Fr. James Sadowsky, Catholic libertarian, 1923 – 2012

“When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use.”

–James A. Sadowsky, S.J., “Private Property and Collective Ownership

There are many Catholic libertarians, living and deceased, whose contributions to the cause of liberty are valuable and unforgettable. I have posted articles on a few, Frédéric Bastiat, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Judge Andrew Napolitano, as well as some saints whose teachings are foundational to Catholic libertarianism, St Thomas Aquinas  and St. Augustine.

One Catholic libertarian I have taken too long to acknowledge is Father James Sadowsky, S.J., who died this last Friday. He taught philosophy at Fordham University for more than 30 years. While I did not know Fr. Sadowsky except through his writings, I am indebted to him for his exposition of libertarian philosophy, especially in his harmonizing liberty with the Church’s teaching on abortion. He argued that issue against the great Murray Rothbard, with whom he shared a friendship going back to 1963. That 1978 article, Abortion and the Rights of the Child, is still good reading today.

Here are some posts on the passing of Fr. Sadowsky. I suspect there will be more remembrances later:

Also by and about Father Sadowsky:

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God of mercy, look kindly on Your servant, Father Sadowsky,
who has set down the burden of his years.
As he served You faithfully throughout his life,
may You give him the fullness of Your peace and joy. Amen.

Libertarian does not mean libertine

Why do so many think that libertarians are “anything goes” libertines? Many conservatives believe that libertarians are really just liberals. Many liberals insist that libertarians are really just conservatives. How can it be both? It is wrong to say–as some do–that libertarians are “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” These views stem from confusion about morality and criminality, such that our modern society has lost the ability to distinguish between vice and crime. Even worse, many so-called crimes are not vices at all.

Conservatives and liberals alike want to use government to force everyone to conform to their view of morality. And each would like to hold the whip against the other, and nobody is happy with the way things are.

This is because we have ignored what St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wisely taught: that punishment for crime should be limited to conduct that harms others (i.e., “theft, murder and the like”). Beyond that, neither individuals, nor the government have the right to punish or force people to do whatever the state tells them.

As to what is moral conduct, libertarians are just as variable as the population as a whole. Libertarian Catholics do not dissent from Church teachings. They embrace them. They hope and pray that others do likewise, but they refuse to use force (whether individual or collective) to make others conform to Christian morals. Only defensive force is legitimate.

That does not mean, however, that a free society would be an “anything goes” society. If drug addiction or prostitution were treated as health and moral issues—rather than as criminal issues—most families would still not want to see them on their streets. People will rightly have their preferences as to church, society, friends and the neighborhoods they live and work in. In later posts, we will see that a libertarian society would be more conducive to a moral lifestyle, not less; more supportive in the raising of families according to our beliefs and our purpose in life.