Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Meaning of Liberalism (Part 3): Is Libertarianism Compatible withChristianity?

The Meaning of Liberalism (Part 3): Is Libertarianism Compatible with Christianity?

I would like to thank C. Jay Engel of The Reformed Libertarian for his suggestions in writing this article.

In my first post on the meaning of liberalism, I explored the meaning of true, classical liberalism (which has become libertarianism in our modern age). In my second post, I explained how this true liberalism was hijacked by social democrats and conservative statists. I concluded that post with the encouragement that not all hope is lost for classical liberalism, and that in fact it is still in existence (though, of course, it is not the dominating form of government as it was in most of the nineteenth century) in the form of libertarianism, which was first developed through what is known as the Old Right (for more information on the Old Right, readers are requested to refer to Murray N. Rothbard's Betrayal of the American Right, which is available for free download at, and then which branched out into our modern libertarian movements, such as the Ron Paul revolution of 2008 and 2012. Now, in this post (and, may I add, the final part of my series), I will explore whether classical liberalism (or libertarianism) is compatible with the historic Christian faith. I will like to note that this will deal with the liberal/libertarian creed in general, and it will not deal in depth with the finer points of libertarian theory (such as intellectual property, foreign policy, economics, anarchism and government, or other things), though they will make certain appearances here and there in the post.

Also, instead of the term “liberalism,” I will use the term libertarianism, in description of the ideology that was an extension of the classical liberal ideal. While I hold classical liberalism and libertarianism to be the same at the most basic level, I would use libertarianism, in light of our modern context.

Now, having laid out my two-paragraph introduction on the piece, I will get to the meat of the piece.

Is libertarianism compatible with Christianity? Is the creed of the libertarian compatible with the creed of the Christianity? Is the basic foundation of libertarianism compatible with the foundation of Christianity? Are the teachings of Jesus compatible with the teachings of Jefferson or Bastiat or Mises or Rothbard? Does libertarianism equal the rejection of absolutes, morals, truths, faith and values? If you answered yes to question five and no to the first four, then this post is for you. I will be making the claim that not only is libertarianism compatible with Christianity, it is a logical extension of Christian political philosophy. I am not perfect in everything myself, and I will be flawed in my explanations, and there are writers who have explored this topic in many ways better than I might do myself.

I will start with addressing common objections to liberalism in the libertarian sense.

1. Libertarianism neglects the spiritual side of life, consigning itself to only the physical realm.This criticism abides in many circles, particularly among non-libertarian evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, conservatives and modern-day left wingers. They will usually point out to classical liberals and libertarians who do this and then they may consign this label to other classical liberals and libertarians. I will acknowledge that there are classical liberals and libertarians throughout history and throughout modern times who have indeed neglected the spiritual side of life; these liberals and libertarians would include but not limited to: John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham (who changed from laissez-faire liberalism to statism), and many of the Chicago School free-market economists. However, there are many libertarians who do share a concern for the spiritual side of life, as I will show later. And libertarianism itself, while it is solely a political philosophy, does not mandate the neglect of spirituality or morality to be a libertarian. It doesn't claim to be the salvation of man's soul, and it has never claimed such things since its beginnings. In his 1987 article “Libertarians In A State-Run World,” Murray Rothbard said this of anti-religious libertarians:

“I am getting tired of the offhand smearing of religion that has long been endemic to the libertarian movement. Religion is generally dismissed as imbecilic at best, inherently evil at worst.” He goes on to state in that article that “the greatest and most creative minds in the history of mankind have been deeply and profoundly religion, most of them Christian. It is not necessary to be religious to come to grips with that fact (Murray Rothbard, “Libertarians In A State-Run World,” Liberty, December 1987, vol. 1.3, pp.23-25).” 

He warned that “libertarians will never win the hearts and minds of Americans or of the rest of the world if we persist in wrongly identifying libertarianism with atheism.” These words of wisdom prove that even the agnostic Rothbard recognized that libertarianism does not in and of itself exclude religion and spirituality.

2. Libertarianism is atheistic and utopian; it whitewashes the utter depravity of man. This criticism is often repeated by defenders of the Christian faith, as well as conservative Roman Catholics, left-leaning evangelicals, and others. They often see that many libertarians are either staunch atheists or agnostics who don't like religion, particularly Christianity. Thus, they tend to see libertarians as a bunch of atheists, agnostics, and anti-religious persons who are no better than an anti-religious ACLU lawyer or another Madelyn Murray O'Hair. One particular criticism of libertarians promoted by the conservatives is this, particularly stated by the conservative Russell Kirk, that

Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) believe that human nature is good, though damaged by social institutions. Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that 'in Adam's fall, we sinned all': human nature, though compounded by good and evil, is irredeemably flawed; so the perfection of society, all humans beings being imperfect. Thus, the libertarian pursues his illusory way to utopia, and the conservatives knows that for the path to Avernus (Russell Kirk, “Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries, Modern Age, Fall 1981, pp. 345-46).” 

This position is very common among many conservatives, as well as many Catholics and traditionalist evangelicals. This is also very unfounded, as there are many Christians and Catholics who also happen to be libertarians (or classical liberals). Some modern examples include Ron Paul, Laurence Vance, Norman Horn of, C. Jay Engel of The Reformed Libertarian, Thomas E. Woods, Lew Rockwell, Joseph Salerno, economist Robert P. Murphy, William L. Anderson, Art Carden, Paul Cwik, Leonard Liggio and many more. Then there are the usual historical examples among the classical-liberal predecessors to modern libertarians such as John Locke, Anne Hutchison, Roger Williams, Frederic Bastiat, Richard Cobden, John Bright, John Lilburne (an early Leveller), as well as the great historian Lord Acton. In the early to middle twentieth century, there were libertarians such as the Congregationalist minister Edmund A. Opitz, Leonard E. Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Frank S. Meyer, and many more, who happened to be either Christians and/or Catholics. And even the agnostic Murray Rothbard expressed admiration for cultural conservatism and at times admiration for Christianity in his own writings. And his own wife, JoAnn, happened to be a Presbyterian. And may I add that J. Gresham Machen could have been one among many Christian libertarians. He was opposed to imperialism and war, and he opposed Prohibition and public schooling. He is a forgotten libertarian, and he opposed big government and was one of the few Calvinists who stood for laissez-faire.

Now onto the claim that libertarianism whitewashes man's depravity. The conservative might say to a libertarian who supports the legalization of sexual immorality, “Well, aren't you whitewashing man's depravity when you want to legalize adultery, sodomy, bestiality, or whatever immoral act occurs in the bedroom? Isn't your position tantamount to approval? If you believe that it is so immoral, then why fight for the right to practice this?” Well, I will answer these claims. The first and most basic claim is that libertarianism whitewashes the depravity of man. Therefore, we need a conservative state that will instill moral values in their citizenry. However, the American revolutionary and classical liberal Thomas Paine rebutted the argument as follows: If all human nature be corrupt, it is needless to strengthen the corruption by establishing a succession of kings, who be they ever so base, are still to be obeyed…” He went on to add that “NO man since the fall hath ever been equal to the trust of being given power over all (“The Forrester's Letters, III” (orig. in Pennsylvania Journal, April 24, 1776), in The Writings of Thomas Paine (ed. M. D. Conway, New York: G. E Putnam’s Sons, 1906), I, 149–150).” Despite this insightful insight by Paine, many non-libertarians ignore this and instead point to such non-libertarians as Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an example of libertarian naiveté on human nature. Murray Rothbard, in his 1979 speech “Myth and Truth About Libertarianism,” said that apart from romantic writings from anarcho-communists, “I know of no libertarian or classical liberal writers who held this view.” Some might point to John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, but we must remember that John Stuart Mill, while he was a classical liberal, was more representative of modern-day, socially democratic “liberalism” than with true, classical liberalism. And Jeremy Bentham changed his views from liberalism to statism, as Murray Rothbard documented in Chapter 2 of An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 2: Classical Economics. So Bentham cannot, in any true sense, be considered representative of libertarianism, as he rejected it.

The very fact that libertarianism offers an anti-statist theory in both limited-government laissez-faire and anarchist varieties disproves the notion that liberalism is utopian. Libertarianism rejects statism because, as Murray Rothbard said, “the institution of the state establishes a socially legitimatized and sanctified channel for bad people to do bad things, to commit regularized theft and to wield dictatorial power.” It “encourages the bad, or at least the criminal elements of human nature.” As the great classical liberal historian Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There are many ways in which power corrupts. One way is that it influences a human leader to do bad things because, after all, isn't he the leader and can't he do whatever he wants with his power? Another way is that it desensitizes the leader to the sufferings and pains of those lower than him, and yet another way is that power gives the opportunity to already corrupt persons to wreak havoc on those who don't do their bidding. Much of the twentieth century, with the Holocaust, the gulags, the wars, the internment camps, and the growth of the State, exemplifies these facts. Rothbard reminds us that the free society, “by not establishing such a legitimated channel for theft and tyranny, discourages the criminal tendencies of human nature and encourages the peaceful and the voluntary. Liberty and the free market discourage aggression and compulsion, and encourage the harmony and mutual benefit of voluntary interpersonal exchanges, economic, social, and cultural.” Now, do not get me wrong. In a libertarian society, there will still be sin and crime, but it will be less in a liberal society than a statist society. For example, more guns equal less crime, as economist John Lott, Jr. has shown, because with more guns, the law-abiding, ordered citizen can use them in defense of his life, liberty and person/property. He can use it to defend himself against a criminal, such as a murderer, rapist, or violent thief. Or, at last resort, he could use it to defend himself against a criminal state. 

