Friday, May 30, 2014

A Biblical Case for Libertarianism (Part 1) - Law, Ethics, Morality and the Bible

A word from C. Jay Engel, a good friend and a Christian anarcho-capitalist: Very good job Anand. [Y]ou are becoming more articulate and understanding the arguments much better. Overall, I think it is a fine piece. And you have done well in looking to define your terms. This is always beneficial. Not enough people, libertarians included, do this. Kinsella is very good at this too.

It has come upon me that I should write something to make the biblical case for libertarianism, arguing that (1) libertarianism is the most consistent with biblical Christianity, (2) other political philosophies contradict the Christian faith in many ways, (3) libertarianism isn't contradictory to a biblical understanding of human nature but can compliment it nicely and (4) non-coercive methods of social reform are more fruitful than legislative power "legislating morality."

I will deal with how libertarian law relates to the Bible, how libertarian foreign policy is compatible with the Bible, and how libertarianism is the most biblical political philosophy.

The first part will deal with law, morality and ethics, libertarianism and how the Scripture deals with such issues.

Libertarian Law

The first section will deal with what libertarian law is. And for that, we must define what libertarianism is.

Libertarianism is based off the nonaggression principle/axiom (NAP), the belief that no man has any right to commit aggression/initiate force against another man's life, liberty or property. Libertarianism applies this otherwise widely held belief consistently, meaning that no government has the right to do this, not even if it labels aggression by any other name. Basically, under this principle, aggression by any other name is still aggression.

Violence is prohibited by the NAP, except when it is exercised in defense of life, liberty or property. Defensive violence can be exercised through self-defense, retaliation against prior aggression, or responsive violence to entrenched aggressors. 

The libertarian law code upholds this non-aggression principle in its system. Vices that do not aggress against others are permitted under this system but crimes such as murder, rape, theft, fraud, and other aggression are condemned and prohibited. Vice, while immoral, doesn't violate the NAP, for most vices don't commit aggression against anyone. Crime, however, does this job, and thus there is a distinction between vice and crime in libertarian law code.

Libertarian lawyer and theorist Stephan Kinsella aptly says:
The libertarian says that each person is the full owner of his body: he has the right to control his body, to decide whether or not he ingests narcotics, joins an army, and so on. Those various nonlibertarians who endorse any such state prohibitions, however, necessarily maintain that the state, or society, is at least a partial owner of the body of those subject to such laws — or even a complete owner in the case of conscriptees or nonaggressor "criminals" incarcerated for life. Libertarians believe in self-ownership. Nonlibertarians — statists — of all stripes advocate some form of slave.
The great Murray Rothbard (one of the most important libertarian theorists and philosophers in history) also says of the central core of libertarianism (in his classic book For A New Liberty, p. 23):
The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the "nonaggression axiom." "Aggression" is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.
And libertarian philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an ideological descendant of Murray Rothbard, says in his A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism:
If … an action is performed that uninvitedly invades or changes the physical integrity of another person's body and puts this body to a use that is not to this very person's own liking, this action … is called aggression … Next to the concept of action, property is the most basic category in the social sciences. As a matter of fact, all other concepts to be introduced in this chapter — aggression, contract, capitalism and socialism — are definable in terms of property: aggression being aggression against property, contract being a nonaggressive relationship between property owners, socialism being an institutionalized policy of aggression against property, and capitalism being an institutionalized policy of the recognition of property and contractualism.
These three statements define the central core of libertarianism. They don't mean "fiscal/economic conservatism and social liberalism," despite what some libertarians believe. It is the consistent application of the non-aggression principle dealing with the role of force in society.

And property is derived when one justly homesteads and transforms unowned land into one's use; this makes him the absolute owner of that parcel of property which he homesteads. This gives him the right to use it in any way he pleases so long as he doesn't aggress against anyone's property or rights in doing so. And he also has the right to exchange it and charge rent for it, as it is his just property.

