Posts tagged with: morality

Salman Rushdie, the British Indian novelist, has a piece in The New York Times entitled “Wither Moral Courage?” He is saddened that we have “no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore” and that those who do stand up to the “abuses of power and dogma” are quickly imprisoned or vilified.

While it’s true that it is increasingly difficult to speak freely or practice one’s religious faith without fear of retribution, Rushdie confuses moral courage with shock. He cites the members of the Russian Pussy Riot as courageous, yet they refused to use their real names and disguised themselves in their protests against the Russian Orthodox Church. He also touts the “highly-effective” Occupy Wall Street movement here in the US as those with the courage to stand up against the establishment.

Pussy-Riot_2339711bThe problem here is that Rushdie isn’t really talking about moral courage. He’s talking about shock value. Courage, classically  understood, is a virtue; Cicero (106-43 BC) said, “Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature.” While we can find many acts of courage around us every day (the fireman who rushes into a burning building to save a child, the soldier who holds his ground under enemy fire), moral courage is more than just this. (more…)

Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher

Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) provided the West with many morally courageous moments. The moniker, “The Iron Lady” was bestowed upon her by the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star in 1976 because of her piercing denouncement of communism. Thatcher, of course, adored the unofficial title.

She toasted President Ronald Reagan after his then controversial Westminster speech in 1982, declaring, “We are so grateful to you for putting freedom on the offensive.” It is often forgotten today that 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted Reagan’s harsh condemnation of the Soviet Union. In her book, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, she reminded Americans to “never believe that technology alone will allow America to prevail as a superpower.”

Thatcher had a strong tie to the Acton Institute. She was the recipient of the 2011 Faith & Freedom Award. She was also interviewed in the pages of Religion & Liberty. Below is a great excerpt from that 1992 interview:

R&L: Would you comment on the temptation to identify virtue with collectivism?

Thatcher: Liberty is an individual quality and a moral quality. It does not exist in the abstract, but only in a civilized state with a rule of law. Without that, the strong would oppress the weak. The collective law is what makes individual freedom work. I remember a famous quotation of George Bernard Shaw, “Freedom incurs responsibility; that’s why men fear it.” Too many people try to cast their personal responsibility on to the state. It is so much easier to parade with banners demanding that government do something to remedy a wrong than it is to take action oneself. But it will build neither character nor independence.

The ultimate collectivist was, of course, the communist state. It operated the most total tyranny the world has ever known. It had all of the brutal, evil characteristics of other tyrannies, with its secret police, absence of remedy, and no opposition. In addition to that, it confiscated everyone’s private property and took away everyone’s job, so they became totally dependent upon the state.

The danger is that the more you turn to the state, the more you are diminishing the sense of freedom and the responsibility of the individual, and the more difficult it is to re-establish when the Communist system has gone.

Logos LogoNow available for pre-order on Logos Bible Software: all 15 volumes (30 issues) of the Journal of Markets & Morality and all 14 volumes of Acton’s Christian Social Thought series. More titles, including many from Christian’s Library Press, are upcoming as well.

Logos Bible Software allows students, pastors, and scholars to study the Bible through a vast library of fully indexed resources, including original languages, historic commentaries, encyclopedias, scholarly articles, lexicons, and more. Now among those resources, the Journal of Markets & Morality and Acton’s Christian Social Thought series of scholarly monographs. If you love Acton publications and you use Logos Bible Software, now is your chance to integrate them together at a discounted, 20% off pre-order price.

To pre-order the Journal of Markets & Morality, click here.

To pre-order Acton’s Christian Social Thought series, click here.

To pre-order the Acton Monographs on Social and Economic Morality collection (10 vols.), click here.

And keep an eye out for titles from Christian’s Library Press, coming soon.

800px-Statue_in_Minute_Man_National_Historical_ParkSome politicians are calling for new regulation and restrictions on firearms, but why and how does the Second Amendment strengthen liberty? In a thoughtful post at the Carolina Journal today, Troy Kickler offers this historical assessment:

What did early jurists and constitutional commentators say regarding the Second Amendment? St. George Tucker in View of the Constitution of the United States (1803), the first systematic commentary on the Constitution after its ratification, describes the Second Amendment to be “the true palladium of liberty.”

As the preservation of the statue of Pallas in mythological Troy — the Palladium — needed to be protected for the ancient city’s preservation, so the Virginian believed that the amendment ensured liberty’s protection in the United States. If the nation had a “standing army” — Revolutionary era-Americans’ description for a full-time, professional army — while individual Americans were denied the “right to keep and bear arms,” then “liberty, if not already annihilated,” Tucker wrote, “is on the brink of destruction.”

To Tucker, the Second Amendment is the linchpin that ensures the existence of all the other liberties.

