Posts Tagged Progressive Movement

Have Faith in America: Calvin Coolidge on Restoring Confidence

Calvin CoolidgePresident Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.

Over at the Acton Institute, I contemplate how President Obama might go about reuniting the country, using President Calvin Coolidge’s famous speech, “Have Faith in Massachusetts,” as an example:

I’m currently reading President Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography, and in it, he describes a situation quite similar to our own. In the 1910s, Coolidge was a state senator in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, yet even in his local community, he witnessed severe conflict and division among his fellow citizens, including the now-famous “Bread and Roses” strike and the accelerating split in the Republican Party toward Teddy Roosevelt’s emerging progressivism

…It would be January of 1914 that Coolidge was sworn in as President of the Massachusetts Senate. He would now have a louder voice, along with more opportunity to change things: to face the tide of radicalism and class warfare and restore confidence and unity in the Commonwealth.

Coolidge responded by giving an inauguration speech for the ages (now known as “Have Faith in Massachusetts”), one that downplayed the power of government as the primary agent of cultural and economic change, avoided divisive distinctions of class, gender, or race, and instead elevated the redemptive, restorative power and potential of the human spirit. Instead of promoting a zero-sum view of human engagement, Coolidge emphasized and romanticized the type of cooperation and collaboration that the market provides and prosperity demands.

Here’s a sample of the speech:

This Commonwealth is one. We are all members of one body. The welfare of the weakest and the welfare of the most powerful are inseparably bound together. Industry cannot flourish if labor languish. Transportation cannot prosper if manufactures decline. The general welfare cannot be provided for in any one act, but it is well to remember that the benefit of one is the benefit of all, and the neglect of one is the Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

From Contract to Cooperation: In Family and in Business

Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse

The subject of contracts is not particularly sexy, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In one sense, we have come to ignore, downplay, or disregard the value of contracts. Across the world, we continuously see grand planners like Jeffrey Sachs trying to impose markets and social stability with the flick of their wands, paying little attention to cultural factors like trust and property rights or the institutions required to make contracts mean something. Similarly, here in America, our government seems increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or Foreclosed Billy and his bank.

Yet in other areas, we are overly contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. Our default setting as humans is to pursue the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward—to put in our 40 hours, shrug our shoulders, and say, “that’s that.” Take the recent union battles in Wisconsin, where protestors proudly insist that their gripes aren’t about the money, but rather, securing a specialized right to privilege and protection. If such an alarming display of entitlement and self-obsessed insulation-seeking isn’t adequate evidence of our new-found comfort level with legalistic, minimum-effort thinking and living, I don’t know what is.

Contracts certainly play an important role in ordering our affairs—as indicated in my preliminary jab at Mr. Sachs—but we mustn’t forget that they can only take us so far. We may indeed need to establish some minimums in our commitment-making (and enforce them accordingly), but that needn’t mean that the minimum is all we aim to achieve.

This is an issue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians consistently get tied up with, with our discussions consistently centering on words like “coercion,” “obligation,” “voluntaryism,” and all the rest. Yet in trying to understand the dynamics of these features, we must recognize the limits of such categories, lest our aforementioned human tendencies to carve out rationalistic legalistic frameworks impede or limit our thinking about responsibility and commitment to only involve rationalistic legalistic frameworks.

Here’s where that tricky little thing called “love” comes into play, for it so comprehensively breaks such propensities, and, in doing so, shatters the type of line-item, pseudo-rationalistic entitlement and selfishness that ultimately holds individuals back and consequently drags entire families and societies down into the muck.

If there’s one person who understands this, its economist Jennifer Roback Morse, whose book, Love & Economics, argues that love, particularly as encountered in marriage and parenting, helps to show our convenient political-theory buckets for what they are and teach us crucial lessons about how we are to view people and progress. “Familial relationships are not coercive in the usual sense, nor are they voluntary in the usual sense,” argues Morse.

Marriage may be “contractual” in certain ways, but Morse prefers to see it as a “partnership”—one filled with what she calls “radical uncertainty.” “Will we both remain healthy?” she asks. “Will we both continue to be employed at our current level of income and status? Will our needs change in ways we cannot fully predict?”

As Morse notes, a partnership reaches beyond our preferred and overly nit-picky me-vs.-them comparisons (see also: “love keeps no record of wrongs”), focusing more heavily on the we aspect and thus transforming our efforts to be in service of someone and something higher than ourselves:

Partnerships feature ongoing, joint decision making during the life of the relationship. In purely contractual relationships by contrast, the parties negotiate most, if not all, of the significant decisions prior to entering into the contract. In a partnership, the partners share responsibilities, decision-making, and risks…

 …In a partnership, both partners have enough at stake in the relationship that they have an incentive to do all the unstated but necessary things that can be known on the spot and in the moment. The contract is neither the end of the relationship nor the method for how the parties relate to one another.

