For myself, Reformation study was critical to my own spiritual formation. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand is just one book that has had a lasting impact in my life.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Witness by Whittaker Chambers. We have a superb article by Richard Reinsch on the deep influence of Witness and its relevance today. Reinsch authored the exceptional Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary in 2010. I reviewed the book in a past issue of R&L.
James Franko contributed an essay from a classically liberal perspective on “A Case for Limiting Caesar.” I’ve contributed a review of Mark Tooley’s new book Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.
The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson, of course, would do much to shape the notion of rights in the American colonies.
Let me also say something about the expansion of Rev. Robert Sirico’s column for this issue. We have excerpted a passage from his new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. It will be available from Regnery in May of this year. Anybody who is an admirer or feels they can learn something from Rev. Sirico will cherish this publication. It really serves to remind us all just how much the Acton Institute and its mission makes sense.
There is more in this issue. Check out the editor’s notes for all the details.
On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg discusses remarks made by President Barack Obama at a March 30 campaign stop at the University of Vermont. From the White House transcript of the speech, here is some of what the president said:
The American story is not just about what we do on our own. Yes, we’re rugged individualists and we expect personal responsibility, and everybody out there has got to work hard and carry their weight. But we also have always understood that we wouldn’t win the race for new jobs and businesses and middle-class security if we were just applying some you’re-on-your-own economics. It’s been tried in our history and it hasn’t worked. It didn’t work when we tried it in the decade before the Great Depression. It didn’t work when we tried it in the last decade. We just tried this. What they’re peddling has been tried. It did not work. (Applause.)
Gregg on NRO:
… it’s especially noticeable that when insisting we must take care of our neighbor the president said nothing about the role of volunteer associations — or any non-state formation whatsoever — in addressing social and economic challenges. Nor did he mention anything about the often-selfless work of loving our neighbor undertaken by the same religious organizations whose constitutionally guaranteed (and natural) liberty to live, act, and serve others according to their beliefs is being unreasonably constricted by the more ghoulish segments of his administration in the name of “choice.”
Like all good Rawlsians, President Obama finds it hard to conceptualize the possibility that private communities and associations might often be better at helping our neighbor in need than governments. Instead, his instinct is to search immediately for a political state-focused solution. If the president invested some time in exploring the concept of social justice, he would discover that its earliest articulators — mostly mid-19th-century Italian Catholic theologians – thought it should be primarily realized through associations and institutions of civil society with the government playing a supportive, but normally background role.
Read “So Who Is Our Keeper, Mr. President?” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.
Former Acton Research fellow Jay Richards’ new co-authored book, Indivisible, has climbed onto The New York Times Bestseller list, holding onto a top ten spot for a second week. The book was published by FaithWords and, in an interesting cross-publishing arrangement, is also available in an Ignatius press edition with a foreword by Ignatius founder Fr. Joseph Fessio. Jay’s co-author, James Robison, is the co-host of the evangelical daily show LIFE Today.
If you’ve had the chance to hear Jay speak, or read his earlier book, Money, Greed, and God, you’ll recognize Jay’s dry wit in several places. Here’s an example of the prose style that makes the book so much fun to read (in a section on global warming):
Effect and cause—the warming and the cause of the warming—are two different things. This is a point of logic, not science. Retreating glaciers in Alaska, polar bears looking mournfully at the ocean from the edge of a chunk of sea ice, shorter winters year after year, may be evidence of warming, but can’t tell us why the earth has warmed.
The book is a high-flying overview, so it touches on everything from creation stewardship to economic freedom to the role of the family in maintaining a free society. Its organizing message is that economic and social conservatism reinforce each other in important ways that are often overlooked.
Here’s the book endorsement from Fr.Sirico:
It is relatively easy to observe that our society is fast reaching a climactic moment. How to discern a wise, credible, effective, and prudent course of action to avoid disaster is not easy to come across. Jay Richards and James Robison make an important contribution in pointing the way to avoid the worst effects of a coming cultural and economic tsunami. (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute)
If you have had the chance to read the book, be sure to add a quick review at the book’s Amazon page.
After asking his most pressing question, “After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith?,” he makes this amazing statement:
“The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can.”
That sentence caught the immediate attention of many. Could someone of Nicholas Kristof’s influence and stature really write and mean that?
Mohler highlights some of Kristof’s commendable work on human rights abuses (he’s the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes), but Mohler says “when it comes to human rights at home, Mr. Kristof reveals a horrifying blind spot.”
Our country is not a country that “accommodates” or “tolerates” religion. There is undoubtedly a growing disconnect of those who have no fundamental understanding of the meaning of religious liberty in the American framework. Now we are clearly seeing that the exponential growth of government is a grave threat to religious liberty. Some of the “enlightened” want to somehow “accommodate” religion, at least publicly.
