Book Review of Wendell Berry and Higher Education by Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro

Review by Lloyd Conway

What can teachers and practitioners of public administration learn from a book coming from an English department on the works of an agrarian novelist?

Public administrators may not seem like the ideal audience for a work examining what the writer Wendell Berry has to say about higher education, but his call for the academy to abandon the “unknown tongue” of academic jargon and to re-engage place—community, locality, the concrete realities immediately outside the ivory tower—ought to find willing hearers among those who labor in the care of the public squares of our communities.

His acknowledged debts to Buddhism aside, Berry’s worldview is (like that of the authors, and of this reviewer) decidedly Christian. One need not share it, however, to appreciate a commitment to an order that is holistic and ecological in the fullest sense, one not beholden to the dictates of market-driven capital.

Berry’s concern for place in the face of a cultural gravitational field pulling ambition, talent, and achievement into the orbits of wealth and power around our political and economic capitals echoes other “third way” public intellectuals, like Lewis Mumford, Ivan Illich, Jane Jacobs, James Howard Kunstler, E. F. Schumacher, and even Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. The writers in this tradition criticized a centralizing capital-driven system answerable to nothing but the relentless, limited logic of the market. That tradition can inform us, as teachers and practitioners of public administration, and it can help us maintain a dialogue with our colleagues about what our schools’ missions should be and how we can better integrate our disciplines to imbue our students and our research with a purpose that has meaning for the places we inhabit. Baker and Bilbro (85–86) offer examples of colleges that practice disciplines that tie classroom education to work and service. At Berea College and the College of the Ozarks, students literally work their way through school, earning their tuition through campus employment. They become part of the life and health of their places.

The term “academic placemaking” best describes how Baker and Bilbro portray Wendell Berry’s vision of a reformed academy, and it is aligned with the service ethos of public administration. Aside from programs whose focus is national or international, our programs train generations of students whose careers will focus on service to place, often just one place, for their working lives. This book speaks to that service ethos. It also ought to be of use in shaping conversations with practitioners of other academic disciplines about what mission focus our common homes ought to embrace. As Baker and Bilbro put it, by learning “how to serve our places rather than our careers—and by articulating the kinds of imagination, language, and practices that might lead to an education in service of place—we also hope to educate our students to be virtuous members of their communities rather than technically proficient migratory servants of the industrial economy.”(198)

Berry’s writing centers, according to Baker and Bilbro, on the four responsibilities—fidelity, gratitude, memory, love—that all of us owe to our places. These express themselves in rootedness, service, responsibility, and plain speaking, as opposed to euphemistic jargon that obscures what it ought to depict. This writer can empathize with the last point, as it brings to mind an example from work: a “Quarterly Layoff Activity Report” re-christened the “New Labor Market Entrants Report” to sanitize the reality of lost employment for the report’s audience.

In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned against the corrupting influence of federal funding on higher education’s academic freedom. Berry writes in a similar vein when cautioning against the seduction of research for research’s sake, whatever the funding source, without regard for the consequences stemming from the use of what may be discovered along the way. Berry echoes Eisenhower’s concern that “a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity,” and “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological élite.” The result is the same: research without limits, without regard for consequences, and without concern for the side-effects of the process itself. In this, Berry’s writings sound a theme similar to that of former Vice-President Al Gore in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, seeing the defect of our current intellectual state as a deficiency in what T. S. Eliot called the “ecology of cultures,” stemming from the centuries-old Western mind-body split in consciousness and action.

Taking the analysis further, one could say that Berry echoes Oswald Spengler’s observations about Western (“Faustian”) civilization when he refers to the spirit of our age as “curious” to have knowledge for its own sake, as opposed to the classical sense of knowledge as wisdom, an attitude described as “studious”. A “curious” attitude cares not for consequences, neither stemming from its discoveries nor from how they come about, directly or indirectly; side-effects like environmental degradation are peripheral concerns, at best. Faustian civilization has been intellectually “curious” since Bacon. Knowledge for its own sake and the power it brings, rather than for faith or service, is a sickness of purpose in Berry’s eyes. (Baker & Bilbro, 177, quoting from “The Unsettling of America”):

“Who so hath his mind on taking hath it no more on what he hath taken.”

Montaigne

This book may well prompt its readers to ask themselves and their communities: “Do we participate in or do we exploit our places”? The question, and the answers it conjures, ought to be the stuff of meaningful dialogue on the place service has in our work and how our work serves the places we inhabit.


Lloyd A. Conway, originally from Detroit, Michigan, is a retired veteran of the Army & National Guard, was a civil servant for twenty years, and has been an adjunct teacher at Spring Arbor University for the past twenty years. Mr. Conway previously served on the city council of Charlotte, Michigan, and chaired the Planning Commission. He holds degrees from Excelsior College, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University, and Eastern Michigan University. He is married to a fellow teacher and has five adult children. They reside in Lansing, Michigan.

Member Perspective: Is Health Care A Right?

by Catherine Collingwood

The American Solidarity Party’s platform refers to universal health care as a right. That’s quite the assertion, and it’s not a universal American belief. After all, why should the services of health-care providers—who spend an enormous amount of time and money developing their skills—be something that all people can demand for any reason, regardless of whether they can pay a fair price?

It’s a valid question. There’s an equally valid answer. In fact, there are two of them.

The first reason is rooted not in the ASP’s platform but rather in the United States’ own founding documents. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental human rights. We find this same idea in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Consider the nature of disease itself: even the common cold often challenges our pursuit of happiness. It saps our energy, often proves costly, and undermines our social contribution. In fact, a 2002 National Institutes of Health study showed that the common cold accounts for nearly $25 billion annually in direct and indirect costs to the economy. Based on the 2002 population, that translates to approximately $87 per American—or more than two full days of minimum-wage pay—regardless of age, social status, or ability to work.

