A question for non-libertarian Catholics

Catholic LibertarianWhen there is a problem or issue to resolve, should we prefer voluntary solutions over coercive solutions? I promise to come back to this question, but first a few things . . .

Any discussion of Catholics and libertarianism on the internet will always attract some troll who drops in just long enough to conclude that “Catholicism and libertarianism are incompatible.” A few of these folks will stick around to complain that Catholics can’t be libertarian because . . .

  • libertarians are selfish individualists
  • libertarians are libertines
  • libertarians dissent from the doctrines or moral teachings of the Church
  • libertarians cannot see Christ in others
  • libertarians are pro-abortion

While such statements surely apply to some libertarians, these criticisms have nothing to do with libertarianism in itself.

Doing evil that good may come of it

In Romans 3:8, St. Paul tells us that the ends do not justify the means: one must not do evil so that good may come of it. Likewise Pope Saint John Paul II teaches this principle in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor:

Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused.

Don’t tread on your neighbor

The golden rule famously tells us to do unto others what we would have them do unto ourselves; and we are told in Tobit 4:15: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.”

In libertarianism, there is but a single rule. It is called the non-aggression principle: that no one may initiate physical force against another. Unless one trespasses against the person or property of another, they must be left in peace. We call this freedom. It is not just a moral imperative; man’s freedom also serves a spiritual purpose.

Freedom: Hothouse of sin or prerequisite for virtue?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once explained this about earthly freedom:

Take the quality of freedom away from anyone, and it is no more possible for him to be virtuous than it is for the blade of grass which he treads beneath his feet to be virtuous. Take freedom away from life, and there would be no more reason to honor the fortitude of martyrs than there would be to honor the flames which kindle their faggots. Is it therefore any impeachment of God that he chose not to reign over an empire of chemicals?

“Virtue in its concrete order is possible only in those spheres in which it is possible to be vicious. Man can be a saint only in a world in which it is possible to be a devil.

~Through the Year with Fulton Sheen, Servant Books, 1985 pp 110-111.

Libertarians understand that freedom is a double-edged sword. The dilemma is that freedom is indispensable and yet opens the door to all kinds of evil. Freedom enabled Satan to rebel against God. Adam and Eve in the garden abused their freedom and brought death into the world. The same freedom is granted to each of us. Since the beginning, God has decreed our freedom, all the while knowing the danger–and seeing the suffering to come–decided that the game is worth the candle. See “Why God is more libertarian than we are.

Thomas Aquinas & libertarians on victimless crimes

Catholic libertarianLibertarians agree that no one should be permitted to commit violence against others, but we may use necessary force to protect persons and property. The protection of persons or property is a legitimate act, whether done by individuals or by the community. Libertarians agree: we must keep the peace.

We do question, however, the use of force against anyone who has not threatened or harmed another. Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized a distinction between acts that harm others and those are commonly referred to as vices or “victimless” crimes. He wrote:

[H]uman laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

St. Thomas argued the wisdom of such a live-and-let-live philosophy, and acknowledged that to go further would cause more harm than good. See more here. It is a good rule, but the modern world knows no such limits when it comes to the one institution which claims a monopoly on the right to initiate violence against others. That institution is the state.

The Church and Government

Once upon a time, the ancient Israelites were lead by the “judges.” The judges did not have many duties. They led the army in times of war and people came to them to settle disputes. The nations around Israel had kings, so the Israelites begged for a king. God explained how bad life would be under a king. They said “We don’t care. Give us a king,” So God gave them a king. And that king was pretty bad. Most of their later kings were even worse. It seemed that people were not ready to give up bossing and being bossed around.

The Church has lived with the state since Roman times. Christian teachings often mention the state, urging it to justice. But the Church does not demand particular solutions to societal and economic problems. Neither does the Church proclaim any particular form of governance, but only that it provide for the common good, i.e peace and security, protection of individual rights and the general prosperity of society. See “Does the Bible approve of violent government?”

