Posts tagged with: literature

As we prepare to kick off the fall portion of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series tomorrow (featuring Don Devine speaking about how America can find its way back to a harmony between freedom and tradition), we take a look back at the final lecture of the spring series, which was delivered on May 21 by Jonathan Witt, who aside from being a former English professor, a Research and Media Fellow at the Acton Institute, and Managing Editor of The Stream, is also the co-author of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. In the book, Witt and co-author Jay Richards explain how Tolkien’s passion for liberty and limited government shaped his work, and how this passion grew directly from his theological vision of man and creation.

You can view Witt’s lecture below, and be sure to check out Acton’s events page to register for upcoming lectures in the fall Acton Lecture Series.

The Hobbit PartyOn this edition of Radio Free Acton, your humble host bravely battles a late-spring cold to bring you an interview with Jonathan Witt, Managing Editor at, and author of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and The West Forgot. Was Frodo a small-government type? Was Tolkien a card-carrying member of the local Republican party? Or were the hobbits short-statured hippies who really enjoyed their pipe weed and the free healthcare provided by the Shire’s smooth-running, benevolent bureaucracy? Find out on Radio Free Acton!

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Madeleine lengle.jpg

This week the University Bookman published an essay in which I reflect on some of the lessons we can learn from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, especially related to the recent discovery of an excised section. L’Engle, I argue, is part of a longer tradition of classical conservative thought running, in the modern era, from Burke to Kirk.

Although L’Engle’s narrative vision is drenched in Christianity, she is often thought of holding to a rather liberal, rather than traditional or conservative, form of the faith. However, in an intriguing essay published as part of an edited collection by Regnery in 1986, L’Engle describes what the proper role of the church, particularly of her Episcopal church, ought to be with respect to social realities.

I discovered this piece while doing some research for my own small book on the economic teachings of the ecumenical movement. In “What May I Expect from My Church?” the question she raises with respect to the “Anglican establishment” was precisely the one that interested me with respect to the ecumenical movement: “Where and how do I want my establishment to inject itself into secular controversies?”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Make Work Your FavoriteIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”

Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.

But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.

And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”

detroitDetroit home owners are being put out of their homes, but it’s not because of bankers. Then by who?

It’s the Detroit city government seeking to collect back real estate taxes. There are always tax foreclosures, but foreclosures are growing from 20,000 in 2012 to an expected 62,000 in 2015. Who is putting poor people on the streets in Detroit? The government.

There is a twist here based on the fact that Detroit homes have an old (and therefore way too high) assessed valuation that the taxes are based on. So for the homeowners, it’s easier to let the property go into a tax foreclosure and then buy it back at a tax sale than it is to pay the overdue taxes based on assessed property values that have fallen 70% in recent years. People follow incentives.

We have a narrative in America stating that all financial evils come from the banks. Even Scott Burns used his space to hammer the banks for the 2008 collapse. His proof: The fines that large banks have paid to the government. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 19, 2015

Earlier this year, UCLA made available for the first time the audio of a speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given just over a month after the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 27, 1965, King addressed a number of topics, including debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act.

At one point in the speech, King stops to address a number of “myths” that are often heard and circulated, and one of these is of perennial interest, as it has to do with the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. We often hear, for instance, that law is downstream from culture, and this is true enough. Thus King admits (starting at around the 33:35 mark) that there is some truth in this kind of view as far as it goes. But this does not mean that there is no place for legislation.

As King puts it,

It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.


In light of the discussion about distributism in the recent comments, I’m posting John Zmirak’s excellent Religion & Liberty review of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards (Ignatius Press, 2014) here on the PowerBlog. Note how he ends the review with a discussion of Tolkien and whether his work lent support to distributism. Have at it.

In Praise of the Bourgeois, Liberty-Loving Race of Hobbits

By John Zmirak

"First they ignore it, then they ridicule it, then they willfully misunderstand it, then it becomes a classic." Mohandas Gandhi never said that about great works of literature, but it does describe the trajectory of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. We are long past the days when critics could lightly sneer at the book as "escapist," or convince people that it is secretly "militarist" or "racist." Too many tens of millions have actually read the work to swallow such poison pills. So readers of Tolkien who profoundly misunderstand the book and reject its central message have taken another tack: They have tried to misconstrue the work as a plea for radical environmentalism, Marxist revolution, or the use of the violent force employed by the state in the service of other agendas (such as Distributism) that were utterly alien to Tolkien. The Hobbit Party, by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards does a brilliant job of exposing these crass or crafty misreadings of Tolkien, presenting in plain English and scholarly detail the true complexity and beauty of Tolkien's epic, and more honest applications of his insights.

The Hobbit Party is an easy and pleasurable read, deeply informative and grounded in a fundamental sympathy with the vision of the good that Tolkien wove through all his works. If you only bought one book on The Lord of the Rings, this would be an excellent choice. It's especially worthwhile as a gift for students who are already fans of the book, since it will connect them to Tolkien's intellectual roots and moral aspirations.