Again Kinsella says:
As in the case with bodies, humans need to be able to use external objects as means to achieve various ends. Because these things are scarce, there is also the potential for conflict. And, as in the case with bodies, libertarians favor assigning property rights so as to permit the peaceful, conflict-free, productive use of such resources. Thus, as in the case with bodies, property is assigned to the person with the best claim or link to a given scarce resource — with the "best claim" standard based on the goals of permitting peaceful, conflict-free human interaction and use of resources.  
Unlike human bodies, however, external objects are not parts of one's identity, are not directly controlled by one's will, and — significantly — they are initially unownedHere, the libertarian realizes that the relevant objective link is appropriation — the transformation or embordering of a previously unowned resource, Lockean homesteading, the first use or possession of the thing. Under this approach, the first (prior) user of a previously unowned thing has a prima facie better claim than a second (later) claimant, solely by virtue of his being earlier
The libertarian applies this rule consistently; it doesn't depend on a might-makes-right principle, nor does it depend on what government declares is just or unjust. It depends on whether someone appropriated unowned land for his own use and made it an extension of his own self, which makes it his property. And also, if anyone enslaves a person on his property, than that property goes to the slave, for since the slave homesteaded the land and was forcefully held against his will, it is only just that the land revert back to the slave, the person who used the land and mixed his labor with it.

Libertarian Law and Morality

Now that we have discussed libertarian law and the non-aggression principle, let us deal with how libertarian law will deal with issues of vice and crime.

Vice can be defined as that which is immoral and harmful not only to oneself but also to all the parties involved. A biblical and Christian definition of this could fall under the term sin, which means "missing the mark." The Christian believes that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that man is marked with a sinful nature that prevents him from fellowshipping with God. And thus, the unsaved would often depend on other means to find fulfillment, and vices are one of those means. These would include acts like the use of narcotics, sexual promiscuity, prostitution, alcohol abuse, lying and overall being negligent of one's duties to God and to man. However, the majority of these vices don't commit aggression against anyone. It is true that they can be harmful, but they are not aggressive. Thus, the libertarian law code won't prescribe any forceful action against such actions.

Crime, on the other hand, is duly condemned and forbidden in libertarian law. It can be called by any other names—aggressioncoercioninitiation of force—but the term crime is more generally suitable. It can be defined as breaking the law, or more correctly violating other's rights, specifically their right to life, liberty and property. Actions under this category include rape (a forceful use of a woman's body against her will), murder (killing another man against his will), theft (taking of another man's property against his will), fraud (implied theft), kidnapping (holding a person against his will), and involuntary servitude (forcing a man to serve against his will). Crime is not crime because the State declares in a piece of paper that it is crime. It is so because it violates the God-given natural rights of man.

Thus, it is not only individuals that can be guilty of crime, but the State can also be guilty of it. It often has been too—the Holocaust, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the massacres of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet dictators are several examples. They were done with musings and pretentious pleas, but ultimately they can be considered crimes, for they committed aggression against non-aggressive civilians and persons. Crime by another name is still crime. It doesn't matter if the state exercises it—it is still crime.

Vices, on the other hand, don't fit the requirements for forceful action against the actor, for the sinner often doesn't commit aggression in his sin. Yes, his actions may be hurtful, but they are not aggressive. Stephan Kinsella argues:
Libertarians often condemn “harming” others, and this is fine so far as it goes, if it is kept in mind that “harm” here is loosely meant as a synonym for aggression. But “harm” is really a broader category. Libertarianism says that only aggression may be countered with force, that aggression is the only way to violate rights so that a forceful response is justified. Other rightful behavior, even if it is immoral or “bad,” is rightful so long as it is not aggression. (See my What Libertarianism Is, esp. notes 9-11 and accompanying text.)“Committing harm” can also be rightful. Think of harm as a broader category that includes both harm-by-aggression, and other types of harm. This latter category is not an empty set. There are all sorts of ways you can “harm” someone that do not violate their rights. Competing with someone and “taking” his business, “stealing” his girl, beating him in a race–all may be viewed as harming him. But it’s permissible to do this as it does not invade the physical integrity of his property–it does not commit aggression. It does not violate his rights. As can be seen in the blackmail debate above, by resorting to sloppy, fuzzy terms like “harm” all sorts of non-aggressive actions could be prohibited (such as blackmail, defamation, etc.). It thus leads to advocacy of unlibertarian laws.
This means that even the most "harmful" vice doesn't fit the requirement to be a crime. Thus, these "harmful" vices should not be interfered with by the State, nor should those who practice such be locked in jail. For example, the seller of harmful narcotics shouldn't be put behind bars, as long as he didn't use fraud in his sales. And the seller of pornographic images shouldn't be put behind bars, for the buyer and seller of pornographic images entered into a mutual and voluntary exchange; cracking down on such an exchange, however moral it may seem, would be a violation of the principles of free markets and voluntary exchange. It is true that such exchanges may be "harmful" but they aren't in any way rights-violating. It can be corrected through persuasion and other voluntary means, but coercive force is not one of them.

Thus, when one argues against "legislating morality," he is not saying that laws have no moral basis, but rather he is arguing that force should not be used when dealing with vice, for not only is force disproportionate with regards to vices, but force is often ineffective in solving social and moral problems. And often, freedom is essential in choosing moral choices. If that is denied and violated, then man has no freedom to choose morals and thus morality is no longer truly moral.

Why Libertarian Law Is Not Incompatible with the Bible

Now that I have discussed libertarian law and how it deals with moral issues, I will address this crucial question: is libertarian law incompatible with the Bible?

I believe this question should be addressed, as this is very troubling to many Christians of the libertarian and/or anarcho-capitalist persuasion. Their intellectual opponents argue that libertarianism is an unbiblical political ethic, since libertarianism rejects the use of force with regard to moral issues, while they believe the Bible precisely advocates force in such moral areas. After all, does not Romans 13 and all those passages in Scripture mandate that the government enforce moral codes, thus logically leading to regulating personal behaviors, however uncomfortable it may be?

My argument is that libertarian law is not only not incompatible with the Bible, but it is the most compatible with the Scriptures. It most closely reflects the non-forceful and persuasive nature of the Christian faith with regards to the political ethic—the Golden Rule applied in the negative sense ("don't molest other's life, liberty, or property").

1. Christianity rejects coercion and force unto salvation and true morality. One of the major characteristics of the Christian faith is that it doesn't depend on the use of force in order to bring one to salvation, unlike some other faiths. It depends on the power of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14, Acts 2:38, Epehsians 1:13), the power of evangelism, and the power of God's saving grace. None of these involve the use of force against those who reject the Gospel; all of them rely on God's grace and persuasion. Simiarly, it would be consistent if Christians rejected the use of force against sinners when dealing with problems like sexual immorality, drug abuse, alcoholism, and other sins. After all, did not Jesus and the apostles reject the use of force in dealing with these deep problems, especially those regarding the soul? In fact, in the famous instance of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus refused to stone the adulteress. Tom Mullen comments on this in an article of his: 
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.
This is by no means the only place in the gospels that Jesus teaches us this lesson. His entire public ministry was one admonishment of the hypocritical, socially conservative theocracy after another. Indeed, it is the Jewish state that is Jesus’ chief antagonist throughout the gospels. He is noticeably disinterested in the more secular Roman government, despite its tyranny over his people. While he certainly doesn’t approve of the Romans, he has no interest in political revolution. As Jesus tells Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). However, his own government does not merely commit secular, political oppression against its people. It usurps the authority of God and attempts to judge in his place. For this, Jesus constantly lets loose his most venomous admonishments.
So this would mean that Jesus' way is not the use of force unto morals but the spreading of the Gospel here. 

Later on, Mullen argues:
Jesus was very clear about his views on what would lead to salvation and what would not. Jesus condemned many behaviors, like adultery, that social conservatives likewise condemn. He also said that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) However, he does not go on to say, “Therefore, if your brother does not come to me willingly, then draw your sword and force him.” Salvation must be chosen; God did not create a race of slaves. 
2. Laws against themselves can be called unethical and aggressive. Another factor that should be considered when analyzing "moral laws" or "victimless crime laws" is how they are enforced. These laws in effect interfere with the property rights and individual freedoms of people, as cracking down on a certain vice would require the violation of one's property rights in order to enforce the law. For example, if a police officer wanted to crack down on promiscuous sexual activity, it would often break into someone's house and property and may sometimes use wiretapping or other forms of invasive activity to punish the activity. This would require an invasion of property rights and freedom, thus making "legislating morality" unethical and a violation of property rights.

