Archive for libertarian christian
I am trying to better understand the intellectual foundations behind the similarities of both libertarianism and christianity, however I came across a Wikipedia entry that suggests a difference between “Christian libertarianism” and “Libertarian Christianity.” Is there any essential and significant difference between both terms?
Great question! The Wikipedia entry you mention suggests that “libertarian Christianity” comes from a specific blend of systematic and biblical theology. They suppose they are distinct from “Christian libertarians” because of their “Bible-based legal philosophy using biblical hermeneutics that are different from those used by Christian libertarians.” (That’s a Wikipedia quote.) To me, this sounds more or less like theonomic reconstructionism, a view I respect but with which I very much disagree for a variety of reasons.
In contrast, “Christian libertarianism describes the synthesis of Christian beliefs concerning human nature and dignity with libertarian political philosophy.” (Also a Wikipedia quote.) Christian libertarianism looks for the congruence of libertarian political thought and Christian theology because of a firm belief in the harmony of natural law with sound theological principles. I have written a few essays that take this approach, including an article for the Washington Post.
This is fundamentally why you will never hear me describe what I believe as “libertarian Christianity.” As it is, the terms comes a bit too front-loaded for me. However, I have no problem calling myself a libertarian Christian OR Christian libertarian. In fact, I’ve written a bit more on that topic in this blog post.
D. writes to LCC:
As Christians and Libertarians, how do we deal with Colossians 3:22?
“Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not be way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”
I’m having a hard time with this.
Here’s an answer for you, D.
Paul says elsewhere that it is good if you can obtain your freedom. See 1 Corinthians 7:21-23; “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.” In one epistle, Paul even gently rebukes a slave owner – Philemon – admonishing him to free the slave Onesiumus.
The reason Paul wrote to the Colossians in this way was to advise prudence. With the newfound freedom a Christian in bondage has found, he might make a rash decision to buck his presumptive “owner” and put himself in a terrible position for his health and witness.
Also, this is actually an encouraging message to someone in slavery. Perhaps after hearing the gospel of Christ and the freedom it brings, the slave may think that there is no way he could possibly be included in this salvation – for he is in physical bondage. Paul’s meta-message is that all are included in the gospel.
Remember what Paul says in Galatians 3 to all Christians everywhere: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
No matter where we are, whether in physical bondage of slavery or oppressed in a dictatorship, the body of Christ – the Church universal – prevails forever.
(Additionally, you might be interested in the LCC blog post on Slavery in the Old Testament.)
My recent article "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives" elicited a huge response – most of it positive. Some libertarians, however, were quite annoyed because I expressed my opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
I promised my critics that I responded to (I didn’t respond to profanity-laden missives or to statements like: "A libertarian is really a fascist SOB if he is pro-life.") that I would write about these two subjects individually, and sooner rather than later. I addressed the subject of same-sex marriage in an article published on June 8. There I argued that there is no libertarian position on same-sex marriage. I address here the subject of libertarianism and abortion.
Other than brief mentions in my article "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives" and in a couple of articles about Ron Paul’s views on the matter, I have only written at length about abortion in the article "Is Ron Paul Wrong on Abortion?" I have actually written more that was critical of the pro-life movement than I have about abortion: I defended Ron Paul against the attacks of pro-lifers and took them to task for their hypocrisy and warmongering.
What I recently said about abortion in my article "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives" that ruffled the feathers of some libertarians was this:
I have argued that because the non-aggression axiom is central to libertarianism, and because force is justified only in self-defense, and because it is wrong to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property, and because killing is the ultimate form of aggression that, to be consistent, libertarians should be opposed to abortion.
The link I gave was to my article "Is Ron Paul Wrong on Abortion?" in which I said these things:
Why should it be considered libertarian to kill a baby in the womb or unlibertarian to oppose such killing? And even worse, why would a libertarian say that it was unlibertarian to advocate killing foreigners in an aggressive war but not non-libertarian to kill a baby in the womb?
