Archived Posts January 2013 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gadsden_flag.svgAmerica, for the obvious reasons, holds strong ties to Europe. But it is a country that has primarily been associated with a distinctness and separation from the turmoil and practices of the continent. In his farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans about remaining separate from European influence and declared, “History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Class strife, conflict, and instability already long characterized the European fabric at the time of the American Revolution. Likewise, many American colonists already thought of themselves as free and distinct before the revolt. At the time of the revolution, some 400 wealthy noble families controlled Great Britain. America had an aristocracy for sure, but it was much more merit based than Europe. It embodied a more egalitarian spirit, local communities were culturally connected and would have been suspicious of attempts at centralization. So obviously countless problems ignited and there was a fanning of flames when the Crown started making decrees and commands of the American colonists.

I have a copy of Sam Gregg’s Becoming Europe, which is next on my reading list. The recent calls for gun control and the curtailing of 2nd Amendment Rights out of Washington immediately reminded me more of the American – European divide. I’d point you to Gregg’s work for the formative economic study on our evolution towards European democratic socialism, but I want to make a few short observations on the topic, which might be beneficial to expand on after I read Becoming Europe. (more…)

480px-Candlemas_(Greece,_Benaki,_17_c.)In the most recent issue of Theosis (1.6), Fr. Thomas Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest, iconographer, and columnist, has an interesting contribution on the upcoming feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (also known as Candlemas or the “Meeting of the Lord”). For many, February 2nd is simply the most bizarre and meaningless American holiday: Groundhog Day. However, for more traditional Christians, this is a major Christian feast day: the commemoration of the forty day presentation of Christ at the Temple in Jerusalem (December 25 + 40 days = February 2; for the biblical account, see Luke 2:22-40).

In his installment on “Applied Byzantine Liturgy” (pp. 54-56), Loya writes regarding this feast that it, like all liturgy, transforms our vision and thereby ought to be “applied to every aspect of life.” He writes,

When we say, “applied to every aspect of life” we really, really meant it: the economy, the environment, politics, education, healthcare, marriage, family, sexuality, law, work, unions, management, etc, etc. Did you notice how many of the words in this last sentence were some of the “hot button” words of our day? Have you also noticed how none of the areas that these words denote is functioning well today? There is one reason—lack of the correct vision and the application of the correct vision. (more…)

On Monday, January 28, the Rev. Robert Sirico participated in a debate, hosted by the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, on the role of government in helping the poor. Fr. Sirico debated Michael Sean Winters, a writer with the National Catholic Reporter, on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The priest said during the debate that with the “overarching ethical orientation” a capitalist economy needs, it can provide for the needs of the poor. No solution, he said, will “get around the necessity of morally transforming society.”

He maintained that the free market is “morally neutral” and that the human actors in the market must bring good morals to it.

Winters argued that the free market system is not morally-neutral. Both men were dismissive of the theory of distributism, which upholds the right to private property but seeks to maximize the number of owners of that property.

While he believes distributism “is one of the legitimate approaches to an economy,” Fr. Sirico also thinks there are problems with it, calling it more of a “moral, aesthetic critique of forms of crass capitalism” than “an economic system.”

And Winters expressed having “a hard time seeing how we get from here, to any of the distributivist proposals I’m familiar with.”

Acton hopes to have a video of the debate posted on the PowerBlog early next week. For now, read “Catholic Thinkers Debate Government’s Role in Helping Poor” at the Catholic News Agency.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the 1880s America’s most flighty fad was fowl-bedecked fashion.

bird-hat“Trendy bonnets were piled high with feathers, birds, fruit, flowers, furs, even mice and small reptiles,” writes Jennifer Price, “Birds were by far the most popular accessory: Women sported egret plumes, owl heads, sparrow wings, and whole hummingbirds; a single hat could feature all that, plus four or five warblers.” The result was the killing of millions of birds, including many exotic and rare species. Reporting on the winter hat season in 1897, Harper’s Bazaar declared, “That there should be an owl or ostrich left with a single feather apiece hardly seems possible.”

Americans outraged by this senseless destruction of wildlife launched, as Price says, “the first first truly modern conservation campaign” in the 1890s—decades before John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and others made conservation efforts popular. Over the next two decades a flock of legislation began to be passed to protect birds, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA).

Appearing 55 years before the Endangered Species Act, the statute made it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell specific migratory birds, including bald eagles, barn owls, and mourning doves. The federal law became an important conservation tool, a means of preventing the wanton slaughter of wildlife for trivial commercial reasons.

But tools can often be used as weapons, and the Obama administration has used the MBTA as a bludgeon against the oil and gas industry. Last year the executive branch argued that the MBTA should be broadly interpreted to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death, and used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2013

Right Is the New Left
Joy Pullman, Values & Capitalism

Father Robert Sirico, a leader in “morality of capitalism” public arguments, recently spoke at my alma mater, Hillsdale College, on how to think about social justice.

The Piety Myth
Jay W. Richards, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

God’s concern for the poor isn’t some sidelight. It follows straight from what Jesus tells us are the two greatest commandments.

Regulating school-choice markets
Michael McShane, AEI Ideas

School choice advocates have been looking for a regulatory sweet spot for private school choice programs for years. Too much regulation, the story goes, will unnecessarily restrict the schools that participate, and too little will make the market a free-for-all that risks harming as many children as it helps.

Economic Stagnation & the Administrative State
Mario Loyola, National Review

It’s possible that one day American civilization will collapse under the weight of unnecessary rules, and the runaway regulatory state will come to some biblical end.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2013
"I'll just walk the earth."

“I’ll just walk the earth.”

It may not be very pious (although there is a very memorable apocryphal quote from Ezekiel 25:17), but Pulp Fiction is perhaps my favorite movie.

There’s a scene where Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), two hit men, are in a diner discussing their future.

Jules contends that he and Vincent have just experienced a miracle, and he plans to change his life accordingly. After finishing their current job, Jules says, “I’ll just walk the earth.” Vincent, who does not agree that their lives were miraculously spared, is incredulous: “What’cha mean, ‘walk the earth’?” To this Jules responds, “You know, like Caine in Kung Fu: walk from place to place, meet people, get into adventures.”

Vincent just can’t understand this. “You’ve decided to be a bum. Just like those pieces of [expletive deleted] who sit out there who beg for change, sleep in garbage bins and eat what I throw away. They got a name for that, Jules. It’s called ‘a bum.’ And without a job, residence, or legal tender, that’s exactly what you’re going to be: a [expletive deleted] bum.”

A recent essay from Peter Berger examines what is often unexplored in social thought: the experiences of those at the margins. I’m referring to those who are not marginalized because they are oppressed; those types get a good deal of attention, although perhaps not of the quantity or the quality that they warrant.

What I’m talking about are those who in some way live at the margins on purpose. In “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!” Berger takes a look at a few different types: the flea market vendor, the cowboy, the hobo. He writes that these and other types (such as the Roma in Europe) exemplify a kind of practical anarchism, to be distinguished from ideological anarchism. “Anarchism as a political ideology typically begins with senseless murders and ends in tyranny,” he writes, but “there is a root insight, not in anarchist theories, but in what could be called an anarchist sensibility. The insight is that most institutions are based on fictions, often homicidal ones, and that individual freedom is a precious and precarious commodity that must ever again be defended–both against the coercive institutions of modernity and against the more subtle coercion of traditional community.”
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Several of my friends on Facebook pages posted a link to David Dunn’s Huffington Post essay on gun control (An Eastern Orthodox Case for Banning Assault Weapons). As Dylan Pahman posted earlier today, Dunn, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is to be commended for bringing the tradition of the Orthodox Church into conversation with contemporary issues such as gun control. As a technical matter, to say nothing for the credibility of his argument, it would be helpful if he understood the weapons he wants to ban. Contrary to what he thinks, semi-automatic weapons can’t “fire a dozen shots before a fallen deer even hits the ground.” Like many he confuses machine guns (which are illegal anyway) and semi-automatic weapons (not “assault weapons”). Putting this aside I have a couple of objections to his application of a principle from the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, economia, to the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms.

Dunn is correct in his assertion that economia says that the “letter of the law is subordinate to the needs of the soul.” But (and again, Dylan pointed this out) Dunn is a more than bit off when he says that a priest “might choose to ignore” the canonical tradition if “enforcing a canon is going to make someone feel ashamed, despair, or leave the church.” While there are times when a priest might tolerate a sin, what Dunn describes in his essay seems closer to moral expedience than pastoral prudence. Sin is still sin and while a priest might at times take a more indirect or a lenient approach to a person struggling with a particular sin, this is a matter of pastoral prudence in the case of an individual.  Dunn fundamentally misunderstands, and so misapplies, the canonical tradition to his topic. And he does so because he blurs the difference between pastoral prudence and public policy. Contrary to what radical feminism would have us believe, the personal is not political and this is evidently something that Dunn fails to realize. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Frank Hanna III, CEO of Hanna Capital, LLC, has made Catholic education a special focus. In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Hanna spoke of the challenges, changes and reasons to champion religious education:

The more I looked into the issues of society, the more I became convinced that a lot of our societal failings happen much sooner; so much of the foundation of our failure was happening in our educational system. And that’s what actually got me thinking about education. I was thinking, “If you are going to do your own part in turning the world around, education is the place to start.”

I started to examine it in the secular world, and the more I began to study education, the more I became convinced that the very process of educating a child is inherently a religious undertaking.

Hanna goes on to say that parochial schools are in need of financial renewal, and spoke of the role of parish subsidies:

I think it is worth exploring whether parents should receive the subsidy from the parish or the diocese, rather than the school. In other words, parents who are tithing or who are parish members would receive something of a voucher that they can use at any Catholic school, thereby putting more control into the hands of the parents. Rather than subsidizing schools, we would instead be giving financial help to those parents who need it, and reconsidering whether parents who actually don’t need financial help should still be paying tuition that is subsidized. This is one example of the kind of financial modeling that we might reform.

Read “The State of Catholic Education” in the National Catholic Register.

387px-Rifle_RackUpdate (1/31/2013): David Dunn Responds to my post, Fr. Gregory’s post, and others: here.

Original post:

David J. Dunn yesterday wrote an interesting piece arguing for a ban on assault weapons from an Orthodox Christian perspective (here). First of all, I am happy to see any timely Orthodox engagement with contemporary social issues and applaud the effort. Furthermore, I respect his humility, as his bio statement reads: “his views reflect the diversity of Orthodox opinion on this issue, not any ‘official’ position of the church.” The same applies to my views as well.

I take issue with Dunn, in particular, in his use of the Orthodox principle of oikonomia. As he frames it, it would appear that he has not taken the time to understand it in historical context, distorting his application of the principle to the debate of firearm regulation. Indeed, he appears to have entirely misappropriated this principle, applying it in precisely the opposite manner in which it is traditionally intended. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In March 1933, through various political maneuvers, Adolf Hitler successfully suppressed Communist, Socialist, and Catholic opposition to a proposed “Enabling Act,” which allowed him to introduce legislation without first going through parliament, thus by-passing constitutional review. The act would give the German executive branch unprecedented power. “Hitler’s rise to power is a sobering story of how a crisis and calls for quick solutions can tempt citizens and leaders to subvert the rule of law and ignore a country’s constitutional safeguards,” Anthony Bradley writes. The full text of the essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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