Rothbard states this relevant thing about human nature and the State: “If all men were good and none had criminal tendencies, then there would indeed be no need for a state, as conservatives concede. But if on the other hand all men were evil, then the case for the state is just as shaky, since why should anyone assume that those men who form the government and obtain all the guns and the power to coerce others, should be magically exempt from the badness of all the other persons outside the government?” So if the liberal/libertarian creed is so naïve, then why does it hold to a very anti-statist view? Should it not take the social-democratic, statist views on man and the State? Murray Rothbard, in the twenty-second chapter to his libertarian magnum opus (next to Man, Economy and State) The Ethics of Liberty (available for free at, says this of legislating morality and the state: “Aside from other sound arguments against enforced morality (e.g., that no action not freely chosen can be considered 'moral'), it is surely grotesque to entrust the function of guardian of the public morality to the most extensive criminal (and hence the most immoral) group in society—the State.” This recognition of state immorality is crucial to liberal theory. In For A New Liberty, Rothbard states that there is a reason why state aggression is far more important and deadly than, say, private crime: “The reason is the absence of any check upon State depredation, a check that does exist when we have to worry about muggers or the Mafia. To guard against private criminals we have been able to turn to the State and its police; but who can guard us against the State itself? No one. For another critical distinction of the State is that it compels the monopolization of the service of protection; the State arrogates to itself a virtual monopoly of violence and of ultimate decision-making in society. If we don’t like the decisions of the State courts, for example, there are no other agencies of protection to which we may turn.” (Murray Rothbard, For A New Liberty, p. 58, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006) This is not to neglect that non-governmental crime should be left unpunished; rather, it means that the state has greater capability for evil than the average criminal. 

And as libertarian columnist and Christian Norman Horn writes in his classic two-part essay “New Testament Theology of the State,” “the gospels make some strong implications about the nature of the state that might surprise us. The state appears to have a strong connection to Satan and his kingdom, and is antitheticalto the Kingdom of God, which shuns the use of power for personal gain.” He proves this point by citing Revelation 18:4, which commands believers to “come out of her [Babylon], my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues." Then there are many other passages to support the libertarian view on the state. (John 18:36, Matthew 6:33, Philippians 3:20) Now, the teachings of Jesus on the State are not in any way direct. However, through the New Testament, there are clearly negative examples of state leaders, such as Herod the Great attempting to kill all the newborn babies in Bethlehem, Herod Agrippa being eaten by worms for accepting worship from the people, and the Antichrist instituting a tyrannical one-world government, the new world order that we have been warned about in the past and present, and most importantly, Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers crucifying Jesus Christ on the Cross. And let us not forget the classic story in Matthew 4 where Satan tempts Jesus with earthly state power if He would only bow to him. Norman Horn says this of the incident: “I think that Satan was quite sincere in his offer; Jesus did not brush it off as impossible. Jesus seems to understand that the kingdoms of this world do belong to Satan, and we should not think otherwise. Logically, this means that the kingdoms of the world are at enmity with God.” Horn goes on to provide examples of the state's enmity with God in the intimate connection between pagan religions and the high political leadership, as was emphasized in the ancient Caananite, Assyrian, and Babylonian cultures. And in the post-apostolic era, Constantine mixed Christianity with the pagan practices and wedded Christianity to statism, which some say resulted in Roman Catholicism (though there are those that dispute the notion that Roman Catholicism has its roots in statist paganism mixed with Christianity). And don't forget the Old Order, in which the tyrannical governments used Christianity to justify its wicked practices, especially the infamous Crusades.

In conclusion, whether or not we adopt a minarchist or anarchist perspective on the State and liberty, we must conclude that the State is in enmity toward God and must either be chained with nullification and secession, or it must be abolished. (As of now, I take the minarchist radical view, though I do share sympathies with the anarcho-libertarian viewpoint.)

