Posts tagged with: adam smith

Blog author: ckaupke
Friday, June 29, 2012

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

This Saturday, June 30, is the 211th birthday of Frédéric Bastiat, one of the greatest political philosophers of the modern era. Considered among the founding fathers of classical liberalism, Bastiat is known for his simple and direct explanations of political and economic realities, his arguments against oppressive economic regulations and his clear and concise vision of a government of limited, enumerated powers, operating under the rule of law and unencumbered by favoritism or distributionist policies.

Bastiat drew on his Catholic faith and the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke to articulate a vision of limited, efficient government that respects each citizen’s God-given dignity, strictly adheres to the rule of law, and allows for a largely un-regulated economy in which individuals are free to pursue their interests through peaceable exchange with each other. His best-known works, and those most central to his ideas, are The Law and The Seen and the Unseen, articulating his central political and economic ideas, respectively. (more…)

Review of The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, by Jonah Goldberg, (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2012)

With proper training, and maybe a bit of experience on the debate team, it’s easy to recognize logical fallacies in an opponent’s argument. When it comes to popular give and take, the sort of thing we have so much of now on opinion websites and news channels, there hasn’t been decent preparation for arguments outside the columns and blog posts of Jonah Goldberg.

In The Tyranny of Cliches, the National Review contributor, syndicated columnist, author of the bestseller Liberal Fascism, and American Enterprise Institute fellow, convincingly demolishes the Left’s oft-repeated, bumper-sticker slogans that seemingly defy repudiation by many who fear being depicted as a heartless jackanape.

For example, if an impassioned public figure pleads that yet another government expansion and encroachment is “for the children” it is therefore ipso facto in the best interests of everyone. This is a “case-closed” logical fallacy that circumvents rational discussion by declaring that if millions of cute kids benefit, only meanies, bullies, or some contemporary amalgamation of Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Darth Vader could oppose it.

Not so fast. Goldberg’s new book wonderfully dissects such liberal shibboleths as “social justice,” “diversity,” attacks on organized religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular, and “separation of church and state” to reveal the hollowness within. In this regard, Goldberg resembles most William F. Buckley, with the difference that the latter stood athwart history yelling stop, and the former stands astride postmodernism to scream “enough!”

France elected a new president yesterday, the socialist Francois Hollande who has vowed to rein in “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism and dramatically raise taxes on the “rich.” Voters turned out Nicholas Sarkozy, the flamboyant conservative whose five-year term was undermined by Europe’s economic crisis, his paparazzi-worthy lifestyle and a combative personality. But Sarkozy’s defeat exposes “a crisis of identity and purpose that presently afflicts much of Europe’s center-right,” according to Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg in a new analysis on The American Spectator.

The reasons for this widespread disarray on Europe’s right are partly structural. Many European electoral systems are designed to prevent any one party from governing in its own right. Many center-right parties consequently find themselves in coalitions with left-leaning groups. This blunts their ability to challenge left-wing social and economic policies.

Tendencies to tepidness are accentuated by the fact that European politics is dominated by career politicians to an extent unimaginable to Americans who don’t reside in Chicago. European center-right politicians are consequently even more focused upon acquiring and staying in office than their American counterparts. That means they are extremely risk-averse when it comes to challenging the European status quo — such as becoming associated with proposals for substantive economic reform or confronting the intolerant leftist hegemony that dominates European educational institutions.

A far deeper problem facing Europe’s center-right, however, is its intellectual-ineffectiveness. By this, I don’t mean that there aren’t any intellectually-convinced European conservatives and free marketers. In fact, there are plenty of such individuals. Their impact upon the public square, however, is minimal.

Such ineffectiveness has several causes. First, most non-left European think-tanks are explicitly associated with existing political parties and usually government-funded. Hence, the willingness of people working in such outfits to criticize their own side for failure to promote conservative principles — something many American think-tanks often do — is limited, if not non-existent.

Gregg also offers suggestions for revitalizing Europe’s conservatives. Read “Europe’s Right in Disarray” by Samuel Gregg on The American Spectator.

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg discusses remarks made by President Barack Obama at a March 30 campaign stop at the University of Vermont. From the White House transcript of the speech, here is some of what the president said:

The American story is not just about what we do on our own. Yes, we’re rugged individualists and we expect personal responsibility, and everybody out there has got to work hard and carry their weight. But we also have always understood that we wouldn’t win the race for new jobs and businesses and middle-class security if we were just applying some you’re-on-your-own economics. It’s been tried in our history and it hasn’t worked. It didn’t work when we tried it in the decade before the Great Depression. It didn’t work when we tried it in the last decade. We just tried this. What they’re peddling has been tried. It did not work. (Applause.)

Gregg on NRO:

… it’s especially noticeable that when insisting we must take care of our neighbor the president said nothing about the role of volunteer associations — or any non-state formation whatsoever — in addressing social and economic challenges. Nor did he mention anything about the often-selfless work of loving our neighbor undertaken by the same religious organizations whose constitutionally guaranteed (and natural) liberty to live, act, and serve others according to their beliefs is being unreasonably constricted by the more ghoulish segments of his administration in the name of “choice.”

