Posts tagged with: ross douthat

We’ve just posted the final bundle of 107 audio files from Acton University 2014 available for $14.95 at our digital download store.  Our lunch and evening lectures are also free, including talks from:

Rev. Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute and author of Defending the Free Market
Makoto Fujimura,
Artist and Public Intellectual
Andy Crouch, Executive Editor, Christianity Today
Ross Douthat,
Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times

Here’s the full list of lectures:

  1. Opening Lecture – Rev. Robert A. Sirico
  2. Culture Care: From Common Grace to Loving Your Enemies – Makoto Fujimura
  3. Getting Social Justice Right – Ryan Anderson
  4. Christian Anthropology – Dr. Samuel Gregg
  5. Biblical Theology of Covenant – Dr. Scott Hahn
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Rousseau Geneve

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Earlier this Spring at The Gospel Coalition I reviewed Moisés Naím’s The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.

Naím explores in a variety of fields and with a great diversity of examples the way in which, as he puts it, “the powerful are experiencing increasingly greater limits on their power” and “power is becoming more feeble, transient, and constrained.” I think there’s a real sense in which Naím has identified a real phenomenon. Power is becoming more and more diffused.

But as I argue in my TGC review, that’s really only half the story. Naím often has to provide a caveat that in spite of much of the centralization that we see, power really is eroding full stop. My contention, however, is that what we’re really seeing is the eroding of power in civil society, an evacuation of the power and place of mediating institutions, in two directions: toward centralized structures and authorities and toward individuals. The inability to see this leads to conclusions that would only hasten and exacerbate the evacuation of power from such mediating structures.

Some of this echoes what Ross Douthat has been saying recently about individualism, following Nisbet in particular: “In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias.” I take my own proximate inspiration from Röpke and his identification of “enmassment,” but there are certainly resonances with Nisbet as well as older thinkers like Tocqueville.

I should note in response to Douthat’s observation that “from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together,” this dialectic certainly cannot be explained solely in terms of the Reformation, as perhaps Brad Gregory would argue. The role of the Renaissance more generally, and particularly the renewed engagement with the varieties of ancient and pagan philosophy has as much, if not more, to do with the Enlightenment project of the liberated individual constrained by the collective than the Protestant Reformation.

dirty100pic-300x300There is a company in the U.S. that those who want businesses to be more socially-conscious should love. The company starts employees out at $15/hour, far higher than the minimum wage. Raises have been given throughout even the harshest of economic downturn. Employees always get Sundays off.

There’s another group that could easily be called socially-conscious. These folks take care of the neediest elderly people, any race or religion, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Despite the business practices and mission of both these groups, they are on the list of the “Dirty 100” – a list created by the National Organization of Women (NOW) to delineate organizations suing the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate. Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and others on the list are considered “dirty” because they do not want their religious freedom impinged upon. Here’s how NOW sees it:

The two plaintiff corporations in Hobby Lobby [and Conestoga Woods] want the “freedom” to deny important health care services to thousands of women who work for them – whether or not they share their bosses’ religious faith or agree with their views on contraception. The plaintiffs, in other words, seek to extend their power as employers to include power over their employees’ medical decision- making. But the case also reflects a power struggle between government and corporate power, twisting the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantee into a club that enables a private business to act in ways that elected governments cannot limit or deny.

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father knows bestNew York Times columnist and Acton University 2014 plenary speaker Ross Douthat is featured in an interview with the Institute for Family Studies. Douthat addresses issues surrounding marriage and family life, pop culture influences and the media.

