There are only a few days left to register for the AU Online session, Private Charity: A Practitioner’s View! This online session will take place on March 27 and feature highly-rated Acton lecturer and current U.S. Regional Facilitator for Partners Worldwide, Rudy Carrasco. In a lecture that blends the theoretical with real-life encounters and stories, Rudy shows how using local knowledge and resources unavailable and unsuited to public agencies is vital for effective charity.
Michael Matheson Miller, Acton’s Director of Media, recently made an appearance on NPO Showcase, a community access show here in the Grand Rapids area, to discuss the PovertyCure initiative. The full 15 minute interview is available for viewing below:
Spring is almost here! In celebration of my favorite season, I invite you to visit the new and improved AU Online website. There, you’ll find information about the spring 2012 course offerings and enjoy free access to Acton’s core curriculum, our four part foundational series.
Our first live session, Private Charity: A Practitioner’s View, will take place March 27 and feature the highly rated Acton lecturer Rudy Carrasco speaking from his years of experience on the front lines of urban ministry in Pasadena, California. In a lecture that blends the theoretical with real-life encounters and stories, Rudy shows how using local knowledge and resources unavailable and unsuited to public agencies is vital for effective charity.
For more information or to register for a course, visit the AU Online website. Also, for those local to the Grand Rapids, Mich. area, Rudy Carrasco will be giving the second lecture in the 2012 Acton Lecture Series, called, Business as Mission 2.0. For more information or to register, visit http://www.acton.org/program/als/business-mission-20.
Acton’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller joined host Dave Jaconette this morning on WJRW Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan for an interview touching on a number of subjects including 3rd world poverty, Kony 2012, entrepreneurship in the developing world, and even a discussion of the HHS mandate issue.
The interview lasts about 20 minutes; Listen via the audio player below:
Looking 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.
Bebbington 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.
On February 16th, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico spoke to an audience in Phoenix, Arizona, delivering an address entitled “The Moral Adventure of the Free Society.” We’re pleased to bring you the audio of that address via the audio player below:
Dr. Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, has become something of a regular guest on Kresta in the Afternoon of late; below you’ll find audio of his two most recent appearances.
Leading off, Sam appeared with host Al Kresta on February 15th to discuss Pope Benedict’s concept of the dictatorship of relativism in the context of the HHS mandate debate, and the potential consequences of the death of absolute truth. Listen via the audio player below:
Then, on the 22nd, Dr. Gregg made another appearance with Kresta to discuss the concept of ordered liberty, contrasting the concepts of freedom for excellence vs. freedom of indifference. You can listen to the interview below, and if you’re interested, head over to the Acton bookshoppe to pick up a copy of On Ordered Liberty, his book on the same topic.
The Catholic High School Honor Roll, a biennial list of America’s top 50 Catholic high schools, will now be sponsored by The Cardinal Newman Society, beginning with the 2012-13 Honor Roll application period. The Acton Institute, which has sponsored the Honor Roll since its inception in 2004, is turning the program over to The Cardinal Newman Society.
“It has been gratifying to see how the Catholic High School Honor Roll has grown to be a reliable standard for faithful Catholic education. In order to insure its continued growth, it seems logical to us that its mission be entrusted to a fine organization with a solid track record to take it to the next level,” states Fr. Robert Sirico, president and co- founder of the Acton Institute.
The Acton Institute encourages all past participants to continue utilizing the Catholic High School Honor Roll as a means of measuring academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education, and congratulates The Cardinal Newman Society for its on-going efforts to renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic education. Please watch the Catholic High School Honor Roll website for further updates and announcements.
Also, please note that the new Honor Roll project manager, Mr. Bob Laird, will be sending a separate e-mail introducing himself to the Honor Roll schools. He is available at HonorRoll@CardinalNewmanSociety.org, 703/367-0333, ext. 103.
A couple of Acton radio appearances to let you know about: First of all, Acton’s Director of Research Dr. Samuel Gregg joined host Al Kresta yesterday to discuss the modern papacy on Kresta in the Afternoon. He focused on the social and political thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:
Additionally, Acton’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller provided some additional commentary on the controversy surrounding the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate decision on America’s Radio News, which you can listen to below:
Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Acton’s Rome Office, was called upon this morning by America’s Morning News to weigh in with the view from Rome on the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate that most employers – including religious institutions – provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs as part of health care coverage. He did so, and you can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:
Previous Acton commentary on the mandate decision:
Audio: Dr. Donald Condit on the Trampling of Conscience Protections
Jayabalan: Obamacare vs. the Catholic Bishops
Dr. Samuel Gregg: Obama and the Dictatorship of Relativism