Posts tagged with: Political philosophy

Blog author: jballor
Friday, March 15, 2013
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Sam Gregg writes of Argentina, whence the new Pope Francis hails, “Over and over again, Argentina has been brought to its knees by the populist politics of Peronism, which dominates Argentina’s Right and Left. ‘Kirchnerism,’ as peddled by Argentina’s present and immediate past president, is simply the latest version of that.” For a bit of the current economic context in Argentina, here’s the latest on Kirchnerian political economy as related by John Teevan:

Cristinakirchnermensaje2010That’s the Argentine Way: In order to prevent the outflow of dollars from President Cristiana Kirchner’s silly-but-harmful economy, she created a new trade policy that permits only as much importing of foreign goods as can be paid for by equally matched by exports. So how is Newsan, an Argentine maker of Sanyo and JVC electronic equipment, going to create the exports necessary to buy the parts it needs to import? Easy, they added a seafood business that now exports shrimp and is paid in dollars. Similarly, Argentine BMW exports rice. Better to partner with Argentina’s wineries which produced $865m in wine exports. The words to describe this urgent economic inefficiency are not ‘free market’ nor even ‘social economic planning’ but ‘a Byzantine labyrinth.’ Why is it necessary? Because Ms. Kirchner also has currency rules or controls that ration how much foreign currency people can hold. Why? Because her policies have made the Argentine currency worth less threatening her dollar reserves. All this is to help ‘manage trade’ as she says so that Argentine jobs can be protected from ‘cheap imports’. President Cristiana is contorting herself to put many fingers in her leaky dike. She’s running out of fingers and looks ridiculous.

The above is from John’s monthly email, “Economic Prospect.” Send John a message if you’d like to be added to his list.

In a story about looming budget cuts associated with the federal sequestration, Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing was called on by Aleteia to suggest “ways Catholic social teaching might be used to guide the cuts.” Schmiesing pointed out that the “cuts” are really “only a slow-down in the rate of growth in federal spending.” More:

“Much more dramatic cuts and/or revenue increases are needed to reach a position of fiscal responsibility,” he said in an interview. But the principle of “solidarity,” from Catholic social teaching, he suggested, would guide specific cuts in spending to be made in a way that “expresses shared responsibility for our nation and its problems.”

“For example, firing a lot of lower staffers while preserving intact the comfortable salaries and benefits of the higher-level staffers might be seen as a violation of solidarity,” he said. “It puts all of the sacrifice on one segment of the population.”

Schmiesing suggested too that cuts should be “managed in a way that encourages rather than undermines the institutions that operate at a level more local than the federal government.” This would be based on the principle of subsidiarity, which, to cite one example, would be violated by “closing a military base – cold turkey – that serves as the foundation of a local community comprised of families, churches, and businesses.”

In addition, budget decisions “must keep foremost in mind the effect on those who are most vulnerable,” Schmiesing said. “It would not be in line with Catholic social teaching (and its principle of a preferential option for the poor) to preserve inviolate the comfortable salaries of upper middle class bureaucrats while at the same time firing” lower-wage office staff.

Read “The Concrete Impact of Sequestration” on Aleteia.com

What do we mean when we talk about “liberty?”

roman-slaveWhile it may appear that we all use the word in the same way, closer examination reveals that Americans have a wide range of meanings for the term. For instance, when those of us at Acton refer to liberty we tend to have in mind the definition we use in our “core principles”: Liberty, in a positive sense, is achieved by fulfilling one’s nature as a person by freely choosing to do what one ought.

Other individuals and organizations often define the term in ways that differ, either subtly or radically, from the Acton Institute. Liberty, then, is less an easily definable term than a word used to refer to a range of loosely related concepts. Understanding how “liberty” has been used in the past can therefore help us understand how and why we have different views of it today.

A prime example is political historian Quentin Skinner’s explanation of “neo-Roman liberty.”
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The February issue of Sojourners magazine presents various perspectives on the surge in evangelicalism’s interest in exploring new national and international peace initiatives. For example, The World Evangelical Alliance’s Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Initiative acknowledges “that in our zeal for evangelism, we have often overlooked the biblical mandate to pursue peace. We commit ourselves anew to this mandate within our homes, churches, communities, and among the nations.” Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) promotes itself as an evangelical organization that “consistently campaigns at the grassroots and policy level for a world that is pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-racial justice, pro-sexual integrity and pro-creation care.” “We want Christians to look deeply, act justly, and love radically,” says ESA.

Justice and peace are, of course, themes we can all support. What Christians are there in the world who are pro-war and pro-injustice? Even with these themes, however, is it possible that those who are oppressed and suffering need more than a society that is merely peaceful and where people are acting justly? Because “peace” and “justice” are normally situated in light of negative realities, more often than not, the discourse tends to focus on what we should not do in society instead what allows people to be free to live out their vocation to be human. The solutions offered tend to narrowly focus on lofty hoped for visions that deny trade-offs necessary in a broken world.

Additionally, we find the surprising promotion of a ruling class of elites in government having concentrated decision-making power over those with less money and less political power, rather than considering ways to allow people to make decisions that empower them to seek their own solutions to meeting their needs. We need to do more than “end slavery” or “end poverty.” We need to think more deeply about what it means to be human and how we can put people in positions, in accordance with their design by their Creator, to live well. In other words, we need to focus our attention on human flourishing.