If the cost of a cold is so high, consider how much more expensive a complex condition like heart disease or cancer will be. What happens then to the “pursuit of happiness”? Shouldn’t our work contribute toward realizing our full potential instead of just trying to overcome the costs of a health condition we didn’t choose?

We should also consider that human dignity and the whole-life approach mean that people are much more than mere economic units. The ASP was “founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

A Google search on human dignity in health-care environments returns more results than any one person could ever read. Left untreated (or inadequately treated), many health conditions threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the human person. Treatments aren’t always that much better, but they at least carry the hope of restoring health to the person who receives them.

This leads us to the second reason, the one that’s related to the ASP’s platform: if human dignity is an inherent right, we have to include universal access to health care in that right. That applies even for those who might not have the economic means to pay for it.

Without access to affordable health care, a person’s life is adversely affected and can even be cut short. That’s definitely not realizing that person’s full potential and can’t be reconciled with the idea of a whole-life approach. In fact, that’s why the ASP promotes a plethora of ideas concerning universal health care: everything from single-payer initiatives to direct primary-care programs.

In addition, given that the Declaration of Independence states that the government has a duty to protect fundamental rights, it follows that ensuring universal health-care access is the government’s job. We might debate which level of government bears the primary responsibility for this duty, and we can also debate how we should go about doing it, but the ultimate goal remains ending “exploitation of the captive audience of patients.” Providing universal health-care access is a critical step in ensuring that all Americans have the freedom and respect they deserve.


Catherine Collingwood has worked with group health insurance plans since 1999, both as a compensation and benefits specialist in an HR office, and in her current position as a group life and health agent/account manager. Her personal blog is located at https://collingwest.blog.

Member Perspective: Why I Marched

By Grace Aldershof

While the American Solidarity Party had marchers at pro-life rallies from coast to coast, no march was more controversial than the March for Life in Washington D.C. For the first time in the 47 year history of the world’s largest pro-life event, a sitting president addressed the crowd in person. Unfortunately, the president was Donald Trump. Measured against our values, this president is a real dud. Several friends and acquaintances seemed horror struck by my choice to attend the March for Life this year, since they viewed it as a part of Trump’s reelection campaign or as a Republican rally. Why would I, a Solidarist, carry my small children through a noisy crowd of Trump supporters in the middle of January? Let me explain.

The short answer is that I marched for the same reason I have marched for many years: to demand that our country outlaw the slaughter of preborn children. But this year, I’ll admit that I had to consider the message I would be sending. I would never want to bolster a president who has goaded our international enemies, enabled those who wish to ravage our environment, set himself as an enemy of social justice and, frankly, has not been a consistent ally of the unborn. Ultimately, though those are great reasons not to attend a Trump rally, they are not great reasons to skip the March for Life.

The March for Life mission statement speaks of “uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people in the public square.” On the whole, the March has been successful in uniting the cause. I saw bishops marching alongside atheists, right-wingers shoulder to shoulder with left-wingers, and personalities who would mix like gasoline and a match under normal circumstances unite to protect the rights of the unborn. Speakers have included Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, as well as folks who defy categorization. Looking at our group, as well as our friends from Rehumanize International and Consistent Life Network with whom we rallied, nobody would assume we were Trump voters. In fact, we carried signs advocating for someone else to be President. But when we marched together, we gave people an image of the breadth of people who want to end abortion and the unstoppable force which we can be when we mobilize for the preborn.

Moreover, I march to show I am unwilling to cede the pro-life movement to the Republican Party. I advocate for letting the light of a whole life ethic into every sector of society. Many of us have been avidly following the Democratic primary, gauging Brian Carroll’s competition for the presidency, and there we see the effects of giving up on a group of people. When we had people like Denis Kucinich in Congress, I might have been comfortable being a Democrat, and even the pro-abortion Democrats were comfortable nuancing their views. Now it would be radical for a Democrat to support any restriction on abortion at any point in pregnancy. Both Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigeig have been asked if the party ought to be open to pro-lifers and have used a few sentences to essentially say ‘no’. This is the fruit of abandoning the Democrats to the abortion lobby. And, of course, if it is only the Republican party that even gives lip service to the cause, it doesn’t have to have good leaders to earn the pro-life vote. No, I won’t be pressured by Democrats to vote for whomever they nominate in order to stop Trump and promote ecological and social justice; nor will I be pressured by Republicans to abandon my values to end abortion.

So when we unseat President Trump, I’ll be pleased as punch to scream my head off in the front row in support of President Carroll. But even if we don’t, I’ll be there next year and the following until the day that abortion is illegal in every corner of the United States of America.

On the Proposed Changes to SNAP

By Shane Hoffman and Sarah Schaff

The American Solidarity Party, as part of its commitment to a comprehensive pro-life agenda, calls for “laws that facilitate authentic human freedom and ensure that all people have access to everything they need to thrive.” Currently, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is part of our social safety net. SNAP, popularly known as food stamps, is a key element in assisting the most needy in our society to get nutritious food into their homes when they might not otherwise have the means to do so. The elderly, the disabled, people who have had a family emergency and are temporarily unable to work, and those who have suffered job loss all benefit from this program.

What kind of reach does SNAP have? Last year, 40 million low-income Americans received SNAP benefits—that is 12% of the country’s population. Eligibility for this program has always been determined by income, using the federal poverty guidelines. Those rules allow for families earning up to 130% of the federal poverty guidelines to apply. For a family of four, that means an annual income of $33,480 or less. The goal of SNAP is to enable families to stretch their food dollars and to ensure that local grocery stores and farmer’s markets are able to sell their wares and their surplus. This program was meant to be a win-win across the country: for farmers, for small business owners, for grocery stores, and for those in need.