Now onto how the depravity of man factors into the legalization of vices such as drugs, voluntary prostitution, gambling, sexual immorality, and other things (abortion not included, as I find it to be a violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle). I hold that the reason we support the legalization of drugs, prostitution, gambling, sexual immorality and other things is that while they are clearly wrong from the Christian perspective, there is nothing in the New Testament which mandates physical coercion on the part of the State to mandate laws against such things. That is to say, it is simply beyond the scope of the role that God has designed for a civil government in our New Covenant age. Now, some will argue for criminalizing immorality from the Old Testament, but we must remember the goal and purpose of the civil law in Israel was to preserve the nation of Israel. Further, regarding the so-called moral law (the ten commandments), we hold that the responsibility for their enforcement is today divided up between the Holy Spirit and its tool of conviction, the Church and its tool of Church discipline, and a government (free market or otherwise) and its goal of coercion. The Holy Spirit and the Church do not coerce. The Church and the government do not convict. The Holy Spirit and the Church do not practice Church discipline. Then there will be those who argue from 1 Timothy 1:8-12 that while the law might not change the hearts of man, it can show him that he did wrong, so therefore it is right to legislate morality on this basis alone. However, the law that 1 Timothy was referring to was not the civil law but the moral and ethical law. Paul was not dealing with those who opposed legislating morality but with those who abused the law to suit their own ends and to those who desired to teach Old Testament law but were lacking in Scriptural truth. It is in my honest opinion that the conservative and left-progressive can be seen as that type of person in our modern context. They both want to have law, but they misapply it to mean civil law rather than merely ethical and moral law that remains outside the realm of the state and of government. 

Now, on to the libertarian view of this and how it intersects with Christianity. Murray Rothbard, in his introduction to anarchist philosopher and lawyer Lysander Spooner's tract Vices Are Not Crimes, says this of vices and crimes: “Opponents of the idea of an objective morality commonly charge that moral theory functions as a tyranny over the individual. This, of course, happens with many theories of morality, but it cannot happen when the moral theory makes a sharp and clear distinction between the immoral' and the 'illegal,' or, in Spooner's words, between 'vices' and 'crimes.' The immoral or the 'vicious' may consist of a myriad of human actions, from matters of vital importance down to being nasty to one's neighbor or to willful failure to take one's vitamins. But none of them should be confused with an action that should be 'illegal,' that is, an action to be prohibited by the violence of law. The latter, in Spooner's libertarian view, should be confined strictly to the initiation of violence against the rights of person and property.” And Lysander Spooner's own words support the libertarian viewpoint on vices, crimes and the state: “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property. In vices, the very essence of crime — that is, the design to injure the person or property of another — is wanting.” And unless a distinction can be made between vices and crimes, “there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property — no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.” And please don't bring up those who try to claim that “happiness” is the freedom to do what we ought (read: what the state commands). That mindset was more prevalent in the founders of the Soviet Union, not in the foundation of this country. Tom DiLorenzo points out that this mindset “is the mindset of the neoconservatives whose founding members were, after all, Trotskyite communists. This includes the self-described 'godfather' of neoconservatism, the late Irving Kristol, who reveled in talking about his youthful Trotskyite roots.” And that would include all social democrats, left-liberals, paleo-conservatives, “crunchy conservatives,” socialists, communists, Keynesians, neo-Keynesians, and many more non-libertarians who believe that laws against non-criminal vices in any shape or form (economic or personal) should be legislated. But then the conservative will bring this question into the picture: “If we believe that certain acts are sinful and unholy, then why do we seek the legalization of these vices?” This is the most pressing criticism of the distinction between vice and crime; but it can be answered. We should not seek the fighting of vices such as drugs, prostitution and other things from the State, but rather from the Church. We should not make such vices criminal, as they are not; there are mere sins against one's own body (or another body if any consensual sinner was involved).

3. Libertarians are inherently atheistic and unspiritual. This is a regurgitation of the first myth I listed. The conservatives and Christians see that there are more atheistic libertarians than there are religious and/or Christian libertarians, and thus they conclude that libertarians are atheists who hate religion. They will use virulently anti-religious and anti-Christian libertarians such as George H. Smith and Ayn Rand as examples of libertarianism and classical liberalism in general, thus ignoring the rich liberal/libertarian heritage of religious people. As I noted before, there were religious classical liberals and libertarians throughout history, such as John Locke, John Lilburne (who could be rightly considered the first libertarian) and many of the Levellers (who are considered by many to be the first ever classical-liberal/libertarian movement). And don't forget the Catholic economist Frederic Bastiat, the liberal historian Lord Acton, and many more. As the Christian (Catholic?) classical liberal and economist Jorg Guido Hulsman says in the prologue to Ralph Raico's dissertation The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville and Acton, “there was another tradition within classical liberal thought, one that recognised the interdependence between religion and liberty. This tradition includes most notably the three great thinkers that Professor Raico has portrayed in his 1970 doctoral dissertation, which explains how the political thought of Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Lord Acton flowed from their religious convictions.” (p. iv). This tradition stood in stark contrast to the strain in classical liberalism which held that religion and liberty are antagonistic, the former being far worse than the State. This included even great liberals such as Voltaire, who was a brilliant French Enlightenment thinker and classical liberal who avoided the illiberalism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hulsman states that the position of religion and liberalism being complimentary is viewed as insolent by many libertarians and Christians. However, as he states later on when he describes his recognition of the truth of libertarianism, “that the light of these truths was but a reflection of the encompassing and eternal light that radiates from God through His Son and the Holy Spirit.” (p. iii) This transformational journey of Hulsman is living proof that Christians can be libertarians, and libertarians can be Christians, and that the two views are not only compatible but complimentary.

