Religion & Liberty Article Listing

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.


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...

The Crayfish Syndrome

What are the chances for upward mobility for a group of poor, black church people–96% on welfare–in rural Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation?

What’s their prospect for economic success if they don’t get a dime from the Rockefellers or the Ford Foundation. What if they get no government set-aside contracts, and no assistance from Housing and Urban Development or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? What if they get nothing from the Fortune 500, and nothing from rich and famous celebrities and athletes?

That was the situation of the Greater Christ Temple in Meridian, Mississippi. The church, started in 1959, initiated its REACH program for economic independence in 1977. It began with peanuts–literally. Church members bought...

The Market and the Manger

This November/December issue of Religion & Liberty coincides with the celebration of the feast of the Incarnation – Christmas. This holiday season, like every other, we will hear calls to take the commercialism out of Christmas. What are the connections between the market and the manger?

This past year we have witnessed discussions on issues of welfare reform, private charity, and the virtues of free-markets. At the heart of these topics is an incarnational theology – a manner of approach which understands implicitly that Christ became a man and thus redeemed the created order.

The meeting of God and humanity in the incarnation is the beautiful event which marks the beginning of our Lord’s earthly life of redemption. Through this redemption,...

Booker T. Washington

Washington was in many ways a distinguished personality, provincially wise, astute, and certainly diplomatic. A tireless educator, masterful orator and advocate of black self-improvement, Booker T. Washington's ideas were as controversial in his day as they are in ours. Born into slavery, he was taken to West Virginia by his mother soon after emancipation . There he went to school at night while he worked in a salt furnace during the day. In May 1881, Washington became the principal of the newly founded Tuskegee Institute, where he taught blacks the technical skills he thought they would need in their newly enfranchised state.


Welfare: Separating Fact from the Rhetoric

American political discourse has coarsened in recent years. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with the issue of poverty. As Mary Jo Bane and David T. Ellwood, both currently serving in the Department of Health and Human Services, put it, “when the topic of welfare comes up, dialogue often turns angry and judgmental; the prose becomes purple.”

Yet purple prose almost seems appropriate when dealing with today’s welfare system. It is, as many contend, overly expensive; the multiplicity of programs offer an open invitation to fraud. The federal benefits discourage work, encourage dependency, and undercut families. Others charge that the current system is patronizing and even dehumanizing. Americans are rightly disappointed with government’s care of the poor.


A Revolution of Compassion

R&L: You are viewed by many as one of the architects of the “Welfare Revolution”. Many believe that this revolution is motivated solely by financial concerns, but in your work The Tragedy of American Compassion, you speak of other dimensions and motivations. What do you believe are the strongest reasons for welfare reform?

Olasky: I am glad to be viewed as an architect, but there are others who have done far more than me. I think of people like Bob Woodson, Charles Murray, Robert Rector — and your work at the Acton Institute.

There are three strong reasons for reforming welfare: the first is biblical. The current welfare system takes men and women created in God’s image and dehumanizes them. Most programs treat people like animals...