Posts tagged with: europe

On Monday, I linked a podcast that Ancient Faith Radio host Kevin Allen did with Metropolitan Antony, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, about the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. Allen has followed up with another interview, this one with Ukraine expert James Jatras, a former U.S. diplomat, U.S. Senate staffer and a member of the American Institute of Ukraine. Jatras talks about a number of issues, including the legal basis — or lack thereof — of the current government in power, deep seated government corruption on all sides, the prospect for elections, Church-State relations, and insights into Ukraine’s trade relations with both the West and Russia. The current situation, he warns, is fraught with risks on all sides.

“Will they be able to hold elections?” he asks. “Will violence break out in other parts of the country? Let’s hope not. I think ultimately a lot of this may be decided by the economy … Whom do you even send the aid to in Ukraine? I don’t think there will be much aid coming to Ukriane from the West. At some point they’re going to turn back toward Russia.”

Jatras continued: “I think somehow, the Europeans especially, and the Russians need to work out some understanding between themselves and … see if they can help promote reconciliation among Ukrainians. And that’s going to be a very tall order.”

Listen to “Ukraine – Another Perspective” on Ancient Faith Radio.

Radio Free ActonIn this edition of Radio Free Acton, Paul Edwards joins our crew to host a discussion of the crisis in the Ukraine, with perspective provided by Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg, Director of Communications John Couretas, and with an insider’s perspective of current events from an evangelical Christian currently residing near Kiev. (Our friend from Kiev remains anonymous in order to ensure his safety and security.) Paul and his guests discuss the geopolitical context of the crisis, the different forces currently acting on the Ukraine that have brought the situation to the current acute state, and the religious and social undertones that are shaping the contours of Ukrainian society as it copes with the unrest.

You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below.

Madonna of Bruges

Madonna of Bruges

Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History is a terrific book regarding a part of World War II history that few are aware of. One of Hitler’s goals was to amass great art for his personal collection, and to built a museum and a cathedral in Linz, Austria. What Edsel calls a “backwater of factories and smoke” would become, in Hitler’s vision, a cultural center to rival anything Europe had ever seen, and in no small part, to vindicate Hitler’s rejection from the Academy of Fine Art Vienna.

In addition, Herman Göring, Nazi Reichsmarschall, also wanted to create a personal collection of fine art, silver, and household items.

And thus, they plundered Europe.

While destroying “degenerate” art (such as Picasso’s and that of Jewish artists), the Nazis took hold of whatever they wished…and they wished for a lot. Göring literally stole train loads of art and furnishings. Michaelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges, the only sculpture of his to reside outside of Italy at the time, was unceremoniously dumped onto mattresses to be secreted away. The Bayeux Tapestry, a 224-foot long medieval work, dating from the 1070s, not only an art piece but a historical document, was hunted by Göring. After being moved to the Louvre for safe-keeping by the French, it was (as were thousands of other art pieces) crated up and hidden by the Nazis. (more…)

“With every passing year, and each new EU bailout, Europeans seem to be forgetting where they came from,” writes journalist David Aikman in a new review of Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. In The Weekly Standard, Aikman commends Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s book for showing how the long post-war project designed to advance European integration, economic security and social welfare has in fact degenerated into government dependency and bureaucratic bloat. The former Time magazine senior correspondent and bestselling author also applauds Gregg for reminding us that Marxist inspired “redistributionism” is really the core problem. Excerpt from the review:

The idea of a European federal superstate as an economic and political entity was never far from the minds of Europe’s key founders. Democratic capitalism was to be the main economic engine of that entity. But as Samuel Gregg points out in this cogently argued study—which frequently refers to Alexis de Tocqueville—whereas the American federal experiment emphasized economic and political freedom as the prerequisites for social prosperity and “human flourishing,” Europe’s postwar program was heavily influenced by social democracy. The goal became economic security for everyone, an idea that required labor-union political power and large bureaucracies to administer the welfare state.

