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Acton Institute PowerBlog - General
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

RSS: Acton Institute PowerBlog - General - Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absol

Divorcing Marriage
Wed, 18 Feb 2009 10:33:56 -0700
A staggering piece by Stephen Baskerville in Touchstone...

I’ve written at length that marriage has been damaged much moreso by divorce than by calls for (or movements toward) “same-sex” marriage. Baskerville expands on that and discusses the initial “grand experiment” on marriage-- the policies behind the move toward easier divorce.

G. K. Chesterton once observed that the family serves as the principal check on government power, and he suggested that someday the family and the state would confront one another. That day has arrived.

Chesterton was writing about divorce, and despite extensive public attention to almost every other threat to the family, divorce remains the most direct and serious. Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes that 'divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today's challenge by gays.'

Most Americans would be deeply shocked if they knew what goes on today under the name of divorce. Indeed, many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control. Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial. Comprised of family courts and vast, federally funded social services bureaucracies that wield what amount to police powers, the divorce machinery has become the most predatory and repressive sector of government ever created in the United States and is today's greatest threat to constitutional freedom.

Some four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other....

This startling fact has been ignored by politicians, journalists, academics, and even family advocates. 'Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,' wrote Gallagher. 'The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.' No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce....


For more on this post, click here.
Author: blog@acton.org (Eric Schansberg)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2681-Divorcing-Marriage.html#comments
America's Secular Challenge
Tue, 10 Feb 2009 22:16:25 -0700
I’ve been reading America’s Secular Challenge by NYU professor and president of the Hudson Institute Herb London. The book is essentially an extended essay about how elite, left-wing secularism undercuts America’s traditional strengths of patriotism and religious faith during a time when the nation can ill afford it. The assault on public religion and love of country comes in a period when America faces enemies who have no such crisis of identity and lack the degree of doubt that leaves us in semi-paralysis.

The best compliment I can pay the book (by a Jewish social critic) is that it reminds me of the outstanding work of John Courtenay Murray (the great Catholic church and state scholar) who wrote:
And if this country is to be overthrown from within or without, I would suggest that it will not be overthrown by Communism. It will be overthrown because it will have made an impossible experiment. It will have undertaken to establish a technological order of most marvelous intricacy, which will have been constructed and will operate without relations to true political ends: and this technological order will hang, as it were, suspended over a moral confusion; and this moral confusion will itself be suspended over a spiritual vacuum.

Author: blog@acton.org (Hunter Baker)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2664-Americas-Secular-Challenge.html#comments
PBR: Socialism Tyrannizes
Thu, 05 Feb 2009 14:40:00 -0700
In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

In answering this question we could point to the historical instances of socialist regimes and their abhorrent record on treatment of human beings. But the supporters of socialism might just as well argue that these examples are not truly relevant because each historical instance of socialism has particular contextual corruptions. Thus, these regimes have never really manifested the ideal that socialism offers.

So on a more abstract or ideal level, what is wrong with socialism is that it promotes governmental tyranny. The state becomes the option of first resort rather than last (or no) resort in concerns related to economics, social institutions, the family, and the church. The state in its local, regional, federal, or global form coopts the roles of all kinds of mediating institutions.

On the basis of this critique we can then point to concrete examples where the socialist ideal has been manifest and we can observe what the effects are. In the Acton documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur, George Gilder discusses the “cuckolding” of the man by the welfare state, which preempts the role of the family’s economic provider. But in general the nanny state infantilizes its own citizenry.

Theodore Dalrymple’s recent book discusses the decline of Western civilization, and of his homeland he writes that there are
many people in contemporary Britain with very little of importance to decide for themselves. ' They are educated by the state (at least nominally) ' the state provides for them in old age and has made savings unnecessary ' they are treated and cured by the state when they are ill; they are housed by the state if they cannot otherwise afford decent housing. Their choices concern only sex and shopping.

Maybe “sex” and “shopping” are still relatively free, but rest assured socialism won’t stop until it has undone even these last instances of relative liberty. See, for instance, talks not only about socializing procreation (a max of two children per couple?) but also the encroaching regulations on what can be purchased or consumed (e.g. “sin” taxes in various forms).

So there’s a sense in which what is wrong with socialism is that it has a faulty anthropology. But its anthropology is flawed not only in the sense that it fails to recognize and respect the fundamental place of individual human liberty, but also that it substitutes an inauthentic, disingenuous, and ultimately corrupted form of social relations for those that form God’s orders of human sociality: marriage and the family, work and culture, the church, and divinely-ordained and -limited government.

Because socialism attacks all of these institutions, one or another of them becomes the focus of resistance in the midst of actual socialist regimes. So the church might be the truest bastion of freedom in one socialistic situation, while the family might be the outpost of liberty in another, and free enterprise the haven of flourishing in yet another.
Author: blog@acton.org (Jordan J. Ballor)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2653-PBR-Socialism-Tyrannizes.html#comments
PBR: History Casts Doubt
Tue, 03 Feb 2009 10:25:23 -0700
In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

I can hardly do better than Pope John Paul II, who wrote in Centesimus Annus, “the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature,” because socialism maintains, “that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice.”

