Posts tagged with: liberty

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

In today’s era of texting, Facebooking and emails, one wonders how comfortable our nation’s second First Lady would have felt about these forms of communication. Abigail Smith Adams, while not a “woman of letters” (she had little formal education), left behind letters that tell us much about her, her marriage and her desire to be part of a nation of liberty.

In 1775, the Massachusetts Colony General Court appointed Adams (and other young women) to question their peers as to their loyalty to the crown or their new nation. Her husband, John, told her she was now a “politician and now elected into an important office, that of judges of Tory ladies, which will give you, naturally, an influence with your sex.”

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

It was noted that Abigail enjoyed conversations about politics, especially as her husband’s own political career grew. One thing she might have in common with today’s politicians and their spouses is that she did not enjoy the so-called “fishbowl” that comes with this type of career. Clearly, the role of women at this time in the public realm was limited, which Abigail accepted, but perhaps chafed against. She wrote in one correspondence, “Let each planet shine in their own orbit, God and nature designed it so. If man is Lord, woman is Lordess — that is what I contend for, and if a woman does not hold the Reigns of Government, I see no reason for her not judging how they are conducted.”

She believed that women not only could be educated, but must be, in this new nation, for it was in education that virtue was learned. As her husband and his peers drafted the country’s Constitution, she wrote, “our new constitution may be distinguished for learning and Virtue…. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women.”

This formidable First Lady may have penned some of the most striking words of the young nation she helped found:

[R]emember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

“This strange child” is how Hildegard was once described. Born in 1098, she was known to have visions, but kept them private for many years. Her family sent her at the age of 8 for religious education. It was not until the age of 42 that she realized the full extent of her visions and her understanding of religious texts. She sought the advice of St. Bernard and then Pope Eugenius so that her visions would never be seen as anything outside of or against Church teaching.

iconographer: Richard Cannuli

iconographer: Richard Cannuli

Hildegard’s work was some of the most prolific and wide-ranging in church history. She wrote music, plays, theology, and natural history. She also left behind massive correspondence. Besides writing to those who sought prayerful and private advice, she took to task men like Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, the archbishop of Main, and King Henry II of England. She was known to openly approach medical subjects (such as menstruation) and political and religious topics even some men would not discuss.

The 12th century was one of schisms and religious turmoil, and Hildegard was openly critical of those who spoke against the Church. However, the practice of burning heretics, popular at this time, was one Hildegard eschewed: “Do not kill them, for they are God’s image.”

Some feminist theologians of the 20th century have found Hildegard to be “feminist-friendly“, focusing on her apparent disobedience of a local bishop when relocating her convent. However, nothing suggests that Hildegard was anything but a true scholar, a student of science, reason and theology, who sought to work within the Church’s tradition of intellectual endeavor. In 2012, now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared Hildegard of Bingen a “Doctor of the Church”: a title given to certain saints known for their work that leads to new understandings of the Catholic Church’s Faith. It is in the realm of faith, reason, and intellect that Hildegard can be regarded a woman of liberty.

Blog author: ehilton
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
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(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

Artist: Michael C. Hayes

Artist: Michael C. Hayes

Joan of Arc

1412-1431
The Maid of Orleans

Young Joan, by any account, had a plain beginning to an extraordinary life. Until the age of 12 or so, she was the daughter of a farmer, who learned farming and household skills from her parents.

Her native France was involved in what is typically referred to as the Hundred Years War with England, but the French had broken into factions that complicated the resistance against the English invasion. It was during this tumultuous period that Joan began to hear voices and see visions of various saints and angels, urging her to support Charles VII as the true leader of France. This meant, for Joan, that she cut her hair, dressed as a soldier and led Charles’ rag-tag troops into battle.

Further, Joan sought to reform the men’s life in camp: kicking out prostitutes, urging the men to pray, attend Mass, and refrain from looting. While Joan was recognized as a leader in battle, she was not armed, preferring to carry a banner with Jesus and the fleur-de-lis on it.

