Archived Posts May 2012 » Page 3 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

The problem with communitarianism, claims Bradley C. S. Watson, is that it views religion as an instrumental good and individual virtue as destructive:

Communitarianism comes to sight as a movement that sees, far more clearly than liberalism, that the private sphere and private goods are rooted in, and in turn have an effect on, public goods. President Clinton, as a “new” Democrat, has effectively enlisted the intellectual backing of the communitarian theorists in his efforts to distance himself and his party from the more extravagantly individualist claims of the old left. However, communitarianism is but a liberal wolf in communal clothing. This is a central claim of Bruce Frohnen, a political scientist who is currently a speechwriter for U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham. In The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism, Frohnen argues that the new communitarians eschew the authority of what they see as oppressive tradition, natural law, or traditional religion. For these, they seek to substitute a desiccated, politically nationalizing civil religion, communal loyalty to which will help ensure that their particular vision of the future comes to pass.

Although the precise contours and extent of civil religion are not always fleshed out (by Frohnen, or by the communitarians themselves), it is clear that traditional religion is an instrumental good only, useful to the extent it teaches the intertwined liberal social goods of tolerance, equality, authenticity, and participation in community life. Communitarian virtues are not the Aristotelian ones-courage, moderation, prudence, justice, and so forth-but liberal ones. Indeed, in Frohnen’s interpretation of Bellah, the promotion of individual virtue is at once atomizing and hegemonic, destructive therefore of both liberal community and authenticity.

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Are you attending the 2012 Acton University conference? If so, I can only hope that you are as excited as I am about all of the wonderful things we have planned for the event. To get your mind in gear for the conference, why not participate in a Q&A session with a member of Acton’s staff?

On Wednesday May 30 at 6:00pm ET, we will be organizing an AU Online Q&A session with Dr. Stephen Grabill, director of Programs and International and research scholar in theology. The topics that will be discussed are taken from some of Acton’s core curriculum lectures: Christian Anthropology, Christianity and the Idea of Limited Government, Economic Way of Thinking, and Myths about the Market.

If you would like to join us but find yourself in need of a refresher, don’t worry! The easiest way to familiarize yourself with the topics that will be discussed is to log on to AU Online and watch the four Foundational Lectures.

Visit the AU Online website to find out more information and to register.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, continues to make appearances in the media to promote his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

Today’s appearances include an guest spot this morning on the voice of the Mid-Ohio Valley, WMOV, on WMOV Live with Greg Gack:

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Father Robert was also in-studio today with G. Gordon Liddy, broadcasting nationwide from Washington, D.C.:

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You’ll also be able to listen to Rev. Sirico this afternoon at 5:00 on WLCR AM in Louisville, Kentucky, on the Mike Janocik Show, and be sure to tune in tonight on EWTN for Father Robert’s appearance on The World Over with Raymond Arroyo.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has reviewed Defending the Free Market: The  Moral Case for Free Economy at his popular blog, “What Does the Prayer Really Say”.

This is a timely book, given that we are in a crucially important election cycle in the USA.  Profoundly different visions are on ballot in November.  A major dimension of the different visions involves contingent choices concerning the economy, and therefore jobs, entitlements, etc.  In the last chapter Sirico describes the fictive homo economicus, a the cold and selfish caricature of someone advancing “free market” ideas.

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Income inequality has been around as long as humans have had incomes, yet over the past year it has been presented as one of our economy’s greatest injustices. With so much shoddy zero-sum reasoning being presented, it’s refreshing to find an economist who can apply both sound economic and Biblical thinking to the topic.

Anne Bradley, Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, has a blog series summarizing her research report, “Why Does Income Inequality Exist? An Economic and Biblical Explanation” In her latest post, Bradley explains what the Bible has to say about income inequality: (more…)

Prominent Catholic leaders, including Acton President and Co-founder Fr. Robert Sirico, are speaking out against the deliberate withholding of news regarding the Catholic lawsuit versus the Obama Administration.  ABC World News and NBC Nightly News have given the lawsuit no coverage, and CBS Evening news had 19 seconds of coverage, according to NewsBusters.org.

Here are Fr. Sirico’s thoughts:

The Obama Administration’s assault on religious liberty has united the Catholic Church in a way no one thought possible.  Among those suing the Obama Administration Monday are some of the most prestigious Catholic institutions in America, with many more expected to follow.  These organizations are united in their demand that the government end its unprecedented assault on a once cherished core constitutional principle.  This issue and these lawsuits are historic. The media blackout on these lawsuits confirm the shameful prejudice that is growing against the Catholic Church in America.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Contagious Community,” I look at the positive as well as the negative aspects of coordination and cooperation between human beings on a global scale. The film Contagion provided the occasion for these reflections, and I argue that

while the film is clear about the dangers of globalized human relationships, it also teaches a more subtle lesson. Even as disease represents a danger that can have worldwide impact, such dangers remain the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, the film portrays quite well how global networks of information and exchange are absolutely foundational for our contemporary world.

Abraham Kuyper on Common Grace in Science & ArtI was reminded of this uniquely human social characteristic again while reading through Abraham Kuyper’s Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art this week. Kuyper makes the point that human pursuit of scientific knowledge is a communal endeavor. In fact, he writes,

Science is thus constructed not on the basis of what one person observes, discovers, imagines, and organizes into one system in his or her thinking. Rather, science arises from the fruit of the thinking, imagining, and reflecting of successive generations in the course of centuries, and by means of the cooperation of everyone.

What we have in the case of the development of human knowledge, then, is a communal endeavor defined not just in spatial terms (i.e. globally) but also temporally, including the successive ages of human beings from the past and their discoveries as they have been built upon and communicated to us today.

When discussing the idea of the invisible church, theologians include both the living and dead (who now enjoy the revelation of the blessed in the intermediate state) as making up “the communion of saints.” But similarly with respect to science as a common grace enterprise, we have a communion of common grace that likewise includes the living as well as the dead.

No single person can comprehend science in an “exalted sense,” which for Kuyper “originates only through the cooperation of many people,” the living as well as the dead. In the same way, no single person knows how to manufacture a pencil or build a chair, in part because none of us who are alive today got where we are on our own. We (and our civilization) are the products of those who have come before.

Recognition of this should instill in us a pretty healthy sense of humility and gratefulness for the graces of human community.

Over on The Daily Caller, Jamie Weinstein has an interview with Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, about his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy:

What is the moral case for capitalism?

The moral case for a free economy (I prefer this phrase over the word “capitalism” which is far too narrow and has Marxist roots) is to be found in human nature: the very reality that all people related to the natural world of scarce resources by the use of their minds to create things that were not in existence prior to human creativity. Men and women require freedom to express this productive creativity.

The sixteenth-century priest St. Francis de Sales, when called upon to give pastoral advice to Christians involved in trades and occupations, gave a different answer from what some might expect from a saint: “Have greater care than worldly men do to make your property profitable and fruitful . . . our possessions are not our own. God has given them to us to cultivate and he wants us to make them fruitful and profitable . . . therefore let us exercise this gracious care of preserving and even of increasing our temporal goods whenever just occasions present themselves.”

The system of profit and loss in a free economy can orient our behavioral compass toward activities that serve others, make good use of resources, and prepare us for the future. It doesn’t stop people from serving evil desires or eradicate original sin, but without the price signals in a free economy, our economic activities would be without order.

Read more . . .

Back in February I argued that since bias is inherent in institutions we should encourage the government to be biased toward entrepreneurship and away from corporatism. The result of such a bias would be to favor newer—and presumably smaller—businesses over more established—and presumably larger—ones, thereby reducing the levels of regulatory capture and crony capitalism (at least in theory).

An implicit assumption in my post was that we should value small businesses. But Veronique de Rugy had made a compelling case against “America’s Small-Business Fetish” that has caused me to modify my position:
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As I noted yesterday, I’m in Montreal for the next couple of weeks, and today I had the chance to see some of the student protests firsthand. These protests have been going on now for over three months, and have to do with the raising of tuition for college in Quebec.

I’m teaching at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary, which is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, and is adjacent to Concordia University. As I walked around earlier this week, I noticed the following on one of Concordia’s buildings:

The Right to Education
The text is article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads in part, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

I think that the kinds of protests we are seeing in Quebec might be the inevitable end of the logic of the welfare state. The logic goes something like this:

Education is a right, and should be free, or the next best thing to it. In order for it to be “free,” it must be administered, or at least underwritten, by the state, because we know that the only way to make something appear to be free is to requisition the necessary funds via taxation. This is, in fact, precisely the rationale for the existence of the modern welfare state, in which in the context of the Netherlands, for instance, it is understood to be “the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.”

Education is a right (per the UN Declaration), is constitutive of the general welfare, and a basic need. Thus it must be “fully guaranteed by the government” (to quote Noordegraaf from the Dutch context regarding social security, mutatis mutandis).

The upheavals we are seeing, then, are what happen when we can no longer sustain such guarantees. They are what happen when “free” becomes unaffordable and unsustainable.

This means that the flawed logic of the welfare state will have to be critically reexamined, no small task for a developed world that has steadily built infrastructure according to logic for much of the past seventy years.

For Quebec this does not bode well, as Cardus’ Peter Stockland puts it, “This is a province in the grip of reactionary progressives afflicted with severe intellectual and institutional sclerosis. Their malaise prevents any proposals for change from being given fair hearing, much less a chance of being put into play. Real change, not merely revolutionary play-acting, is anathema in this province.”