Gregg correctly reminds us that behind social democracy’s stress on fair economic outcomes for Europe’s population lay the fundamental Marxist principle of redistributionism. He certainly does not attribute the European Union’s recent woes to the influence of Marxism, but he assembles a variety of ingredients that add up to what he calls “social Europe,” a social-welfare coterie of EU countries in which general prosperity has declined as economic freedoms have been whittled down. (more…)

Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute and author of Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America can Avoid a European Future, and more recently Tea Party Catholic:The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing, delivered a lecture on November 7th in the Acton Building’s Mark Murray Auditorium focusing on the subject of his latest book as part of the 2013 Acton Lecture Series. We’ve embedded the video of his lecture below; if you’re interested in Gregg’s lecture on his earlier book, you can find that one after the jump.

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Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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Catching Fire

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Tyranny Is the True Enemy,” I explore the latest film installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” I pick up on the theme that animates Alissa Wilkinson’s review at Christianity Today, but diverge a bit from her reading. As she writes, a major aspect of this second part of the series has to do with fake appearances and real substance, and the need to “remember who the real enemy is.”

Wilkinson is upset with the marketing buzz surrounding the film, arguing that it “declaws” the substantive message of the books themselves. There’s an element of truth to this. It comes home especially when watching an interview like this, in which Jennifer Lawrence seems to embody the idea that for a celebrity in today’s culture, “you never get off this train,” as Haymitch puts it to Katniss and Peeta on their own promotional tour.

But in focusing on the distracting nature of commercial merchandising of the films, I argue that Wilkinson ends up distracted from who the real enemy is. There is much that is morally problematic about the way that the Capitol operates. Wilkinson rightly shows the shallow consumerism and sensuality of Capitol couture. But the fact that this isn’t the real enemy, so to speak, can be shown by a bit of thought experiment.

Suppose that the consumption habits of the Capitol were far less odious to our moral sensibilities. Suppose the citizens all lived chaste, upright, and responsible lives in their city. Their oppression of the districts would be no less troublesome for all their virtuous consumption. The decadence of the Capitol only puts the real tyranny over the districts into sharper relief. John Tamny argues that to read Catching Fire as “anything other than a polemic against communistic, brutal government is a certain act of willful blindness.”

I won’t go quite that far, and I don’t agree that the film/book has nothing at all to do with critiquing consumerism, but I do think that such alternative readings often forget who the enemy really is. As Tamny (mis)quotes from Catching Fire, Katniss herself identifies the enemy as the one “who starves and tortures and kills us in the arena. Who will soon kill everyone I love.”

In the opening sequence of “Catching Fire,” Katniss is illegally hunting in an attempt to provide much-needed protein for her family. At one point, Katniss and Gale come across a flock of wild turkeys. This image is especially striking at the release of this film during the Thanksgiving season.

Far from promising a “turkey in every pot,” President Snow has no regard for the welfare of anyone in the districts. The citizens of the Capitol are all that matter, to the point that people like Katniss have to resort to illegal hunting and the black market for basic necessities like medicine and food.

There is a connection between hedonism and what might be called a “soft” form of tyranny characteristic of the vicious circle between the citizens of the Capitol and the government. And while tyranny in all its forms is to be rejected, the real enemy in the Hunger Games is the hard tyranny of President Snow and his jackbooted thugs. Everything else is, in the end, a distraction.

Blog author: abradley
Friday, November 8, 2013
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franceSince the French Revolution, Americans have glanced over to our friends across the Atlantic Ocean as a model of what a country should not do. That tradition continues. France’s centralized planning of the economy, health care, education, the family, religion, and so on is not working. The New York Times reports:

The pervasive presence of government in French life, from workplace rules to health and education benefits, is now the subject of a great debate as the nation grapples with whether it can sustain the post-World War II model of social democracy.

Well, those who champion economic, moral, and political liberty predicted this ages ago. As expected, government control of French society has crippled France’s “capability to innovate and compete globally.”

What is more, “investors are shying away from the layers of government regulation and high taxes.” Again, not surprising.

