Posts tagged with: united states

Philosopher and theologian, Michael Novak recently delivered a speech at the Catholic University of America on the vocation of business and Forbes published the transcript. Novak argues that “capitalism is lifting the world out of poverty.” As many Asian and African economies shift from socialist to capitalist, they are seeing enormous economic growth, and small businesses are the force behind these economic gains:

Even in developed nations, most jobs are found in small business. In Italy, over 80 percent of the working population works in small businesses. In the U.S., the proportion is just about 50 percent, but some 65 percent of new employment is in small businesses.

During the great economic expansion of 1981-1989, the U.S. added to its economy the equivalent of the whole economic activity of West Germany at that time. Sixteen million new jobs were created in the U.S., the vast number of them in small businesses. Startups peaked as new businesses came into being at a rate of 13 percent (as a portion of all businesses) – an all-time high. Much the same happened under Clinton in 1993-2001, but even better – 23 million new jobs were created.

In the creation of small businesses, four factors are necessary. First, ease and low cost of incorporation; second, access to inexpensive credit; third, institutions of instruction and technical help (such as the system of local credit unions in the U.S.), and the steady assistance of the extension services of the A&M universities; and, fourth, throughout the population habits of creativity, enterprise, and skills such as bookkeeping and the organization of work. Economic development is propelled, as John Paul II said, by know-how, technology, and skill (Centesimus Annus 32). Therein, perhaps, lie the greatest entry-points for Americans and others who wish to help poor nations by proffering assistance in economic development from the bottom up. (more…)

Today at Ethika Politika, I take issue with Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue.

The basic idea is that, due to the Enlightenment, we have lost the social conditions — in particular a shared moral and religious narrative — that make virtuous living an intelligible and shared social standard. Thus, MacIntyre claimed, “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.” He concludes, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Dreher has done much to popularize this “Benedict Option,” which he defines as “an intentional and thoughtful retreat into narrativity, by which I mean a reclaiming of the church’s story, inculcating commitment to it within the lives of its members, in defiance of the narrative collapse around us.”

There is at least one major problem with this, however. I respond,

Yet as Owen Chadwick noted, it was not until the early ninth century, and that due to strong papal support, that the Rule of St. Benedict became the standard rule in the Frankish Empire. Until that time, the dominant rules were often Celtic, especially the Rule of St. Columbanus, as well as a strong influence from St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, and the fathers of the Egyptian desert.

And the Celts, importantly, were not retreating from the world but rather from Ireland in feats of what they termed “green martyrdom,” missionary exile as ascetic discipline. If Thomas Cahill is even half-right, the Irish played just as much a part in saving civilization as the Benedictines, if not far more so. Far from a retreat, their approach was quite confrontational (as was St. Benedict’s, as Goerke points out).

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Thankfully, we need not wait for a “new and very different” Irish people as the Irish are still with us. Indeed, the equal respect accorded to Roman Catholics in the United States today is the result (in large part, at least) of a hard-won, confrontational battle of Irish immigrants to carve out an equal place in American society for their children and their cultural and religious heritage (see, e.g. Dagger John). Perhaps traditional Christians looking to preserve a moral culture today have more to learn from them.

It might have been better had I written “see, especially, Dagger John,” since his story is one of remarkable social action and spiritual reform, defending the cause of religious liberty and equal rights for Irish Roman Catholic immigrants in the 19th century and emphasizing the vital role of personal responsibility. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
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"It's possible. I kill a lot of people."

“It’s possible. I kill a lot of people.”

H.L. Mencken once said, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”

Over at Political Theology Today, I take a look at what a confrontation between a pirate and Alexander the Great has to teach us about politics and proximate justice, taking some cues from Augustine and Cicero, and in conversation with John Mueller and Peter Leeson.

For a bit more fanciful look at a conflict between a pirate and a prince, you can also read my reflections on “The Princess Bride” over at the University Bookman.

Book information: The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself by Glenn Harlan Reynolds. Jackson, TN: Perseaus Books, 2013. Pp. viii + 106. Paperback. $21.50.

Instapundit’s Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself is a clear and succinct, yet thorough, essay on creative destruction and American education. This slim volume (only about 100 pages) is divided approximately into 50 pages on higher education, 25 on secondary and elementary, and 25 on predictions and concluding remarks. While this might seem surprisingly brief, those of us who have been following the education crisis in the U.S. know that, actually, the problem really isn’t that complex.

As Reynolds summarizes his dean’s comments on the crisis, “Everybody knows there’s a problem; they just don’t want to talk about it because they don’t know what to do about it, and they’re afraid of what they might have to do if they did.” Very simply, what we have is a product (college degrees), whose cost has greatly outpaced inflation over the last 30 years and whose quality has plummeted, calling into question its key selling-point, viz. the idea that getting a college degree is a reliable means of upward income mobility. “The current system isn’t working,” he writes. “And, alas, neither are too many of its graduates. There may be a connection.” In the face of this, growing numbers of people simply aren’t buying the current model. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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You may have heard that Ayn Rand really disliked C.S. Lewis. But do you know what happened when Saul Bellow met Whittaker Chambers?
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william-taft-speechIn a wide-ranging discussion of the Progressive Era in her new biography of Calvin Coolidge, Amity Shlaes quotes a striking excerpt from a little-known speech by President William Howard Taft.