Orienting our perspectives around we-centered uncertainty requires us to reject the type of liberal, me-centered Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 Comments

A Salvation Agenda: Rick Perry vs. the Religious Left

I have recently criticized Jim Wallis & Friends for their blind, cultish support of “programs focused on reducing” (a blurry category, to be sure), which, as they tell us, are integral to helping the “least of these” and doing “what God requires.”

Taking a different tack is Rick Perry, governor of Texas and the latest to join a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.

Over a week ago, Perry held a religious rally in Houston called “The Response,” in which he aimed to lead Americans to fast and pray for their country (“fascists!!”). Upon hearing about the event, I feared it could be a repeat of Glenn Beck’s fluffy relativism festival held last fall. But behold, Perry spoke directly and absolutely, cutting clear lines between church and state and not making any attempt to shy away from the name of Jesus.

“His agenda is not a political agenda,” Perry said. “His agenda is a salvation agenda.”

Watch the speech here:

In the weeks preceding, Perry garnered significant criticism from progressives everywhere, who strived to paint his beliefs as ridiculous (“prayer!? seriously?!”) and portray the event as a nasty conflation of politics and religion.

Oddly enough, Perry made the distinctions pretty clear:

He is a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party, or for that matter, he’s wise enough not to be affiliated with any man-made institutions. He’s calling all Americans of all walks of life to seek him, to return to him, to experience his love and his grace and his acceptance – experience a full-filled life, regardless of the circumstances.

I don’t mean this to be a full endorsement of Perry — he makes me nervous on federalism and corporatism — and I am not fully aware of his past when it comes to handling the intersection of politics and faith. But what he Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

Rescuing Social Justice: Individual Virtue, Association, and Hayek

What is social justice?

For some, it’s an ideal. For others, it’s a dream. For others — perhaps most — it’s a mere marker of ideological orientation.

For Michael Novak, however, the answer is none of the above. As he argues in a recent Bradley Lecture, social justice is a virtue, and if it is not, “its claim to moral standing falls flat. The rest is ideology.”

Watch it here:




Novak spends significant time outlining the misuses of the term (this is sorely needed), but eventually offers his own definition: “Social justice is a virtue of specific characters, skilled in forming associations for the larger purpose of benefitting human beings both near and far.”

(If that sounds familiar, you’re on to something.)

This virtue, Novak argues, is also a protection for society at large. Without it, we become like those French Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

The Harmony of Individual Interests: Discovering the Common Good

puzzle, community, individual, common goodThis week at Ethika Politika, I examine two distinct approaches to the common good, one of which thinks it can be dictated, and another of which thinks it must be discovered.

Using Michael Tomasky’s now-famous essay as a starting point, I examine the fundamental errors in assuming that the common good can be achieved by enacting pushy policies from the top down.

Here’s an excerpt:

…In Tomasky’s view, the common good is not something we should participate in or collaborate toward; rather, it is a god we should be “demanded” to serve. It is not a goal to pursue, a mystery to unravel, or a fight to win, but a preexisting plan to be enacted – a candyland of utopian perfectionism, ready and waiting to be implemented in full. No longer must we waste our time “cultivating conditions” for a moral society, for such an achievement only requires that a legion of properly informed elites step up to the task — followed, of course, by a nation of noble slaves, anxiously awaiting direction and correction from their masters on top of the hill.

An additional problem with Tomasky’s approach is his false dichotomy between individual and community interests.

The real tension, I argue, is between top-down direction and organic imperative:

For the progressive, being “asked to contribute to a project larger than ourselves” (Tomasky) is akin to being bumped into submission by the bureaucrat’s billy club. In the approach presented here, such demands come primarily through the guidance our personal journeys, community struggles, and, above all, our moral understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Whereas the top-downers believe that truth is already known and thus freedom is unnecessary, the bottom-uppers see a world in which truth must be actively pursued, with freedom being the only thing that will get us there.

I also point to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises along the way, whose “harmony of all individual interests” provides great support.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

What Would Jesus Cut: Jim Wallis and the Line-Item Gospel

Today at Values & Capitalism, I join a chorus of voices that have been responding to Jim Wallis’ recent “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign, in which he lays out Jesus’ preferred policy preferences in a cute little bulleted list (read more of his thoughts here).

