In his magnificent reflection on the nature of art, Real Presences, polymath George Steiner invites us to make a thought experiment: What if we lived in a city where all talk about art, mere talk about art, was prohibited? In other words, what would follow if we did away with artistic criticism qua criticism, an activity derivative by nature and one Steiner calls “high gossip”? In this posited city, what Steiner calls the Answerable City, the only permitted response to a work of art would be another work of art. Thus participation in the “art scene” could never launch itself from the risk-free loft of criticism, but it must be real participation, a participation that demands that the viewer invest something of his own imaginative capacities. In this city, the word “interpretation” denotes not something exegetical, but something performative; an activity not of professional academics or theater critics, but of actors and directors — as in an actor “interprets a role.” Here, art means incarnation, not judgment.

But such a city is only a thought experiment, and since judgment requires the participant to invest less of himself, it will always be easier to be a critic than to be an artist. And therefore the artist will always be tempted first to pass judgment rather than to respond with his own creativity.

After a decade of trying to walk the slippery ridge between “he who does” and “he who discusses” art, I have tried to avoid criticism these last couple of years to focus only on doing. But I feel the need to again jump into the critical ring, thanks to a recent article in GQ Magazine (it was sent to me by a friend), an article on my own town, Grand Rapids, and its increasingly famous festival, ArtPrize. (more…)

At the Mackinac Center blog, I look at a really shabby piece of reportage in GQ Magazine on ArtPrize, the annual public art competition in Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids is also where the Acton Institute is based and it’s a terrific Midwestern city doing a lot of things right. But when East Coast writer Matthew Power visited GR he saw only “flyover country,” a “provincial” mindset, “G.R.-usalem” (lots of churches) and “ordinary” local inhabitants.

You know where this is going. I say:

Ultimately, Power gets to his main point, which readers could easily anticipate as leveling a charge of what is perceived as the only sin known to Western Civilization by East Coast writers of a particular persuasion: hypocrisy. For it seems Rick DeVos’ parents fund free-market (including the Mackinac Center) and conservative Christian causes, and young Rick’s motivations are judged negatively by Power’s perceived “sins” of DeVos’ mere et pere and the causes they fund.

“To some of the [DeVos] family’s detractors, the millions in soft money and the funding of conservative Christian organizations suggest more ambitious goals: an end to nearly all government control and regulation, media, education … and the arts,” Power cavils. “Whatever their motives, it seemed odd that a family with such an agenda would let its heir apparent throw open the gates to its city in an open call to any and all artists, not matter how starving or unwashed.”

Power notes that the Acton Institute, a beneficiary of DeVos monies, “has advocated for the abolition of public funding for contemporary art” when, in fact, Acton has no official position whatsoever on the matter. True, some Acton articles and blog posts (several written by your author) take issue with public funding for art, arguing along with Jacques Barzun that the practice results in a “surfeit of fine art” (and I would argue strenuously against DeVos applying for and accepting a $100,00 National Endowment for the Arts grant for ArtPrize, as the businesses benefitting most from the competition could easily pony up the relatively insignificant amount) but, again, my opinions and for that matter the free-market ideology of Mr. DeVos’ parents hardly are germane to a story that merely aims to discredit ArtPrize by any means necessary.

Power winds up his Grand Rapids’ hit piece with interviews with the losers, apparently cheesed off that the public judging was insufficient to their superior aesthetic concepts and artistic execution. But, of course, that’s to be expected.

Read “GQ Hit Piece on GR ArtPrize” at the Mackinac Center.

After relating how city regulations in Chattanooga, Tenn., helped kill a small business, economist Mark J. Perry offers a sympathetic sentiment for failed entrepreneurs:

To paraphrase President Obama:

Look, if you’ve been unsuccessful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you were unsuccessful at opening or operating a small business, some government official along the line probably contributed to your failure. There was an overzealous civil servant somewhere who might have stood in your way with unreasonable regulations that are part of our American system of anti-business red tape that allowed you to not thrive. Taxpayers invested in roads and bridges, but you might have faced city council members who wouldn’t allow you to use them. If you’ve been forced to close a business – it’s often the case that you didn’t do that on your own. Somebody else made that business closing happen or prevented it from opening in the first place. You can thank the bureaucratic tyrants of the nanny state.

(Via: Cafe Hayek)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, August 24, 2012
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Is Totalitarian Liberalism A Mutant Form of Christianity?
Tracey Rowland, Crisis Magazine

In a post-Christian world gods don’t disappear. Christ is simply replaced by the apparatus of the nation-state. Political leaders assume to themselves the powers and prerogatives formerly associated with deities, above all, powers over life and death and reproduction.

Why government needs a diet
George Will, Washington Post

Because the possibility of effectively supervising government varies inversely with government’s size, so does government’s lawfulness.

Solidarity and the Welfare State
Donald R. McClarey, The American Catholic

It is easy to see how the welfare state, consolidating ever more power in the central government, is destructive of subsidiarity. What is often overlooked however, is how destructive the welfare state tends to be also of solidarity.

The work of Friedrich Hayek shows why EU governments cannot spend their way out of the Eurozone crisis
Steven Horwitz, London School of Economics

Why Friedrich Hayek’s work and why it presents a compelling case against governments using increased public spending to solve Europe’s economic problems.

Book Review: “Ferguson on Green, Pauper Capital
David R. Green. Pauper Capital. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010. Reviewed by Christopher Ferguson (Auburn University)

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, more commonly known as the New Poor Law, is arguably the most notorious piece of legislation in British history. Deeply controversial in its day, it has unsurprisingly generated a dense and diverse scholarly literature ever since, yet one in which the national capital has played a remarkably minor role. Indeed, David R. Green’s study is the first to attempt to explore the history of the Poor Law in nineteenth-century London in its geographic and administrative entirety. One need not read far to understand why, for the history of the Poor Law in London prior to and post 1834 is enormously complex. Green is to be commended both for undertaking a difficult task and for producing a study that is remarkably easy to read, despite the intricacies of its subject matter. His study makes the arcane history of poor relief in nineteenth-century London accessible to the non-specialist, while simultaneously yielding significant insights about this history for specialist scholars of poverty, policy, and the nineteenth-century British state.

Job: “Assistant Professor, History of Capitalism in Modern America, Brown University”

The Department of History at Brown University invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professorship in the history of capitalism defined broadly to encompass candidates working in labor history (free and unfree), business history, economic history, history of economic thought, history of consumer society, and the political economy of the nineteenth and/or twentieth-century US.

Article: “Economics Education and Greed”
Long Wang, Deepak Malhotra, and J. Keith Murnighan, Academy of Management Learning & Education

The recent financial crisis, and repeated corporate scandals, raise serious questions about whether a business school education contributes to what some have described as a culture of greed. The dominance of economic-related courses in MBA curricula led us to assess the effects of economics education on greed in three studies using multiple methods. Study 1 found that economics majors and students who had taken multiple economics courses kept more money in a money allocation task (the Dictator Game). Study 2 found that economics education was associated with more positive attitudes toward greed and toward one’s own greedy behavior. Study 3 found that a short statement on the societal benefits of self-interest led to more positive ratings of greed’s moral acceptability, even for noneconomics students. These effects suggest that economics education may have serious, albeit unintended consequences on our students’ attitudes toward greed.

Panel: “Christian Civic Engagement: Right, Responsibility, Opportunity”

Talking Points, October 15, 2012, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, with Amy Black (Wheaton College), Timothy Gombis (GRTS), and George Marsden (Notre Dame). The thrust of Talking Points 2012 is to generate reflection on how we might restore civility in America as a model for restoring and fostering civil discourse around the world. The last half-century has seen the emergence of evangelical Christians as a significant force in national elections and debates over domestic and foreign policy. Unfortunately, Christian civic engagement has been hijacked by polarizing voices and unimaginative choices. It isn’t simply the case that in order to be “politically engaged” we must choose to vote for party A or B. Christian civic responsibility and political engagement can be more creative and redemptive, and more civil and gracious, than has been modeled by leading figures over the last several decades. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has invited three leading scholars to help us reflect upon how “Christian Civic Engagement” has taken shape in America, and to imagine how we might take up these rights and responsibilities as new opportunities emerge.

Call for Editor: Enterprise & Society Editor Search”

The Business History Conference announces its search for editor of Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History. Published by Oxford University Press, Enterprise & Society is one of the world’s leading journals in business history. Interdisciplinary in approach and international in scope, it offers a forum for research on the historical relations between businesses and their larger political, cultural, institutional, social, and economic contexts.

As I leafed through this week’s Wall Street Journal Europe political commentary, I finally felt a little redemption. Hats off to WSJ writers Peter Nicholas and Mark Peter whose brief, but poignant August 20 article “Ryan’s Catholic Roots Reach Deep” shed light on vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s value system. This was done by elucidating how Paul Ryan views the relationship of the individual with the state and how the local, small-town forces in America can produce great change for a nation gravely concerned about its weak and vulnerable.

