Whenever Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg and Al Kresta of Kresta in the Afternoon get together, you’re bound to be in for a great discussion. They got together this afternoon, and ended up providing a great overview of Sam’s new book, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. You can listen to the interview using the audio player below:
Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, has begun making the radio rounds in support of his soon-to-be-released book Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing, talking extensively about the intersection between support for limited government and Catholic thought. Here’s a roundup of recent interviews.
First of all, here’s Sam discussing the book with Glen Biegel on 700 KBYR in Anchorage, Alaska last Thursday:
Also on Thursday, Sam talked with Chuck Wilder of CRN Talk Radio:
Saturday saw Sam on the Chris Salcedo Show on The Blaze Radio Network:
And finally, Sam joined host Paul Anderson on The Source with Paul Anderson on Sunday night:
Don’t miss Sam’s conversation this afternoon with Al Kresta on Kresta in the Afternoon. Al is one of the most thoughtful hosts on the air today; it’s sure to be a great conversation today during the five o’clock hour.
Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is steeped in American patriotism, the American Founders, and the Judeo-Christian worldview. Today marks the 50th anniversary of his speech, and King’s remarks are receiving considerable attention. As I mentioned in a past commentary, King made no reference to contemporaries except for passing references to his children and Alabama’s governor. He homed in on the significance of the American Founding and the Emancipation Proclamation while lamenting that there was a check marked with “insufficient funds” for many citizens because of segregation and racial injustice. The Scripture and religious tradition isn’t overtly mentioned until halfway through when King quotes Amos 5:24.
When you read the text of his remarks, you realize King is not offering up new ideas or a political revolution but positing his argument in America’s past and the justice and biblical deliverance that shaped the Western tradition, but specifically America. By borrowing from these ancient truths, King wasn’t just appealing to black America but you could easily argue more specifically to white America. He was using the language and tradition that they were most familiar with. He borrowed from the founders, the American tradition, and its sources. The biblical language he used was one of not just liberation or the Exodus, popular in black churches, but also words that spoke of redemption, an even more familiar theme among America’s white Protestants. Even the “let freedom ring” cadences are an indirect reference to the Liberty Bell, which Americans knew well.
While later in his career and ministry, King would go on to encourage more and more federal action, some needed and some not, the “I Have a Dream” speech is essentially conservative in its roots. And of course without the American tradition of liberty, justice, and the rule of law, the speech would not have been possible and would have rung hollow. Even King’s tactic of Christian appeal through non-violence wouldn’t have been effective against a pagan or secularized culture.
In his speech, King was effective because he appealed to America’s strengths, which were America’s founding, the rule of law, and the strong role of religion and faith throughout the country. These are all things we as a country are moving away from today, and it’s a detriment to not just the appeal King made in his 1963 address, but almost all of the aspects of virtue and liberty in our society. I suspect that fact will be neglected or missed entirely by most of today’s commentators on King’s speech.
Lord Acton once said of the American revolution: “No people was so free as the insurgents, no government less oppressive than the government which they overthrew.” It was America’s high view of liberty and its ideas that cultivated this unprecedented freedom ripe for flourishing. Colonists railed over 1 and 2 percent tax rates and were willing to take up arms in a protracted and bloody conflict to secure independence and self-government.
In a chapter on Lord Acton in The Moral Imagination: From Adam Smith to Lionel Trilling, Gertrude Himmelfarb explains how Acton was a historian who saw moral absolutes, and these were the same absolutes Lord Acton found in America’s Framers.
In America, there is certainly a great dearth of moral clarity in today’s political culture and really most of society. I think a large segment of our population certainly feels aimless and fatigued over the trajectory of not just the political debate, but where our nation is headed. As a country that is losing its history, many thirst for a return to first principles and away from the kind of relativistic rot which has become the status quo. Below is an excerpt from Himmelfarb’s book which discusses Lord Acton’s view on the American Revolution:
Although the first tentative overtures toward freedom came in ancient and medieval times, only in modernity, Acton claimed, did it emerge in its true nature. English Protestant sects in the seventeenth-century discovered that “religious liberty is the generating principle of civil, and that civil liberty is the necessary condition of religious.” But not until the American Revolution had “men sought liberty knowing what they sought.” Unlike earlier experiments in liberty, which had been tainted by expediency, compromise, and interest, the Americans demanded liberty simply and purely as a right. The three-pence tax that provoked the revolution was three-pence worth of pure principle. “I will freely spend nineteen shillings in the pound, Acton quoted Benjamin Franklin, “to defend my right of giving or refusing one other shilling.” Acton himself went further. The true liberal, like the American revolutionists, “stakes his life, his fortune, the existence of his family, not to resist the intolerable reality of oppression, but the remote possibility of wrong, of diminished freedom.” The American Constitution was unique in being both democratic and liberal. “It was democracy in its highest perfection, armed and vigilant, less against aristocracy and monarchy than against its own weakness and excess. . . . It resembled no other known democracy, for it respected freedom, authority, and law.”
One of the more famous quotes from the eminently quotable Lord Acton is his dictum, “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” Actually, this appears in his writings in a slightly different form, as is seen below.
It is clear from the quote itself that Acton is contrasting two different views of liberty. But from the larger context we can rightly describe these two views as corresponding to Acton’s conception of the Catholic view of liberty in contrast to the modern view. Thus he writes,
There is a wide divergence, an irreconcilable disagreement, between the political notions of the modern world and that which is essentially the system of the Catholic Church. It manifests itself particularly in their contradictory views of liberty, and of the functions of the civil power. The Catholic notion, defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought, denies that general interests can supersede individual rights. It condemns, therefore, the theory of the ancient as well as of the modern state. It is founded on the divine origin and nature of authority. According to the prevailing doctrine, which derives power from the people, and deposits it ultimately in their hands, the state is omnipotent over the individual, whose only remnant of freedom is then the participation in the exercise of supreme power; while the general will is binding on him. Christian liberty is lost where this system prevails: whether in the form of the utmost diffusion of power, as in America, or of the utmost concentration of power, as in France; whether, that is to say, it is exercised by the majority, or by the delegate of the majority, — it is always a delusive freedom, founded on a servitude more or less disguised. (emphasis added)
The source of this quote is an essay on “The Roman Question” from The Rambler (January 1860), in which Acton considers the temporal power of the Roman pontiff in the context of modern revolutions.
One confirmation of the validity of Acton’s contrast, at least as regards the status of his definition of Catholic liberty, what we might identify as a basically Augustinian definition of liberty, is the appearance of this definition in an almost verbatim form in Pope John Paul II’s homily at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1995: “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Senator Chris McDaniel represents Mississppi’s 42nd District (Jones County) in the state legislature. McDaniel has a bachelors degree from William Carey College in Hattiesburg and in 1997 received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the Ole Miss School of Law. You can find a full biography at his website. I’ve been following McDaniel’s commentaries, which are an impressive defense of the free society rooted in virtue and a moral framework. He’s a serious thinker and I’ve highlighted his work on the PowerBlog a couple of times. I felt it would be beneficial for our readers to publish an interview with Senator McDaniel. He is worth getting to know and is somebody who echoes so many of the ideas of the Acton Institute.
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The Great Awakening (1730 – 1760) was central to America’s revolution and independence. It united the colonies and gave them a new spiritual vitality. It made churches more American and less European. These changes wedded with enlightenment thought allowed Americans to see the world with new eyes. Ties to Europe, and England especially, began to unravel. “The Revolution could not have taken place without this religious background,” says historian Paul Johnson. “The essential difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that the American Revolution, in its origins, was a religious event, whereas the French Revolution was an anti-religious event.”
These truths are too often dismissed today and the kind of liberty that emerged from the colonies is being forgotten. As Lord Acton said so well, freedom is “not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
At my church service Sunday, my minister delivered a sermon on the Apostle Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 , legalism, and spiritual pride. At the end, he took a few minutes to address events going on in America and even read a portion of Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent dissent on the ruling of the Defense of Marriage Act. Foreshadowing the coming religious persecution he quoted Scalia’s line, “It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” My pastor made the point that because of the looming threats to conscience and long established worldviews held by Christians, America is setting itself not as indifferent but hostile to Christian teaching and truth. We are and have been experiencing a new revolution against our foundations. It’s a harrowing thought, that points to a puffed up pride by leaders who can exact change with little precedent and unconstrained by a higher accountability.
Contrasting that kind of rebellion, there are some great sources that highlight the importance of America’s brand of spiritual liberty. One of the best is Political Sermons of the American Founding Era 1730-1805 published by Liberty Fund. Below is a great excerpt from “A Sermon on the Anniversary of the Independence of America” by Samuel Miller. Delivered in 1793, Miller was an ordained Presbyterian minister and professor of church history and government at Princeton. Miller simply lays out the significance of the Christian contribution within American independence and government:
Christianity, on the one hand, teaches those, who are raised to places of authority, that they are not intrinsically greater than those whom they govern; and that all the rational and justifiable power with which they are invested, flows from the people, and is dependent on their sovereign pleasure. There is a love of dominion natural to every human creature; and in those who are destitute of religion, this temper is apt to reign uncontrouled. Hence experience has always testified, that rulers, left to themselves, are prone to imagine, that they are a superior order of beings, to obey whom, the ignoble multitude was made, and that their aggrandizement is the principal design of the social compact. But the religion of the gospel, rightly understood, and cordially embraced, utterly disclaims such unworthy sentiments, and banishes them with abhorrence from the mind. It contemplates the happiness of the community, as the primary object of all political associations—and it teaches those, who are placed at the helm of government, to remember, that they are called to preside over equals and friends, whose best interest, and not the demands of selfishness, is to be the object of their first and highest care.
On the other hand, Christianity, wherever it exerts its native influence, leads every citizen to reverence himself—to cherish a free and manly spirit—to think with boldness and energy—to form his principles upon fair enquiry, and to resign neither his conscience nor his person to the capricious will of men. It teaches, and it creates in the mind, a noble contempt for that abject submission to the encroachments of despotism, to which the ignorant and the unprincipled readily yield. It forbids us to call, or to acknowledge, any one master upon earth, knowing that we have a Master in heaven, to whom both rulers, and those whom they govern, are equally accountable. In a word, Christianity, by illuminating the minds of men, leads them to consider themselves, as they really are, all co-ordinate terrestrial princes, stripped, indeed, of the empty pageantry and title, but retaining the substance of dignity and power. Under the influence of this illumination, how natural to disdain the shackles of oppression—to take the alarm at every attempt to trample on their just rights; and to pull down, with indignation, from the seat of authority, every bold invader!