AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
It’s Independence Day weekend and the Democratic Party has started it off with a bang.
On Friday, Arizona’s Pima County Democratic Party tweeted out their advertisement for a joint event with the Tucson Women’s March. “Let’s Mourn With F*ck the 4th” was the heading, with directions both to assemble at Reid Park at 7 PM and to “Bring comfortable shoes, water, lawn chairs, posters, and your anger.” Lest the poster was confusing, the Party added their own summary: “F*ck the Fourth. See you at Reid Park.”
Don’t you dare, some flack has no doubt already tweeted, attack their patriotism.
After deleting the tweet, the Party hastily apologized for it—sort of. They had made a poor judgment, you see, in tweeting the graphic… which was “in poor taste” and wasn’t even theirs, you see. Never mind that the Party’s tweeter used the same offensive phrase in the tweet. But they fully agree with the event in any case, which is in support of “abortion rights.”
So why the language about anatomically impossible acts against America’s Independence Day? I think the answer is clear. Though many ordinary Democrats don’t hate the country, its Constitutional order, or its traditions of ordered liberty, virtue, and free markets, there are a lot of activists, many of whom serve officially, in the Democratic Party who do, even on days when Roe v. Wade hadn’t been struck down. They think of ordinary Americans, in the formulation of our own Madame Defarge of Illinois, as a “basket of deplorables.” They think of America, in the summary of Dennis Prager, as S.I.X.H.I.R.B.: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, and bigoted.
Now if all this were true, it would be an oddity if our country had millions of immigrants attempting to enter legally or illegally. Yet our country does. It’s not Venezuela, touted all these years by Bernie, AOC, and the gang, where you have the poor, the tired, the huddled masses all bringing their yearnings to be free and prosperous. It’s here in America, where, as bad as things are, people are still attracted by our traditions and our ideals.
While it’s always worth knowing about the anti-Americanism emanating from one of the major parties, examining the truth of those traditions and ideals and seeing how attractive they are is a much better topic for this weekend’s column. I thought about this for four days this month (June 20-23) as I spent time in Grand Rapids, Michigan, giving lectures, attending lectures, and meeting people of all ages, races, and ethnicities who were gathered together to think and learn about the connections between faith, philosophy, economics, and politics at the fabulous summer conference known as Acton University convened at the DeVos Convention Center. The Acton Institute, co-founded in 1990 by Fr. Robert Sirico and Kris Alan Mauren, is named for Lord Acton, a nineteenth-century historian who was famous for his ruminations on liberty, morality, and power. Most people know his oft-quoted lines about how “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Institute has been producing books, publishing journals, and providing educational programming for ministers, students, academics, and everybody under the sun designed, as its mission statement puts it, “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
After a number of years of providing small weekend FAVS (Free and Virtuous Society) conferences, the Institute sensed the need among alums for something that would go deeper. Hence the four-day June confab known as Acton University that started over a decade ago.
While many would quibble with calling a conference (as they do Dennis Prager’s popular video series Prager University) a “university,” many attendees tell me they learned more in their four days than they did in their undergraduate degrees. The week features over sixty speakers giving over one hundred 45-minute lectures with a half-hour of dedicated time for questions. The lectures are dedicated to topics broad and specialized. First-time attendees are obligated to attend a set of core courses on “The Christian View of the Person,” “Natural Law and Human Flourishing,” and “The Christian Vision of Government.” These lectures help set up how to think of economic and political questions in ways congruent with the American Founding. Though the conference is international, ecumenical, and even interreligious (there are always a number of Jewish and even a few Muslim participants), there is no embarrassment about America’s founding. They celebrate the Fourth and don’t… well, you know.
First-timers and alums who’ve come back for more have plenty of time during the other sessions to dive into lectures on figures, movements, and specific questions. Important figures covered include Alexis de Tocqueville, Friedrich Hayek, Augusto del Noce, C. S. Lewis, John Paul II, and (in one of my lectures) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Broad topics include: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various forms of Protestant social thought; Jewish natural law thinking; Austrian Economics; globalization; distributism; conservatism; consumerism; and (Pima County Democrats, call your office!) healthy patriotism. And specialized topics include microfinance, “fair trade” products, Keynesianism and its critics, and the so-called “gender wage gap.”
The lecturers themselves are a fascinating bunch. AMAC readers will probably recognize people such as Hillsdale College historians Wilfred McClay and Brad Birzer, Ethics and Public Policy Center President Ryan Anderson, Ruth Institute founder Jennifer Roback Morse, Heritage Foundation scholar Jay Richards, Colson Center for Christian Worldview President John Stonestreet, and Acton’s own outgoing director of research Samuel Gregg. They, along with the evening plenary speakers, make the event a true intellectual feast. I heard one participant emerge from a lecture and exclaim to her friend, “I need some time to process all this!”
The processing goes better when the lectures are particularly good. As a lecturer at the conference for over a decade, I’ve grown in many ways because of the unique audience that Acton University lectures present. It’s not just that there are academics, high school teachers, journalists, business owners, and clergy in attendance; it’s that these people come from over 80 countries. I learned very quickly that a lecture has to be both well-organized and composed of clear English, eschewing technical jargon if possible, explaining it if not. And that’s what the many lectures I’ve heard over the years generally do (or the speakers do not get asked back).
Yet just as any educational experience will be about more than what goes on in the classroom, so too with Acton University. The education is also in connections with friends old and new centered on advancing the great things at the heart of the American experiment. These things are particular but have universal resonance: freedom within the limits set by God and discerned by natural law, government that is limited to protect human dignity and protect from humans beset by temptations to sin and dominance, the necessity of personal virtue and accurate knowledge of economics and politics to make healthy businesses and societies, and the reality of civic friendship under God.
The last night of the conference I had determined not to stay out too late. But a young man from Venezuela who now lives and works in Houston said we were going to sing karaoke at a local bar. Who was I to say no as Alexander gathered people from all over the country and around the world to celebrate the end of a week of education, friendship, and even worship (Catholic Mass as well as Orthodox and Protestant services were offered every morning)?
It was a truly American and universal scene at Z’s Bar as people from Cameroon, Uganda, India, Peru, Florida, and many other places (including that most dangerous of cities, Portland, Oregon) sang and danced together till the wee hours with a bunch of Michigan locals. Perhaps the best moment was when Acton Institute Operations Manager Michael Severance and Africans from several nations joined in on that cheesy-but-catchy song written by two Americans: “We Are the World.”
Like the people in Reid Park this coming weekend, we all had things about which to be angry in America and the other countries. But those who believe in liberty, freedom, and the dignity of every person (including the unborn) focus on the things we love, things that have been cherished in America especially, but are gifts for the whole world. And as the philosopher Josef Pieper once said, “Only the lover sings.”
David P. Deavel is an Associate Professor at the University of St. Thomas (Texas). A senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative, he is a winner of the Acton Institute’s Novak Award and a former Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. With Jessica Hooten Wilson, he edited Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West (Notre Dame, 2020). Besides his academic publications, his writing has appeared in many journals, including Catholic World Report, City Journal, First Things, Law & Liberty, and The Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Gettr @davidpdeavel.