For the time being, I’m going to be continuing “Q&A Week” until I have caught up with all of the FAQ submissions… Dave asks:

For a libertarian Christian, is there such a thing as a just war, or are all libertarian Christians pacifists?

This is a terribly difficult question to answer. In sum, I do not believe that being a pacifist is a requirement for a Christian libertarian, but being anti-war is mandatory.

Proper wars – military conflicts – are almost always begun by states, between states. Other instances of wars, such as the Revolutionary War, are few in history. Since the Christian libertarian’s understanding of the state is that it is founded in rebellion against God and is evil in nature, we also understand that its reasons for executing violence against others must also be impure, vile, and evil. We must assume until proven otherwise that any war is unjust. (Even the Revolutionary War’s necessity is debatable, honestly.)

Just war theory, as proposed by Augustine first and many others following him, seeks to limit the state’s justifications for going to war, but there is a downside with the theory as well. Robert Brimlow has addressed this in his book What About Hitler?, and Laurence Vance had this to say in his review of Brimlow’s work:

Brimlow then demolishes the finer points of just war theory itself, even taking on the theologian Thomas Aquinas. The author considers just war theory, "as developed and defended both by church theologians and secular philosophers," untenable, and for three reasons:

  • Just war theory is untenable because it is difficult to know with sufficient confidence whether all of its conditions have been met.
  • Just war theory is untenable because some of its tenets are impossible to realize.
  • Just war theory is untenable because it used to justify rather than to prevent war.

Go to Laurence’s full article for even more elaboration. I find it compelling. Just war theory has been used to justify terrible wars, including every American intervention/war of the 20th and 21st century. Why, then, would I want to adopt it?

Again, I do not think pacifism is the ultimate answer, but I think Leo Tolstoy, Stanley Hauerwas, John Yoder, and Dietrich Bonheoffer make strong cases for it. Here at LCC, Doug Douma has made persuasive arguments as well. On the other side, I don’t think we can claim that Jesus saying “turn the other cheek” completely excludes all forms of self-defense (see my exegesis of Matthew 5). Who knows, perhaps I will be convinced of pacifism someday, I don’t claim to have this nailed down yet. Currently, I think understanding the use of force through a careful viewing of natural law and ethics reveals the appropriateness of basic self-defense to protect one’s life, family, and property. But, you had darned well better be sure if you ever, ever raise your hand against another person.

Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Norman,
    Don’t be so quick to paint all Christian Libertarians’ understanding of “the state is that it is founded in rebellion against God and is evil in nature”.  I’ve read many of yours and other so-called “Christian Anarchists” views and I can’t see how it’s consistant with all scripture.  I think your fundamental flaw is confusing Tyranny and God-ordained government.  My purpose in this comment isn’t to prove a point but to challenge us all to think this through more…

  • Chris Coyle

    I started out as a gung-ho Christian Rightist, but I find myself drifting ever closer towards pacifism.  The degree of nationalism and flag-waving, narcissist American exceptionalism I see in my local church is disturbing.  As Christians, shouldn’t we, like Abraham, be focused on “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”?  Many Christians today seem far more set on defending their turf than in fulfilling the Great Commission.

  • Why not just adopt the JW theory but adapt it so that it excludes state activity, so that it states that one of the requirements is that it involves only a private entity (either private vs. private or private vs state). Or that it the war is completely voluntary, absent of the support of enforced monetary support (taxes), popular support (“voting”), or enforced, direct support (drafting)?

  • Anonymous

    When Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, that was in the context of our own cheek being struck. If it is someone else- someone innocent – who is being struck, for us to turn our own cheek means to turn and look the other way. Reading the whole of scripture, I just can’t see that as being what He taught. We are told to have (voluntary) compassion for the widow, orphan, foreigner, and others among us who are most vulnerable. These are usually the people who suffer the most both from the domestic aggression of criminals and the foreign aggression of invaders. We must care about such suffering, and we must be willing to do something about it. But what to do?

    The Just War theory is one answer. The problem, of course, is that nations and their leaders and peoples tend not to remain within the very strict confines of Just War theory. Once a war is being waged, it is very, very hard to wage it exclusively on the principle of protecting the innocent from harm, and refraining from harming any innocent people in the process. The moment that line is crossed, then it becomes merely a matter of differing degrees of guilt between the two sides. (And IMHO, those who attempt to stretch Just War theory with various exceptions and justifications that go beyond this hard line are just being plain dishonest – to themselves, to others, and to God.) This suggests to me that if a Christian wants to follow the Just War approach AND remain faithful to Jesus and His way, then they must be willing and ready to disobey orders and accept the consequences the moment they are ordered to take any action that goes beyond the bounds of justified defense. There are not many people who have actually done this, and it does raise a further problem: When one agrees to serve in the armed forces, one is also expected to take an oath that one will obey orders. Jesus had some very explicit things to say about not taking oaths that you are not able and willing to follow though upon entirely. One must therefore be honest with the induction officials up front and make it clear that one cannot provide an unqualified commitment to obey all orders. I doubt very much that this would be acceptable to them. Of course, if one waits until the enemy is at the gates and the situation is desperate, then perhaps that might just work.

    Mere pacificism is not an adequate answer by itself, because it leaves the innocent victims helpless. IMHO, if someone is really serious about being a Christian pacifist, then they have to be willing to put their own life and safety on the line by attempting to interpose themselves between the aggressors and their victims, in an attempt to at least shield the victims, and just possibly being able to dissuade the aggressors from harming them. Admittedly, more often than not this would end up being not much more than a suicide mission. However, it is not hard to see such an approach fitting in with the Christian way advocated by Jesus in the gospels.

    There are no good or perfect answers, unfortunately, and thus we had better cut each other a good deal of slack as each of us attempts to cope with this difficult issue.

    On the other hand, blasting away at civilian populations because their government is not to our liking, or because people not to our government’s liking are hiding within their midst, is pretty clearly not just crossing the line, but going way beyond it. I’m having trouble understanding what possible justification there can be for such activity from a Christian perspective, or for our participation in it. We shouldn’t let the ambiguity of hard cases distract us from the moral clarity of the obvious ones.

  • Anonymous

    When Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, that was in the context of our own cheek being struck. If it is someone else- someone innocent – who is being struck, for us to turn our own cheek means to turn and look the other way. Reading the whole of scripture, I just can’t see that as being what He taught. We are told to have (voluntary) compassion for the widow, orphan, foreigner, and others among us who are most vulnerable. These are usually the people who suffer the most both from the domestic aggression of criminals and the foreign aggression of invaders. We must care about such suffering, and we must be willing to do something about it. But what to do?

    The Just War theory is one answer. The problem, of course, is that nations and their leaders and peoples tend not to remain within the very strict confines of Just War theory. Once a war is being waged, it is very, very hard to wage it exclusively on the principle of protecting the innocent from harm, and refraining from harming any innocent people in the process. The moment that line is crossed, then it becomes merely a matter of differing degrees of guilt between the two sides. (And IMHO, those who attempt to stretch Just War theory with various exceptions and justifications that go beyond this hard line are just being plain dishonest – to themselves, to others, and to God.) This suggests to me that if a Christian wants to follow the Just War approach AND remain faithful to Jesus and His way, then they must be willing and ready to disobey orders and accept the consequences the moment they are ordered to take any action that goes beyond the bounds of justified defense. There are not many people who have actually done this, and it does raise a further problem: When one agrees to serve in the armed forces, one is also expected to take an oath that one will obey orders. Jesus had some very explicit things to say about not taking oaths that you are not able and willing to follow though upon entirely. One must therefore be honest with the induction officials up front and make it clear that one cannot provide an unqualified commitment to obey all orders. I doubt very much that this would be acceptable to them. Of course, if one waits until the enemy is at the gates and the situation is desperate, then perhaps that might just work.

    Mere pacificism is not an adequate answer by itself, because it leaves the innocent victims helpless. IMHO, if someone is really serious about being a Christian pacifist, then they have to be willing to put their own life and safety on the line by attempting to interpose themselves between the aggressors and their victims, in an attempt to at least shield the victims, and just possibly being able to dissuade the aggressors from harming them. Admittedly, more often than not this would end up being not much more than a suicide mission. However, it is not hard to see such an approach fitting in with the Christian way advocated by Jesus in the gospels.

    There are no good or perfect answers, unfortunately, and thus we had better cut each other a good deal of slack as each of us attempts to cope with this difficult issue.

    On the other hand, blasting away at civilian populations because their government is not to our liking, or because people not to our government’s liking are hiding within their midst, is pretty clearly not just crossing the line, but going way beyond it. I’m having trouble understanding what possible justification there can be for such activity from a Christian perspective, or for our participation in it. We shouldn’t let the ambiguity of hard cases distract us from the moral clarity of the obvious ones.

  • Anonymous

    When Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, that was in the context of our own cheek being struck. If it is someone else- someone innocent – who is being struck, for us to turn our own cheek means to turn and look the other way. Reading the whole of scripture, I just can’t see that as being what He taught. We are told to have (voluntary) compassion for the widow, orphan, foreigner, and others among us who are most vulnerable. These are usually the people who suffer the most both from the domestic aggression of criminals and the foreign aggression of invaders. We must care about such suffering, and we must be willing to do something about it. But what to do?

    The Just War theory is one answer. The problem, of course, is that nations and their leaders and peoples tend not to remain within the very strict confines of Just War theory. Once a war is being waged, it is very, very hard to wage it exclusively on the principle of protecting the innocent from harm, and refraining from harming any innocent people in the process. The moment that line is crossed, then it becomes merely a matter of differing degrees of guilt between the two sides. (And IMHO, those who attempt to stretch Just War theory with various exceptions and justifications that go beyond this hard line are just being plain dishonest – to themselves, to others, and to God.) This suggests to me that if a Christian wants to follow the Just War approach AND remain faithful to Jesus and His way, then they must be willing and ready to disobey orders and accept the consequences the moment they are ordered to take any action that goes beyond the bounds of justified defense. There are not many people who have actually done this, and it does raise a further problem: When one agrees to serve in the armed forces, one is also expected to take an oath that one will obey orders. Jesus had some very explicit things to say about not taking oaths that you are not able and willing to follow though upon entirely. One must therefore be honest with the induction officials up front and make it clear that one cannot provide an unqualified commitment to obey all orders. I doubt very much that this would be acceptable to them. Of course, if one waits until the enemy is at the gates and the situation is desperate, then perhaps that might just work.

    Mere pacificism is not an adequate answer by itself, because it leaves the innocent victims helpless. IMHO, if someone is really serious about being a Christian pacifist, then they have to be willing to put their own life and safety on the line by attempting to interpose themselves between the aggressors and their victims, in an attempt to at least shield the victims, and just possibly being able to dissuade the aggressors from harming them. Admittedly, more often than not this would end up being not much more than a suicide mission. However, it is not hard to see such an approach fitting in with the Christian way advocated by Jesus in the gospels.

    There are no good or perfect answers, unfortunately, and thus we had better cut each other a good deal of slack as each of us attempts to cope with this difficult issue.

    On the other hand, blasting away at civilian populations because their government is not to our liking, or because people not to our government’s liking are hiding within their midst, is pretty clearly not just crossing the line, but going way beyond it. I’m having trouble understanding what possible justification there can be for such activity from a Christian perspective, or for our participation in it. We shouldn’t let the ambiguity of hard cases distract us from the moral clarity of the obvious ones.

  • Scott Geer

    Well said

  • Scott Geer

    The large number of evangelical churches that wrap the cross in an American flag make me sick!  Generally speaking, we’re way too worried about our temporary homes here and not enough about where we’re going.  As I think about the issue of Tyranny Vs Government, I find 1Sam very intriguing.  The people wanted a king, like all the other Nations.  They wanted to be their own god, like Adam.  We find the theme repeated over and over throughout scripture. Nimrod.  The Tower of Babel.  It struck me reading 1Sam that the people choosing Saul are just like the people in Revelations choosing the Antichrist.  A very popular charismatic person but in the end he enslaves them all.  And I can’t help but see the parallels with the people’s choice in Obama.  The theme is so prevalent in history because the sin of wanting to throw off God’s authority is so rooted in our hearts.  But God chose a king after His own heart (David…Christ).  And in the end (Revelations), God will destroy Babylon.  Until then, how shall we then live? 

  • Jaired Hall

    Like Scott, I’m not 100% sure this one is necessary: “Since the Christian libertarian’s understanding of the state is that it is founded in rebellion against God and is evil in nature, we also understand that its reasons for executing violence against others must also be impure, vile, and evil.” Do you really need to exclude from your thinking of a “Christian libertarian” everyone who is not a Christian anarchist? Many, many deep thinking Christians (some of whom consider themselves libertarian, libertarian leaning, or almost libertarian) do not think the state is per se a rebellion against God. Once that step is taken, the step to anarchy is complete. Right?  Is anarchist and libertarian synonymous? Maybe by complete logical extension it could be/should be, but then, almost no one takes all their thoughts and opinions to the fullest logical extension. Surely it would be news to many libertarians that libertariansim is anarchism. (?)  

  • Aradruin

    Grammar Correction: Are the terms anarchist and libertarian synonymous.