The role of the State: both the real and the ideal

When the Church does suggest solutions to problems, the state will often figure prominently in those solutions. The Church can hardly do otherwise considering that the state is everywhere. Today, it is more massive and controlling than anytime in history. Even so, the Church’s social encyclicals are not shy in confronting the state where it encroaches on human rights, especially in its teachings on subsidiarity (the principle that governance should always be at the lowest possible level of society).

Even recognizing limits to state power, the encyclicals also charge the state with a responsibility to promote social justice and protect people’s rights. This is no more or less than the protection of the common good. At times the social encyclicals suggest certain initiatives by the state which–putting it mildly–seem beyond the competency of the state. Proposals to regulate voluntary and honest economic activity come to mind.

Certainly the state fulfills a just purpose when it protects us from those who would harm us. It only makes sense that when someone is hitting me over the head, I could use the help of someone who also specializes in hitting people. The state–whose only tool is violence–may have the resources to solve my problem. The trouble is, when we ask the state to do more than keep the peace and protect fundamental rights, we ask too much. This is because only a wise state, one with integrity and perfect knowledge could fulfill such a mandate as the Church urges upon it. That state has never existed.

Instead, we have governments run by the most corrupt of men, the best of which are thieves and the worst, tyrants. They wage unjust war almost continuously and use it to expand their powers. Violence is the essence of the state. See more here.

The Question: Should we have a preferential option for non-violence?

The Catholic libertarian asks this question of his fellow Catholics: When the community has a problem to solve or has a worthy goal to reach, would you be willing find a voluntary solution in place of a coercive solution? Would the Church object to this “preferential option” for non-violence? Many Catholics call on governments–when dealing with other governments–to find peaceful solutions, using violence only as last resort. If non-violence is preferable in dealing with nations, even hostile nations, how much more should coercion be avoided in dealing with our own neighbors here at home.

As Catholic libertarians, we propose voluntary, non-coercive solutions. We will argue that charity, mutual aid and lifting barriers to honest work are better solutions to poverty than the welfare state. We are going to suggest that drug abuse is a social problem, a mental health and spiritual problem, but not a criminal one. We will contend that any armed forces must be limited to self-defense, rather than messing around in other countries’ business, replacing strongman dictators with jihadist leaders.

As a moral issue, no Catholic–no Christian of any stripe, for that matter–should choose violence when a voluntary solution is available. This does not makes us libertines, nor make us selfish individualists. We do not dissent from the doctrines or moral teachings of the Church. We are pro-life. We see Christ in our brother and we accept this personal challenge from the letter of St. James:

If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?

Those are marching orders for every Christian, but the modern state makes it easy to ignore our personal duty, and so we dismiss the needy saying: “Go to the government, be warmed and filled.”

What remains of “love your neighbor” in that?

Catholic libertarians favor a genuine charity that springs from love instead of coercion. Such charity puts the whole golden rule into action. First, as a guide to what we ought to do for our neighbor; and then as a caution as to what we must not do, for this is not a measure we apply to others. We apply it to ourselves.

It is time for Catholics, and every Christian, to consider libertarianism, the most just system in a fallen world and the only political philosophy that takes love for our neighbor, human dignity and free will seriously.

Catholic libertarian

Freedom Feens – Obeying the State? Not so fast!

unjust-lawFreedom Feens is a daily, liberty-related radio show with Michael W. Dean and a rotating cast of co-hosts.

I recently co-hosted the Feens broadcast with Diana Keiler and Ben Stone (the Bad Quaker). The 2-hour show is broadcast live at LRN.FM weeknights at Midnight Central time and at noon on weekends. A list of stations carrying the Freedom Feens is available here

Show notes for 05/03/2015:  Libertarianism and the non-aggression principle The State: Doing evil that good may result Romans 13: Obey the government? How St Paul dishonored and mocked the Emperor Nero — Paying taxes: Render to Caesar — “Slaves, Obey your masters” — Natural disasters: Private aid trumps government assistance — Lawyer advertising

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Or visit Freedom Feens

Necessary evil

How can a pro-life Catholic be a libertarian?

