Those who love freedom were saddened to learn this morning of the passing of one of the most significant contributors to the cause of liberty and individual responsibility in Latin America, Manuel F. Ayau, affectionately known as “Muso” to his many friends and acquaintances, after a long and brave struggle with cancer.

A humble, self-effacing but determined man, Ayau is a classic example of someone who made a difference. Whereas others confined themselves to talking about the free society, Ayau decided from an early age that he would do whatever he could to create the conditions that promote liberty and therefore the opportunity for authentic human flourishing.

Born in Guatemala City 85 years ago, Ayau undertook his university studies in the United States. An engineer by training, Ayau had one of those intellectually curious minds that are forever seeking to know the truth of things. Hence, alongside a successful career as an entrepreneur, businessman, company director, commercial banker, and member of the Central Bank of Guatemala, Ayau never ceased to be a pioneer in promoting the life of the mind.

In the late 1950s, Ayau founded the Center for Economic and Social Studies (CEES) in Guatemala. Its purpose was simple: to study and develop wider understanding of the preconditions of societies that were both free and prosperous. In the conditions of 1950s Guatemala, most would have viewed such an enterprise as worthy of Don Quixote himself. But to Ayau’s mind, ideas mattered, and unless people were willing to invest in good ideas, then bad ideas would surely prevail.

Eventually his determination to spread the ideas of liberty in his own impoverished, fractured country led Ayau to found what will surely be his most lasting legacy, the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala, which today is widely recognized as one of the best universities in Latin America. Named after an early bishop of Guatemala, Francisco Marroquín, this university and its exceptionally talented faculty has educated thousands of young Latin Americans in the foundations of freedom and responsibility, and alerted them to the importance and virtue of always seeking after the truth.

But apart from his institutional achievements, I have often thought that what most characterized Ayau’s work and life was his courage. Not many people would take the risk of creating a private university in a Central American country noted for its instability and poverty. Nor was Ayau afraid to take his ideas directly into the public square. He served, for instance, as a member of Guatemala’s Congress and even stood for president in 1990. Ayau was no stranger to threats, including against his own life, yet he was never intimidated by those who prefer violence to reason. In the face of political pressures that most would find unbearable, Ayau never lost hope in the cause of freedom and its capacity to contribute to the common good of his country.

Ayau’s contributions to the growth of the habits and institutions of liberty in Guatemala are, like most substantive achievements, immeasurable. He did not, however, limit his activities to his own nation. He worked tirelessly for liberty at the international level for decades. As a reflection of the esteem in which others held him, Ayau served a term as President of the Mont Pèlerin Society and was a long time member of the board of directors of the Liberty Fund as well as a trustee of the Foundation for Economic Education—organizations that have all worked tirelessly over many decades in often difficult circumstances to explain and develop the ideas of freedom and the virtues needed to sustain them to several generations of students and scholars.

Much time will pass before Ayau’s full legacy bears all of its fruit, especially in the persons of the many young minds that have passed through Universidad Francisco Marroquín. But in all my conversations with Ayau, I always marveled at his quiet confidence that, no matter how difficult the odds, truth would prevail over error, not least because he believed that human beings were made for freedom—in the fullest and richest sense of that word—rather than slavery and ignorance.

Whenever I think about Ayau, however, I can’t help but recall the first time I read his Inaugural Address presented at the inauguration of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín on January 15, 1972. The 1970s were not a happy decade for freedom. The West was undergoing one of its worst crises of self-confidence, thousands of Latin American intellectuals were becoming convinced that the materialist and collectivist principles of Marxism-Leninism was the future, and universities around the world were increasingly descending into a morass of relativism and a preference for propagating ideology over the pursuit of truth.

Throughout Ayau’s remarks, however, breathes a spirit of optimism, a belief in humanity’s capacity for self-improvement, and an assurance that the light of liberty and truth could never be extinguished. “May God help us and show us the way to the truth”, were the words with which Ayau ended his address. His faith in the workings of Providence never dimmed.