The current SNAP guidelines allow families to choose nutritious foods to supplement their existing food budget. This program does not pay for the purchase of alcohol or tobacco, nor does it subsidize the purchase of non-edible items, such as pet food or paper towels. It is a program meant to help families obtain wholesome, nutritious foods when they simply can’t afford it, and addresses the types of hunger and poverty that were witnessed in our country as recently as the 1980s. The proposed changes announced this year will drastically reduce eligibility across the board, meaning that millions of families stand to lose their SNAP benefits in a few months. While the benefits may disappear, hunger doesn’t. Although compassion and recognition of the intrinsic value of all human beings would argue against the proposed cuts, there are also more practical reasons to oppose these changes.

The consequences of hunger and food insecurity are lifelong. In schools, it is more difficult for hungry children to learn and succeed. Children who are food-insecure often display behavioral issues, which impede their progress in the classroom. Research has shown that food-insecure households have higher rates of hospitalization. Lower literacy rates and behavioral issues are correlated with higher levels of incarceration later in life, so it is easy to see how food insecurity contributes to problems for an entire community. Food insecurity early in life has also been shown to be an indicator for drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and Type 2 diabetes. By doing the right thing and spending money now to make sure our friends and neighbors—especially our children—are able to access healthy and nutritious meals, we can save money down the road on prisons, health care, lost productivity, and more.

In practical terms, the proposed cuts would impact the poor in the following ways:

  • 1.9 million families (over 3 million people) stand to lose eligibility for SNAP.
  • Capping the deduction of utility costs from income that a client may take in order to meet eligibility requirements mean that more people will be forced to choose between eating and heating their homes in the winter.
  • States will no longer be able to opt out of the rule that requires eligible households to have no more than $2,250 in cash or savings—unless disabled or over 60, after which the limit is raised to a mere $3,500—which makes it almost impossible to save for an emergency or large purchase.
  • States lose the right to extend benefits to families who are working and earn slightly above the poverty guidelines, but have large child-care costs and need assistance.
  • Perhaps the greatest shame of all is that an estimated one million children will lose access to free and reduced-price lunches at school, as well as to summer meals provided through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program—possibly the only meals they get each day.

We must call upon our elected representatives to oppose these changes. As members of the American Solidarity Party, we should recognize that the proposed changes are a breach of the public trust and an abrogation of our solemn duty to protect the neediest among us. We acknowledge the intrinsic human dignity of all people, and thus believe that individuals should not be forced to make choices between heating their homes and feeding their children, between saving for an emergency and putting food on the table.

Beyond our moral obligation to care for our fellow human beings, these benefits are an investment in our economy. The pennies we spend today providing assistance to those in need come back to us in measurable outcomes down the road. As such, members of the American Solidarity Party must stand firmly against the proposed SNAP rule changes. I urge you to contact your federal representatives before the extended period of comment on this change ends on November 1, 2019.

To formally comment on the proposed changes to SNAP, follow this link:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FNS-2018-0037-16542

 

The American Solidarity Party at the Catholic University of America

By Sean McCarthy

During the 2016 presidential election season, I was deeply distressed by the dominant parties. As a Catholic, I found myself unable to support either party in good conscience. The Republicans, despite their supposed acceptance of the dignity of the unborn, elevated a veritable demagogue, exacerbating all of their worst tendencies and positions. The Democrats, despite their commitment to social justice and their acceptance of the evidence of environmental crises, refused to acknowledge the human dignity of the unborn and seemed increasingly hostile to any religion that refused to submit to the demands of postmodern secularism. I became aware of the American Solidarity Party through Facebook, and quickly became a member, finding in it a party where my convictions could remain whole rather than torn and fragmented. 

I felt that as a student (currently in my sixth year in the combined MA/PhD Philosophy program), I could contribute to the party by founding a campus chapter at the Catholic University of America. I proceeded to gather the minimum number of members and to recruit the necessary faculty advisor. By the end of the fall semester, after explaining the vision of the party to those in charge of campus organizations, we were able to establish the chapter. 

I mainly relied on like-minded friends to help me in the beginning, especially Niklas Rodewald, a Marist seminarian. I recall hosting the first of many open houses, events that proved to be disappointing in turnout (altogether I have had two people come to such events, one of whom is now the chapter’s vice president). I intended all along to recruit undergraduate students, in the hope that they would take over and sustain the organization into the future. 

During the spring semester of 2017, I sought ideas for events aligned with our vision. Every year during the month of March, CUA celebrates Women’s History Month by encouraging student organizations to recognize women and host various events. I realized that this would be an ideal occasion for the chapter to honor Dorothy Day with an event. From what I knew of her at the time, she lived a life that defied categorization into typical liberal and conservative boxes, as she was profoundly and holistically pro-life. This idea would turn into an annual event that has happened three times and of which I am especially proud: The Legacy of Dorothy Day. 

That first year, I  connected with Dr. Zena Hitz from St. John’s College, Tim Keating of the Society of Mary, and Art Laffin of the Catholic Worker house in Washington, D. C.. They came and offered profound, authentic, and moving reflections from their own experience of being shaped by Day’s legacy. Art has been my most enduring speaker, sharing his wisdom during each of the three events. Like Day, he seems to never turn down an invitation to speak. Last year, we were joined by Dr. Margaret Laracy of Communion and Liberation, an organization that had presented an exhibit on Dorothy Day at their yearly event in New York City. This past March, Art delivered introductory remarks before we watched “Don’t Call Me a Saint,” an excellent documentary made by Claudia Larson about Dorothy Day.