Killing someone is the ultimate form of aggression. Especially a helpless, defenseless fetus that is only guilty of suddenly waking up in a womb. The fetus certainly had no control over being a parasite, aggressing against a woman, invading a woman’s body, or adding unwanted pounds to his host – but its mother certainly did. If an unborn child is not entitled to protection of life, then to be consistent, libertarians should have no problem with the abortion of a fetus from one month old to nine months old. The nine-month old fetus is no more viable than the one-month old one. In fact, a one-month old baby has the same degree of viability. I hate to be so crude, but leave all three of them unattended on a table in a hospital and see what happens.
Why should it be considered libertarian to kill a baby in the womb or unlibertarian to oppose such killing? This has nothing to do with giving the government greater control over a woman’s body; it has everything to do with preventing aggression and protecting innocent life.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned and abortion laws were once again made the provision of the states, there would be nothing unlibertarian about supporting state laws making abortion a crime just as laws against murder, manslaughter, and wrongful death are considered legitimate actions of the states.
I’m not sure who bothered to click the link and read what I had previously written about abortion, but doing so would have answered some of the questions that I was asked.
I base my statements about abortion on the libertarian non-aggression principle, which I believe is also a biblical principle, or else I wouldn’t hold to it.
The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence ("aggress") against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.
Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It [is] concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation.
The libertarian position on anything is based on the question of, Does it violate the non aggression principle (NAP) about initiating or threatening physical violence. If so, the libertarian position is that it should be illegal, and punished by the full force of the law. If not, the libertarian position is that it should be legal, and it would be unjustified to use physical violence against the person who engages in that act.
Because a child in the womb is helpless, not initiating violence, not committing aggression, and not there of its own accord, I believe that, to be consistent, libertarians should not only be opposed to abortion, but in favor of making it a criminal act just like murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, assault, and robbery would be in any libertarian society based on the non-aggression principle.
Now, what sort of penalty should be imposed, how criminality would be determined, how to divide culpability between the woman and her doctor, how to handle situations where pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, how to handle situations where parents force their pregnant teenage daughter to get an abortion, how far along the pregnancy has to be, etc., etc., etc. are things that would have to be determined that I don’t profess to have precise answers to. But, aside from premeditated, witnessed, proven-beyond-a-doubt first degree murder, neither do I have precise answers as to what the penalty should be for manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, theft, assault, or robbery.
I reproduce below relevant portions of interaction regarding the subject of abortion that I had with five "pro-choice" libertarians. I only gave them brief responses because I knew from their comments and questions that it would be much better for all interested parties if I took the time to write something much more in depth than an e-mail. I appreciate them taking the time to write and hope they are reading. Judging from the whole of what they wrote to me, I don’t expect to change their minds. Nevertheless, in addition to what I have said above regarding libertarianism and abortion, I offer my comments below.
Try as I might, I can’t reconcile a position favoring small, non-intrusive government, with support for the criminalization of abortion, which necessarily involves the government sticking its nose into doctors’ examining rooms, and one could say, into the orifices of any woman being examined there.
It cannot be denied that pregnancy is inherently dangerous, therefore any abortion can always be justified as defensive, not initiated force. It is an unpleasant fact that we all start our lives as parasites, and a potential mother has no more obligation to support such a parasite in her body than the body politic has to support "welfare parasites."
I would kindly ask that you either: 1) Don’t tell people that you’re a libertarian if you’re going to defend a "pro-life" position, or 2) Don’t tell people you’re pro-life if you’re going to defend a libertarian position.
People like you are "spoiling the brand name," and if folks hear you advocate both libertarianism and anti-abortionism, it may reinforce their false belief that we are far-right wingers.
It occurs to me that I don’t remember you saying in your article or your reply that you favor making abortion illegal. If what you mean when you call yourself a pro-life libertarian is that you would use peaceful persuasion to convince women not to get abortions, then any disagreement I may have thought we had was all in my head. If, however, my original assumption was correct, then I should point out that the right to life does not include the right to live at the expense of another. If it does, then government wealth redistribution is OK, right? Making abortion illegal again would turn the gift of life into just another entitlement coerced by government force.
Also, I am given to understand that quite often a fertilized egg fails to implant in the lining of the uterus and is expelled during menstruation, making God, if you will, perhaps the biggest performer of abortions.
I would like to someday hear from the "Pro-lifers" how we would deal with a pregnant woman that does not want to carry her unborn fetus to the full term and give birth to a child. What does a "libertarian" society do with her? What does a "libertarian" society do with her…legally?
Tell us how to be libertarians and advocate criminal activity to abortion. Tell us what we SHOULD DO legally when a woman chooses to abort. Is it OK to put her in a straitjacket in a padded cell and force feed her to keep her and her fetus healthy?
How should the law deal with an unwanted pregnancy. And by the way to your question "Should abortion be legal at anytime before the child is born?" My answer is yes. You and I may not like the choice someone makes but as long as we have the "right to life" I can’t see any other meaning to that than the right to our own life. The woman makes the choice and will have to live with it her entire life.
The bureaucratic apparatus that would be required to actually prevent and or punish even a fraction of abortions would be overarching, imposing, and by necessity invade the privacy of all women.
It would be a TSA of the vagina. Not a pleasant thought, at least not to me.
Or, less poetically, it would be but another tentacle of the already metastasized and gut-wrenchingly corrupt "justice" system that has – with little effect on crime – built a gulag system filled with more hopeless convicts than any other time in history or place in the world. And you’d like to add to this? Really? Should we not be focused on limiting, or better yet removing, state power?
Such an apparatus would necessarily impose force and coercion, and as such be the antithesis of "libertarian" (as you define it by NAP.) Frankly, I think this is why so many "conservative" politicians slobber over the issue, it would allow them more justification to spend more money on prisons and police while engendering a tumescent response from their latent sadism.
It really doesn’t matter if abortion itself is "libertarian" or not, any attempt to stop it would require un-libertarian means. Just as there can never really be a libertarian war, since all war harms the innocent.
I personally take the Rothbardian position that while regrettable that the fetus cannot live outside the mother’s womb, it is slavery to force a woman to carry an unwanted child to term.
A woman’s right to have an abortion has nothing to do with a woman’s "right to privacy" and everything to do with her right of self ownership. You wouldn’t allow anyone to forcibly insert any object into your body without your consent. By the same token, it would be well within your rights to remove an object consensually inserted into your body at any time. This is the most basic application of your inalienable right of self ownership.
I see perhaps nine things that I need to address.
First, opposition to abortion is not an exclusively far-right wing or conservative position. This was the whole point of my original article, "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives?" Libertarians who advocate "anti-abortionism" shouldn’t abandon their position so they won’t be mistaken for conservatives anymore than they should abandon their advocacy of lower taxes, the free market, and other things that liberals associate with the right wing. And if a libertarians advocate "pro-abortionism," won’t it reinforce the false belief that libertarians are far left-wingers?
Second, although it is true that "often a fertilized egg fails to implant in the lining of the uterus and is expelled during menstruation," this doesn’t necessarily make God the "biggest performer of abortions." Just because God allows something to happen doesn’t mean he’s the cause of it. Otherwise he would be responsible for all abortions. God "giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25) and "in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). As the author of life, God can take life anytime he chooses in any manner he chooses.
Third, if an act violates the non-aggression principle, as I believe abortion does, then I think it inherently means that it should be punished in some way. Thus, to be consistent, pro-life libertarians should also support the criminalization of abortion just like they support the criminalization of other acts of aggression like murder and robbery. The fact that there may be no living victim to seek restitution and that all those who had knowledge of the victim (woman, boyfriend, doctor, nurse) preferred him dead is irrelevant just like it is in the case of the murder of someone who is already out of the womb.
Fourth, that the U.S. has a corrupt criminal justice system and a gulag filled with hopeless convicts there is no doubt. But abortion is not a victimless crime like drug use that should just be ignored. And just because the system is bad doesn’t mean that genuine acts of aggression should go unpunished. I am in favor of adding to prison anyone guilty of real crimes (assuming that prison should be the punishment) and removing from prison anyone not guilty of real crimes. And I should also add that abortion should not be a federal crime anymore than murder, rape, or robbery should be federal crimes. Most federal crimes (the ones that are really crimes, not the ones like taking unlicensed dentures across state lines) should not be federal crimes at all.
Fifth, criminalizing abortion would not lead to a greater police state that increases the bureaucratic apparatus and violates privacy. The fact is, we already have a police state, and it’s not because murder, robbery, and other real crimes are prosecuted. If abortion were illegal, it would no more entail the government sticking its nose in doctors’ offices and women’s wombs than murder being illegal means that the government stations agents in every home, bar, and alley waiting for a murder to take place.
Sixth, no pro-life libertarian believes in aggression to prevent possible or potential aggression. It would therefore not be okay to enslave a pregnant woman by forcing her "to carry an unwanted child to term" or put her "in a straitjacket in a padded cell and force feed her to keep her and her fetus healthy." It would not be permissible to use "un-libertarian means" to stop abortion. It’s not the job of the government – whatever form it appears in – to prevent crime. A criminal act is not a criminal act until it is committed. Preventing abortion would be no different than preventing other crimes. The way to stop abortion is by persuading pregnant women to not undergo abortions or educating them sufficiently in the pro-life position before they get pregnant so they won’t consider abortion an option should they get pregnant. People so inclined to kill, rape, or rob should be persuaded not to kill, rape, or rob or educated to the extent that they would never be so inclined.
Seventh, although a fetus is a parasite in the sense that it lives inside, is dependent upon, and obtains nutriments from a host, I hasten to point out that a newborn baby is totally dependent upon someone to feed and take care of it as well. Even a six-month-old baby left to itself will soon die. Is it okay to just throw parasitical children in the trash with aborted babies? A child in the womb a week before birth is just as much a parasite as a child in the womb six months before birth. Are libertarians who advocate abortion on demand ready to allow the procedure at any time before birth in the name of consistency? And what about the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion?
Eighth, certainly it is equally true that no object should be forcibly inserted into one’s body and that one would be well within his rights to remove, not only an object inserted without consent, but any object consensually inserted. But we are talking about a child here, not a choice. When a woman engages in an activity the natural consequence of which is pregnancy, she is obligating herself to bring to term a completely separate individual with uniquely different DNA that didn’t choose to "invade" her body or "aggress" against her. To be consistent, pro-choice libertarians should limit their argument here to pregnancy in the case of rape, a very rare occurrence. But even in the case of pregnancy via rape, it is the result of the aggression of someone else that the woman is pregnant, not the child which has, through no fault of its own, been inserted into the woman’s body. If someone owned a ship and discovered a child on board that someone had stowed away, would he be well within his rights to throw the child overboard for being a trespasser? Should he not rather give the child up safely at the end of his voyage?
And finally, based on everything I have said thus far, it should be obvious that if a pregnant woman doesn’t want to keep her baby – for whatever reason – then I see no other alternative for her than to have her baby and then give it up for adoption. If money is an issue, there are pro-life organizations that will care for women during their pregnancy. But I think pro-lifers have dropped the ball here. If pro-lifers would pay women with unwanted pregnancies to not abort their child, carry it to term, and give it up for adoption, they would do more to prevent abortions than they are doing now. But would not some women get pregnant just for the cash? Certainly, but there have always been and always will be women that will do unusual things for money. Even now some women have more children just to get increased welfare benefits. But even if a small percentage of women became baby factories because they got paid to carry babies to term, it would still be better than having a million abortions every year like occurs now in the United States. And since I mentioned adoption, let me also say that the state should get completely out of the adoption business and leave it entirely up to the free market.
I have not undertaken here a systematic defense of the libertarian pro-life position. I have merely addressed the concerns of those who wrote me.
One of the people who wrote me said that libertarians are pro-choice on everything. I see nothing libertarian about a woman choosing to kill her unborn child for getting in the way of her lifestyle.
Originally published on LewRockwell.com on July 17, 2012.
Finally, the truth comes out. At long last, we now know why Joe Carter is not and can never be a Christian libertarian – because he is a conservative Christian warmonger.
According to his profile at the Acton Institute PowerBlog:
Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).
Although I am familiar with the Acton Institute, and appreciate its defense of the free market, I had never heard of Joe Carter until I was directed to a series of posts he wrote attacking the idea that one can be a Christian libertarian. If you are interested in reading them, see here, here, here, and here. If you are interested in reading some responses, see here, here, here, and here.
I never bothered to respond to Carter because (1) I am much too busy writing other things, (2) I have already made the case for Christian libertarianism in a lecture I gave at the Mises Institute on "Is Libertarianism Compatible with Religion?" and (3) because I have a number of friends who are in fact Christian libertarians: David Theroux of the Independent Institute, Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation, William Anderson of Frostburg State University, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, Andrew Napolitano of Fox News, Shawn Rittenour and Jeff Herbener of Grove City College, Guido Hulsmann of the University of Angers, Lew Rockwell and Tom Woods of the Mises Institute, Norman Horn of LibertarianChristians.com, Timothy Terrell of Wofford College, Gerard Casey of University College Dublin, Jason Jewell of Faulkner University, Robert Murphy of Free Advice, Gary North of GaryNorth.com, and Jeff Tucker of Laissez Faire Books (my apologies to any of my friends I have inadvertently forgotten).
But it’s not just Christian libertarianism that Carter has a problem with.
One post of his that I do feel compelled to respond to is "How to Love Liberty More Than a Libertarian Economist." The economist in question is Brian Caplan, a Professor of Economics at George Mason University who blogs at EconLog. In his attack on libertarianism, Carter refers to a post by Caplan titled "My Beautiful Bubble." To this post of Caplan, the conservative Steve Sailer replied: "Of course, if there were a big war, it would be nice to be defended by all those dreary American you despise. And, the irony is, they’d do it, too, just because you are an American." Caplan replied to Sailer’s comment in another post titled "Reciprocity and Irony: A View from My Bubble." In his post, Carter reprinted the concluding part of Caplan’s reply in full:
- I pay good money for these protective services. So I don’t see why my American defenders deserve any more gratitude than the countless other people – American and foreign – I trade with.
- Since my American defenders are paid by heavy taxes whether I like it or not, they deserve far less gratitude than my genuine trading partners, who scrupulously respect the sanctity of my Bubble.
- In fact, I think my American "defenders" owe me an apology. My best guess is that, on net, the U.S. armed forces increase the probability that a big war will adversely affect me. While they deter some threats, they provoke many others. If I lived in a Bubble in Switzerland (happily neutral since 1815), at least I’d know that I was getting some value for my tax dollars.
I take no sides in any dispute between Carter and Caplan or Caplan and Sailer. I only mention all of the above to provide the necessary context for Carter’s closing paragraphs:
What Caplan misses in Sailor’s criticism is that the "dreary Americans" are not protecting him because of the pittance he pays in taxes. They are protecting him because they love liberty more than he does.
Caplan’s libertarianism leads him (rightly, I believe) to embrace pacifism. As he says, the foreign policy that follows from libertarian principles is not isolationism, but opposition to all warfare. The [sic] is internally consistent yet self-defeating since the conclusion is that libertarianism means loving liberty only to the point that you are not required to defend it by means of warfare.
In contrast, I – like many other veterans in America – served my country (fifteen years in the Marine Corps) precisely because I loved freedom. I loved it so much that I was willing to sacrifice some of my own freedom, or even my life if necessary, to secure it for myself, for my nation, and for libertarian pacifists like Caplan. He is able to afford the luxury of living in his beautiful bubble because other Americans have bought that liberty for him. For over two centuries, American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have paid the cost necessary to allow people like him to live freely. We have provided him with the safety and security he needs to crawl off in his elite bubble and forget that people like us exist.
Caplan is free to move to Switzerland, though I suspect he’ll keep his Bubble in Arlington, Virginia. As a libertarian economics professor at George Mason he’s smart enough to do the calculus. He knows that his optimal choice is to stay put and keep free-riding on the benefits provided by other people – whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian – who love liberty more than he does.
I want to focus on Carter’s remarks about the military in the first and third paragraphs because most of the statements he makes are typical of conservatives, and especially conservative Christian warmongers.
According to the Department of Defense, "All four active services met or exceeded their numerical accession goals for fiscal year 2011." Here are the actual numbers:
Army – 64,019 accessions, with a goal of 64,000
Navy – 33,444 accessions, with a goal of 33,400
Marine Corps – 29,773 accessions, with a goal of 29,750
Air Force – 28,518 accessions, with a goal of 28,515
This means that 155,754 Americans joined the military in fiscal year 2011 (Oct. 1, 2010–Sept. 30, 2011). Does anyone besides Joe Carter actually believe that even a majority of those who joined the military did so because they loved liberty more than Brian Caplan? Could it rather have something to do with being talked into it by lying military recruiters, the billions the military spends on advertising, the No Child Left Behind Act, the promise of free money for college, the desire to get away from home, the chance to kill foreigners for real instead of just in video games, revenge for 9/11, the adventure, the world travel, family tradition, or the generous retirement benefits? I suspect the main reason is the economy; i.e., the poverty draft.
Sorry, Joe, you – like many other veterans in America – didn’t serve your country. You served the state. You helped maintain a global empire of troops and bases. You helped carry out an evil interventionist foreign policy. You didn’t defend anyone’s freedoms. You didn’t preserve the American way of life. You didn’t uphold the Constitution. You didn’t protect the nation. You didn’t "uphold the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for future generations" like the lying Marine Corps recruiting postcard says that was sent to high school students. Your death wouldn’t have secured anything. Your death would have been in vain.
And as for American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines paying the cost for over two centuries to allow libertarians to live freely – instead of defending our freedoms, they have jeopardized our freedoms. But don’t take my word for it; take it from VMI grad and Army reservist Jacob Hornberger: "The Troops Don’t Defend Our Freedoms" and "An Open Letter to the Troops: You’re Not Defending Our Freedoms."
Oh, U.S. troops have been busy for over two centuries, but they have been busy doing more intervening in foreign countries than defending Americans’ freedoms. Things like disaster relief, humanitarian aid, nation building, regime change, assassinations, forcibly opening markets, bombing, invading, occupying, maiming, torturing, killing, peacekeeping, enforcing UN resolutions, preemptive strikes, spreading democracy at the point of a gun, garrisoning the planet with troops and bases, training foreign armies, rebuilding infrastructure, reviving public services, unleashing civil unrest, policing the world, intervening in other countries, and fighting foreign wars.
Americans today face the triple threat of the warfare/national security/police state, largely due to conservatives in Congress (fully supported by conservative Christians outside of Congress) during the Bush years not overturning all the evils of the federal government that were already in place and adding much more evil of their own
One reason why conservative Christians like Joe Carter are so different from, and so puzzled by, Christian libertarians is because they are conservative Christian warmongers who worship the golden calf of the military.
Originally published on LewRockwell.com on May 2, 2012.
I have historically been a fan of the Acton Institute. Their site has been on LCC’s blogroll for quite a long time. Yet they (or at least one particular blogger) seem to be becoming more and more “conservative” rather than sticking with their relatively libertarian roots.
A few weeks ago, Acton blogger Joe Carter wrote Libertarians, Religious Conservatives, and the Myth of Social Neutrality and spoke against what he admittedly called a “grossly simplistic caricature” of libertarianism. His main point was, simply, that the “conservative” position trumps the “libertarian” position because it is more “realistic” about “neutrality” and “bias.” (I use the scare quotes intentionally because I think the terms of the debate are basically a bunch of straw-men set up to be pushed back down, and his “caricature” is truly, grossly, simplistic.) About a week later, Jacqueline Otto responded with Christian Libertarians and the Myth of Legislating Morality, which argued that the Christian libertarian position powerfully answers his objections. Carter then promptly responded more or less by saying there ain’t no such thing as a Christian libertarian because I haven’t seen one. 106 comments later on that post, one could not tell whether he had changed his mind. After Jacqueline’s next followup (Four Things Christian Libertarians Believe), Carter again responded with what amounts to “Sorry, libertarianism and Christianity have irreconcilable differences.”
To be fair, Carter seems like a fine fellow. Overall he is a courteous interlocutor, which is something to be commended. However, he also seems strangely uninformed about what libertarianism actually is, and even less informed about Christian libertarians. In this series of posts I intend to respond to a number of his objections in short form and put forward a consistent Christian libertarian position that answers his primary complaints. That being said, I want to recommend again reading Jacqueline Otto’s response in full, as it is superb.
In this particular post, I want to address his “grossly simplistic caricature” of libertarianism:
Libertarians believe that neutrality between the various spheres of society—and especially between the government and the individual—are both possible and desirable, and so the need for bias toward a certain outcome is not only unnecessary, but contrary to liberty.
Even if this were a true statement, it would be too vague to be operational because of its lack of specific terms. More importantly, this caricature misses the central point of the libertarian creed: the non-aggression principle. Libertarians believe that all aggression (that is, the use of property/person without consent of the owner) is unjustified. There is no “neutrality” of libertarians on institutionalized aggression, we are absolutely against it, and we expect this to be reflected in the law.
We then come to his contrasting statement about “religious conservatives,” which he defines as “political (though not necessarily theological) conservatives whose views are influenced and sustained by religious principles.”
Religious conservatives, in contrast, recognize that such neutrality between individual and social spheres is illusory and that bias is an intractable aspect of human nature.
This is essentially a disguised way of saying that Carter is in favor of aggression in some cases. Such shall be demonstrated in the rest of Carter’s article.
Carter then writes:
If these caricatures are generally applicable (as I believe they mostly are), then it helps to explain how libertarians and conservatives can use language that is similar—if not exactly the same—and yet come to wildly different conclusions.
I do believe there is similar language used, and in fact Carter even admits that this is because conservatives have adopted certain forms of libertarian speech. Of course, I would add that they do this while holding over totalitarian streaks within them and twisting certain conclusions out of such language. This is why it is possible for George W. Bush to wax eloquent on freedom one minute, and then in the next start two massive wars, socialize health care, and consolidate Federal power to an extent that would have made the Caesars cringe in fear.
Carter seems to think that the libertarian is just a stupid conservative. On the contrary, it seems to me to be extremely generous to say that conservatives are massively inconsistent libertarians.
By placing an overemphasis on individual liberty without an equal accent on individual virtue, the libertarian unwittingly erodes the foundation of order on which her political theory stands. Order is a necessary precondition of liberty and must be maintained from the lowest level of government (the individual conscience) to the highest (the State). The individual conscience is the most basic level of government and it is regulated by virtues. Ordered liberty, in this view, is not an end unto itself but a means by which eudaimonia (happiness or human flourishing) can most effectively be pursued. Liberty is a necessary component of virtue, but it cannot serve as a substitute.
This is another disguised way of saying that although liberty is of value to the conservative/Carter, there is another ulterior motive that will trump any prior commitment to non-aggression. In other words, the conservative is perfectly fine with aggression if committed toward his own virtuous end. This is sounding much more like Objectivism than Christianity to me.
Now this does not mean the Christian libertarian is unconcerned with virtue – we are talking about particular political norms, not our standards of individual, personal morality. I choose not to commit fornication, but I shall not commit aggression against those who do.
Lastly, this paragraph betrays the other major conservative problem – the assumption of government. Carter believes that order precedes liberty, and that this order is established by government. There can be no greater divergence from the libertarian – and Christian libertarian – creed than this. Note in this selection how he indirectly suggests that there must be laws that will require aggression so that order is maintained, and yet there is no justification for it other than the implicit: “there must be order, my kind of order.” True libertarians cannot accept this.
It is through voluntary interaction and peaceable exchange of goods and ideas that order comes into being. As Proudhon said, “Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.” Until the conservative recognizes this fundamental principle, he is as far away from libertarianism as a neo-liberal.