In this moment of sadness, we remember Ayau’s family. They shared his dreams and in their own ways helped him to turn them into reality. But we also honor a man who never hesitated to put his talents and mind at the service of others, many of whom will never know just how much they owe him.

Manuel F. Ayau, requiescat in pace.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a nice piece about the problem of graffiti in Rome and the obstacles to cleaning it all up.

While the graffiti are certainly an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful city, there is also great economic damage done, which leads to impoverished understandings of private property and general urban decay.

If cleaning up the graffiti on a four-story palazzo can cost as much as €40,000, there are surely people there to profit from the clean-up. And in Rome, there must be whole bureaucracies created to study, discuss and discuss and discuss the problem some more. Perhaps there are too many people making money off this graffiti affair to put an end to it. So maybe we should just get used to the graffiti and consider it all a net-plus to the city economically?

Margherita Stancati/The Wall Street Journal

Not at all. This should remind us of the French economist Frédéric Bastiat’s theory of “what is seen and what is not seen”, also known as his theory of the broken window. (Incidentially, Bastiat is buried in the Roman church of San Luigi dei Francesi and his simple tomb makes a great pilgrimage stop for those who appreciate market economics.)

When crimes against private property are not recognized for what they are and state officials choose to shrug them off, people will grow accustomed to such crimes and even seek economic justifications for them. This in turn leads to more crime and even less respect for private property. Not only is this bad economics, it is immoral and immensely demoralizing to those who care about their common life, i.e. politics in the widest and most important sense of the word. It also explains why Romans seem to care so little about their city, its public as well as its private spaces, and why it seems to take American volunteers to clean up the place. Che vergogna!

I just couldn’t pass this one up.

Below is an ENI story on the installation of 800 “colourful miniature figures of the 16th-century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther” in the market square of Wittenberg.

Just as last year there was a good deal of academic and commercial interest around the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, you can expect a great deal of activity leading up to the 500th anniversary of the traditional date of the dawn of the Reformation in 1517.

There are some more details on Ottmar Hörl’s installation here and at his personal website.

Martin Luther: Hier stehe ich

Ottmar Hörl, Martin Luther: Hier stehe ich, 2010 (Foto: Christoph Busse/Sven Hoffmann)

Here’s a video of the removal of the original nineteenth-century Luther statue upon which Hörl’s installation is based, in preparation for its restoration.

(more…)

One of the charges sometimes leveled against classical liberal thought is that it opposes all authority; that it seeks to reduce society to an amalgamation of atomized individuals, eliminating the role of religion, community, and vibrant social institutions.

The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and ActonHistorian Ralph Raico seeks to argue the very opposite in his dissertation, The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton. The work has been republished for the first time by the Mises Institute. (A particularly interesting note is that the chair of Raico’s dissertation committee was none other than F.A. Hayek).

Raico argues that these classical liberal thinkers did not, by any stretch, subscribe to the secularist views of some of their liberal contemporaries. Instead, they found compelling religious justifications for liberty. Contrary to the assertions of some critics of classical liberalism, they also did not oppose all authority: They recognized the essential value of family, church, and other vibrant and flourishing social institutions. These possess what I would venture to call a “natural authority,” a kind of authority and social standing that naturally arises from the workings of a free society (as distinct from the coercive authority of a government or state). Human beings congregate in these groups precisely because we are social animals, and because we identify these institutions as  conducive to our flourishing.

As Acton University faculty member Jeffrey Tucker notes:

What resources were available that highlighted this alternative liberal tradition? There weren’t many at the time. It was during this period that Ralph Raico went to work on his dissertation. He hit the target with an extended discussion of three massively important figures in the history of liberalism for whom a religious orientation, and an overarching moral framework, was central for their thought: French Protestant Benjamin Constant (1767–1830), French Catholic Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859), and Lord Acton (1834–1902).

