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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Rediscovering the Work Ethic

American workers have recently come in for some harsh criticism. Some of that criticism is justified, some is not. All of it lifts into view once again the question of the nature, meaning, and worth of work.

This subject is all the more important in a pleasure-oriented society–one that shirks work or, at any rate, mainly tolerates it for the sake of the material possessions and sensual pleasures it facilitates. For a growing number of human beings today work is an evil; one is to be envied if he or she gains its rewards by a winning lottery ticket, by peddling drugs, or by theft.

The other night I was chatting with a neighbor who had reason for complaint. He had rented his American home to others while he and his wife were abroad. The occupants reported that a bathroom...

On Moving the World

Every so often, an event occurs that stands as a monument to the continuing struggle for human freedom and serves as a reminder to all who work for liberty that even when success seems farthest from reach, they can make a difference. Whether it is the Boston Tea Party, the storming of the Bastille, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, or the assault on the Berlin Wall, such events are a vivid reminder that man has an undying desire to be free.

Of all these, however, there is one event that will stand alone as the simplest and yet most profound reminder not only of the universal desire for liberty but also of the power of a single individual. This event occurred on June 5, 1989, one day after the Chinese government massacred thousands of its own citizens in Tiananmen Square. As a column of tanks rolled down the...

Religion and the Welfare State

Earlier this year, when Michigan governor John Engler acted to fulfill his campaign promise to reduce the size of government and proceeded to eliminate 80,000 able-bodied General Assistance recipients from the roll, his most vocal critics were welfare advocacy groups headed by prominent mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic religious leaders.

Likewise, in the states of New Jersey, California and Wisconsin, where welfare reform is underway, clergy of various traditions have vocally and vehemently denounced as immoral any attempt to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor.” The flames in Los Angeles were hardly quenched before the Rev. Jesse Jackson was on national television calling for “a plan” that would, of course, involve greater state expenditures for more inner city programs.

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Not From Benevolence...

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the moral philosophy or economic theories of Adam Smith, it is difficult to deny that he is eminently quotable. Being eminently quotable, he is frequently quoted. Hence the familiarity of the following words:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interest.”

As a student of philosophy I tend to find “simple” questions more perplexing than “complex” problems. The allegedly “obvious” and “everyday” realities of our existence lead me to wonder. More often than not, I find the so-called problems obsessing the erudite to be little more than hair-splitting exercises in self-indulgence.

Hence a simple, perhaps simplistic, question....

Mediating Institutions

One of the most vital insights of modern social thought is the importance of mediating institutions–churches, schools, fraternal organizations, professional associations, and even clubs–for a free society. Not only are they effective, sometimes crucial, in providing services of all sorts, they are, as Tocqueville pointed out, a bulwark of freedom against the encroaching power of the state. The recognition of the consequence of these associations is especially significant for Americans because we have been particularly adept at forming them. As Tocqueville observed more than a hundred years ago, Americans “carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires.” While America has been very fortunate in the establishment of such institutions, perhaps surprisingly, another society not...

John Courtney Murray, S.J.

John Courtney Murray entered the Society of Jesus in 1920. He was ordained a priest in 1933 and received his doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome in 1937. Afterwards, he assumed the Jesuit theologate at Woodstock, Maryland, where he was a professor of theology until his death. Additionally, Murray edited the magazine America and the journal Theological Studies.

While Murray's academic specialties were the theology of grace and the Trinity, his major contributions were in public theology, especially concerning church, state, and society. His prevailing theme was the compatibility of American constitutionalism and Roman Catholicism. Indeed, according to...

Freedom in the Making of Western Culture

Freedom, the first of two planned volumes, is Patterson’s attempt to explain why one culture valued liberty while so many others did not. His effort is of particular interest, given how long it took for freedom–with the concomitant protection of democratic electoral processes, economic opportunity, and human rights–to finally advance in Africa, Asia, and the one-time Soviet empire.

Alas, Patterson’s ample research is undermined by his failure to clearly define freedom. Instead, he mixes three contradictory variants of the term.

One definition is most clearly identified with the Anglo, and American, political tradition: “personal freedom” from coercion by the state. It is “at its most elementary,” writes Patterson, “the sense that one, on the...

Toward Humane Governance

R&L: Let’s begin with a discussion of the distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, especially in light of the former becoming enfeebled. What should our stance be regarding the remaining authoritarian regimes?

Kirkpatrick: I always assume that democracy is the only good form of government, quite frankly, and democracy is always to be preferred. I think that it’s always appropriate for Americans and for American foreign policy to make clear why we feel that self-government is most compatible with peace, the well-being of people, and human dignity. We should make that clear and help to achieve it where we can. I don’t think that means that we ought to send troops around the world overthrowing governments, but I do believe that we ought to make...

An Evangelical Looks at Centesimus Annus, the Nature of Man, and Human Economy

There are good reasons to celebrate Centesimus Annus. Pope John Paul II’s blistering rejection of socialism and warm accolades for free enterprise should be trumpeted around the world–as indeed they have been.

In large part, however, the pope’s comments on socialism versus capitalism are merely the announcement of a judgment long since obvious to anyone who observed history with discernment. Nevertheless, I am excited about Centesimus Annus and see it, in one important respect, as on the cutting edge of economic thinking.

Why? Because it focuses on the nature of man, and not in terms of the Enlightenment idea of man as autonomous but in terms of the Biblical idea of man as fallen and sinful, yet still bearing the image of God and capable,...

Envy

Looming large among the vices constituting the Seven Deadly Sins is invidia, that is, envy. It belongs there. A human being infected by the virus of envy becomes a mean-spirited individual, incapable of heeding St. Paul’s admonition to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” The triumphs and good fortune of others elicit not pleasure but bitterness, a bitterness warping and twisting the soul.

Nearly five decades ago, Joseph Alois Schumpeter, an Austrian-born economist who became a permanent professor of Economics at Harvard University, penned a volume touching upon the evil that is envy. Entitled Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, the work analyzes the workings of a market economy with rare subtlety and sensitivity. The unprecedented success of such an economy in improving the material...

Hugo de San Víctor

"The pursuit of commerce reconciles nations, calms wars, strengthens peace, and commutes the private good of individuals into the common benefit of all."

Así escribió Hugo de San Víctor. Hugo (1096-1141) fue un canónico de la Abadía de San Víctor de París. Su elección vocacional es significativa en cuanto que los canónicos regulares formaban parte de un movimiento que buscaba recuperar el ascetismo de la Iglesia de los primeros tiempos y combinarlo con el servicio al prójimo en sus vecindarios. Su pequeña dimensión y las reglas flexibles les permitió realizar pequeñas donaciones para ser usadas en la administraci...

Ugo di San Vittore

Così scrisse Ugo di San Vittore. Ugo (1096-1141) fu un canonico dell’Abbazia di San Vittore a Parigi. La sua scelta vocazionale è significativa, in quanto i canonici facevano parte di un movimento che intendeva recuperare l’ascetismo della Chiesa dei primi tempi, combinandolo con il servizio al prossimo. La piccola dimensione e la regola flessibile consentirono loro di realizzare piccole opere poste al servizio della Chiesa: ospedali e scuole che normalmente venivano utilizzati da altri monasteri. Questa era la missione alla quale si dedicò Ugo.

Ugo arrivò a San...

Hugh of St. Victor

"The pursuit of commerce reconciles nations, calms wars, strengthens peace, and commutes the private good of individuals into the common benefit of all."

So wrote Hugh of Saint Victor. Hugh (1096-1141) was a canon regular at the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris. His choice of vocation is significant in that the canons regular were part of a movement that sought to recapture the asceticism of the early church and to combine that with service in their neighborhoods. Their small scale and flexible rule allowed them to put smaller benefactions to use in the administration of churches, hospitals, and schools than normally would have been utilized by larger and older monasteries. It was to that...

The Economic Problem in Biblical and Patristic Thought

“Due to the automation” of E.J. Brill’s “systems” (forsooth!) this remarkable book has been kept waiting nearly two years for a notice. I hope that it will now receive at long last the attention–and the sales–it deserves.

For more than twenty years, Christian economists (and non-economists), usually of an ‘evangelical’ persuasion, have been busy constructing ‘Christian’ or ‘biblical’ economics. The Bible is taken to be, or to contain, a set of instructions for ordering twentieth-century economic relations. With the aid of a little elementary textbook analysis we are informed that this or that economic policy–full employment, low interest rates, minimum wages, farm subsidies, and so forth–are or are not ‘Christian.’ Moreover...

Corporate Philanthropy

R&L: Capital Research Center recently published a study of patterns of corporate philanthropy in the United States. Could you give us a brief summary of that study?

Johnson: Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy is an annual study of corporate public affairs giving. Using the Forbes 250 listing of America’s largest corporations, it examines contributions to public policy groups–not traditional service charities, the arts, hospitals, etc.–because these groups increasingly determine the political, economic, and moral climate in which businesses and society must operate. In other words, these contributions are highly leveraged.

The study proves that America’s largest corporations continue to fail the tests both of...