Like all good Rawlsians, President Obama finds it hard to conceptualize the possibility that private communities and associations might often be better at helping our neighbor in need than governments. Instead, his instinct is to search immediately for a political state-focused solution. If the president invested some time in exploring the concept of social justice, he would discover that its earliest articulators — mostly mid-19th-century Italian Catholic theologians – thought it should be primarily realized through associations and institutions of civil society with the government playing a supportive, but normally background role.

Read “So Who Is Our Keeper, Mr. President?” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Last week, in reply to a post by Jacqueline Otto, I wrote an article asking What is a Christian Libertarian? Ms. Otto has written an additional reply entitled, “Four Things Christian Libertarians Believe.”


In this week’s Acton Commentary I conclude, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued.”

I admit that I didn’t have this quote in mind (or I would have used it!), but Art Carden (follow him here and read him here) notes the following from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

And following up on the folly of political-driven homeownership for all, Reuters (HT: Drudge) reports that the “New American Dream is renting to get rich.”

The payoff? “So while home ownership may sound glamorous, you need a lot of money to make it work, without much guarantee of positive returns in a post-bubble era.”

This year’s Acton University was very successful, and we are still seeing its effects through blog posts, tweets, and Facebook messages. Some of our PowerBlog readers may be wondering what they missed out on, or would also like to think back a few weeks to their favorite Acton University moments.

To listen to a favorite lecture, or to find out what was missed, remember that Acton University 2011 lectures can be purchased and downloaded for $1.99.

Joe Gorra of the Evangelical Philosophical Society compiled nine interviews with different Acton University faculty who lectured on countless invigorating topics including, sustainability and the environment, ethics, Nietzche’s critique of Christianity and Caitalism, and free markets. Gorra’s post helps of relive some of the memories he had at Acton University, along with give those who weren’t able to attend the conference a taste of what was missed.

Gorra interviews James Otteson, a professor of philosophy and economics at Yeshiva University. Otteson’s course at Acton University was titled, “Adam Smith: Philosopher and Political Economist.” In the interview Ottenson explains some of the misconceptions associated with Adam Smith:

As you know, some hold various misconceptions about Adam Smith and his work. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time studying Smith and his objectors, what would you say are the top misconceptions that scholars or non-scholars often assert about him and his work and how would you respond?

Misconceptions of Smith come from both political directions, as it were. Some have portrayed Smith as a doctrinaire laissez-faire libertarian, while others, more recently, have portrayed him as something like a contemporary progressive liberal. Neither is accurate. His review of the available historical and economic evidence led him to conclude that, after providing protection for people’s lives, liberty, and property, minimal government interference in people’s lives led to prosperity for all—including especially the poor. So he was genuinely concerned about the least among us, and his policy recommendations were based primarily on concerns about their welfare. Yet his recommendation of limited government was presumptive, not absolute: It served as a default to which exceptions could be made if the evidence for the particular case warranted it. I call his position “pragmatic classical liberalism.”

John Bolt, Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, was also interviewed by Gorra. Bolt’s course, which delved into the works of Alexis de Tocqueville, was called “Centralization and Civil Society.” In the interview, Bolt discusses what the concept of “intermediary institutions” means:

Tocqueville’s concept of “intermediary institutions” is central to his vision of civic life and human flourishing. Can you explain the meaning and significance of that in Tocqueville and how it is indispensable to the maintenance of liberty and social cohesion in a civil society?

Tocqueville realized that the great danger in modern, egalitarian democracy lay in our tendency toward what he called “individualism.” In the U.S., at least, we don’t normally consider this a dangerous notion. But for him, individualism implied not heroism, but a kind of retreat into isolated nothingness and an evasion of responsibility for one’s fellow man. This kind of isolation poses dangers to liberty because as lone, equal individuals, we come face to face with our tremendous weakness. We need someone or something to save us, and having denied God (isn’t God the ultimate affront to a deep belief in equality?), we turn to the state.

Intermediary institutions (clubs, local political organizations, community activities, churches, etc.) tie us – really oblige us – to our neighbors. They train us to recognize the ways we can satisfy our various needs without turning to political power to provide the goods we require. He says these associations teach the art of being free and living responsibly. Without them, we will fall out of practice at self-government.

And in a testament to the success of Acton University, Gorra explains in his blog post, “Why the Acton Institute? Philosophy’s Good Beyond Philosophy,” his reasoning to attending the conference:

The work of the Acton Institute (, and especially their annual Acton University conference, is highly hospitable to this sort endeavor. Over the last several years, I have attended Acton University (second time this year, and happening now!), their Toward a Free and Virtuous Society events, and also co-sponsored Liberty Fund and Acton Institute events.

Honestly, I don’t know of any other conference or organization that intentionally affords the Christian philosopher the unique opportunity to engage in such interdisciplinary work at the intersection of theology, economics, and social policy. As a matter of enrichment (personally and professionally), I “come alive” at their gathering, my imagination is cultivated by the possibilities of how the theoretical and practical  goods of philosophy can converge and collaborate with other bodies of knowledge.

Acton’s intellectual architecture is intelligently designed to permit – no, encourage! – the good of philosophy to be utilized in this way.

Click here to read Gorra’s nine interviews with Acton University faculty.