  • Scott Geer

    The Westminster Assembly itself was a parliamentary committee of the English Civil war!  While I don’t hold their work equal to the Bible, the fruit of 10 years and 150 men has needed little correction in the last 350 years!  In light of their fruit, one could hardly consign the motive of the entire committee to rebellion against God and evil in nature, especially when one uses Josephus to back the counter-thesis.  (Nothing against Josephus but he was a historian, not a great theologian in his own right).  We’re foolish to think somehow we’re less sinful or more enlightened than the Westminster assembly and to throw their work out without very serious consideration: http://www.westminsterassembly.org/welcome-to-the-westminster-assembly-project/

  • Anonymous

    If libertarians are so into individual rights, then they approve a primitive way of life in which we are constantly in a “war of all against all” -Thomas Hobbes- and dont understand at all how a society works and what real freedom means

  • Riiiiiiiggggggghhhhhhhttttt. Ever heard of the term “social cooperation”? Or “trade”?

  • Jaired Hall

    Bryon…have you read much of Hobbes? If he’s so right that quoting or paraphrasing him is all that is necessary to shrug aside “libertarians” as having no understanding “at all” of how society and freedom work, then please explain how he is right when he says a strong authoritarian central government is necessary to protect real freedom.

  • Anonymous

    EXACTLY!!! he said that because you cant have real freedom without giving some of it to the estate. He explain very carefully that we as individuals cannot live apart from the society. For instance. The strongest will be the powerful one and he will take whatever he wants from others. So theres no protection for the weak one. But then two or three weak ones join forces and then take it again from the strong one. It will be a war every day without the estate intervention. When you give some of your freedom to the estate to watch for your safety in a neutral way, then you have true freedom. Im not talking about patriot act kind of thing, Im talking here about a structure, a government, to make rights a real thing.    

  • Anonymous

    social cooperation or trade? really? sounds too naive (No offense)

  • Your previous commenting made it a bit too late for “no offense”. But keep trollin’ if it makes you happy. :-)

  • Anonymous

    troll? So if someone disagrees with you then automatically he’s a troll? Even if he talks with facts, history, and valid arguments with precise detail on why he disagrees. Theres no room for debate on this page I see. Then your wish is granted, I wont comment in here anymore. Good day sir!

  • The was no argument, no “precise detail”, barely any history, and one “fact” that you presented in your first comment (granted, your second, responding to Jaired, was slightly more substantive). The statement: “If libertarians support individual rights the way they do, then they don’t understand society/life/etc.” is NOT an argument, even if you throw Hobbes’s name in there. That’s why I *thought *you were acting like a troll…

    Looking back, though, I see you made some civil comments and had good discussion in another thread, specifically the one on firearms. So you’re obviously *not* a troll. So let’s get back to that kind of talk instead of “surely you have no idea how society works”, ok?

  • I agree with most of the answer; however, I think that just war theory, even if it’s abused by the state, is not necessarily invalid; and while there are good points to be made of some of the injustices toward the Tories during the revolution of 1776, I think that overall the American Revolution was a libertarian revolution (and, may I add, the groundwork on which libertarians must build in their theory of revolution). On just war theory, while earlier manifestations may have been too permissive (like the form which permitted even the most unjust of wars provided that the “rules of war” were followed), there is also a positive form advocated by such greats as Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, the vast majority of libertarians and classical liberals throughout the history, and Hugo Grotius, as well as the just-war theory of Laurence Vance.

    And while I agree that the state is in rebellion against God, I think that a vastly limited, decentralized government is necessary, as I have not yet adopted the creed of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, as most of the folks at LCC have done.

  • I would like to know what LCC’s view on violent revolution is, as there were some pieces on LCC, particularly by John Cobin, that argued that such a thing can sometimes be legitimate.

    However, the LCC FAQ stated that it would not advocate violence as a way for solving statism.

    What is their actual opinion on it? Is it justified sometimes from a libertarian and Christian standpoint?

  • Violence is *never* preferred and should be avoided at all costs
    — but I’m not a strict pacifist. I agree with La Boetie that mass
    consent is ultimately what matters, and thus a *cultural* revolution
    that ends things non-violently is the best *strategic* goal. In my view
    the greatest strategic asset — and spiritual asset — for accomplishing
    such a goal AND honoring God is affecting the church universal. Hence
    why I do what I do. :)

    I don’t think other “revolution” is completely excluded, but it is not our primary goal. I agree with Cobin’s and Rothbard’s assessment of the American Revolution, and I think that, in theory, one could envision a
    morally-justified “violent” revolution. However, our efforts clearly
    ought to be more directed toward changing hearts and minds toward
    peaceful, non-violent revolution. The pen is mightier than the sword,
    etc.

  • Andrew Patton

    How can you say that the Christian libertarian’s view is that the State is established in rebellion against God when it was God who established the nations and governments therein? The purpose of government is explained in Genesis 9: “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” That is, the primary purpose of government is to deter, prosecute, and punish murder, and by extension, all forms of violence against persons and property.