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Acton Notes - President's Message

Many thinkers through the ages have noted that we face a choice between holding a robust faith in God or putting faith in man and institutions such as the state.

I was particularly struck by this when President Barack Obama gave a speech on how to restructure the automotive industry in the United States. He denied that the government wanted to run General Motors, but he fired its CEO, dictated the salary of the new CEO, and gave a series of specific instructions concerning its operations. Why should anyone believe that a government official with no business experience at all knows how to run a company that employs a quarter of a million people with distribution outlets in 140 countries?

In 1974, F.A. Hayek gave his lecture on the occasion of his Nobel Prize, in which he zeroed in on the tendency of statesmen and scientists to believe that they can gather and process enough information about human and economic affairs to presume that they can manage complex structures as well as those with a direct knowledge of the particulars. He called such pretense of knowledge the major superstition of our time.

He concluded his speech with an ominous warning: The student of society needs a lesson in humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society. This striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, may also make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

We live in another age of faith, but it is a false faith, one that trusts powerful people in government to accomplish what they cannot and will not accomplish. I know of no way of stopping these trends that is more effective than genuine spiritual renewal. Helping the work of the Acton Institute is a way of shoring up authentic faith in a way that protects us against the false faith of statism.