail Gorbachev told Interfax: “Until the end of his days he fought for Russia not only to move away from its totalitarian past but also to have a worthy future, to become a truly free and democratic country. We owe him a lot.”

Indeed, we all do.

The fifth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fifth leg of the journey took the bikers from Denver to Fremont, a total distance of 553 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional opens the week by focusing on the poor. “Consider this: each one of us has far less to worry about than those living in poverty who often do not know where their next meal is coming from.”

This week’s Grand Rapids Press religion section had a front page story on the problem of panhandling. How ought we to treat beggars on our streets? Many in the early church, including John Chrysostom, argued that Christians were called to be promiscuous in charitable giving, leaving the consequences of ill-used money to those who received it. Chrysostom said, “For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”

As we have moved into a modern industrial society, however, it has become clear that ways of giving that provide incentives to remain poor do not properly deal with the social pathologies of poverty. The insight that our love needs to be unlimited and abundant is a proper corrective to our natural inclinations to be miserly with love and money. But from this it doesn’t follow that our giving doesn’t need to be intentional and critical.

Making our compassion effective in practice is the focus of the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Award and Guide programs. The bicyclists on this poverty tour will be heading through Nebraska this week. Check out effective charities in Nebraska and consider supporting program’s like Hasting’s Crossroads Center’s 4-Phase Program (a 2006 Samaritan Award honoree), and the W.E.C.A.R.E. and Dads Matter programs (2004 and 2006 honorees respectively) of Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha.