This week’s Acton Commentary comes from Thomas S. Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University. Professor Kidd is the author of a new biography of Patrick Henry, and he sees in Henry’s anti-federalism a certain foresight that Madison and Jefferson lacked. The unlimited power to tax was what drove us from British rule in the first place, and Henry saw no reason to give that power back to a national government. In 220 years, the national government has turned that into an unlimited thirst for borrowing.

The utter travesty that was the congressional “Super Committee” has led us to even lower depths of skepticism about the government’s ability to control debt and spending. In this new era of malaise, lessons from the time of the Constitution’s adoption — and fears from those days about what the newly-framed government might become — seem more relevant than ever. Some key Patriot leaders predicted in the 1780s that a government with unlimited power to tax and spend would become an ever-growing monster.

Since the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, Americans have had a hard time taking the Antifederalists (opponents of the Constitution) seriously. How could anyone, we may wonder, not appreciate the wisdom of the Constitution? But remember that some of America’s greatest Founders, most notably Virginia’s Patrick Henry, opposed the Constitution. Having fought against the centralized, intrusive British government in 1776, the Antifederalists balked at placing such a government over themselves again. Many of them, including Henry, expressed fundamental doubts — concerns rooted in Christian principles — about politicians’ capacity to handle this kind of power.

Henry’s Antifederalism was rooted in a shrewder understanding of human nature than men like Jefferson possessed.

At the Virginia ratifying convention in 1788, Henry proclaimed that American liberty was at stake in the decision over the Constitution. He asked how Americans would bear the “enormous and extravagant expenses, which will certainly attend the support of this great consolidated government”? America would find “no reduction of the public burdens by this new system.” Taxes would just fuel the “uncontrolled demands” of bureaucrats not contemplated by the Constitution.

To Henry, these fears were rooted in his assumption that in the long term, officials would inevitably misappropriate and abuse the power granted to them. “Did we not know of the fallibility of human nature,” he told the Richmond delegates, “we might rely on the present structure of this government, … but the depraved nature of man is well known.” Henry’s Christian worldview made him acutely sensitive to the risks of placing expansive power in human hands. Hoping that only ethical, public-spirited people would serve in national office was foolish, he believed. Henry would “never depend on so slender a protection as the possibility of being represented by virtuous men.”

Read the full article and Kidd’s conclusions here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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Unemployment among elves is at an all time high this Christmas.

In the book God’s Yardstick, Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write of the blessings of the order of work instituted by God. “We take for granted all the possibilities which work alone provides,” they write, “And we become aware of how work sustains the order which makes life possible when that order is rent by lightning flashes of riot or war, and the necessities which work normally provides become difficult to come by.”

In the midst of the prolonged economic downturn in America, we’ve seen what happens when work is “difficult to come by” for many people. It is good to remember this Christmas that one of the greatest gifts that any of us can receive from another person is the opportunity to work and serve others and be compensated for that work.

This is why it is so important to recognize the moral imperative operating behind the innovation, entrepreneurship, and the creation of jobs. You can see this imperative in the plaintive cry of many children this Christmas, “Santa, can you get my mom a job?”

Maybe Santa can’t deliver a job this Christmas season, but let’s hope there are some “Santa” entrepreneurs and businesses out there willing to take risks and deliver products and services that will open up employment opportunities for the jobless among us.

For more on the creation of such opportunities to get paid to serve others, check out the Job Creators Alliance, whose mission is to “bring together job creators from large and small companies to educate Americans on the vital role of free enterprise and entrepreneurship in creating jobs, spurring innovation and ensuring America’s economic success.”

Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg is up at Public Discourse, with a piece titled “Monetary Possibilities for a Post-Euro Europe.” With his usual mix of sophisticated economic analysis and reference to deep principles, Gregg considers European countries’ options should the eurozone fail. If that happens, he says, “European governments will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink the type of monetary order they wish to embrace.”

One such scenario is a three-way monetary division within the EU that reflects the differing political commitments and economic priorities of different nations. Germany and the more fiscally responsible eurozone members such as Austria, Finland, and the Netherlands could, for instance, decide to reconcile themselves to being the only ones with the necessary fiscal and monetary discipline to maintain a common currency.

Alongside this bloc would be two other groups. One would consist of those EU countries such as Britain, Sweden, and Denmark that have maintained their own monetary systems because of reservations about the euro’s implications for national sovereignty. Another group would include EU nations such as Greece, Portugal, and Italy that are simply unable or unwilling to embrace the disciplined monetary and fiscal policies required by a common currency; these nations would consequently find themselves outside the eurozone and reverting to their national currencies.

A more radical monetary opportunity for a post-euro EU would be currency competition. This was once proposed by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher as an alternative to the present common currency. Contemporary proposals for currency competition, such as that advanced by Philip Booth and Alberto Mingardi, involve the monetary authorities of different countries authorizing the use of currencies alongside the euro in domestic settings other than their own. Consumer choice rather than state sovereignty would thus ultimately determine which currencies were used.

Yet another option would be the embrace of what might be called a European gold standard. In the 1950s and 1960s, the German economist Wilhelm Röpke argued that European monetary integration could occur via a nucleus of countries agreeing to adhere to a gold standard, much as had happened somewhat spontaneously in the nineteenth century through a process of unilateral decision-making by individual countries. Once this had occurred, adherents of such a gold standard would have to insist upon all members maintaining monetary discipline as well as freedom and stability in foreign exchange markets.

The stability of the European currency would be assured not by EU bureaucrats, but by the gold standard itself, and by allowance for the expulsion of countries that abuse their big-boy privileges.

Britain just rejected an EU treaty because the Conservative Party decided Brussels was trying to capitalize on the Mediterranean crisis by grabbing more power. The three proposed currency models, Gregg argues, would maintain countries’ freedom by yanking monetary power from central bureaucrats who exercise political power. He reflects further on the composition and history of the eurozone, on the countries’ political and economic freedom, and on what Röpke would have to say in the rest of the piece.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” This is a popular paraphrase of Socrates from Plato’s Theatetus, which focuses on the relationship between philosophy and knowledge. Dr. Mel Flikkema, provost at Kuyper College, reminded us of this justly famous quotation as he introduced the launch event for Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art by Abraham Kuyper this past Saturday morning.

Vincent Bacote describes "Another Amazing Grace."

This was a splendidly appropriate introduction to the morning’s event, as the talk by Dr. Vincent Bacote, “Another Amazing Grace,” focused on the relevance of the doctrine of common grace for today’s church and Christian social engagement. Part of what common grace does, said Bacote, is allow us to explain why good things remain in the world after the Fall into sin. The world is not as bad as it could be, and it is because of this common, preserving grace that God prevents everything from falling into complete and utter chaos.

In Wisdom & Wonder Kuyper discusses the insights of the ancient Greeks as a bit of evidence for the existence of common grace. This is especially relevant for the pursuit of truth in philosophy and science. As Kuyper writes, “Anyone who ignores common grace can come to no other conclusion than that all science done outside the arena of the holy lives off appearance and delusion, and necessarily results in misleading anyone listening to its voice. Yet the outcome shows that this is not the case.”
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Acton On The AirActon Research Fellow Jordan Ballor – who also serves as Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets and Morality – took to the airwaves in the Houston, Texas area last night to discuss the ecumenical movement, his book, Ecumenical Babel, and Christian social thought with the hosts of A Show of Faith on News Talk 1070 AM.

To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:

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The full video of our 21st Annual Dinner is now up: Acton Executive Director Kris Alan Mauren, Kate O’Beirne as master of ceremonies, AU alumnus Gareth Bloor, Bishop Hurley of Grand Rapids, special address by Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico, and keynote address by John O’Sullivan. Acton’s Faith and Freedom Award was presented to Mr. O’Sullivan on behalf of Lady Margaret Thatcher, who sent her former advisor and speechwriter in her place.

