Posts tagged with: istituto acton

In Utopia, many modern intellectuals say Sir Thomas More advocates an ideal political and social order without private property, competition, citizens quarreling over worldly possessions, poverty and other “evils” supposedly brought on by a market-based society.

At least that is the way social liberals, including left-leaning Christians, tend to interpret this great saint’s 1516 literary masterpiece, believing the English Catholic statesman’s work presents his vision of an ideal Christian commonwealth modeled on the early Church (even if those proto-communist experiments failed).

Recently, Istituto Acton (Acton’s office in Rome) hosted an illuminating seminar led by the medievalist scholar, Dr. John Boyle, whose April 23 presentation Why Thomas More’s Utopia is not a Communist Manifesto addressed some of the common misconceptions of More’s political fiction.

Dr. Boyle is director of the Graduate Program in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and is currently finishing a semester teaching at the University’s Rome campus. He is also a former professor of mine from my glory days at the St. Ignatius Institute of the University of San Francisco in the late 80s. We welcomed him to lead our monthly “Campus Martius” seminar – organized for English-speaking students of the pontifical universities.

Dr. Boyle began the seminar by putting Thomas More’s Utopia in its proper place as a work of intellectual sarcasm.

The entire work, Boyle said, does not represent a paradise-on-earth scenario the English political genius and martyr actively searched for.

Indeed, Boyle explained that Utopia was so cleverly crafted in the Latin language that even erudite Renaissance humanists – the audience to whom More addressed the great social-political questions of his time –might not have understood the subtle brunt of his irony: “Utopia is certainly a puzzling work, which puzzled even More’s contemporaries. Indeed, Utopia is a work of stunning complexity and sophistication, written especially for More’s renaissance contemporaries,” Boyle said.

The seminar was attended by Zenit’s Rome correspondent, Ann Schneibel, who published a follow-up interview with Dr. Boyle yesterday.

While remarking on some of the main communist values playfully envisioned in Utopia (e.g. command and control economies, regulated lifestyles and fashion, shared gardens and housing for family communes, absence of private property, eradication of human envy, etc), Boyle told Zenit:

The political order is not the source of our happiness. This is a theological point, but it’s very dear to More’s heart. The political order can serve to help order men to their happiness, but it cannot achieve it. This is a matter of Church, of the City ofGod. Political order can more or less help, but it can’t achieve what I think, in the modern sense, is the Utopian dream.

Utopia is a very cautionary tale. I’d say it’s relevant in all kinds of ways, as well as reminding us of humorous good things,” Boyle said.

During the seminar Dr. Boyle explained that More’s life-long friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, the great Dutch humanist and Catholic priest who arranged for the publication of Utopia, wrote to his colleagues in private letters that if they really wanted a good laugh they had better read More’s book about the fictitious island.

“Some of the names [of places] used in Utopia are famously indicative of this [humor]…Utopia is a Greek neologism for ‘nowhere’, the principal city of the island is Amaurot, which means “foggy or phantom”, the principal river…is the Anider,  which is Greek for ‘waterless,’ and the man who tells the story of Utopia, Raphael Hythloday, [his surname] is probably best translated as ‘peddler of nonsense’.

To read the rest of Dr. Boyle’s Zenit interview, go here. For your pleasure, you can listen to the entire April 23 Campus Martius seminar below.


I cannot permit the death of His Imperial and Royal Highness Otto von Habsburg at age 98 on July 4th to pass unnoticed. To look into his face was to gaze into the map of the 20th Century, and to hear him recount his ideas, insights and encounters was worth more than an entire course in European history in most universities.

Only slightly acquainted with the man (his father Emperor Karl was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004), I was struck not merely by his exhaustive knowledge of history, economics, culture, and languages (with whom else does one begin the conversation by being asked, “And in what language shall we converse?”); what is now most memorable about the man was his modesty and clear Christian faith, so apparent to anyone who views the video clip here.

The occasion for the speech was a Rome conference sponsored by Acton Institute and Istituto Acton on the topic of “Centesimus Annus and Deus Caritas Est” held at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Joining the Archduke and myself on the panel were papal biographer George Weigel and the French economist Jean Yves Naudet.

Otto von Habsburg’s lively presentation represents the best of Catholic “liberal’ thinking, integrating a sound economic sensibility with a clear moral commitment.

When von Habsburg’s mother Zita died in 1989 her body was brought in state to the Imperial crypt of the Habsburg dynasty at the Capuchin Church in Vienna. The scene was striking: As the bier waited at the entrance to the church, an attendant with staff in hand knocked at the door. From inside a friar, holding a large candle, asked who was seeking entrance. The attendant replied that it was Her Imperial Highness Zita Maria. The simple friar replied, “We do not know her.” The attendant knocked once again, and was again asked who seeks entrance. This time he replied, “Zita, a poor sinner,” at which reply the friar welcomed her into the church.

For all that Otto von Habsburg saw in his long and fruitful life the one and only thing that he, and we, can bring with us into eternity, is the plea for mercy at the feet of a merciful God.

Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.

The Acton Institute captured the attention of the Italian secular press when advocating a Judeo-Christian, value-based economic model to ensure continued free and healthy economic growth in Asia.

The press was eager to interview the conference speakers who articulated this perspective at the Institute’s international conference held at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University last May 18: “Family-Enterprise, Market Economies, and Poverty: The Asian Transformation” .

In the following Video, Istituto Acton Director and conference moderator, Kishore Jayabalan, spoke candidly to UniRoma TV along with morning panelist, Dr. Raquel Vaz-Pinto of the Catholic University of Portugal.

Kishore Jayabalan says that when difficult ethical problems arise in economies, we are expected to use our “reason and faith” to resolve moral dilemmas and that the Church plays a most vital role in educating society in basic moral principles. Dr.Vaz-Pinto says that in terms of advancing the necessary foundations of a free society, Asia has made great progress in demanding higher standards for human and political rights as businesses are left freer to grow and develop on their own.

Click image to watch UniRoma TV video

April 1 was no Fool’s Day in Verona, Italy.

Istituto Acton held a private viewing and debate on The Call of the Entrepreneur in the romantic city of Verona, better known for its romantic association with Romeo and Juliet than with one of Italy’s most enterprising commercial regions.

Arranged and sponsored by the investors group – Noi Soci – of Cattolica Assicurazione, a private insurance company founded 115 years at the turn of the 19th century, the documentary was shown on April 1 to a private audience of 220 of the company’s stakeholders, colleagues and business partners – who actually showed up early – a rarity of time management and courtesy not often experienced in the southern city of Rome, where Acton’s Italian office is located.

The company’s original mission, based on protecting the private landholdings of farmers against natural disaster, was the brainchild of 34 entrepreneurs who boasted more than 14 Catholic priests in its original investment group.

When I heard this story, I had to ask the president of Cattolica Immobilare (the real estate investment firm owned entirely by Cattolica Assicurazioni), Enrico Racasi, to repeat what he had just told us.

“Few people realize this, but among the insurance company’s original founders there were actually 14 priests who were very much concerned about the survival and welfare of local enterprise”, Racasi said.

“We still commence our executive meetings with prayer and often meet for Mass beforehand … We need priests to become entrepreneurs again. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we were all working privately together for the common good? But times have really changed!”

Debate and commentary on the film included inspiring remarks from Verona’s mayor, Flavio Tosi, a “no excuses” conservative politician from the north. Tosi said that politicians should be much less concerned about “legislating a good society” in order to “let private individuals lead the way” to work hard and improve society themselves.

“Everyone should work with a spirit of calling and moral purpose … All we (politicians) can do is encourage free enterprise among our citizenry through adequate public policies and fiscal incentives.”

One of the entrepreneurs present on the speaker panel, Giuseppe Pasini, president of Federation of the Italian Steel Companies, Federacciai, said Jimmy Lai’s story as portrayed by the documentary was most inspiring.

Istituto Acton Director Kishore Jayabalan conducts interview for Italian television.

Pasini said today’s entrepreneurs need to dig down to find inspiration for their enterprise within their deep moral values and convictions. (more…)

The Rome Reports news service has put together some video and text based on Acton’s Dec. 2 conference in Rome, Italy, “Ethics, Aging, and the Coming Healthcare Challenge” Acton has also created a special web page where you can download the speeches and presentations from the event. Report follows:

December 12, 2010. With people living longer than ever before, this has created certain challenges for society, the Church, and medicine in general. Many questions of ethics have also arisen in this area, that brought academics, clergy-members, and leaders from the around the world to meet at the forum: “Ethics, Aging, and the Coming Healthcare Challenge.”

Their aim was to address the ethical and economic issues concerning healthcare for the elderly.

Prof. Philip Booth, Institute for Economic Affairs (UK):
“We have a population that´s aging with, relatively speaking, a fewer number of young people and a larger number of older people. With health care costs rising and this could well be an enormous, well it will be an enormous burden on young people and young tax payers unless we revise our system of health care funding.”

The Acton Institute works to find a common ground between the interests of business and the interests of the individual. This seminar mainly focused on the topics of pharmaceutical research, healthcare infrastructure, and welfare reform.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President Acton Institute:
“Today we have an expansive conference dealing with health care especially as it relates to the aging population, so we´re having discussions about demography, the decline of birth rate, and the increase in longevity and all the economic and moral concerns that are emerging from this.”

The challenge is how to guarantee a peaceful and secure retirement to all people, something the conference spoke about in length.

Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary, Pontifical Council for the Family:

“Today’s conference was to sensitize the public, politicians, and the people here on a situation that necessitates urgent measures. The demographic crisis is something that is very important and together is a human, moral and even spiritual problem.”

The attendees of the conference hope to promote discussion between political and business leaders regarding the ethics of providing effective healthcare. In an effort to fuse together good economics and smart policies toward healthcare.

anatomyentreperneur-1 Is moral enhancement of the entrepreneur possible? That’s the question Michael Severance, operations manager for Istituto Acton (the Acton Institute’s Rome office) recently posed to Dr. Adriana Gini, a neuroradiologist at San Camillo-Forlanini Medical Centre in Rome and an expert bioethicist at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. Dr. Gini recently led Istituto Acton’s monthly Campus Martius seminar “Moral Enhancement: Back to the Future” and offers some further insight on her topic. An audio recording of her seminar is available on the Istituto Acton home page.

Michael Severance: Dr. Gini, thank you for taking time to explain your views on the fascinating subject of moral enhancement. Most of us have heard of various forms of “physical” enhancement, as with genetic splicing for disease prevention, pre-selection of human embryos to produce “savior siblings” and mixing chemical cocktails to improve the physical endurance of our organs…In what way are the two types of enhancement – physical and moral – related, if at all? Or is this just a play on words?

Adriana Gini: The association between the word “moral” to the type of life we live, the decisions we make, our efforts and struggles to improve society and ourselves is perfectly natural. In fact, morality depends on our acts and our acts are the expression of what we are as human beings. Our behavior, as moral agents, is quite complex and, no doubt, involves our physicality. Nonetheless, a pure physical/neuronal explanation of morality -with no reference to a more comprehensive knowledge of the human person- is rather hazardous. As such, the term “moral enhancement” does not have an immediate, direct connection to some forms of genetic, pharmacological or biotechnological enhancement, unlike the ones targeted at cognitive enhancement.

MS: From an Acton perspective, it is interesting to know if there is some type of “competition” or “economic” factor driving neurological science in the direction of improving the human moral condition. What is at the bottom of all this? For example, is the real inspiration to improve human action found in creating a competitive edge in intelligence within the marketplace? Some might find it hard to believe that secular science is really interested in fostering moral excellence for its own sake in its laboratories. Much less so in its lab rats and guinea pigs!