Face it, many who no longer look to the Lord for their help, look to the state as their provider, caretaker, and the dispenser of whatever freedoms they are granted.
Concerning our fortress of religious liberty, look no further than a book I recently reviewed on James Madison by Richard Brookhiser. Madison objected to the “fullest toleration” of religious freedom in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, and his language found its way into the Bill of Rights. Brookhiser spells it out perfectly in his Madison biography and points to the uniqueness of America’s first freedom:
Madison, half Mason’s age, improved his language, proposing a crucial change to the clause on religious liberty. Mason’s draft, reflecting a hundred years of liberal thought going back to John Locke, called for “the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” Yet this did not seem liberal enough for Madison. Toleration implies those who tolerate: superiors who grant freedom to others. But who can be trusted to pass judgments, even if the judgment is to live and let live? Judges may change their minds. The Anglican establishment of Virginia, compared with established churches in other colonies, had been fairly tolerant – except when it hadn’t, and then it made water in Baptists’ faces. So Madison prepared an amendment. “All men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise” of religion. No one could be said to allow men to worship as they wished; they worshipped as they wished because it was their right as men. Madison’s language shifted the ground of religious liberty from a tolerant society or state, to human nature, and lifted the Declaration of Rights from an event in Virginia history to a landmark of world intellectual history (23, 24).
Furthermore, take a look at “Birth Control Yes, Government Control No” in The Wall Street Journal for more on the threat to religious liberty.
Toleration or accommodation is of course flawed because it posits the notion that religious freedom or freedom of conscious is offered by the whims of the state. Many pundits rolled their eyes at the “war on religion” ad by Rick Perry during his presidential campaign. I admit, I think I rolled my eyes and thought it was quite the overreaction. I was too enlightened and nuanced for an ad like that. Given the actions of the executive branch, I don’t know if we can say it’s an overreaction anymore.
In terms of the blogosphere, I’m sure this polling data from Gallup published two days ago showing that fear of big government dwarfs fear of big business and big labor is ancient history. I only want to offer a few observations.
At one point in our history, I think a lot of Americans or even a majority of Americans looked at the federal government as a vehicle for fairness, progress, and justice. Certainly, the federal government has done quite a few things well over the years. However, as politics has become even more partisan and divisive, and more and more power has been centralized into the Washington beltway, these beliefs have eroded dramatically. In my August commentary “The Folly of More Centralized Power” I noted,
Washington’s inability to balance budgets and restore fiscal responsibility, a problem magnified by a crippled economy, has also bankrupted the public trust. Citizens who take summer vacations to the nation’s capital can easily connect the dots as they observe a Washington Beltway that is booming with jobs and opportunity as tax dollars siphon into the region, even while their own communities are ravaged by job loss and businesses struggle under regulatory burdens.
I also said in the piece,
People feel disconnected from their federal government not only because they are separated geographically, culturally, ideologically, but also because they believe that their access to the political process has been severed. They doubt whether their representatives actually have the best interests of the nation in mind.
Considering all the continued deficit spending, continued government growth, you might expect that some real progress would have been made to start digging us out of this massive hole. But more and more Americans are realizing that the federal government does not have their best interest at heart. It will be interesting to see how the disconnect between the governing and federal bureaucratic class continues to morph as even more and more money and capital is needed to preserve and protect the power structure. A lot of class warfare cards of course will be played and both political parties will do what is best to preserve their power.
When I think about liberals and the war on poverty and mobilizing the government for good, two famous photographs come to mind. I remember when LBJ visited Eastern Kentucky to declare a war on poverty and of course the famous photo of Robert F. Kennedy visiting the impoverished Mississippi Delta. But even liberals or the political left must look out on the political landscape, when well meaning and historic poverty programs were implemented generations ago by well meaning leaders who captured the nation’s conscious, and they must wonder what went wrong? With the political climate the way it is now, even the good intentions are gone and the rhetoric is so shortsighted and rings hollow.
I was fortunate to attend some of “Reagan: A Centenary Retrospective” at Hillsdale College from October 2 – 5. I was present for excellent lectures by Craig Shirley and Peter Robinson.
Shirley is the author of Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All and Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America, a book I reviewed on the PowerBlog.
Robinson, a former speechwriter in the Reagan White House, authored the famous “Tear Down this Wall” address and the book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. I have read all three of the above books and I can say they are easily top tier accounts on Reagan.
While there is so much to share from these two lectures, I’ll offer just a few notes. Shirley is the Reagan author who makes the most mention of Reagan’s admiration for Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The great Russian writer’s belief “that man’s purpose is as a divinely inspired agent to live out creation” had a deep resonance with the former president. At Reagan’s death, Solzhenitsyn eulogized him from Russia in 2004 saying,
In July 1975, I concluded my remarks in the Reception Room of the U.S. Senate with these words: ‘Very soon, all too soon, your government will not just need extraordinary men – but men with greatness. Find them in your souls. Find them in your hearts. Find them within the breadth of and depth of your homeland.’ Five years later, I was overjoyed when just such a man came to the White House. May the soft earth be a cushion in his present rest.