The article references a standard Catholic but still-very-unknown-teaching on “subsidiarity.” Go figure, not even my word processing program recognizes the term in its standard U.S. English lexicon. Alas, subsidiarity is not a word you read about in the secular Wall Street Journal, either, whose op-eds debate many critical intuitions of the free market and democratic society yet seldom examine the intersection of theology and economics, like the Acton Institute does so well.

Indeed the WSJ Europe article was not that erudite (for other more elaborated pieces on subsidiarity go here and here and be sure to watch Fr. Robert Sirico’s  enlightening video (below). Neither do the WSJ writers spell out the details of Ryan’s various economic and welfare reform proposals inspired by the principle of subsidiarity, which include a repeal of nationalized medicine and drastically reducing spending on various excessive national welfare and other expansive public agencies.  Nonetheless, last Monday this secular media outlet gave its readers a very Catholic glimpse into  Ryan’s political world view which is  a product of a hardworking, Irish  Catholic family from  “small-town” America  (Janesville, Wis.)  trying to solve its own problems by the teachings of the Catholic Church. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, August 23, 2012
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Louisiana College, a Baptist school in Pineville, La., is the most recent institution to file a lawsuit over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed the the school’s president, Joe Aguillard, about the decision to sue the government:

LOPEZ: The president contended last week that there is a compromise. So why would you sue?

AGUILLARD: Any repeated claim that the government has compromised is recycled nonsense. The HHS mandate will force us to cover abortion pills in our health plans at no cost to employees. The facts are as simple as that. The only compromise the administration has made is with the truth.

Read more . . .

The Markets, Culture, and Ethics Project’s Third International Colloquium on Christian Humanism in Economics and Business, “Free Markets with Solidarity and Sustainability: Facing the Challenge” conference is coming up this October 22-23 at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Academic conferences do not necessarily strive to be attractive or inviting (13 word titles and 13 letter words aren’t really all that “catchy”). But I would encourage anyone who is in the area or who is willing to make the trip to seriously consider attending this one. But why this conference? (more…)

Brace YourselvesI was a guest on today’s Coffee & Markets podcast, where we discussed the complex challenges facing America as reflected in recent demographic trends. What do declining birthrates across the developed world indicate?

For one thing, they show that crises are not limited to one feature of our lives and there are important spillover causes and effects across social spaces. So financial crises have impacts on the home, and vice versa. Or as I wrote last year, “Healthy and vibrant economies promote the flourishing of healthy and vibrant families. But the reverse is also true. The vitality of each social institution is linked with the welfare of others, and the microeconomic effects felt by families necessarily have macroeconomic implications.”

The family is in significant ways the vanguard of civilization, and as family life is threatened so too are all of the other civilizational institutions. As Elias Boudinot put it, “Good government generally begins in the family, and if the moral character of a people degenerates, their political character must soon follow.”

So what about social reformation and renewal? There’s no better place to start then your own family and no better time to start than right now. As Hunter Baker observed:

The first moves are the most immediate. If you are a child, be a respectful child who wants to learn and grow. If you are an adult, take care of your parents as they age. If you are a husband or wife, stay committed to your spouse. Work on sustaining a stable and peaceful household in which all the members feel heard, cared for, and respected. If you are a parent, focus on loving your child’s other parent, providing financially and emotionally for the child, and encouraging the child in learning. If you are a grandparent, help young parents adjust to the newness of their role and encourage them in the hard work of taking care of children.

Check out the podcast episode as well as some of the recommended reading below:

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, August 23, 2012
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The great both/and of Catholic social teaching
Fr. Robert Barron, Catholic News Agency

For many on the left, Paul Ryan is a menace, the very embodiment of cold, indifferent Republicanism, and for many on the right, he is a knight in shining armor, a God-fearing advocate of a principled conservatism.

The Implications of Calling
Art Lindsey, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

We have lost sight of this perspective, and as a result we have lost any sense of calling. What is calling, and what does it mean for our lives?

Are Free Markets Compatible with the Bible?
Timothy Terrell, Economics for Everybody

A couple of years ago, I heard a talk given by a religion professor in which he argued that free markets were incompatible with the Bible. Let’s look quickly at some of the texts he used.

Prime Time for Paul Ryan’s Guru (the One That’s Not Ayn Rand)
Adam Davidson, New York Times

Ryan has repeatedly suggested that many of his economic ideas were inspired by the work of Friedrich von Hayek, an awkwardly shy (and largely ignored) economist and philosopher who died in 1992. A few years ago, it was probably possible to fit every living Hayekian in a conference room. Regardless of what happens in November, that will no longer be the case.