Archived Posts February 2009 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Making Men Moral conference at Union University is over, but there are some takeaways. This was a unique engagement of many natural law thinkers such as the Catholics Robert George and Francis Beckwith with Southern Baptists like Russell Moore and Greg Thornbury.

In that connection, Russell Moore delivered a message that I think would be considered a highlight of the conference by anyone who attended. He addressed the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals irenically without being ecumenical in any mushy way and spoke eloquently about the joint engagement by the two groups with the culture.

This was a wholly edifying address that shied away from nothing. For that reason, I’m linking the audio. It is well worth your time if you are interested in the relationship between the two traditions.

Let me underscore. Great address.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 27, 2009

Free trade seems to get all the blame when things go wrong and none of the credit when things go right. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of global economics: it gets no respect. Certainly in this worldwide economic downturn globalism is going to take its bumps and bruises. And as trouble abroad comes to roost at home (and vice versa) more then ever the lesson is going to be how truly interdependent we all are.

In the short term there will certainly be increased popular sentiment that’s antagonistic toward expansion of liberalized trade policies. A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans showed that 47% view trade as a “threat to the economy from foreign imports” while 44% held that it is “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports.” These numbers closely resemble the figures from the poll during the last major recession in 1992 (48% and 44% respectively).

ForeignTrade2009

While globalism will be in retreat for the short term, the beneficiary won’t necessarily be the localism so beloved by “crunchy” conservatives. The move will instead be toward a greater “regionalism,” of the kind fostered by continental and geographic “free trade zones.” In addition to the free trade deal announced today between Oceanic and Southeast Asian nations, you can expect NAFTA to get a close review in coming months.

But in the long term, the prospects for continued globalization are as good as ever. The Internet in particular has created a kind of “grassroots” globalism, that connects people in all kinds of social, economic, and cultural ways that were not possible a decade ago. More than ever we’ve come to know that our “neighbor” is not just the one we live in proximity to spatially, but those to whom we are connected virtually and spiritually.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, February 27, 2009

Somewhere in the United States today, government officials are writing a plan that will profoundly affect other people’s lives, incomes, and property. Though it may be written with the best intentions, the plan will go horribly wrong. The costs will be far higher than anticipated, the benefits will prove far smaller, and various unintended consequences will turn out to be worse than even the plan’s critics predicted.

That’s the first paragraph of Randal O’Toole’s wonderful book, The Best Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

It’s not a new book (2007), but it is timely, for reasons that should be obvious. O’Toole’s prime example is the US Forest Service, which he investigated on behalf of environmental groups for many years. From there he moves on to land use and transportation, churning through a number of sub-topics along the way. You might expect the book to be a polemic, but it isn’t. O’Toole is a careful researcher and he gives public employees their due. He simply lays out in devastating detail the impossibility of the tasks set before government planners, especially when it comes to long-term agendas of five or ten years. A refreshingly sensible analysis of senseless bureaucratic bungling.

Again reporting from the Making Men Moral conference at Union University . . .

The evening panel featured Robert George, Jean Bethke-Elshtain, David Novak, and Harry Poe. Their primary subject was the life of Richard John Neuhaus. Lots of great material, but Robert George spoke very movingly of Neuhaus’ career.

In the 1960′s, Neuhaus was a friend and associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. During the next decade, Neuhaus moved into position to become the most prominent religious liberal in the United States, perhaps succeeding Reinhold Niebuhr in the esteem of the media and cultural elites. It was a position that would have been attractive to the talented Rev. Neuhaus.

Then, Roe v. Wade happened. At first, there was such a thing as a pro-life liberal. Teddy Kennedy was one. Jesse Jackson was one. Albert Gore was one. So was Richard John Neuhaus.

But the center failed to hold and the pro-life liberals pronounced fealty to Planned Parenthood in serial fashion. Richard John Neuhaus could have done that, too, had he wished to preserve his chance to succeed Niebuhr as the most prominent mainline Protestant.

Abandoning the unborn child, the defenseless and innocent human being who desperately needed protection, was a step too far for Neuhaus. So, he left “the left” behind.

The tenor of the story fit a persistent theme of this conference with speakers cognizant of the presence of young evangelicals in the room. Hold your ideals more dear than your lust for applause. The temptation to make oneself acceptable to the dominant zeitgeist is terrible in its power. Do as Richard John Neuhaus did. Resist.

Still reporting from the Making Men Moral Conference in honor of Robert George at Union University . . .

I’ve had the chance to hear some great lines offered up by conservative academics. Here are a couple:

Paul Kerry (BYU) on the difference between Robert George and Cornel West:

“Last year, Robert George was invited to meet with Pope Benedict XVI. Cornel West was similarly honored to be invited to meet with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.”

Russ Moore (Southern Seminary) on better relations between evangelicals and Catholics:

“Very few evangelicals today would still say the Pope is the Anti-Christ. Bill Maher might, but evangelicals wouldn’t.”

Union has done a tremendous job of putting this conference together. They may be on track to become another conservative favorite like Hillsdale, the graduate school at Claremont, and the political theory program at LSU (represented here by the delightful James Stoner).

Later, I’ll have a report about the events of this evening. Richard John Neuhaus was slated to speak at the conference, but died recently, thus leaving a substantial hole in the conservative tapestry. It’s a hole, thankfully, that we have men like Robert George and Father Robert Sirico to help fill.

