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K. Wilhelm Freiherr von Humboldt

Described by Lord Acton as the “most central figure in Germany,” Wilhelm von Humboldt began his public career in 1802 as the Prussian envoy to the papal court. He returned to Berlin in 1808 to accept his appointment as the Minister of Public Instruction. In this position, he became the architect of the Prussian educational system and the founder of the University of Berlin; he served in a variety of other governmental offices until his retirement from public service in 1819.

While Humboldt's public career was distinguished, he made his greatest impact through his varied contributions to...

A Century of Catholic Social Thought

This year marks the centenary of the promulgation of Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Over the next several months there will be a myriad of scholarly conferences, lectures, sermons, masses, etc., commemorating the anniversary of this seminal Church document and the tradition of social thought that it inaugurated. Collections of essays celebrating this anniversary are already beginning to find their way out of publishing houses and into stores and catalogs. More promise to follow as conferences conclude and their proceedings are published.

A Century of Catholic Social Thought is one of the first collections of commentaries published commemorating this year’s anniversary. This volume considers both the historical development of Catholic social teaching and its continuing...

Profits and Morals: A Non-Catholic Assessment of Centesimus Annus

In 1986 America’s Catholic bishops issued a controversial pastoral letter on the subject of the nation’s economy. The cartoonist S. Kelley summed it up best in The San Diego Union. In his cartoon, two bishops were lecturing from upside-down economics textbooks and a blackboard full of obvious nonsense as a parishioner prayed by a pew: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they’re talking about.”

That 1986 document, calling as it did for massive increases in federal spending, redistribution of the wealth and a hefty dose of socialism, was greeted with dissent from economists, clergy and business leaders favorably disposed to the free market. And given what Pope John Paul II had to say a few weeks ago, it will probably go down in history as the high water mark of left-liberal...

A Preferential Option for Liberty

This special issue of Religion and Liberty offers our readers a sampling of initial reactions to the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II which commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the inauguration of modern Catholic social teaching.

Our prediction is that Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year) will have a monumentally positive impact on the discussion of the relationship between religion and freedom. This discussion will revolve around the proper ordering of civil society, the role and limits of governmental intervention into economic activity, and the ultimate source of wealth creation: the human mind.

These are, of course, matters that the Acton Institute is attempting to raise. We are overjoyed with the document.

Yet a...

Initial Reactions to Centesimus Annus

The Wall Street Journal, May 1

Centesimus Annus is a ringing endorsement of the market economy. The endorsement is, however, joined to powerful challenges…

“John Paul affirms a ‘new capitalism.’ But the term he prefers is simply ‘free economy.’ Of course socialism is economically disastrous, but what he calls the ‘evil’ of the system imposed by the communist ‘empire’ is the denial of freedom. Readers will miss the gravamen of this encyclical if they do not recognize that it is, first and most importantly, an argument about human nature. Capitalism is the economic corollary of the Christian understanding of man’s nature and destiny…

“The pope says that we can now see how prescient...

Jean-Baptiste-Henri Dominique Lacordaire

Lacordaire was born on May 12, 1802, near the French town of Dijon. In spite of his parents’ fervent religious devotion, young Lacordaire remained atheistic until a profound religious experience forced him from a career in law into divinity. After completing seminary, he accepted a teaching position and was appalled at his students’ relative disregard for religion. In an effort to revive public affection for the Roman Catholic Church, he argued for its freedom from state assistance and protection in L’Avenir, a newspaper with which he collaborated. He later accepted the pulpit at the famed Cathedral of Notre Dame,...

Eastern Europe at the Crossroads

R&L: The people of Eastern Europe have been profoundly shaped by their religious attitudes. What role do you think religion can and should play in the reconstruction of Eastern Europe?

Friedman: I am not an expert on that subject, and I do not know. I suspect, however, that the reconstruction of Eastern Europe will not owe very much to religion in any organized or systematic sense. The growth and development of Britain and the United States and other advanced countries did not owe anything to organized religion. Unquestionably a society’s growth and health depends on the values of the society. It depends on the strength of the family unit, on the character of the people. Those things are important. Insofar as religion helps to inculcate those values, it undoubtedly has a...

Liberation Cinema: A Review of Romero

(Editor’s note: Romero will be aired as the CBS “Movie of the Week” on April 16. The following review is revised and reprinted with permission from the January 1990 issue of Reason magazine, copyright 1990 by the Reason Foundation, 2716 Ocean Park Blvd., Suite 1062, Santa Monica, CA 90405.)

A dear friend of mine recently wrote these speculative words to me: “I’ve often wondered what I would do if I were a theologian in some Latin American country confronting the frequently terrible consequences of the country’s feudalism. I had been taught to call the economy ‘capitalism,’ for which there was no remedy except that touted by the communists. I’d probably try to work out some improbable modus vivendi between my Christianity and Marxism!”

The...

Twilight of the Idols

False gods exert a strong appeal, but they always fail – eventually. The false gods of tribalism, nationalism and race are ancient; we’ve had them with us always, in every part of the globe. The modern mentality has generated its own gods, more deadly than the old. The most potent of these new gods are the idols of political ideology and scientistic utopianism. Minions of these gods attempt to politicize every sector of life. According to their creed, every individual belongs to the State; no one may exercise his private inclinations except when Big Brother looks the other way. The Rule is: “Whatever actions are not commanded are forbidden.” Today is made worse so that tomorrow might be perfect. People endure a dreary present, having been duped by the contrived myth of felicity tomorrow in a classless society.

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Emil Brunner

"This inversion of the structure of the State which, instead of being built up from below, is organized from above, is the one great iniquity of our time, the iniquity which overshadows all others, and generates them of itself. The order of creation is turned upside down; what should be last is first, the expedient, the subsidiary, has become the main thing. The State, which should be only the bark on the life of the community, has become the tree itself."

Neo-orthodox theologian Emil Brunner was ordained in the Swiss Reformed Church and was professor of systematic theology at the University of Zurich, where he taught continuously, except for extensive lecture tours in the...

Will It Liberate?

R&L: What impact has the Revolution of 1989 had on liberation theologians?

Novak: In a debate two months ago, I heard Hugo Assman say that the upheaval in Eastern Europe prompted him to rethink the notion of “basic needs.” He used to say that there were some things that he did not admire in Eastern European socialism, but at least those countries met the basic needs of their people. He wished that all countries in Latin America could do at least as well. But the revolt of Eastern Europe showed him that a strategy of “basic needs” is not enough.

Prisons fulfill the basic needs of prisoners; free peoples want more than that. They want real freedom, not just the satisfaction of animal needs. So, the revolt against socialism in Eastern Europe is...

Faith and the Free Market in the Third World: Death Knell for Socialism and Liberation Theology?

Last November the Orange County (CA) Register and Hillsdale College’s Shavano Institute co-sponsored a conference entitled “Faith and the Free Market”. The following is adapted from Fr. Robert Sirico’s speech by the same name.

That socialism is at a critical juncture is evident by the numerous recent conferences, monographs, books and articles attempting to assess the significance of the unscrambling of the Communist omelet in Eastern Europe and the legitimacy of replacing it with an economic system organized around the principle of the right to ownership of private property.

My thesis is that there is no necessary contradiction between a society that is free and one that is virtuous; more precisely, it is my contention that economic liberty is necessary for a free...