Part I:

Part II:

On Tuesday, Acton’s president, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, joined three other prominent Catholic thinkers for a roundtable discussion of the U.S. bishops’ 1986 letter “Economic Justice for All.” Georgetown Univeristy’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs sponsored the discussion, and Berkley Center director Tom Banchoff moderated the proceedings.

The discussion, held on the left-leaning document’s 25th anniversary, addressed its legacy. Fr. Sirico’s contention was that the bishops “exceed[ed] their authority in an area where they lack competency,” in a way that, in hindsight, is “frankly embarrassing.” “Bishops should be bishops, not managers, not policy-makers,” he said, and noted that in the case of “Economic Justice for All,” it wasn’t even necessarily the bishops themselves who produced the silly economic arguments in the first place, but they had signed the letter.

Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat agreed with that assessment, adding a point that Acton’s been making for 20 years: “Well-meaning public policy isn’t effective public policy.”

Catholic News Service article here, and Georgetown Vox Populi blog post.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
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Abraham KuyperAbraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the multi-talented Dutch theologian, statesman, and journalist, is dead. But a new group has formed to make sure that his ideas and legacy are not.

As Chris Meehan of CRC Communications reports, the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society has been formed to “translate and promote books, articles and other materials written by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.” Kuyper College will act as the host institution for the society, which involves scholars from a variety of institutions around the world.

As Meehan writes, “Also deeply involved in formation of the society is the Acton Institute, a Christian research, educational and outreach organization in Grand Rapids.” Acton’s director of programs Stephen Grabill has had a leading role in developing the current Common Grace Translation Project, which marks the first of many proposed projects undertaken by those forming the translation society.

The first fruits of this project and this broader initiative have already arrived. With Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art we have the first downpayment on the larger three-volume series. We’re hosting a public launch event this Saturday at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. (You can connect with the event as well as the Common Grace translation project on Facebook.) This event will feature a talk by Dr. Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College, “Another Amazing Grace.” I’ll also be moderating a Q&A session following the talk with Dr. Bacote, Dr. Nelson Kloosterman (who translated Wisdom & Wonder), and Dr. Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Dr. Bacote appeared on The John & Kathy Show on WORD FM in Pittsburgh last Wednesday to talk about the importance of Kuyper’s work in general and Wisdom & Wonder in particular:

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He’s also scheduled to appear tomorrow at 5pm (Eastern) to talk with Paul Edwards, so be sure to tune in to hear more about how the doctrine of common grace influences Christian engagement with broader issues of work and culture.

As the famed sociologist Peter Berger observed just today with respect to Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention,

The New Calvinists have shown a particular interest in a Dutch theologian whose work seems particularly relevant to the American situation. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) also used the term New Calvinism to define his position. He combined orthodox Calvinist theology with a strong commitment to the separation of church and state (he split with the official Dutch Reformed Church over this issue)…. He taught the sovereignty of Christ over all realms of reality, but he believed that, if grounded in a strong Christian culture, Christians could participate in a pluralist society and a democratic state. He visited America and lectured at Princeton. Kuyper founded a political party, and he was prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. One can understand how Kuyper would appeal to Baptists, who always held a strong belief in the separation of church and state.

Berger comes to a rather bizarre conclusion about the future of Calvinism and the SBC, but the influence that Kuyper has had (mostly) indirectly on American evangelicalism is undeniable. One glance at the list of those who have endorsed Wisdom & Wonder is enough to confirm that fact. The Abraham Kuyper Translation Society is poised to help make that influence more direct by providing direct access to a broader range of material from Kuyper’s expansive body of work.

Abraham Kuyper is dead. Long live his legacy.

Friedrich Hayek called it a weasel word. The American Spectator has my new essay on it here.

More on social justice as it appears in Catholic social teaching here. And more on social business here.

Acton On The AirActon’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller was in-studio this morning on The Tony Gates Show on WJRW Radio to talk about global poverty, PovertyCure, and his recently completed trip to London to speak about those issues at an Acton conference. To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:

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