affluenzaIn the book A Conflict Of Visions, Thomas Sowell explains that progressives look for the cause of crime because they believe human beings to be essentially good and not prone to self-interest or moral failings. For progressives, “It is hard to understand how anyone would commit a terrible crime without some special cause at work, if only blindness,” observes Sowell.

Progressives “see human nature as itself adverse to crime, and society as undermining this natural aversion through its own injustices, insensitivities, and brutality.” In other words, criminals are not responsible for their actions. We have to find some external cause to make sense of why anyone would commit a deviant act. For the millennial generation, raised in a therapeutic culture, when they commit crimes the ultimate culprit is usually one class of people: their parents.

It’s not that “the devil made me do it.” No, that would be too simplistic and supernatural. Today, it’s “my parents made me do it.” This progressive vision of human nature is so injurious that it is perverting our justice system. For example, in a recent Texas court case a 17-year-old student who caused the death of several people while driving drunk was given probation because he was too “coddled.” Leigh Jones at World Magazine summarizes the case:
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Napkin003During a meeting in a restaurant with two officials from the Ford Administration — Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — a young economist sketched a curve on a napkin to illustrate an argument he was making. Arthur Laffer was explaining to the policymakers the concept of taxable income elasticity—i.e., taxable income will change in response to changes in the rate of taxation.

By 1974, the idea was already ancient. Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Muslim philosopher, wrote in his work The Muqaddimah: “It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.” John Maynard Keynes had made the same point in 1933. But for American politicians the idea that people change their behavior based on rates of taxation seemed revolutionary, so the concept became popularized as “The Laffer Curve.”

The crucial point, as Laffer has explained, is that,
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naturallawA few weeks ago I asked why natural law arguments more persuasive. Natural law advocates intend for such argument to persuade both believers and non-believers, so how do they account for the relative ineffectualness of such arguments? Why don’t more people find them to be persuasive?

In response to my question (as well as questions and criticisms from others), Sherif Girgis proffered a defense and explanation:

Yes. Over the last few years, my coauthors and I have heard from many saying we had convinced them to join the marriage debate by showing them its value (and giving them the moral vocabulary and syntax to discuss it); from others who decided to retire this or that contrary argument; and from still others who switched to our side of the issue. These have included non-Catholics, non-Christians, agnostics, even a prominent former Marxist thinker. We have often remarked, channeling Chesterton, that the argument for marriage has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found (we’d say feared) difficult and left untried.

Then where are the mass conversions? We freely admit that moral philosophy can’t produce them. It doesn’t convert en masse, because evaluating its arguments takes sustained attention. It requires holding several pieces together; discerning subtle patterns; and generating and testing alternatives by turns, in an always-unfinished process. Philosophy is famously better at knocking down than building up; even the strongest of its affirmative conclusions do not overpower but invite, suggest, recommend. And by itself, philosophy tugs so softly at the imagination and senses that it can pull the head before the heart, leaving readers not so much moved as divided.

Girgis adds that while natural law arguments may not sway the masses, it may change the thinking of the influential elites:

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obama prayer breakfastThe National Prayer Breakfast, a D.C.-event going back to 1953, was held this morning. The keynote was USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and President Obama added remarks. Obama chose to focus on religious freedom, calling it a matter of “national security,” and commenting that he was looking forward to his trip to the Vatican next month to meet with Pope Francis.

Obama also said,

Yet even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat. And that is what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.

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tony-abbott-729-620x349

Australian P.M. Tony Abbott

Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote a special report, Finally, a Conservative Leader over at The American Spectator. Last year, a reporter asked Gregg who the current “outstanding center-right head of government” is. He responded that Margaret Thatcher was his first thought, though Australian Prime Minister “Tony Abbott is the real thing like no one since Margaret Thatcher.”  He goes on, “thus far Abbott has matched his open adherence to distinctly conservative convictions by implementing policies that reflect those principles.”

Gregg discusses Abbott further:

Elected prime minister in September last year, Abbott is in many respects the left’s nightmare come true. For one thing, he’s a practicing Catholic, who, though he doesn’t draw attention to his faith, is generally associated in people’s minds with the Church’s conservative wing. Among other brickbats, that’s earned him (rather sectarian) epithets such as the “mad monk.”

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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Mr. President, Why Do You Oppose School Choice?
Israel Ortega, The Foundry

In a largely unreported story, a couple in Pennsylvania is facing charges that could land them in jail for nearly seven years. Their crime? Sending their five year old daughter to a public school outside of their school district.

Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Do
John Hayward, Human Events

Carney topped off his disastrous press conference by claiming that “freedom” is just a “buzzword,” a line that’s going to show up on T-shirts for years to come. Way to make the entire United States recoil in disgust from your Administration, dude.

U.N. Overreaches, Tramples Religious Freedom
Marco Rubio, National Review

The U.N. is in very real danger of becoming obsolete in the 21st century. I believe it can still play an important role in global affairs, but without reforms to ensure greater accountability and transparency, its ineffective leadership, ethical abuses, and misspending will remain rampant.

How Do We Advance Subsidiarity?
James Kalb, Catholic World Report

Like other aspects of Catholic social teaching, what subsidiarity requires most of all is that Catholics live as Catholics.

Fresco of Lazarus and the rich man.

Fresco of Lazarus and the rich man.

In the editor’s notes of the new issue of Religion & Liberty, I mentioned Time magazine’s iconic 1964 photo spread “War on Poverty: Portraits From an Appalachian Battleground.” Appalachia was a major target of America’s war on poverty. Today many of those same problems persist despite the steady stream of federal dollars. Unfortunately, unintended consequences from government spending, has expanded many of the problems, as Kevin D. Williamson covered so well in the piece “The White Ghetto” for National Review. Fr. James Schall notes in this interview, “Governments are often the one agency most responsible for poverty in the name of getting rid of it.”

What I appreciate about the interview, is Schall gives us a unique perspective and new ways to think about poverty. Schall, a Catholic priest, is a prolific author who taught at Georgetown University for over 35 years.

The feature piece of the issue, written by Eric James Russell and Rodger E. Broomé is titled, “The Tipped Scales Against our Youth.” The authors cover the challenges facing many young people today and offer solutions toward fixing them.

Rev. Johannes Jacobse offers an excellent review of George Gilder’s new book, Knowledge and Power. Joseph Sunde posted an interview with Gilder on the new book on the PowerBlog. Timothy J. Barnett reviews Reckoning with Markets: Moral Reflection in Economics by James Halteman and Edd Noell.

The “In the Liberal Tradition Figure” for this issue is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). In reading some of her writings, I noticed a strong affinity for work, especially affirming the work of lay people within the Church. Unfortunately, a lot of her teachings have been hijacked by crackpots and various new age movements. R&L believes it’s important to recover the truth and holiness she championed. Hildegard is a saint in the Anglican and Catholic churches, and Pope Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church.

Rev. Robert Sirico contributes a piece titled “Breaking Bread at Acton University.” If you are considering attending Acton University and have never been, this is definitely a must read.

There is more content in the latest issue of R&L, including our executive director’s explanation of why the Acton Institute is accepting Bitcoin donations. The decision by itself has garnered considerable media coverage.