In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about this week’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican, and reflects on the differences in philosophy that make a Presidential/Papal alliance such as what occurred during the time of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II unlikely.
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.
Lady Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, has passed away from an apparent stroke at the age of 87.
In 2011, the Acton Institute presented Lady Thatcher with its “Faith and Freedom” award which “recognizes an individual who exemplifies commitment to faith and freedom through outstanding leadership in civic, business, or religious life.” Thatcher served as Prime Minister for eleven years, during which time she struggled to reform and stabilize Great Britain’s economy. However, she will likely best be remembered for the role she played, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, in bringing down the Soviet Union’s Communist regime.
Acton will be providing more coverage of Lady Thatcher’s political and economic contributions here on the PowerBlog as the day continues.
“Want a job at the Pig?” asked my best friend Steve.
By my reaction, you would have thought he’d asked if I wanted a date with Kathy Ireland rather than inquiring about a job as a grocery sacker at the Piggly Wiggly. But I was living at Steve’s parent’s house rent-free, and needed to earn some money. And in Clarksville, Texas in 1985, the prospects of an inexperienced teen finding a good job were only slightly better than chances of dating a supermodel.
The elation was short-lived, though, and lasted only until I saw my first paycheck. As a full-time student working for a job that qualified for tips (I never, ever got tips) my employer was allowed to pay me the subminimum wage of $2.85 a hour (the equivalent of $5.87 in 2012). After FICA and Social Security took their cut, there wasn’t much left for me.
So if Ronald Reagan had announced in his State of the Union address that he was raising the minimum wage to $4.37 an hour (the equivalent in 1986 of Obama’s $9 minimum wage) I would have been ecstatic. Like all my fellow proletarian coworkers I was disdainful of Reagan’s economic policies, particularly his refusal to raise the minimum wage. Reagan’s was the only administration not to have raised the minimum wage since it was introduced nationally in 1938—a fact we often repeated in the breakroom as we looked at our paystubs and cussed the president.
Twenty-seven years later, though, I see the situation differently. I realize that I have not only my friend Steve but also President Reagan to thank for my getting hired at the Piggly Wiggly. Had the minimum wage been raised, the store owner could have never afforded to hire me. Since my labor was barely worth $2.85 an hour, having a government imposed price increase on wages of 52% would have priced me out of the market.
As William Graham Sumner explained in 1883, by attempting to do me a favor—by artificially raising the minimum wage I must be paid—the politicians were hurting both me and my potential employer:
If we asked many of our fellow Americans today “What is the purpose of government?,” undoubtedly, we might be barraged with some vexing or comical answers. But I’m not one to believe that a good deal of our citizens can’t answer this question quite intelligibly. Still, I don’t think it would be enough to embody a healthy republic. It is time for our country to ask these basic questions again. It seems as if the looming chaos of our current national mismanagement demands it.
It was a common belief among the American framers that the purpose of government is simply to secure our rights from God. Unfortunately, I think this is largely forgotten now. That much is evident, given the legislative demands we see today, especially in our nation’s capital. Government overreach is the rule, not the exception. Today we see action taken by the government more oriented toward curtailing our liberties. Instead of natural law, we are inundated with legal positivism, especially when characterized by executive orders contrary to our Constitution. Attacks on the Bill of Rights and the current attacks we are seeing on the 2nd Amendment, is really a fundamental argument against the idea of self-government. In his first Presidential Inaugural Address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson declared,
Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
The idea that humans can govern themselves was a radical notion in 1776. Jefferson eloquently stated,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .
President Ronald Reagan in 1981, would echo Jefferson’s articulation of self government in his Inaugural Address, while facing the monuments to America’s Founders:
From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?
We as a people need to again ask those fundamental questions about our capability for self government. When it comes to the 2nd Amendment or the entirety of our Bill of Rights, should we trust a government that is already hedging and placing limits on trusting us, when in fact, it was entirely meant to be the other way around?
Writing on The Corner over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points to the election and, refreshingly, tells us that, “I’m not one of those who, in recent days, have seemed inclined to indulge their inner curmudgeon, apparently convinced that it’s more or less game-over for America and we’re doomed to Euro-serfdom.”
Gregg, author of the soon-to-be-released and available for pre-order Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future (Encounter Books, January 2013), explains why there are, still, important differences between Eurotopia and the United States. For one thing:
… the strength and persistence of private entrepreneurship continues to substantially differentiate America’s economic culture from that of Europe. America remains ahead — and, in some areas, continues to pull ahead — of most of Europe when it comes to private innovation. As noted in a World Bank report earlier this year, the elements that fuel innovation, such as ease in obtaining patents and availability of venture capital, continue (at least for now) to be far stronger in America than in most of Europe.
The same report specified that it is young firms driving innovative growth in America. Among America’s leading innovators in the Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard, more than half were created after 1975. They include firms such as eBay, Microsoft, Cisco, Amgen, Oracle, Google, and of course Apple. By contrast, only one in five leading innovators in Europe is young. In America, young firms make up an incredible 35 percent of total research and development done by leading innovators. Their European counterparts account for a mere 7 percent in the old continent. That’s great news for America and a major headache for Europe over the long term.
Read “Are We all Europeans Now?” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.
The first presidential election I remember was the Ronald Reagan – Walter Mondale race in 1984. My kindergarten class in the Philadelphia suburbs held a mock vote that Reagan overwhelmingly won. It of course reflected the way our parents were voting. I can remember at the age of five, John Glenn was one of the Democrat candidates seeking the nomination and I knew he was a famous astronaut. The truth is, I’ve always been fascinated by presidential elections and Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms by Ed Rollins and Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater by John Brady are two political books that deeply influenced my thought. Both books remain relevant and offer valuable lessons today.
Frank Hill, who directs The Institute for the Public Trust, has a solid post discussing Robert Kennedy, self-government, and tomorrow’s election. Hill quotes Lord Acton in his essay as well. He cites Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation Address” in South Africa in 1966. It was a striking address, touching on the universal truths recognized by the West. Below is a great line from Kennedy’s speech that day:
At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.
Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and Ronald Reagan’s 1976 campaign are probably the two campaigns that offer the most mystique and magic for liberals and conservatives. One campaign ended with a tragic assassination and the other left conservative activists heartbroken by a narrow defeat. Both candidates were treated to adoring fans and followers and shook up the political landscape. While they represented different ends of the political spectrum, they were both visionary presidential campaigns. Those two campaigns caused a lot of young people to get excited not just about politics or power but deeper ideas about government and the human person.
Tomorrow is a big election. We’ve rightfully placed a heavy emphasis on the limits of politics here at the Acton Institute. Politics will not solve the deeper issues and problems facing this nation. The topic was the overarching theme of Rev. Robert Sirico’s 2012 Annual Dinner address. Jordan Ballor and I hosted an Acton on Tap addressing that very question in 2010. But elections and politics are important and serve a purpose. There are clear philosophical differences between the candidates and the peaceful transition of power reflects well on the foundations of our country.
At Acton we’ve always tried to raise the discourse and talk about higher truths. In a country that now faces crippling debt, moral chaos, and threats to religious freedom, we would be wise to draw upon some words James Madison used to close a letter he penned to a friend in 1774. Madison, concerned about persecuted Baptists in Virginia wrote, “So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty and Conscience to revive among us.” I would think most of our readers would agree and wish that much would be so.