Douthat says that he had thought that the idea of a mom and dad, living with their biological kids, was a “given” in our culture as the best model for a healthy society. Now, he says, our world has thrown a lot of variables into the mix. Particularly, backers of same-sex marriage (SSM) have successfully created a cultural model of “it doesn’t matter:”

A lot of supporters of SSM have become invested (for understandable reasons) in the idea that married same-sex parenting will produce the same outcomes as married biological parenting—or maybe better outcomes! If they’re right, then the “biological” part of the equation you describe no longer obtains, and the story cultural conservatives have been telling, which seemed close to becoming a consensus just a little while ago, will have to be revised. And if SSM supporters are wrong, and same-sex parenting is associated with somewhat worse outcomes for children—well, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of data to prove it, and there will be tremendous elite cultural resistance even then. So wherever the evidence ultimately takes us, same-sex marriage has probably made consensus on a familial ideal somewhat harder to achieve, and created ripple effects that will be spreading out for years.

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Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 21, 2014
By

Karl Marx 001Ross Douthat (a scheduled plenary speaker at this year’s Acton University) has a noteworthy piece this week about the revival of sorts of Karl Marx: “Marxist ideas are having an intellectual moment, and attention must be paid.”

He looks at Marxism among Millennials, who perhaps can be excused for not knowing any better given their relative youth and the education many have received. Thus “the clutch of young intellectuals [Timothy] Shenk dubs the ‘Millennial Marxists,’ whose experience of the financial crisis inspired a new look at Old Karl’s critique of capitalism.” An example of what this might look like among evangelicals is this essay from The Evangelical Outpost, “Capitalism is Not God’s Dream for Humanity.” In this piece, Stormie Knott lists three dangerous things that about capitalism she learned from Marx: alienation, overconsumption, and exploitation.

To say that one might just as well learn those things from the Bible as from Marx, and with perhaps a bit more insight into the anthropological foundations of these problematics, would miss the larger point. Surely there are things one can learn from Marx. It’s just that the truths that Marx communicates are rather often more simplistic and less complex than the realities they purport to explain. But this is, perhaps, the nature of any ideology: to simplify and thus to distort.

Of course if one defines “capitalism” as that which alienates and exploits and so on, then you’ve covered your bases quite nicely, because how could anyone defend that?

This larger point is, as Peter Lawler notes, that Marx is one of the dominant narrators of the modern age, and one who must be reckoned with. His critique of the “conservative reactionaries” who sympathize with Marx is spot-on: “They too readily accept Marx’s description of capitalism as a realistic account of the world in which we live.  They think of themselves as living in a techno-wasteland and of freedom as having become another word, these days, for nothing left to lose.  Identifying capitalism with America, they become anti-American and anti-modern and almost as revolutionary in their intentions as members of Marx’s proletariat.”

Douthat concludes his piece by examining the work of Thomas Piketty, which Douthat says is “the one book this year that everyone in my profession will be required to pretend to have diligently read.” Not being among the intelligentsia, I have nevertheless duly placed my preorder of Capital in the Twenty-First Century on Amazon.

pants on fireRoss Douthat of The New York Times (and plenary speaker at Acton University 2014) talks about diversity and dishonesty, focusing on the recent resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla and the decision by Brandeis University to withdraw an honorary degree from human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Douthat’s problem isn’t so much that these things happened; it’s that those charged with publicly discussing the issues seem so bent on lying.

In both cases, Mozilla and Brandeis, there was a striking difference between the clarity of what had actually happened and the evasiveness of the official responses to the events. Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage; Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture. But neither the phrase “marriage” nor the word “Islam” appeared in the initial statements Mozilla and Brandeis released.

Instead, the Mozilla statement rambled in the language of inclusion: “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. … Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions. …”

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fieryfurnacebw2I have been known to make certain comparisons between the punitive HHS mandate and King Nebuchadnezzar’s infamous power trip — an analogy that casts the Green Family and others like them as the Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos of modern-day coercion subversion.

As I wrote just over a year ago:

As we continue to see Christian business leaders refusing to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image—choosing economic martyrdom over secularist conformity—the more this administration’s limited, debased, and deterministic view of man and society will reveal itself. Through it all, even as the furnace grows hotter and hotter, Christians should remember that a Fourth Man stands close by, offering peace and protection according to a different system altogether.

