Archived Posts April 2010 » Page 4 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

Can you discern a nation’s spirit, even its economic genius, from the literature it produces? That’s long been a pastime of literary critics, including those who frequently see the “original sins” of Puritanism and capitalism in the stony heart of Americans.

Writing in Commentary Magazine, Fred Siegel looks at just this problem in a new appreciation of cultural critic and iconoclast Bernard DeVoto’s three-decade campaign to rescue American letters from the perception that European aesthetics were superior to the homegrown variety.

Bernard DeVoto at his desk (ca. 1954)

Bernard DeVoto at his desk (ca. 1954)

According to Siegel, DeVoto was the lone voice speaking out against the literary intelligentsia of the age. While it is true that DeVoto had his moments of clarity regarding literature, especially as it pertains to his insights that rescued Mark Twain’s work from a certain obscurity, Siegel nonetheless inflates DeVoto’s total contribution to cultural criticism.

Indeed, DeVoto was erudite and a prodigious writer. But, despite Siegel’s assertions, he wasn’t a particularly astute observer of the literary landscape. In fact, he was a bit of a cranky pants who wedged works he didn’t fully understand too quickly into an easy anti-American category. This strategy yielded diminishing returns for DeVoto’s reputation, which is probably the primary reason why his name is seldom if ever mentioned in the canon of literary criticism. Siegel’s rebranding attempt is not likely to help. DeVoto penned the monthly Easy Chair column for Harper’s from 1935 to 1955, won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Across the Wide Missouri,” and wrote “Mark Twain’s America.” Siegel notes that DeVoto’s “most important book,” however, was the 1944 volume, “The Literary Fallacy.” In it, Siegel asserts, DeVoto “illuminated the inner life of modern liberalism as no one had before or since.” (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This week, Acton’s research director Samuel Gregg appeared on EWTN’s The Abundant Life for an interview titled, “Socialism: Threat to Freedom.” In the course of an hour, he discusses the philosophical origins of socialism, its various manifestations, and the manner in which its modern expressions are slowly eroding our liberties in America and Western Europe. The interview, conducted by Johnnette Benkovic, may be found at The Abundant Life’s Web site.

An interesting column from Glenn Reynolds, AKA the Instapundit, at the Washington Examiner noting the failure of the regulators in Congress to anticipate the consequences of their health care takeover, in spite of much effort:

…both Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations require companies to account for these changes as soon as they learn about them. As the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle wrote:

“What AT&T, Caterpillar, et al did was appropriate. It’s earnings season, and they offered guidance about, um, their earnings. “So once Obamacare passed, massive corporate write-downs were inevitable.

They were also bad publicity for Obamacare, and they seem to have come as an unpleasant shock to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who immediately scheduled congressional hearings for April 21, demanding that the chief executive officers of AT&T, John Deere, and Caterpillar, among others, come and explain themselves.

Obamacare was supposed to provide unicorns and rainbows: How can it possibly be hurting companies and killing jobs? Surely there’s some sort of Republican conspiracy going on here!

More like a confederacy of dunces. Waxman and his colleagues in Congress can’t possibly understand the health care market well enough to fix it. But what’s more striking is that Waxman’s outraged reaction revealed that they don’t even understand their own area of responsibility – regulation — well enough to predict the effect of changes in legislation.

In drafting the Obamacare bill they tried to time things for maximum political advantage, only to be tripped up by the complexities of the regulatory environment they had already created. It’s like a second-order Knowledge Problem.

FA Hayek and his beloved 1978 Catalax

FA Hayek and his beloved 1978 Catalax

None of this comes as a surprise to those of us who understand that the health care market in the United States is too large and complex to be “managed” from Washington and should instead be made more free than what it has been in order to give individual health care consumers more options, thus placing downward pressure on prices and so forth – Hayekian Catallaxy in action. (I’ll have to check with HR, but I’m pretty sure I get some sort of a cash bonus for using the term “Hayekian Catallaxy” in a blog post.)

In an interesting riff off of Reynolds’ column, the Blogprof notes that part of the problem is that even in government, we all have to deal with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics:

But the 2nd Law doesn’t end in the physical world. It extends to other aspects of nature. Unless intelligent energy is expended, relationships decay. I’ve lost touch with some of my best friends from high school and before. There was no falling out. At some point, intelligent energy wasn’t expended to maintain those bonds and they naturally decayed. Divorce is more common now than ever before for precisely the same reason. It’s just a natural function for decay to occur. On a societal level, some of the greatest civilizations in human history are all but gone, with only relics remaining. The Roman empire, the Persian empire, the Egyptian empire, more recently the Soviet Union. Just decayed out of existence. Nearly the entirety of human civilization was corrupted beyond redemption before the great flood. In our own country, I don’t think anyone argues that we are not on a path of increasing decay. Intelligent energy isn’t being applied by our leaders in maintaining this country, and it is decaying. Depravity is going mainstream. God is being devalued. Life is being devalued. Christian principles are being devalued. All natural occurrences of a civilization in decline.