All three were distinguished for

  1. consistent antistatism,
  2. appreciation for modernity and commerce,
  3. love of liberty and its identification with human rights,
  4. a conviction in favor of social institutions such as churches and cultural norms, and
  5. a belief that liberty is not a moral end in itself but rather a means toward a higher end.

[….] Raico provides a detailed reading of their work in all these respects and shows that one need not embrace statism, and that one can be a consistent and full-blown liberal in the classical tradition […] Ours is a varied tradition of secularists, yes, but also of deeply pious thinkers. What drew them all together was a conviction that liberty is the mother and not the daughter of order.

As the case for liberty continues to be made, it is important never to neglect this extremely fruitful tradition in classical liberal thought.

Update: I stumbled across a Lord Acton quote that helps illustrate the distinction between the “natural” authority of voluntary institutions in civil society and the authority of the state:

“Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority but force.” – Lord Acton

I think that the oppression threatening democracies will not be like anything there has been in the world before….

I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls….

Above these men stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny. It is absolute, meticulous, ordered, provident, and kindly disposed. It would be like a fatherly authority, if, fatherlike, its aim were to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks only to keep them in perpetual childhood; it prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind. It works readily for their happiness but it wishes to be the only provider and judge of it. It provides their security, anticipates and guarantees their needs, supplies their pleasures, directs their principal concerns, manages their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances….

Thus, it reduces daily the value and frequency of the exercise of free choice; it restricts the activity of free will within a narrower range and gradually removes autonomy itself from each citizen. Equality has prepared men for all this, inclining them to tolerate all these things and often even to see them as a blessing.

Thus, the ruling power, having taken each citizen one by one into its powerful grasp and having molded him to its own liking, spreads its arms over the whole of society, covering the surface of social life with a network of petty, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules through which even the most original minds and the most energetic of spirits cannot reach the light in order to rise above the crowd. It does not break men’s wills but it does soften, bend, and control them; rarely does it force men to act but it constantly opposes what actions they perform; it does not destroy the start of anything but it stands in its way; it does not tyrannize but it inhibits, represses, drains, snuffs out, dulls so much effort that finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as shepherd.

I have always believed that this type of organized, gentle, and peaceful enslavement just described could link up more easily than imagined with some of the external forms of freedom and that it would not be impossible for it to take hold in the very shadow of the sovereignty of this people.

Alexis De Tocqueville, 1840.

Democracy in America, pp. 805-6.

During a recent conversation, a Chinese friend of mine commented on the lack of political involvement that she has observed in her peers, especially in comparison to American college students. She attributes this lack of involvement to the fact that the Chinese do not believe that political action can change the policies or even the identities of their leaders. As a result, non-politicians in China do not get involved in politics, and politicians there focus on achieving their own goals rather than on improving society, resulting in a tremendous amount of corruption. This attitude is the result of a variety of cultural and social factors, but one of the most prominent is the single-party system in which the dominant (Communist) party actively suppresses dissent.

This attitude seems sharply different from attitudes in America, where everyone holds political opinions and political action is seen as the primary vehicle for social change. However, the Chinese attitude toward politics has a close parallel in the prevailing American attitude toward work.

Just as the average Chinese citizen does not see political action as an activity that will affect social conditions, the average American does not see work in relation to society. We tend to consider work a necessary evil that provides for us and pays our bills, possibly providing some satisfaction. As a result, Americans who seek social change do so through politics or volunteering, while disregarding the effect of their work. Just as this attitude toward politics in China results in widespread corruption, our view of work as a self-centered activity bears some blame for the unethical behavior that contributed to our current recession.

People naturally desire significance and a sense that they have affected the lives of other people, so many are frustrated by the necessity of spending so many hours every week working on something that doesn’t satisfy.  Executives dream of retiring early so they can “give back” to their communities. Workers do just enough to get by, figuring that it does not matter whether they perform their job with excellence. And when they hear about needs not provided for in society, they look to the people whose “job” it is to fix these problems, in particular the government, never thinking how their own work might contribute to providing for people’s needs.