One criticism of libertarians from this point of view comes from Russell Kirk, in his article “Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries,” in which he claims that libertarians, “like Satan, can bear no authority temporal or spiritual.” (p. 347) While many wouldn't go so far as to compare libertarians with Satan (as Russell Kirk was so stupid as to call Satan “the original libertarian,” a variation of Samuel Johnson's terming of the devil as the “original Whig”), the basic assumption that libertarians are unspiritual is deeply resonant to these types of people who view libertarianism as wicked. Jacob Hornberger, a staunch libertarian and Roman Catholic, in his open letter to Russell Kirk, dealt with this view by noting that “it is highly unfair to suggest that libertarians are libertines simply because they favor, as a principle, legal protection of freedom of choice.” While this is more in dealing with the libertarians-as-libertines controversy, it is just as applicable to this criticism from conservatives of libertarians as atheists. As Murray Rothbard noted, most libertarians “believe that liberty is a natural right embedded in a natural law of what is proper for mankind, in accordance with man’s nature. Where this set of natural laws comes from, whether it is purely natural or originated by a creator, is an important ontological question but is irrelevant to social or political philosophy.” Thus, from this basis, libertarians can either hold to a humanistic, purely rationalistic perspective (which I reject) or from a natural law, rationalistic and humanstic perspective balanced and outweighed by Christian orthodoxy (which I hold). And then there are Christians libertarians who base their views solely on presuppositionalist apologetics as taught by Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen and John Robbins.

And may I note that it is not anti-Christian or atheist to critique the mixture of church and statism. As Rothbard said, "the union of church and state has been in many instances a mutually reinforcing coalition for tyranny. The state used the church to sanctify and preach obedience to its supposedly divinely sanctioned rule; the church used the state to gain income and privilege.” He gives examples such as the Anabaptists at Munster, the social gospel movement, and the socialist Robert Heilbroner, who was hailed once by Dale Vree, religious writer for conservative periodical National Review.

And Rothbard continues: “All great works of art, great emanations of the human spirit, have had to employ material objects: whether they be canvasses, brushes and paint, paper and musical instruments, or building blocks and raw materials for churches. There is no real rift between the 'spiritual' and the 'material' and hence any despotism over and crippling of the material will cripple the spiritual as well.” And this is compatible with Christian doctrine, which teaches that while there is ultimately a spiritual world we should strive toward, we ought also to use material goods to strive toward that. And so-called “materialist” things are sometimes actually more compatible with Christianity than some so-called “spiritual” things, as they are sometimes neutral in their nature or even positive and good. This applies to libertarianism as well; while it doesn't focus on the entire theory of life, like Christianity does, it is still a worthy component of the political life.

4. Libertarians are just a bunch of atomists who don't care about community and about helping the poor. This is one of the most pressing criticisms of liberalism from Christians and conservatives (and even left-progressives). It basically assumes that since we liberals and libertarians are individualists who reject collectivism, we reject basic community. This criticism is unwarranted, and I will show why. Murray Rothbard said of this, “Libertarians are methodological and political individualists, to be sure. They believe that only individuals think, value, act, and choose. They believe that each individual has the right to own his own body, free of coercive interference. But no individualist denies that people are influencing each other all the time in their goals, values, pursuits and occupations.” Even communities are ultimately made up of individuals. No classical liberal or libertarian denies this; the only exception, Rothbard points out, was the idiotic fanatic Max Stirner, who has had very little influence on libertarians since. And his explicit “Might Makes Right” philosophy and repudiation of morality and natural rights “scarcely qualifies him as a libertarian in any sense.” In fact, this very philosophy was used by many dictators in the 20th century to defend their exploits. It was the very same philosophy that Nietzsche used to defend the concept of the superman, which then translated to Hitlerism. Now back to communities. Rothbard points out that libertarians “are in no way opposed to the voluntary cooperation and collaboration between individuals: only to the compulsory pseudo-'cooperation' imposed by the state.” In For A New Liberty, Rothbard also shows that this accusation is an authoritarian straw man, as he points out that “what he abhors is the use of violence to cripple such voluntary cooperation and force someone to choose and act in ways different from what his own mind dictates.” (Murray Rothard, For A New Liberty, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006)

Now, having refuted many of the arguments against libertarianism, I will go on to make some positive arguments for it from a Christian perspective.

1. Libertarianism is compatible with the claims of the Christian religion. There I said it. Libertarianism is compatible with orthodox Christianity. Laurence Vance, in his speech “Is Libertarianism Compatible with Religion?.” says this: “The Bible commands the Christian to devise not evil against his neighbor (Proverbs 3:29), love his neighbor as himself (Romans 13:9), show meekness unto all men (Titus 3:2), do good unto all men (Galatians 6:10), provide things honest in the sight of all men (Romans 12:21), and live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). If libertarianism is not compatible with these things then it is not compatible with anything.” Thus, the only caveats for Christians regarding liberty is “to not let their liberty become a stumbling block to weaker brothers and to not use their liberty for an occasion to the flesh; that is, don't be a libertine.” Here the questions he asks: “Can a Christian assault someone in the name of the Lord Jesus? Can a Christian steal from someone heartily, as to the Lord? Can a Christian kill someone to the glory of God? I think the answer to these questions is obvious. And I also think it is apparent that libertarianism is compatible with the Christian religion.” Thus, not only “is libertarianism compatible with the most strict, most biblically literal form of Christianity, it is demanded by it.” Norman Horn, in his popular Washington Post article “Can a Christian be a Libertarian?,” says that the non-aggression principle (the core of libertarianism) “is in many respects a kind of political corollary to the Golden Rule. Thus, Christian libertarians think that government power should be limited, sound money and truly free markets should return, aggressive war must cease and civil liberties must be preserved.” It takes man's sinful nature realistically when it rejects the idea of special privileges. “God does not show favoritism nor does he give special privileges of position. Everyone is accountable to the moral law in the same way. When governments and politicians extend their power so that they can abridge people’s natural rights with impunity, they have crossed the line into immorality.”

And as Ron Paul stated in his classic
The Revolution: A Manifesto, “The law cannot make a wicked person virtuous… God’s grace alone can accomplish such a thing (Ron Paul, The Revolution: A Manifesto, p. 126, Grand Central Publishing, 2008).” 

Elsewhere, Laurence Vance has written a very helpful essay entitled “An Open Letter to My Fellow Christians,” which deals with vices, crimes and the State from a libertarian perspective. Vance says that “The Christian's ultimate rule of faith is the New Testament. There is no support in the New Testament for the idea that Christians should seek legislation that would criminalize victimless acts - whether they are sins or not. Specific sins are mentioned that are in fact crimes, such as murder (Romans 1:29), stealing (Ephesians 4:28), rioting (Romans 13:13), and extortion (1 Corinthians 6:10) (Laurence Vance, “An Open Letter to My Fellow Christians,” p. 34, Liberty Magazine, May 2007).” He also goes on to note that the Apostle Paul never advocated criminalizing non-criminal vices; in fact, he himself “was himself a victim of a victimless crime law. He was beaten and imprisoned for teaching 'customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans' (Acts 16:21). He was almost killed for teaching 'all men every where against the people, the law, and this place' (Acts 21:28) (ibid.) .” Later on, Vance shows that instead of following Christ's command to make disciples of all nations, fulfilling the Great Commission, Christians “they turn to the state to criminalize what they consider immoral. Instead of changing people's minds about what is and what is not acceptable in society, they seek to use the state to change people's behavior. Instead of greeting with a healthy dose of skepticism the state's latest pronouncement about what substance needs to be banned, regulated, or taxed, they wholeheartedly embrace it. Instead of being an example to the world, they want to use the state to make the world conform to their example. Instead of educating themselves and other Christians about what is appropriate behavior, they rely on the state to make that determination. Instead of looking internally for funding, they look to the state to fund their faith-based initiatives. Instead of minding their own business, they mind everyone else's (ibid.).” As William L. Anderson summed up nicely in one of his essays, “Most conservative Christians abhor libertarianism because they see it as promoting a permissive lifestyle from abortion to taking drugs. Yet, what they fail to understand is that the restrictive, prohibition-oriented state that they are trying to create (and also preserve) is much more likely to take away all liberties than a state that gives people permission to live as they wish (within the boundaries of not doing harm to others and engaging in peaceful exchange).”