I’ll offer two reflections from my experience hosting these events. First, as Day understood, even the smallest beginnings can lead to profound change through faith, hope, and love. The events drew a handful of people and did not make an enormous splash on campus. Nevertheless, we began a tradition that has impacted various people and shapes our identity and mission on campus. As Day wrote, “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Second, the people most impacted by the events might be those who are engaged in presenting them. In other words, as Flannery O’Connor put it, “The life you save may be your own.” In planning, arranging, hosting, and offering introductory remarks at each of the events, I have gained experience in what is involved in carrying out successful events. I have been shaped through these experiences to become a better leader of the group on campus. More importantly, though, this work required that I give sustained and intensive focus to the life of Dorothy Day, a person whose life is truly worth remembering and emulating in the twenty-first century, as it embodied passionate commitment to a consistent ethic of life. By focusing on such a saintly witness, I was affected for the better. 

In addition to these events, we’ve also hosted two events highlighting the consistent life ethic. One of these involved remembering Ben Salmon, the Catholic pacifist who was imprisoned, beaten, and force-fed for refusing to participate in World War I. In this case, I was contacted by certain pacifist activists who thought my organization would be congenial to their mission, and I mostly agreed that it was (notwithstanding our acceptance of just war theory). I was made a little uncomfortable, however, by the protest that occurred afterwards, featuring Buddhist monks beating drums, a man calling through a megaphone for repentance for America’s sins, and slow marching through campus to the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the building for the Archdiocese for the Military Services! The other event consisted of me interviewing John Whitehead on what a consistent ethic of life is. This event was far more peaceful and agreeable and ranged over a variety of issues connected to a consistent life ethic, including John’s special expertise in war and peace issues. I made sure to include other issues like poverty and immigration. Hopefully, this can be an event that is repeated multiple times. 

This past year I was joined by the most promising recruit of the organization so far, Ally Kilgore, a rising junior at Catholic University, who is an outstanding student and one of her class’s senators. Despite this modest but clear success, I was confronted with a troubling development once the summer began. The office of campus activities had determined that all political organizations besides the two affiliated with the major parties and one other organization dedicated to open discussion would no longer be recognized. As you can imagine, I was distraught and indignant. I proceeded to e-mail those in charge, challenging their explanations, and when this was unsuccessful, I pleaded my case to higher authorities on campus, who decided that I should meet in person with the individual in charge of campus organizations. I finally met with this man a few weeks ago and had a very affable yet forceful conversation, which succeeded in persuading him that the American Solidarity Party ought to be recognized on the campus of Catholic University. This was established for two reasons: first, that our vision cannot be fragmented and distributed among the two dominant parties, as our seamless garment approach is holistic; second, unlike certain other third parties that tend towards radical positions in the eyes of the university, we are deeply aligned with the school’s vision and mission, since we are so thoroughly informed by Catholic social teaching. Indeed, as I have said many times to people when introducing the organization, our party is deeply aligned with the vision of Pope Francis, who, as Charlie Camosy argues, is at the cutting edge of Catholic social teaching. 

I hope that as we go forward in what will undoubtedly be another dramatic election season, we will succeed in showing more people that there is another way, that those who embrace the dignity of all human life from beginning to end do not need to be single-issue voters, but can find a home where a consistent ethic of life reigns. 

Distributism Basics with John Médaille

John Médaille is a retired businessman and, for the last fifteen years, an adjunct instructor at the University of Dallas, where he teaches the courses Introduction to the Bible and Catholic Social Teaching for Business Students. He is the author of The Vocation of Business and outlines the fundamentals of distributism in his book Toward a Truly Free Market. His writing is also featured in The Crisis of Global Capitalism and in Localism in the Mass Age.

In this live video, Mr. Médaille discusses the characteristics of capitalism, socialism, and distributism, and makes clear how the free market is distinct from capitalism.

Nat Hentoff’s Idiosyncratic Example

By John Whitehead

Those who wish to defend human life from the many threats to it, those who wish to overturn the usual left-right political categories, and those who wish to discover a genuinely independent thinker would all do well to read the work of Nat Hentoff. Hentoff, who died in 2017 after a journalistic career lasting over sixty years, defied conventional labels: he was an avowed atheist who staunchly opposed abortion and assisted suicide, a friend of both Malcolm X and John Cardinal O’Connor, and a civil libertarian who antagonized both liberals and conservatives. 

Many of Hentoff’s convictions and concerns came to him early. Growing up Jewish in Boston during the Great Depression, he experienced bigotry firsthand, most significantly in the form of Irish toughs who would beat up and terrorize Jewish Bostonians (Hentoff lost a tooth in one such encounter). His first (and probably greatest) passion—jazz music—brought him into contact with an array of black musicians and made him aware of racism’s evils. These early experiences gave a Hentoff a concern for equality and a penchant for siding with the underdog.

Hentoff also acquired a habit of iconoclasm and a dislike for authority. At the age of twelve, he dramatically rejected the Judaism of his early childhood by publicly eating a salami sandwich on Yom Kippur. As a teenager, employment at a candy store led to his first participation in a labor strike, against the store’s draconian owner. Work on the student newspaper at Northeastern University brought Hentoff and other students into conflict with the administration over the paper’s criticism of the college trustees. This last conflict demonstrated another of Hentoff’s passions: freedom of speech, as well as the First Amendment and constitutional law more broadly. 

These early influences fostered Hentoff’s career as a writer of fiction and journalism. His non-fiction writing covered jazz, racial equality, civil liberties, and politics. In the late 1950s, Hentoff found a steady outlet for his journalism at the Village Voice, where he would remain for over 40 years (although he characteristically criticized the Voice itself publicly on more than one occasion). 

Hentoff’s early career coincided with the civil rights movement, which he chronicled and sympathetically analyzed in his book The New Equality. In a passage that sounds familiar half a century later, he wrote:

Justice is less likely to be done if you are poor, and it is in worse imbalance if you are Negro and poor. A study by the United States Department of Justice reveals that in some areas guilty pleas are three times as frequent among prisoners who have to be assigned court-appointed attorneys as among those who can afford to retain their own lawyers. As for capital cases, Norman Redlich, a professor of law at New York University and a close student of capital punishment, claims that hardly anyone is executed in this country who has money or influential friends. Clarence T. Duffy, former warden of San Quentin [State Prison], adds: “Negroes are more likely to die than white men—and for less serious crimes.” (The New Equality, p. 52)

Hentoff would report on racial inequality, in the criminal justice system and elsewhere, until his last years.

When writing a profile of the Nation of Islam in 1960, Hentoff met the organization’s then-spokesman, Malcolm X, amid an unfriendly crowd in a Harlem diner. He found in Malcolm X a welcome intellectual sparring partner—“calmly alert, he enjoys the challenge of debate,” Hentoff wrote—and a friendship developed between them. As Hentoff later recalled, “I enjoyed watching him outmaneuver reporters and academics who either were convinced that he was an irredeemable racist or felt that with sufficient cultivation he might eventually see the light and join the editorial board of the New York Times.” They spoke for the final time a few days before Malcolm X’s murder, the only time Hentoff saw his friend visibly afraid.

A significant ideological difference between the two friends lies in their differing views on whether violence was justifiable, with Hentoff taking the more pacifist view. During the 1960s, he became involved in peace and nonviolent activism for the first time, participating in a protest against nuclear weapons and writing a biography of the pacifist A. J. Muste, whom he considered a mentor. Hentoff also spoke out against the Vietnam War and occasionally participated in anti-war activities. Writing in the Voice in 1968, Hentoff also made a curiously prophetic comment. Decrying the violence in Vietnam and the United States (Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated only a few days earlier), Hentoff speculated on what “could produce a massive pro-life victory.”

At the time, Hentoff’s use of the phrase “pro-life” did not include preborn humans threatened by abortion. Prior to the 1980s, Hentoff generally supported abortion access and knew very few pro-lifers. Moreover, abortion had touched him personally because his third wife, Margot, had had an abortion during a strained period in their marriage. Hentoff’s views began to change in the early 1980s, however, when he wrote a series of Voice columns on the “Baby Doe” cases. These were cases where children born with serious but not necessarily terminal disabilities, such as Down syndrome and spina bifida, were denied medical care at their parents’ request. As Hentoff reported, in one case a boy with Down syndrome in Bloomington, Indiana, was denied care that could have prevented his death by starvation.

Reports on these cases prompted an uproar and led Congress to amend child-abuse legislation in order to classify the denial of medical care to disabled infants with life-threatening conditions as a form of abuse. During the debate over the “Baby Doe” cases and subsequent legislation, Hentoff was appalled to see how many people on the political left defended the parents’ alleged right to deny their children life-saving medical care. An ACLU staffer described the denial of care in one case as “really an extension of reproductive freedom rights—a woman’s right to choose.”

This controversy led Hentoff to re-examine his attitudes toward abortion and to learn more about fetal development. As he explains in his memoir Speaking Freely:

I began to read the medical textbooks that physicians in prenatal care read—not pro-life books, but such standard texts as The Unborn Patient: Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment

I spoke to a number of physicians who do research in prenatal development, and they emphasized that life is a continuum from fertilization to birth to death. Setting up divisions of this process to justify abortion, for example, is artificial. It is the life of a developing being that is being killed. The euphemisms for an aborted fetus—“the product of conception” and “a clump of cells”—are what George Orwell might have called newspeak… [emphasis in original]

As time went on, I began to understand that there is much more to abortion than abortion itself. The mindset—the ability to regard as just and necessary the killing of at least 1.3 million developing human beings a year—helps strengthen the consistent ethic of death in the nation—including the discounting of the Baby Jane Does and the rise of support for “assisted suicide.” (Speaking Freely, pp. 173-174)

Hentoff’s public embrace of a pro-life stance on abortion earned him the enmity of many, including several Village Voice colleagues and his own wife. His new stance did not earn him the unqualified support of pro-lifers, either: Hentoff remained a secular, left-leaning writer who took Republican politicians to task for their failure to respect civil liberties or meet the poor’s needs. In a 1986 speech on the “indivisibility of life,” Hentoff recalled speaking before a state right-to-life convention, to an audience that mostly disapproved of his whole-life message.  In that address, he argued that:

pro-lifers ought to be opposing capital punishment and nuclear armament and the Reagan budget with its dedicated care for missiles as it cuts funds for the Women/Infant/Children Program that provides diet supplements and medical checkups for mothers in poverty. Surely, I said, they should not emulate the President in these matters—and here I stole a line from Congressman Barney Frank—they should not emulate the President in being pro-life only up to the moment of birth. Well, the faces before me began to close, and from the middle and the back of the dining room there were shouts. I couldn’t make out the words, but they were not approving. As I went on, there were more shouts as well as growls and table-thumping of an insistence that indicated a tumbrel awaited outside. I finally ended my speech to a chorus of howls, and several of the diners rushed toward the dais. I did not remember ever intending to die for this cause, but as it turned out the attacks were all verbal.

He did find some philosophical allies, however, in groups such as Feminists for Life and the pro-life peace organization Pro-Lifers for Survival—the forerunner organization to the Consistent Life Network. Hentoff also found common cause and friendship with the “Genghis Khan” of the Roman Catholic Church, New York Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor, who also faced opposition from the left and the right alike. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Hentoff became a notable advocate for the consistent life ethic, in the pages of the Voice, in a syndicated newspaper column, and elsewhere. The speech just quoted expressed that ethic forcefully.

Hentoff went through a final, late-in-life philosophical change; however, that change sadly moved him away from the consistent life ethic and closer to his friend Malcolm X’s views. His concern for the lives and liberties of all people made him write frequently on victims of human rights abuses outside the United States, in China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere.  Exposing people’s suffering in Sudan, including the violent repression in Darfur in the early 2000s, was a particular passion of his.