Having already connected such dots, it’s worth noting that, in a recent profile, Hobby Lobby’s CEO seems to be sniffing the same stuff:

Lately, it’s the Book of Daniel that comes often to [Steve Green’s] mind. In Chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would rather face a fiery furnace than bow to an idol at the command of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Green said, “They told the king ‘Our God is able to deliver us.’” (more…)

The core economic challenge facing the American experiment is not income inequality per se, but rather stratification and stagnation — weak mobility from the bottom of the income ladder and wage stagnation for the middle class. These challenges are bound up in a growing social crisis — a retreat from marriage, a weakening of religious and communal ties, a decline in workforce participation — that cannot be solved in Washington D.C. But economic and social policy can make a difference nonetheless, making family life more affordable, upward mobility more likely, and employment easier to find.

Ross Douthat, op-ed columnist at The New York Times and author of Bad Religion, will be joining the faculty of Acton University 2014 and featured as a plenary speaker. His writing has been called “prophetic;” Douthat has a keen eye for culture, religion, economy, politics – the milieu of American life. In Bad Religion, Douthat examines how America is becoming a nation of heretics, and the harm that is causing. David Wilezol of The Washington Times had this to say about Douthat’s book:

“Bad Religion” is a superb documentation of America’s crisis of faith, and a persuasive apology for the restoration of Christian orthodoxy in America. Mr. Douthat theorizes that the cause of America’s economic, political and moral slump has been a societal departure from our Christian roots, but the cause hasn’t been the fashionable atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. (more…)

Empty marketplaceIn his latest column, Ross Douthat contemplates what a world without work might look like:

Imagine, as 19th-century utopians often did, a society rich enough that fewer and fewer people need to work — a society where leisure becomes universally accessible, where part-time jobs replace the regimented workweek, and where living standards keep rising even though more people have left the work force altogether.

If such a utopia were possible, one might expect that it would be achieved first among the upper classes, and then gradually spread down the social ladder. First the wealthy would work shorter hours, then the middle class, and finally even high school dropouts would be able to sleep late and take four-day weekends and choose their own adventures.” — “to hunt in the morning,” as Karl Marx once prophesied, “fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner …”

Yet a widespread decline in work is not just an imaginative possibility. As Douthat goes on to argue, such decline has become “a basic reality of 21st-century American life,“ but without following the typical Marxist trajectory. “Instead of spreading from the top down,” Douthat notes, “leisure time – wanted or unwanted – is expanding from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.” Despite our persistent longing for rest and relaxation, however, this trend is not viewed as a positive development for society, even for the folks at Mother Jones.

Further, as Charles Murray explains in his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, our attitudes about work have also begun shifting, again, disproportionally among the lower classes. Pointing to a General Social Survey study that asked participants what they prefer in a job, Murray points out that the leading preference across all income groups during the 1970s was a job that “gives a feeling of accomplishment.” Soon thereafter, beginning in the 1990s, this preference began to shift significantly among the lower classes, who began to put higher preference on jobs with “no danger of being fired” or where “working hours are short.” (more…)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tackles the topic of religious liberty with his most recent column, “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” In it, Douthat highlights the public nature of the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the “free exercise of religion”:

It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.

Many would say that the religious liberty squabbles of today–the HHS mandate debate and last week’s Chick-fil-A fracas, for example–reflect a contemporary confusion about what is actually protected by the Bill of Rights’ “free exercise of religion.” Instead, Douthat posits that the conflict is a result of a present tension between religious values and the modern idea of freedom. This, Douthat argues, is really at the heart of the religious liberty debate.

The question is not whether “the free exercise of religion” allows the government to mandate contraception purchase or regulate businesses according to their values. The question is whether certain religious beliefs of today run so contradictory to the public zeitgeist that, like 15th century Aztec sacrifice rituals, they violate the common good and cannot merit public protection. Those who answer the latter question with a “yes” should quit the emaciated definitions of religious liberty and move on with the debate:

It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.

It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.

There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.