In a 2003 article on human flourishing,” Dr. Edward W. Younkins helps us get a sense of the advantages of focusing on human flourishing: (more…)

In a lengthy interview in the Daily Caller, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg picks up many of the themes in his terrific new book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. Here’s an excerpt:

Daily Caller: In what ways do you think the U.S. has become like Europe?

Samuel Gregg: If you think about the criteria I just identified, it’s obvious that parts of America — states like California, Illinois, and New York — have more-or-less become European. Likewise, the fact that most federal government expenditures are overwhelmingly on welfare programs replicates the situation prevailing throughout Western Europe. Then there is the unwillingness on the part of many Americans to accept that we cannot go on this way. It is one thing to have problems. But it’s quite another to refuse to acknowledge them.

Daily Caller: What’s so bad about becoming like Europe? It’s not that bad of a place. It’s not like becoming like North Korea, right?

Samuel Gregg: I lived and studied in Europe for several years. So I can report that there is much to like! But even leaving aside many European nations’ apparent willingness to settle for long-term economic stagnation, I would argue that it’s becoming harder and harder to be a free person in Europe. By that, I don’t mean a re-emergence of the type of socialist regimes that controlled half of Europe for 50 years. Rather I have in mind two things. (more…)

I have wrapped up a brief series on the principle of subsidiarity over at the blog of the journal Political Theology with a post today, “Subsidiarity ‘From Below.'” You can check out the previous post, “Subsidiarity ‘From Above,'” as well as my introductory primer on the topic as well.

For those who might be interested in reading some more, you can also download some related papers: “State, Church, and the Reformational Roots of Subsidiarity” and “A Society of Mutual Aid: Natural Law and Subsidiarity in Early Modern Reformed Perspective.”

There’s also this recent coverage from the PowerBlog of a paper by Patrick Brennan and further responses (here, here, and here).

Ken Endo, who has done a great deal of work on the historical and legal background to the idea of subsidiarity, has a helpful summary of the two basic constructions as differing emphases of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism:

Founded on a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination that could be influenced by the Protestant tradition, the local municipalities and regions in Sweden and Finland considered subsidiarity indispensable if they are to join the European Community….

Their approach towards subsidiarity as well as that of Denmark and perhaps the Netherlands takes on a bottom-up character, and does not necessarily coincide with the conception of southern European countries, which are in general coloured by Catholicism.

Of this latter view, Endo is referring to the idea that “the Catholic Church presupposes the hierarchical view of Society in which all its components should be located in the ‘proper’ places. Moreover, the Church considers that other components of Society than the State are subordinated to the State in a harmonious way as if they were part of its body (to put it in a different way, in accordance with the common good.”

You can download the text of Endo’s lengthy essay, “The Principle of Subsidiarity: From Johannes Althusius to Jacques Delors,” in PDF form.

National Review Online asked Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg to weigh in on President Barack Obama’s second term inaugural address.

Gregg points to “our president’s worldview that the government is the primary way in which we address our common problems and realize our responsibilities and obligations to each other as citizens and as human beings.” He wonders if it has occurred to Obama that “many such responsibilities and obligations might be realized outside the realm of politics … ”

Gregg goes on to suggest, for the presidential reading list, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Jacques Maritain’s writings on civil society in the United States.

Read “Why Barack Obama Needs to Read Alexis de Tocqueville” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.

While you’re at it, pick up a copy of Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future (Encounter Books, January 2013).

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 7, 2012
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Patrick Brennan graciously noted my engagement with his piece on subsidiarity, charitably calling it “substantive.” He takes issue, however, with my pace Brennan.” He rightly responds that “the very point of the book to which my chapter is a contribution is a ‘comparative’ perspective on subsidiarity.” He continues, “My assigned task in writing the chapter was to tell the what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”

To clarify, it seems to me that Brennan is quite ably articulating and explicating a particularly vigorous and metaphysically robust version of subsidiarity often associated with Catholic social teaching, and particularly the neo-Thomist revival of the previous two centuries. My quibble, and I’m not sure if it amounts to much more than that, is with the idea that this is identical to “what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”

In the papers linked in the previous post I do make more specific claims with respect to subsidiarity in “other” traditions, particularly the Reformed. But given the shared medieval (and even to a great extent the early modern) background and the diversity there, I do wonder whether that more robust, ontologically-freighted version of subsidiarity is the only version at play in the specifically Roman Catholic tradition, either before or after 1891.
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In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Wilfred McClay offers six reasons why religion in America really does—and should—enjoy ‘special privileges':

A third argument for religion’s special place is anthropological: Human beings are naturally inclined toward religion. We are driven to relate our understanding of the highest things to our lives lived in community with others. Whether our “theotropic” impulses derive from in-built endowment, evolutionary adaptation, or some other source, the secular order ought not to inhibit their expression.

If believers sense a general willingness to acknowledge their legitimate role in public life, they will likely feel a stronger and deeper loyalty to the American experiment. But if they encounter instead a rigid insistence upon a rigorously secularist public square, the result could very well alienate religious subcultures, whose sectarian disaffection could become so profound as to threaten the very cohesion of the nation. Secularists who worry about religion taking an outsized role in public life would be better advised to give a little strategic ground on that issue, and acknowledge the spiritual dimension in our makeup, even if they think it an all-too-human shortcoming.

Read more . . .

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…)