Reporting on violent injustices led Hentoff to a disturbing conclusion: war could be justified in response to these injustices. Although a fierce critic of George W. Bush’s War on Terror, with its use of government surveillance, indefinite detention, and torture, Hentoff nevertheless endorsed Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. His support for the Iraq War was based not on concern over the weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, but rather on that regime’s very real repression of the Iraqi people. Later, this same belief in war as a tool of humanitarian rescue led Hentoff to advocate for military intervention in Sudan.

Such hawkishness is bitterly disappointing for peace activists and advocates of the consistent life ethic who once so appreciated Hentoff as a comrade. Given his keen appreciation of the Bush administration’s disregard for human rights and civil liberties, Hentoff should have asked the obvious question of whether such an administration could be trusted with humanitarian intervention in another country.

Nevertheless, he had something to teach peace-minded people even in his later years. His justification for renouncing his traditional peace advocacy stands as a challenge for all who seek to defend justice and human rights without resort to violence:

After nearly 20 years of reporting on the likes of Sudan’s General al-Bashir and, more recently, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, I’m convinced there are times when the only way to rescue the surviving victims of such monsters is to bypass the U. N. with a league of democratic nations, enough of whose citizens are driven by a visceral need to protect the human rights of people being terrorized by their own sovereign governments.

For many years, I considered myself a nonviolent, direct-action pacifist, one who was greatly influenced by the lessons of the late A. J. Muste. . . . However, I am forced to conclude, after many decades spent reporting on and witnessing the evidence, that there is such a thing as immutable evil in this world—as personified by, among others, Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir. By advocating the use of force to save their victims, I feel I have betrayed A. J., and probably that part of myself that made me a pacifist. But with General al-Bashir breaking the 2005 peace treaty that put a stop to his 20-year war against black Christians and animists in the south of Sudan—in which over two million people have already died—only force will prevent the opening of (to quote one Western observer there) “the gates of hell.”

While military force is a dubious tool for correcting injustice (as the dismal recent history of “regime change” shows), Hentoff was not wrong to point out the unambiguous malevolence of many regimes guilty of repressing their own people or others. Peace advocates need to be clear-eyed and honest about such regimes, and the departure from the peace cause by Hentoff should be a spur to deeper thought on how to counter these evildoers nonviolently. 

Notwithstanding his evolving views, Hentoff remained, in his later years, a gadfly and critic of those in power. His condemnation of Bush’s war on terror was succeeded by criticism of Barack Obama’s targeted killing by drones and other national security policies. He also continued to write against abortion, the death penalty, and police brutality. When Donald Trump emerged as a serious presidential contender, Hentoff wasted no time in lambasting him as well. His final column in September 2016 was, appropriately enough, in praise of the Constitution.

Very few people would agree with Hentoff on everything, something he would probably have regarded as a point of pride. Certainly, many advocates of the consistent life ethic would disagree with—and be deeply saddened by—his late-in-life hawkishness. Nevertheless, Hentoff’s work and life leave much to benefit the intellectually curious. He offered a thoughtful, unconventional defense of human life against abortion and similar threats, as well as valuable commentary on freedom of speech and other civil liberties. Above all, he offered the example of someone who did not follow the “herd of independent minds” but followed principles and evidence to their conclusions as he saw them, regardless of party lines or political orthodoxy. That is an example well worth remembering and imitating.

Illinois Passes “Progressive” Abortion Law

by Tai-Chi Kuo

June 14, 2019
Chicago, IL

Recently, Democratic Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker signed into law the Reproductive Health Act, designating abortion as a fundamental right in Illinois, repealing the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, and the Abortion Performance Refusal Act, repudiating any independent rights for the unborn under Illinois law, and restricting the scope of future Illinois state abortion regulations to those “narrowly tailored for the limited purpose of protecting the health of [women seeking abortions] and in the manner that least restricts a person’s autonomous decision-making.” The law has been recognized as the most extensive state abortion-rights act in the country to date and has been described by Illinois Democratic lawmakers as a hedge against the prospective actions of an increasingly conservative United States Supreme Court. Signaling his earlier eagerness to sign the Act, Governor Pritzker celebrated the fact that the Act would make Illinois “the most progressive [state] in the nation for reproductive healthcare.

Illinois Republicans, however, are also not without blame in this matter. In 2017, shortly before the end of his term, former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Reproductive Health Act’s forerunner, HB 40  (another bill guaranteeing access to abortion), and made the excesses of this legislation possible.

We at the American Solidarity Party of Illinois, however, beg to differ with Governor Pritzker: the Reproductive Health Act is a shocking and dangerous abomination, and we strenuously reject the notion that this brazen and reactionary political stunt contributes anything of value toward the goal of bettering the quality of, or access to, health care in the United States of America.

The American Solidarity Party believes in the sanctity of human life, and our national platform affirms that respect for the dignity of human life is the most basic tenet of a civilized society. As such, we are especially troubled regarding the following portions of the Act:

  • Section 1-15(c), which denies any independent rights to the unborn (robbing them of their human dignity);
  • Section 1-20(a), which prohibits state actions restricting the practice of abortion and providing a cause of action to sue the government if the state does restrict the practice of abortion (a scare tactic attempting to preempt abortion-law challenges with the threat of a lawsuit); and
  • Section 905-30, which repeals the Abortion Performance Refusal Act, which had previously protected hospitals, doctors, and other conscientiously-objecting health-care professionals from damages or loss of licensing for refusing to perform an abortion.

It is incontrovertible scientific fact that the human fetus is genetically distinct from his or her mother, is growing through the process of cell division, and is responsive to external stimuli. Cutting these living human beings off from the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is heinous, deplorable, and completely un-American. It is within this context that we call on pro-life Illinoisans to reject the special interests of both Chicago and Springfield. Let us work together to protect the least of these by repealing this unconscionable legislation and replacing it with protections for the unborn as well as the strong and inclusive social safety nets which would allow women, children, and single-parent homes to grow into their full potential and live out the American Dream.