In my critique, I focus on Wallis’ failure (or refusal) to address the actual economic arguments of the conservative evangelicals he disparages. In addition, I take a look at the narrow-minded view of the Gospel that results from such an approach.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rather than even consider whether conservative evangelicals might disagree with him on the actual success of such programs, Wallis skips past all of that, quickly stamping the “Love of God” label on his select list of Jesus-approved policies.

Wallis does not explain how bed nets will actually help the poor (as opposed to being sold on the black market, most likely for extra liquor). He does not explain how various social programs will actually alleviate poverty (as opposed to disintegrating family and creating slaves of the State). He does not explain why he thinks tax cuts for the rich will hurt the downtrodden (as opposed to helping them).

This unwillingness to even pay attention to the arguments of the opposing side is something I have come to see as common among progressive Christians. For many, if a policy is labeled as “pro-poor” it should simply be assumed to be effective. Any questioning of such policies is condemned as cumbersome at best and anti-Jesus at worst:

Rather than focus on the root economic disagreements and engage in deeper discussion, there is a tendency toward hasty advocacy of “action” on behalf of the poor, regardless of the real-world implications or results. Rather than talk about the earthly-realm implications of a higher-realm mission, or the actual Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments

Ecumenical Babel: Economic Ideology and the Church

Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness, Jordan BallorWhen we survey today’s global economic environment, there are few observations that all of us can agree on.

Here’s a start:

  • Gigantic transnational corporations are out of control, exploiting their workers and rendering consumers and governments powerless to their manipulative forces.
  • Venerable local cultures, along with their esteemed mom-and-pop shops, are under attack, besieged by an ever-homogenizing monster, eager to suck away their uniqueness and transplant it with Western saliva.
  • Economic globalization — the root of such evils — is fattening the pockets of the rich, emptying the pockets of the poor, and threatening earth’s most vital life support systems in the process.

On the whole, modern-day capitalism and free trade have resulted in rampant greed and moral depravity, leading society to sacrifice its most vulnerable members on an altar of economic neoliberalism.

Oh, and when I say that all of us can agree on this, I mean all of us Christians.

I wish I could say that the above rant was constructed from articles in the Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, or The New Republic. Unfortunately, it was compiled from ideas found in the recent proclamations of three major ecumenical organizations: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). (Yes, I did have a bit of fun with them.)

The problem, of course, is that all of us don’t agree — a point not lost on theologian Jordan Ballor, author of the new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

For Ballor, the ecumenical movement has become far too narrow in its ideological underpinnings and far too politicized in its public stances. Although its role should be focused on fostering church unity around a set of grounded beliefs, the movement’s overt participation in Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments

Giving and Government: Why Charity Belongs to Us

Offering plateDouglas Wilson recently posted a rather lengthy piece about tithes and offerings, in which he outlines a “brief theology of designated gifts.” I disagree with him on a few points, but for the most part it serves as a great resource for understanding the importance of giving, as well as the Biblical principles and instructions behind it.

Although Wilson doesn’t wade into the political realm, I think he offers some valuable lessons (or warnings) for those who think the government can or should serve as a vehicle for fulfilling our Christian calling to give.

From the social gospel of the Progressive Movement to the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, citizens and politicians have shown a fondness for using political economics to execute spiritual acts. Christian giving and government redistribution are incompatible on a number of levels, and we can see this through some of the core features Wilson highlights. Based on his post, I have built a list of essential components of Christian giving that cannot remain intact with a government takeover.

1. Giving must be voluntary. Although government and taxes may be necessary, we should not assume that any sort of coercive redistribution can somehow replace our responsibility to give. Here is Wilson on the importance of giving freely:

Give, and it will be given to you again (Luke 6:38). This is a foundational Christian principle. The foundational Christian principle is not “make sure others give,” or “make sure others give the right amounts or in the right way.” Parishioners should in fact be taught how to give the right way, but they should be taught this largely by example (Heb. 13:7,17) … [W]e are commanded to give freely because we have received freely. Further, as we give freely, more will be given. Give and it will be given to you.

2. Giving should be a lesson in faith and trust. If our charity is co-opted by government programs, we are stricken with a stifling form of security — one that prevents us from depending wholly on God’s provision and blessing. Here is Wilson on the matter:

The giver of the tithe is trusting God. “How do I know that God will bless the remaining 90%?” So also must the recipient of the tithe learn to trust God. “How do we know if God will continue to finance the work we have to do, unless we Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments