Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Friday, November 21, 2008

The latest issue of Religion & Liberty contains an essay I wrote for Acton about whether the relationship between social conservatives and libertarians can be saved. A student at my university (Houston Baptist University) read the essay and formulated a number of thoughts on his own. I was so affected by what this undergraduate sent me, I had to pass it along:

I have strong beliefs about limited government, states rights, individual liberty, free-markets, etc. But these beliefs come under fire when I see how one person’s pornography addiction leads to rape after years of unsatisfiable self-gratification, or when innocent children are born fatherless to promiscuous mothers.

There are 2 things I’ve come to realize. First, that every law is a removal of liberty. Second, that every system of law is either based upon the will of man, or based on that which we perceive to be Natural Law. Given this reality, the latter necessitates a belief in higher power, while the former holds no basis for the concept of “inalienable rights” whatsoever.

Without a giver of freedom the only “freedom” is that which is given by he who is stronger to he who is weaker.

Libertarian belief in liberty is founded in the idea that we have a God-given right to such liberty, and in that sense they share commonality with social conservatives.

But Liberty without order is chaos. There’s no doubt, law in our land is based on Natural Law. So the question is not whether we should legislate morality, but to what extent it should be done.

This is a question I still struggle to answer.

The young man’s name is Wesley Gant. I suspect this is the kind of thinking that regularly emerges from students who attend Acton events and/or read Acton publications.

Linked yesterday on the Drudge Report and picked up by news outlets all over the world is a brief Bloomberg report on a statement from the Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti. Tremonti attributed to Pope Benedict XVI a “prophecy” dating from over twenty years ago concerning the current global financial meltdown.

Again, the story is quite brief, and here’s the gist:

“The prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules can be found” in an article written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope in April 2005, Tremonti said yesterday at Milan’s Cattolica University.

Tremonti’s remarks were made at the inaugural academic year address at the university. It’s unclear to me what the context of Tremonti’s prophetic attribution is, and perhaps some of the colleagues in our Rome office can enlighten us as to Tremonti’s economic and religious perspective.

But if you want the original context of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements, avail yourself of the only readily-accessible English translation of the article cited by Tremonti: “Market economy and ethics,” given by Ratzinger in in 1985 at a symposium in Rome, “Church and Economy in Dialogue.”

Here’s the full quote from Ratzinger’s paper:

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength.

As you can see from this quote and the context of the larger paper, the import of Ratzinger’s warning is not simply about an “undisciplined economy,” but more specifically about an economy that lacks participants who act from the basis of a serious and committed moral foundation, one that is “sustained only by strong religious convictions.” It’s about a lack of religious discipline as much as economic discipline.

Reading Tremonti’s quote as it appears in the Bloomberg article (which admittedly might be quite different in its own original context) might lead one to think that Ratzinger was simply talking about the lack of material discipline, for which the “new frugality” would be an adequate cure. But as Ratzinger rightly observed then, the causes of poverty and economic distress are not simply material, but also spiritual.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, November 20, 2008

By now you’ve read one or more stories about the increasing levels of piracy on Africa’s east coast, brought into the spotlight by the recent capture of a Saudi oil tanker.

Piracy is, of course, simply a specific form of theft, a vice that like all basic vices will be with us to the end of time. Sometimes there is a fine line between state military conflict and piracy, as the case of Sir Francis Drake attests (to the English, a hero and nobleman; to the Spanish, a pirate). The problem of piracy along the African coast has plagued American shipping for as long as the nation has existed: One of the earliest missions undertaken by the US Marine Corps was an assault on the infamous bandit havens of the Barbary Coast (remembered still in the Corps’ anthem as “the shores of Tripoli”).

What I found striking about this particular story on the current problem was the sheer breadth of cooperation in the outlawry, evidently without compunction. In the Somali region highlighted, seemingly everyone, from small businessmen, to government officials, to the “mother of five,” views piracy as a positive feature of local life. On display is the absence of elements of a moral culture necessary for a free and functional society, such as deference to the rule of law and respect for property rights. Granted that the culpability of any number of players may be diminished by the harsh realities affecting an impoverished nation without a functioning central government, it is still a depressing picture of indifference to the common good in pursuit of self interest. Would that the modern-day pirates had the inclination and opportunity to direct their talents and energy in a way that actually created wealth rather than merely siphoning it from the rest of the world.