Murray Rothbard said of the troubling issue of pornography and the law that can be applied to all laws "legislating morality":
To the libertarian, the arguments between conservatives and liberals over laws prohibiting pornography are distressingly beside the point. The conservative position tends to hold that pornography is debasing and immoral and therefore should be outlawed. Liberals tend to counter that sex is good and healthy and that therefore pornography will only have good effects, and that depictions of violence — say on television, in movies, or in comic books — should be outlawed instead. Neither side deals with the crucial point: that the good, bad, or indifferent consequences [p. 104] of pornography, while perhaps an interesting problem in its own right, is completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not it should be outlawed. The libertarian holds that it is not the business of the law — the use of retaliatory violence — to enforce anyone's conception of morality. It is not the business of the law — even if this were practically possible, which is, of course, most unlikely — to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright. This is for each individual to decide for himself. It is only the business of legal violence to defend people against the use of violence, to defend them from violent invasions of their person or property. But if the government presumes to outlaw pornography, it itself becomes the genuine outlaw — for it is invading the property rights of people to produce, sell, buy, or possess pornographic material.
Another reason why such laws can be called unethical is that it fails to recognize that true morality has the essential component of the free choice of man. Without such free choice, no true morality can exist; only artificial morality can exist. Which is better: true morality chosen by freedom of choice, or artificial morality coerced through interference with non-criminal immorality? The answer seems to be clear here.

3. The Old Testament's covenant was fulfilled, leading to the New Covenant; this means that the era of freedom and grace are now in. My final point in this post regards the issue of the Old Covenant and its transition to the New Covenant, which I believe will fulfill a very important case for libertarianism from a biblical standpoint. My perspective, based on my view of the Bible, is that once Christ died and rose from the dead, the Old Covenant was fulfilled and the New Covenant has come in. Thus, the civil, legal, and ceremonial codes were done away with and were not necessary anymore. They were a sign to the Jewish race, but God works through the New Covenant of grace, now that Christ has already finished His work on the cross.

The new covenant is spoken of many times in the Scriptures, both in Old and New Testaments. Jeremiah 31:31-33 is the major OT passage describing the new covenant. It says (in the KJV):
31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The New Testament also teaches likewise. Now that we are no longer under the dispensation/period of the law, we are under the period/dispensation of grace, which we can receive freely through Jesus Christ our Lord (Ephesians 2:8-9). Hebrews 9:15 states wonderfully
15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
This means that while we still are under moral law, we are not under the civil, ceremonial, and legal boundaries that the ancient Hebrews lived under in the Old Covenant.

But how does this relate to libertarianism? First, it shows that as the law was once there to convict us, now the grace of God forgives and restores. Second, the grace of God freed us from the bondage of sin and the law. And finally, the freedom we now have in Christ is best reflected in a libertarian political order, where no one's person or property is invaded by aggression. 

In such an order, the property rights of every man is respected, no one is placed in jail if he does something immoral (provided that he hasn't committed aggression), and social cooperation exists among different groups without the state's interference. Violence isn't institutionalized in the form of the State, removing one major group of institutionalized aggression from society. In the libertarian society, every man has the freedom of association and discrimination, meaning he has the right to associate with whomever he pleases, and he also has the right to discriminate and disassociate with those he doesn't like. Also, he has the right to defend his person and property against aggressors, and he has the right to hire another person to defend him. He would have the right to defend others as well from his own free will, and he would have the right to form companies and institutions dedicating to providing defense and security services for not only himself but for others who participate in the services. No one would be taxed against his will to support something, but everyone would surely provide of their own will. Justice would be provided more efficiently, peacefully, and without monopoly. And trade flourishes peacefully without the use of monopolies, tariffs, and economic regulations. 

Sin is dealt with through the use of persuasion and other voluntary methods rather than the use of coercion and aggression against the sinner, allowing for not only a better solution to the problem but also for a more peaceful solution that doesn't end up hurting one in the long run.

Who wouldn't want to support a society like that?

Feel free to leave your comments at the comment section. They are welcome.

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