Lately, I’ve heard one too many emo kids misread T.S. Eliot as being one of their own. In Russell Kirk’s words, it is easy for the “rootless and aimless” of the new generation to over-identify with Eliot, seeing him as a spokesman “for the futility and fatuity of the modern era, all whimper and no bang — a kind of Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism.” And whining, pining, Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism is the cultural trend of the day, whether you look at the musically and lyrically directionless music that tops current charts, the shapelessness and androgyny seeping into high fashion, or the melodramatic and attention-seeking ways teenagers and college students spend their social time (not the least of which takes place on the Internet, through personal blogs, Facebook, and chatting).

Vindicating Eliot won’t restore the Waste Land to health or happiness, but it’s important to wrest him from the claws of both actual and perpetual adolescents who would make him a posterboy for their own disillusionment. As Kirk says, Eliot wanted to expose the soulish devastation modern life creates, but also to “show the way back to permanent things.” Speaking of The Waste Land, Eliot himself wrote, “I may have expressed for [approving critics] their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention.” Careful readers of Eliot will realize that he railed against exactly the kinds of things that misguided existentialist or socialist types promote, such as in this passage from Murder in the Cathedral:

Those who put their faith in worldly order
Not controlled by the order of God,
In confident ignorance, but arrest disorder
Make it fast, breed fatal disease,
Degrade what they exalt.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, August 9, 2007

While I was in seminary in Kentucky, students were required to complete a relatively extensive service project that assisted and helped the poor and marginalized in our community. My group volunteered at a teen pregnancy center, others at nursing homes, or with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. At the pregnancy center we led job training, financial classes, and other practical skills for work and the home. A different group went another direction, they passed out petitions that called upon the federal government to do more for the less fortunate.

Ryan Messmore of the Heritage Foundation, notes the obvious today when he says, “When people need assistance, therefore, the first place many think to turn is Washington D.C.” In a piece titled “My Neighbor’s Keeper?” for FrontPage magazine, Messmore lifts up the moral responsibilities we have to assist and help those among us. Messmore’s piece also strongly argues that a “hyper – individualistic” view actually leads to a more powerful and centralized government. Provided below are some common sense and convicting words from his article:

It would be a detriment to our sense of mutual responsibility for one another if the contin­ued recourse to federal programs for remedies caused Americans to view their tax payments — which fund government social service programs — as their contribution to helping people in need. Even the knowledge that such federal programs exist, regardless of their actual effectiveness, may cause some to conclude that the ball is in some­body else’s court.

One of the reasons government is thought to have so much responsibility for the well-being of citizens is that, in modern Western culture, people are viewed more in terms of their isolated autonomy than in terms of their social relationships. In other words, we are prone to think of human beings as self-standing individuals rather than as persons-in-community.

Mutual responsibility is essential within a healthy society, especially a free, democratic one. The more people feel that they can trust and rely upon each other, the less they will need to turn to government for care — or to remedy injustice.

Government does not have a monopoly on responsibility for meeting people’s needs. However, government has increasingly become the primary default setting when discussion turns to who is obligated to care for others. The result is less per­sonal and efficient care for individuals and a weak­ening of our social fabric of responsibility and sense of moral obligation to one another through a vari­ety of relationships.

For me, perfect relationship and love is modeled in the Triune character and nature of God. God’s perfect love and transforming grace is also how we should try to love and care for others. The disengagement from so much of our society from helping and serving others is not a headline grabber, but it’s a crisis of the heart and soul. Christ himself said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Readings in Social Ethics: Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682; repr. 1830), part 2 of 3. References below are to page numbers.

On Motives:

  • Human works are God’s appointed means of grace: “It is God’s great mercy to mankind, that he will use us all in doing good to one another; and it is a great part of his wise government of the world, that in societies men should be tied to it by the sense of every particular man’s necessity; and it is a great honour to those that he maketh his almoners, or servants, to convey his gifts to others; God bids you give nothing but what is his, and no otherwise your own but as his stewards. It is his bounty, and your service or stewardship, which is to be exercised” (320).

  • An element of self-love can be present as a motivation. There is an Augustinian tone to this note, that all men by nature seek what they perceive as the good: “Self-love, therefore, should persuade men to do good to all. You are not the least gainers by it yourselves…. The believing giver hath more pleasure than the receiver; and this without any conceit of commutative meriting of God, or any false trust to works for justification” (321).
  • There is no time like the present to do good works: “And let all men take their common and special opportunities to do good: time will not stay; yourselves, your wives, your children, your servants, your neighbours, are posting to another world; speak now what you would have them hear; do them now all the good you can. It must be now or never; there is no returning from the dead to warn them” (323-34).

Remember the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka? I distinctly remember people making jokes about how they’d find a way to blame the whole catastrophe on global warming. Note to self: climate change hype is beyond parody:

Unlike most apparently intractable problems, which have a tendency to go away when examined closely and analytically, the climate change predicament just seems to get bigger and scarier the more we learn about it.

Now we discover that not only are the oceans and the atmosphere conspiring against us, bringing baking temperatures, more powerful storms, floods and ever-climbing sea levels, but the crust beneath our feet seems likely to join in too.

Looking back to other periods in our planet’s history when the climate was swinging about wildly, most notably during the last ice age, it appears that far more than the weather was affected. The solid earth also became restless, with an increase in volcanic activity, earthquakes, giant submarine landslides and tsunamis. At the rate climate change is accelerating, there is every prospect that we will see a similar response from the planet, heralding not just a warmer future but also a fiery one.

Note that the title of this article is “The Earth Fights Back.” That’s right – humanity is about to get punched in the face by an enraged anthropomorphic planet that spits fire and crumbles beneath our feet out of spite.

Gaia is NOT PLEASED. Not one bit.

Now that we’ve heard from the panic button crowd, allow me to serve up a nice shot of anti-panic from your friend and mine, Michael Crichton:

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science, consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

And furthermore, the consensus of scientists has frequently been wrong. As they were wrong when they believed, earlier in my lifetime, that the continents did not move. So we must remember the immortal words of Mark Twain, who said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

That link is worth a read in full, if only to enjoy the cool, calming effects of reasonable discourse.

UPDATE: It turns out that Jay Richards commented on this article as well over at Planet Gore

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Washington Times reviews Acton’s Call of the Entrepreneur today in an article titled “Capitalist Calling”:

The Acton Institute hopes the documentary will crush the popular myth of business as a “zero-sum game.”

Jay Richards, the director of Acton Media, told an audience at a Heritage Foundation screening that the “point is that human beings create wealth; it’s not a zero-sum game.”

The film addresses the critics of capitalism while acknowledging that capitalism’s defenders are sometimes too theoretical. “The Call of the Entrepreneur” discusses aspects of entrepreneurship in “moral” terms seldom used by libertarians.

“We consider ‘God’ a public word,” Mr. Richards said.

Read the entire review.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A new film titled “Things of the Spirit,” takes a fresh look at the life and presidency of Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge, understandably, received renewed interest during the Reagan era of American politics. Coolidge is perhaps best known for his laissez-faire economic policies and the famed moniker, “Silent Cal.” What makes “Things of the Spirit” different is that it’s produced by a self avowed “liberal filmmaker,” John Karol.

Karol penned a piece last week for the New York Sun titled, “The Case for Cal.” When he first set out to tackle Coolidge years ago he admitted to not knowing all that much about his subject. “What little I knew of Coolidge came from New Deal historians who view him as a somnambulant capitalist tool whose presidency served only as a prelude to disaster,” Karol said. Here are some fascinating observations from his article, which puts Coolidge in a new light:

– If I had to fashion a sound bite to describe him, I would call Coolidge a political minimalist who chose to guide rather than legislate.

– It is on economic matters that Coolidge is most remembered. World War I and its aftermath caused skyrocketing national debt. At the same time, the top income tax rate soared to 73%, stifling private investment. Post-war America was a chaos of strikes, race riots, anarchist bombings, inflation, and unemployment.

– Harding, Coolidge, and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon sought to kick-start the economy by reducing the top marginal tax rate to 25%. They did. Revenues increased dramatically, presaging Arthur Laffer by half a century. Both presidents ran surpluses in all their annual budgets. By the time Coolidge left office, the national debt had been cut by one-third.

– New Deal historians maintain that the tax cuts of the 1920s reversed the progressive tax policies of Woodrow Wilson. Far from it. Exemptions increased so much that by 1927 almost 98% of the American people paid no income tax whatsoever. When Coolidge left office in 1929, wealthy people paid 93% of the tax load. During Wilson’s last year in office they had paid only 59%.

