In this week’s Acton commentary, I researched and wrote about the danger of speech codes and the limiting of free expression on college campuses. Like many conservatives in an academic atmosphere, I have also lived through the deceit and intimidation of out-of-control ideologues on campus. It has been an issue I have been extremely passionate about since I witnessed and spoke out against administrators trying to squelch free expression while in school myself.

An important reference, and recommended reading for anybody interested in this topic is The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. The authors Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silversgate offer some essential comments:

What remain of the 60s on our campuses are its worst sides: intolerance of dissent from regnant political orthodoxy, the self-appointed power of self-designated “progressives” to set everyone else’s moral agenda, and saddest of all, the belief that universities not only may but should suspend the rights of some in order to transform students, the culture, and the nation according to their ideological vision and desire.

The authors later add:

The theory of “repressive tolerance,” or, more precisely, its practice of “progressive intolerance,” still governs the extracurricular lives of nearly all of our students. It is easy, however, to identify the vulnerabilities of the bearers of this worst and, at the time, most marginal legacy of the 60s: They loathe the society that they believe should support them generously in their authority over its offspring; they are detached from the values of individual liberty, legal equality, privacy, and the sanctity of conscience toward which Americans essentially are drawn; and, for both those reasons, they cannot bear the light of public scrutiny. Let the sunlight in.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) offered a write up concerning my piece, and since they are the experts, it was nice to receive a positive endorsement from them. The research and action they have put forth on this issue is nothing short of remarkable.

It was an incident at my alma mater, Ole Miss, which ignited a free speech discussion on campus, that brought my attention back to this important issue. I explained in my commentary:

Just last month at the University of Mississippi, the campus newspaper The Daily Mississippian reported that the University Police interrupted a staged reading of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. It was suggested that the readings be moved to a free speech zone or what the university calls “speakers corners.” An English instructor named Griffith Brownlee replied by reading the First Amendment and saying “The whole country is a free speech zone.” Once the university found out it was a department-sanctioned event they called the whole affair “a misunderstanding.” As Brownlee herself pointed out in the article, one suspects the irony of attempting to limit the words of an author who wrote against totalitarian tactics was lost on some school officials.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
By

At First Things, R.R. Reno posts a thought-provoking analysis tying together the election, the financial crisis, and broader economic and cultural trends. To simplify somewhat crassly, he argues that conservatism promoted and helped to bring about a more dynamic economy; this coupled with the international instability caused by conservatism’s foreign policy to create a widespread desire for stability; and this desire led to popular attraction to the candidacy of Barack Obama, notwithstanding his claim to be an agent of change.

There is certainly something to this hypothesis, but there are also a couple problems.

1. Theoretically, there is some difficulty in identifying free-market conservatism with Bush-style foreign policy. Granted that there is a lot of overlap among the principal political figures, the promotion of democracy abroad (putting the most positive possible spin on the Bush agenda) does not intellectually equal promotion of free markets and trade. Certainly there are many libertarians and libertarian-leaning conservatives who have opposed much Republican foreign policy.

2. Historically, I’m not sure that Reno’s trajectory from economic stability to economic dynamism, with its implications for America’s mood, entirely holds up. It’s true that there is greater geographic and career mobility now than there was in the 1950s, but it’s not clear that it is the result of what I’ll call “negative dynamism,” for example, that people are forced to move or to switch jobs out of financial necessity. Instead, people are pursuing positive opportunities, and making decisions that approximate the following: “I would rather make $20,000 more and live a thousand miles from the community where I grew up, than stay in that community and survive on less.” I’m not claiming that such a decision is good or bad, rational or irrational, only that it’s a different sort of decision than one made by a frontiersman in the 1850s, who had to leave his family for six months and work on the railroad so as to avoid starvation. The feeling of instability, if it is indeed as widespread and decisive as Reno suggests, is more self-imposed than the product of impersonal economic forces. (All of which is a generalization intended to characterize most Americans, and not to deny that some are compelled by genuine economic necessity to one course of action or another.)

With Reno’s conclusion, however, I wholeheartedly agree:

…American conservatism must recognize the primacy of social mores over economic philosophy and foreign policy. We need to expand an old argument. A democracy depends upon citizens capable of ordered liberty. And a culture that seeks economic vitality and is committed to global leadership also requires citizens who can distinguish responsible autonomy from a life of anomic desire. We can endure the inevitable risks of marketplace and battlefield—but only if we have some confidence about the stability of the deeper, more fundamental things of life.

I have been part of an email correspondence group for a couple of years now which includes a number of strong public policy thinkers. One of the best is a man named Francis Cianfrocca (aka “Blackhedd”) who writes regularly at Redstate. He has been spot on with regard to the current financial crisis. I’ve read far better stuff from him in my inbox than I’ve been able to find at CNBC or Fox Business News. All of this is to say that he is plugged in to the financial community and has a strong analytical mind for making sense of it all.

Here is his latest. And here is a taste:

Obama could sweep away a lot of this uncertainty and unreasoning fear with no more than a ten-minute news conference.

