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Volume 12, Issue 1: January 4, 2010

  1. New Book Probes Clash of Economic and Environmental Religions
  2. Failed Terrorist Attack Exposes “Systemic Failure” of U.S. Security Apparatus
  3. Templeton Essay Contest to Award $26,500 for Essays on Government Parasitism
  4. Thirteen Great Books of the Decade
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) New Book Probes Clash of Economic and Environmental Religions

The deepest religious conflicts in the American public arena today are crusades fought between two secular religions, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert H. Nelson. In his new book, The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, Nelson probes the origins and implications of these two opposing belief systems.

Both environmental religion and economic religion claim to be scientific, even value-neutral, yet they seldom state their underlying commitments explicitly, let alone subject them to scrutiny, according to Nelson. Environmental religion owes its moral activism, ascetic discipline, reverence for nature, and fallen view of man to the Protestant theology of John Calvin, which has played a role in the upbringing of a remarkable number of environmental leaders. Economic religion also relies on assumptions that are better categorized as theological than as scientific, although Calvinism is not a leading influence. The clash between these two secular religions is seen in debates about climate-change policy, endangered-species protection, and much more.

By interpreting the conflicts as theological disputes, Nelson is able to explain why these creeds talk past each other and why the clash will continue to dominate public discourse until one party or the other backs down—or unless an alternative outlook rises to challenge their influence in the public arena. Regardless of which side prevails, The New Holy Wars provides readers with a powerful key for decoding hidden assumptions that will continue to shape public policy and cultural life.

Purchase The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, by Robert H. Nelson.

Read the book summary.

Praise for The New Holy Wars:

“Nelson makes an overwhelmingly persuasive case that in our times the leading secular religion was once economics and is now environmentalism.... It’s a brilliant book, which anyone who cares about the economy or the environment or religion needs to read. That’s most of us.”
Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago

“Nelson compellingly argues that religion is a powerful force in economic and social life...even if that fact is seldom recognized by most academics and policy makers.... He convinces me that unless these [forces] are acknowledged, examined, broadened, and revised, the economic and ecological crises that the world now faces will not be understood or met at their deeper levels.”
Max L. Stackhouse, Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life, Princeton Theological Seminary


2) Failed Terrorist Attack Exposes “Systemic Failure” of U.S. Security Apparatus

Last week, President Obama stated that a “systemic failure” of the nation’s security apparatus allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get as far as he got in his failed attempt to ignite a bomb aboard Northwestern Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland examines some of theses failures.

For starters, the color-coded terror-alert system does nothing to convey accurate risk levels of terrorist attacks. New requirements that airline passengers remain seated and keep blankets, computers, and other items off their laps for the last hour of an incoming international flight are also worthless. Security checkpoints failed to detect the explosives Abdulmatallab carried in his underwear (or Richard Reid’s shoe bomb, for that matter). Random patrols at airports conducted by the Transportation Safety Administration are akin to finding a terrorist needle in a haystack. Most glaring of all, perhaps, was the failure of security agencies to monitor Abdulmatallab, despite his appearance on the terrorist watch list. Rather than purchase fancier airport screening technology, the government should improve its efforts to identify possible bombers, according to Eland.

“Even more important, the U.S. government should quit creating a demand for its own security services by reducing military action in Muslim countries,” Eland writes. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—the group alleged to have trained Abdulmattalab in Yemen—said its motivation was to retaliate against the United States for assisting the Yemeni government in its battles against local militants. “Despite its name, the group has primarily local interests and is now launching attacks on the U.S. homeland only because of such U.S. meddling in Yemen,” writes Eland.

“Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Attempted Bombing,” by Ivan Eland (12/30/09) Spanish Translation

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland


3) Templeton Essay Contest to Award $26,500 for Essays on Government Parasitism

The Independent Institute, in cooperation with the John M. Templeton Foundation, will award a total of $26,500 in prize money to winners of the 2010 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest. The essay topic pertains to a quotation from the French political economist Frederic Bastiat:

“Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.”
—Frederic Bastiat (1801–1850)

Assuming Bastiat is correct, what ideas or reforms could be developed to make people better aware that government wants to live at their expense?

The contest is open to college students (undergrads and grad students) and untenured college teachers from around the world. All entrants must be under 36 years old on the May 3, 2010, contest deadline. Here are the prize amounts:

Junior Faculty Division:

1st Prize: $10,000
2nd Prize: $7,500
3rd Prize: $4,000

Student Division:

1st Prize: $2,500
2nd Prize: $1,500
3rd Prize: $1,000

In addition to the prize money, winners will receive assistance in getting their papers published and two-year subscriptions to The Independent Review. Selected winners will be given assistance to present their paper at a professional meeting or other public forum. The winners will be announced in October.

More information about the 2010 Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest, including rules, bibliography, and winning essays from previous years


4) Thirteen Great Books of the Decade

Attention, bibliophiles! Robert Higgs, Independent Institute Senior Fellow and editor of The Independent Review, offers his list of thirteen outstanding books of the past decade. The list, Higgs notes, should not be considered exhaustive.

“My reading is much too limited for me to make up such a list, and I have no doubt that many excellent books were published that I did not read,” Higgs writes. “However, I have read some excellent books that were published between 2000 and 2008, and I list them here with brief notations in order to bring them to the attention of readers who may not have read them.”

Book topics include: World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the growth of the U.S. government, philosophical defenses of liberty, and the lives and works of F. A. Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises. Purchases made through links in the article will help the Independent Institute further its mission of boldly advancing peaceful, prosperous, and free societies, grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity.

“Thirteen Outstanding Books of the Past Decade,” by Robert Higgs (12/29/09)

Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity, by Robert Higgs

Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of the Government, by Robert Higgs

Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society, by Robert Higgs

Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Robert Higgs


5) This Week in The Beacon

Visit the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog, El Independent. Below are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless