All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
Galatians 2:10 NIV
This video is part of an extended interview with Rev. Dr. John Dickson (Director, Centre for Public Christianity and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University) for The Faith Effect, a project of World Vision Australia. (HT: Justin Taylor)
Update: I should also add that a useful collection of primary texts on the social thought of the early church is edited by Peter C. Phan, Social Thought (Michael Glazier, 1984).
The pope turns 85 today. On the website of Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at this most prominent of “status-quo challengers.”
While regularly derided by his critics as “decrepit” and “out-of-touch,” Benedict XVI continues to do what he’s done since his election as pope seven years ago: which is to shake up not just the Catholic Church but also the world it’s called upon to evangelize. His means of doing so doesn’t involve “occupying” anything. Instead, it is Benedict’s calm, consistent, and, above all, coherent engagement with the world of ideas that marks him out as very different from most other contemporary world leaders – religious or otherwise.
Benedict has long understood a truth that escapes many contemporary political activists: that the world’s most significant changes don’t normally begin in the arena of politics. Invariably, they start with people who labor – for better or worse – in the realm of ideas. The scribblings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau helped make possible the French Revolution, Robespierre, and the Terror. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine Lenin and the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia without the indispensible backdrop of Karl Marx. Outside of academic legal circles, the name of the Oxford don, H.L.A. Hart, is virtually unknown. Yet few individuals more decisively enabled the West’s twentieth-century embrace of the permissive society.
Read “Benedict XVI: God’s Revolutionary” by Samuel Gregg on Crisis.
John L. Allen, Jr., at the National Catholic Reporter, took note of the address recently given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, just as Acton did. Allen’s blog post, which referenced Acton’s Samuel Gregg and his National Review Online piece, noted that the Cardinal posed some very specific and probing questions for business people who wish to integrate their spiritual life and work life:
- Am I creating wealth, or am I engaging in rent-seeking behavior? (That’s jargon for trying to get rich by manipulating the political and economic environment, for example by lobbying for tax breaks, rather than by actually creating something.)
- Is my company making every reasonable effort to take responsibility for unintended consequences [such as] environmental damage or other negative effects on suppliers, local communities and even competitors?
- Do I provide working conditions which allow my employees appropriate autonomy at each level?
- Am I making sure that the company provides safe working conditions, living wages, training, and the opportunity for employees to organize themselves?
- Do I follow the same standard of morality in all geographic locations?
- Am I seeking ways to deliver fair returns to providers of capital, fair wages to employees, fair prices to customers and suppliers, and fair taxes to local communities?
- Does my company honor its fiduciary obligations … with regular and truthful financial reporting?
- When economic conditions demand layoffs, is my company giving adequate notifications, employee transition assistance, and severance pay?
Allen points that this document will be concretely useful: retreats for business people, a foundational document for business education, etc. He says, ‘… it manages to bring Catholic social teaching down to earth without actually floating a single concrete policy proposal. Instead, it asks hard questions and trusts people of intelligence and good will to figure out the right answers.’
I had the privilege of giving the opening lecture last night for the “Limited Government and the Rule of Law” conference taking place here in Grand Rapids this weekend. The talk was on “Christian Origins of Limited Government,” and was followed by an excellent Q&A session.
One of the questions had to do with economic consequences or effects of the Fall into sin, particularly with respect to the curse. There are of course myriad implications for economics from the curse, starting first with the recognition of the toilsome nature of labor in the fallen world:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Presumably this means that human work isn’t as productive as it would be otherwise. One practical effect of this is scarcity. Fallen work doesn’t produce as many goods and services as non-fallen work; and it would seem there are in fact both qualitative and quantitative consequences for the fruits of human labor. The noetic effects of sin would have some implications here, as well, as it may be that Adam’s insights into the nature of the world were adversely effected. Where he had previously known the nature of things by immediate perception, this insight may well have been clouded. Certainly, as Abraham Kuyper notes, we no longer possess that direct insight that Adam had before the Fall.
So if we understand economics to be, at least from one perspective, reflection on the dynamic between limited resources and unlimited needs, wants, or desires (as Victor Claar described it in his talk on envy earlier this week), then we have clear implications for economics on the scarcity side stemming from the curse.
But I would also argue that the curse has impacted the other half of the dynamic as well. Our desires have become disordered, inordinate, and confused. We want the things we shouldn’t, and we want the things we should want more than we should want them. The acquisitive, grasping, desiring side of human nature is unmoored from and detached from its natural human limits and orientation. We see evidence of this disorder in the aspect of the curse that is applied to the wife: “Your desire will be for your husband, / and he will rule over you.”
So if the curse was the introduction of scarcity into human life, it also was the introduction of desires no longer appropriately limited by obedience to God’s will. Economics in this fallen world deals directly with these (and other) consequences of the curse.
Dismal science, indeed!
For myself, Reformation study was critical to my own spiritual formation. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand is just one book that has had a lasting impact in my life.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Witness by Whittaker Chambers. We have a superb article by Richard Reinsch on the deep influence of Witness and its relevance today. Reinsch authored the exceptional Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary in 2010. I reviewed the book in a past issue of R&L.
James Franko contributed an essay from a classically liberal perspective on “A Case for Limiting Caesar.” I’ve contributed a review of Mark Tooley’s new book Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.
The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson, of course, would do much to shape the notion of rights in the American colonies.
Let me also say something about the expansion of Rev. Robert Sirico’s column for this issue. We have excerpted a passage from his new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. It will be available from Regnery in May of this year. Anybody who is an admirer or feels they can learn something from Rev. Sirico will cherish this publication. It really serves to remind us all just how much the Acton Institute and its mission makes sense.
There is more in this issue. Check out the editor’s notes for all the details.