While Joan was able help Charles VII regain control, she became the focus of a Burgundian conspiracy and was eventually betrayed, arrested and burned at the stake. Various sources claim that she was found guilty of witchcraft, heresy, and even immodest dress (for wearing men’s clothing), but the Burgundian forces which opposed the rule of Charles VII brought her unifying spiritual leadership to an end. However, Joan had achieved the goal she believe God had enjoined her with: bringing Charles back to the throne as the rightful ruler of France.

History remembers Joan of Arc as a young woman of deep spiritual devotion, bravery, and an undeniable passion for serving God and country.

For detailed information about Joan of Arc, visit the Joan of Arc Archive.

What do we mean when we talk about “liberty?”

roman-slaveWhile it may appear that we all use the word in the same way, closer examination reveals that Americans have a wide range of meanings for the term. For instance, when those of us at Acton refer to liberty we tend to have in mind the definition we use in our “core principles”: Liberty, in a positive sense, is achieved by fulfilling one’s nature as a person by freely choosing to do what one ought.

Other individuals and organizations often define the term in ways that differ, either subtly or radically, from the Acton Institute. Liberty, then, is less an easily definable term than a word used to refer to a range of loosely related concepts. Understanding how “liberty” has been used in the past can therefore help us understand how and why we have different views of it today.

A prime example is political historian Quentin Skinner’s explanation of “neo-Roman liberty.”
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Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Calvin Coolidge is ripe for national recognition and his wisdom is being sought out perhaps now more than ever. If you’re a voracious reader of commentary and columns you’ve noticed his common sense adages are being unearthed at a rapid pace. Most of the credit and recognition for the Coolidge revival goes to Amity Shlaes. Her newly released and splendid biography Coolidge can’t be recommended enough. (Full review on the PowerBlog forthcoming)

Coolidge was the last president to oversee federal budget surpluses for every year in office. He cut taxes and government while preaching the wisdom of the American Founders. He was dismissed by many intellectual contemporaries and most historians ignored him or discounted him as some sort of throwback that came to power by luck. A mere placeholder in between the more important Progressive and New Deal eras. But as our spending and debt crisis continues to spiral out of control, America is starving for economic heroes. There is so little courage in Washington to make the tough choices and address the crisis directly. The spending binge has become a mockery of America’s foundations and ideals.

However, This fiscal insanity, debt, and rapid centralization of power is magnifying Coolidge’s heroics. His words and deeds are really timeless though, and deeply rooted in America’s Founding. The principles and lessons only need to be put into practice. Below is a great excerpt from the introduction of Shlaes’s biography:

Our great presidential heroes have often been war leaders, generals, and commanders. That seems natural to us. The big personalities of some presidents have drawn attention, hostile or friendly: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt. There are plenty of personal events in Coolidge’s life, many of them sad, but he was principally a man of work. Indeed, Coolidge was a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.

Benedict ResignsToday, Acton’s Rome office and the world were stunned by what the Dean of the College of Cardinals said was a “bolt out of the blue”: just after midday Benedict XVI informed the public that he would be stepping down as the Catholic Church’s pontiff and one of the world’s preeminent moral and spiritual leaders, effective on February 28. He will be the first pope to abdicate voluntarily the Seat of St. Peter in nearly 600 years. The last one to resign was Gregory XII in 1415 as part of deal to end the great Western Schism.

(You can read and listen to the latest reports issued by the Vatican Radio (also here and here) and the Catholic News Service of the US Bishops Conference).

Pope Benedict XVI, a disciplined, humble and soft-spoken German, is certainly not known for Roman caprice nor does he have a flare for the dramatic. Notwithstanding, he surprised us all in a brief statement issued in perfect Latin (translated below) at the end of a consistory held in the Apostolic Palace for causes of canonizations: (more…)

Gadsden_flag.svgAmerica, for the obvious reasons, holds strong ties to Europe. But it is a country that has primarily been associated with a distinctness and separation from the turmoil and practices of the continent. In his farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans about remaining separate from European influence and declared, “History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Class strife, conflict, and instability already long characterized the European fabric at the time of the American Revolution. Likewise, many American colonists already thought of themselves as free and distinct before the revolt. At the time of the revolution, some 400 wealthy noble families controlled Great Britain. America had an aristocracy for sure, but it was much more merit based than Europe. It embodied a more egalitarian spirit, local communities were culturally connected and would have been suspicious of attempts at centralization. So obviously countless problems ignited and there was a fanning of flames when the Crown started making decrees and commands of the American colonists.

I have a copy of Sam Gregg’s Becoming Europe, which is next on my reading list. The recent calls for gun control and the curtailing of 2nd Amendment Rights out of Washington immediately reminded me more of the American – European divide. I’d point you to Gregg’s work for the formative economic study on our evolution towards European democratic socialism, but I want to make a few short observations on the topic, which might be beneficial to expand on after I read Becoming Europe. (more…)

Registration is now open for Acton University, planned for June 18-21, 2013. Courses for this year’s conference (subject to change) include Theology of Work, Social Entrepreneurship, Rise and Fall of the European Social Market, Fertility’s Impact on the World Economy, and Islam, Markets and the Free Society. (A full course listing can be seen here.)

If you’re new to Acton, or would like to share the Acton University experience with someone, please enjoy Acton Institute Presents: Acton University.

Jefferson_Memorial_StatueIf we asked many of our fellow Americans today “What is the purpose of government?,” undoubtedly, we might be barraged with some vexing or comical answers. But I’m not one to believe that a good deal of our citizens can’t answer this question quite intelligibly. Still, I don’t think it would be enough to embody a healthy republic. It is time for our country to ask these basic questions again. It seems as if the looming chaos of our current national mismanagement demands it.

It was a common belief among the American framers that the purpose of government is simply to secure our rights from God. Unfortunately, I think this is largely forgotten now. That much is evident, given the legislative demands we see today, especially in our nation’s capital. Government overreach is the rule, not the exception. Today we see action taken by the government more oriented toward curtailing our liberties. Instead of natural law, we are inundated with legal positivism, especially when characterized by executive orders contrary to our Constitution. Attacks on the Bill of Rights and the current attacks we are seeing on the 2nd Amendment, is really a fundamental argument against the idea of self-government. In his first Presidential Inaugural Address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson declared,

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

The idea that humans can govern themselves was a radical notion in 1776. Jefferson eloquently stated,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .

President Ronald Reagan in 1981, would echo Jefferson’s articulation of self government in his Inaugural Address, while facing the monuments to America’s Founders:

From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

We as a people need to again ask those fundamental questions about our capability for self government. When it comes to the 2nd Amendment or the entirety of our Bill of Rights, should we trust a government that is already hedging and placing limits on trusting us, when in fact, it was entirely meant to be the other way around?

It’s that time of year: we’re making resolutions to get on the treadmill, join the gym, eat an apple every day. And yet, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. Is it the government’s fault? Dr. Jenna Robinson, at The Freeman, believes so. The food pyramid, farm subsidies: it’s all failing us.

In the 1990s, American women blindly gobbled up low-fat Snackwells desserts masquerading as sensible treats. After all, Snackwells cookies met government standards: they were low in fat and contained “safe” sugar. Parents send their kids to school assuming school lunch contains healthy fruits and vegetables—never stopping to ask what their kids are actually eating each day.

Government recommendations also dissuade private nutrition groups from attempting to compete with “official” advice. Consider Dr. Atkins’ critical reception when he wrote Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution; although a best-seller, it was panned by the nutrition establishment. The USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service still warns that the diet started out as a “gimmick” and hedges on whether it’s ultimately “worthwhile or worthless.”

Over the years, government recommendations have contributed to the replacement of lard with trans-fats (the latter of which are now considered deadly), the substitution of butter for margarine and back to butter again, and conflicting recommendations about eggs, orange juice, vitamins, certain types of fish, and the temperature at which it’s safe to eat meat. Is it any wonder that Americans are no closer to their health goals?