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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

The Theme is Freedom

M. Stanton Evans, former editor of The Indianapolis News and chairman of the American Conservative Union, is now director of the National Journalism Center, in Washington, D.C. His exposition here of the place of religion in American public life is a remarkable synthesis of history, sound philosophy and political judgment.

In the classic phrase of Fr. Francis Canavan, the great Fordham Jesuit, the present stage of Western culture can be described as “the fag end of the Enlightenment.” For three centuries, philosophers and politicians have tried to organize society as if God did not exist. They sought to govern man according to the Enlightenment premises of secularism, relativism and autonomous individualism. The result has been not an increase, but a contraction of freedom and an...

Learning from Victorian Virtues

R&L: Let’s begin by discussing your latest book, The Demoralization Of Society. In it you state that Victorian society stigmatized the recipients of government assistance. Tell us about that.

Himmelfarb: Well, it stigmatized them in several ways: first, it stigmatized them rhetorically. The recipient of relief was called a pauper, not a poor man. The Victorians made a great attempt to keep the distinction between pauper and poor. The word poor was synonymous with the working classes or the “independent laborer”; “pauper” was a term of stigmatization.

Another way was through the principle of “less eligibility”. This principle stipulated that the pauper should always be in a less eligible, that is to say a less desirable, condition than the...

The Accumulation of Moral Capital

By now most readers of this journal are familiar with arguments that the charitable impulse is not well-served by institutions of the modern welfare state. Indeed, many are persuaded that the modern state feeds itself from the fount of charitable feelings that have been created by the Judeo-Christian tradition. The state, by exploiting this ethos, has created a situation in which people feel more like suckers than Samaritans. In this article, I will argue that the economic significance of the Western religious traditions extends far beyond the creation of an ethic of sharing or neighborly charity.

The first example is the economics of cooperation. The theoretical problem is, why should people cooperate for mutual benefit in a situation that presents possibilities of greater personal gain from ignoring other...

Economic Crime and the Necessity of Morality

At present an alarming crime wave is engulfing Russia and is threatening to spiral out of control. Professor Mikhail Gelvanovsky of Moscow’s Orthodox Charity Center of Social Protection reflects a widespread fear when he points out, “In the past we had the Iron Curtain; now people need iron doors to protect themselves against the growing number of thieves.” Three to five thousand gangs now control some 40,000 businesses. Post-Soviet organized crime is rapidly commandeering an entire nation’s assets: factories, businesses, real estate, and exportable natural resources. Never before have criminal elements had such ready access to natural resources remotely approaching the wealth of a prostrate Russia. Investigative reporter Claire Sterling has noted, “There are fifty ways of saying ‘to steal’ in Russian,...

Is Welfare Compassionate?

Many of our current economic problems have their roots in the moral crisis of our day. In these times of moral turmoil many have mistakenly equivocated government sponsored welfare with the virtue of compassion. Compassion is an adjective frequently used to describe state supported social programs. The question needs to be raised: Is State welfare truly compassionate? Are we really serving the human needs of the people with state handouts?

The theory behind today’s welfare state is that people need material provision. Without denying the fundamental importance of material provision, we cannot forget other aspects of human life. In our minds we have reduced all giving to material giving. One result of this materialism is our belief that the more money we allocate for specific programs the more...

John Bright

Son of an English self-made textile manufacturer, John Bright entered his father's business after leaving school. Upon the death of his wife in 1841, Bright and his colleague Richard Cobden began the Anti-Corn Law campaign (1838-1846) which ultimately succeeded in lowering import tariffs, producing freer trade. He became a Member of Parliament in 1843 and accepted appointment to the Board of Trade in Gladstone's administration in 1868. In contrast to Cobden, who favored the Southern free-traders, Bright supported the Northern states during the Civil War because of the slavery issue. Wary of tyrannical government, Bright opposed the manufacture of...

The Politics of Envy

In this wide-ranging sequel to his The Politics of Plunder (Transaction, 1990), Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow draws together essays, columns, and articles to illuminate statism’s rising threat to freedom and religion. A Christian libertarian, Bandow rightly insists that “liberty–the right to exercise choice, free from coercive state regulation–is a necessary precondition for virtue. And virtue is ultimately necessary for the survival of liberty.” Only choices freely made have moral or religious import. Markets work better if people are virtuous and treat each other fairly, and a virtuous population foils statist encroachments on freedom. Christians should eschew statism, even for promoting virtue: “The punishment of most sins should be left to God.”

While many...

On Catholic Communitarianism

These twelve essays that compriseCatholicism and Liberalism were originally read for study sessions at Georgetown University in 1989 and 1990 under the auspices of the Woodstock Theological Center and Georgetown’s Department of Government. The distinguished collaborators in this project convened to explore ways to improve relations between the historically antipathetical forces of liberalism and Catholicism. At the threshold of the 1990s both traditions looked vital and promising.

