America, 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 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?
The history of America is filled with heroic tales of courage and sacrifice. At the outset of World War II, most of the world was under tyranny. Sixteen million Americans served the country during World War II. Four hundred thousand of those Americans died in the war. They made history at places like Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Salerno, Normandy, and the Ardennes. Most of the men who freed the world from Nazi and Imperialist Japanese aggression have now passed from this earth. But while almost 1,000 veterans of the conflict die a day, there are still about a million living in this country.
The “Honor Flight” documentary is an incredibly moving film about a few of these men from the Midwest. It captures American history and pride, and their trip to visit some of our nation’s monuments in Washington. And for many of them, this will be a last day of tribute that they will remember in their lives.
A recurring theme throughout the film is that many veterans did not talk about their experiences when they came home from the war. This fact was touched upon in a previous PowerBlog post about Marine veteran E.B. Sledge, who was a great writer and author of With the Old Breed. Admiral Chester Nimitz paid tribute to Americans like Sledge when he said of the men who took Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Fortunately over the last couple of decades there have been a number of popular books, films, and new museums that have raised awareness of this war and its importance for liberty around the world for a new generation. There are great places like the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and the book and film Band of Brothers, which tells the riveting and heroic story of “Easy Company” and their combat experience in Europe. “Honor Flight” is another important tribute that raises the awareness of the heroics of many of these men and the sacrifices they made for America and the world.
The goal of the Honor Flight program is to help “every single veteran in America, willing and able of getting on a plane or a bus, visit their memorial.” Since it is at no cost to the veteran a lot of money has to be raised. This film touches on some of the monumental fundraising efforts that made this trip possible.
Featured in this film are the stories of Harvey Kurz, Orville Lemke, Julian Plaster, and Joe Demler. These are humble men. Almost humorously, the film features footage of Kurz, holding down a job and bagging groceries at his local Pick n’ Save. Kurz, of course, is probably at least in his late 80s. Demler, also known as “the human skeleton,” wasted away to 70 pounds in a German POW camp during the conflict.
What is so amazing about this film is the way it brings veterans and families together to reap so many memories and moments of joy. So many men are reunited and given a worthy and tremendous tribute. They share stories for the first time and take us back to a time when the world was at war and American blood was shed on the soil, beaches, skies, and oceans across the world. This film is worth seeing and while many have come before “Honor Flight” to give World War II veterans their due and tell their story, this is a reminder of just how many we are losing and that they are indeed “The Greatest Generation.”
Acton’s Director of Media, Michael Matheson Miller, discusses the current state of American thought on state, Church, family and liberty in Legatus Magazine. He focuses on the work of two Frenchmen: Alexis de Tocqueville and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Many of the differences can be boiled down to what we mean by community. Rousseau’s vision of community is what the sociologist Robert Nisbet called the “political community.” For Rousseau, the two main elements of society are the individual and the state. All other groups — including the Church — are viewed as inhibiting individual freedom and detracting from political community that is found in the state.
Tocqueville’s vision of community, on the other hand, is not reduced to the “political community” but instead means a wide variety of associations, different levels of groups, and layers of authority. Society is not made up of autonomous individuals and an omnicompetent state, but is a diverse group of overlapping associations like families, churches, schools, and mutual-aid societies.
Today (Dec. 4) is commemorated an important, though sometimes little-known, saint: St. John of Damascus. Not only is he important to Church history as a theologian, hymnographer, liturgist, and defender of Orthodoxy, but he is also important, I believe, to the history of liberty.
In a series of decrees from 726-729, the Roman (Byzantine) emperor Leo III the Isaurian declared that the making and veneration of religious icons, such as the one to the right, be banned as idolatrous and that all icons be removed from churches and destroyed. The Christian practice of making icons dates back to decorations of the catacombs in the early Church as well as illuminations in manuscripts of the Scriptures; indeed, many icons can be found in manuscripts of the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and several icons have even been uncovered in the ruins of synagogues.
Naturally, most Christians of the time protested. Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople was forced to resign and was replaced by Anastasios, who supported the emperor’s program. This began what is known as the iconoclastic controversy. It spanned over 100 years, and the iconoclasts in the Roman (Byzantine) empire martyred literally thousands of the Orthodox who peacefully resisted and destroyed countless works of sacred art that would be priceless today. Whatever one’s understanding of the place of icons in the Church today, this controversy was a clear abuse of government power that resulted in great tragedy. (more…)
Building on their principle of self-rule, we have always understood the need for balance between freedom and order; and we built our hopes on a society based on individual liberty, free market economics and limited government. But now, citizens seemingly stand on the edge of a precipice, embracing and adoring the weight of federal authority in a fashion never envisioned by preceding generations.
Making matters worse, our politicians are guilty of encouraging the growth of government by demanding that it sustain and shelter us cradle-to-grave, while universally neglecting families, religious organizations, community charities and others that are better able to perform needed services. Producing a guardian society, they have abandoned historic precepts found in the Constitution, and “the people” have followed suit. Instead of encouraging independence, we have placed protectors in office who have suggested countless feel-good programs, using our desires of security to fuel their ambitious careers.
The 2008 credit crisis is not only a crisis in economics, but also a crisis in the basic concepts and assumptions that underlie our thinking about economics, economics as a science. Critical analyses are called for of both economic practices and economic theory. New concepts and paradigms are needed. The first Kuyper Seminar Amsterdam aims at exploring what resources the Christian tradition has to offer for developing a sustainable and just economy of the future.
That our republic suffers from disorder and decay is no secret. The moral and economic order appears increasingly chaotic and lacks a deeper meaning. The country, bitterly divided politically, cannot agree on the purpose of freedom. Frustration has turned into increased political activism and fragmentation, and perhaps the only national agreed-upon principle is that people feel increasingly separated from their own government.
The current year (2012) has seen some like-minded books published to address the magnanimity of the crisis we face. Sound thinkers such as Arthur Brooks and Rev. Robert Sirico have offered up, respectively, The Road to Freedom and Defending the Free Market. They are, without a doubt, worthwhile examinations of economics and our moral order. While there is no dearth of books to address our problems and its root causes, perhaps none is better than Os Guinness’s A Free People Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.
Guinness trumpets a stirring defense of ordered liberty, examining the deep meanings of freedom and its ability to survive and perhaps flourish again. An assessment of freedom beyond the surface is truly central to our republic. Americans, as they have in the past, must once again ask, “How can a free Republic maintain its freedom? (more…)