Understanding America

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Fr Robert A, Sirico, President of the Acton Institute

Acton Institute
The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, its President being Fr Robert A. Sirico, is named after the great English historian, Lord John Acton (1834-1902). He was a historian and politician, leader of the liberal fraction of the British Catholics, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. In his research he wanted to make a synthesis of Christianity and liberalism. Acton thought that every man should enjoy political, religious and economic liberty. In order to direct the activities of a free man towards good one needs moral principles, which faith provides.
The Institute was created in 1990. Its Mission is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. The Acton Institute organizes seminars aimed at educating religious leaders of all denominations, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers in economics principles, and in the connection that can exist between virtue and economic thinking. It exhorts religious leaders to embrace the principles of economics as analytic tools in the consideration of economic issues that arise in their ministry, on the one hand, and, on the other, it exhorts business executives and entrepreneurs, to integrate their faith more fully into their professional lives, to give of themselves more unselfishly in their communities, and to strive after higher standards of ethical conduct in their work.

What was the stake of the election in the USA?

The presidential campaign in the USA was an occasion to hold a wide national discussion on America's role in the world today, its identity and the values its citizens believed in. It was a clash of two visions of the United States, personalised by two candidates: George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.
The campaign was also an occasion to discuss the significance of religion in the life of the nation and the role of Catholics in the life of the society. The victory of President Bush means that Americans did not only support his methods of fighting terrorism but also chose moral values in the life of the country. The choice made by the only world superpower will certainly exert a great influence on the situation in the world. It is even more significant since the united Europe - renouncing its Christian roots, being anti-Church and 'pacifist', rejecting 'traditional' values - seems to be going in a completely different direction.
In order to help the readers of 'Niedziela' understand what happened in the United States during the last months I interviewed several outstanding American personalities: Fr Robert A. Sirico, President of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (Acton Institute), Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, Metropolitan of St Louis, and Carl A. Anderson, President of the influential Catholic organisation, the Knights of Columbus.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - In the American presidential campaign President Bush had to face the opposition of some very influential personages and environments: the biggest American newspapers headed by New York Times, billionaires, e.g. Warren Buffett (the biggest investor in the Wall Street stock exchange), Ted Turner (CNN founder) or George Soros (American Jew of Hungarian background who spent 24 million dollars on the campaign of J.F. Kerry), Hollywood, Broadway, homosexual lobby, trade unions, Jewish financial circles and New York intelligentsia. However, despite this universal mobilisation against the Republican candidate people voted for Bush in large numbers (President Bush received almost 59 million votes; no candidate in the history of American elections was supported by more voters). Why did Americans trust him for the second time?

Fr Robert A. Sirico: - Above all it was so because after 11 September 2001, when Americans realised that they could face a mass destruction, they re-discovered the traditional values. Furthermore, Bush's victory was also the result of the weakness of Kerry who had made a few mistakes. First of all his message was fundamentally of liberal character and Americans do not trust liberal ideas any longer (I mean the American understanding of liberalism as a left-wing ideology, which promotes the widening of the interference of the state in the economic and social spheres, which includes promotion of homosexual 'marriages' and unlimited abortion). Moreover, Kerry, who was seen as an anti-militarist, he spoke about his participation in the war (in Vietnam), which is still a controversial topic in the United States. Looking at the whole past of the Democratic candidate one can say that he has not adhered to any values strongly, on the contrary from the very beginning he only calculated how to become president. Therefore, people saw him as a professional politician, a false person, with no backbone whereas Bush - despite some clumsiness - has been regarded as a much more sincere and honest person than Kerry.

- During the campaign Bush stressed on every occasion that he wanted to defend the traditional American values and family as a relationship between woman and man, and that he opposed abortion, homosexual relationships and financing embryo research. What was the role of the so-called moral issue in the campaign?

- From the very beginning and in a natural way Bush introduced himself as a candidate representing 'family values'. During the last television debate, for the first time Kerry spoke a lot about his faith and mentioned that he was an altar boy. But there were many discrepancies in his speech: he claimed that his religious beliefs should have no influence on his politics but on the other hand he argued that religion had formed his vision of social justice. So I think that the moral issue played some role in the last election.

- The traditional Democratic Party, sensitive to social problems, was the party of simple people (workers, immigrants, black people, etc.) whereas the Republican Party was the party of business men and women. In the recent years these traditional roles have in a way turned: more and more ordinary people identify themselves with the Republicans and put confidence in the economic policy of the right wing, and the Democratic Party has become the party of liberal snobs with inferiority complex, cosmopolitans who lost contact with the rest of the country and the party of various influential groups (pro-abortion, ecological or homosexual). What was the reason for that?