The socialist experiment is attractive because its model is the family, a situation in which each gives according to his ability and receives according to his need'-and it works. Unfortunately, the dynamics of family life cannot be replicated at the level of society.

The contention that socialism is unsustainable because of its inherent misapprehension of human nature is supported by the historical record. To my recollection, socialism has only been successful to any significant degree and for any significant amount of time in one institution other than the family: consecrated religious life (e.g., monasteries). Needless to say, there are some rather peculiar dynamics involved there as well, which cannot be replicated across a society.

This lack of success is not for lack of trying. We’re all familiar with the grand national attempts in, for example, the Soviet Union. But socialism has failed on smaller scales as well: in the communes of Brook Farm, Massachusetts; Oneida, New York; and New Harmony, Indiana, to name just a few American instances.

Can a socialist experiment ever succeed? History casts doubt.
Author: blog@acton.org (Kevin Schmiesing)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2651-PBR-History-Casts-Doubt.html#comments
PBR: Aristotle on What is Wrong with Socialism
Mon, 02 Feb 2009 12:44:20 -0700
In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

Writing well over 2000 years ago, Aristotle answered Plato, whose Republic advocated socialism, thusly:
What is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. People pay most attention to what is their own: they care less for what is common; or, at any rate, they care for it only to the extent to which each is individually concerned. Even when there is no other cause for inattention, people are more prone to neglect their duty when they think that another attending to it . . .

The Republic advocated that women and children also be common property. What Aristotle wrote about sons applies to other things, as well:
[Under the plan of The Republic] each citizen will have a thousand sons; they will not be the sons of each citizen individually; any son whatever will be equally the son of any father whatever. The result will be that all will neglect all.

In other words, the word “son” loses its meaning when abused in this fashion. The same is true of the concept of property.

Aristotle is right. We love the particular, not the general. Good philosophies of government will recognize that and will thus operate on a human scale as much as possible. Socialism fails in that regard and thus loses all the non-coercive power of simple affection and care.
Author: blog@acton.org (Hunter Baker)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2648-PBR-Aristotle-on-What-is-Wrong-with-Socialism.html#comments
What do the Cold War and the Sexual Revolution have in common?
Sat, 24 Jan 2009 13:20:31 -0700
An awesome piece from Mary Eberstadt in First Things...

She starts with a description of the intellectual elite’s thoughts about communism before the fall of the Berlin Wall-- despite the evidences. She then cites Jeane Kirkpatrick’s contemporary analysis in her essay of the title echoed by Eberstadt: “The Will to Disbelieve”. From there, Ebestadt draws an analogy to “the sexual revolution”-- “the powerful will to disbelieve in the harmful effects of another world-changing social and moral force governed by bad ideas”.

As Eberstadt notes about “the benefits of marriage and monogamy” and the impact of single-parent homes on children:

...the empirical record by now weighs overwhelmingly against the liberationists...an empirical record has been assembled that is beyond refutation and that testifies to the unhappy economic, social, and moral consequences....Yet in both cases, the minority of scholars who have amassed the empirical record and drawn attention to it have been rewarded, for the most part, with a spectrum of reaction ranging from indifference to ridicule to wrath.

...[their] words and formulations like them have been fighting words among sociologists, with the majority lining up, sometimes ferociously...It's not that they are unaware of the evidence. It's just that they feel forced to explain it away. Such is the deep desire to disbelieve that shapes'-and misshapes'-so much of what we read about sex today....


Eberstadt continues by noting a few ironies and making suggestions on language and tactics (creatively borrowing from a provocative source)-- before concluding with an appropriately hopeful note.

For more on this, click through to my blog &/or to Eberstadt’s piece.
Author: blog@acton.org (Eric Schansberg)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2642-What-do-the-Cold-War-and-the-Sexual-Revolution-have-in-common.html#comments
Kenneth Miller: Finding Darwin's God
Sat, 17 Jan 2009 17:08:30 -0700
In case you’re interested, I wrote and just posted a five-part review of Miller’s book, Finding Darwin's God.

enjoy! eric
Author: blog@acton.org (Eric Schansberg)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2638-Kenneth-Miller-Finding-Darwins-God.html#comments
Population Economics
Thu, 15 Jan 2009 11:18:58 -0700
It’s usually good to steer clear of apocalyptic predictions of any sort, but as temperatures struggle to break the 10 degrees fahrenheit mark under full sun here in the Great Lakes region, talk of a “demographic winter” feels more compelling than warnings of global warming.

More seriously, the release of a new film by that name is the occasion for Jenny Roback Morse’s reflection on the economics of population. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field and I am skeptical of any argument simplistically connecting population growth (or decline) with economic growth (or decline). But I am convinced that something as fundamental as demography must play a significant role in economic trends, and it does seem that, in general, economists and policymakers alike have neglected or at least failed to appreciate the importance of the issue. (For a counterexample, see Oskari Juurikkala’s analysis of pending pension crises: Pensions, Population, and Prosperity.)

