Olasky, Marvin 1950-

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Olasky, Marvin 1950-


Born June 12, 1950, in Malden, MA; son of Eli (a teacher) and Ida (a secretary) Olasky; married Susan Northway (a writer), June 27, 1976; children: Peter, David, Daniel, Benjamin. Education: Yale University, A.B., 1971; University of Michigan, M.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: "Compassionate Conservative." Religion: Presbyterian Church in America. Hobbies and other interests: Fiction writing.


Home—Austin, TX. Office—School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712; fax: 512-471-7979. E-mail—[email protected]


Boston Globe, Boston, MA, correspondent, 1970-71; Bulletin, Bend, OR, reporter, 1971-72; Boston Globe, correspondent, 1973; San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, lecturer, 1976-77; Du Pont Co., Wilmington, DE, academic affairs coordinator and speech-writer, 1978-83; University of Texas at Austin, Austin, assistant professor, 1983-88, associate professor, 1988-93, professor of journalism, 1993—; Capital Research Center, Washington, DC, editor of Philanthropy, Culture, and Society, 1991-94; World, Asheville, NC, editor at large, 1992-94, editor, 1994-2002, editor in chief, 2002—; The King's College, provost, 2007—. Heritage Foundation, Bradley resident scholar, 1989-90; Americans United for Life, resident scholar, 1990-91; Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, senior fellow, 1999—; Princeton University, visiting professor, 2004-06. Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center, chair, 1987.


National Association of Scholars.


Corporate Public Relations: A New Historical Perspective, Lawrence Erlbaum (Hillsdale, NJ), 1987.

Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy: Public Affairs and the Forbes 100, Capital Research Center (Washington, DC), 1987.

(With Herbert Schlossberg) Turning Point: A Christian Worldview Declaration, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1987.

Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of the News Media, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1988.

The Press and Abortion, 1838-1988, Lawrence Erlbaum (Hillsdale, NJ), 1988.

(Editor) Herbert Schlossberg, Freedom, Justice, and Hope: Toward a Strategy for the Poor and the Oppressed, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1988.

(With wife, Susan Olasky) More than Kindness: A Compassionate Approach to Childbearing, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1990.

Central Ideas in the Development of American Journalism, Lawrence Erlbaum (Hillsdale, NJ), 1991.

The Tragedy of American Compassion, Regnery Gateway (Washington, DC), 1992.

Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1992.

Philanthropically Correct: The Story of the Council on Foundations, Capital Research Center (Washington, DC), 1993.

Loving Your Neighbor: A Principled Guide to Charity, Capital Research Center (Washington, DC), 1995.

Fighting for Liberty and Virtue: Political and Cultural Wars in Eighteenth-Century America, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1995.

Renewing American Compassion, Free Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1996.

(With Joel Belz) Whirled Views: Tracking Today's Culture Storms, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 1997.

The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton, Free Press (New York, NY), 1999, published as The American Leadership Tradition: The Inevitable Impact of a Leader's Faith on a Nation's Destiny, Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 2000.

Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Standing for Christ in a Modern Babylon, Crossway Books (Wheaton, IL), 2003.

The Religions Next Door: What We Need to Know about Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam—And What Reporters Are Missing, Broadman & Holman (Nashville, TN), 2004.

(With John Perry) Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial, Broadman & Holman (Nashville, TN), 2005.

Scimitar's Edge (novel), Broadman & Holman (Nashville, TN), 2006.

The Politics of Disaster, W Publishing Group (Nashville, TN), 2006.

2048 (graphic novel), Kingstone Media Group (Fruitland Park, FL), 2007.

Unreliable Witnesses (novel), 2007.

Other writings include "Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy: Funding False Compassion," Capital Research Center (Washington, DC), 1991. General editor of "Turning Point Christian Worldview" series, 1987-93. Columnist, Austin American Statesman, 1996-2003; syndicated columnist, Creators Syndicate, 2001—. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Human Life Review, American Enterprise, Pregnancy Counseling Review, Christianity Today, Moody Monthly, American Journalism, and Journal of Popular Film and Television..


During the 2000 presidential campaign, Republican candidate George W. Bush spoke frequently about "compassionate conservatism." That phrase had arisen from the writings of Marvin Olasky, a Texas-based journalist and conservative Christian. Olasky has served as an informal advisor to George W. Bush, but the author is better known for his books on fighting poverty and restructuring not the American government, but rather the American mindset. An outspoken critic of abortion and a proponent of family values, Olasky is best known for his writings on welfare reform. In books such as Renewing American Compassion and Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America, Olasky argues for a return to faith-based charities for improving the lot of the poor. According to Booklist correspondent Ray Olson, Olasky's writings "may come to be regarded as the conservative manifesto on welfare."

Olasky became an author of note in the years following his 1992 book The Tragedy of American Compassion. As David Brooks noted in the New York Times Book Review, that work "powerfully influenced conservative views on welfare reform." Championed by such influential public figures as Bush and Newt Gingrich, Olasky "has become a much-sought-after speaker and conference-goer; his views are cited with regularity and respect in the press," to quote Commentary contributor Leslie Lenkowsky.

The central argument in The Tragedy of American Compassion and Olasky's subsequent works is that government programs for the poor have allowed American citizens to abandon compassion. Olasky cites examples of religious charities in the nineteenth century that, through private donations and the efforts of a corps of volunteers, effectively improved the lives and prospects of the poor. He suggests that self-help is most effectively administered locally—and longer lasting when it is coupled with religious faith. He calls legislators to abandon the social welfare programs developed in the twentieth century and to encourage Americans to renew the older form of private, religious-based compassion. "Essentially," Lenkowsky wrote, "what Olasky is calling for would require a moral, cultural, and spiritual revolution." Lenkowsky added: "American society would undoubtedly be improved if more people showed old-fashioned compassion toward the needy instead of relying on the government."

Some critics dismiss Olasky's work as utopian and not practical for a pluralistic society such as that found in the United States. Others have found reason for optimism in the author's ideas. In Washington Monthly, for instance, Walter Shapiro observed: "As any admirer of the Salvation Army knows, there is a germ of truth to this notion that, while religion may be the opiate of the masses, faith works wonders in individual cases. It is a provocative issue—especially for liberals sensitive about the religious issues involved, but who should be impressed that there are some conservatives who genuinely care about eradicating poverty and are hard-headed about only funding programs that work." Adam Wolfson, also writing in Commentary, stated, "There is much … in Olasky's thinking, particularly about the role of private ‘compassion,’ that reformers can make use of in the months and years to come."

Olasky once told CA: "I've tried to break free from the conventional solutions that both liberals and conservatives tend to offer. For example, although I'm sometimes identified as a conservative, I wrote in The Tragedy of American Compassion that conservative politicians who complain about a spendthrift modern welfare state are stating the problem backward. The major flaw of the modern welfare state, I found, is not that it is extravagant, but that it is too stingy. It gives the needy bread and tells them to be content with that alone. It gives the rest of us the opportunity to be stingy also, and to salve our consciences even as we scrimp on what many of the destitute need most: love, time, and a challenge to be a ‘little lower than the angels,’ rather than one thumb up from the monkeys.

"Part of that different critique developed during research at the Library of Congress, where I found that poverty fighters a century ago in America were more compassionate—in the literal meaning of ‘suffering with’—than many of us are now. They opened their own homes to deserted women and orphaned children. They offered employment to nomadic men who had abandoned hope and most human contact. Most significantly, they made moral demands on recipients of aid. They saw family, work, freedom, and faith as central to our being, not as lifestyle options. They did not allow anyone to eat and run.

"The Tragedy of American Compassion disconcerts some Washington conservatives, as well as liberals, because it does not place politics and economics at the center of things. If we talk of crisis pregnancies, are we actually willing to provide a home to a pregnant young woman? If we talk of abandoned children, are we actually willing to adopt a child? Isn't it time we realized that there is only so much that public policy can do? Isn't it time to realize that only a richness of spirit can battle a poverty of soul?

"As far as my own background is concerned, I grew up in Judaism, so I learned early what it's like to be a member of a minority. But I also followed the late twentieth-century tradition: bar-mitzvah at age thirteen, atheism at fourteen. That led me in a new direction. Believing firmly that there is no God in heaven or on Earth, my teenage wisdom placed Man at the center of all things, and I was a good enough reporter to see Man making a mess of all things. I became a liberal through faith that governmental action could create solutions; at Yale, that religion became radical when I learned that government could not work except through massive restructuring of family, property, state, and culture.

"By graduation time, I was politically a proud member of the herd of independent thinkers, religiously engaged in demonstrating against the war in Vietnam and fasting to show solidarity with workers on strike. Eventually I joined the Communist Party, U.S.A. From atheism to liberalism to radicalism to Marxism to Communism: as long as Man was at the center of things, the movement was logical. It was not until one night in graduate school that I came to realize that God exists.

"That radical change in thinking during the mid-seventies transformed my life. It transformed my politics, of course, as I quickly resigned from the Communist Party. I slowly learned about Christianity and joined a church in 1976. Eventually I arrived at a pro-life, pro-family, pro-enterprise position. The important step was seeing that truth, instead of being class-based or psychology-based, is objective and centered in Christ. Intellectual fashion, which I had pushed to its logical extreme, no longer had a hold on me. For me, belief in Jesus has been very liberating, for I no longer have to please earthly masters."



Booklist, April 15, 1996, Ray Olson, review of Renewing American Compassion, p. 1400; June 1, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America, p. 1814.

Christianity Today, February 5, 1996, Russ Pulliam, review of Fighting for Liberty and Virtue: Political and Cultural Wars in Eighteenth-Century America, p. 42.

Commentary, April, 1996, Adam Wolfson, "Welfare Fixers," p. 38; July, 1996, Leslie Lenkowsky, review of Renewing American Compassion, p. 66.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2000, review of Compassionate Conservatism, p. 775.

National Review, June 3, 1996, Allan Carlson, review of Renewing American Compassion, p. 53.

New York Review of Books, November 2, 2000, Joan Didion, "God's Country."

New York Times Book Review, January 17, 1993, Le Anne Schreiber, "What Kind of Abortions Do We Want?"; February 28, 1999, David Brooks, "Sexual Politics," p. 7.

New York Times Magazine, September 12, 1999, David Grann, "Where W. Got Compassion," p. 62.

Washington Monthly, June, 2000, Walter Shapiro, review of Compassionate Conservatism, p. 54.