Tag Archives: catholic

“Don’t tread on me” or “Do unto others?”

dont-tread-on-neighbor300There is a standard criticism of libertarians by Catholic opponents: that we are selfish individualists.

I cannot understand how avoiding the use of violence in dealing with others is painted as individualistic and un-Christian. I am sorely tempted to believe these critics are being deliberately obtuse. The scriptures teach that we should not do to another what we would not want done to ourselves. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t hit. Don’t harm others. Live and let live. Mind your own business.

So here is my plea for charity: Give us libertarians the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume that libertarians are all about “Don’t tread on me.” I don’t control what others do to me, only what I do unto others. That is where my libertarianism hits the road.

I ran across a very well-made video called “The Conversation.” It’s a powerful dramatization of the non-aggression principle, well-reasoned–and not religiously based–so please share it with everyone.

What is a libertarian?

Anarcho-Ichthus-favSometimes it makes my head hurt to think about the labels used by libertarians. I am a libertarian. By that, I mean I oppose the initiation of violence by anyone, including the government.

When it comes to achieving this objective, I agree with Jeffrey Tucker, who wrote last spring:

“I’m interested in only one thing: progressive reductions of the role of all government power in people’s lives all the way to zero if possible. Whatever brings that about, in whatever sector it happens, and whether it happens slowly by steps or all in one fell swoop, I’m for it. I really don’t care who or what makes a contribution to this end or how it comes about, so long as it is ethical and it actually achieves the aim of human liberation, the mother of all progress, order, and higher civilization.”


Of course, we can make common cause with small-government conservatives, constitutionalists or the many varieties of minarchists (meaning “minimal rule”), but ultimately, their political goals are only pit stops along the way to a free society.

Other libertarians prefer to describe themselves as “voluntaryists,” a perfectly good term used to convey the idea that people’s interactions should be voluntary and free of government force. It’s too bad most people–quite understandably–confuse voluntaryism with with volunteerism.


Other libertarians go all out and proudly embrace the “anarchist” label, ignoring all the negative, socialist and violent associations that have been attached to that name for over a century. If that was the only problem with the term “anarchism” it might be redeemed, but there are other difficulties. Old terms are often worth salvaging, but what makes anarchism particularly prickly are the many socialists, communists and other unredeemed statists that cluster like barnacles to the ship of anarchy. One can readily get a feel for this group at places like Reddit, here and here.

They seem to understand that the word anarchism must connect with the idea of a stateless society, but they have no shame in kicking the state out the front door while leaving the back gate open for it. They want to get rid of the government and its “racist prisons and war,” and its union-busting, crony capitalism, patented GMO crops and whatever else they hate about the state. [See example: here.]

On the other hand, this variety of anarchist wants the state to break up shareholder-owned businesses and then subsidize worker buy-outs; it wants state power to weigh in on the side of labor over employers, and wants the post office to subsidize “journals of opinion.”

We quickly realize that this sort of anarchist is just a statist who hopes that someday he will get to hold the whip. It seems anarchism is a slippery brand. Perhaps it can be redeemed. Gerard Casey makes a close approach in his new book “Libertarian Anarchism: Against the State.


Another group that tries to play nice with the left side of the aisle calls themselves–not inappropriately– “Left Libertarians.” They tend toward distrust of all institutions (not just government), but they vary as to their rejection of using government-like force to achieve their objectives. Some of them are really just looking to hold the whip.

Some of these left-libertarians call themselves “bleeding heart libertarians.” They favor a society that frees the market and empowers the poor by removing all state subsidies, protections and grants of monopoly power that now favor some people over others. The idea is that a level playing field (a “freed” market) will tip the equilibrium back toward the little guy, without using government force to correct the inequities. I find the idea appealing myself. Some left-libertarians of this type would be Gary Chartier and Roderick Long.

Recognizing a libertarian

When it comes to figuring out who is a libertarian, I have found the simplest course is to ask if a person wants to use the government to push me around. Will he or she leave me alone or will they force me to pay for their pet project? A person shows his libertarian chops–not when he want to legalize drugs because he is a dopehead–but when he wants to legalize drugs, even while disapproving of drug use.


peace signThere is one interesting group which libertarians can live with peacefully, despite significant differences. These are the pacifists, by which I mean people who reject all violence, even violence used in self-defense or the defense of others.

Sure, there are some people who call themselves pacifists, but what they mean by their “pacifism” is that they do not like war. Welcome to the club.

Other “pacifists” will not use force in self-defense, but will call on others for their defense. Let us set aside these half-baked pacifists and consider pacifists like Gandhi, Tolstoy, Ammon Hennacy or the Amish. These are perfectly good allies for libertarians.

While a libertarian does not believe that anyone (or any group) may initiate violence against another, the pacifist goes one step further. She not only refuses to aggress against another person, she refuses to use violence to respond to aggression upon herself or others.

For such a person, it follows that if she refuses to support her own government in fighting against an enemy, then surely the pacifist will not lend support to a government that uses–or threatens to use–violence against me, her neighbor. She is going to leave me alone and that is what I want.

And I will leave her alone. I may ask her to join me in protecting our neighborhood from an invader and she will refuse. As a libertarian, I have no right to force her to fight for me; no right to extort money from her for my cause. Each of us respects the other’s right to live in peace.

As I see it, not every libertarian is a pacifist, but every pacifist must be a libertarian.


Here, have a war. No thanks, I’m trying to give them up

Catholic LibertarianNobel peace prize winner, Barack Obama, has decided to commit acts of war against Syria but wants the U.S. Congress to give its approval first. The reason is to punish Syria for its alleged use of poison gas to kill more than 1000 of its citizens.

Perhaps there is some desire to assist the Syrian opposition, which–along with their allies–have their own record of brutal murder of Syrian Christians.

To intervene in another land’s quarrel is always dangerous–even when the moral choice is clear–but when the choice is murky, the only certainty is that U.S. intervention will lay even more innocent people in their graves as collateral damage to killing some bad guys.

Consider, also, our own children; those we send to do the our killing. Middle-aged presidents do not fight; nor do Congressmen, nor most of the voters. The question is the same as one posed almost fifty years ago during another war:

As a father, I must look at my son, and I must ask if there is anything I possess—any right, any piece of property, any comfort, any joy—that I would ask him to die to permit me to keep. I must ask if I believe that it would be meaningful—after his mother and I have loved each other and begotten him and loved him—for him to die in a lump with a number hanging around his neck. I must ask if his life would have come to meaning or nobility or any usefulness if he should sit—with his human hands and head and eyes—in the cockpit of a bomber, dealing out pain and grief and death to people unknown to him. And my answer to all these questions is one that I must attempt to live by: No.

~ Kentucky teacher, poet, novelist and farmer Wendell Berry, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” 1968.

If an enemy were invading my own country, trying to kill my family, my sons and my daughter, my friends and neighbors, I would stand with them to defend the people I love on the land that I know. I cannot say the same about making war around the world, whatever the justification.

The government has a track record too long and too clear to believe that any good will come of it. We will lose our sons. We will kill their sons in battle and their mothers and daughters on the sidelines. That much we know with certainty.


What we cannot be sure of is when our meddling will ignite the next world war. When that comes, most of our youngsters–the ones sensible enough to have had other plans–will be forced to make war for this government. Their parents will send them, but the parents will not go.

The parents will not even have to pay for the guns and the bombs, because the money for war can always be borrowed or printed, secured by the promise that our children and grandchildren (if they survive) will pay it back after their fathers have died, warm in their beds.

It is hard to imagine any overseas war worth the price.

How to recognize an unjust law.

Unjust lawThe initiation of violence is the very the essence of government. No one disputes this fact. It is practically the definition of the modern state.

“What essentially sets a nation-state apart,” declared candidate Barack Obama, is that it has a “monopoly on violence.”

Since the state is known for its use of violence to enforce its decrees, Catholics need to go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 1930, to understand why governments use violence to compel obedience:

1930. Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. . . .

What are these human rights? The right to private property. CCC 2304. A worker’s right to spend his earnings however he chooses. Rerum Novarum 5. The principle purpose of the state is to protect these rights and the right to personal and collective security; that is, to promote the common good. CCC 1925.

The government that “flouts” the rights of people–an unjust government–can only obtain obedience to its laws by the use of violence.

Saint Thomas Aquinas explained that an unjust law is no law at all:

ThomasAquinas“As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) “that which is not just seems to be no law at all”: wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91, 2, ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.” Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 95, Art. 2.

Since natural law is recognizable to most men, many succeed in conforming their conduct to much of it without the need for punishment. One way of measuring the “justness” of a law is to ask whether most people readily obey a law even without the fear of punishment. By this measure, laws against murder, theft and assault are just laws.

Contrast these laws–which are widely respected–with laws designed to control people who are not harming anyone (except perhaps themselves). These people may be unlicensed barbers, brewers, midwives or street vendors. Or they are guilty of questionable conduct: gamblers, smokers, drug users & sellers, drunks and adulterers. Most of these people would not kill you even if they could get away with it, but they freely commit these and other offenses, none of which harm anyone but themselves.

Some of these actions are widely considered to be immoral vices, while other conduct is prohibited for various political/regulatory reasons. People are more likely to commit such offenses when the law appears arbitrary, meddlesome and paternalistic; especially if the likelihood of being caught is low.

The one law that no one obeys voluntarily

There is one demand of government that almost no one (however virtuous they may be) would obey except under the threat of violence. That demand is the payment of taxes.

DonationImagine that the United States of America sends me an annual tax bill. It’s not really a bill. It’s just a notice telling me that my family’s share of the national budget is $7,325.00. The payment is purely voluntary, but I really ought to “do my part” and send in the money. Other than the social ostracism my failure might engender, there is no penalty for non-compliance.

Would anyone pay this bill? Perhaps we would, if: 1) we heartily approve of everything the government does; and 2) we think the government is so efficient that we are not motivated to look to competing services. Realistically, this is not going to happen. Those few people who claim they would pay such a “bill,” still want a proviso that everybody else would pay too. Of course, without the threat of violence, that is not going to happen either.

The benchmark of an unjust law is the degree to which the lawgiver must threaten or use violence to enforce obedience. A law which few will obey without the threat of force is–by this measure–an unjust law. Compulsory taxation is, therefore, unjust.

Libertarian Catholic

For more on violence and government:

Minimum wage: a barrier, not a benefit.


Government regulations use force to make us do what we might not otherwise do, supposedly for our own good. The irony of the minimum wage–like most government regulation–it that it causes more harm than good; and that the harm falls on those who can least afford it.

No one will disagree that a person ought to earn a “just wage.” The trouble is that government uses force to make employers pay a wage it deems “just,” an arbitrary figure arrived at by warring political factions. In reality, the minimum wage is neither a “just” wage nor a free market wage (one agreed to by both parties), except by occasional accident.

The first thing to notice about the minimum wage is that it applies only to those at the bottom of the pay ladder, unskilled, mostly younger people limited by their abilities or lack of experience.

Jeffrey Tucker tells how the minimum wage put his friend Tad out of work:

The minimum wage is nothing more than a barrier separating unskilled workers from a job. There is no requirement that employers hire low-skilled workers. What the minimum wage laws tell employers is they cannot hire anyone whose skill or ability prevents them from producing at the level of the minimum wage. For that person, the minimum wage is not a benefit; it is a door slammed in his face.

If his abilities enable him to produce $7 an hour, how can any employer afford to hire him at $8 an hour? The result is that these low-skilled workers cannot be hired even though they would benefit from the job.

Consider a small businessman who can buy a machine that can accomplish a task at a cost of $7 an hour or hire someone to do the job at a minimum wage of $8 an hour. If the machine and the worker can both do the job for $7, the employer may prefer to give the job to the worker, but he cannot because the government makes that a crime. He could pay the worker $8, but that would last only as long as it takes his competitor (who does buy the machine) to bankrupt him with lower prices.

The minimum wage is the reason some unskilled people will never find work. Just as clearly, if both employer and employee were free to agree on a wage, almost anyone could be employed, no matter how inexperienced, or how mentally or physically handicapped. Government, however, would rather give disability payments to the poor than see them working below whatever the minimum wage happens to be.

Some fear that the unskilled could be exploited without a minimum wage, but the harm in creating a permanent welfare class is far more damaging. John Paul II, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, encouraged the fuller “participation” of needy people in the economy, “to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources.” For those on the lowest economic rung, the minimum wage prevents such participation.