Can it be stopped? Slowed down? Reversed? As a matter of fact, it can. But it won’t be easy.

I know that I, for one, often feel a sense of fatigue about the direction of my country – a sense that many of the social and governmental trends that I abhor have been around far longer than I have, have only become more pronounced since I have been aware of them, and have a real feeling of inevitability about them. But we just celebrated Easter, and if Easter teaches us anything it’s that nothing is inevitable. The Apostles took the basic, powerful truth of Christ’s resurrection, and in the face of insurmountable odds began a movement that would utterly change the course of world history. Our task – proclaiming the truth about the inherent value of the human person in the eyes of God and defending the ability of that person to engage freely in economic matters – is almost nothing by comparison. It’s not easy, to be sure, but it’s worth it.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, April 5, 2010

First Principles, the excellent Web-based resource from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has posted another “classic” from its extensive archive of journal articles, this one by Wilhelm Roepke. I’m snipping a kernel from “The Economic Necessity of Freedom” (Modern Age, Summer 1959) because it so succinctly and powerfully sums up why a moral framework — and our “highest values” — are necessary for a market economy that is not only efficient, but humane. These values flow out of the “classic-Christian heritage of Europe” and are rooted, for Roepke, in an orthodox Christian anthropology.

… I came to see that socialism did not have the cure for our social ills, that indeed socialism was a heresy which aggravated these ills the more men acted on it. The economic “orthodoxy” according to which I adjudged socialism a heresy was historical liberalism, and with this liberalism I am quite willing to take my stand. What such liberalism advocates in the economic realm can be very simply stated. It holds that economic activities are not the proper sphere of any planning, enforcing, and penalizing authority; these activities are better left to the spontaneous co-operation of all individuals through a free market, unregulated prices, and open competition.

But there is more to the matter than the advocacy of a certain economic technique. As an economist, I am supposed to know something about prices, capital interests, costs, and rates of exchange, and all of them supply arguments for free enterprise; but my adherence to free enterprise goes to something deeper than mere technical grounds, and the reason for it lies in those regions where each man’s social philosophy is ultimately decided. Socialists and nonsocialists are divided by fundamentally different conceptions of life and life’s meaning. What we judge man’s position in the universe to be will in the end decide whether our highest values are realized in man or in society, and our decision for either the former or the latter will also be the watershed of our political thinking.

Thus my fundamental opposition to socialism is to an ideology that, in spite of all its “liberal” phraseology, gives too little to man, his freedom, and his personality; and too much to society. And my opposition on technical grounds is that socialism, in its enthusiasm for organization, centralization, and efficiency, is committed to means that simply are not compatible with human freedom. Because I have a very definite concept of man derived from the classic-Christian heritage of Europe in which alone the idea of liberty has anywhere appeared, because that concept makes man the image of God whom it is sinful to use as a means, and because I am convinced that each man is of unique value owning to his relationship to God but is not the god declared by the hybris of an atheistic humanism — because of these things, I look on any kind of collectivism with the utmost distrust.

And, following from these convictions along the lines of reason, experience, and the testimony of history, I arrive at the conclusion that only a free economy is in accordance with man’s freedom and with the political and social structure and the rule of law that safeguard it. Aside from such an economic system (for which I make no claims of automatically perfect functioning), I see no chance of the continued existence of man as he is envisaged in the religious and philosophical traditions of the West. For this reason, I would stand for a free economic order even if it implied material sacrifice and if socialism gave the certain prospect of material increase. It is our undeserved luck that the exact opposite is true.

resurrection_241Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – 1 Peter 1:3

John Wesley said of the new birth, “It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is created anew in Christ Jesus.” A message he often preached was “Since we were born in sin we must be born again.” The resurrection of Christ affirms the everlasting power of Christ to save and deliver humanity from sin and death.

This Easter, Christians all over the world celebrate an event that points to our present and future hope and glory. In American slave and Appalachia culture, the afterlife was always celebrated and stressed through their words and music, because of difficult trials on earth. The resurrection is the real theology of liberation, as Samuel Medley wrote in his great hymn “I Know that My Redeemer Lives:”

He lives to silence all my fears,
He lives to wipe away my tears
He lives to calm my troubled heart,
He lives all blessings to impart.

