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Acton Institute founder says they don’t believe in class struggle, they believe in class encounter

November 15, 2017

Nearly a month ago, we reported on an action that took place before the Acton Institute’s annual gala event at the DeVos Convention Center. The event featured US Secretary of Education as the keynote speaker, which is not surprising since her and her husband have contributed millions to the organization and her mother, Elisa Prince Broekhuizen, is a current member of the Acton board.

The other keynote speaker for the Acton Institute event last month, was the co-founder and Catholic Priest, Rev. Robert Sirico. Sirico naturally spoke about the mission of the organization, which is to integrate free market principles with a free and virtuous society. He spoke in theological terms and attempted to impress the audience with his use of latin, which you can see here, but I wanted to point out three points he made which are rather instructive for those who have a fundamental problem with the wedding of christianity and capitalism.

Rev. Sirico begins this commentary revealing his admiration for a “good bottle of wine” and a “good quarterly profit.” Having heard Rev. Sirico on numerous occasions, he definitely enjoys a comfortable life and has nothing but admiration for the capitalist class.

Then Sirico makes a comment about “the poor” and demonstrates his contempt for the people who were protesting outside. Rev. Sirico arrogantly states that what those protesting want to do is make more programs for the poor. This is hardly the message and themes that were addressed by those who were protesting. In fact, the primary focus was on protesting Betsy DeVos and her attempts to undermine public education. You can see from the picture here on the right, that “the poor” aren’t even mentioned.

However, there was a significant amount of anger directed at those attending the Acton Institute event, most of which are part of the capitalist class, showing up in tuxedos and evening gowns, using valet service and being escorted in by the police.

This second video again shows his contempt for those who engage in protest, even going as far as apologize to the Acton audience for being part of protest efforts some 40 years ago.

He then goes on to say that he hoped those protesting would go home depressed and that they would come to the realization that good intentions aren’t enough. “If you are concerned about the poor and want to feed the hungry, learn how to make a bakery, learn how to build a business.”

Again, Sirico demonstrates his arrogance by not even knowing why people were outside protesting. There were retired teachers participating in the demonstration, students, community organizers, bus drivers and several people who do anti-oppression work.

Then the Acton Institute co-founder uses faulty logic when arguing there is nothing wrong with educating people AND making a profit. He eventually admits that the purpose of education is to teach children, but he still clings to the idea that education should be able to be profitable. His faulty logic falls flat by then saying that people who educate children should be well compensated, which is exactly what teachers have been saying and fighting for, for years.

In this last clip from Rev. Sirico’s talk at the Acton Institute event, he tries to make to point that their organization is against class struggle and class warfare. Please, this was a room full of members of the capitalist class who are deeply committed to doing away with unions, worker protections and redirecting public funding to the private sector.

Sirico then uses lofty language, like harmony and synergy. Rev. Sirico even states that the owners of business, “depend upon the worker.” The Acton Institure co-founder that thinks he is being smart by deriding the classic book by Karl Marx, Das Kapital, going so far as to harass an airport worker for reading the book.

Rev. Sirico ends his comments by quoting Mother Theresa of Calcutta – “We don’t have the right to condemn the rich. We don’t believe in class struggle and class warfare. We believe in class encounter. Where the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.”

This quote is highly instructive, on many levels. First, if people haven’t read the book by Christopher Hitchens on Mother Theresa, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, then I highly recommend it. One example from the book that Hitchens cites, is the fact that when Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier were ruling Haiti, Mother Theresa acted as a spiritual counselor to them. During this time, Mother Theresa never once publicly spoke out against the brutal human rights violations under the Duvalier regime, using the vicious tonton macutes, as a kind of death squad to silence critics of the regime. Not once, while she was counseling the Duvalier family, did she speak out about the massive levels of poverty that the majority of Haitians were subjected to.

Second, the whole idea that the rich and the poor have an encounter, is just plain offensive. The idea that the rich and the poor have an encounter reminds me of the way that some people wanted to talk about the 500th anniversary of the European invasion of the Americas. Some religious and secular people wanted to refer to this historic event as an encounter. The fact is, what happened should be referred to as an ongoing act of genocide and slavery, since this is exactly what happen to the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere and the Africans who were forcibly removed from their own communities and sold into slavery in the so-called new world.

The fact that Rev. Sirico pay homage to Mother Theresa and justifies his organization’s work by quoting her, should tell us exactly what we need to know about the Acton Institute and why they should be resisted.

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