Tonight, Robert George, Harry Poe, and others will host an informal conversation with the assembled guests. I’m guessing we’ll have a great time hearing stories about the exploits of Father Neuhaus.

In the wake of Joseph Lawler’s piece on George Mason economists evaluating conservative magazines’ affinity for liberty on the basis of their treatment of sex, gambling, and drugs, Princeton’s Robert George is the perfect antidote. He could have reminded the measurers of liberty that those who favor laissez faire with regard to vice are often much less friendly to consensual acts of capitalism between adults. It’s a point he made in his seminal book Making Men Moral.

I’m currently attending a Union University conference honoring the work of Robert P. George. If conservatives are to have a chance of winning the argument over the proper balance of liberty and virtue, they could do no better than to look to Professor George as an example. As Russell Moore reminded the audience this evening, Robert George has never imitated the tendencies of many conservative and/or Christian academics to make themselves or their work more palatable to the ambient culture. Instead, he has unapologetically argued for a robust conception of the natural law and has mentored many academics to follow in his footsteps.

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The latest in the Birth of Freedom Video Shorts Series, this new video from Acton Media asks the question, “Was Abraham Lincoln a reluctant abolitionist?” William B. Allen, Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University gives the answer, discussing Lincoln’s views on human rights and equality.

This is the eleventh short in the series. To view the other ten videos, trailers, extended resources, or to purchase the full documentary, visit thebirthoffreedom.com.

“The Obama administration is looking to draw sharper lines on church-state interaction and to eliminate the ability of faith-based groups to hire only those who believe as they do,” warns Hunter Baker. Maybe one way to protect the mission of faith-based social service groups, and avoid a Culture Wars clash with the new administration, is to examine what we mean by “secular.”

Read the commentary at the Acton website and share your thoughts in the space below.

Today, Fernando Coronel, a law student at the Catholic University of Guayaquil, Ecuador, looks at Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s new restrictions on trade and the deeper problems he is creating through an alliance with other Latin American leaders advancing “21st Century Socialism.” Coronel observes that “the Correas of the world don’t really trust their fellow human beings to make the correct decisions when they are investing or spending their money.”

Read the commentary at the Acton Institute Website and share your comments in the space below.

sanford-blog In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Sanford has made national headlines for his principled opposition to all bailout and stimulus legislation coming out of Washington.

He was elected South Carolina’s governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, becoming only the third two-term governor in modern state history. In 2008, Sanford was also named Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Before becoming governor, Sanford served six years in the U.S. Congress after his election in 1994. For his consistent efforts to lower taxes and limit government growth he was ranked #1 in the entire Congress by Citizens Against Government Waste. He was rated similarly by the National Taxpayers’ Union, and Taxpayers for Common Sense inducted him into the Taxpayers Hall of Fame.

We would like to offer our PowerBlog readers an exclusive preview of the interview (the full interview will be available soon in the pages of Religion & Liberty):

You’ve taken a very principled approach in working for smaller government, lower taxes, individual liberty and fostering a culture of personal responsibility. Those principles are taking a battering in Washington today. Can anything turn the tide?

George Washington and his fairly battered band of patriots were facing far greater odds. The situation looked much more bleak. And yet they were resolved to creating the perfect union that they believed in. And they ultimately prevailed against incredibly long odds. So I think the answer rests in that silent and sleeping majority. Really making their voice heard. Not just for an election or election cycle but on a prolonged basis. And that’s what it will take to turn the tide. Really, that is the only thing that can turn the tide. However, if the status quo remains, we’re going to have profound problems coming our way that I think signal frankly the undoing of our Republic.

A lot of state governors are lining up for federal bailout money. Won’t this simply postpone the day of reckoning that some states need to face because of their own policies?

The answer is yes. That which is unsustainable is going to end. And so for instance California government grew by 95-percent over the last ten years. Federal government grew by about 73 percent. So you have state government that has grown at an even faster rate than the federal government. You have a state government that has gone out and issued long-term debt to cover the actual operations of government over the last couple years. It’s not sustainable. The idea is that you can just throw some federal money in to that unsustainable mix. But all you do is delay big structural reforms that are absolutely essential to California, for instance, being on firm financial footing. And this notion of mandating over a bad situation ultimately generally makes the situation worse. So, yeah, I do think it postpones the day of reckoning. And frankly makes the day of reckoning worse.

The line of business people asking for government bailout help seems to get longer by the day, how can you say no when jobs may be on the line?

The role of government is to promote, in my view, individual freedom. In other words, we have a governmental apparatus that is legitimate in nature in as much as it is to maximize one’s individual freedom. There are other folks who believe in the idea of a nanny state, and believe government is there to take care of your different needs, cradle-to-grave, chief among them being employment. Rather, government is there to create a foundation by which private sector can grow and create employment opportunities. Its job is not to create employment itself as I see it. And so I would say, yes, they’re lining up. There’s an article in today’s paper about car rental companies now lining up for a piece of the bailout funding. There was another article I saw where credit unions were getting money they’ve never gotten before. So, yes, there’s going to be an endless list. And it is again going to get to the point of the absurd before this thing is over and done. And the fact that the list is growing longer shows the fallacy it is to think that government can change economic laws.