Tucker was not alone. Although U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story believed the national government should have more authority than did Tucker, both jurists interpreted the Second Amendment as liberty’s safeguard. In 1833, Story noted in his influential Commentaries of the Constitution: “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of the republic, since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers, and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”

These jurists repeated a widespread interpretation that had been practiced by the states. The first state constitutions — which remained unaltered and in effect after the Constitution’s ratification — protected individual rights to possess and bear arms and allowed for a state militia.

(more…)

Warden Burl Cain (photo by Erin Oswalt)

Warden Burl Cain (photo by Erin Oswalt)

In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In September of 2012, I made a trip down to Angola, La. to tour the prison and interview the warden. I authored a commentary in October that touched on some of my experiences visiting the inmates and prison staff.

Cain is the longest serving warden in the history of the penitentiary, a position he has held since 1995. The prison is more commonly known as “Angola.” Cain is the most well known prison official in the country. He is the subject of the book Cain’s Redemption and has been featured in documentaries and numerous television programs.

Cain is well known for his work as reformer of prison culture and his promotion of moral rehabilitation. He serves on the board of Prison Fellowship, a ministry founded by Chuck Colson. Below is an excerpt from the forthcoming interview:
(more…)

Over at AEIdeas, James Pethokoukis challenges our attitudes about work and leisure by drawing a helpful contrast between economists John Maynard Keynes and Deirdre McCloskey.

First, he points to “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” in which Keynes frames our economic pursuits as a means to a leisurely end:

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.

Then, he draws the contrast, relying on Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. In the book, McCloskey quotes Studs Terkel, who eloquently describes a job “as a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” (more…)

Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview:
(more…)

Below is an excerpt from a 1925 Washington Post editorial on President Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. The comments speak directly to the moral arguments Coolidge was making for a free economy. It is the kind of moral thinking about markets and taxes we desperately need today from our national leaders.

The excerpt comes from an excellent book, The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker, III.

Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay. Extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of labor. “I favor the policy of economy,” says Mr. Coolidge, “not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people” [emphasis added]. He would protect those who toil by preventing the waste of the fruits of their labor. The burden of taxation is excessive. It makes life more meager, and falls hardest upon the poor. The United States is fortunate above other nations in the opportunity to economize. It is at peace and business activity has been restored. “The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare is only a species of legalized larceny,” is Mr. Coolidge’s vigorously expressed conclusion on the subject of economy.

It’s a logical, simple, and a deeply moral message. Some might call it common sense. Our times and the economic peril we face clearly calls for a commitment to reducing government spending and our tax burden. It has fallen on deaf ears in Washington and much of America. Coolidge’s words resonate today because it is the cure for our fiscal cliff and the ailing economy. And as Coolidge understood so well, it is the moral thing to do.

It makes little, or really no sense for Americans to fork over more taxes without a balanced federal budget and seeing some fiscal responsibility out of Washington. The fact that the United States Senate hasn’t passed a budget in well over three years doesn’t mean we aren’t spending money, we are spending more than ever. The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution was April of 2009.

We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that “taxing the rich” at an even greater rate will somehow dig us out of this mess. That’s delusional of course but the line works well in focus groups and polls. Here is a great common sense post from Frank Hill on the problems with that line of reasoning. Hill directs The Institute for the Public Trust and has a solid understanding of the economic and budget challenges facing the nation. His blog is a must to follow and as always Acton’s Principles for Budget Reform are worth reading.

There has been a lot of news coverage and debate about Republicans who signed a tax pledge. Now some of them feel boxed in and want flexibility to cut a deal. The criticism from some is that they want to cave without demanding any real concessions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) is leading the charge of criticizing Republicans who want to raise taxes. His argument is that budgets need to be balanced and taxes cut to spur economic growth.

At any rate, it’s obvious we have a spending crisis in Washington not a crisis stemming from a lack of revenue. More revenue won’t cure the ailment that plagues Washington.

At this hour, it seems that the number of leaders who are making the moral argument on the rights of Americans to keep more of their property is rapidly dwindling. Strong economic conservatives like Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan made impressive moral arguments about the importance of low taxes in a free society. It not only makes economic sense but it makes sense morally. And for the record, if a politician signed his name to a pledge he or she should show some backbone and principle by honoring his word. Property and taxes are important issues, but today there is little leadership on the issue, especially the kind of moral leadership this nation desperately needs.

A schoolhouse in New England from the 1830s.

According to a recent Pew Center report, “Record levels of bachelor’s degree attainment in 2012 are apparent for most basic demographic groups.” 33% of 25- to 29- year-olds are completing both high school and college. According to the report, this number is up from five years ago and at record levels for the United States in general. But what does it mean? Statistics like these are constantly being produced, but they are no good to us if we do not know how to interpret them. After attending the joint Acton/Liberty Fund conference this past weekend on Acton and Tocqueville, I have Tocqueville on the brain and wonder if, perhaps, he might have some insights that are still relevant today. (more…)