More audio from this year’s Acton Lecture Series. In “Virtue and Liberty in the American Founding,” Dr. John Pinheiro examines the American Founders’ understanding of liberty as rooted in a classical and Christian understanding of virtue. His talk touched on the reasons why George Washington argued that public happiness could be attained without private morality and why John Adams wrote that, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

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Dr. John Pinheiro

Dr. John Pinheiro is associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College in Michigan. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Pinheiro co-edited volume 12 of the Presidential Series of the Papers of George Washington and is author of Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War. His publications also include articles on Washington and the Jacksonian Era in academic journals. Consulting Editor for the Polk presidency at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, Dr. Pinheiro also hosts “Past is Prologue” on WPRR, 1680AM, Grand Rapids. His scholarly interests include American identity and evolving American views on republican citizenship.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I reviewed a new book by George H. Nash on the history of the American conservative movement:

Reappraising the Right

By Bruce Edward Walker

In his 1950 work, “The Liberal Imagination,” Lionel Trilling famously stated that American liberalism was the one true political philosophy, claiming it as the nation’s “sole intellectual tradition.”

Unknown to him, two young men — one toiling as a professor at Michigan State Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) and the other finishing his degree at Yale University – would publish two articulate, galvanizing works. The first, Russell Kirk, unleashed “The Conservative Mind,” in which he defined conservatives as being wary of change, revolutions and ideologies in the manner of Irish statesman Edmund Burke. The second, William F. Buckley, first published “God and Man at Yale” and later inaugurated The National Review, the first issue bearing Buckley’s definition of a conservative as one who stands “athwart history, yelling stop!”

Slight differences, to be sure, but, as George H. Nash notes in his excellent “ Reappraising the Right ,” these variations are indicative of the inherent schisms in the modern American conservative tradition from its beginning.

Both Kirk and Buckley agreed that the conservative tradition had its roots in spirituality –specifically, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Morality and right-thinking come not from man, but from a higher power. Furthermore, humankind will continue to succumb to the temptations and appetites of the flesh it has been heir to since the Fall. The two men took as articles of faith that humanity is not perfectible and that the striving for earthbound utopias is foolhardy.

Kirk, writing from the “stump country” of Mecosta, Michigan, and Buckley, writing and speaking in his Brahmin-drenched New England patois, differed in their views of where conservatism derived, what precisely it was and where it should go. Despite their differences, Kirk wrote a column for nearly every issue of National Review from its inception and for almost 30 years.

The early 1950s were watershed years, to be sure, because as soon as a new conservative front was established, the fortress was besieged from within and without. The 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign against Democrat incumbent President Lyndon Johnson notwithstanding, the high water mark of conservatism in the lifetime of most readers would more than likely be defined as the victory of Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, supporter of Goldwater in the 1964 election, and former California governor, became an icon for all that modern conservatism came to represent: low taxes, personal responsibility and small government.

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This is a really intriguing story about a small community beset by an unfriendly local tax environment, “Sand Lake civil war: Move to dissolve village comes down to taxes.”

The village government of Sand Lake, Michigan, is threatened with dissolution. As you might expect, those facing the chopping block are crying foul.

How’s this for overblown rhetoric? “This is domestic terrorism. It’s an attack on small town USA. I have a personal anger against these people. Their purpose is not the good of the village,” says village president Kirk Thielke.

Just imagine the carnage, the horror: “There are just so many things that aren’t being considered. No one would plow our parking lots. Who would do leaf pickup?”

What do the proponents of the ballot measure to “disincorporate” Sand Lake have to say?

“We used to shovel on our own. We could all put in and hire someone to do it. It would cost a lot less. And the same thing with the leaves,” contends Toni Bush, 60, an owner of a local bar and a 40-year resident of Sand Lake.

Self-sufficiency rather than dependence on bloated local government sounds pretty good to me. And I do hope that, as one commenter notes, this is a “harbinger” of things facing local governments across this nation.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico at Acton Lecture Series

Rev. Robert A. Sirico at Acton Lecture Series

We’ve had a lot of requests recently for the audio of Rev. Sirico’s lecture on social justice. We’re posting a recording of his April 15 Acton Lecture Series presentation, “Does Social Justice Require Socialism?” In this talk, he addresses the increasing calls for government intervention in financial market regulation, health care, education reform, and economic stimulus in the name of “social justice.”

