Acton’s The Birth of Freedom comes to six PBS stations this Independence Day weekend, and AEI’s Enterprise blog has a good post about the Christian foundations of American freedom and The Birth of Freedom: “It’s a good place to start if you’re interested in recalling, learning, or helping others to learn about the deep roots of the freedom we celebrate every Fourth of July. Those roots define, in part, what it means to be an American citizen.”
PBS Airings This Weekend Tampa Bay, WEDU–July 4th, 9:00 p.m. Carbondale, Illinois, WSIU/WUSI–July 4th, 1:00 p.m. San Diego, KPBS–July 5th, 12:00 am (also July 7th, 4:00 am and July 11th 3:00 a.m.) Baton Rouge, Louisiana Public Broadcasting–July 4th, 8:00 a.m. on LPB2 Grand Rapids, Michigan, WGVU–July 5th, 12:30 a.m. Syracuse, New York, WCNY–July 4, 3:00 p.m.
Last week Acton research fellow Jonathan Witt treated the topic of Tolkien and the free society at the June “Acton on Tap.” I was reminded of this theme when I finished reading C. S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Ed. note: The lack of a serial, or so-called Oxford, comma in that title bothers me.) to my son last night. There’s a beautiful passage towards the end that illustrates what Lewis thought good government looks like:
These two Kings and two Queens governed Narnia well, and long and happy was their reign. At first much of their time was spent in seeking out the remnants of the White Witch’s army and destroying them, and indeed for a long time there would be news of evil things lurking in the wilder parts of the forest—a haunting here and a killing there, a glimpse of a werewolf one month and a rumor of a hag the next. But in the end all that foul brood was stamped out. And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.
This kind of vision is why I’m really at heart a monarchist (even if only of a divine sort).
U·to·pi·a [yoo-toh-pee-uh]- noun – an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More. The opposite of dystopia. ORIGIN based on Greek ou not + tóp(os) a place
Last Exit to Utopia by Jean-François Revel
Note, dear reader, the origin of the term “utopia”: the Greek root indicates that utopia is, literally, nowhere. It is not a place. It does not exist. Sir Thomas More, who first used the term, certainly never considered such a place to be realistically possible. And the truth of the matter is that anyone remotely acquainted with the reality of human nature and history must admit that we do not live in a perfect world, and that such a place would be impossible for fallen humanity to create.
Anyone, that is, besides leftist intellectuals and politicians, who continue to insist – against the overwhelming evidence of history – that socialism can work, that indeed it must work! They argue, in spite of all the plain evidence against them, that socialist solutions are more efficient and equitable than market solutions, and that the classical liberal system that has created the most vibrant societies and powerful economies in world history should be at the very least reined in and subjected to strict scrutiny, and at most outright replaced by a “more humane” socialist system.
Jean-François Revel was a French intellectual, a member of the Académie française, and one of the greatest French political philosophers of the 20th century, at least in the seemingly small branch of 20th century French political philosophy that wasn’t completely enamored of totalitarian schemes. Prior to his death in 2006, he penned a book called Le Grande Parade, which has now been translated into English and re-titled Last Exit to Utopia, in which he exposes the intellectual and moral failure of leftist intellectuals who have served as apologists for the brutal communist regimes that brought misery and death to millions in the last century, and examines the project that was undertaken by the left after the fall of communism to rehabilitate Marxist and socialist ideas.
Revel was no stranger to this type of clear thinking; indeed, as early as 1970 (in an earlier work, Without Marx or Jesus) he was willing to completely dismiss the argument that Stalin had hijacked and warped the course of Lenin’s revolution by noting that “…Neither Lenin, if he had lived, nor Trotsky, if he had remained in power, would have acted any differently from Stalin.” He understood that the problems in socialist systems were not caused by people corrupting the system, but stemmed from the design of the system itself. He restates that 1970 argument in 2000 – this time with the benefit of retrospect – in Utopia, describing the state of affairs after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: (more…)
The new issue of Religion & Liberty, featuring an interview with Nina Shea, is now available online. A February preview of Shea’s interview, which was an exclusive for PowerBlog readers, can be found here.
Shea pays tribute to the ten year collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, which began in the fall of 1989. The entire issue is dedicated to those who toiled for freedom. Shea is able to make the connection between important events and times in the Cold War with what is happening today in regards to religious persecution. Her passion on these issues is unmatched. Her experience and expertise on issues of religious persecution definitely shine through in this interview. I encourage readers to pay attention to her work.
Mark Tooley offers the feature piece for this issue, “Not Celebrating Communism’s Collapse.” It is an excellent look back at the religious left and their grave misjudgments about the true danger of Marxist dictatorships. Tooley declares, “Communism’s collapse did further discredit the Religious Left, and the political witness of mainline Protestantism and ecumenical groups like the WCC and NCC has arguably, and thankfully, never quite recovered from the events of 1989-1990.” Tooley is president of The Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.
“Repressions” is a series of voices that speak to the danger of an ideology that reduces man to merely a material creature, while violently squelching the spiritual. Because of the danger of an all controlling state, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution considered religious liberty the “first freedom,” the foundational freedom upon which others are built. They understood that religious freedom is the hallmark to a truly free and virtuous society, and is also meant to act as an important wall from encroachment by the state into our lives.
The issue also pays tribute to a well known figure, especially among evangelical Christians, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Scaheffer, who spoke out against the godless totalitarian state also powerfully reminds us: “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”
A good back-and-forth at in character on health care reform between Karen Davenport and Heather R. Higgins. Question: Will the implementation of the health-care bill passed by Congress improve the character of our country?
Davenport says “yes”:
While we cede some rights, we also assume new responsibilities. First, we assume the responsibility to obtain and maintain coverage for ourselves, and acknowledge that we cannot wait to purchase health insurance until we are sick. We also take on greater responsibility for others, particularly by helping individuals and families purchase coverage if they cannot afford to do so on their own.
Higgins says “no”:
In contrast, the health bill is premised on the idea that people should expect to be taken care of. This law is more aligned with the sentiments of a European social democracy where hard work is devalued and income inequalities condemned. In the health bill, personal freedom and individual choice are replaced with bureaucratic dictates, one-size-fits-all parameters, and the removal of responsibility and consequence from individuals. Citizens are infantilized as wards of the state. But that’s only the beginning of the adverse consequence that this travesty will have on our national character.
First Principles, the excellent Web-based resource from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has posted another “classic” from its extensive archive of journal articles, this one by Wilhelm Roepke. I’m snipping a kernel from “The Economic Necessity of Freedom” (Modern Age, Summer 1959) because it so succinctly and powerfully sums up why a moral framework — and our “highest values” — are necessary for a market economy that is not only efficient, but humane. These values flow out of the “classic-Christian heritage of Europe” and are rooted, for Roepke, in an orthodox Christian anthropology.
… I came to see that socialism did not have the cure for our social ills, that indeed socialism was a heresy which aggravated these ills the more men acted on it. The economic “orthodoxy” according to which I adjudged socialism a heresy was historical liberalism, and with this liberalism I am quite willing to take my stand. What such liberalism advocates in the economic realm can be very simply stated. It holds that economic activities are not the proper sphere of any planning, enforcing, and penalizing authority; these activities are better left to the spontaneous co-operation of all individuals through a free market, unregulated prices, and open competition.
But there is more to the matter than the advocacy of a certain economic technique. As an economist, I am supposed to know something about prices, capital interests, costs, and rates of exchange, and all of them supply arguments for free enterprise; but my adherence to free enterprise goes to something deeper than mere technical grounds, and the reason for it lies in those regions where each man’s social philosophy is ultimately decided. Socialists and nonsocialists are divided by fundamentally different conceptions of life and life’s meaning. What we judge man’s position in the universe to be will in the end decide whether our highest values are realized in man or in society, and our decision for either the former or the latter will also be the watershed of our political thinking.
Thus my fundamental opposition to socialism is to an ideology that, in spite of all its “liberal” phraseology, gives too little to man, his freedom, and his personality; and too much to society. And my opposition on technical grounds is that socialism, in its enthusiasm for organization, centralization, and efficiency, is committed to means that simply are not compatible with human freedom. Because I have a very definite concept of man derived from the classic-Christian heritage of Europe in which alone the idea of liberty has anywhere appeared, because that concept makes man the image of God whom it is sinful to use as a means, and because I am convinced that each man is of unique value owning to his relationship to God but is not the god declared by the hybris of an atheistic humanism — because of these things, I look on any kind of collectivism with the utmost distrust.
