On Libertarians and Faith

I was drafting a kind of “this is why NoVA is the way he is” post in response to a brief dialogue with 12Bars and Michigoose on the PL, but it could take weeks for me to sit down and actually write a complete essay with citations on balancing a catholic religious tradition and faith and the associated social responsibilities with a libertarian stance on economic and social issues. Then I realized that you could spend your whole career on such an exercise. So instead I’ll kind of hit the highlights, with the caveat that each of these points could be the subject of much more detail. I’ll also note that there’s a debate within the Church about this and each of my points has a legit counterpoint.

Subsidiarity — One of the facets of catholic social teaching is the idea that the smallest organization possible should be responsible any given activity. Pope John Paul II wrote in 1991 that ignoring this principle deprives society of its responsibility and this “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need.” Do note, however, that before making this point, the pope when into great detail on the role of the state in the economic sector. This is why I’m libertarian and and not anarcho-capitalist (although at times ….). See point 48 of John Paul II’s Centesimus annus here

Expanding on this, the more powerful and larger the state becomes, the less the need for charity. Instead, we create uncaring bureaucracies that will subsume and control those institutions that reflect our values. The state will not, and cannot, consider our values. You saw this in the health reform debate — under the goal of providing increased access to care, the bishops were shocked to learn of the requirements they will have carry out. They should not have been surprised.

Quoting from Taki’s Mag on this point: “In an American context, given our constitutional heritage and the large body of legal decisions solidifying its interpretation, on nearly any issue, Christians of any denomination should reject the assistance of the State. Our efforts to capture it, the courts have made it clear, will always fail. Any attempt to infuse the activity of the government with the moral content of a revealed religion will be rejected, in the end. Indeed, the more our own institutions cooperate with the government, the more they will be compromised; hospitals which take federal funds will be subject to secular ethics on issues like contraception, end-of-life, and even abortion. Religious colleges accepting federal grants will eventually be federalized, and so on.

Read more: http://takimag.com/article/ron_paul_and_pius_ix#ixzz1Ymq0cWzK

I would add that I have no problem with this. I don’t expect the state to enforce my values. I think we’re foolish to think that it would.

Militarism — In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us “blessed are the peacemakers.” Arms and violence should be a last resort. At this point in our history and for the foreseeable future, our leaders have turned this idea around. We are at perpetual war now. And the technology is advancing at such a rate where we can kill so easily and without risk to our own soldiers that the system is slowing becoming automated.

The idea that our leaders will even consider the catholic notion of a “just war” is hopelessly lost. We don’t even debate war anymore. This is simply incompatible with catholic teaching. And I don’t believe for a second that those who can callously order remote killings on one day can turn around and have any legitimacy on the next when they say we need to raise taxes because of the poor, or schools or any other “public good.” They’ve demonstrated repeatedly they care only about their own power. Respecting authority is a big part of catholic tradition, but respect these guys? The only solution to this is a smaller state.

And we are at this point, because as Lord Acton put it, power corrupts. We can spin our wheels trying to control this through ethics reforms or campaign finance reform. I contend that these efforts will fail and the only true solution is not to attempt to control or weed out the inevitable corruption, but to limit the power. So while we have reg after reg and law after law attempting to control vice, the greater threat is power. You can say we need to give the state power b/c x,y, or z. They will take your good will (and your money) and abuse it

This power, which they’ve used to control an ever larger part of society is a threat to our greatest gift, that of free will, a topic that needs it’s own post.

Thanks — and I’ll (try to) stay quiet in the comments and let everyone else poke holes in it.

11 Responses

  1. Excellent post, NoVA. Is I tend toward the libertarian in many ways, I largely tend to agree. I don't have anything meaningful to add, per se, just thought I ought to laud the excellent post, and thank you for contributing.I love the tenor of this blog.

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  2. "The state will not, and cannot, consider our values."Not Catholic values, no. But American values, absolutely. It is unreasonable for any of us to expect our religious views to inform the structure of our gov't, or even our society. There are too many religions for that to work.

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  3. I'm off to the warehouse (about 15 yards away) to check in and shelve shoe laces of all things. I'm looking forward to reading this and commenting when I'm done. Back in a flash!

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  4. That's good, Kev, b/c I took you for a baritone, assuming it was your vocal I listened to the other night.NVH, that is for me a rational framework or viewing point. It is one I often appropriate. The federal Constitution does strongly urge some pretty big government, just for the protection and expansion of commerce, as well as for defense of a sprawling nation. It was, after all, a reaction to a loosely organized Confederation. That is another viewing point I often appropriate.And every state has constitutionalized the delivery of a free public education. I would not argue against that. Most local communities have police, fire, water, and wastewater responsibilities. Most take on roads, libraries, and parks and recreation, as well. These fit with the idea of the community closest and smallest addressing its communal needs.I am OK with all of that. I am wondering where Catholic libertarianism would begin drawing lines as to what government at various levels ought not attempt. Would it not have attempted any of the functions I suggested?Would it have opposed social security in the first instance? Would it oppose social security, now? I am guessing that it opposes institutionalized welfare like we had before the second Clinton Admin.I think you gave a great introduction and I am in no way critical of it. Thanks.

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  5. I sincerely thank you, NoVA.My first response is my belief that many of our larger problems can't be solved in the state in which the problem occurred. So for war to become a true last-resort option, there needs to be a larger field of people talking about it in more practical terms than 'peace is beautiful.'For power to become non-corruptive, options to 'power corrupts' have to start flourishing. Not just in government, but in corporations, schools, relationships, etc. Simply shrinking gov't won't resolve this because of the control other organizations exert will expand to fill the gap. Some of these organizations may well be less accountable than government. Again, thank you for the post. I'll ponder further.