Watch for more ALS audio on the blog in the days ahead.

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I’ve recently stumbled across the fantastic blog of Craig Carter, a professor at Tyndale University & Seminary in Toronto, and author of Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective. Take a moment to add it to your RSS reader of choice, and then go ahead and read his thorough critique of Jim Wallis’ hatchet job on the Tea Party movement.

When I lived in Hawaii my family visited Punchbowl National Cemetery to see where my grandfather’s high school buddy was buried. He was killed in the Pacific Theatre in World War II. As a child I had two thoughts that day. It was taking a long time to find his grave simply because it was a sea of stones and I remember thinking at the time, I wonder if his family wanted him buried here, so far from home. Did his loved ones ever see his grave?

We can comprehend the price of liberty in the thousands of American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen buried far from home across seas and continents. One of these men, buried at Normandy, is medal of honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. After receiving two denials to land with his men in the first assault waves at Normandy, he was finally granted permission to storm the beaches with his men on D-Day.

Courageous to an almost absurd degree, Roosevelt had a serious heart condition and walked with a cane. The only general to land in the first wave at Normandy, General Omar Bradley later said of Roosevelt’s actions on the beach that day, “It was the greatest single act of courage I witnessed in the war.”

His father, President Theodore Rosevelt, cited courage and honor as being among the chief virtues of the American way of life. Too often in the academy and the political sphere the opposite is true. The student senate at the University of Washington brought dishonor on itself when it blocked a memorial to medal of honor recipient, Marine fighter ace, and an alumnus of the school named Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in 2006. One of the reasons cited: “Many monuments at UW already commemorate rich white men,” driveled one student.

A true example of honor is the Tomb Guard, a special platoon within the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Honor and respect has everything to do with their ceremonial and almost mystic vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The tomb represents not only all of those who died defending the republic, but also those who sacrificed their identity. The tomb has been guarded continuously and without interruption since the summer of 1937. Part of the creed of the sentinel guard reads:

Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

My favorite thing to do in Arlington is to walk the hallowed grounds in that garden of stones. It is in so many ways the greatest monument to America and her splendor and character. WWII veteran, and Mississippi civil rights hero Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963, is buried there. Grand Rapids, Michigan native and astronaut Roger Chaffee, who died during an Apollo launch pad test, was also laid to rest in Arlington.

I actually left Arlington for a work related trip right before what has been dubbed “Snowpocalypse.” I remember watching the news about how the entire federal government had been shut down, and the area was in disarray. I remember thinking: while the weather was bringing the entire government to a halt, still somewhere things would be exactly the same. Across the Potomac in Arlington a solitary guard would be at his post, meticulously pacing 21 steps, with a rhythmic click of the heels, like an eternal heartbeat for America’s bravest.

When in Krakow, Poland, for Acton’s recent conference, I was interviewed by journalist Dominik Jaskulski for the news organization Fronda. Dominik has kindly allowed us to publish excerpts from his translation of the interview.

Father Sirico, tell us why your conference, organized with the Foundation PAFERE, is important for Poland.

Today, many people in the world are in a situation of transition. If you do not respond well in such conditions, you may see a repeat episode where – as you had here in Poland — people turned to socialist and communist ideas. I think it’s very important that people understand what culture is and how dynamic it is. With the foundation of a moral framework, it is much easier to choose the proper path of development. In that framework, we want above all to respect the dignity of the human person.

In Poland, we often see a discrepancy between the views of younger people and their elders about the nature of the transformation that occurred. Older people often talk about the loss of state benefits.

It’s quite funny, because less than 20 years ago, when I first came here, I gave an interview in which I was asked about how I thought things would go in the next few years. I said something like this: When the Israelites were leaving Egypt, it took them 40 years to arrive at the Promised Land. That’s mainly because Egypt was still in their hearts. In the Bible, the Israelites constantly asked, “Where is the land of milk and honey? When we were in Egypt, at least we had the dates and other food.” It took a whole generation to accept the changes that occurred.

What about unemployment? Under communism, we all had jobs. Currently, unemployment exceeds 10 percent. A few years ago it was even 20 percent.