The resurrection was foundational everyday preaching for the Apostles in the early Church. As witnesses, their focus on the resurrection was also the cause of their persecution by the ruling authorities (Acts 4:3,4). Today some who claim to be ministers of the Gospel deny the miracle of the resurrection or dismiss it as “merely symbolic.” Sadly, they deny Scripture and Church teaching.

The Apostles knew that when they saw the risen Christ they were looking at the beginning and the end of history. The complete purpose and promise of Christ and humanity was made known and it’s an incomparable comfort. Humanity has a purpose and a place to call home. One of the most perplexing and haunting aspects of life is death. Life on earth is all we know and death for so many is very troubling and a topic to be avoided. Many churches and houses of worship avoid it. This is sad and it shows a wide displacement from the early Church and Church Fathers. For the believer, they will share in the resurrection of Christ and “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:42-54).

Often in the burdens that afflict our inner most being we can only find meaning in the resurrection. The trials, despair, and pain of this life crushes us too much. But when we spend our time dwelling on the risen Lord, our despair turns to hope. We know that he will not abandon us or forsake those who love and worship him, especially beyond the grave. The resurrection is a cause for endless celebration. It is the seal that we will fully dwell in the everlasting with the Triune God who created us for relationship with him for his glory.

Today is hung upon the Cross, He Who suspended the Earth amid the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, Who is the King of Angels. He, Who wrapped the Heavens in clouds, is clothed with the purple of mockery. He, Who freed Adam in the Jordan, received buffetings. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a lance, Who is the Son of the Virgin.

We worship Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also, Your glorious Resurrection.

From the Matins of Great Friday in the Orthodox Church.

CBN News interviews Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley on “Theology, Politics & the African-American Community.” His new book, Liberating Black Theology — The Bible and the Black Experience in America, is now available from the Acton Book Shoppe.

Blog author: ken.larson
posted by on Thursday, April 1, 2010

During Holy Week many Christians supplement their religious observances. Some, continuing in a denial that marks Lent; and others choosing to add something to their life in Christ’s worship and ministry. One of the things one can add that for many is sadly not a staple of their daily life is morning and/or evening prayer. In the prayer book that Anglicans use there are many prayers and thanksgivings but on Wednesday I was drawn again to the one “for our country.”

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

Sadly, I haven’t given up the world to the extent I can turn from the topics of the day. Barack Obama has announced an “energy plan” that was almost immediately characterized by those who know about these things as a political gimmick aimed at getting the “Cap ‘n Tax” anti-energy Obama bill through Congress. You know, the one that most experts say will add $1700 to your annual utility bills. (What you should visualize here is me sighing, shaking my head and beating my chest.)

Coincidentally, Psalm 94 was listed in the lectionary for Wednesday’s Morning Prayer.

Deus ultionum

O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth, * thou God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself.

Arise, thou Judge of the world, * and reward the proud after their deserving.

LORD, how long shall the ungodly, * how long shall the ungodly triumph?

How long shall all wicked doers speak so disdainfully, * and make such proud boasting?

They smite down thy people, O LORD, * and trouble thine heritage.

They murder the widow and the stranger, * and put the fatherless to death.

And yet they say, Tush, the LORD shall not see, * neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.

Take heed, ye unwise among the people: * O ye fools, when will ye understand?

He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? * or he that made the eye, shall he not see?

Or he that instructeth the heathen, * it is he that teacheth man knowledge; shall not he punish?

The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, * that they are but vain.

Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, * and teachest him in thy law;

That thou mayest give him patience in time of adversity, * until the pit be digged up for the ungodly.

For the LORD will not fail his people; * neither will he forsake his inheritance;

Until righteousness turn again unto judgment: * all such as are true in heart shall follow it.

Who will rise up with me against the wicked? * or who will take my part against the evil doers?

If the LORD had not helped me, it had not failed, * but my soul had been put to silence.

But when I said, My foot hath slipt; * thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.

In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart, * thy comforts have refreshed my soul.

Wilt thou have any thing to do with the throne of wickedness, * which imagineth mischief as a law?

They gather them together against the soul of the righteous, * and condemn the innocent blood.

But the LORD is my refuge, *and my God is the strength of my confidence.

He shall recompense them their wickedness, and destroy them in their own malice; * yea, the LORD our God shall destroy them.

Don’t you just love the Psalms?

Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico recently delivered a talk on social justice and socialism at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, N.C. The school’s mission is “dedicated to continuing the vital tradition of Catholic education by integrating the very best academic curriculum with the deepest spiritual wisdom of Catholic Christianity.” Rev. Sirico’s talk was part of the school’s Robert L. Luddy Speaker’s Series.

Father Sirico at STMA from Randy Luddy on Vimeo.