The American Solidarity Party was founded in the Christian democratic political tradition to seek the common good in society. The Party believes in the sanctity of human life, the necessity of social justice, a shared responsibility to care for the environment, and the promotion of a more peaceful world. To learn more, email us at admin@solidarity-party.org.

Book Review …And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year

by Lloyd A. Conway

Lloyd A. Conway, originally from Detroit, MI, is a retired veteran of the Army & National Guard, was a civil servant for 20 years and has been an adjunct teacher at Spring Arbor University for the past 20 years. Mr. Conway previously served on the Charlotte, MI City Council and chaired the Planning Commission. He holds degrees from Excelsior College, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University. He is married to a fellow teacher and has five adult children. They reside in Lansing, MI.

As an economist-archaeologist, Michael Hudson is a rarity.  This rather unique combination of professions has been Professor Hudson’s calling card for decades, as he has specialized in economic issues pertaining to the civilizations of the ancient Fertile Crescent. His life of scholarship is now capstoned in a November, 2018 volume, …And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year, a scholarly look at ‘Jubilee Year’ traditions in the ancient Near East, including those contained in Mosaic law. While the author does not approach his subject from a Christian worldview, he does argue for the validity and implementation of jubilee years, just as described in the Old Testament.

Professor Hudson traces the use of debt relief back to  earliest recorded history. Almost from the beginning of Mesopotamian urban society, there are recorded instances of the accumulation of peasant/working class debt, typically debt from loans to farmer-proprietors for seed and tools, made against a share of an expected harvest. Those debts, calculated at interest rates based on the Sumerian calendrical system, carried interest rates of as much as 33 1/3%. This burden, while heavy, was bearable in years when the harvest was good. In times of drought, famine, war or other disaster, such debts could not be paid.

Debt-bondage and forfeiture of the means of production—tools, lands, even family members, and finally the debtor himself—were all too often the results of such crop-loan schemes. As debts increased via interest, at rates exceeding income growth (which Professor Hudson cites as a common progression), most people were unable to pay those debts off. The end result was a recurring cycle of misfortune, bondage, and the resulting rise of a rentier class that both oppressed the working poor and threatened the State. The remedy applied at the accession of many kings, of which Professor Hudson gives extensive examples, was to forgive all personal (but not business or speculative) debts, whether owed to the State for unpaid taxes or to the wealthy (often temple officials, who also functioned as bankers). Monarchs benefited from this by helping to keep subjects free and thus able to pay taxes, render corvée labor for canal repairs and the like, and serve in the militia when necessary. (Offering debt relief to the bond-subjects of one’s enemies in wartime was also a common tactic, which made debt relief all the more advisable for monarchs contemplating war, either as aggressor or defender.)

The recurring cycle of debt and forgiveness continued until the advent of Iron Age civilizations in Greece and Rome, which were famously unstable due to their debtor-creditor class conflicts. Israel kept the tradition of debt relief alive, with a twist: Instead of being offered through the good graces of an ascendant monarch, forgiveness of one’s debts was offered through the grace of Almighty God, the good news of which was announced by the priesthood and codified in Mosaic law.

Sadly, whether in ancient Sumer or in Israel, creditors were clever in finding ways to circumvent debt jubilees, including by post-dating loans or having debtors explicitly disavow debt relief, if it were to be offered in the future. In the case of Judea, via the ‘Prosbul’ of Rabbi Hillel, debtors were allowed to exempt their obligations from discharge during the Jubilee Year, thus substituting innovations of sinful men for the Word of God.

Professor Hudson concludes his tome with a chapter on ‘the Byzantine Echo,’ when some emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire put Christian principles of political economy into practice, helping to tamp down rentier activity detrimental to the tax base and military strength of the State. This policy yielded good fruit until set aside by the Commenian Dynasty beginning in the late 11th century.

Professor Hudson’s work is detailed, exhaustive, and perhaps a bit dry for those not particularly interested in his subject matter, but he has done the public a good service by identifying the Jubilee Year as something common, effective, and widely used for millennia to keep societies in balance and able to avoid the class-based social unrest that rocked Classical societies to their foundations time and again. ASP readership may find this book of interest because of the policy implications of a Bible-based debt relief policy, including helping to ameliorate income inequality, preventing social unrest (the usual outcome of having a long-term debtor class in a society) and re-balancing a socio-political system to ensure its continuing viability. While we may not share his secularist worldview, we can appreciate his scholarship, as it validates the historicity of the Biblical injunction to regularly forgive personal debts. It will be up to us, as his readers and benefactors, to consider how we might apply his scholarship to the issues of debt, income inequality and the political problems flowing from them in our time.

Book coverHudson, Michael.  (2018.) And forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year.  Islet Press. Cambridge, MA.

https://michael-hudson.com/2018/08/and-forgive-them-their-debts/

Lifting Society from the Bottom Up: A Distributist Agenda for the American Solidarity Party

by John Médaille

While many members of the ASP are distributists, many more are unfamiliar with the term. To give a one sentence definition of distributism, it is the belief, supported by centuries of practice, that families are better off when they have their own property sufficient to allow them to choose how to make their own way in the world. Property should not ordinarily be gathered into vast collectives, whether corporate or Soviet, but rather spread as widely as possible. In what follows, I draw out some of the practical implications of this for the ASP platform.

I outline the economics of distributism in my book Toward a Truly Free Market. For those who would rather not buy the book, I give some further information here, here, and in many other articles which you can read on my Academia.edu page.

By way of introduction, I am a retired businessman and, for the last fifteen years, an adjunct instructor at the University of Dallas, where I teach the courses Introduction to the Bible and Catholic Social Teaching for Business Students. I hope that what follows may prove useful in the platform committee’s deliberations.