It is hard to see how strong economic growth can be sustained in the face of a declining population: it’s just asking too much of technological advance and productivity gains.
Author: blog@acton.org (Kevin Schmiesing)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2635-Population-Economics.html#comments
The Shack
Wed, 14 Jan 2009 11:49:46 -0700
A friend persisted in asking me to read The Shack. Although it has been a “#1 New York Times Bestseller”, it came on the radar when I was in a busy season, so I’m not sure I would have read it or even noticed it-- without his encouragement.

I’m really glad I read it. Beyond enhancing my “cultural relevancy” (LOL!), The Shack was thought-provoking. Although I’m not sure I agree with everything in it-- especially where one must speculate a good bit to draw inferences-- I’m a wheat & chaff guy. And for whatever chaff Young delivers, he brings a lot of wheat to the table as well.

Young’s book is well-crafted and an easy read. On occasion, the conversations come off as stilted, but that’s difficult to avoid in a book so dominated by dialogue. And the book might not be easy to handle emotionally or theologically for some people-- an important point to which I’ll return shortly.

In a nutshell, comparing it to some other relatively famous books, I’d say it’s:

1.) 50% The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis;
2.) 30% The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee or The Saving Life of Christ by Ian Thomas; and
3.) 20% Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.

1.) The Shack is a cousin of Lewis’ book on Heaven and Hell in that it speculates on biblical topics that are vital but not clearly delineated in the Scriptures...

And like Lewis, Young works (effectively) to give himself wiggle room within his artistic portrayal. (Young uses basic literary devices at the beginning and the end of the book.) This is absolutely key because it indicates the speculative nature of his work-- and it signals that Young does not take himself or the details of his picture too seriously.

2.) The Shack points to the importance of the “Spirit-filled life” within “sanctification”. I benefited tremendously from more traditional, straight-forward works like Nee and Thomas. But Young is trying to communicate some of the same principles through narrative/fiction.

This is both vital and vastly under-sold within the Church. Too often, people try to “live out the Chistian life” in their own power-- “the flesh”. The result is sub-optimal in terms of outcomes, motives, perseverance, energy, and so on. But it isn’t meant to be that way. Christ himself said that it was for our own good that He would leave the Earth-- so that the Spirit would come to empower believers to live that life through us (Jn 14:26, 16:7)....

3.) Young’s work is like Osteen’s in that it can be misread by some-- and is, at the same time, especially relevant for certain audiences. I’ve already argued this in my review of Osteen’s book. I would recommend both books to most people who have been “wounded” by circumstances, a church, or the Church-- especially if they can read it alongside a mature believer.

That said, the book could easily be misunderstood and misapplied by those who tend to read things (too) literally. Despite the ample praise the book has received, I think that’s the reason for the bulk of the criticism launched at it....

Derek Keefe provides a nice overview of the debate on the Christianity Today blog....

Among other things, this growing backlash broaches important questions about the proper relationship between art, theology, and the Church for evangelicals and their close kin....Switching directions, we must also ask what it means for Christian traditions and communities to be faithful to artists and their craft. This, too, is a theological question: How does the Church show good faith toward those sub-creators in God’s human economy whose very creative inclinations are evidence that they bear the image of a God who delights in creating?...My hunch is that we probably see a failure to keep faith on both sides here, and that it would be a good thing for all of God’s Church to discuss the when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s of our mutual infidelities.

In a word, I’d recommend The Shack to those who are mature in their faith, those who have seen Christianity as duty and religion, those who are not prone to take things to literally/seriously, those who have endured profound pain and disappointment, and those who have been “burned by the church”.

In any case, may God use The Shack as a blessing to those who read it.

For the full review, click here.
Author: blog@acton.org (Eric Schansberg)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2632-The-Shack.html#comments
G.K. Chesterton: The Flying Inn
Mon, 12 Jan 2009 14:50:53 -0700
After finals, I cranked through some books! Among those, one of G.K. Chesterton’s fictional works, The Flying Inn.

Chesterton was a prolific author. He’s well-known in some circles for his fictional work, particularly his “Father Brown” mystery series. (I haven’t tried those yet.) In this realm, I had read (and enjoyed) the classic The Man Who Was Thursday.

His non-fiction is oft-quoted but rarely read (like Dorothy Sayers and to a lesser extent, C.S. Lewis). That’s a shame, because it is a real pleasure to read. (It is a bit challenging-- think Lewis’ thicker stuff.) He’s a gifted writer with a sharp pen and wit for the ideas he’s challenging and inspirational in the things he describes. In that arena, I have read Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Everlasting Man, and most recently, an edited volume of his writings on family.

The Flying Inn was an easy read and a fun romp. Along the road-- and the travels of the primary characters-- Chesterton takes a number of funny/serious pokes at prohibition, legalism, bureaucracy, power vs. authority, the limits of law, class-based hypocrisy on entertainment and “art”, “progressivism”, Islam, Nietzsche, political correctness, “higher biblical criticism”, and pompous individuals....

For excerpts of interest from TFI itself and excerpts from a review of TFI, check out the longer blog entry on SchansBlog...
Author: blog@acton.org (Eric Schansberg)
Item Category: General
Item comments: http://blog.acton.org/archives/2628-G.K.-Chesterton-The-Flying-Inn.html#comments

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