The Spring issue of Religion & Liberty is now available online. The feature is an interview with Turkish scholar Mustafa Akyol. Akyol was a faculty member at Acton University last summer. The title of the interview is “Turkey: Islam’s Bridge to Religious and Economic Liberty?” In the interview Akyol notes:

So Turkey will not change the world in one day, but if it shows that a Muslim society can achieve democracy and lives in peace with the western world, that will be a great example to the Muslim nations. We are seeing signs of that.

Also, we are excited about the piece offered by Hunter Baker for this issue titled “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Find Common Ground?” It is timely because of the escalation of tensions between some social conservatives and libertarians, especially now that former Governor Mike Huckabee is about to release a book about his presidential campaign with a chapter titled “Faux-Cons: Worse than Liberalism.” In that chapter Huckabee throws a few jabs at some libertarian minded conservatives who worked to derail his campaign. In his piece Baker asks:

The tension inherent in the relationship erupted during the American presidential primaries when the libertarian-oriented Club for Growth clashed with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Christian conservative. Club for Growth seemed to single out Huckabee for the most uncharitable view possible of his free-market bonafides. Rather than attempt conciliation, Huckabee apparently relished the attack and labeled the small government group “The Club for Greed.” The question, borrowed from the longest running feature in women’s magazine history, is “Can this marriage be saved?”

Read the article to find out Baker’s take on the future relationship of these two ideological camps under the conservative umbrella.

I offer a review of The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace authored by Wesley scholar Kenneth J. Collins. Collins is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky, and his book does a fine job at weaving the historical Wesley with contemporary issues.

Paola Fantini reviews Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s The Ethics of the Common Good in the Social Doctrine of the Church. Fantini has also translated the prologue to the book by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill, and an excerpt from that appears in this issue. Both pieces were first posted on the Acton website in mid October. These articles are the first to translate anything from Cardinal Bertone’s The Ethics of the Common Good (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008) into English.

In The Liberal Tradition for this issue is Wilhelm Röpke. Also, Rev. Robert Sirico’s column takes a look at the spiritual side of the financial crisis in “Mistaken Faiths of our Age.”

It is a commonplace in discussions of environmental economics to consider so-called “negative externalities,” a technical term for the bad or damaging consequences of an activity that affects those outside the realm of economic decision-making.

For instance, I can make the choice to plant a tree in my yard on my own (presuming there are no regulatory hurdles to jump). A negative externality for my neighbor might be that my tree dumps a lot of leaves into his or her yard and they need to be cleaned up. Typically this level of external consequence is not given a concrete cost…we simply rake up whatever leaves happen to land in our yard, whether they are from trees we do or do not own (I got to thinking about this lately because I had to rake up a bunch of leaves this weekend. Thankfully I caught a relatively warm day after the rain had mostly dried up and the snow had not yet fallen). But if a branch or limb falls from my tree onto my neighbor’s property and causes damage, there may be a level of liability there that would allow for some sort of claim for economic compensation.

It is also a common part of this discussion for environmental economists to observe that we almost never place any concrete costs on positive externalities. I have no ability to charge my neighbor for the pleasure he or she receives from looking at my beautiful tree. I might be able to restrict this positive externality by building a fence and obstructing the view of my tree, but the beauty of the tree is a natural benefit that cannot be commodified in any usual sense.

Oftentimes these two observations, regarding the costs associated with negative externalities and the inability to commodify many positive externalities, are made with a somewhat grudging attitude. After all, thinks the economist, it seems unfair that a person be liable only for the bad things that happen because of their economic decisions but don’t stand to benefit because of the good things that happen. So from the economist’s perspective, there’s a bit of inconsistency there.

Common sense intuition runs the other way, however. We ought to pay for the harm that our actions cause, but it’s also appropriate that I can’t charge my neighbor for all the good my actions may do for him or her. In brief here’s a theological reason why the typical view is correct and is right to dominate both people’s thinking on these topics in general as well as the shape of public policy: Good is more fundamental and basic than evil.

This is a view typically associated with Augustine of Hippo, and in summary it simply means that evil is a departure from the good. The world order as created was “good,” for God made it and declared it such. Thus, the good of positive externalities is in some sense more basic than the evil of negative externalities. The harm caused by negative externalties is an evil resulting from the fact that things in a fallen world are simply not the way they are supposed to be.

