Posts tagged with: alexis de tocqueville

left v. rightIn today’s American Spectator, Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg notes that left-wing politicians, supporters of socialism, and social engineers seem to have taken over – not just in American politics, but globally. Why? Gregg suggests three reasons:

One abiding cause of the left’s on-going ascendency, I’d suggest, is that the visible weakening of orthodox religion throughout the West. As the 20th century Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac observed, liberalized forms of Judaism and Christianity don’t involve abandonment of a desire for the transcendent. Man, he claimed, remains homo religiosus. The yearning for the eschaton subsequently gets channeled by liberal religion into the pursuit of this-worldly commitments …

A second enduring dynamic that’s boosting the left’s forward-march, and which is perhaps even less curable by policy-changes. It is, in a word, democracy. (more…)

Alexis_de_tocqueville_croppedWhat is social justice? Is it a vision of a perfectly just society? Is it an ideal set of government policies? Is it a particular theory or practice? Is it a virtue? A religious concept? A social arrangement?

In a lecture at Acton University on his forthcoming book, Social Justice: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Michael Novak sought to answer some these questions with a particular framework around intermediary institutions.

Offering a broad survey of the term’s origins, history, and modern use and application, Novak countered modern misconceptions of social justice (e.g. as another word for equality), and sought to outline a definition that’s (1) connected to the original understanding, (2) ideologically neutral, and (3) applicable to current circumstances.

Leaning first on Pope Leo XIII for an original understanding, he proceeded to channel Alexis de Tocqueville, describing social justice in terms of our activity in basic, day-to-day associations. This begins with religion, of course, which “dominates our hearts,” he said, without the support of the state, and in turn, transforms our orientations and imaginations toward citizens, institutions, and law. With this as the basic order of things, social justice begins when the individual rightly understands his relation to God, and proceeds to engage with civilization accordingly. (more…)


Fr. Matthew Baker

Alexis de Tocqueville, observing the young United States in the 1830s, wrote, “Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.” In the midst of recent tragedy — the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker, a Greek Orthodox priest killed in a car accident this past Sunday evening, leaving behind his wife and six children — it is a source of hope to see that this American associational persistence is still alive in the present.

Without hesitation, friends of Fr. Matthew set up a page at the crowd funding site gofundme, and they have already raised a tremendous sum to support Presvytera Katherine and the children.

The loss of Fr. Matthew has been felt far beyond Orthodox Christian circles and close friends. Americans across the country, utilizing modern technology for this good work, have come together across confessional lines to help a family they have never personally known.

As for myself, I had only just begun to know Fr. Matthew. I regret that is all I can say. We both were contributors to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and belong to a Facebook group related to our writing there. I had just spoken with him (via Facebook) the previous night, not even 24 hours before his death. (more…)

Blog author: sstanley
Thursday, January 15, 2015


Walter Berns receiving the National Humanities Medal in 2005

Resident Scholar at AEI and Georgetown University Professor Emeritus of Government, Walter Berns, passed away on January 10, 2015. Director of Istituto Acton, Kishore Jayabalan, recently reflected on his time in Bern’s classroom and how that greatly influenced him:

Simply put, I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t audited the last course he taught at Georgetown. Slogging away as an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, I dreamt of graduate school while taking Latin and Greek courses at the Department of Agriculture night school (who knew such things existed at taxpayer expense?), but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. On the advice of my friend John J. Miller, I called Mr. Berns, who immediately told me he was about to retire from teaching and would be of little help to me for future studies. I replied that I only wanted to audit his course, which he very graciously let me do.


imageIn an increasingly atomizing and alienating culture, what role does the church play in holding the fabric of civilization together?

Over at the Evangelical Pulpit, Bart Gingerich offers a hearty response, albeit by way of answering a rather different question: Why do folks abandon the church, particularly those who still believe in Jesus?

Although plenty of disaffected church-ditchers have undergone deep shifts in basic doctrine and belief, Gingerich observes that, for many, “the abandonment testimonies seem fueled more by embarrassment and bad experiences.” If this is the key driver, he continues, such departures may have just as much to do with the typical failings of human organizations in general as they do with the church in particular.

“Humans in groups can be jerks, make mistakes, have blind spots, and mishandle all sorts of cases,” he writes. “Many of the ‘I’m leaving or taking a break from church because people hurt me’ manifestos could just as easily been authored about the local Ruritans, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, Garden, or Women’s Club.”

But therein lies the issue: “Few under the age of 40 participate in such societies any more.” (more…)

envyActon’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, ponders “Envy In A Time Of Inequality” in today’s American Spectator. Envy, he opines, is the worst human emotion. From the time that Cain killed Abel to today’s “near-obsession with inequality,” Gregg says envy is driving public policy…and that’s not good.

The situation isn’t helped by the sheer looseness of contemporary discussions of economic inequality. Inequality and poverty, for instance, aren’t the same things. That, however, doesn’t stop people from conflating them. Likewise, important distinctions between inequalities in income, wealth, education, and access to technology are regularly blurred. As recalled in a paper recently published by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, wealth inequalities can have greater impact upon people’s comparative abilities to build up capital for the future than income inequality. Yet we spend most of our time anguishing about the latter.


burialMany people once viewed politics merely as a form entertainment. We could all collectively laugh at the likes of Edwin Edwards even if he was notoriously corrupt. Many folks in Louisiana embraced the former governor for his antics and not merely for his ability to fix every problem in the state. I’m certainly not defending Edwards’s criminal past, but now we look to every politician to solve society’s problems, as if politics could. Because politics is now life and death for so many, it has become too serious for entertainers.

Now the deaths of famous people like Robin Williams are routinely politicized. You’ve probably seen this if you pay attention to social media, 24 hour news shows, or talk radio. Over a decade ago, the Paul Wellstone funeral turned into partisan pep rally for rigid collectivism and electoral success. Politics is everywhere and now in everything. It’s saturated in sports, education, the military, the weather, and history, to just name a few. My own alma mater, The University of Mississippi, is looking to shed its well known and affectionate nickname “Ole Miss” because it could be perceived as politically incorrect.

Now that death is becoming more and more politicized, it’s a powerful reminder of the surge of secularism in society. Death needs to be politicized to give death meaning given that politics is becoming all consuming and the pinnacle of life for so many. Politicizing death expresses, perhaps unbeknown to those guilty of it, this sentiment that there is little or nothing of worth beyond this world. More important to them is the here and now and attempting the impossible, fixing society through politics.