Last week, we posted part 1 of our podcast on the proper Christian stewardship of art; for those who have been waiting for the conclusion, we’re happy to present part 2.

David Michael Phelps continues to lead the discussion between Professors Nathan Jacobs and Calvin Seerveld, who previously debated this topic in the Controversy section of our Journal of Markets & Morality. The first portion of that exchange is available at the link for part 1; the remainder of the Controversy can be read by clicking here.

If you’re interested in some additional reading on this topic, Jordan Ballor was kind enough to pass along an article from Mere Orthodoxy that asks a provocative question:

…do enough theologians produce material that artists would find helpful? Do enough artists consider theologians indispensible sleuths for finding hidden metaphors?

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Blog author: jwitt
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
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“The new Democratic logo is so bad that the intellectual rot in the official announcement went largely unnoticed.”

The rest of my piece is here at The American Spectator.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 20, 2010
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Last week’s Acton Commentary and blog post focused on my claims about “crony unionism” and how the intimate relationship between Big Labor and Big Government corrupt both.

Here’s another instance of the kinds of gross conflicts of interest produced by this relationship:


It’s hard to see this as anything but partisan pandering on the part of the largest public sector union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Meanwhile, the Washington Post asks, “Was politics behind the government’s decision to preserve the UAW’s pensions?” (HT: Instapundit).

Despite rumors to the contrary, the demise of the influence and legacy of Big Labor have been greatly exaggerated.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 20, 2010
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Victor Claar, Acton University lecturer and professor of economics at Henderson State University, will give a talk tonight in Washington, D.C., hosted by AEI, “Grieving the Good of Others: Envy and Economics.”

If you are in the area, you are encouraged to attend and hear Dr. Claar as well as two respondents discuss the topic of envy and its moral and economic consequences.

Here’s a description of the event:

Critics of capitalism often argue that this economic system is irretrievably tainted by the sin of greed. They claim that by empowering government to “spread the wealth around” we can free ourselves from the tyranny of greed, purging the influence of sin. But are they right? At this event, Victor Claar, associate professor of economics at Henderson State University, will discuss the role of envy in collectivist and redistributive economic systems. Beginning with an explanation of the classic theological understanding of envy, Claar will argue that “grieving the good of others” is an unavoidable aspect of social democracy.

Update: The audio and video of the AEI event is now available. (There’s a nice plug for Acton University at the beginning.)

Tomorrow Dr. Claar will also be appearing as part of The King’s College Distinguished Visitor Series in NYC.

Dr. Claar is co-author of Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy and Life Choices as well as author of the Acton Institute monograph, Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution.

As Dr. Claar will elaborate, the question that epitomizes envy, which is defined as “sorrow at another’s good,” is the self-centered concern, “What about me?” For fans of the hit TV series Lost, I can think of no better illustration of this than the turn from envy to malevolence in this climactic confrontation between Ben Linus and Jacob from the conclusion of season 5:

The latest issue of the newly launched Journal of Religion and Business Ethics is now available (vol. 1, no. 2).

Check out the contents at their website.

From the journal’s about page: “The Journal of Religion and Business Ethics is a peer-reviewed journal that examines the ethical and religious issues that arise in the modern business setting. While much attention has been given to the philosophical treatment of business ethics, this is the first journal to address the more inclusive scope of religious ethics and their understanding of right and just economic relationships.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I take a look at the prospects of “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan, “A Lesson from Michigan: Time to End Crony Unionism.”

One of the things that disturbs me the most about what I call “crony unionism” is the hand-in-glove relationship between the labor unions and big government. We have the same kind of special pleading and rent seeking in this system as we do in crony capitalism, but the labor unions enjoy such special protection that there isn’t even a hint of democratic competition.

The unions get windfalls from government subsidy and turn around and actively campaign for the expansion of government. The partisan character of some of the ad campaigns funded by labor unions are particularly egregious. I’ve recently seen a labor-funded ad running in Michigan that demonizes Republicans and lauds Democrats, and FactCheck.org ran a report earlier this month about attack ads from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

One of the noteworthy thing about unions in America is that the share of union members are increasingly coming from the public sector rather than the private sector. This adds an additional layer of concern to the larger problem of crony unionism. We in effect get government employees using government funds to campaign for the expansion of government.

Labor unions form a vital part of civil society, but when they are turned into arms of the government, their purpose is perverted and corrupted. Professor Charles W. Baird examines the merits of free labor in his Acton monograph, Liberating Labor: Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism.

Even the idea of debating whether unions should enjoy monopolistic privileges in a state like Michigan, dominated by organized labor interests for so long, is refreshing. And I think it might just be instructive about the kinds of alternative and innovative proposals that will have traction at the polls this November.

Religion & Liberty’s issue featuring an interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. is now available online. Acton also published Solzhenitsyn & the Modern World by Ericson in 1994. It was a joy to have Ericson sit down with us in the Acton office to talk about Solzhenitsyn, his work, his life, and his legacy.

The issue also includes an excellent essay on the federalist and anti-federalist debate by Dr. John Pinheiro, a historian at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. Pinheiro points out in the piece that the anti-federalists are important for understanding the balance between liberty and order in our Republic. He also adds that the anti-federalists are essential reading “if Americans hope to restore a sane balance between state and federal power.”

