Freedom

Home/Freedom

How Could Tyranny Destroy Our Democracy?

Political scientists and historians are increasingly expressing profound concerns about the future of democracy in the West. I have been asking, as an amateur historian of America, “How and why do democracies die?”

The study of democratic backsliding, though around for a long time, is becoming more urgent as we watch events unfold so rapidly it creates deep concern in many of us. In the mid-2000s, the global spread of democracy, after 200 years of expansion, clearly began to stall. Perhaps it was the Iraq War and the events in the Middle East but however we understand what happened since 9/11 populist movements in the West began to arise and grow in number. This new form of Western populism, joined with a growing passion for nationalism and a seriously distorted form of exceptionalism, are now impacting America on a daily basis. This feels a lot like something we’ve seen before, in other places, but I do not think mosts of us are paying attention.

This new expression of Western populism bears more than a passing resemblance to Latin American populist waves that turned authoritarian very quickly. (Perhaps this

Breach of Trust: Has Our U.S. Policy Lost Its Way?

Our American commitment to perpetual war now seems fairly self-evident. We have been engaged in some kind of military conflict, almost without significant pause, since the end of the Vietnam War. Our current military action in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the wider Middle East) is nearing fifteen years and there is virtually no reason to see a real (final) end in sight with the election of an aggressive military advocate now in the White House. The president is surrounded by generals who believe in the goals and commitments of our present time in military history and thought the strategic use of force might change I am not convinced it will bed for the better. Let me explain.

Warmongers and militarists talk about bombing North Korea, or at least increasing our presence on their border, if necessary. They also talk about intervening in the Syrian civil war. We continually talk about “defeating ISIS” by “bombing the hell out of them” through using the full power of our vast military power to destroy them, a prospect that has

Reading Maya Angelou

IMG_5286I owe a debt of profound gratitude to my friend Vill Harmon (second from left in this photo with my good friends and two ACT3 board members). Vill is the secretary in the office of Ecumenical and Interreligious for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In July (2015) Vill and I shared a conversation about our background, especially in terms of race and the South. Vill is African-American, and a great friend. I have come to cherish her advice and joyful spirit. When Vill encourages me to think about my past, and the present issue of race in America, I try to listen. In July she told me I should read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), written by the famous Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014). (Maya’s first name came from her brother Bailey when she was a child.)

9780812980028Maya Angelou was an author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of

Faith Energized By Love

UnknownAs I have been reading and writing on love for more than thirteen months now I am awestruck by so much that is transforming my own  life.

Here is but one example. A Pauline text that has deeply moved me can be read in Galatians 5:1-6:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law.  You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love

ISIS and the Importance of Christian-Muslim Relations in the US (Guest Blog)

tom_ryanThe recent 9/11 anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. also brought with it, especially in light of the present actions of ISIS/ISIL , memories of the backlash against Muslim and even Sikh communities on our own continent. Those memories underline how important it is to build relationships with people of other faiths — especially in our efforts to help those who are the victims of such violence and to seek together the common goal of peace.

The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said as much when it reasserted their commitment to dialogue with other religions and Muslims in particular in a statement released August 19. The committee listed tensions between Christians and Muslims in different parts of the world as a primary reason for reaffirming the need for dialogue.

“We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad,” the bishops wrote. “Along

July 4 – Enjoying Freedom With Caution

UnknownI love my country. I believe that true patriotic love for one’s home and nation is a wonderful emotion. I am troubled, however, by a continual insistence that a certain ideology is tantamount to true patriotism. This ideology grows stronger the more polarized we become in our public life. This ideology is also antithetical to the kingdom of Christ yet it easily gets linked with celebrations like July 4. Balanced and healthy Christian patriotism is not blind nor is it silent.

I saw a T-shirt last night at a baseball game which said: “In God We Trust. Deal With It.”

I wanted to ask the wearer what this meant but I was trying to relax, not start a debate. Something about it really bothered me. If, for whatever reason, I do not believe “In God We Trust” should be a national motto on our coins and in other parts of our reigning opinion then I have only one choice: “Deal With It.” So much for my freedom.

What if a person loves their country but sees flaws in it that are harmful

The Carter Years and the Bankruptcy of Bad Economic Ideas

Unknown-2The Carter years profoundly convinced Michael Novak of the bankruptcy of his previous economic ideas. While Novak explains Carter’s personal love for Jesus Christ as genuine, and easily misunderstood, he rightly separates the good heart of the man from some of his very bad ideas about what makes for a free and prosperous society. During the Carter years Novak’s own views were taking new shape. He was writing more about economics and making new friends globally. When Ronald Reagan was elected the president in November of 1980 he asked Michael Novak, lifelong Democrat, to become his ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights. After a time in Geneva Novak returned home but then was sent back again in 1982. This work had an immense impact on Novak’s view of the world.

Novak’s new friends, which he cultivated in the late 1970s, began to gravitate to his home for meals and thus came into his personal life as confidants. These friends included Fr. Robert Sirico, Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, Mort Kondracke, Ben Wattenberg, Irving Kristol, George Weigel, Henry

Michael Novak: On Forming Good Intellectual and Spiritual Habits

Unknown-1Michael Novak, not to be confused with the late conservative journalist Robert Novak, has been (rightly I believe) described as “one of the world’s most influential social philosophers.” He has played a number of prominent roles in American life, ranging from advising candidates and presidents to teaching and writing on the ethics of the free market and welfare reform. He has taught at Harvard and Stanford and he has held academic chairs at Notre Dame and Syracuse. He was also one of the early leaders of the American Enterprise Institute, an influential think tank. In 1994 Novak won the Templeton Prize (it has been called the Nobel Prize for the life of the spirit), a prize also won by men like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Charles Taylor. His writings have been translated into every major Western language as well as Chinese and Japanese.

One thing that separates Novak from many intellectuals, and elected leaders, is his genuine civility and humility. His thought is clear and he is willing to allow facts to challenge

Michael Novak’s Liberal Origins and Friendships

UnknownYesterday I gave an overview of Michael Novak’s superb new memoir, Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative (Image: New York, 2013). For me, a teenage in the 1960s, this wonderful memoir seems like a political and economic account of an extraordinary life well-lived through a time of social and political turbulence, the times in which I was coming of age and growing older.

Walter Isaacson, the former managing editor of TIME, and certainly no social or political conservative, says, “Whether or not you always agree with him, you will see in this book why Michael Novak is considered one of our most profound thinkers on the relationship between democracy, capitalism, and freedom. The memoir of his intellectual odyssey is both a compelling personal narrative and a provocative intellectual history of our times” (italics are mine, taken from the back jacket of the book). Another intriguing endorsement, one which reveals why I like Novak as a person and as an intellectual of deep importance, comes from Tom Fox, the publisher and former editor of

The Brave New World and the Building of Democracies

Unknown-1Political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, that “mankind’s ideological evolution” was complete in Western liberal democracy, a form of democracy which is now “the final form of human government.” So much for a theory that lasted for less than a half of one generation.

Joshua Kurlantzick, in his book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government (Yale, 2013), says the last decade is best characterized by a broad swath of nations embroiled in internal strife and the decline of democracy.

Kurlantzick describes protests in Thailand that led to the fall of its elected government in 2006 followed by an almost continuous violence between the middle classes and the poor ever since. He tells of social and electoral chaos in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malawi, Kenya, Venezuela, and in various countries in Eastern Europe and, of course, in the Middle East. The aborted “Arab Spring” has done little to fundamentally change the region. As economic problems arise globally far more people