Posts tagged with: Acton Massachusetts

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a 7-part series from the Acton Institute that seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Each Monday until August 18 The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is highlighting one episode and sharing an exclusive code for a free 72-hour rental of the full episode.

Here’s the trailer for episode 5, The Economy of Wonder.

Visit TGC to get the code for the free rental (you have to apply the code today, but once you do the rental is free for 72 hours).

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Christian churches in the West have been focused on redistribution of income rather than the creation of wealth, says Brian Griffiths in this week’s Acton Commentary.

Through much of the post-war period in the West, the formation of economic policy was dominated by Keynesian activism on the part of governments seeking an increasing role in providing public services, reducing material poverty, and reshaping income redistribution.

In the United States, President John F. Kennedy launched the New Frontier program and his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, soon after embarked on what came to be called the Great Society. In both cases, emphasis was placed on increasing the role of the state in order to solve problems of poverty and destitution. In intellectual terms, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith made the case for trade unions and government becoming “countervailing powers” in capitalist economies in order to check the power of large corporations. In Britain, Harold Wilson nationalized various industries, developed a national plan, a comprehensive prices and incomes policy, and extended the scope of the welfare state. Across the Channel and Rhine, the Social Democrat Willy Brandt was a major influence in extending the role of government in social policy throughout West Germany.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Acton Institute President and Cofounder Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Josh Tolley on The Josh Tolley Show on the GCN Radio Network to discuss the recent meeting at the Vatican between Pope Francis and US President Barack Obama. Sirico speaks about the discrepancy between the White House and Vatican recaps of the meeting and how that reflects the different purposes that the leaders had for the meeting as well as their different approach to dealing with social problems.

You can listen to the interview using the audio player below.

John-Henry-NewmanThe University of Manchester has announced plans to digitize the holdings of the Cardinal Newman archive. Among the roughly 200,000 items of handwritten and other unpublished materials are 171 files of letters to (and from) “particular individual correspondents.”

One such correspondent of particular interest is Lord Acton. A selection of Acton’s correspondence with Newman is available digitally courtesy of the Online Library of Liberty. Lord Acton’s periodical, The Rambler, is also the subject of seven separate files of Newman’s correspondence “concerned with various specific issues,” according to the checklist available from the national archives (PDF).

More information on the digitization project is available from the National Institute for Newman Studies, and project updates are available here.

For more on liberalism and the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century, see The Acton-Newman Relations: The Dilemma of Christian Liberalism, by Hugh A. MacDougall (Fordham University Press, 1962). 

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thomas Babington MacaulayLooking through my back stacks of periodicals the other day I ran across a review in Books & Culture by David Bebbington, “Macaulay in the Dock,” of a recent biography of Thomas Babington Macaulay. The essay takes its point of departure in Lord Acton’s characterization of Macaulay as “one of the greatest of all writers and masters, although I think him utterly base, contemptible and odious.”

As Bebbington writes, “Acton, a towering intellectual of the later 19th century, was at once a strongly ideological Liberal and an entirely faithful Catholic. He considered Macaulay insufficiently liberal, and Acton, as somebody aware of the eternal law of God, felt bound to censure the historian.” It is one of the marks of Lord Acton’s historical approach that he was unwilling to bracket the question of morality from his historical judgment. As Acton contended, “Moral precepts are constant through the ages and not obedient to circumstances.” The historian could not thus proceed as if such a moral order did not exist, or was irrelevant, to the events and actions of the past. In an essay on Acton’s view of the historian, Joseph Altholtz describes Acton’s “ideal of the historian as judge, as the upholder of the moral standard.”

The biography of Macaulay at issue is by Robert E. Sullivan, who Bebbington describes as “also of liberal inclinations; and he, too, is a loyal Catholic with a firm moral outlook. The result is a biography treating Macaulay as base, contemptible, and odious.” So in one sense, argues Bebbington, what we have in Sullivan’s work is an Acton-esque biography of Macaulay, which takes into account and, indeed, passes severe moral judgment on Macaulay.

