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Editor's Note

It is a measure of how radically the situation of Europe has changed in the past generation that one regularly encounters seminars and symposia with grand but gloomy titles such as “Whither Europe?” or “The European Future?”

The question mark is key. There is much doubt about the health of Europe. Part of that is a demographic issue with plunging birthrates and mass immigration, the specter has been raised of a European future that is lacking Europeans. But it is more than that. If the European body is weak, the cause might be in the European soul.

This issue of Religion & Liberty looks at that question, benefiting from the insights of some of Europe's leading voices. Our lead interview is with Mart Laar, the former Estonian prime minister, who talks about “exporting hope” in the context of his country's post-communist transformation. A view from Western...

Europe Is Losing Its Soul


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Europe is a unique cultural and spiritual phenomenon that was formed over the course of centuries and is currently undergoing fundamental changes. Why does the fate of Europe concern us, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church? Because Russia, while possessing a distinctive culture and self-consciousness, is also an integral part of Europe. It is not by chance that Dostoevsky, who like nobody else was conscious of Russia's uniqueness, nevertheless called Europe his second home. In the Russian soul, Europe occupies a special place, primarily because of its Christian roots. I would like to stress that these roots go back not only to Western Christianity, but also to Eastern Christianity, mainly through...

Dignity, Democracy, and the Free Market


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The Acton Institute is hosting a series of lectures celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Centesimus Annus , Pope John Paul II's landmark encyclical. The following is taken from President Aznar's address delivered on May 4, 2006, at the Italian Parliment in Rome.

The myth of the perfect society is certainly nothing new. The idea of an earthly paradise organized by superior men, whether they be aristocrats, wise philosophers, or members of a self-appointed proletarian avant-garde, has been an incessant theme in human affairs since the time of Plato.

However, the twentieth century laid bare exactly what these utopias conceal: the fact that all of these idyllic and harmonious invented...

Conjugal Economics


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The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). When Adam awoke from his nap and uttered these words about his wife, he offered a view of how God's perfectly formed male-female relationship was meant to look. Only eight verses later this ideal relationship comes to an end when man and woman fall from the perfect plan of God.

In her book The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World , Carrie Miles works to reunite modern day perceptions of marriage with God's vision of marriage as it was originally intended. Miles offers up a readable and insightful book by...

Doubled-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Genesis 17:3

“When Abraham prostrated himself, God continued to speak to him: 'My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations.'” Gen. 17:3

Within decades of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the good news had spread from Jerusalem through the Hellenistic culture of the eastern Mediterranean to Rome, and to ends-of-earth places such as India and the British Isles. In the following centuries, holy men and women protected the heritage of Western civilization in monasteries and convents, and then re-evangelized the barbarian-conquered West, thereby helping to create a new entity known as Europe. Over the next two millennia, Christianity built much of what we take for granted in civilization today: universities, economics, a belief in human rights and the dignity of all persons.

Certainly, the house of modern...

Europe without Roots


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Optimism is obligatory, but it's cheap. In the current situation, there is a heavy price to pay. Relativism has wreaked havoc, and it continues to act as a mirror and an echo chamber for the dark mood that has fallen over the West. It has paralyzed the West, when it is already disoriented and at a standstill, rendered it defenseless when it is already acquiescent, and confused it when it is already reluctant to rise to the challenge.

One should not think of philosophy as a luxury for initiates, to be consumed only within the walls of the university. It is instead a powerful tool for the promotion and spread of ideas and energy, and a vehicle of influential opinions. It always has been. It would thus be mistaken to...

Interest and Responsibility

Since at least the middle ages, the payment and receipt of interest has existed under a moral cloud, due mainly to a misunderstanding concerning what interest is and why it exists. Medieval theologians gradually came around to the view that now prevails in economic science.

What connects all forms of interest is the insight that interest is nothing more or less than the exchange ratios between different time horizons. If I prefer to save now, I must put off current consumption. If you prefer to spend now, you must acquire the resources to do so. We can make an exchange between the money you want to spend and the money I want to save. I agree to lend you money, and we negotiate a fee to put to work what might otherwise have been idle resources.

In doing so, of course, I cannot dictate the terms because I must depend on your willingness to pay and I must compete with...

What is the Acton Institute doing to support promising young scholars?

An important part of the work of the Acton Institute is promoting the scholarship of tomorrow. Aside from offering conferences, seminars, and publication, the Acton Institute promotes scholarship monetarily. The Calihan Academic Fellowships, Research Fellowships, and Travel Grants provide monetary assistance to students of special potential, encouraging them to explore the intersection of religious principles with human dignity, the importance of the rule of law, limited government, and religious and economic liberty.

Following are some examples of our Calihan recipients and their work:


Rachel Patterson

Rachel Patterson—an Australian lawyer and a master's student at Columbia Law School—spent the summer of 2006...

Anders Chydenius

Known as the Adam Smith of the North, Anders Chydenius laid out his economic prescription for mercantilist [Sweden-Finland] in The National Gain in 1765, suggesting a concept of spontaneous order eleven years before Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: “Every individual spontaneously tries to find the place and the trade in which he can best increase National gain, if laws do not prevent him from doing so.”

For Chydenius, freedom and diligence were the foundations of an economically prosperous nation; direction from the government only gummed up the gears of a natural system of human interaction.

Thus the wealth of a...

There's No Such Thing as "Business" Ethics

The wave of recent corporate scandals has spurred an increased interest in business ethics. As illegal and unethical behavior is exposed in the business world, society has demanded reform.

In his book, There's No Such Thing as “Business” Ethics, John C. Maxwell firmly contends that there is no difference between business ethics and general moral behavior. “There's no such thing as business ethics,” writes Maxwell, “there's only ethics. People try to use one set of ethics for their professional life, another for their spiritual life, and still another at home with their family… If you desire to be ethical, you live it by one standard across the board.” He believes that people behave unethically because of the convenience and the desire to win no matter the cost. In addition, people rationalize their choices with relativism by choosing their own ethical standards to guide...

Second-Career Clergy and Parish Business


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The seminary in The Collar is what's called a second-career seminary, a seminary for men who have come to their vocation later in life. Some of the seminarians featured in the work, like the retired marketing executive Jim Pemberton, come from significant careers in the business world. What are these men looking for in the priesthood, and do they make good priests?

I think that at the center of that question is a mystery, right? What are they looking for? One of the reasons I called this book The Collar was because of the sense of these men being collared, being brought to a profession, being brought to this new life, and not always willingly. It's...

The Economy of Trust

What can the world of religion and ethics contribute to economics?

The market has deficiencies of a kind for which ethics is a remedy. For example, the world is really filled with private information. There is inside information on products and in contracts. In these situations, there is a very strong possibility of one person using this information to take advantage of the other. If this happens frequently, a market may not exist at all because the buyers know that they don't know certain things, and that the sellers can exploit them. Therefore, it's not so much that there are potential unfair gains, but that such uncertainties about private information can make the market inefficient. In fact, if the problem is pronounced, the market may not exist at all. This is a situation that is studied particularly in insurance contracts; when the person insured may...

Editor's Note

Do you have to be good to do well? The relationship between virtue and worldly success is one that is often discussed at our Acton events. Parents and teachers try to inculcate good habits in their children and students, not only as an end in itself, but also in the hope that doing good in the spheres of character and morality will lead to doing well in the worlds of work, entrepreneurship, and commerce.

In this issue of Religion & Liberty, we take look at that question from various points of view. Our biblical feature examines the teaching about weights and measures in the Gospel. Being honest in measurement is the right thing to do in itself, but it also makes possible easy trade and free exchange; imagine the impossibility of having to verify that every package contains the indicated weight of flour, or sugar, or salt. Our “Double-Edged Sword” this issue comes...

Trust and Entrepreneurship


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When it comes to business and the economy, the word trust has two—and to some people diametrically opposed—meanings.

Trust as a virtue in the marketplace means having confidence in the honesty, reliability, and integrity of market players. It speaks volumes about our free enterprise system that a stranger can walk into a small business, for example, that he has never patronized before, and yet generally trust that he will be served well, dealt with fairly, and will walk out the door with a product that does what it is supposed to do.

But trust also refers to a business organization whereby a group of trustees control one or more corporations. Trusts emerged in the latter half of the...

The Dividends of Social Capital

Why have so many countries been unable to fully adopt a market economy? The answer is complex, but there are certain basic conditions that must be met for an economy to become free and prosperous. Two that are non-negotiable are private property and the rule of law. Without these a market cannot exist. An educated workforce, low taxes, and minimal regulation are also helpful.

But there is another element that is crucial but often overlooked—it is what has been called “social capital,” specifically the existence of trust. Francis Fukuyama makes this case in his 1995 book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity .

Why are trust and social capital so important for economic success? In a...