Respectfully submitted, what follows is an outline of a distributist agenda for the American Solidarity Party. I recognize that not all members of the ASP are distributists, but many distributists seem to be members of the ASP. This is good, because it seems to me that distributists need a political home, since at present we tend to separate our distributist selves from our political selves. That is to say, as distributists we may found a business or a co-op, or dream of doing so, but as voters we are nothing in particular; we are Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, progressives, and what have you. We are all over the map. That is to say, we are nowhere at all. But if distributism is a real possibility, it needs to have a political program and one with a clear and definable purpose and goal. And I suggest that the goal should be two-fold, one part of which might be termed “subversive,” and one part of which might be termed “patriotic.” These two parts correspond to two dimensions of political theory: subsidiarity and solidarity.

First, the subversive part. Here, we are always trying to widen the spaces wherein people might use their own personal or cooperative property to make their own ways in the world. Here, we are trying to create cracks in the concrete hegemony of capitalism so that some distributist flowers might grow. And foremost is the broadening and enforcement of antitrust laws. For while capitalist propaganda advertises itself as a “free market,” the reality is otherwise. In a truly free market, there is vigorous competition and no firm is large enough to dominate the market and keep competition out. But what has actually happened is anti-market. When we look at practically any segment of the economy, we find that it is dominated by two or three firms. From beer to banking, from eye care to oil to entertainment, we find not a free market but a cartelized economy which sucks all the life out of the market and diminishes the space for the economic use of personal and cooperative property.

Foremost among the hegemonic institutions is the big-box store, itself largely the creation of the highway subsidy. These stores have done more than any other to wipe out the small businessman and destroy the commercial and communal lives of towns and cities. But their “competitive” advantage does not arise from any supposed “efficiency,” but from subsidy. For it is not more efficient—but less so—to manufacture low-value goods in the interior of China, ship them to the coast, ship them across the sea to Long Beach, California, ship them by truck to Bentonville, Arkansas, and then ship them to regional distribution centers and stores. The only way this is practical is because the transportation system is subsidized at every stage. If, for example, the interstate highway system were financed by weight and distance tolls, the big-box store would be seen for what it is: the least efficient way of distributing goods, and local manufacturers and retailers, with their shorter supply lines, would have the cost advantage.

Along with undermining the hegemonic aspects of capitalism, we must build up the legal and regulatory basis for distributist enterprises. Cooperatives need to have their own space in law, a space that provides for regulatory and even tax relief. There are good reasons to highly regulate vast global enterprises, and to regulate them at both the national and international levels. A Smithfield Foods pig barn that slaughters 4,000 pigs a day for shipment across the country needs one kind of regulatory regime, but when these safeguards are applied to the small farmer slaughtering a dozen pigs a week, the enterprise becomes uneconomic; Smithfield actually benefits from a regulatory regime that only big firms can afford.

Likewise, firms where the employees have effective control of their own work rules need little in the way of public regulation; the workers can protect their own interests. But in firms where the workers have no power, they require the power of the state to protect them from exploitative work rules and dangerous and toxic work environments. Hence, the small and worker-owned firm will have a regulatory advantage over the large, multinational firm.

This short list is not meant to be exhaustive, but suggestive. Starting from the principle of widening the economic space for distributism and undermining capitalist hegemony, many other things will suggest themselves. But along with this subversive goal of undermining the system, there is a second and paradoxical goal: We must uphold the system. That is, we must participate in the political process with the goal of getting people the best deal that can be obtained under liberal capitalism. There are, of course, distributists who take the opposite tack, such as many advocates of the so-called “Benedict Option,” which advises political quietism while building up counter-cultural enterprises; their hope is that the liberal world order will simply collapse, and then, as Patrick Deneen put it, “such countercultures will come to be seen not as ‘options’ but as necessities.”

There are at least two problems with this. The first is that it’s the kind of thing said mainly by tenured professors and political pundits whose needs are well met by the system of liberal capitalism; they can painlessly advocate for collapse since they are unlikely to actually see it. They are divorced from the problems of the masses of men and women who have neither tenure nor affordable health care. As such, the “Benedict Option” is simply a violation of solidarity.

The second problem is that just distribution does not arise from disorder, but from order. Liberal order has collapsed in Honduras; their major exports are now drugs and refugees. The Middle East is in flames; the only thing well-distributed is militias. It would be the same here; were America to collapse, the Amish farmers so admired by the “benedictines” would find themselves paying tribute to local warlords, presuming that they would be allowed to keep their farms at all. Yes, it can happen here, and the inflexible rule of history is that what goes around comes around.

So then, we are presented with a complex and even contradictory task. In the name of subsidiarity, we must work to undermine liberal capitalism and create alternative spaces for production and exchange, art and leisure, community and independence. But in the name of solidarity, we must work to ameliorate the system and socialize such common goods as health care, unemployment insurance, education, and so on. In this, we can think of ourselves as “patriotic subversives,” working simultaneously to undermine and uphold the system of liberal capitalism and to provide space and time for something better and more humane. I have no objection to those who would point out that socializing goods such as medicine is not the ideal solution, but I would point out that we need to evolve towards those ideals; we must start in the real situation in which we find ourselves and make the most of it, while providing spaces for alternatives to grow. That is to say, we must obtain what good we can in the present moment, and not make the remote ideal the only standard; to do so would be to make the best the enemy of the good.

Liberal capitalism in practice, whatever its theoretical claims, results in a “top-down” system. Property and power are gathered into fewer and fewer hands with the result that property is collectivized under a corporate managerial regime which quickly comes to dominate the political order. This is justified in the name of “trickle-down” theories that assert that the poor are helped primarily by aiding the rich; tax-cuts aimed at the wealthy will enable new investment to enrich the working class. But such collectivization, whether corporate or Soviet, never aids the people, save for the people who already have power. Prosperity does not trickle down, it bubbles up. Property distributed at the bottom aids all classes, for society is always lifted from the bottom up.

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