Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Mia Immaculee Antoinette Acton Woodruff

The phone rang at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 5th. “Her heart gave up” was how a mutual friend announced Mia’s death. Marie Immaculée Antoinette Acton, later the Hon. Mrs. Douglas Woodruff, was dead at 89. I had seen her scarcely two weeks prior and knew that the end was near: “One can live too long, Jim,” she had said. Though she had often joked about the nuisance of what she described as her “creeping decrepitude,” there was a different tone of voice this time. The end came in her beloved home, Marcham Priory, near Abingdon, on the grounds of which stands an ancient stone building (used as chapel and library by the Wood- ruffs), a remnant from the 10th century Benedictine abbey, suppressed in 1538.

What justice can be done to a life in a few score words? Mia Woodruff’s life breathed the long...

Benjamin Constant

Born near Lausanne, Switzerland, to descendants of Huguenots, Constant was educated at the universities at Erlangen and Edinburgh, the latter having such luminaries as Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson on their faculty-a center of Whig politics.

In contrast to the physiocrats who supported an enlightened despot to promote liberal principles, Constant rejected such solutions, declaring that government was the greatest threat to liberty. The worst thing would be to give the state more power, regardless of what the agenda might be.

He gave many reasons to limit state intervention in the lives of people: 1) errors...

John Courtney Murray and the American Civil Conversation

In John Courtney Murray and the American Civil Conversation, many different viewpoints converge and, with only a few exceptions, further Fr. Murray’s understanding of the essential need for civilized, rational discussion. All but perhaps three of the thirteen essays proceed in the spirit of Murray. The book is divided into three main sections. In the first section, essays by Richard John Neuhaus and William R. Luckey stand out. Neuhaus’ essay, from a purely stylistic point of view, is a joy to read. Writing prior to his “transition” to Catholicism, Neuhaus provides an intriguing comparison of Murray’s concept of Christian dualism (i.e., the recognition of a tension between the immanent and the transcendent, the secular and the sacred, creation and redemption, etc.) with Martin Luther’s...

Adam Smith in His Time and Ours

Let me resolve this paradox by stating that Jerry Muller is a Professor of History at the Catholic University of America. He has written a book which economists and libertarians ought to read. It is also written in such a style that the general reader can derive great benefit from it.

The book deftly summarizes a mass of scholarship from many different areas–political philosophy, ethics, psychology, history, and literature–without trivializing it into bland encyclopedic entries.

The author sheds light on the various traditions to which Smith was reacting: Greek and Roman philosophy, Christian thought, the Classical Republican tradition, the history of economic thought from Scholasticism, Mercantilism, and natural right theories of Hobbes and Locke.


Freedom From Welfare Dependency

R&L: What are the differences between the genders as articulated in your book Men and Marriage and what impact does this have on the social order?

Gilder: The key difference is that the woman holds in her very body a link to the long term future of the race. Her sexuality determines her long term goals. As a very physiological consciousness, she knows she can bear and nurture children. She has a central role in the very perpetuation of the species. The man is estranged from this process; his sexuality arises merely as a compulsive drive to pleasure. It’s short term by nature. It’s predatory and quickly gratified. The Women’s Movement tragically reduces female sexuality to the terms of male sexuality. When this happens, she reduces herself to the male...

The Economics of Sin Taxes

“Sin Taxes” are so called because they are levied on those commodities, such as tobacco and alcohol, which are the objects of widespread disapproval. “Such taxes,” Paul Samuelson says, “are often tolerated because most people–including many cigarette smokers and moderate drinkers–feel that there is something vaguely immoral about tobacco and alcohol. They think these ”sin taxes“ stun two birds with one stone: the state gets revenue, and vice is made more expensive.”

“Sin Taxes” is not a technical term in economics. They are simply a form of excise tax. What, then, is an excise tax? It is a tax levied on some but not on all commodities. This is how it differs from the general sales tax, which is levied on all products (with certain minor exceptions). This...

Zoning as a Threat to Religious Liberty

If you take for granted your attendance at the church on the corner, it may be a good time to stop. You are about to be introduced to what many believe has become the worst threat to religious liberty in America: local zoning laws.

In theory, zoning laws sound reasonable and those who back zoning regulations often have good intentions. However, the reality is that zoning controls are turning property rights, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of religion into mere concepts that can only be exercised at the whim of government officials.

Fairfax County, Virginia, is a case in point. “Reasonable” sounding zoning regulations have gotten so out of control in Fairfax that many congregations cannot build new sanctuaries or expand old ones. Other churches which are granted...

