When progressives emphasize social justice by using collectivist phrases like “common good” and “caring for our neighbor,” the typical reaction of libertarians is to focus on their wrongheaded policies and methodology. But libertarians who call themselves followers of Jesus can greatly benefit by understanding an important aspect of the gospel. If the good news of Jesus Christ is sufficient for personal transformation, it is sufficient for social transformation as well. But progressives fail to produce workable and ethical social reform, whereas libertarians offer ideas that are not only compatible with social justice efforts, they offer an ethical social framework within which to produce it.
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This guest post is by Joel Poindexter.
Christians who identify with a Left political ideology frequently appeal to state intervention in the market as a means of promoting the common good. This is especially true as it relates to many Christians who place an emphasis on promoting social justice. Having attended a Jesuit University where progressive politics were dominant and social justice was held in very high esteem, I can readily attest to this. For examples beyond my personal anecdotes, see the anti-libertarian conference Erroneous Autonomy at The Catholic University of America, and note some recent trends among protestant Christians.
I assume that proponents of such government action often have the best of intentions. I believe they act in good faith, both as Christians and as individuals dedicated to caring for the less fortunate. I also happen to agree that social justice can even be a worthy goal for Christians, provided it is confined to voluntary arrangements. However, a state-based approach to caring for those in poverty is especially problematic for the Christian.
Among favored government regulations of such social justice advocates are minimum wage laws and welfare programs intended to reduce poverty, including food stamps and medical subsidies. These aid programs are widely viewed as benevolent merely because of the surface results. After all, we can see the poor child who is fed and clothed through welfare payments.
However, the libertarian cannot help but see that what undergirds this regime is coercion. The state, by definition, applies force to achieve compliance. Hence, individuals in society face threats of imprisonment or financial penalties should they fail to abide by the law. This utilitarian approach has a host of negative consequences.