A reader sends on this fun video. Anyone know where can I get a bottle of this Dr. Utopia’s Ism elixir? Looks tasty. Is one sip enough?
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.
Riffing off of Lord Acton’s quote on liberty and good government, I came up with an analogy that was well-received at last month’s inaugural Acton on Tap.
In his essay, “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Acton said the following:
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.
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 order to give you a smattering of just how other popes have tended to view socialism, I recommend reading Gustavo Solimeo‘s “What the Popes Have to Say About Socialism” published for The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.
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)
In this book, Novak aims to understand and analyze the theological assumptions of democratic capitalism, its spirit, it values, and its intentions.
Excerpts from remarks delivered at the Acton Institute annual dinner in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Oct. 29, 2009:
Twenty years ago today, a growing tide of men and women in Eastern Europe and northern Asia were shaking off the miasma that had led so many to imagine that central economic planning could work. The socialist regimes of Eastern and Central Europe—accepted as ontological realities whose existence could not be questioned—were, well, being questioned.
On November 4th, 1989, a million anti-Communist demonstrators took to the street in East Berlin. Three days later the entire East German Politburo resigned. In short order — the sort of event that television journalists live for — a hole appeared in the Berlin Wall, a hole big enough for hope to pour through. The East German borders opened and by Christmas, thousands were dancing atop the dead body of the Leviathan wall, that hideous symbol, tearing at it with bare hands, champagne bottles, hammer and sickles—anything that was available.
How could we in the West have tolerated that Wall in Germany for so long? From our perspective today it is obvious that the wall would eventually fall, but remember that in 1987 when Ronald Reagan called upon Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” the international media either ignored his words or criticized them as the simplistic bravado of a Hollywood cowboy. The President’s own advisors were divided, with his National Security Adviser, Colin Powell, objecting to what Reagan planned to say.
It was only after 1989 that President Reagan’s words became iconic. Reagan understood something that many of the Beltway experts had somehow forgotten or never learned — there is, in the human heart, an innate thirst for liberty. I suppose this is so because it is so closely tied to our very nature as creatures fashioned in the image of a free, rational and creative God: We thirst for freedom because we are created for, and called to, freedom and its complement, personal responsibility.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Soviet Communism, was a great triumph, but the danger has been and remains that this grand victory some 20 years ago will render complacent the free peoples of the West. The threat today is not a physical wall through the heart of Berlin but walls no mason ever dreamed about or touched.
The American founders understood this: They warned that freedom cannot long endure without virtue, without vigilance. Because our choices are those to be made by intelligent beings who were designed by Intelligence, these choices are not the result of mere instincts like those of animals. They are choices, furthermore, that should be appropriate to creatures whose beginning is purposeful and not random, oriented to the truth of all things.
And that is the scandal of the Berlin Wall — and every barrier like it against liberty. Some are great and others are small, some obvious and others discreet — yet all of them seek to wall us off from our own humanity, to alienate us from the very part of ourselves that cannot be slotted into some planner’s tidy equations, or reduced to the arithmetic of animal appetite.
We are blessed not to live behind walls that would force us to swim shark infested waters, or race through border guard crossings to the sound of bullets striking all around us. And yet the planners, those builders of walls, haven’t given up planning, haven’t given up laying brick upon brick upon brick.
I’m not talking about some secret conspiracy. I’m talking about more mundane things — mundane because they have so long been with us, mundane because—at least until recently — they grew so very gradually, the brick upon brick, the little and now not so little walls rising all around us, innocuously labeled “the mixed economy.”
These walls come in the guise of stimulus packages that distort our markets and our knowledge, that steal away a bit of your future and that of your children by inflationary polices and transgenerational tax liabilities; walls that discourage our charitable impulse and restrict entrepreneurial courage, that encourage fiscal irresponsibility and punish thrift; that encourage vice and envy, that sacrifice liberty for security and, in the devil’s bargain, lose them both.