An Honor Well Deserved: Michael Novak

It is sometimes said that capitalism lacks poets. In twenty-five books and a career of lecturing and teaching all over the world, Michael Novak, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, had devoted much of his life to poetically explaining the crucial role of private initiative in public life. In doing so, he has roused the moral imaginations of scholars around the world.

His service in defense of freedom has now been duly recognized. Mr. Novak has joined the pantheon of recipients of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, a list which includes Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Billy Graham and Charles Colson. Novak is a most deserving honoree–for his work has been remarkably influential in Christian social teaching on economics.

In 1991, when...

Francisco Suarez

Durante el siglo XVI irrumpió en la escena política una mezcla de ideas profanas y sagradas caracterizadas por la aparición de la doctrina del Derecho Divino de los Reyes. A lo largo del norte de Europa, particularmente en Francia, los monarcas demandaban para sí mismos soberanía divina del mismo modo que la iglesia lo había hecho respecto a su autoridad moral divina. El resultado fue una divinización del Estado que permitió al monarca proclamar que no era responsable ante la iglesia ni ante los individuos, sino solamente ante Dios.

Francisco Suarez, en contra de defensores de este derecho divino como Jaime I de Inglaterra, defendió las instituciones sagradas en contra de la perversión secular que amenazaba la integridad tanto de la iglesia como...

Francisco Suarez

During the sixteenth century, a mixing of the profane and the sacred took place in the political scene characterized by the appearance of the doctrine of Divine Right of Kings. Throughout mostly northern Europe, and particularly in France, monarchs were demanding for themselves divine sovereignty just as the church had claimed divine moral authority. What occurred was a divinization of the state in which the monarch claimed to be answerable to neither church nor his subjects but to God alone.

Against such defenders of Divine Right, like King James I of England, Francisco Suarez sought to defend the sacred institutions against a...

The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII condemned socialism as contrary to nature, liberty, natural justice, and common sense; predicted its failure; and upheld private property, personal initiative, and natural inequality. Forty years later, Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno established social justice as a central concept in Catholic social teaching. This evolution culminated in John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (1991), which condemns socialism and the “social assistance state” and endorses a morally conscious capitalism. An accomplished phenomenological philosopher, author of the treatise The Acting Person, John Paul had long been impressed by “the human being’s most arresting characteristic: his or her capacity to originate action; that is, to imagine and to conceive of new things and then...

Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World

Why should it have been so hard to understand a writer who expresses himself with so little ambiguity? Or is it possible that his ideas were understood quite clearly but clearly hated, leading to futile attempts to discredit him? Ericson maintains his professional courtesies, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that intellectual confusion alone cannot account for the hatchet jobs done on the expatriate Russian writer.

Ericson quotes the socialist economist Robert Heilbroner to the effect that only the right–Friedman, Hayek, von Mises, and others of that sort–predicted with any degree of accuracy the outcome of the struggle between capitalism and socialism. Even the center expected the former to have increasingly serious problems and the latter to be the emerging economic system of the...

John Gray's Demolition Derby

The title of John Gray’s book could mislead some readers in the United States of America since “liberal” in England and Europe means the more or less coherent school of political thought wherein what is most important is the freedom of persons to govern themselves (as distinct from being governed by other persons). Government is established in societies to protect the right to this freedom. It is this negative right to liberty that the liberalisms of Gray’s book focus upon. He offers reflections on what might be problematic about the idea and what different liberals mean by and how they support it.

In the United States “liberal” refers to systems of government designed to coercively enable, empower or make provisions so that citizens obtain what they need to get on and succeed with their lives...

Capitalism, Religion, and the Free Society

R&L: I understand that your political views have evolved as a result of your study of history.

Johnson: This is true. It’s difficult for me sometimes to separate in my own mind the influence of my historical studies and my observation of the contemporary scene because the two are often intermingled. However, I did become more critical of collectivism in the 60s and early 70s as a result of my study of the ancient world. I learned that although in theory it might be possible to separate political from economic freedom as I once believed, so that you could restrict economic freedom and leave political freedom intact, I came to the conclusion that in fact the two were inseparable. And if you limited economic freedom, sooner or later you are bound to restrict political...

The People We Need

Edmund Burke spoke a great and noble truth when he observed that the kind of society and government a nation has is an accurate reflection of the character and intellect of the people who inhabit it. A corrupt, careless, sluggish people will have a government to match their ill nature. A social order that contains a significant number of citizens of probity, intelligence, energy and imagination will be represented by statesmen like the fifty-five men who sat themselves down in Philadelphia over two centuries ago and produced some of the fundamental documents of our unique civilization. We get the government we deserve; and by the same token, we tend to get the churches we deserve and the schools we deserve; and I suppose the same might be said of music and art and entertainment.

A conquered people may...