Also, the idea of victimless crime legislation is based on one basic thing: that the state cares more for morality than the human being. And many Christians, while they rightly focus on the kingdom of God, mistakenly focus on the external fixing of the world; in my words, they would prefer a totalitarian, anti-immorality legalism to a libertine world. As H. L. Mencken once said, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-face for the urge to rule it.” This, in my opinion, is descriptive of conservative evangelicals, leftist evangelicals and other non-libertarian Christians. As Vance says in his open letter, many Christians “have too lofty a view of the state. They are too quick to rely on the state, trust the state, and believe the state. Sure, they may criticize the state because it permits abortion, but they generally fail to discern the state's true nature (p. 40),” which was accurately described by economist Richard Ebeling in these words: “There has been no greater threat to life, liberty, and property throughout the ages than government. Even the most violent and brutal private individuals have been able to inflict only a mere fraction of the harm and destruction that have been caused by the use of power by political authorities” (The Freeman, Jan.-Feb. 2005).

2. Libertarianism believes in freedom and rejects coercion; in the same way, Scripture rejects coercion unto salvation. Another claim for libertarianism from the Christian viewpoint is its belief in human freedom and rejection of coercion, which is in many ways similar to the Christian view. For example, Christ was not coerced into dying for the sins of the world; in fact, as Christ Himself said, “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10:18, KJV).” Another instance in which Scripture rejects coercion is the community in Acts 2:42-45, which is wrongly used to support the communist system. However, when one looks at the Scripture passage, it is clear that there is no one putting a sword to someone's neck (or a gun to someone's head, in our modern terminology) and there is no coercion; rather, it is believers giving everything in one accord (later on in the Book of Acts, it is recorded that the whole communal system was itself a mistake too). Doug Newman, in his classic essay “Was Jesus a libertarian?,” cites C. S. Lewis's classic Mere Christianity, which states that a Christian society “is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and most of us are not going to want it until we become fully Christian." Doug Newman then goes on to add his words, stating that the Christian society “will not happen until enough individuals choose to become Christians. Even then, while our social ills may abate, they will not disappear.” Tom Mullen, in a brilliant article entitled “Jesus Christ, Libertarian,” explains that Jesus' not stoning the woman caught in adultery and just saying “Go and sin no more” is another example of the fact that coercion is not to be used to change the immorality of the sinner. Mullen states this poignant section that should apply to all of us: “It is important to recognize that Jesus does not condone the sin that the anonymous woman has committed. When he has shamed away the mob who would have stoned her, Jesus commands her to sin no more. Neither does he insinuate that her behavior might not have consequences for her soul. With flawless libertarian reasoning, Jesus teaches us the true meaning of freedom: that God grants us the liberty to do as we wish, even to reject him and his laws, but that we also bear the full consequences of our actions. If we harm another person, then we are subject to the laws of men. However, it is for each individual to determine the will of God according to his conscience and to choose whether to act accordingly or not. There never has been nor can there ever be any body of corruptible men who can save an individual’s soul.” And not only that, Mullen notes that Jesus' ministry consisted in large of rebuking the socially conservative Pharisees, who added so many laws and who didn't lift a finger to help those carrying the burden (Matthew 23:4). I could go on and on about how Scripture, particularly the New Testament, rejects coercion, but this will suffice.

