Posts tagged with: virtue

1776 wshSometimes I recoil a little when somebody declares that there can be an American president greater than George Washington. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee declared Washington, “First in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington is great for many things, but perhaps he is greatest for the manner in which he surrendered power not once but twice.

One of the best recent commentaries written on Washington is David Boaz’s, “The Man Who Would Not Be King.” In the piece from 2006, Boaz wonderfully sums up the depth of Washington’s immense character and what that means for liberty and America. The entire commentary is worth reading but the conclusion is especially poignant:

From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Washington’s moral model of leadership is timeless. In everything he said and did, he affirmed the spirit of the American Revolution. His fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson noted, Washington would “rather be in his grave than in his present situation [the presidency]; that he had rather be on his farm than to be made Emperor of the world.” All Americans should study Washington because he is the embodiment the principles of liberty. His peers would all argue and did, that in America there was no leader who possessed greater virtue. Charles Francis Adams, the son of President John Quincy Adams, declared of Washington:

More than all, and above all, Washington was master of himself. If there be one quality more than another in his character which may exercise a useful control over the men of the present hour, it is the total disregard of self when in the most elevated positions for influence and example.

Admiral James B. Stockdale

Admiral James B. Stockdale

Earlier this week I reviewed Defiant, the riveting new book by Alvin Townley. Admiral James B. Stockdale (1923-2005) is a principal figure in Townley’s account about POWs in North Vietnam. Stockdale’s famous to many for being Ross Perot’s vice-presidential running mate in 1992. He was widely ridiculed for his rather clumsy and cluttered performance in the debate. Republican political consultant Ed Rollins offered this marked observation of the debate in his book Bare Knuckles and Backrooms:

Of all of the political injustices in my lifetime, what happened to Jim Stockdale was the greatest. Congress should pass a law requiring every person who laughed at him during the vice-presidential debate to read the citation that explains why Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his conduct as a senior prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than eight years. This man is a great academic scholar, a true war hero, and a wonderful human being – the best the military and this country has to offer. He deserved better.

While the citation testifies alone to his impeccable leadership, Townley’s book made me dig out my copy of Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Stockdale. I shared these poignant comments by Stockdale on public virtue and our federal debt on the Powerblog in 2009. The book is a gem, and it’s worth sharing a few of his thoughts on morality and leadership, especially since the trait is clearly lacking by so many of our leaders today.
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Coolidge In November of 1925, President Calvin Coolidge delivered an address on the topic of the proper relationship between government and business. His audience was the New York State Chamber Commerce. One of Coolidge’s main aims of the speech was to elevate the spiritual value of business.

As president, Coolidge oversaw unprecedented economic expansion and growth, but he also lived through the rise of America’s progressive era and Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. New ideas about government and society had already long been popularized in large segments of America by 1925. Coolidge, who saw himself as a civic educator, articulated a much more traditional and conservative view of American ideals. A common recurrence of his public addresses was to praise the truths and virtues of America’s founding principles. At the very end of this address, Coolidge closed with the line, “The truth and faith and justice of the ancient days have not departed from us.” Below is a poignant excerpt from his 1925 address:

While there has been in the past and will be in the future a considerable effort in this country of different business interests to attempt to run the Government in such a way as to set up a system of privilege, and while there have been and will be those who are constantly seeking to commit the Government to a policy of infringing upon the domain of private business, both of these efforts have been very largely discredited, and with reasonable vigilance on the part of the people to preserve their freedom do not now appear to be dangerous.

