If you missed Acton’s Anniversary Dinner on October 24th, well, you sort of blew it. A packed house welcomed noted satirist, student of stupidity, political reporter (but I repeat myself), and all-around fun guy P.J. O’Rourke to Grand Rapids, and he came prepared to let the audience know just how unprepared he was to address an Acton Institute function:
There was something wrong with Zhang’s dog. The Chinese man had bought the Pomeranian on a business trip, but after he brought it home he found the animal to be wild and difficult to train. The dog would bite his master, make strange noises, and had a tail that mysteriously continued to grow. And the smell. Even after giving the mutt a daily bath Zhang couldn’t bear the strong stink.
When he could take it no longer, Zhang sought help from his local zoo in Tunkou. They informed him that the dog was not a dog at all — it was an Arctic fox, a protected rare species.
The Tea Party movement is like Zhang’s dog. For the four years, pundits and politicians have been trying to identify this political animal. Almost everyone thinks they have political movement on their hands, but as many folks recognized years ago the Tea Party “movement” is not really a movement at all. It’s a new title for something old the Republicans have ignored for a long time. A number of astute observers recognized that fact soon after the “Tea Party” movement was born.
“Having looked at the swelling of the Tea Party,” Paul Gottfried wrote in The American Conservative in 2010, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a uniform movement. There are at least three different movements trying to give the impression of being one.” And as Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard said that same year: (more…)
But one of the comments that really stuck out to me concerning DeMint’s move from the Senate to a think tank was his realization about what it would take to change the political culture in Washington. As Joshua Green writes, DeMint had previously worked to get a new brand of GOP legislator elected to Congress, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But later “DeMint gave up trying to purify the party from within.” (more…)
Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg took to the podium on the final night of Acton University 2013 to deliver the closing plenary address for the conference. Below, Gregg closes the conference with a reflection on modern threats to religious liberty, and how the faithful can respond.
Conservatives known for being tough on crime, says Richard A. Viguerie, should now be equally tough on failed, too-expensive criminal programs. They should demand more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety and the well-being of all Americans — including prisoners:
Conservative should recognize that the entire criminal justice system is another government spending program fraught with the issues that plague all government programs. Criminal justice should be subject to the same level of skepticism and scrutiny that we apply to any other government program.
But it’s not just the excessive and unwise spending that offends conservative values. Prisons, for example, are harmful to prisoners and their families. Reform is therefore also an issue of compassion. The current system often turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in, so prison and re-entry reform are issues of public safety as well.
These three principles — public safety, compassion and controlled government spending — lie at the core of conservative philosophy. Politically speaking, conservatives will have more credibility than liberals in addressing prison reform.
Say, did you hear about the big Acton University Audio Fire Sale that’s going on now in the Acton Institute’s Digital Downloads Store? 68 presentations from Acton University 2012 have been marked down a full seventy-five percent, giving you access to an amazing range of talks on topics ranging from Christian Anthropology to Corruption, from Abraham Kuyper to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, from Biblical Foundations of Freedom to Tensions in Modern Conservatism, all for just fifty cents per lecture!
New to Acton and wondering what we’re all about? This is a fantastic way to get to know us. Been with us for the long haul and interested in brushing up on your ethics or economics? Here’s your chance to do that while supporting the work of Acton in the process!
The sale is on right now, and will continue through Monday! Head on over to the Digital Download Store and check out the Acton Audio Fire Sale – you won’t be sorry. What can you expect when you get there? My prediction - savings.
The conservative-libertarian fusionism conversation is gaining new life as discussions and reflections about the state of the Republican party reverberate after last year’s election. Ben Domenech has a particularly worthwhile outline of what he calls a “libertarian populist agenda.”
In one of his discussion posts, Clark Ruper asserts that “a libertarian can be ‘socially conservative’ or ‘socially progressive.’” But he then proceeds to use the research of Boaz and Kirby, which identifies a group as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal-libertarian” as definitive of a new generation of liberty-minded voters. This ambiguity gets precisely at what Domenech calls in today’s edition of The Transom the difficulty posed for fusionism by “the more atheist and agnostic strands of libertarianism, particularly the urban variety.”
It’s easier for these strands to give lip-service to the openness of the libertarian cause to “social conservatives” than to really identify the coherence of conservative social values with libertarianism. This gets precisely at the dynamic I intended to highlight in my initial post about the limitations of libertarianism as a political philosophy of limited government as opposed to a fully-blown world-and-life view. If you think that libertarianism is really a political philosophy that remains largely agnostic about things other than government, then you are more likely to really think that “a libertarian can be ‘socially conservative’ or ‘socially progressive.’” But if you think of libertarianism as an ideological worldview that has to do with maximizing individual choice and autonomy in every conceivable sphere (political or not), then you are much more likely to see libertarianism as entailing social liberalism (or what some conservatives deride as libertinism).
The upshot of this is that I think the key to any constructive fusionism must deal on the basis of seeking liberty in the realm of political economy, something that both conservatives and libertarians ought to be able to unite on. We ought to be able to come together to defend and promote a system of political economy that best promotes human flourishing, particularly by addressing the problem of poverty and the complex challenges of wealth creation. This is in part why I find a movement like the Bleeding Heart Libertarians is encouraging.
In another dialogue about fusionism, Jonah Goldberg asserted that there should always be a “libertarian in the room,” referring to the context of political discussions, because “the libertarian in the room asks the right question: Why is this a job for government?”
I think we might be able to bring Jonah Goldberg and Johnny Cash together on this point, to say that there always ought to be a “libertarian in black” in the room, asking the right questions about what government policies do for the people, particularly the poor. As Johnny sang,
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But is there because he’s a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.
Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes, But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.
My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.
Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.
Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”
In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”
Read more about the contributors and be sure to check out the pieces and follow the discussion over at Cato Unbound.
I don’t plan to update with new posts at the PowerBlog as the discussion develops, but I will add updates to this post as appropriate, so if you want to discuss, the comments here are the best place to do that.
Update (5/21/13): I follow up and ask some questions about history and liberty. As Lord Acton said, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.” But if conservatives and libertarians differ on their views of tradition, what might that mean for the significance of history?