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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

The Protestant-Communal Foundations of American Political Thought

In 1819, Benjamin Constant argued that the apparently unitary concept of liberty in actuality described two sharply distinct understandings: one variant which was most “dear to the ancient peoples,” and the second which was “especially precious to the modern nations.” He explained that what most differentiated these two understandings of liberty was the status awarded to the individual. Indeed, ancient political liberty was fully compatible with “the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community.” From this perspective, “no importance was given to individual independence,” and each individual “was a slave in all his private relations.” Conversely, modern liberty, he explained, is most concerned with protecting private pleasures or individual independence, which he claimed was “the true modern liberty.”...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on the State

One casualty during the heyday of secularism was the historic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. A once virtually-universal voice, which for centuries had been the dominant Christian voice on political matters in many nations, was shunned by secular and atheistic political models. Besides secularism, there has also been a virtual symbiosis of the Protestant Reformation and the spread of western democracies; thus in much of the western world, Roman Catholic political theology frequently remained unknown. Yet, there is a rich tradition–not to mention a recent revival–of officially-codified systematic teaching on matters of state. The following survey of Roman Catholic teaching, taken from the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, is selected to stress many of the themes that have also been explicated...

The Entrepreneur as Servant

“If anyone wants to be the first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35

Lent has been traditionally the season in the Christian calendar for believers to prepare their hearts for the miraculous work of Easter. It is a time to be reminded that the way of the cross is a way of suffering and service, a way embodied by Jesus Christ. Thoughtful and holy men and women throughout the history of the Church have recognized this fact of faith, and dedicated their lives to such radical service. We ought to be inspired by their examples, and recognize that those who serve are indeed the greatest among us.

But there is one type of servant which has been ignored by most church leaders–the entrepreneur. One sees evidence of the prejudice against him...

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

It was 1774, and decades of expensive and ill-advised government ventures left the regime of Louis the XVI fiscally overstretched and teetering, once again, on the edge of bankruptcy. Thus was the situation when Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, the baron de l' Aulne, was appointed France's Minister of Finance.

A.R.J. Turgot was born in Paris to a distinguished Norman family which had long served as important royal officials. He earned honors first at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, and then at the great theological faculty of the University of Paris, the Sorbonne. He was expected to enter the clergy, but instead...

The Language of Liberty, 1660-1832

Large sympathy must inform a reading of The Language of Liberty, for its heterodox reading of the substance of the American Revolution strains against its very helpful survey of the rhetoric of the Revolution. That the American revolutionaries were, in the main, a religious and not a secular people is obvious and beyond cavil, despite the impression conveyed by secular historians of later eras. Clark conveys this suitably and accurately, justifying throughout the book his conclusion that “democracy–in the sense of debates over the franchise, the distribution of seats, or the representative machinery in general–was not central to the conflict which rent the English-speaking world in the early-modern period, and was not at the heart of the self-image of any of the societies which made up that world....

Private Solutions: The Best Hope for Cultural Renewal

R&L: In your book Transforming America from the Inside Out, you diagnose America’s social condition as “Cultural AIDS”. That has become a controversial metaphor. What do you mean by “Cultural AIDS” and why is it more accurate than the common phrase “culture wars”?

James: The concept of culture wars is that there are two, three, perhaps four cultures in America that are clashing with one another, and the strongest will ultimately survive. I believe, however, that America at its core has an identity, a culture that represents who we are as a nation. I see that culture as sick and dying. That is true because those institutions in our culture that historically provided a shield for us against the pathologies of our communities are breaking down. These pathologies...

The Necessity of Moral Absolutes in a Free Society

Editor's Note: The following remarks were delivered by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Acton Institute’s Fourth Anniversary Dinner at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 5, 1994.

I am truly honored to be with each of you this evening. And, the honor is magnified because I can be here with my wife and best friend. I thank Father Sirico for his patience and persistence. He was kind enough to invite me during my first term on the Court and he certainly made sure that his invitation was not overlooked or forgotten. I have enjoyed both our correspondence and the opportunities we have had to talk. From my vantage point, our exchanges have been enlightening, inspirational, and encouraging.

I am now approaching the end of my third...

Thoughts on the Education of Lord Acton

Of the various influences that shaped Lord Acton’s distinctive understanding of history, none was as decisive as his education. His intellectual formation was in fact unique, the product of social position, conditions within English and Continental Catholicism, revolutionary ideas in the Germanic world pertaining to the study and methods of history, and the epic debate in North America over the nature and future of the Union of the States. All of these developments converged in Acton’s life during the decade of 1848-1858, at the end of which he entered an aggressive public life in journalism and scholarship that established his name in the pantheon of the great minds of the Western tradition.

Born into a cosmopolitan family which was prominent in English, German and Italian life, a...

Everything Unto God

When Lord Acton set out in the late nineteenth century to write a comprehensive history of liberty, he planned to chronicle its growth from antiquity. It is a sad commentary on this century that an updating of his work would require the last chapter to chronicle liberty’s decline.

There is afoot in the land a reassertion of what might be called the principle of fragmentation. This is seen in the excessive compartmentalization of personal life–the “either/or” mentality that separates one’s work from one’s family–or when the standards that govern public life are divided from those of private life. Living the illusion of this dualism breeds both an internal and an external tension which affects both personal integrity and social cohesion.

My...

William Wilberforce

Born in the great northern seaport of Hull in 1759, William Wilberforce would one day lead the cause for the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom. The early death of his father forced young William to live with his uncle and aunt who had been influenced by both George Whitefield, an early Evangelical revivalist, and John Newton, an ex-slave trader and Evangelical convert.

Newton became a hero to Wilberforce and instilled in him a desire for Christ and a repulsion of the slave trade. William's mother, alarmed by her son's developing “Methodist leanings” rushed him off to boarding school and Cambridge University in an...

Bargaining With The State

Richard Epstein, Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, is intrigued in this book by the ways in which important liberties are threatened by legislative actions designed to distribute various benefits and favors to selected groups of people. As Epstein notes, “The conventional wisdom has it that government is subject to extensive limitation when it regulates and none when it contracts” ( p.312). But, Epstein warns, this simplistic attitude badly ignores the importance of limiting all of government’s activities. It is just as important to monitor bargaining by the state as it is the traditional forms of governmental power such as governmental takings, regulation and taxation.

When Epstein talks about “bargaining with the state,” he has in mind instances where the state distributes benefits...

An American in London

This was one of the last books by the late Dr. Russell Kirk, who was perhaps America’s foremost intellectual conservative, an eminent scholar in the social sciences and humane letters, and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. It might be said to be both a defense of the traditional European-American culture so much under attack by intellectuals and activists today, and a summary of the major cultural contributions of Britain to America.

Kirk spends the first few pages defining “culture.” Drawing on Dawson, Eliot and others, he concludes that it is a common way of life shaped by common beliefs, something characteristically human which, in its highest sense, involves a commendable pattern of manners and noteworthy aesthetic and intellectual attainment....

Current Government Policies are Hurting Our Families

R&L: Many Christians are not comfortable with Capitalism as an economic system, often blaming the “system” for such things as poverty and social ills. Often this fear of Capitalism leads many to endorse forms of Socialism as more Christian. What are your views concerning Capitalism?

Dobson: On the world stage of varying economic philosophies, I believe that Capitalism has been shown to be the best economic system for improving the living conditions of mankind. It is not perfect, just like Democracy is not a perfect system of government, but they are by far the best systems given the nature of man. The main reason for the overwhelming success of Capitalism is that hard work and personal discipline are rewarded in many ways. The weakness of Socialism is that the reward...

Marriage and Economic Liberty

During the Middle Ages, children born out of wedlock were often abandoned to the church or left to the streets and the kindness of strangers. In Latin they were termed expositi –the exposed ones. The skyrocketing rate of illegitimate births in America today, unprecedented in human history, has vastly deepened many of our social problems. The kindness of strangers must still be insisted upon, but is no solution. Government subsidy has proven to be an illusory measure as well.

Our remaining choices seem stark–abortion, or marriage. And here the debate divides. One action sacrifices the child on behalf of the mother’s freedom. The other limits the mother’s freedom, but saves the child. Here we should examine the matter most carefully. The aborted child is truly dead. We should...

Free the Farms

Most people are taught to believe free markets are a form of social Darwinism; the theory that everyone fights for what they get and only the strongest survive. In our American system of free markets, cooperation is the key. This means voluntary exchanges are made between consenting parties. You can only do something in a market system that other people want. This maximizes the efficiency of resource use. As farmers this means we take care of our land, our animals, our water and our families to produce what consumers want to eat and at a price they are willing to pay. Free markets do work. We have made a successful living as farmers for 33 years doing just that.

We chose as a matter of principle not to participate in any government farm programs. We made that decision years ago and have never regretted it...