Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg took to the podium on the final night of Acton University 2013 to deliver the closing plenary address for the conference. Below, Gregg closes the conference with a reflection on modern threats to religious liberty, and how the faithful can respond.
Over at Rough Trade, the always intriguing James Poulos celebrates the increased attention now being given to the “relationship between economic and religious life,” pointing to the Acton Institute’s very own Samuel Gregg to kick things off.
Yet he remains unsatisfied, fearful of a return to what he views to be unhelpful “conceptual frameworks and cultural antagonisms” of the past, and urging us to push toward “a new mode of analysis that breaks away from the old, exhausting debates.” For Poulos, this means embracing an “economics of grace,” an interrelated component of something he has called “radicaltarianism” in the past (see more on this here and here).
Poulos observes the typical divides among Christians as follows:
Christians who accept these teachings [about the fall of man and grace] tend to split into two economic camps: those who lean toward an uncritical embrace of free-market capitalism, and those who tilt toward a far more skeptical, suspicious attitude. For the first group, the social upshot of Christianity is an institutional framework that supports flourishing with minimal reliance on the state. Christianity supplies a good foundation for market activity. For the second, the most durable and authentic institutional frameworks supplied by Christianity raise damning questions about the sustainability of neoliberalism — the secular “democratic faith” that gives market capitalism its modern philosophical foundations. For both groups, the key is that, ultimately, religion drives sustainable economic life. The difference is that the first group typically understands religion in a Protestant way, as a driver of explosive, and morally legitimate, economic growth, while the second takes a more Catholic view, doubtful of the moral purity of explosive growth, and focused much less on growing capital than other sorts of things, like families.
Describing the state of the debate more broadly, Poulos argues that our political factions have also proven unhelpful, using terms like “economic growth” based on limited materialistic assumptions. (more…)
Pope Francis has made interesting comments on poverty, some of which have been misconstrued by the media and in the Church itself. Samuel Gregg, Director of Research for the Acton Institute, discusses both the meaning of poverty within Church teaching and what Pope Francis is truly referring to when he addresses poverty in our world today. In Crisis Magazine, Gregg points out that Christians are never to be forgetful of economic disparities, but that “poverty” has a richer and far more important meaning that just the economic one. (more…)
Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, has a column in the latest issue of Legatus magazine. In it, he recognizes the accomplishments and Catholic faith of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Charles Carroll. Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was an established businessman, and signing the Declaration was a risky move. It literally put his entire fortune at risk.
Carroll’s commercial interests extended far beyond those of the typical Marylander of his time. They ranged from grain products to livestock, small cloth factories, building crafts, cattle, mills, orchards, land speculation, and iron production. As well as investing in domestic and European markets, Carroll was in the business of making loans, charging market interest rates. He even authored a document defending the legality and morality of compound interest. And, it should be said, a portion of Carroll’s assets consisted of slaves.
Carroll’s commercial success did not mean, however, that what he often called the “habit of business” became suffocating for him. He would have thoroughly agreed with Calvin Coolidge that “the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence.”
Gregg also points out that Carroll had a sense that “the life of business was itself one full of potential nobility and purpose…” Carroll believed that order and discipline, in business and in life, made one’s life fruitful.
So is Pope Francis a closet liberation theologian, or someone with strong sympathies for the school of thought? It’s a question that’s been raised many times since Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election to the papacy in March. Most recently, the New York Times weighed in on the subject. While discussing the tone adopted by Bergoglio since becoming pope, the NYT article claimed that Francis has “an affinity for liberation theology.” “Francis’s speeches,” the article argues, “draw clearly on the themes of liberation theology.” It also suggested that “Francis studied with an Argentine Jesuit priest who was a proponent of liberation theology.”
I’m afraid, however, that if one looks at Francis’s pre-pontifical writings, a rather different picture emerges. Certainly Bergoglio is a man who has always been concerned about those in genuine material need. But orthodox Christianity didn’t need to wait for liberation theology in order to articulate deep concern for the materially poor and to remind those with power and resources that they have concrete obligations to the less fortunate. From the very beginning, it was a message that pervaded the Gospels and the Church’s subsequent life.
Gregg goes on to point out that Pope Francis is no fan of “contemporary capitalism,” but that does not in turn make him a liberation theologian. Instead, it is likely that Pope Francis speaks to the Church rooted in “a teología del pueblo (theology of the people).”
Conservatives need to stop shying away from principled, as opposed to merely utilitarian, defenses of economic freedom and its associated institutions, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg in an article for Public Discourse:
Some fiscal conservatives are certainly too sanguine about creative destruction’s unintended negative effects on our lives. But these side effects are not sufficient reasons to try to slow or even stop the process, let alone assume that higher taxes and the welfare state (which itself breeds plenty of dysfunction) are the appropriate response.
Still, it doesn’t seem wise to play down these negative impacts. Given the conservative commitment to limited government, it would seem that the authentically conservative response would be to investigate and apply Tocquevillian “civil society” solutions to such problems before looking to the state for remedies.
As commencement ceremonies once again are being celebrated around the country, I was reminded again of the moral crisis of US education.
Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:
Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.
The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”
Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)