The French government continues to raise taxes and create reasons to redistribute workers’ earnings. According to the article, in France “most child care and higher education are paid for by the government, and are universally available, as is health care.” The cost of health care is “embedded in the taxes imposed on workers and employers; workers make mandatory contributions worth about 10 percent of their paycheck to cover health insurance and a total of about 22 percent to pay for all their benefits.” This is unsustainable.
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In a new article at Intercollegiate Review, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the current state of “idea conservatives” and their place in the broader context of American conservative thought encompassing an amazing diversity of ideological subspecies. But it is ideas and core principles, more than anything else, that informs conservatism and its various movements, despite the many fractures and fissures. Gregg makes a compelling case for rooting “conservatism’s long-term agenda” in the “defense and promotion of what we should unapologetically call Western civilization.” His article is the first contribution to ISI’s symposium, “Conservatism: What’s Wrong with it and How Can We Make it Right?” Excerpt from the Gregg article:

… as the French theologian Jean Daniélou S.J. once observed, there is no true civilization that is not also religious. In the case of Western civilization, that means Judaism and Christianity. The question of religious truth is something with which we must allow every person to wrestle in the depths of their conscience. But if conservatism involves upholding the heritage of the West against those who would tear it down (whether from without and within), then conservatives should follow the lead of European intellectuals such as Rémi Brague and Joseph Ratzinger and invest far more energy in elucidating Christianity’s pivotal role in the West’s development—including the often complicated ways in which it responded to, and continues to interact, with the movements associated with the various Enlightenments.

Such an enterprise goes beyond demonstrating Christianity’s contribution to institutional frameworks such as constitutional government. Conservatives must be more attentive to how Judaism and Christianity—or at least their orthodox versions—helped foster key ideas that underlie the distinctiveness of Western culture. These include: (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Thursday, September 5, 2013
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Simon Vouet - La Richess - c. 1633Sustained prosperity is new and sustained prosperity for masses of people is completely unprecedented. What is sustained prosperity? It’s three or more generations of people who do not need to focus on survival or live in economic depression, but who can live comfortably even if they live paycheck to paycheck.

The only people who previously enjoyed sustain prosperity were the aristocratic landowners and royals especially of Europe and Asia. After the industrial revolution a few business men and bankers were added to that list but only if their wealth was handed down for more than two generations. No even we do.

Isn’t this the definition of the very rich? Yes, but what is new is that the entire group of people we call the ‘middle class’ has also become comfortable in the four generations since WWII.

How big is the middle class? Even though there are billions who do not enjoy this prosperity, fully 1.80b people are in the global middle class today (and another .15b people are rich). Of that 1.8b there are 18% who live in the U.S., another 36% live in Europe, and 20% are in the BRIC nations.

How did so many join the middle class? It was through the opportunities of new businesses, new inventions, a new high level education for the public, and new skill and knowledge based jobs. These are only possible where there is liberty and governments that allow businesses to prosper.

Why do Africa, the Mid-East, and Latin America have a very small middle class population? Because those regions still retain the old definitions of aristocratic and inherited wealth. That’s the polite way to say it. The reality is more that corrupt governments have plundered their own nations and their own people by corralling the wealth of the land including oil and minerals for themselves.
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Humility is probably one of the most difficult human virtues to achieve. For me, as a Hungarian intern at the Acton Institute, listening to Samuel Gregg’s June lecture in Grand Rapids on his new book, Becoming Europe about the Old Continent’s crisis is instructive. Relations between the United States and major European powers have been testy from time to time, of course, but Europe seems to lack self-criticism.

Aging Europe, an unsustainable social model, a two-speed Europe: these are some key expressions we hear about Europe every day. Each of these phrases reflects a problem with the evolution of European society and the free market. Actually, it seems as if the continent is living out its teenager years unsure whether to commit to social-democracy or the free market. Meanwhile, doing both of them wrong. As we can expect from a teenager, the symptoms refer to deeper-rooted problems. (more…)