It is curious that much of the pressure on politicians to increase the minimum wage comes not from the poor, but from the unions, whose members have no interest in working for minimum wage. They do have an interest, however, in preventing competition from workers further down the ladder.  Larger corporations may also favor the minimum wage as a barrier against competition. Companies that are either better situated to absorb a minimum wage increase or that already pay their lowest-skilled workers more than the minimum wage are thus given an advantage over their smaller competitors.

Mandatory minimum wages are ineffective because they are price controls by another name. While the real beneficiaries of the minimum wage laws are people with skills and experience, many people are genuinely concerned that without a minimum wage, employers will be able to pay wages that are even below a free market wage.
Such an outcome could never exist for a significant time in a free market.

Simple math dictates that no merchant can pay employees more (or less) than those employees produce. Competition from similar businesses will quickly force the over-paying merchant to lower his wages or he will: a) lose his customers due to the higher prices he must charge; or b) lose his profits if he does not raise prices.

What will happen if the merchant is stingy and somehow manages to hire employees at $6 an hour when the market rate for unskilled labor is around $8 for similar work? Such a variance will quickly be resolved when the $6 employees learn they can earn more with a competitor across the street; or when the merchant across the street learns he can hire away as many employees as he needs from the stingy merchant at $6.50, or $7 or $8.

The stingy merchant will be able to hang on to his employees only if he pays $8 (the market wage). If he pays $6.50, the merchant further up the street will hire them away at $7, but only until the next merchant hires them away at $7.50, and so it goes. The market itself will correct inequities in pay rates—and unlike government—will do so without causing unemployment of the least productive and vocationally handicapped workers.

[excerpted from Chapter 6 of Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics should be libertarian]

Catholic libertarian



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Criminal law in a libertarian society

BarsCriminal laws prohibit (or require) an assortment of activities. If caught disobeying the criminal law, the lawbreaker is punished by the government. Criminal laws are usually written by legislatures and contain two types of crimes: 1) crimes that harm victims (such as murder, assault and theft); and 2) crimes that harm the person or property of no one, except perhaps the criminals themselves.

The latter type outlaws conduct such as drunkenness, gambling, prostitution, drug use, or anything that requires a license when such license has not been granted. Ultimately, a crime is whatever the government says it is.

See somethingA recent and popular trend is to make it a crime for anyone to fail to inform the government if they believe someone else is breaking the law. This trend, now firmly established regarding a few especially despicable crimes such as child sexual abuse, may spread to cover other crimes—and eventually all crimes.

In a nation where informing for the government is mandatory, when you “see something,” you “say something” . . . or else. Such a society would see the full blossoming of the police state and, like the 20th-century residents of fascist and communist states, a healthy fear of one’s neighbors, friends and even family could become a valuable survival skill.

In a libertarian society, the maximum role of the state would be to protect life, liberty and property. The use of defensive force is always legitimate, but the non-aggression principle limits the criminal law to things like assault, murder, theft, fraud, trespass and the like; that is, crimes against persons or their property. As Saints Thomas and Augustine taught, [here, here, and here] the law should not criminalize moral vices or other disapproved conduct, where such conduct does not directly harm others.

Stop fightingA libertarian criminal code would be compact and intuitive. Its function is to ensure peace and tranquility, not to make virtuous people. Instead of needing a lawyer to explain it, children would understand it by the time they were two years old.

[excerpted from Chapter 8 of Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics should be libertarian]

Human Dignity and the Freedom to Choose – Catholic & Libertarian

Spend 1 minute and 43 seconds for this neat explanation of why God leaves us free to make both good and bad moral choices.

When we think on the reason for this freedom, we have little excuse for using force to make our neighbor behave (at least if he is not hurting anyone else).

Taxpayers as Good Samaritans? Not really.

What has the modern welfare state to do with charity? Almost nothing. The system seems almost designed to eliminate virtue, kindness or gratitude. The taxpayer gives not through the love of his neighbor, but through fear of the government. Charity is replaced with indignation, so that when confronted with other’s needs, we may ask–like Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”–“Are there no poorhouses?”

Doing evil that good may come of it? Romans 3:8 as applied to the state.

No matter how well a government might behave in most matters, no modern state (except perhaps one: the Vatican) avoids aggression as a means of accomplishing the “good.” Even the “good” government—which never initiates violence except to finance its good-deed-doing—finds itself making the moral choice condemned by St. Paul in Romans 3:8: that of doing evil that good may come of it.