The Corner

When Despair Becomes Deadly

Two organizations have captured my affections and energies in the last 25 years as it pertains to the cause(s) I most fervently believe in: One is, of course, National Review, and the other is the Acton Institute, Over the years I have been blessed to serve as a faculty member at their extraordinary annual Acton University, and have spoken with their president and co-founder, Father Robert Sirico, at various events and conferences in Southern California.  Acton, now 26 years old, held their annual gala last night in Grand Rapids, and the message was powerful and profound.

When your mission is to “promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained religious principles,” it will be hard to go wrong. Indeed, Acton’s vigorous defense of the moral foundations for free markets and insistence on an anthropological basis for human dignity and freedom are causes that inspire even when the mood is despair. Their agenda transcends the political, even when the politicization of all realms of society seems to be inescapable. Last night’s gala served as a pivotal refresher for the hundreds upon hundreds of attendees surely exhausted by the state in which we find ourselves.

Father Sirico spoke to the despair many of us all feel. “How could one not feel such despair,” Sirico noted, “when in less than one generation we have gone from Bill Buckley and Firing Line to Sean Hannity!” (I actually became a bit more discouraged when he worded it that way.) He bemoaned the death of reasoned argument — the complete inability for men and women of ideas and passions to participate in measured discourse together. And yet, he reminded us that “despair is a deadly sin.” Sirico continued, “Certainly despair is a reasonable response to the crisis we now face. But to overcome the crisis we must look into the eyes of human beings, and in doing so see men and women created in the image of God, worthy of dignity, one worthy of not being enslaved politically or otherwise.” To Sirico and the Acton Institute, the evils of nativism, class warfare, and totalitarianism do not have a chance against the message of a free society.

This, to me, is the reminder we all must cling to stronger than ever. We are not fighting to merely win an election as advocates for human flourishing — as allies in the cause of a free and virtuous society. Ours is a message of empowerment. Sirico reminded us of Hayek’s vision for an “intellectual adventure,” and proposed that we see “the cause of a free society as a moral adventure, a tremendous deed of courage.”

Man is not a political animal. Man is an image-bearer of God, created with a calling, with dignity, and with a destiny. Thank you Acton Institute, for reminding us that despair is not compatible with the deed of courage our cause requires.

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