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Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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There have been some engaging challenges to the view presented of work and its relationship to culture and civilization over the past few weeks (here, here, and here). I hope to post a more substantive response to some of the comments in the next few days. But in the meantime, let me pass along a helpful item that outlines the view of Pope John Paul II on the relationship between “culture” and “cultivation.”

Here’s a taste of the post, “Leisure and Art: A Start,” from David Michael Phelps:

It is also worth noting how closely JPII’s descriptions of the artist parallels his description of workers/entrepreneurs/etc. in other writings. [NOTE: here and here in particular] They follow from the same understanding that man transforms the world (and in doing so, himself) as he gets his hands dirty with the stuff of the world, enacts his creative will upon it, whether it be for a utilitarian end (work) or some gratuitous end (art).

Gratuitous work does not require leisure. In point of fact, as I think every artist worth his salt would agree, making art is rather laborious. Leisure doesn’t enter the picture until one lights a pipe, pours a beer, and sits back to admire the work.

As an aside, David Michael Phelps is the moderator of the latest installment of the RFA podcast, “The Stewardship of Art.” He’ll also be hosting the next Acton on Tap event the night before ArtPrize opens here in Grand Rapids, “Art, Patronage, and Cultural Investment.” You can check out details at the event’s Facebook page.

September in Grand Rapids means the return of ArtPrize, which bills itself as a “radically open” art competition, juried by the general public, and awarding the largest cash prize for an art competition in the world – $250,000 for first place.

As the competition takes place in the hometown of the Acton Institute – in fact, many artists exhibited their work in our building last year, and will do so again this year – it’s hard for us to miss it. And frankly, the questions that have been raised about the impact of such a non-professional, wide-open art contest with such a large prize at stake on the art world (for example, does ArtPrize foster real art, or are artists simply pandering to the public to have a shot at the prize) are too intriguing to pass up.

This edition of Radio Free Acton tackles the question of how Christians should steward the arts. The participants, Professors Nathan Jacobs and Calvin Seerveld, previously debated this topic in the Controversy section of our Journal of Markets & Morality (Volume 12, Number 2 – you can read the first part of their debate at this link), and we thought it would be interesting to bring them together for a live exchange as well. Special thanks are due to David Michael Phelps, who agreed to sit in as the moderator of the program.

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The Universidad Francisco Marroquín is webcasting a celebration of the life of Manuel “Muso” Ayau, its founder, live on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 1 p.m. local time. Watch the event here. The University also has published a special web page dedicated to the legacy of Ayau, with videos and other resources.

Read Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s PowerBlog remembrance of Ayau.

The following appreciation of the life and work of Ayau is from Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:

When in January of 1990 I was invited to present a paper at the Mont Pelerin Society in Antigua, Guatemala, I had no idea that the visit to this small Central American country, and the people I would meet at the conference, would have such a lasting effect on me and the work I would end up doing the following two decades.

The president of the Mont Pelerin Society that year was Manual Ayau, known as Muso to his friends, among which I would be honored to be numbered.

Muso had a testy relationship with the Church. Although his daughter was a nun (in fact, the foundress of a monastery with a ministry to orphaned children), Muso found the opinions of numerous clergy on economic matters to be superficial at best and odious at worse, His special ire was directed at proponents of the attempted Christian-Marxist hybrid, Liberation Theology, which he saw as lending a moral patina to the socialist experiments his nation and much a Latin America suffer from.

So it was amusing to see Muso’s delighted reception of my speech in Antigua in which I endeavored to take apart the various fallacies of liberation theology: anthropological, theological and economic. At first his seems incredulous that priest could invoke Mises or Hayek, but he soon warmed up and invited me to join him on a speaking tour of remote parts of his country during his run at the presidency of Guatemala. Is country is worse off for not having elected him.

Muso was a man gifted with keen entrepreneurial talents which was not merely direct at building businesses: He used them to build a movement of ideas in a hostile environment.

Along with a band of brothers, Muso saw the effects of poverty in their homeland, and the ideology of the Fabian movement that would insure its continuance. This band of brothers, whom Muso described as “rebellious improvisers,” began a counter movement with the translations of solid books making the case for the free society. They formed, in 1959, one of the first think tanks in Latin America to promote the free economy, The Center for Social and Economic Studies.

Muso’s crowning achievement, and other than his family, his lasting legacy, will be the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, from which I had the honor of receiving an honorary doctorate at Muso’s hands. This university, one of the finest in Latin America, is guided by a clear philosophy of human liberty and organized in such a way to ensure that all who complete its curriculum grasp the interconnection between economic and personal liberty and the practical implementation of these principles in their respective spheres of influence.

Convinced that in order for a given society to appreciate the principles of human freedom, it was necessary for its leaders to be imbued with these ideas. The UFM today churns out young business and academic leaders who are capable of defending the free society.

Muso was as friendly as he was contentious; a man of vision and accomplishment, he could also be humble and an attentive listener.

Muso passed into eternity with his beloved wife Olga at his bedside and will be buried on the grounds of the monastery where it was his wish to watch these little, abandoned ones in the care of his daughter, Mother Inez Ayau at the orphanage she founded. A great champion for the cause of liberty has departed this world, leaving our hearts a bit dimmer. May the Author of Freedom grant him eternal repose in His presence.