Well, I think what the case was in the past in Poland is that everyone seemed to have a job. Authentic work, in which everyone is responsible for that work and understands its purpose, is productive. Many people were employed in Poland, which was not free, but many of these workers had no purpose and were unproductive. And, at the end, it led to massive poverty. Poverty, not wealth, was socialized. If we could measure the level of satisfaction and happiness then and now in Poland, I would be surprised if it isn’t now much higher. Yet it is true that some people find themselves in a difficult situation during the transition. We will discuss this during the conference.

Economics, as we know, has its cultural consequences, just as culture has economic implications. How you assess economic and cultural changes in Poland?

I must say that from all countries historically affected by communism, Poland and the Czech Republic were the most successful in their transformation. In Poland, largely thanks to the Church, the local culture remained intact. Of course, questions about the transformation continue to occur. This indeed was a dramatic shift because this country escaped one of the most horrific, depraved systems in human history. There is a cost, which we had to go through. We just have to understand that this transformation brings together a number of costs. (more…)

Time to set the record straight. Some of the comments on my original posting of Faith McDonnell’s article Embracing the Tormentors are representative of the sort of egregious moral relativism, spin doctoring, and outright falsification, that have for so long characterized the “social justice” programs of lefty ecumenical groups like the WCC and NCC. Then, for good measure, let’s have some of these commenters toss in a dollop of hate for Israel and claim that this nation, which faces an existential threat from autocratic Arab regimes frequently and publicly reminding us of their plans to annihilate the Jews or drive them into the sea, is not a democracy. Really? Compared to what? Iran or Syria?

Recall, if you didn’t take time to actually read the article (read the article!), the words of Christian poet and patriot Armando Valladares, who was imprisoned for 22 years in Fidel Castro’s island Gulag. In accepting IRD’s 1983 Religious Freedom Award, he said this:

The honor which you bestow upon me today will have special significance for Cuba’s political prisoners….During those years, with the purpose of forcing us to abandon our religious beliefs and demoralize us, the Cuban communist indoctrinators repeatedly used the statements of support for Castro’s revolution made by some representatives of American Christian churches. Every time that a pamphlet was published in the United States, every time a clergyman would write an article in support of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, a translation would reach us and that was worse for the Christian political prisoners than the beatings or the hunger.

While we waited for the solidarity embrace from our brothers in Christ, incomprehensively to us, those who were embraced were our tormentors…. the Christians in Cuba’s prisons suffer not only the pain of torture and isolation but also the conviction that they have been deserted by their brothers in faith.

Thanks to commenter Neal Lang for reminding us of the Red Terror in Spain. The Spaniards were only following the program of extermination, the destruction of the faith, that was devised by the Bolsheviks and Stalinists. This article cites a Russian report placing the number of deaths of clergy, religious and lay leaders at 200,000 during the Soviet regime. It started early: (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, May 28, 2010
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Sell! Sell! Sell!

This week’s commentary is from Victor V. Claar, an economist at Henderson State University and the author of a new Acton Institute monograph, Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution. Follow his economics blog here.

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Poverty, Capital and Economic Freedom

By Victor V. Claar

When poor countries grow rich, it rarely has anything at all to do with how many mouths they have to feed or the abundance of natural resources. Instead, across the globe, poor countries of all sizes, climates, and endowments begin to grow rich as two key factors increase.

First, countries grow rich as their human capital improves. Human capital is the term economists use to describe the value that a country’s people possess through their accumulated experience and education. For example, there is little doubt that India’s recent growth explosion is due in large part to the education—including the knowledge of the English language—of its people.

Second, countries grow rich as they invest in and accumulate physical capital: the machines, tools, infrastructure, and other equipment that make the product of each hour of physical labor more valuable. That which both human capital and physical capital share is that they both transform the result of an hour of a person’s hard work into something of even greater value. As the value of an hour of labor rises, employers gladly pay higher hourly rates, knowing that their bottom lines will be the better for it.

If we want to be effective agents in aiding the poor, we should focus our efforts in directions leading to the enhanced value of an hour of labor. That is, we should help poor countries wisely grow their stocks of human and physical capital, all the while bearing in mind that markets and their prices send the best available signals regarding where our efforts can have the greatest impact. The newfound success of innovative micro lending efforts such as Kiva can help show us ways to effectively invest in the accumulation of physical capital by the global poor. Compassion International is a marvelous organization that works to further the education—the human capital—of poor children worldwide, with a financial accountability record above reproach. (more…)