– Less remembered, and less appreciated by contemporary politicians, was Coolidge’s aversion to farm subsidies. At great political risk, Coolidge twice vetoed the popular McNary-Haugen farm subsidy bill.

Karol also makes note of Coolidge’s aggressive actions in cleaning up the scandals from Harding’s administration, and his very progressive views on race for his time. Coolidge was known as a man of immense integrity. He even cut the name tags out of his suits when he asked his wife to resale them, so not to profit from his name and position.

On the film’s website, columnist and radio talk show host Michael Medved, calls “Things of the Spirit,” the finest documentary he has ever seen. George Gilder notes, “The film completely dispels the cliché notion of New Deal historians that Coolidge was a small-minded materialist “Babbitt” whose Presidency served only as a prelude to disaster. See it. You’ll never think the same way about Calvin Coolidge again.” Former Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis also weighs in with a glowing review.

Calvin Coolidge in many ways represents the old fashioned idealism of a largely forgotten generation of common sense and practicality. In a sound clip provided by Michigan State University from 1920, Coolidge warns the country about the dangers of excessive taxation and federal spending. This high quality recording is worth a listen.

Other memorable statements from Coolidge:

– I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.

– The strength of our country is the strength of its religious convictions.

– If only his countrymen would fulfill their basic obligations to one another, most of their problems would take care of themselves.

The theme for Coolidge’s presidential reelection in 1924 was, “Keep Cool with Coolidge.” Today that would sound like a presidential campaign slogan under a global warming platform. Perhaps as the government becomes more regulatory and intrusive, and far less practical, the lessons of Keeping cool with Coolidge will echo louder still.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Today marks the day that the Acton Institute broadens its horizons… If you haven’t noticed, we’ve literally widened our blog to 900px, creating a bit more space for all the things we have to say. We’ve also changed the location of the blog to http://blog.acton.org/. All of our old links (http://www.acton.org/blog/…) should still work although there may be occasions when they won’t. Please don’t hesitate to leave notification of old links that don’t work in the comments section of this post.Technorati Profile

You may also want to update your RSS feeds, although the old ones should still work. The general PowerBlog RSS feed is now http://blog.acton.org/feeds/index.rss2. Another nifty feature that we’re adding is the ability to grab an RSS feed of a particular author. So, if you just can’t get enough of Marc’s “Global Warming Consensus Alerts,” scroll down till you find the “Authors” box on the lefthand column of the page and click on the XML icon next to Marc’s name.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Tuesday, August 7, 2007

New Haven, Conn., isn’t waiting for a green light from the federal government to solve its illegal immigration problem: Two weeks ago, it became the first city in America to issue its own ID card. Already considered a “sanctuary city,” as the latest issue of The Economist reports, New Haven has forbidden its police force to ask anything about immigrants’ status and offers illegals help with filing federal taxes. Now with the new ID card — good for all sorts of fun perks — New Haven is offering even more provisions for illegal immigrants. The ID functions as a debit card at downtown shops, restaurants, and parking meters; grants access to public beaches and libraries; and allows undocumented immigrants to open accounts at two New Haven banks. Costing only $10 for an adult card and $5 for a children’s card, the IDs are mostly funded by a $250,000 grant from First City Bank (one of the two banks accepting the card as valid identification).

But will making life more livable for New Haven’s illegal immigrant community do anything to solve the real problem, which is (a) that they are there and (b) that they are illegal? The immigrants could still face deportation at any time the federal government decides to enforce the current laws. Thirty-two arrests of undocumented immigrants were made almost immediately after the cards were issued, calling into question the entire concept of a “sanctuary city.” New Haven’s solution brings to mind the image of a disobedient child whose father has banished him to his bedroom, complacent but looking over his shoulder as his mother sneaks DVDs and apple pie to him through the window. It makes the child’s captivity more pleasant, to be sure, but at the end of the day he is still culpable and locked in his room with no way out. What kind of overall stability does this approach contribute? I would argue, none.