Last year I noted the frustration and bewilderment that many were experiencing, especially those who believe in and have fought to build the free and virtuous society, a frustration and bewilderment at what we were seeing around us. That was a short time before a whole new political atmosphere took hold. Since then we have seen this breathtaking lurch toward greater centralized planning and redistribution turn into what to many of us feels like a runaway locomotive: Government banks, government mortgage companies, government automobile companies, government healthcare, government religious charities. And all of this is just a warm up for an appropriation of the entire energy sector—cap and trade. Cap and smother would come closer to the truth.
We are compelled to confront the danger of the political-economic scales tipping from productivity to dependency, from business to bureaucracy, from energy to envy, from trade to tariffs, and from creativity and courage to corporate-government collusion, collectivism and cowardice—where more people in society live, not off the noble work of their own hands, but out of the largess of the statist trough.
We might be weary of the struggle, fatigued and discouraged—amazed that people around us just don’t seem to “get it.”
And we would have cause for such pessimism.
Then I remember the years leading up to 1989. The people who brought that victory about were not defeatist or compliant.
A former Hollywood actor, undaunted by ridicule and the compromising lethargy of his own party; a Soviet prisoner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, reaching from the frozen tundra of the Gulags of the Soviet Empire and wounding the omnivorous bear with a simple pen; an iron lady in England, Margaret Thatcher, who didn’t get the memo about the demise of capitalism and the rise of the Marxist dialectic; a rough and crude Polish shipyard worker, Lech Walesa, who led a workers’ revolt against the Worker’s Paradise, encouraged by another Pole, John Paul II, who on his appearance on the world stage bade the world to throw open the doors to Christ and who, without tanks or military resources, stood face to face with Soviet puppets who literally trembled at his calm articulation of the Truth.
It is a remarkable testament to the human thirst for freedom under such hardship and against such odds—in the midst of deprivation and with guns pointed at them—all they were able to achieve, these mothers and fathers of freedom. Their example calls us not to acquiesce to the softer, more insidious and seductive tyranny of our own time, but to redouble our efforts.
Their example also calls us to remember what too many of us today have forgotten: We are beings with a destiny both in and beyond this world—a destiny which can only be worked out in human freedom.
With health care continuing to be a hot button issue, Hunter Baker brings to light a new argument in his commentary. While Baker provides us with many prudential reasons to oppose the expansion of government health care, such as the currently proposed government plan not having any provision for preventing the trial lawyer windfalls that have helped contribute to medical inflation, he also articulates the fundamental problems that arise with the expansion of government health care:
If we move from being a republic where certain freedoms (not only freedom of speech and religion, but also freedom of contract and freedom to own private property) are basically non-negotiable, to a simple mass democracy in which shifting coalitions of voters extract resources from their opponents, then we have lost the American genius of ordered liberty. The American founders did not set out to achieve a more perfect democracy. They set out to create and maintain a free republic.
The key to running a free republic characterized by ordered liberty is the citizens, themselves. Unless the citizens embrace virtue, convicted by God that they must do what is right rather than merely indulging their wills and appetites, their hard fought liberty will be lost. The fate of a people who will not restrain themselves is rule by a government that will increasingly exercise control over them. The American idea was that our people should be citizens rather than subjects. American citizens, once far more country than city in origin, were to be free to provide for themselves rather than gathering in coalitions to ask for government largesse funded on the backs of the productive efforts of others.
Baker reminds us of the importance of the health care debate, and amongst all of the discussion that is occurring we must not forget the principles that our government is founded upon.
Liberty is something we have valued for years in the United States, and the recent events that have occurred in Iran and Honduras demonstrate there are many people throughout the world who wish they were blessed to live in a country that protects and values liberty. As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, Kevin Schmiesing, research fellow at the Acton Institute, writes a very timely commentary on liberty.