AG: According to some authors, as with Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Centre for Practical Ethics and head of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, contemporary research aimed at enhancing human cognition will result in an economic improvement (cf. Chap. 1.4 of Enhancing Human Capacities edited by Dr. Savulescu). In other words, better people make for better jobs, and in the end, better, more productive societies – in an economic sense. However, Savulescu’s claim is that such enhancement might also lead to a greater world of evil action. For example, we can use drugs or other biotechnological means to improve our mental abilities, but sometimes also to our detriment: smarter terrorists mean fiercer terrorist attacks with the mental enhancement to fabricate more powerful, more intelligent weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, in Savulescu’s opinion, any means to morally enhance the human species in terms of cognitive enhancement should only progress alongside research on moral enhancement. No one really knows, however, how to improve the human species morally by biotechnological means alone, since morality is not purely “biological”…, although there are certainly biological correlations to human moral behavior. (more…)

The Catholic News Service has published a report on “Philanthropy and Human Rights: Creating Space for Caritas in Civil Society,” a conference held Dec. 3 in Rome by the Acton Institute.

ROME (CNS) — Even at a time of global financial crisis, human beings need to give charity in order to be happy, said several speakers at a Rome conference on philanthropy and human rights.

Expecting a government to provide all social services and assistance robs those who are economically stable of the opportunity to help others and risks being inefficient, cold and even immoral, said the speakers at the Dec. 3 conference sponsored by the Michigan-based Acton Institute and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Father Robert A. Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute, said, “The market economy is not only the most efficient system to produce and distribute goods and services; it is also the system most respectful of our God-given creative freedom and which allows us to meet the basic needs of our brothers and sisters.”

Father Sirico was the only speaker at the conference — which included Catholic thinkers who have long praised the potential of the free-market economy — to speak directly about the current crisis.

Read the full story on the CNS site.

International aid groups have criticized the EU and many of its member states for falling behind their promises to step up foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GDP by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015.

On the one hand, these groups are right to expose the accounting tricks governments use in order to promote themselves as saviors of Africa. On the other hand, the aid groups should consider very carefully whether their focus on state aid is really the key towards future development in poor countries.

The problem that they indicate is that the EU and its members classify some expenses as aid although these are only indirectly related to development. This includes debt restructuring and payments to cover housing of refugee claimants in Europe.

The aid groups say that in 2007, EU nations spent around €8 billion in such non-aid items. They conclude that “on current trends, the EU will have given €75 billion less between 2005 and 2010 than was promised.”

This kind of creative accounting should not be very surprising since politicians like to claim that they are helping the poorest countries in the world but also know that it is more difficult to tell taxpayers that they have to foot the bill. In such circumstances the most convenient thing to do is to artificially inflate the aid budget with non-aid expenses.

The question remains: Is state-to-state aid the most effective way to promote development? Prof. Philip Booth explained at a recent conference organized by the Acton Institute in Rome that government aid has failed on countless occasions and has even entrenched underdevelopment on some occasions.

Booth made clear that “at the empirical level, there appears to be a negative relationship between aid and growth. This does not imply cause and effect of course, but it should make us pause for thought. After the late 1970s, aid to Africa grew rapidly yet GDP growth collapsed and was close to zero or negative for over a decade from 1984. GDP growth in Africa did not start to pick up again until aid fell in the early-to-mid 1990s. In East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific, one also finds that, as aid reduced, national income increased rapidly.”

It is important to note that Booth criticized government-to-government aid and not charity in general. Whereas transfers between governments have often resulted in rent-seeking and the strengthening of dubious regimes, private initiatives do not suffer from the same problems: “None of the points I have made relate to the exercise of charity. It is important to point out that we should not wait for a just ordering of the world or good governance in recipient countries before supporting charitable relief.”

Aid groups such as Oxfam and Christian Aid would do well to turn their focus away from pressuring governments to spend more on aid and instead strengthen their efforts to encourage private initiatives.