Acton University - Four Days of Classes on the Free Economy

1700-1-acton-universityExplore the intellectual basis of the free economy; discover why this cannot be separated from a culture of beauty and Catholic social teaching if we want a society that promotes the flourishing of the human person. Once again, I am going to encourage everybody to think about attending 'Acton University' . This is a residential course that takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The dates are June 17-20.

The Acton Institute is an organisation devoted to the promotion of a free and virtuous society. Each person attending must sign up for a an integrated series of lectures so that each builds on the last. It is cleverly worked out so that the first lecture you choose restricts your choice for the second and so on.  It can be repeated year after year, so that each time you go you deepen your knowledge and understanding of the Free Economy. The Free Economy was defined by John Paul II  'an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector'. This is the form of capitalism that he affirmed as being consistent with the Catholic social teaching and the Catholic understanding of freedom. He went as far as saying that this is the economic system also that is the 'the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress'. (both quotes are from Centesimus Annus, 42)

Acton itself is ecumenical, but it is carefully designed so that as a Catholic I can choose courses that focus on Catholic social teaching or are consistent with it. As well as obvious courses such as a basic introduction to economics, they insist that everybody attends a class, for exampe, on Christian anthropology (brilliantly taught by Sam Gregg) and offer elective topics such as the theology of Benedict XVI, public policy, globalization, and the environment. What impressed me is that far from being the detached libertarians unconcerned with morality that some had portrayed them as, they were all profoundly interested in the poor and the foundations of a good and moral society. Furthermore, and again this goes against the way they were characterised, they were extremely interested in promoting a culture of beauty and seeing how this was connected to a free economy.

As this blog is about beauty and culture - I want to recommend to readers particular two lecturers who are at Acton again and address directly the connection between the economy and the culture: Michael Matheson Miller and Dr Jonathan Witt who are on the Acton permanent staff. As is true of all lectures at Acton U, their talks are accessible and entertaining, and each offered great insights into what forms culture.  I would recommend the classes of both lecturers very strongly. Dr Witt's focus on culture, in the lecture I saw last year, was on literary forms  and how it these reflects the worldview of the author. He has co-written an interesting book about science and culture called A Meaningful WorldMany who criticise free market economics assume that those who advocate capitalism and the free economy are indifferent to cultural questions. This is certainly not true of those at Acton, the message that I took from my experience is that not only are they interested, but also that they see the existence of a culture of beauty is an essential aspect of a truly prosperous society.

Another highlight for me last year was the lecturer by Andreas Widmer who is director of the Entrepeneurship programs at the Business and Economics dept of Catholic University of America. His insights into how creativity and virtue meet in business are fascinating.

I want also to mention something that touched me personally when I attended last year. My wife is Venezuelan and through her I have become aware of how freedom has steadily become more and more restricted there; and how this has lead to a stifling of prosperity and a degrading of the culture. Since I came to realise this, it has been surprising to me how little of this people are aware of this in the West. It was gratifying to hear Fr Robert Sirico, the founder of Acton talk of Venezuela in his inaugural address and subsequently to meet a group of young people from Venezuela who wish to work towards greater freedom in this beautiful country.