On Thursday, June 16th, it was a great pleasure to welcome William B. Allen – Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy and Emeritus Dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University – as a plenary speaker at Acton University 2016, to deliver an address entitled “A Moral Surprise: The Common Foundation of Christianity and Modern Politics.” Allen used his address to argue that true political freedom requires freedom of conscience as its foundation – a freedom of conscience that cannot itself be the product of political freedom, but is rather a divinely ordained gift. You can view his presentation below; Allen has also graciously provided the text of his presentation as well, which you can download here. And after the jump, I’ve included the video of Allen’s 2014 Acton Lecture Series presentation, which he references during his speech.
In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains a new entry in our Scholia special feature section: “Advice to a Desolate France” by Sebastian Castellio. Writing in 1562, Castellio was one of the first early modern defenders of freedom of religion on the basis of freedom of conscience, in the midst of a turbulent time of conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century France. His insights should still be valuable today, both to scholars and others who value that same freedom.
As is our usual custom, this issue’s editorial, “Self-Interest and Moral Contexts,” is open access. In it, I examine the necessity of context for determining the morality of the choices of market actors:
The economic idea of self-interest as the driving motivator of economic (and other) behavior is as widely accepted by economists as it is criticized by others. The critics, generally, object to the assumption that “widespread and/or persistent human behavior can be explained by a generalized calculus of utility-maximizing behavior,” to quote George Stigler and Gary Becker. Is not that selfishness? And is not selfishness immoral? And do not people, at least sometimes, act morally? Furthermore, should not they be encouraged to act altruistically instead of only thinking of their own interests?
In reality, context complicates such moralisms.
The full editorial can be read and downloaded here.
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One of the most common criticisms of capitalism is that the system exploits workers. It’s an old claim (dating back to at least Karl Marx). But is it true?
Philosopher Matt Zwolinski argues that even if individual capitalists want to exploit workers the free market tends to prevent them from doing so. However, government interference in labor markets does allow some parties to gain at someone else’s expense.
In an era where socialism is (inexplicably) once again in vogue, we should ask, “What would life be like in a world without capitalism?”
The Fund for American Studies has produced a superb It’s a Wonderful Life-style video that not only shows what life would be like if we banned free enterprise (i.e., a lot like Soviet Russia) but also makes the point that when you lose economic freedom you lose other freedoms too. As the angel says, “When you take away the carrot, all you’re left with is the stick.
My favorite part of the video:
Anti-capitalist activist: “I just wanted to get rid of the greed. I didn’t want to get rid of my microwave, my air-conditioner. . . ”
Angel: “Your Xbox.”
Activist: “My Xbox is gone?”
Angel: “Yeah, well, in this world that greedy Bill Gates work in a bowling ball factory in Akron. Lose-win, right?”
A recent national survey by the Harvard Institute of Politics finds that a majority of Millennials (18- to 29-year olds) do not support capitalism as a political theory. One-third of them, however, do support socialism.
As a rule, I try not to put too much stock in such surveys because opinion polls make us dumb. But it’s become obvious that a significant portion of younger American are truly so under-educated that they truly believe socialism is preferable to capitalism.
Perhaps the problem is merely one of language. The reality is that the most ardent “capitalists” don’t like “capitalism” either.
Capitalism is merely an economic system in which the modes and means of production are mostly or entirely privately owned. That’s a rather broad categorization that includes such systems as corporatism, crony capitalism, social democracy, state capitalism, and welfare capitalism. Even those of us who can be described as “capitalists” would reject most of the other forms of capitalism we don’t like. (Which is why we tend to dislike the unhelpful word “capitalism.”)
What many of us (I’m tempted to say true capitalists) prefer is not an amorphous capitalism, but an economic system that is outgrowth of the natural order of liberty: a free economy. There’s no agreed upon term for the system of a free economy (which is why capitalism is often used as a substitute) but it includes free people engaging in free enterprise in free markets. A free economy is not a laissez-faire, each-to-his-own system of consumerism. It’s a system in which people are allowed to use their resources and abilities most effectively to serve others.
My naïve hope is that if more Millennials understood that capitalism is mostly used as a derogatory term free enterprise and economic liberty, they’d realize that they really do support it after all. But in case they aren’t convinced here are five reasons why you, young Millennial reader, should support capitalism:
A new Pew Research survey finds that the majority of American Catholics (73 percent) say they rely “a great deal” on their own conscience when facing difficult moral problems. Conscience was turned to more often than the three other sources — Catholic Church’s teachings (21 percent), the Bible (15 percent) or the pope (11 percent) — combined.
While it never really went away, conscience is making a comeback among Christians.
Over the past few years, the term conscience has been increasingly referenced in debates occurring both in our churches (e.g., appeals to conscience on moral issues) and the public square (e.g., defending the right of conscience). This is a welcome resurgence, since formation and promotion of Christian conscience is particular important to our primary mission at Acton of articulating a “vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing.
We hear a lot about conscience, but what exactly does it mean? The general concept of conscience can be found in almost every human culture, but it has a unique and distinctive meaning for Christians. The Greek term for conscience (suneidesis) occurs more than two dozen times in the Bible, and serves an important concept, particularly in the Pauline epistles. If we examine the way Scripture talks about conscience we uncover five general themes:
On this day in 1936, Walter E. Williams was born in the city of Philadelphia. The George Mason University economist is famous for his classical liberal views, often arguing that free market capitalism is not only the most moral economic system known to mankind, but it allows for the creation of the most wealth and prosperity. He has discussed many diverse themes, including: race in the United States, politics, liberty, education, and more. A prolific writer, Williams has written ten books, dozens of essays for scholarly journals, and hundreds of newspaper articles.
In honor of turning eighty, here are ten excellent quotes from Williams:
At the beginning of each semester, I tell students that my economic theory course will deal with positive, non-normative economic theory. I also tell them that if they hear me making a normative statement without first saying, “In my opinion,” they are to raise their hands and say, “Professor Williams, we didn’t take this class to be indoctrinated with your personal opinions passed off as economic theory; that’s academic dishonesty.” I also tell them that as soon as they hear me say, “In my opinion,” they can stop taking notes because my opinion is irrelevant to the subject of the class — economic theory. Another part of this particular lecture to my students is that by no means do I suggest that they purge their vocabulary of normative or subjective statements. Such statements are useful tools for tricking people into doing what you want them to do. You tell your father that you need a cell phone and he should buy you one. There’s no evidence whatsoever that you need a cell phone. After all, George Washington managed to lead our nation to defeat Great Britain, the mightiest nation on Earth at the time, without owning a cell phone.
Democracy and liberty are not the same. Democracy is little more than mob rule, while liberty refers to the sovereignty of the individual.