Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Acton Institute and Rev. Robert Sirico

My good friend Bill Lifka, and his wife Alice, invited me and a couple dozen other residents of The Villages, FL, to a nice dinner and a great talk by the Rev. Robert Sirico, pictured above. He is the President of the Acton Institute for the study of religion and liberty, which is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

See Wikipedia for more about Rev. Sirico. Here is a pithy selection that I found interesting:

In 1990, in response to what he saw as an insufficient understanding of economics by religious leaders and the religious isolation of business leaders, Sirico founded the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids. With the motto "connecting good intentions with sound economics," the institute provides a vision of free market economics within a Judeo-Christian moral framework.[3] In Sirico's words:
The essential thing was my frustration when I was in seminary ... to hear homilies preached that inevitably insulted business people. I knew this was a serious error both theologically and pastorally. Theologically, because of the moral bankruptcy of socialism as an ideology. But pastorally because it alienated good people who were working and attempting to participate in the Christian mission

I did not take notes during the talk, but here are a few highlights as I remember them. (I take responsibility for any errors or distortion of Father Sirico's message.)

He began by imagining that all the wealth in the World could be divided equally among all the people in the World, which he estimated would be about $13,000 per man, woman, and child.

OK, but what would happen on the next day? The wealth of the World is not simply money and goods that could be so divided, but is mostly represented by the monetary value of investments in business enterprises, which would cease operation if so distributed. The day after such a distribution, the engines of production of goods and services would grind to a halt, most jobs would vanish, and the standard of living would permanently decline.

That, in essence, is the problem with much of the socialist-oriented big government rhetoric many voters find appealing. Europe is a decade or two ahead of the US along this road to ruin.

Midway through his talk, Sirico asked if anyone knew the famous quote, regarding power, from the namesake of the Acton Institute, Lord Acton. I spoke up, saying I had not looked it up, but I thought it was "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." I was close, but was corrected for having left out two important words. The actual quote is "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He noted that he had similarly corrected Lady Thatcher's recollection of that famous quote, and I was proud to be in such grand company.

A question and answer session followed the talk and some of the topics included the possibly socialistic tendencies of Pope Francis, the danger of the ascendancy of Donald Trump in the Republican Presidential Primary contest, the power of new technology, including cable-TV and the internet, in breaking the earlier monopoly of the three major TV networks over news, and a number of other controversial areas. I found myself in general agreement with Father Sirico. (Like me, he was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.)

THANKS to Bill and Alice Lifka for an enjoyable evening in their beautiful, warm, and comfortable home. Bill Lifka is the author of a number of postings on this blog (see here),

Here are my favorite quotes from Lord Acton, selected from the extensive Archive on the Acton Institute website:
“Free trade, to improve the condition of the people and fit them for freedom.”
“Liberty has not only enemies which it conquers, but perfidious friends, who rob the fruits of its victories: Absolute democracy, socialism.”
“The object of civil society is justice, not truth, virtue, wealth, knowledge, glory or power. Justice is followed by equality and liberty.”
“Inequality: the Basis of society. We combined and put things in common to protect the weak against the strong.”
“Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.”
“Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power.”
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”
“If we dealt with institutions, antiquity would be low. It realized no liberty. But in the domain of ideas it ranks high.”
“The central idea of Machiavelli is that the state power is not bound by the moral law. The law is not above the state, but below it.”
“For it is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy...were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.”
“A liberal is only a bundle of prejudices until he has mastered, has understood, experienced the philosophy of Conservatism.”
“The will of the people cannot make just that which is unjust.”
“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.”
“The common vice of democracy is disregard for morality.”
“Federalism is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.”
“Socialism easily accepts despotism. It requires the strongest execution of power -- power sufficient to interfere with property.”
“Property, not conscience, is the basis of liberty. For the defence of conscience need not arise. Property is always exposed to interference. It is the constant object of policy.”
“Official truth is not actual truth.”
“Political economy cannot be supreme arbiter in politics. Else you might defend slavery where it is economically sound and reject it where the economic argument applies against it.”
“Every doctrine to become popular, must be made superficial, exaggerated, untrue. We must always distinguish the real essence from the conveyance, especially in political economy.”
“There could never be a revolution less provoked by oppression than America. Thenceforth the right of a nation to judge for itself could not be denied.”
“Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”
“In England Parliament is above the law. In America the law is above Congress.”
“The great novelty of the American Constitution was that it imposed checks on the representatives of the people.”
“Progress, the religion of those who have none.”
“It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than people fit to govern others.”
“A public man has no right to let his actions be determined by particular interests. He does the same thing as a judge who accepts a bribe. Like a judge he must consider what is right, not what is advantageous to a party or class.”
“A convinced man differs from a prejudiced man as an honest man from a liar.”
“The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded.”
“The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.”
“There is another world for the expiation of guilt; but the wages of folly are payable here below.”

Ira Glickstein

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