Our conception that positive externalities are more basic than negative harms is an indirect witness to the priority of the good creation over the corruption of sin and evil. We can abuse the blessings of God’s goodness when we take these gifts for granted, too. But our sense that some norm of justice has been violated when there are negative externalities (and that the gracious order of natural blessings is more basic) is a moral intuition that the world was created good and in some radical way has departed from that original state.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, November 14, 2008

Acton’s Sam Gregg on Public Discourse:

On November 15th, leaders of the world’s largest economies will gather in Washington, D.C., to discuss the ongoing international financial crisis. Figures such as Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown view the summit as an opportunity to reform international financial structures and perhaps create new ones. He and others have spoken of a “new Bretton Woods”—the 1944 international meeting that sought to design an international financial structure for a post-war world.

Today, relatively little is left of the original Bretton Woods. Many of its provisions concerning exchange rates and currencies, for instance, were gradually abandoned. Bretton Woods’ most prominent institutional legacies are the IMF and the World Bank. For different reasons, neither is especially liked by developed or developing countries. In recent years, both have struggled to define their missions. The World Bank has additionally been dogged by allegations of ignoring or even facilitating corruption in developing nations, not to mention criticisms that, more than most bureaucracies, the primary objective of many of its staff seems to be institutional self-preservation.

The contemporary financial crisis has demonstrated, however, that the basic impulse for Bretton Woods-like solutions to international economic problems is alive and well. Some national leaders, for instance, have echoed (probably unconsciously) John Maynard Keynes’s call at Bretton Woods for a “world central bank”. More generally, there is a strong push, especially from Western European governments, for the creation of more intergovernmental planning and bargaining mechanisms as the means to impose a new international regulatory order upon national banking and financial systems.

But is this ‘top-down’ approach really the best way to address the financial crisis over the long term? One prominent twentieth-century figure who would have vehemently disagreed was the German economist Wilhelm Röpke (1899-1966).

Read the article at Public Discourse.

The National Catholic High School Honor Roll announced its fifth selection of the best 50 Catholic secondary schools in the United States. The purpose of the Honor Roll is to recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic secondary education. It is a critical resource for parents and educators that distinguishes those schools that excel in three categories: academic excellence, Catholic Identity, and civic education.

This year’s list includes 10 new honorees as well as eight schools that have earned recognition in each of the Honor Roll’s five years of existence. 2008 honorees range from newcomer schools such as Knoxville Catholic in Tennessee, to repeat honorees such as Bishop Machebeuf Catholic in Denver and Holy Spirit Preparatory in Atlanta. Texas and Michigan led with six schools selected, followed by California, with four schools. Nine different religious orders sponsor honorees, including the Jesuits, Legionaries of Christ, and Norbertines.

To see a list of the top 50 schools, as well as lists of the 10 honorable mention schools in each category, visit www.chshonor.org.

The Honor Roll is an independent project of the Acton Institute, an international research and educational organization. It is produced in consultation with an advisory board comprised of Catholic college presidents and scholars. Advisory board member Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, President of Catholic University of America, said the Honor Roll’s evaluation method is indispensable. “Catholic schools must examine themselves on a regular basis using a well-rounded approach that assesses adherence to the Church’s educational calling,” he said. “The Honor Roll strengthens schools by encouraging high standards and vibrant Catholicism.”

In its five years, the Honor Roll has seen more than 50 percent of America’s nearly 1,300 Catholic high schools participate at least once. This year nearly 300 schools completed the three detailed surveys that measure a school’s adherence to the Church’s educational mission. Each school also receives an evaluation to see how it compares to other schools nationwide.

The best schools demonstrate a balanced excellence, which includes an active Catholic culture, sound college preparation and integration of Church teaching in all departments. These schools also display sound moral, catechetical and civic formation that prepares students for vocations in the world as political, religious, scientific, and business leaders.

Questions about the Honor Roll may be directed to Anthony Pienta at (616) 454-3080, apienta@acton.org or info@chshonor.org.

The National WWII Memorial

When FDR ordered General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines in 1942, the dismal fate of the American and Filipino defenders at Bataan and Corregidor was sealed. Japanese forces had blockaded the island, achieved air superiority, and set their forces up to easily overpower the American defenses. The story of Bataan and Corregidor was a heroic tragedy. Heroic in that American and Filipino forces fought back bravely for months, and tragic in that any relief, retreat, or victory was impossible. The Japanese were on the offensive all over the Pacific, achieving a string of humiliating defeats to the American military.

With the exit of MacArthur, General Jonathon “Skinny” Wainwright was given command of the defense of the islands. The forces under him were slowly starving, unhealthy, and increasingly ineffective. Wainwright did his best to rally the men, visiting the front lines to encourage his forces. He even gained the highest respect of the Marines at Corregidor for his courage under fire and how he personally returned fire on the front.

Bataan was the first to surrender, setting up the atrocity of the Bataan Death March, where only 54,000 out of 70,000 arrived at POW camps. It was the largest surrender in American history, and even those who survived the death march awaited further atrocities at Camp O’Donnel. General MacArthur said of the Bataan defenders:

The Bataan force went out as it wished, fighting to the end its flickering forlorn hope. No army has ever done so much with so little and nothing became it more than its last hour of trial and agony. To the weeping Mothers of its dead, I can only say that the sacrifice and halo of Jesus of Nazareth has descended upon their sons, and God will take them unto Himself.

General Wainwright added, “Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand – a beacon to all the liberty – loving peoples of the world – cannot fall!” Wainwright carried a heavy burden for the surrender, and further despair settled in among the defenders at Corregidor for the fate that awaited them.

The American people followed the reports of the battle, clinging to any hope for a victory in the Pacific. It was never to be, despite further bitter and heroic fighting. Wainwright was forced to surrender the entire Philippines in May of 1942 for the purpose of saving civilians and his remaining men. Privately MacArthur was livid with the action, as some believed additional American and Filipino forces in other parts of the islands might have been able to hold out awhile longer or take up guerrilla action. Unfortunately for Wainwright, he was left with no other choice, yet he still declared, “I have taken a dreadful step.”

Wainwright was made a prisoner of war with his men. He was depressed that he was the commander who surrendered the largest contingent of American forces in its history.

General Jonathan M. Wainwright

He also believed he would receive a court martial and be made the scape goat for the Philippines if he ever returned home. His treatment like nearly every Allied prisoner in the Pacific was brutal. Like the men he led, he wasted away to a skeleton under Japanese care. Denied basic provisions, he was shuffled from camp to camp until the very end. Upon his liberation, he asked the first American he saw what the American Brass and people thought of him. The soldier replied, “You are a hero General Wainwright.” Still skeptical he kept asking additional men and officers the same questions.

The story of Bataan and Corregidor is a story of American defeat and temporary American abandonment of those who fought and bled there. Out of the ashes total victory and redemption would emerge for those fighting to free and liberate the people under Imperial Japanese aggression. The heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor slowed the Japanese offensive in the Pacific, giving time for the Navy and MacArthur to organize their forces.

Wainwright did return to the United States a hero, and President Truman awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on the front lines of Corregidor. Wainwright was loved by the men he commanded because he suffered with them. He refused to leave their side or the rock he defended saying, “We have been through so much together that my conscience would not let me leave before the final curtain.” The Pacific Theater is sometimes overshadowed by the European Theater in WWII. The greatest thing about Veterans Day is we remember and honor all of those who served from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the lowliest infantry grunt.

Understanding in many ways he was a symbol of defeat, albeit heroically, Wainwright warned the nation against ever being ill prepared in its defense again. Wainwright declared:

I hope that the story of what Americans suffered will always be remembered in its practical significance – as a lesson which almost lost for us this land we love. Remember Bataan! Remember Corregidor!

Just in time for Christmas, Acton Media’s new documentary The Birth of Freedom is now available for purchase from the Acton Bookshoppe. Accompanied by a study guide which explores several core themes of the documentary, The Birth of Freedom tells the story of how modern understandings of individual liberty were developed and addresses the questions, “Why would anyone believe that all men are created equal? That all should be free? That all deserve a voice in choosing their leaders? Why would any nation consider this a self-evident truth?”

Order your copy, check out our popular Birth of Freedom short video series, learn how you can host a screening of your own, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

I made a mental note of it awhile back when I heard that there was a “Christian” version of the immensely popular Guitar Hero video game franchise in the works. Wired recently reviewed Guitar Praise – Solid Rock here.

Reviewer Eliot Van Buskirk notes that Guitar Praise “inhabits a gentler world where a bad performance gets you mild clapping and gentle suggestions instead of the raucous boos and catcalls that accompany failure in Guitar Hero.”

There are two conditions that would have to be met before I would consider purchase of this game.

First, this song from Sonseed would have to be included:


Zap! (For some reason hearing that song always reminds me of this SNL skit [video here]…and since we’re closing in on Christmas, even better.)

And second, I’d have to receive a standing offer to play Guitar Praise on stage as part of my church’s praise and worship team.

On a more serious note, this is a great example of how “evangelical” culture is so often derivative of popular culture (in a bad way) and dated (also in a bad way). Somehow I don’t think “Christian” Guitar Hero is what Andy Crouch has in mind for fulfillment of the call for Christians to be “culture makers.”