Given in the middle of the 1912 election, in which Taft competed (poorly) against Woodrow Wilson and former President Teddy Roosevelt, the speech focuses on the predominant themes and schemes of his opponents, handily highlighting their limits.

In a particularly snappy swipe at Roosevelt, who had just recently split from the Republican Party, Taft notes that despite various efforts to form new parties, any rumbling therein is largely driven by the “promise of a panacea,” a top-down fantasy “in which the rich are to be made reasonably poor and the poor reasonably rich, by law.” Instead, Taft argues, we should seek solutions that “bring on complete equality of opportunity,” unleashing individuals and communities to work, create, and collaborate. The bones of civilization are not built, first and foremost, by the bidding of the policymaker’s baton. (more…)

the-global-vatican-cover-art-07-31-13In Francis Rooney’s book, The Global Vatican, Rooney quotes Pope Benedict XVI regarding diplomacy, that it is, “in a certain sense, an act of hope.” This is an apt description of the work of diplomats, especially those associated with the Vatican. As Rooney points out,

The pope comes to the table with no threats, no bullets, no drones; he has no stick and no carrots. He comes simply as a man of faith, armed with words and beliefs. His is the ultimate soft power.

The Global Vatican is a rich and pleasantly-detailed look at the history of U.S.-Vatican relations, as well as Rooney’s recollections of his time as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2005-2008. While one can imagine that the job of a diplomat varies from place to place, much of it is the same: to represent the interest of one’s own country while serving in a foreign land. In the case of the Holy See, it’s even more complex: the Holy See is the home of a religion, not simply a nation of people under one flag. As Rooney points out, to understand Vatican diplomacy, one must understand the Catholic Church. (more…)

Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk addresses the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan – 1.10.94

On Saturday, November 9, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is hosting a conference on the 60th Anniversary of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. The conference, which will examine the impact of Kirk’s monumental book—which both named and shaped the nascent conservative movement in the United States—is to be held at the Eberhard Center on the downtown Grand Rapids campus of Grand Valley State University, which Acton supporters will recognize as the home of Acton University from 2006-2010, and that conference’s precursor, the Acton Symposium in 2005. The ISI conference promises to be a stimulating experience, featuring Gleaves Whitney of Grand Valley’s Hauenstein Center, Professor Bruce Frohnen of Ohio Northern University, and Gerald Russello, editor of the University Bookman, the scholarly quarterly founded in 1960 by Kirk.

That being said, Acton has a connection to Russell Kirk that goes beyond the coincidental sharing of conference space. For one thing, the Acton Institute was blessed to have Kirk serve in an advisory capacity from the founding of the institute up until the time of his death. And it was our honor to host the great man for what would turn out to be his final public lecture.

The lecture took place on Jaunary 10, 1994 at the University Club in Grand Rapids, not far from his home in Mecosta, Michigan. Kirk spoke on the topic of Lord Acton on Revolution, laying out his case that Acton, over the course of his life, developed a tendency to too easily approve of revolution, even sometimes showing an “enthusiastic approbation” of it. Ultimately, Kirk believed that Acton was too enthusiastic about revolution, and he faults Acton for too earnestly supporting the abstract common good that revolution would supposedly advance, while failing to foresee the dangers that revolution could pose to the liberty that Acton so cherished.

For a man who had recently been “under house arrest for the past six weeks under my doctor’s orders, having overexerted myself on the lecture platform,” he speaks with great enthusiasm and energy, and with great clarity of mind. Just over three months later, he passed away at his home in Mecosta, Piety Hill.

It was our privilege to draw from Kirk’s wisdom in our early days as an institution, and it is now our privilege to share this, his final lecture, with you.

More: Acton’s remembrance of Russell Kirk, from Religion and Liberty, Volume 4, Number 3.

Even More: Russell Kirk on “Enlivening the Conservative Mind.”

Two weeks ago I attended a lecture at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) by Jonathan Haidt, author, among many other books and articles, of the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a social psychologist whose research focuses on the emotive and anthropological bases of morality. His talk at GVSU for their Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies and Business Ethics Center, focused mostly on the question of the roots of our political divides in the United States and how to move our public discourse in a more civil direction. (more…)

noun_project_19538As the US federal government sidled up to the debt ceiling earlier this week without quite running into it, one of the key arguments in favor of raising the debt ceiling was that it is immoral to breach a contract. The federal government has creditors, both from whom it has borrowed money and to whom it has promised transfer payments, and it has an obligation to fulfill those promises.

As Joe Carter argued here, “Member of Congress who are refusing to raise the debt ceiling (or raise taxes) until their ancillary demands are met are acting immorally, since they are refusing to pay the debts they themselves authorized.”

But as Connie Cass writes, the idea that the United States has never defaulted isn’t quite true. As she writes,

America has briefly stiffed some of its creditors on at least two occasions.

Once, the young nation had a dramatic excuse: The Treasury was empty, the White House and Capitol were charred ruins, even the troops fighting the War of 1812 weren’t getting paid.

A second time, in 1979, was a back-office glitch that ended up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The Treasury Department blamed the mishap on a crush of paperwork partly caused by lawmakers who — this will sound familiar — bickered too long before raising the nation’s debt limit.

So if it is immoral to default, then America has done so at least twice.
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