Catholic Libertarians  XmasMore and more, American Catholics are coming to understand the essential compatibility between Catholicism and libertarianism. The great virtue of libertarianism is the respect it accords one’s neighbor.

As we are told in the book of Tobit 4:15: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike,” a command we recognize as a corollary to the Golden rule. This makes libertarianism the one political philosophy that truly takes human dignity and free will seriously.

At the same time, some Catholics see the liberty movement as a threat to both the Church and society. Until recently, opposition to libertarianism in both Catholic and secular media has been sporadic, but now we are seeing a rising protest. Last June, there was the much publicized conference touting “The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism,” most of it springing from a Catholic left perspective. Certainly most of the noise seems to be coming from the left or redistribution side of the fence.

A recent article at Crux by Robert G. Christian, however, comes from a fresh direction. In If you are pro-life, you can’t be a libertarian,” he writes:

“We believe that every single human being has a fundamental right to life. This human right is innate and immutable. Directly and intentionally taking an innocent life is always immoral and indefensible.”

That is solid Church teaching that any Catholic must accept, but the article quickly moves onto shaky ground. As critics of libertarianism inevitably do, the article starts in by mischaracterizing libertarians as something most of us are not:

“Libertarianism is centered on a commitment to the autonomy of the individual and removing impediments to the individual’s freedom of action.”

“A good way to strengthen the pro-choice side is by framing the debate around autonomy, individual choice, and self-interest.”

The coming arguments could all follow smoothly except that most libertarians, especially Catholic libertarians, would never frame the debate around “autonomy, individual choice and self-interest.”

It is true that libertarianism respects free will and would allow freedom of action so long as it does not harm other people, but individualism is not its essence. The bottom line of libertarianism is the nonaggression principle–which simply stated–means that one may not initiate physical force against another. That’s it. Period.

biil&joeThe Church teaches love of neighbor as a core belief. The Catholic libertarian embraces that duty without reservation. Indeed, he believes more strongly in such duties because he knows those duties are his own, not the job of some distant government that has nothing of its own to offer and gives only what it has first stolen.

The article’s main theme is that the pro-life movement must use every tool possible to protect life:

“If the pro-life movement wants to succeed, it should embrace a comprehensive approach to abortion that recognizes the full range of duties that individual people, intermediary institutions, and the government have in supporting pregnant women, strengthening families, and protecting lives.”

While Mr. Christian may be surprised by this, pro-life libertarians would agree with everything in that paragraph, including the role of some “government” or other institution in protecting the public from harm. Since prohibiting abortion and punishing it are preventive and responsive force (not an initiation of force), no libertarian who believed an unborn child has a right to life would have a problem with such laws.

This is not to argue that libertarianism resolves the pro-choice/pro-life conflict, but neither does our current system. There is no disputing that the U.S. Government alone is the sole entity preventing the prohibition of abortion in many U.S. states, including my own. On this issue, the United States is an enemy of life and there is little prospect of overcoming it.

Even so, the article decries libertarian “anti-government rhetoric.” Mr.Christian views government as a pro-life ally, if only we can gain control of it. This is a fool’s errand. We should ask if such help seems imminent. Better progress might be made by getting the police state boots off our necks. There is a certain irony in the argument that an incorrigibly aggressive state is an essential tool for fixing the problem of violence against the most helpless.

It may be true that if the state were truly determined to end abortion, then a completely totalitarian state would be most effective in sniffing out more abortions: watching everyone minutely, and punishing everyone most vigorously. Most people, however, would find the good done by such a police state far would be outweighed by the evils it fostered.

The reality, however, is that our police state does not prohibit abortion and—adding insult to injury—it uses its power to protect and fund abortion; and makes all of us partners in its crimes.

Most Catholic libertarians agree that abortion must be outlawed, just as any crime against an innocent human being—whether it be murder, rape or assault—must also be outlawed. Admittedly, criminalization will have only limited effectiveness. The way that decentralized communities would deal with the offense of abortion will undoubtedly vary, but the practice must not be permitted.

The higher priority, however, must be the task of changing minds to value the life of both mother and child. A voluntary society—one that respects others and removes barriers to adoption—is our best hope.

At the beginning of this post, I noted that most criticism of Catholic libertarians has come from the Catholic economic left who fear libertarianism would hinder the growth of the welfare state. I gave Mr. Christian credit for taking a different tack in the war on Catholic libertarians—not because there is any conflict in being both pro-life and libertarian—but because I appreciate pro-life allies of every stripe.

Even so, he eventually reverts to a pitch for the welfare state (“economic justice”) as necessary for reducing abortion. He calls the free market a “grave threat to unborn life” and argues:

“Only by fixing and strengthening the social safety net, supporting pregnant women to ensure their needs are met, developing pro-family policies, and increasing economic opportunity and mobility for those living in poverty can we minimize abortion. This demands robust government action, something that cannot be reconciled with libertarianism.”

We libertarians gladly join in a call for government action. We propose that government repeal the thousands of state-created impediments to human flourishing, each of which separates people from good jobs, independent housing and the ability to create their own businesses. See “Catholic Libertarians in the Critics Den, A Response.”  These are the sorts of changes that foster human dignity.

There is good reason to doubt the ability of an aggression-based government to protect those who have no voice. Only a society based on respect for life and freedom can protect the unborn, for such respect comes from an impulse that is both Catholic and libertarian: Love your neighbor as yourself. Never do to others what you would not want done to you.

To succeed in this, we need only to recognize Jesus in everyone we meet, even if they are not yet born.

Randy England & Michael Dean talk thick and thin

Michael Dean After Dark is a late-night, liberty-related podcast. I was Michael’s co-host this morning. The 2-hour show is broadcast live at LRN.FM weeknights at Midnight Central time.

Show notes for 05/06/2014: What are thin and thick Libertarianism? — Will liberty close the wealth gap? — Brutalism — Bitcoin / Dark Wallet — Money laundering — Defending the Undefendable — Why people take drugs — Lew Rockwell

Download or listen to today’s show here:

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Lew Rockwell, Thick and Thin libertarianism

dont-tread-on-neighbor300In attempting to explain what libertarianism is, we soon discover that there exists a divide in the movement.

There are the “thin” libertarians who see libertarianism as a simple thing, the nonaggression principle: thou shalt not initiate physical force against another.

Across the divide are the “thicks,” mostly–but not necessarily–left-libertarians, who have a broader agenda which they believe is essential to the success of libertarianism.

In the past year, I have sorted through some of this business in several posts (here, here, and here), but it was Jeffrey Tucker’s recent article “Against Libertarian Brutalism” in the The Freeman, that touched off a firestorm over “thick” and “thin” libertarianism.

Many words have been written since, but Lew Rockwell has done the best job yet in explaining what is at stake. It’s a short read and a good one. so give it a click:

The Future of Libertarianism, By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

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Minimum wage: a barrier, not a benefit.

Anarcho-Ichthus

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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Free is Beautiful AudioBook – Chapter One: What is Libertarianism?

folderThe Free is Beautiful audiobook is now here. At least partly here. Every few days there will be a new chapter.

Meanwhile, Chapter One.  Feel free to share. It’s free.

Chapter One of Free is Beautiful explains the moral basis of libertarianism, what it is, and why it should matter to every Catholic, indeed every Christian.


Chapter One: What is libertarianism?

The non-aggression principle | The Golden Rule | Doing evil that good may result | A libertarian view of politics | A libertarian society |

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