Schmiesing explains the delicacy of freedom and how it can only set its roots down and bloom in a mature civilization that has a virtuous culture. Furthermore, Schmiesing also reminds us to be wary of those who use liberty as camouflage to deceive us into supporting certain issues and policies. Schmieising states:
Such deceptive allures permeate our policy debates. The promises of government-run social security, having undermined the duty-in-freedom to provide for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, are perched on an increasingly unstable base of a shrinking proportion of workers. Abdicating our responsibility to provide for and direct the education of our children, a government system has raced to a lowest-common-denominator approach devoid of moral or religious content–and often enough not very effective in conveying skills or knowledge either. Faced with the daunting prospect of taking charge of the cost of medical care for ourselves and our families, many are willing to cede control over value-laden health care decisions to government agencies.
According to Schmiesing, we must not forget the link between freedom and goodness. This Fourth of July is a great time to appreciate the freedom and liberty that we are blessed to have every day.
A version of this commentary also appeared in the Detroit News on June 30.
The latest in the Birth of Freedom Video Shorts Series, this new video from Acton Media asks the question, “Was Abraham Lincoln a reluctant abolitionist?” William B. Allen, Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University gives the answer, discussing Lincoln’s views on human rights and equality.
This is the eleventh short in the series. To view the other ten videos, trailers, extended resources, or to purchase the full documentary, visit thebirthoffreedom.com.
When FDR ordered General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines in 1942, the dismal fate of the American and Filipino defenders at Bataan and Corregidor was sealed. Japanese forces had blockaded the island, achieved air superiority, and set their forces up to easily overpower the American defenses. The story of Bataan and Corregidor was a heroic tragedy. Heroic in that American and Filipino forces fought back bravely for months, and tragic in that any relief, retreat, or victory was impossible. The Japanese were on the offensive all over the Pacific, achieving a string of humiliating defeats to the American military.
With the exit of MacArthur, General Jonathon “Skinny” Wainwright was given command of the defense of the islands. The forces under him were slowly starving, unhealthy, and increasingly ineffective. Wainwright did his best to rally the men, visiting the front lines to encourage his forces. He even gained the highest respect of the Marines at Corregidor for his courage under fire and how he personally returned fire on the front.
Bataan was the first to surrender, setting up the atrocity of the Bataan Death March, where only 54,000 out of 70,000 arrived at POW camps. It was the largest surrender in American history, and even those who survived the death march awaited further atrocities at Camp O’Donnel. General MacArthur said of the Bataan defenders:
The Bataan force went out as it wished, fighting to the end its flickering forlorn hope. No army has ever done so much with so little and nothing became it more than its last hour of trial and agony. To the weeping Mothers of its dead, I can only say that the sacrifice and halo of Jesus of Nazareth has descended upon their sons, and God will take them unto Himself.
General Wainwright added, “Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand – a beacon to all the liberty – loving peoples of the world – cannot fall!” Wainwright carried a heavy burden for the surrender, and further despair settled in among the defenders at Corregidor for the fate that awaited them.
The American people followed the reports of the battle, clinging to any hope for a victory in the Pacific. It was never to be, despite further bitter and heroic fighting. Wainwright was forced to surrender the entire Philippines in May of 1942 for the purpose of saving civilians and his remaining men. Privately MacArthur was livid with the action, as some believed additional American and Filipino forces in other parts of the islands might have been able to hold out awhile longer or take up guerrilla action. Unfortunately for Wainwright, he was left with no other choice, yet he still declared, “I have taken a dreadful step.”
Wainwright was made a prisoner of war with his men. He was depressed that he was the commander who surrendered the largest contingent of American forces in its history.
He also believed he would receive a court martial and be made the scape goat for the Philippines if he ever returned home. His treatment like nearly every Allied prisoner in the Pacific was brutal. Like the men he led, he wasted away to a skeleton under Japanese care. Denied basic provisions, he was shuffled from camp to camp until the very end. Upon his liberation, he asked the first American he saw what the American Brass and people thought of him. The soldier replied, “You are a hero General Wainwright.” Still skeptical he kept asking additional men and officers the same questions.