Robinson offered a conservative estimate that Reagan wrote over a half a million words on his own for public consumption. “Politicians have a network but Ronald Reagan had words. But words that convinced people that he was right,” added Robinson. He also noted that very few of the letters Reagan wrote in the White House were to people of prominence, but rather most of the letters he penned were to ordinary Americans. Robinson complimented Reagan by saying his “speechwriters just mimicked and parroted the sound and substance Reagan already created.”
Robinson was asked about the deep respect Ronald Reagan showed for President Calvin Coolidge. Reagan of course was at times mocked by the Washington press corps for hanging a Coolidge portrait in the White House. Robinson declared,
Ronald Reagan could remember Coolidge as a boy or young man. Coolidge loved words and was a beautiful writer and Reagan resonated not just with his ideology but his love for words.
Earlier this year I authored a commentary for the Reagan Centennial titled, “Deeper Truths Magnify Reagan Centennial.”
My recent posts on politics and austerity and this week’s Acton Commentary refer to a principled basis for limited government. I speak of “the limits of government rooted in a rich and variegated civil society.”
Here’s a good statement of that basis from Lord Acton:
There are many things government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.
David Bahnsen, writing on The Bahnsen Viewpoint, has a great report on last night’s Acton dinner:
“Good news – the President has announced a reduction of the government work force by one million people (20%). Bad news – the cuts were ordered by President Raul Castro in Cuba.”
So began the 20th anniversary dinner of The Acton Institute tonight in Grand Rapids, MI. Acton co-founder, Kris Alan Mauren loosened up the crowd with the aforementioned joke which served the dual purpose of making me laugh, and disturbing me deeply. But of course, the fact that Canada, Germany, France, England, China, and even Cuba are currently moving the ball in the opposite direction that we are here in the United States is now common knowledge. and as Kris said, it reinforces why the stakes are so high right now for lovers of liberty.
The event itself was a delight, as always. Kate O’ Beirne was a fantastic master of ceremonies. She is a national treasure. Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway and one of the wealthiest men in America, was awarded the Faith and Freedom Award. His testimony was extraordinary. Humble. Visionary. Principled. Devout follower of Christ. 600 people came tonight to celebrate the organization that, the more involved with I get, the more excited I am to see what they represent. Acton’s mission is almost exactly identical to the ruling passion in my life: the intersection of markets and morality. Acton is so much more than a think tank (though they surely do feature the great intellects in the fields of religion and economics). But they also are an activist and educational organization, producing content in a variety of media that literally challenge the presuppositions people bring to the subjects of work, calling, wealth, freedom, and virtue. They are producing DVD’s that are viewed by millions of people, and are revolutionary in terms of content and message. My commercial for the organization could go on and on, but just go to their website and see for yourself all they are doing.
The video vignette from their new documentary, “Poverty Cure”, was powerful. “How can you know what causes poverty if you do not know what causes wealth?” Acton’s approach to the great social ills of our day is extremely contrarian to the right and the left. They do not advocate a cold “eat what you cook” kind of capitalism, and they certainly do not advocate the dependency-creating solutions of the left. They know that free markets open up the widest lanes to a society that can create and sustain real alleviation of poverty. As an African priest put it in the video clip tonight describing the solutions they pursue in their own village: “We do not aim to create job-seekers; we aim to create job-makers”. Thoughtful, sensible, and deeply compassionate. But not an iota of coercion or redistribution.
As always, Father Sirico’s keynote address was remarkable. In describing the necessity of a perspective that understands the dignity of man he said, “If we don’t get the anthropology right, we get nothing right. Human beings are a composite of heaven and of earth. It is the ultimate tragedy when we decide to try and dichotomize the two.” What he means, of course, is understanding the theological principle that man is created in the image of God, yet not God; man is a part of the created order, yet possesses a dignity and ability to reason that no other part of creation does. Understanding these things is the very first step in understanding economics. To reduce economics to mathematical abstractions is to give way to the worst kind of moral relativism.
Much more here.
Also, Bahnsen tips us off about an event he is organizing in Southern California in February:
Yours Truly, Father Sirico, Jay Richards, Andrew Sandlin, and Dinesh D’Souza will all appear TOGETHER in my hometown of Newport Beach, CA on February 25 & 26 of 2011. The Virtue of Prosperity: The Moral Implications of Wealth and Work – coming soon. The promotional materials are at the printer, and the web page will be up shortly. I am producing the event (and speaking at it), but am working with my friends at CCL and Acton. After hearing Father Sirico tonight, I am glad I will be speaking Friday (and he Saturday). He would upstage some of the great orators and preachers of the last three centuries.