Another city is making provisions for its non-violent lawbreakers in a completely different way. The New York Times reported two days ago that Nashville, Tenn., has instituted Fugitive Safe Surrender, a program of the U.S. Marshals that allows individuals with outstanding arrest warrants — for “smaller” offenses like missed court dates, traffic violations, or minor drug offenses — to turn themselves in at designated churches, which provide a more “neutral setting” than a police station or courthouse would. When offenders present themselves, they are given the chance to work out a plea with city lawyers and to go before a judge, who typically dismisses the warrant, clears the backlogs, and sends the former fugitives on their way.

Fugitive Safe Surrender is a way of acknowleging that a law has been broken, but it provides a legal, mutually beneficial remedy to the minor issues that clog the courts, and it helps to prevent violent confrontations between fugitives and police. It requires something of the offenders — turning themselves in — and relies neither on total blindness to illegal behavior nor on the sporadic, nocturnal kicking-in of doors to prove the law’s point (which measures usually turn out to be counterproductive for those on both sides of the law).

A beach pass and a debit card won’t do a thing to justify an illegal immigrant’s presence in the States, even if they make his stay a bit more comfortable. But a voluntary acknowledgement of wrongdoing, answered by a serious and thoughtful pardon, resulting in a peacable relationship … that sounds like it might have a ring of justice to it.

Five U.S. cities have implemented Fugitive Safe Surrender to deal with their non-violent criminals, albeit not with illegal immigrants. More than 100 cities have declared themselves “cities of sanctuary.” Could the 100+ learn anything from the principles of the five? Perhaps.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam provoked a cottage industry of commentary and debate on the question of “social capital” when he published his book, Bowling Alone, a few years ago. Now he’s at it again with an intriguing study concerning the effects of diversity on civic life.

The controversial finding is that the more diverse a community is, the lower its index of social connectedness (measured by volunteer rates, for example). The implications of the finding are significant for all sorts of issues, from immigration to education.

It’s a provocative finding for promoters of Christian social thought, as well. The Christian social vision is dependent on the existence of strong communities made up of close personal bonds. On the one hand, we want to believe that the Christian imperative to love one’s neighbor as oneself trumps any tendency to withdraw from “the other”—anyone who is different in some way. On the other hand, grace is not magic; it builds on nature. Is the natural tendency to associate with those like ourselves a harmful trait that must be eradicated, or is it simply an inherent piece of human nature that must be taken into account?

HT: Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice.

Readings in Social Ethics: Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682; repr. 1830), part 1 of 3. References below are to page numbers.

On Good Works:

  • A condemnation of selfishness: “It is a sign he is a branch cut off and withered who careth little for any but himself” (292).

  • The orderliness of subsidiarity obligations: “But as all motion and action is first upon the nearest object, so must ours; and doing good must be in order: first we must begin at home and with our own souls and lives; and then to our nearest relations, and friends, and acquaintance, and neighbours; and then to our societies, church, and kingdom, and all the world. But mark that the order of execution, and the order of estimate and intention, differ. Though God set up lights so small as will serve but for one room, and though we must begin at home, we must far more esteem and desire the good of multitudes, of city, and church, and commonwealth; and must set no bounds to our endeavours, but what God and disability set” (294).
  • The need for discernment and prudence in Christian charity: “In such cases there is need of great prudence and impartiality to know whether the good or the evil do preponderate; and a great part of the actions of our lives must be managed by that prudence, or else they will be sinful” (295).
  • God brings good even out of the evil of selfishness: “A narrow-spirited, selfish man, will serve others no further than it serveth himself, or, at least, will stand with his own safety or prosperity. He will turn as the weathercock, and be for them that are for his worldly interest. I confess that God oft useth such for common good: but it is by raising such storms as would sink them with the ship, and leaving them no great hope to escape by being false, or by permitting such villanies as threaten their own interest” (298).
  • Again, the need for wisdom in loving others is emphasized: “He that will do much good in the world, must be furnished with considerable abilities, especially prudence and skill in knowing when, and to whom, and how to do it. Without this, he will do more harm than good” (299).
  • Good works are oriented towards the ultimate good of the soul. The composition of human nature, body and soul, determines the relationship between material and spiritual assistance: “Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies, in order to the greater good of souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul” (303).
  • This prioritization of the spiritual over the temporal necessitates the use of the sort of prudential wisdom and reasoning Baxter praised earlier: “All men are sensible of pain or pleasure, good or evil, to the flesh, before they are sensible what is necessary for their souls. You must therefore speak on that side which can hear, and work upon the feeling part, if you will do good” (303).