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  6. What stood out to me was the idea that a smaller state is needed so we can have charity. "Expanding on this, the more powerful and larger the state becomes, the less the need for charity. Instead, we create uncaring bureaucracies that will subsume and control those institutions that reflect our values."I vehemently disagree. I would rather by far have a larger state that is generic in its values, and only acts on the overall good.If religious hospitals don't want to incorporate that larger state of common good, then don't accept federal (or even state) money, and depend on that charity that is being touted so highly. If that hospital can't survive on charity, then perhaps it shouldn't be in existence, if the charity is so lacking. OR, those groups can educate their people as what is needed and so obtain the charity on which they depend.Charity is never for the common good; it exists soley for their 'own', and should be recognized as that. I do not see SS and universal health care as charity; I contribute to both with each and every paycheck, and so don't need charity from a narrowly-focused small group.When the larger state can't accomodate the basic needs of its people, there is a great deal more going wrong; perhaps at that point charity may be needed, but by its very nature, don't count on it. It is 'charity', totally voluntary.On one hand, I don't like the military becoming more automated; the more the human factor is removed, the more horrible war is, simply because it is easier, and our sons, daughters, mothers or fathers aren't paying that high price of their life. On the other hand, we don't need such a large body of people to feed, clothe, transport, operate on, or bury; and so perhaps more efficient. Kind of a catch-22 situation for me. And no war is ever just. Just some make me feel better than others, but it is pretty relative.Absolute power does corrupt, absolutely. Charity groups and religious groups are not exempt. Doesn't matter how large or how small the group is.Okay, I am done with my holes for now.

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  7. NoVA, that was a very nice overview of your views but I'm wondering where non Catholic Libertarians would differ, if at all. I don't worry too much about the Constitution, I know I should, but I tend to just ask myself if we have an area of concern for a large swath of the population, who best can address that concern.? Generally, I agree that the more localized the concern the more localized the solution should be.In my opinion though health care is a National Emergency, and while I was not entirely happy with the solution I appreciate the fact that it was addressed on a National level. When you consider the large number of uninsured, the number of deaths and bankruptcies, and the rising costs of the piece meal system we had prior to attempting Universal coverage, it seemed clear to me we had no choice but to address health care as an issue of common good.I certainly believe in charity, religious and secular, but some problems need to be resolved in a more uniform manner and on a much larger scale, hence my firm support for M/M and SS. Obviously, the larger and more complex the organization, government, non-profit or private, the greater the eventual likelihood of corruption. I don't believe any of them are inherently corrupt though.Militarily, I tend to agree with you and am not very satisfied with the direction we're heading or the amount of treasure we've committed to our various adventures. In our quest, we have depleted our resources rather than protect them.

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  8. "but I'm wondering where non Catholic Libertarians would differ, if at all."Good question — maybe in areas of emphasis. I'd have to think about that more. I was trying to get at the idea that the two traditions are not fundamentally incompatible and it's not an either/or type situation, which i get a lot.

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  9. Good, interesting post, NoVA. I think this once again proves that the Catholic Church is not the homogenous entity some think it is and that it's doctrine shouldn't be pigeonholed into any particular political category.

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  10. I went looking for a three sided coin to decide which personna to use to address this thread. As a catholic I happen to like the tenor of my Church's teaching on this.As a democrat I find that with some particulars that need careful parsing this agrees with my politics.As a Catholic democrat who certainly lets his faith inform his politics, I think I can get most of my party's principles to fit.Yes, where the Government assumes responsibilities for what might otherwise fall to private charity to do it becomes convenient for those who might be expected to provide the charity to decide that if the government is going to do it, they are absolved of any responsibility on their own part. That doesn't mean that the government shouldn't do it, just that we as private Christians have an obligation to fill in where the government misses. Because the statement is that the obligation is to do the thing at the lowest appropriate level, not that only the lowest level should ever do it. FEMQA can do a much better job of providing much of the needs of a community hit by a disaster, but the rest of the charitable world, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Social setrvices, and the local churches, the churches from around the local churches, and individuals who can help should also be there, filling in where FEMA can't do the job. There is a place for walmart and P&G at those disasters, just as there is a place for the Third Street Mission to provide food and shelter. The teaching isn't so much Libertarian as Communism in the thirteenth century Italian sense of the word. It is Government at all levels from individual to King, and Church at all levels from Parish pastor to Successor to Peter, all responsible for the relief of suffering.

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  11. NoVa,Great post and something I could spend a lot of time discussing (more than I have or can). So just a couple of quick points.The idea of Catholic libertarianism as you are describing isn't odd in the least. I was raised without a lot of exposure to Catholicism beyond watching Mass for Shut-ins sometimes early Sunday morning and wondering what it all meant. But, when I first became politically conscious (1980) and realized I was a conservative, I started reading National Review (which I stumbled upon in the library) and Buckley and followed the trail from there to an entire tradition of Catholic libertarianism based around small government and subsidiarity. Nothing weird about this school of thought, although for me it was a bit of a strange realization that, coming from my background, I shared much of this perspective with Catholics of whom I'd never heard.I absolutely agree with the argument that big government crowds out the private sphere, including private charity. This is central to the conservative/libertarian critique of large, centralized, bureaucratic government.In my view this critique has more than proved to be more than true, to the point where large segments of our society no longer consider anythig but government programs to be legitimate reflections of compassion or even civic responsibility. The very word "charity" now carries a taint and is literally scorned in many quarters as reactionary, bourgeois ideology. In fact, it has become impossible for many to think about caring for one's parents other than by looking to the federal government to do it. Now, if you think you could do a better job of taking care of Granny than a government program that depends on a shrinking percentage of funders to fund a growing percentage of fundees, they run a commercial showing you pushing her over a cliff.

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