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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Candles behind the Wall

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, legion has been the number of studies and theories seeking to explain how and why its end came about as it did. However, few are as convincing as that put forth by Barbara von der Heydt in her new book, Candles behind the Wall: Heroes of the Peaceful Revolution That Shattered Communism. Von der Heydt’s thesis can be summed up in a phrase: communism failed because it was unable to make people forget about God.

To explain why the Iron Curtain came crashing down, most commentators have sought to focus their gaze through the conventional lens of economics and politics. In doing so, however, they have overlooked the fact that the political and economic crises paralyzing Eastern European communism by the late 1980s were the direct consequence of a prior...

When Austrians Came to America

Economists of the Austrian school in recent years, writes Karen Vaughn, “present no less than a fundamental challenge” to how members of their field view their work and the world around them. “At the very least,” she says, “Austrian economics is a complete reinterpretation of the methods, substance, and limitations of contemporary economics. At most, it is a radical, perhaps even revolutionary restructuring of economics.”

So she writes in the introduction to her splendid book, Austrian Economics in America: The Migration of a Tradition, the latest in a spate of books that signify the resurgence of interest in Austrian economics.

The publication of this book couldn’t be more timely. With the unparalleled collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the...

The Time has Come to Reevaluate Strategy for Change

R&L: How valuable are mediating institutions to community life?

Higgins: They play an extraordinarily valuable role. The family is probably the most important institution. Yet it cannot flourish without communal support. Just the other day I was talking with a cab driver who works 12-plus hour days, as does his wife, in order to keep their children in private school which they believe is essential for their children’s success. But, while the parents were working outside of the home, the children had fallen in with some very bad company which led to parental discipline. The government then stepped in and told the parents to refrain from disciplining their children or they would be taken away and placed in foster care. This couple had already lost one child to this...

The State that Justifies

Many thought that a clear lesson about the size and function of the state had been learned from twentieth-century history, particularly with the collapse of communism. Human well-being required a very limited state. The state itself had turned into man’s greatest enemy, so its purpose and centrality needed rethinking. Economic prosperity could be best achieved through the free operation of the market.

Most institutions of culture should be left in the hands of voluntary agencies. These organs of culture–museums, galleries, and theaters–should not be administered by state bureaucracies. Education and the press should not be state-run monopolies. Religion should be free and encouraged. The state’s jurisdiction should be limited to general purposes like the common defense, policing,...

Reflections on the Bell Curve

Publication of the controversial book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray has opened a much-needed discussion about what we should do about the increasing stratification of our society.

Without trying to do violence to a thoughtful and detailed book by attempting a too-facile summary, I would outline the authors’ challenge as follows: It is clear that a “cognitive elite” and a permanent underclass exist at opposite ends of a bell curve of intelligence. It is equally clear that our economy is continuing a three or four decade trend to eliminate many (probably most) employment opportunities for those on the disadvantaged side, while three decades of social welfare programs have failed to help, and have probably worsened,...

This Delicate Fruit, Liberty

We are everywhere reminded that liberty is the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” as Lord Acton wrote. Thus we find that freedom, responsibility, and even manners, seem to wax and wane together. The Founders, schooled in ancient and modern history, intended to keep the state in its proper sphere, to prevent it from invading domains suited to the church, family, and individual.

But they also knew their institutional structure was not sufficient to sustain a free society. In their private correspondence and their public speeches, they frequently remind us that liberty cannot sustain itself absent a moral commitment to the ideal of liberty itself. Tragically, today that commitment is not as strong as it once was. The state has marched with a determination, while the defenders of liberty have lacked...

J. Howard Pew

Born in Pennsylvania to a devout Presbyterian family, J. Howard Pew was taught at an early age the value of freedom. His father, Joseph Newton Pew, with Edward O. Emerson, established in 1876 what eventually became known as Sun Oil Company. After graduating from Grove City College, young Howard went to work for his father at Sun Oil and later became its President. Once retired, he continued to influence the company as member of the board, and later Chairman. Under his leadership, Sun Oil grew nearly 40 times over.

Howard became one of the most vocal and articulate defenders of freedom in America....

The Churching of America

The award winning book The Churching of America, is a dramatic rewriting of American religious history with a free-market bent.

The authors write: “[the] most striking trend in the history of religion in America is growth–or what we call the churching of America.” Making use of a traditional church-sect distinction, Finke and Stark argue that historians have seen religion in decline in America because their assumptions led them to look at the wrong religious institutions.

Finke and Stark charge that “frequently, a lack of religious activity is asserted when all that is lacking is the preferred brand of religious activity.” What they mean by “preferred brand” is the theologically sophisticated church institutions which are not in great tension with society. The...

A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America

Don Feder reminds me of Paul Caplan, a Reform rabbi in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and of Peter Himmelman, perhaps the only practicing Orthodox Jew to carve out a career for himself in rock and roll.

Like Rabbi Caplan and Peter Himmelman, Feder exhibits a palpable joy about his faith–and a passion strong enough to attract people in search of God. Feder, who writes editorials for the brassy tabloid The Boston Herald, writes about one experience at the office:

When I started keeping kosher, I stopped eating the food in our company cafeteria and brought my lunch instead. I refrained from dining out with colleagues, unless it was a kosher restaurant. Quite naturally, my friends and co-workers were curious.

When they discovered my motivation, they were...

On Liberty's Moral Superiority

R&L: Do you think the clergy’s view of the state as a means of solving the real problems minorities face has changed over the years?

Williams: The civil rights struggle in our country has been won. At one time black Americans lacked the constitutional guarantees others possessed. Now they have them. Major problems still remain in large segments of the black community, but they are not civil rights problems. The 66 percent illegitimacy rate among blacks nationally, the high crime rate, and fraudulent education are devastating problems; but they are not civil rights problems. So if you use a civil rights strategy, the solution will always be elusive.

The clergy have not learned this yet. Combating illegitimacy requires moral teaching. We...

On A New Women's Movement: Going Beyond 'Having It All'

…The starting point for most discussions of women’s issues is the observation that women earn less money than men, with income equality as the implicit touchstone for the desirability of policies, personal or public. But defining one’s well-being in terms of one’s income is not self-evidently correct. In fact, it is extremely problematic to argue that one’s income is an accurate measure of one’s wealth, even on strictly economic grounds.

The overall claim is even more problematic if we include, as we ought, the question What is the good life, the life well-lived? This is the philosophical question that has engaged the attention and efforts of the deepest and most thoughtful of us, since time immemorial. Indeed, it is only in the late twentieth century, when people have become so...

Isaac Thomas Hecker

Friend and colleague of Lord Acton and Cardinal John Henry Newman, and founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul (Paulist Fathers), Isaac Hecker is chiefly known for his efforts to reconcile Roman Catholicism with American liberal democracy. His political views were radically Jacksonian in his youth, and his millennialist belief that God created America as a beacon of light to the world remained with him throughout his life.

He believed that government should protect the equal rights of all citizens, including property rights as guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. He opposed the granting...

Beyond the New Right

Starting roughly from the mess we all admit we are in, John Gray, fellow in politics at Jesus College, Oxford University, subtly, valiantly, and sometimes brilliantly addresses all of the major problems facing liberal democratic society in this collection of four essays written during the past decade. Avowedly conservative in a lineage that links him with Michael Oakeshott (the greatest conservative theorist of our time, he thinks), F.A. Hayek, eventually with Edmund Burke, and, more tenuously, with Thomas Hobbes, Gray comes off somewhat Malthusian and more Tory than Whig.

But he seems unhappy about this and, in truth, any classification is misleading. Rather, Gray comes off sui generis as he distances himself from all known contemporary conservative positions–decrying the Thatcher and Reagan...

Capitalism with Compassion

R&L: Do you see a potential contradiction between being a successful entrepreneur and a Christian believer?

DeVos: Being a capitalist is actually fulfilling the will of God in my life. Prayerfully, I trust that this is my calling. So I don’t see any contradiction. The alternative view is that, as a believer, I should be poor, a business failure. I do not accept that. God has given us talents. Either we use them in business or we all should become priests and ministers, or devote ourselves to social work. That is not a framework to provide meaningful employment or opportunities for everyone.

But certainly there are greedy and improper capitalists, just as in every other profession. That is because we are all sinners. So I don’t think...

Nurture and Natural Law

When I was six or seven, growing up in Somerville, Massachusetts, my father took me into Boston to walk the Freedom Trail. As we progressed along the Trail, smelling the dust and exhaust fumes of old Boston, my father led me back into the eighteenth century. We strolled over the Common, and looked into Old South Church (the Tea Party started here, he pointed out), down to the Old State House (the Massacre happened in front of it), Fanueil Hall (stopping for lunch at nearby Durgin Park), and up to North Church (the lanterns signalling Paul Revere looked out to the Back Bay, which was water then, he explained). At each stop, he would have me picture the people, the conflicts, the emotions that accompanied the Revolution. It was a time of wonder for me. The names of Otis, Hancock, Revere, the Adams cousins, and even Crispus Attucks were...