And, following from these convictions along the lines of reason, experience, and the testimony of history, I arrive at the conclusion that only a free economy is in accordance with man’s freedom and with the political and social structure and the rule of law that safeguard it. Aside from such an economic system (for which I make no claims of automatically perfect functioning), I see no chance of the continued existence of man as he is envisaged in the religious and philosophical traditions of the West. For this reason, I would stand for a free economic order even if it implied material sacrifice and if socialism gave the certain prospect of material increase. It is our undeserved luck that the exact opposite is true.
Now Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together; but they do not necessarily go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.
I tried to think of an image or analogy that captured what Acton meant by “good government.” Perhaps not surprisingly, I came up with a sports analogy.
Fans of various sports, basketball for instance, know that the best games are typically the ones in which you do not notice the referees. Yes, the referees are there, making calls when appropriate. But they do not become the center of attention. They are not the ones putting the ball in the hoop. They are not making a spectacle of themselves. They go about their duties and are at their best when they are not noticed. The referees are not the center of attention; instead, the focus is on the players and the game.
'Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.'
Good government is like that. It protects liberty as its highest end, but it is a liberty that is used in pursuit of other ends, what Acton calls “the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.” Foremost among these is religion, and they are ultimately oriented to and subsumed under what the Westminster divines identified as man’s chief end: “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”
In this analogy, good government is like the referee that calls a fair game and does so in a way that does not produce a slanted playing field, or favor one team over the other. Good government is at its best when it is not the focus and is not grandstanding for attention.
Keep that in mind over the next month while you’re watching the NCAA tournament (and hopefully watching the seemingly-perennial Final Four run from the Michigan State Spartans, this year’s Big 10 co-champs). And be sure to mark your calendars for the next Acton on Tap, Tuesday, March 31, featuring Rudy Carrasco.
Popes in Rome have attempted to steer the Catholic flock away from the “seductive” forces of socialist ideologies threatening human liberty, which since the late 1800s have relentlessly plucked away at “the delicate fruit of mature civilizations” as Lord Acton once said.
From Pius IX to Benedict XVI, socialism has been viewed with great caution and even as major threat to the demise of all God-loving free civilizations, despite many of their past and present socio-political and economic “sins.”
In their various official publications and social encyclicals, at least since the advent of the latter with Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Roman pontiffs have given socialism a bad rap: It has never been positively perceived as a good political order, east or west of the Tiber River.
Why so? We do not have to look further than the popes’ own teachings regarding their vision of human work, anthropology, happiness and basic dignity.
First of all, socialism ultimately allows political authority to direct the ends of human happiness; that is to say, its supports the secular state’s programs and its functionaries’ potential and power to resolve much of man’s social and economic needs. It, therefore, replaces and distrusts individuals, local communities and families acting in free alliance with their Creator to build a good and better society for all. In a nutshell, socialism treats ordinary citizens like children incapable of governing themselves. When replacing private charity with public welfare programs, socialism takes full advantage of the contemporary crisis of adulthood infecting free societies, whose dishonorable, capricious and selfish citizens are unwilling to make sacrifices gratuitously for their neighbor (see these two Acton videos one character by Lawrence Reed and Michael Miller).
Hence, socialism tends to defile human dignity and dehumanize the personal and local processes of free collaboration and personal responsibility. And as socialism advances closer its pure form in political practice, it ultimately attempts to dictate and bureaucratize all of human socio-economic well being, a concept of social justice built on the dangerous quicksand of modern materialism, which ultimately drags human freedom down to a slow, merciless death.
As the current pope, Benedict XVI, writes:
The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person − every person − needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.… In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) − a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (Deus Caritas Est, n. 28)
In Mr. Solimeo’s article we read that various popes believe that socialism is part of an “iniquitous plot…to drive people to overthrow the entire order of human affairs” (Pius IX); that “communism, socialism, nihilism (are) hideous deformities of the civil society of men and almost its ruin (and part of) a wicked confederacy” (Leo XIII); socialism is “contradictory (in) nature to the Christian religion (…) No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist” (Pius XI); socialism has “no account of any objective other than that of material well-being” (John XXIII); and finally that the “fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature…. (It) considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” (John Paul II)