- On the one hand, it was the fact that such issues as economy and taxation, inclined many small business men and women to vote for the Republicans. On the other hand, big business supported Kerry. The Democratic Party has been regarded as the party of many rich men (mainly Hollywood actors and East Coast elite) and of politicians, i.e. officers of the government and trade unions. It is worth mentioning that the unionists in the USA are not poor (they earn at least 60-75 dollars per hour!). That's why many of them support protective policy, which protects against competition.
The lobby of the pro-abortionists, homosexuals and 'green' are pro-government because on the one hand, it wants subsidies from the government and on the other hand, it demands a suitable legislation. The pro-abortion lobby is not some improvised group of active citizens. This is a real industry, which wants the government to grant them subsidies for abortion.
We should add the influential and wealthy environment of Hollywood to these groups although it is a movement of dilettantes rather than intellectuals (very few people of the show business can be regarded as real thinkers). We have also such people as Michael Moore who pretends to be one of the workers but in reality he is a very wealthy man. There are also some citizen rights movements, e.g. Urban League and NAACP and such personalities as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. This is a block, which represents the interests of the bureaucracy, trade unions and business, being dependent on the government, in one word - this is 'the state party'.

- It was shown that most educated people voted for Bush, and Paul Berman, one of the ideologists of the American Left, stated that today 'the Republican intelligentsia is better prepared than we are'. Despite this, the critics of the President - in Poland as well - repeat ad nauseam that it is the simple - not to say the poor - and uneducated people who are Bush's political power base. Why do the Liberals try to humiliate their political opponents, using this method, as if love for fatherland and respect for moral values could not be combined with good education and solid cultural formation?

- If somebody gets to know the ideas and activities of the most important intellectual centres (think tanks) in the United States he will realise that it is a false stereotype to attribute ignorance to those people who support the traditional values. The fact is that we have higher education, too and we travel all over the world. A while ago I read an article in The New York Times, which says that America is divided into those who watch Fox News Television and those who read The New York Times. And what about those who do both? I would like to compare my passport with The New York Times journalists in order to see who has travelled more. There are a lot of such people as I am: with higher education, people of culture, art connessaires, and what is most important, people who have good ideas. I support, although with some criticism, the main ideas of the Republican Party. I think that Bush - as far as his public role as a state official is concerned - is more Catholic than Kerry. He is more Catholic in his political activity and way of thinking about various issues. The personal attacks of the left wing against Bush only testified that the left wing was on the defensive.

- Some American states held referenda at the time of the election. 20% American voters participated in those referenda. One referendum was on the recognition of relationships between people of the same sex. A majority voted against such relationships. While Americans protested against legalisation of homosexual 'marriages' the European Parliament rejected the candidature of the Catholic Prof. Buttiglione for the office of the European Parliament commissary because he dared to express his convictions concerning marriage (the relationship between man and woman) and homosexualism (immoral, sinful behaviour). These facts give another evidence that Europe differs from America so much. One begins speaking openly about a political and cultural division between the two coasts of the Atlantic. Is it true that there has been a split in the West?

- Of course, there are big cultural differences. In my opinion they result from the fact that the secular left wing has assumed a leading role in Europe. The secularisation of life in Europe began from the French Revolution and the persecutions of the Church in those days.
The question of Buttiglioni is very important. Buttiglioni did not say that homosexualism was a crime; he said it was 'a sin' and he did it only when someone else introduced this word into the discussion. It occurs that the European Union could not accept that. The strange thing is that the people who want to be tolerant are intolerant. For us in the US it is an obvious expression of hypocrisy. 'The Buttiglioni affair' may contribute to the inter-Atlantic movement for the cause of the return of the traditional values. Only part of Manhattan (district of New York) and part of Hollywood think about these topics like the representatives of the domineering culture in Europe. A considerable part of Americans is in favour of the traditional values and for a small role of the state.

- Before the election people feared that one of the results of Kerry's victory could be a coalition of American and European left-wing and liberal forces, which oppose the culture of life, the term used by John Paul II. Did such a threat exist and if yes, does it still exist?

- I think it is too early to talk about some official coalition but I believe that there are some unions of the forces in question. There are groups of Americans who identify themselves with the culture of death, with Chirac, with certain Germans, with Scandinavians, with secularised Italians or secularised Poles, and now with Spanish socialists. That's why there is such a threat. However, we do hope that the culture of death will 'enjoy itself' to the full and thus it will destroy itself. Those countries, which have been dominated by this type of culture and which do not support family - I mean Scandinavia, France and Germany - will have smaller and smaller number of people. Therefore, the culture of death will devour itself and the culture of life will be restored on its ruins. France, which has no clear cultural policy and which has lost its identity, will be economically dependent on its Muslim immigrants who have large families and many children. Today this country can only solve its problems by intolerance. The same applied to Holland, where there are one million Muslims (I mean religious riots after the murder of the film director Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim fanatic). It is only a foretaste of what can happen. The problem is that Muslim immigrants have a clear religious identity and they come to the European countries, which have lost a clear cultural and religious identity. Freedom is seen as some vacuum, which must be filled. Today we face the challenge, which the Muslim immigrants issue. This is a great danger. The situation in the United States is different because our geographical location helps us. However, I would like to explain one thing: I do not claim that immigration itself is a problem (I am living in the country of immigrants). But I think that problems appear when we deal with immigration from the countries, which have a distinct cultural and religious identity, to the countries, whose population is getting older and whose identity is weak. That's why it seems to me that we witness very big changes, and the important thing is that Christians should be well informed about everything, should educate their children in the Christian way, maintain their identity and they are not afraid of proclaiming Jesus to others.

- Most American immigrants come from South America...

- That's right. The majority of our immigrants are Christians from South America but the immigrants from the Near East are mainly Christians, too.

- Thank you very much for the conversation.

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Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl