Leading thinkers from around the world along with other attendees gathered at the Bloomsbury Hotel in London to attend the Acton Institute’s ‘Crisis of Liberty in the West’ conference on December 1st. The theme of the conference was centered on the economic and political struggles that North American, European, and other Western nations are currently facing. The conference featured many key leaders in the areas of theology, conservative social thought, and economics among others. The entire conference was recorded and can be viewed online at the Acton website.
One of the key speakers at the event was 2016 Novak Award winner Ryan Anderson. The Novak Award recognizes new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. Every year, the Novak Award winner makes a formal presentation on such questions at an annual public forum known as the Calihan Lecture. This year that took place at the ‘Crisis of Liberty in the West’ conference in London where Anderson was recognized for winning the Novak Award and was given the $10,000 that comes as a part of the award.
This year’s Calihan Lecture given by Anderson focused on different ways that liberty has been taken away and how liberty can be reconstructed. First, Anderson explained three different ways that our liberty has been taken away; bad intellectual defenses of freedom, the collapse of civil society that promotes human flourishing, and cronyism. Anderson says this about cronyism:
Many of the criticisms levelled at “free markets” are in reality directed at the exact opposite: crony capitalism, the collusion of Big Business and Big Government, frequently aided and abetted by Big Media and Big Law. Businesses that are too big to fail, that rig the economic system in their favor, that hire the best lobbyists to get government to regulate their industry in their favor, to create barriers to entry for competitors and newcomers, to weaken the labor market. Cronyism takes place whenever these groups collude to set the system up against the little guy and the new guy, when they go outside of transparent normal operating procedures to get a result in their favor, at the expense of the common good.
In the second half of Anderson’s lecture he offers a theory of how freedom can serve the common good. He breaks this down into three parts; natural law and economic freedom, natural law social justice, and spiritual crisis. Concerning natural law and economic freedom, Anderson says this:
In a word, we need to rediscover the natural law arguments for liberty. Such arguments ground the rightness of economic liberty, for example, in human nature and how liberty enables human flourishing. They take seriously man’s nature to labor for his keep, and how people should ordinarily interact with one another on a voluntary level. How we must work together to meet human needs, and how such coordination and “togetherness” should ordinarily be achieved through free associations and free exchanges. “Government” isn’t the primary word for what people do together—civil society, church, charity, and small businesses are how we normally work together.
Natural law arguments take seriously man’s nature as a self-directing, freely choosing agent, and conclude that man needs the space and the room to determine himself. More than a Lockean self-owner, they see man as a self-author. It is by exercising freedom of economic initiative and freedom of exchange that people ordinarily author their lives.
Ryan Anderson is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He is also the founder and editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and author of the recently released book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.