3. Libertarianism, like Scripture, rejects the messianic state. In Scripture, we see examples of states being depicted as wicked in the sight of God. A common thread runs through these depictions: the rejection of state messianism. C. Jay Engel, in his essay “The Messianic Propensity of the State,” notes this crucial insight: “The lust for Empire, for world domination, is a longing with a well-rooted history. From the Egyptians to Alexander the Great to the modern American global rule, there will always be those who, via the strong arm of the State, will seek to monopolize the wealth of the earth. With resources naturally divided throughout the world, the moral means of accumulating such wealth is by trade, by productivity and economic calculation based on the private control and determination of prices and goods. The State is the means by which morality is ignored and coercion is applied.” He later goes on to show that even the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, which were born out of a knowledge of the messianic propensity of the state, were failures, as modern-day America has shown. “Regardless,” says Engel, “it was under this governing structure that it was declared illegal for the Federal Government to expand beyond a very specific (albeit not specific enough) set of powers. The goal was to prevent the State from becoming society’s leviathan.” The state must always depict itself as always noble, even when its actions are clearly unjust. It must provide its own services in its quest for domination: public school, an interventionist war policy, welfare statism, subsidizing businesses in an attempt to destroy competition, draconian laws in the name of “competitive processes” and a host of other goods and services in an attempt to prove itself as noble. Wherever problems exist, the State says “Come unto me, all you weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” It seeks to replace the Church and ultimately God in being the Messiah. As Lord Acton powerfully stated, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And the state, most importantly, claims to be the ultimate lawgiver from which order stems. “No civilization desires lawlessness,” says Engel, “and therefore the State utilizes this desire to become the law itself. And when the law-giver is immoral and despicable, the law itself will reflect that.” People worry that without statism, society will collapse. However, this fear is unfounded because, as Engel shows us, when “the people see the State in the same way as the State sees itself, society falls. We salute the flag regardless of the actions of the state. We pledge allegiance to an immoral and lethal institution. We bow to it, we sing songs to it, we sacrifice our lives for it. We fight wars on its behalf! Behold the almighty State!” Murray Rothbard, in his classic essay “The Anatomy of the State,” shows that “the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet.the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet (Murray N. Rothbard, “The Anatomy of the State,” p. 2, Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, Vol. 1, No. 2, Summer 1965).” Thus, not even strong limits on power can suffice, for as John C. Calhoun showed in his Disquisition on Government, “A written constitution certainly has many and considerable advantages, but it is a great mistake to suppose that the mere insertion of provisions to restrict and limit the power of the government, without investing those for whose protection they are inserted with the means of enforcing their observance will be sufficient to prevent the major and dominant party from abusing its powers (John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government, Liberal Arts Press, 1953, pp. 25-27).” Calhoun goes on to state that eventually the constitution will be annulled, despite whatever attempts are made to make it stricter. However, what should be the Christian's view of the state, in light of the view put forth by libertarians? I hold that Christians should view the state as either a necessary evil which is to be heavily limited (my own view, as well as the classical libertarian view) or to be abolished completely (the view of such Christian libertarians as Norman Horn, Doug Douma, Jim Fedako and Robert P. Murphy). For more help on this issue, let us again refer to Norman Horn's essay “The New Testament Theology of the State.” Horn reminds us that the text of Romans 13 (which is often held to be the text for the Christian's view on government despite evidence to the contrary) can be understood by looking at the actual context rather than on the popular “face-value” reading that most Christians take. Romans 13:1 says that states are instituted, ultimately, by God. “Paul's primary message for Christians, however, is not that states are specially instituted in the same way as the family and church, but rather that the state is not operating outside of the plans of God. In this sense, the state is divinely instituted in the same way that Satan is divinely instituted. God is not surprised when states act the way they do. As noted specifically in the Gospels, the state is understood throughout Scripture as being intimately tied to Satan and his kingdom, and patently opposed to the Kingdom of God. The state's status within God's ultimate plan does not legitimize the evil the state commits.” Thus, our obedience to the state is not so much because it is wonderful and moral, but rather out of a wise pragmatism. We obey the state because we don't want to incur a bad example, not because the state's policies are moral. We pay our taxes not because taxes are right, but because we enter into needless risk when we evade taxes. We follow speeding laws not because we believe in speeding laws but because of a fear for tickets and prison. Ultimately, our obedience to the state has more to do with practicality and pragmatism than it does a moral defense of the state itself.

As I noted before, there are several references that could be used to support the libertarian view of the State from a Christian perspective, but I would definitely like to focus on how Revelation depicts the State. For example, in that book, we see Satan trying to eradicate God's children, both Jews and Gentiles, from the face of the earth. In Revelation 13, we see him using the Antichrist (the Beast) as a tool to control and subjugate the whole earth. As some term it, he will be multiple dictators in one. And he uses the New World Order (NWO) to subjugate the whole earth, where no one can interact with each other until they have the Mark of the Beast (which in human numerals is 666). This mark is similar to the modern-day business license (though on a much grander scale) and the state license in general, where basically something is illegal until one obtains this license.

And we see the Kingdom of God replacing it and sweeping this Babylon away, this Babylon which slays the children of God and oppresses the Jews, this Babylon that seeks war and lives off the blood of everyone.

Ultimately, libertarianism rejects the messianic state in a way that no other philosophy does; it goes to the core of the whole problem and not merely branches of it.

4. Libertarianism is compatible with the spiritual realm. Contrary to the common attacks by anti-libertarians, libertarianism does not neglect the spiritual realm, but is compatible with it. Libertarianism does not promise to save the souls of man, as Christianity does; it has never promised it and it never will; rather, it seeks for justice and the abolition of state injustice and the promotion of individual liberty, free markets, peaceful foreign policy, and limited government (or no government for the anarchists out there). As I said before, libertarianism is compatible with Christianity, so I feel no need to delve very deeply into this issue.

Now, my final conclusion is that libertarianism is compatible with the claims of Christianity, and that it is in many ways an extension of Christian political philosophy. I have not developed fully the Christian libertarian view on specific issues (those are for later essays), but here I have laid the general foundation for the libertarian theory from a Christian perspective.

For more information, I would recommend these resources:

“Can A Christian Be A Libertarian?” by Norman Horn, Washington Post
“Myth and Truth About Libertarianism” by Murray N. Rothbard, originally published in Modern Age
“Christianity and Self-Ownership” by Issac Morehouse, Libertarian Christians

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