He could stand up, with the towering Paul Volcker, the sour-pussed Larry Summers and the sardonic-looking Tim Geithner standing behind him, and say the following:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve consulted at length with my economic team. We’re acutely aware that our economy is facing great uncertainty. We understand that our system is a capitalistic one. We intend to do whatever it takes to get business and capital working again, for the sake of every consumer and working person in America.

We also recognize our critical responsibility to the rest of the world. As the pre-eminent economic power, it’s up to us to lead global markets back to health and prosperity.

I’m announcing the following key decisions, which we will stand by until our markets are back to normal, employment is growing, and our economy is healthy again:

All tax increases on capital, dividends, and business income are OFF THE TABLE.

All protectionist legislation, including increased tariffs and import duties, are OFF THE TABLE.

All new regulations, mandated costs and taxes on businesses, including export businesses, are OFF THE TABLE.

That is all. Thank you.”

If Obama were to give this speech, you’d see explosive market rallies, and everyone would heave a big sigh of relief.

So how about it, Mr. President-elect?

Sounds like some first class “Nixon goes to China” action to me.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 1, 2008
By

Yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press had an attention-grabbing feature graphic, which highlights an online interactive “game” that gives more information about each of the candidates for the “economic blame game” bracket.

Press Graphic/Milt Klingensmith


The four brackets are broken down by group, so the four major categories at fault are 1) the financial industry; 2) consumers; 3) government; and 4) inexplicable forces.

Notably absent are the media (except perhaps as personified in Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money”) and government over-regulation, including especially the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and variations on that theme in the intervening decades. To be sure, “deregulation” is a top seed on the government side, and makes the blame game Final Four. But the summary for that option manages to lay the blame on Ronald Reagan and his dictum: “Government is not the answer to our problems. Government is the problem.”

The Press’ pick for the blame game champion is “Fear and Panic.” Writes Press copy editor Dan Hawkins, “So for your consideration, we rounded up 32 suspects and arranged them in a tournament bracket, as we did for White House scandals and the presidential race. For the first time, however, we decided to declare a winner. This crisis, this worst-of-the-worst competition, is too awful to leave without a scapegoat.”

There isn’t really a good representative for what I consider to be greatly culpable, the culture of consumptive capitalism (as opposed to democratic or entrepreneurial capitalism). Consumptive capitalism adds “spend all you can” to the more stable triumvirate of flourishing: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.

And today comes news that confirms that the recession of the US economy began in December of 2007. The Press’ advice for the ordinary American citizen is “Don’t panic.” If that’s true for the everyday American, how much more so for the Christian.

One reality saves us from the necessity to assign blame to others and enables us to accept responsibility. As we begin the season of Advent in 2008, it is proper for us to reflect on the ultimate “scapegoat,” our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of the world on the cross, rose again, ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

This is not to say that we ignore the hard economic realities of our world. But the “fear and panic” created by material concerns need to be put into proper perspective, relativized and mitigated by hope in one whose kingdom will have no end.

Blog author: eschansberg
Thursday, November 27, 2008
By

In sports, there is a debate (between interesting and inane) about the meaning of a “Most Valuable Player” award: is it the best “individual” player (often measured in terms of a handful of statistics) or the player who is most valuable to his team (without that player, the team would not be nearly as good)?

The same could be said for holidays. For Christians, the “greatest” holidays are Christmas, Good Friday, and especially, Easter. But I’d argue that Thanksgiving is still the “best” holiday.

Christmas has a lot of cultural and consumerist baggage. Good Friday is vital but not the end of the story. And Easter gets overlooked easily– and in any case, doesn’t have an easy or appropriate way to celebrate it.

But Thanksgiving– at least in its ideal form– is awesome. It’s a time for extended family to gather and reflect, a four-day weekend which begins with gratitude and ends with worship, a grand opportunity to enjoy the fruit of the earth in combination with creative human preparation, and most of all, a time to enjoy God’s blessings and “give thanks”.

In this sense, Thanksgiving is like every other great holiday. It is meant to be a special celebration of that which we should celebrate every day. From Valentines Day to Mothers Day, from Veterans Day to July 4th, we set aside certain days for explicit celebration. But at the same time, the “event” is meant to be a continuous “lifestyle”– to celebrate, remember, or observe each of these every day of our lives. In this sense, all holidays are perhaps best understood through their etymology– as “holy days”– special but emblematic.

Speaking of etymology, I’m not certain that the words “grace” and “gratitude” are related. (A quick flip through my Websters does not resolve the question.) But they are certainly related conceptually. One angle on the Gospel is that Christians are grateful for God’s offer of grace and are then drawn to feeling and expressing graciousness in every aspect of their lives.

Thanksgiving allows Christians to celebrate God’s grace in its many forms– from the “common grace” extended to all to the providential graces of history through God’s sovereignty, from the universal grace available to all in Jesus Christ to the specific graces afforded to each of us in our daily lives.

In a sense, then, Thanksgiving allows us to celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter in one fell swoop. If so, maybe Thanksgiving is both the best and the greatest holiday of them all.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 27, 2008
By

A General Thanksgiving.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer (1928).

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By


For something to be deemed not relevant is the kiss of death in some evangelical Christian congregations across this country. As churches try to influence culture the Church at the same time is often swallowed up by it. The Pilgrims certainly would be categorized by many as severely irrelevant in lifestyle, separatist ways, and by their manner of worship in today’s culture.

The pastor of the church I attend preached an excellent two part series sermon on the Pilgrims. He discussed several lessons the Pilgrims can teach us, one was their wariness concerning the growing power of the state and how the state’s influence over the Church is harmful to religious liberty and freedom of worship.

The Pilgrims were a separatist sect committed to breaking away from the Church of England; the differences to them were irreconcilable. Freedom for the Pilgrims might be different than the freedom many of us envision for ourselves. Freedom for them was the freedom to worship in spirit and in truth, free from outside government intervention and the Church of England’s influence.

One the most important lessons that can be transferred to our era is that the Pilgrims understood that the more power that is centralized at the state level, the more power the government has to influence houses of worship and religious conduct. Understanding and defending our own Constitution and rights is essential to protecting the liberties and freedom we enjoy today. It is important to also note that there is a relationship between economic and social freedom. There is a danger of losing additional rights and freedom when a large segment of the population relinquishes economic freedom. There then becomes a greater dependency on centralized power. The ability of the person to create, innovate, and flourish becomes limited, as well as the ability to stand steadfast against the creeping loss of liberty.

Because of the great persecution religious dissenters in England faced, the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth also taught us that maintaining freedom is very costly. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth half of those who made the voyage would be dead by spring. Yet none of the Pilgrims returned with the Mayflower when it sailed back to England in 1621. With the help of Native Americans, the Pilgrim tradition of Thanksgiving was strong and vibrant because their great sacrifice and commitment to religious freedom bore fruit. The burdens they would bear were tolerable to them because their strong belief that ultimately it would bring glory to God. We can surely find inspiration and motivation in understanding that if you want to keep your freedom you have to sacrifice and pay something for it.

In 1647, Plymouth Governor William Bradford wrote in his notable historical work Of Plymouth Plantation:

Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.

Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here are kindled hath shone unto many, yea is some to our whole nation, let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By

Following up on our coverage of Pope Benedict’s economic “prophecy,” here’s a snip from yesterday’s “Papal Bullishness” editorial in Investor’s Business Daily. Read then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1985 article “Market Economy and Ethics” here.

The Pope gave a “prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules,” the ex-socialist lawyer and economics professor nonsensically claimed at Milan’s Cattolica University last week.

Tremonti conveniently omitted that elsewhere in the Pontiff’s 2,300-word analysis he grumbled that Theodore Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller spread “the notion that only Protestantism can bring forth a free economy — whereas Catholicism includes no corresponding education to freedom and to the self-discipline necessary to it, favoring authoritarian systems instead . . .”

Furthermore, the only apparent English translation of the paper is on the Web site of Fr. Robert Sirico’s Michigan-based Acton Institute. Why would a think tank devoted to emphasizing the free market’s spiritual underpinnings tout an anti-capitalist tract?

National Review Online today published Rev. Robert Sirico’s “A House Built on Sand,” his Acton commentary on the financial crisis.

Wall Street has been skewered and denounced in almost every attempt to examine the moral dimension of this crisis. Yet, Wall Street is too often denounced for all the wrong reasons — as a surrogate for the free economy, for seeking and making a profit, as though the alternative was somehow a preferable moral result.

No, if we are going to offer a moral critique of Wall Street, this should not be done because free markets allocate and produce capital, without which people’s homes and savings evaporate. Rather, it should be done because all these previously private businesses are now waddling up to the governmental trough begging to be nationalized and asking for their share of the dole.

Rev. Sirico was also a featured speaker on the recently concluded National Review 2008 Post-Election Caribbean Cruise, which drew more than 700 attendees. Jim Geraghty, on NRO’s Campaign Spot, offered a review of the event and this about Rev. Sirico’s panel of speakers:

If that panel had a surprise star, though, it was Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, who cut through a lot of numerical haze by pointing out the moral dimensions of all economic choices – and that it is morally wrong to accept a loan that you know you are unlikely to be able to repay, and that it is equally wrong to loan money that is not yours to someone you know is unlikely to pay it back. At the heart of the housing/banking/market chaos is a lot of people who faced a choice that they had to know was wrong on some level, and did it anyway.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, November 24, 2008
By

——————– Start of message from list: eni-summary ——– Ecumenical News International News Highlights
24 November 2008

Ukrainian church marks 20th century ‘genocide’ Russia disputes

Warsaw (ENI). Ukraine’s largest Orthodox church has marked the anniversary of an early 1930s’ Soviet-engineered famine, in which millions died, by describing it for the first time as an “act of genocide”, a description rejected by the Russian government. “A crime like this could only happen in an environment hateful of God and man,” the holy synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, said in a statement following an 11 November Kiev meeting. “It will always painfully remind us of the time when the devil reigned over both Ukraine and other nations of the former Soviet community.” [514 words, ENI-08-0944]