When I have been referring to business, I have used the word in its all-inclusive sense to denote alike the employer and employee, the production of agriculture, and industry, the distribution of transportation and commerce, and the service of finance and banking. It is the work of the world. In modern life, with all its intricacies, business has come to hold a very dominant position in the thoughts of all enlightened peoples. Rightly understood, this is not a criticism, but a compliment. In its great economic organization it does not represent, as some have hastily concluded, a mere desire to minister to selfishness. The New York Chamber of Commerce is not made up of men merely animated with a purpose to get the better of each other. It is something far more important than a sordid desire for gain. It could not successively succeed on that basis. It is dominated by a more worthy impulse; it rests on a higher law. True business represents the mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic requirements of civilization. It is an effort by which men provide for the material needs of each other. While it is not an end in itself, it is the important means for the attainment of a supreme end. It rests squarely on the law of service. It has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and spiritual advancement of the race.

a-cold-morning-on-the-range-frederic-remingtonSeveral years ago, the Catholic intellectual Joseph Bottom observed that American literature has entailed a substitution of geography for heroes in our moral vocabulary.”

In other words, we don’t have many heroic types in American literature. What we have instead is heroic geography. The Virginian, the Down Easterner, the Texas Ranger, the cowboy, the Hoosier, the hillbilly, the Okie. These are tropes that serve the moral function filled in other cultures and other literatures primarily by heroes. And these geographical tropes survive well into our own era of indistinguishable shopping malls from Maine to California.

Why did the collective literary imagination take this turn? I suspect it may have something to do with our country’s democratization of civic virtues.

Prior to the modern age most literary heroes exemplified the martial virtues of the warrior (courage, honor, duty) or the theological virtues of the saints (kindness, generosity, faithfulness). They were the virtues of the elite, whether militarily, politically, or spiritually. But in the post-Civil War era, America needed to reconnect with the virtues of the citizen. Not surprisingly, American literature appears to have revived (albeit unconsciously) the citizen virtues of ancient Rome.
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Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, December 18, 2013

dexterThe domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.

Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.

We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Monday, November 25, 2013

anne of green gablesAnne got her best friend, Diana, drunk. Sick-drunk. Neither was old enough to drink, and Anne didn’t really mean to, but…there it was. Diana’s mother was horrified, and forbade the friendship to go on. Anne was crushed. She really had made a mistake: what she thought was a cordial was wine. It was a hard lesson.

If you ever read Anne of Green Gables, you know this story. Things get set aright – partly by the adults, and partly by Anne. She learned a very hard lesson – and so did I. Anne’s mistake and her tenacity in fighting for the friendship gave me much food for thought, in a book I’ve read time and again since my childhood.

Daniel B. Coupland, an associate professor of education at Hillsdale College, knows that “children’s” stories hold sway in the world of morality. Oh, we don’t need cloying stories that tell children, “do this” and “don’t do that.” No, good literature helps children form imagination and morality without shoving it down their throats. (more…)

khomeiniAs a child I was fascinated with world news and current events. I was especially drawn to reports about the rabid anti-Americanism in Iran and their almost decade long war with Iraq. It was not the film “Argo” or even living in the Middle East that renewed my interest in Iran, but an excellent book by Mark Bowden titled, “Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.” Still, I knew little about the suffering of Iranians, especially Christians, in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution.

Earlier this year, I read “Prisoner of Tehran,” another impressive book about the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The author, Marina Nemat, delivered a keynote address at Acton University this year and that’s where I sat down to interview her about her prison experience and the state of the Middle East today. She offers a lot of insight on torture, the hope we have as Christians, and what exactly is going on today with many of the uprisings we see in that region in the news.

The feature article, “But What if They’re All Republicans?” is written by Andrew Yuengert. He is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. Yuengert argues that an overly politicized Catholic episcopacy damages the Church’s social witness.

David Deavel reviews a new work on Adam Smith authored by James Otteson. The book on Smith is part of the Bloomsbury series “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers.” Deavel notes in his review, “In James Otteson’s short, witty, and well-sourced introduction to Smith, one can see why Kirk and Burke thought so highly of this figure— and why our contemporaries should, too.”

Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic is garnering a lot of attention and we offer an excerpt from the book in this issue. The article focuses on Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carrollton was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last surviving signatory of the document.

Margaret Thatcher is honored as the “In the Liberal Tradition” figure. “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul,” Thatcher once told the Sunday Times.

There is more content in this issue of Religion & Liberty and you can find it all on our publications page. Check out my editor’s notes for the issue too.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Lawrence W. Reed

Acton on Tap: Lawrence Reed at Speak EZ Lounge – 10.8.13

The Fall 2013 Acton On Tap series kicked off at Speak EZ Lounge in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., this evening with Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, who addressed gathered attendees on the lessons our society can learn from the history of Rome. In the interest of speedy delivery, you can listen to the raw audio of Reed’s presentation and the Q&A that followed using the audio player below.

For those not in the know, Acton On Tap is a great little periodic event that the Acton Institute presents in our hometown of Grand Rapids. It’s a free, informal gathering held at a local establishment where you can join us for a cold drink, some good conversation, and a talk on a topic of interest from a variety of interesting people. If you’re in West Michigan, you’re always welcome to join us! We’ll keep you updated as future AOT events are scheduled.

boss-tweed2Mike Coyner, who is the Bishop of the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, penned a thoughtful essay reflecting on the dysfunction in our federal government. His main point: It’s our fault and our defective culture is the engineer of the political rot. Coyner declared:

All of the traits in Washington that we decry are actually an outgrowth of the messed-up values in our whole culture.

We complain about over-spending by Congress, but the average American household is spending 103% of their income.

We complain about the rising debt level, but the typical American is increasingly in debt (and that is even mirrored in our churches which are increasingly in debt).

We complain about the culture of entitlement, but the typical American has an “entitlement” attitude (just watch the way people drive over the speed limit, cut off others in lanes, and ignore simple traffic rules – all of that reflects an attitude which says “I am entitled to break the rules that I don’t like.”).

We complain about the rising cost of healthcare, but most Americans are over-weight, out of shape, and in poor health by virtue of lifestyle choices.

We complain that the politicians are not able to work together, but Americans seem to be more and more disagreeable and unruly (If you don’t believe that, just go to a Little League baseball game and watch the behavior of the parents. Or watch a local school board meeting and listen to the inability of people to listen politely to those with whom they disagree. Or you can even see that unruly behavior in some church meetings.)

In “Churches & Government Shut-Down” by Mark Tooley, he focuses on Jim Wallis’s insatiable appetite for more government and contrasts his views of the government shutdown with more measured responses by other church leaders. Joe Carter addressed Wallis yesterday too on the PowerBlog. Tooley points out a few errors in Coyner’s essay but praises his larger point as the kind of faithful and responsible witness needed in the Church.

“How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?” asked Alexis de Tocqueville. Instead of parroting partisan talking points and shifting even more power away from personal responsibility and virtue, leaders in the Church need to be asking the deeper questions why the government is broken in the first place.

Today there is a severe lack of unity and leadership in America that can speak clearly to our culture and address the root problems. In truth, we are infested by sin and sin by its nature is divisive and separates us from our true purpose. And if you know anything about theology, you know that unredeemed sin, in the end, always gives us what we deserve.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Chi Rho symbol, pictured here from the Book of Kells, is a traditional abbreviation of the Greek word “Christos” or Christ.

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the connection between the spiritual practice of meditation — the Jesus Prayer in particular — and justice:

If we take justice to mean “to render to each what is due,” we may have some understanding of how this relates. Practice of the Jesus Prayer increases focus and builds a habit that helps to drive out wandering thoughts and pacify our emotions.

Internally, then, it helps us render to each part of ourselves what is due. Rather than being tossed around by vagrant thoughts and emotions and appetites, we are able to stay in the present and, more importantly, coram Deo.

Furthermore, beginning by rendering to God what is due, we do not end there. Indeed, love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40).

I go on to note the work of Christian Miller regarding the emotion that Jonathan Haidt calls “elevation.” Basically, there is a correlation between virtuous examples in one’s life and one’s own degree of virtuous behavior. (more…)