As Bebbington concludes, the biography “is less history than indictment. Macaulay stands charged with being corrupted by power—not so much his own power, even though he sat in parliament and was twice a government minister, as the power wielded by Victorian Britain.” Macaulay was captured by the triumphalism of an empire at the height of its powers, and thus propagated an imperialistic ethic:

Macaulay pandered to his country’s taste for self-aggrandizement when it was unequivocally the most powerful nation on earth. Most crucially, he sanctioned genocide: “it is in truth more merciful,” wrote Macaulay in an essay of 1838, “to extirpate a hundred thousand human beings at once, and to fill the void with a well-governed population, than to misgovern millions through a long succession of centuries.” Sullivan returns to this judgment again and again, clearly deeply troubled by it. He is outraged that Macaulay has benefited over the intervening period from silence about his “imperial ethic of extermination.” Sullivan will not remain silent.

In this way, Sullivan is seen as taking up Acton’s mantle. For as Bebbington writes, Sullivan’s critical attitude

is very much what Acton might have adopted. Acton famously remarked that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sullivan, who alludes to a version of the dictum at one point without naming Acton, holds it to be true. He also maintains Acton’s principle that the historian must make rigorous moral judgments. For Acton, persecution was an unpardonable crime. In the same way, Sullivan believes that mass murder must be condemned as an execrable evil.

Lord ActonBebbington proceeds to outline many of the potential pitfalls of such an approach, and how they actually come to fruition in Sullivan’s work: “We do not know what allowance has to be made for conditions in the past.” In Bebbington’s view, Sullivan brings a kind of persecuting zeal to his indictment of Macaulay that “turns his book into a pursuit of his quarry for almost every imaginable misdeed.” Bebbington thus concludes, “Macaulay may have shared in the corruption that Acton attributed to any who exercise power, but he was not as black as he is painted here. He was not base, contemptible, and odious.”

Now it must also be said that Lord Acton characterized Macaulay as such in a letter, and not in a work of historical biography. The application of moral critique need not be pressed to the extreme to become relevant to historical judgment. Even if Sullivan’s work applies such moralizing into excess, however, it is not necessarily an indictment of Lord Acton’s approach, for the abuse of a thing is no argument against its proper use.

Indeed, a more thoroughgoing application of Lord Acton’s dictum about the corrupting tendency of power would apply it to the power the historian exerts as well. This stance of sitting in judgment on the far side of history can turn into a kind of self-righteousness, which corrupts the reliability and the veracity of the historian’s work. This is perhaps why Altholtz describes Acton’s view as “the most noble ideal ever proposed for the historian,” but goes on to say that “it is an ideal that has been rejected, perhaps with grudging respect, by all historians, including myself.” As Scripture makes clear, God is the only one who impeccably judges the hearts and deeds of men: “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity,” says the Lord (Psalm 75:2 ESV).

The power of the historian in exercising moral judgments may well tend to corrupt and therefore need to be circumscribed. But this is not an argument against all exercise of such power. It does mean, however, that Lord Acton’s twin ideals of moral judgment and objectivity must be held together, or ultimately not at all.

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 15, 2011

Grand Rapids has been the focus of national attention over the last week or so, most recently for the services surrounding the passing of former First Lady Betty Ford. In the midst of loss and mourning, there’s some cause for levity. See, for instance, this local news story that is getting some coverage around the country, “Angry bird attacks during Ford services.”

I myself have been a victim of this red-winged menace! Some of you may have heard that one of the reasons that Acton University (our premier week-long program held in Grand Rapids) changed venues this year was to accommodate an increase in participants. But now the real reason can be made public: we had to change venues to avoid these angry birds!

Angry Bird!
Well, maybe not. But I still think this red-winged menace must be eliminated! It is a matter of public safety: “The Red-Winged Blackbird can be very aggressive while defending its territory from other animals and birds.” That’s an understatement!

Red Menace