In contrast to this, Christianity considers work a positive activity that builds up society. Genesis 1 claims that humans are made in the image of a God who worked for six days creating the universe before resting from this labor. When God first created Adam, He gave him jobs of tending and keeping the garden and naming the animals, indicating that work is a natural part of nature, not a result of sin. Further, the Garden of Eden was filled with fruit that could be easily picked, showing that the goal of Adam’s work was not merely to provide himself with sustenance. Instead, the purpose was to improve on the garden’s natural state for God’s glory and to benefit nature and other people.

Clearly, there is more to life than work. People should be willing to give, volunteer, and perform their roles within their families and neighborhoods rather than devoting everything to work. However, we need to recognize that work itself is also a way for us to obey God and love the people around us.

In his book Work: the Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster argues that in the parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, God separates the sheep from the goats on the basis of their attitude toward work:

The Lord does not specify when or where the good deeds he blesses are done, but it now seems to me that Jesus is obviously speaking of more than a vocational behavior or pastime kindnesses. Why? Because he hinges our entire eternal destiny upon giving ourselves to the service of others—and that can hardly be a pastime event. In fact, giving our selves to the service of others, as obviously required by the Lord, is precisely what the central block of life that we give to working turns out to be!

On the simplest economic level, any company that does not provide goods or services that customers desire to purchase will soon have no customers and go out of business. Customers are only willing to pay for goods or services that benefit them, so any company, and thus any worker, is in some way working to meet people’s physical, intellectual, or emotional needs.

Certainly, our salaries compensate us for the acts we perform at work to serve others, but this in and of itself no more diminishes the service we perform than being thanked for volunteering diminishes its moral status. Jesus forbids giving to the poor solely for the purpose of receiving praise (Matt. 6:2-4), but in the same sermon He commands us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16). Clearly, the problem is not with being observed in doing good; it is in seeking the earthly reward rather than being motivated by love for God and neighbor. Similarly, receiving a salary can become an end in itself, or it can be a just reward for one’s service to others.

Someone I met at my church demonstrated his understanding of the significance of his work when I asked him what he did for a living. With a grin, he replied “I help people by helping them to figure out what kind of insurance to buy.” His understanding of the benefits that his work brought to his customers filled him with a palpable enthusiasm for his vocation.

On a societal level, this type of enthusiasm can benefit everyone, as it stimulates people to do their jobs better, since they have a goal larger than filling up the hours they are paid for. But it is even more essential for the workers personally.

People made in the image of an eternal God have a desire to make contributions that will last. People made in the image of a triune God have a desire to be part of a community, to be in relationships with other people, just as the members of the Godhead exist in relation. To reduce people’s vocation to a means to provide for themselves, or at best their families, and to see workers as only cogs in a corporate machine is to deprive them of the opportunity to fulfill these desires in the one area that consumes most of their time and energy (with the possible exception of family life). Recognizing the significance of one’s vocation is more than a motivational management technique — it is an expression of human dignity.

Last Saturday’s New York Times contains an entertaining, edifying but ultimately sad tale on what ails the Italian economy.

Entitled “Is Italy Too Italian?“, the Global Business article seeks to explain why Italy often tops “the informal list of Nations That Worry Europe” economically. Part of the problem may be the reluctance to use modern industrial techniques that can reduce costs of production – can you afford to pay $4,000 for a suit??? – or the large public debt run up by its profligate government, but the more important issue is the utter lack of growth and hence opportunity in the Italian economy.

Our friends at Istituto Bruno Leoni have documented the excruciating details of the situation. I’ll save you the trouble and let you know that both the New York Times and IBL make it clear that the Italians are being done in by the impediments to the free-market economy, deriving in many cases from a fear of open, honest competition in the marketplace.

Nowhere is this fear more evident than in the system of guilds that still dominates many sectors of the Italian economy. Guilds, in effect, are associations meant protect certain industries from competition in the name of cooperation/collusion among the suppliers of a good or service. And the recovery of guilds is often at the heart of a school of thought known as distributism that seeks a “third way” between capitalism and socialism.

(Thomas Woods explained the problem in his Acton monograph Beyond Distributism and I summarized the case in my recent Acton University lecture on the same subject.)

It is most unfortunate that some conservative religious-minded people have fallen for the “charms” of distributism, many of which are romantic longings for a more self-sufficient, localized economy made up of many (“well-distributed”) small-property owners, as opposed to large monopolistic, corporate holders of property.

Of course no one with any religious sensibilities really wants to (or can for that matter) defend capitalism, let alone the status quo, unconditionally. At its best, distributism can remind us that we are not economic automatons, that we shouldn’t become “wage-slaves”, and that as free, morally-responsible persons, we can and must choose how we ought to live. But it should also be obvious that a return to the guilds, with its limitations on free competition, is no way to correct the excesses of 21st-century capitalism. Just ask the Italians….

Here is the new trailer for the 7-part Birth of Freedom DVD Curriculum, created by Acton Media and released next month by Zondervan.

You can pre-order the curriculum at the Acton Book Shoppe.

Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett is the host of the radio program Speaking of Faith, broadcast weekly on NPR since 2003. In her conversations with people of all faiths and occupations, Christian and Hindu, novelist and physicist, Tippett aims to better understand the way that belief and spirituality affect our society, worldview, and personal well-being.

In the two books she has published in the last few years, certain themes stand out that define her own view of religion and its place in human life. In particular, Tippett understands that the positive impact that spiritual traditions have on the world rests on their ability to transform the heart and the way we live in relation to one another:

The context of most religious virtue is relationship–practical love in families and communities… These qualities of religion should enlarge, not narrow, our public conversation about all of the important issues before us. They should reframe it. (Speaking of Faith, 3)

Throughout her two books, Speaking of Faith and Einstein’s God, Tippett discusses faith from a perspective shared by the Acton Institute: Human suffering cannot be eliminated through government programs or by reforming political or economic structure. But our spiritual traditions can address complex problems on their deepest level. The religious sensibility inspires virtue, and, even in the midst of great suffering, it can instill hope through an insistence on human dignity and potential. (more…)

I mentioned Lester DeKoster’s little classic, Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, in the context of the Lutheran World Federation’s General Assembly and the theme, “Give us today our daily bread.”

In this book, DeKoster makes a pointed connection between work and food:

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”

The Lord is saying that where humans are hungry, there he too chooses to hunger. He waits in the hungry man or woman or child, longing to be served. Served how? By the work of those who knit the garment of civilization through the production and distribution of food!

God himself, hungering in the hungry, is served by all those who work in …

  • agriculture,
  • wholesale or retail foods,
  • kitchens or restaurants,
  • food transportation or the mass production of food items,
  • manufacturing of implements used in agriculture or in any of the countless food-related industries,
  • innumerable support services and enterprises that together make food production and distribution possible.

God transforms plantings into harvests. Then he waits to be fed by those whose work turns harvests into one of the basic elements of civilization. The gift of ourselves to others through work is the gift of ourselves to God—and this is why work gives both temporal and eternal meaning to life!

WorkMany commentators on this passage in Matthew focus on the “giving” literally as the charitable act of giving, and this is as appropriate. But some others go on to identify the “giver” with the government, rather than charities, individual Christians, or the church itself.

But as DeKoster challenges us, we ought also to think of the “giver” as the person who works in the fields to harvest the food, who gives the sweat of their brow to bring food to the table of those of us who hunger, each and every day.

This shift in perspective, that sees our work as a form of service to others, a way of giving of ourselves to others, changes things completely. And I think it more accurately reflects the nature of market interactions and the value of human work.