Emboldened by the West’s triumph over the Soviet Empire, Francis Fukuyama celebrated “Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.” Catholicism’s heightened prestige rested on its central role in the defeat of communism. Its quarter-century of Ostpolitik culminated in Mikhail...

Michigan Welfare Reform has Long Since Begun

R&L: Many conservative leaders, including yourself, have referred to the “paradigm shift” that is occurring in the nation’s approach to welfare. What does that term mean to you?

Engler: “Paradigm shift” is a much better word than “reform” to describe the dramatic changes we see taking place in this nation’s thinking about welfare. No one defends the current welfare state anymore, which discourages mothers from marrying, encourages fathers to abandon their children, and puts no value on work and thrift.

The current broken system is the legacy of the so-called Great Society, which was in many ways a great mistake. After three decades’ experience with this social disaster, people are coming to realize that we cannot just...

Morality as Cooperation

Living a “moral” life is often contrasted with living a “prosperous” life. Major philosophers, ancient and modern, have tended to praise the virtuous life of personal sacrifice for the public good, while discounting the moral worth of the individual’s pursuit of individual happiness. When an individual’s pursuit of his own interests generates socially desirable outcomes it is understood as a mere accident, and when attempts by political leaders to achieve a defined social virtue result in degradation (economic and moral) of the people, it is explained as an accident of history or the corruption of an ideal by unscrupulous individuals.

If in the aftermath of a natural disaster that knocks out electricity, the local hardware dealer increases the price of battery-run electric generators,...

Single Mothers Deserve Better

In a peculiar ideological twist, some opponents of abortion are opposing cuts in aid to single mothers. Many prolifers including National Right to Life, fear that such reductions in benefits will lead to an increase in abortions. Even Henry Hyde has joined Patricia Shroeder in being skeptical of welfare reform.

If this argument persuades, it could weaken ties between the Republican party and the anti-abortion movement.

But is their concern legitimate? Should we continue to subsidize single motherhood for fear that poor mothers might otherwise terminate their pregnancies? The answer is no on both counts.

State subsidies to single mothers encourage promiscuity. The point of removing the subsidies is to restore the natural penalties of risking...

Free Market Environmentalism

In the decade or so preceding her death this past spring, the noted scientist and occasional politician, Dr. Dixy Lee Ray, earned a reputation as the nation's most insightful critic of modern environmentalism. In a letter written three years before her death, she summed up what she had learned, observing that environmentalism, “as we have come to know it in the waning years of the twentieth century,” is “anti-development, anti-progress, anti-technology, anti-business, anti-established institutions, and, above all, anti-capitalism.”

Many in the environmental movement would agree. A published report in the newsletter of the Earth First! environmentalist group, for example, says “industrialism [is] the main force behind the environmental crises.” One noted environmentalist, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, says...

Eco-Sanity

The authors of Eco-Sanity have addressed a formidable challenge in bringing empirical analysis to the religious subject of environmentalism. By looking at a wide array of issues, they give readers a solid sense of the diversity of environmental problems as well as the recurrent similarities. They have done a commendable job, and I admire their efforts.

However, I encourage the authors and sympathetic readers to defer optimism about the impact of this book's important perspective. We should carefully separate our hopes from our expectations when dealing with the prospect of environmental reforms. Even solid analysis, compelling recommendations, and substantively important payoffs do not guarantee useful reforms.

Existing laws, regulations, and perspectives are seldom accidents...

Environmental Overkill

If one believes what passes for science these days, the world is about to end. The globe is warming, ozone is disappearing, smog is expanding, forests are shrinking, species are dying, and carcinogens are spreading. What were once thought to be good--population growth and technological advance--are actually bad. Without radical change, it is said, the environment and mankind are doomed.

Sadly, this is what Vice President Gore, Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner, a host of congressmen and senators, and much of the media establishment believe. As a result, federal policy is becoming increasingly costly and draconian making Americans both poorer and less free. This course might arguably be worth it if the result would be to save us from otherwise certain destruction.

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Earth in the Balance

There has been much talk in the last couple of months about the Religious Right's growing involvement and influence within the Republican Party. Amid all the concern about the threat to our civil liberties represented by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, the media has greatly neglected the emergence of a more serious menace: Capture of the Democratic Party by the Ecological Religious Left.

Vice President Al Gore has emerged as the spokesman of eco-paganism, a pantheistic prophet of global environmental catastrophe. As made clear in his book, Earth in the Balance, Gore envisions himself as the leader of an international movement to make “the rescue of the environment ... the central organizing principle for civilization.”

Gore's treatise on environmentalism became a...