The story of Bataan and Corregidor is a story of American defeat and temporary American abandonment of those who fought and bled there. Out of the ashes total victory and redemption would emerge for those fighting to free and liberate the people under Imperial Japanese aggression. The heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor slowed the Japanese offensive in the Pacific, giving time for the Navy and MacArthur to organize their forces.
Wainwright did return to the United States a hero, and President Truman awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on the front lines of Corregidor. Wainwright was loved by the men he commanded because he suffered with them. He refused to leave their side or the rock he defended saying, “We have been through so much together that my conscience would not let me leave before the final curtain.” The Pacific Theater is sometimes overshadowed by the European Theater in WWII. The greatest thing about Veterans Day is we remember and honor all of those who served from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the lowliest infantry grunt.
Understanding in many ways he was a symbol of defeat, albeit heroically, Wainwright warned the nation against ever being ill prepared in its defense again. Wainwright declared:
I hope that the story of what Americans suffered will always be remembered in its practical significance – as a lesson which almost lost for us this land we love. Remember Bataan! Remember Corregidor!
The eighth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The eighth and penultimate leg of the journey took the bikers from Grand Rapids to St. Catharines, Ontario, a total distance of 410 miles. By the end of this leg the entire tour will have covered 3,451 miles.
The CRC is a bi-national church, and while the denominational headquarters are located in Grand Rapids, a significant portion of the church’s membership is Canadian. This is something that I’ve always appreciated and is somewhat rare among Protestant denominations that tend to break down along national lines. Even though there is a great deal of cultural affinity between these North American countries, I think the bi-nationality of the CRC adds an element of internationalism that can help offset the natural tendency to identify the church’s interest with a particular national or domestic setting. The gospel is not confined to the US or to North America.
Unfortunately, the day 52 devotion in the “Shifting Gears” devotional falls flat in offering an “internationalist” perspective. It asks, rhetorically I presume, “Why are billions budgeted for defense and border protection, when we can’t come up with the money to supply mosquito nets for Africa? Why do some governments use their national borders as a wall to hide the injustice and persecution occurring within? Why is it so easy for the powerful to cross borders, but not the poor?” There’s no denying there is great injustice on the international scene related to the strictures of immigration and barriers to trade.
But the first question in this series illustrates a presumption that it is the government’s duty to provide mosquito nets for Africa at the expense of national defense. This, quite simply, is a confusion that is endemic to the perspective of progressive Christianity…that the government, and not the church or other institutions of civil society, is primarily responsible for addressing the problem of poverty.
In the words of Jim Wallis, “I often point out that the church can’t rebuild levees and provide health insurance for 47 million people who don’t have it.” Wallis is fond of talking about the perceived limits of private and church action. But what are the limits of government action? And why can’t the church do much more beyond mere political advocacy? Ron Sider thinks it can, and I agree. It says a lot about you if you are more willing to put your trust in a secular government than in the church of Christ.
Awhile back I considered the amount of money churches spend on building projects in North America. I discussed a a modest proposal: churches should consider tithing the amount they spend on “themselves” and give a portion of the building fund away to other Christian causes.
These kinds of efforts are catching on. Just this weekend I read a piece about a local church which committed 10% of its $1.1 million building fund to other charity work. I wrote more about this in a 2006 commentary, “The North American Church and Global Stewardship.”
One of the entries in the devotional for this week does the best job I’ve seen so far linking and properly coordinating the physical and spiritual concerns of the gospel. Taking its point of departure in the imagery of physical and spiritual imprisonment, the day 51 devotion concludes, “Enjoy the physical freedom of cycling today, and pray for a deeper, richer understanding of God’s mercy–mercy he shows to all who acknowledge their imprisonment in disobedience and who seek freedom in Christ alone.”