Why Catholics Should Be Libertarians

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Randy England, a Catholic writer and criminal defense attorney, took it upon himself to write a brief primer on libertarianism for Catholics. It should be understood up front that England is not talking about the Libertarian political party or electoral politics but about a political philosophy and how one views government action. In an interview with The New American, England explained his motivation for writing the book. “I wrote Free is Beautiful so that Catholics may understand that libertarianism is the political philosophy most compatible with Christianity and the only one that takes human dignity and free will seriously.”

Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarians is definitely geared to make Catholics become libertarians, but England’s argument might also persuade a few libertarians to become Catholic. This is the third book England has written, and it shows. His style is very easy to read and maintains one’s interest, as he clearly explains what libertarianism is, as well as what libertarianism is not. He also makes the case for how libertarianism is perfectly in line with Catholicism. England separated his book into two parts, with part one focusing almost entirely on explaining why libertarianism is consistent with Christianity and part two further explaining how libertarianism relates to the rest of society.

Simply put, England explains, libertarianism is about the non-aggression principle, which “prohibits the initiation of physical force (or the threat of force) against people or property. The use of force is only legitimate in defense of life or property.” This idea applies to both individuals and governments. That means that if something is wrong for an individual to do – robbery or murder as an example – then that is also wrong if a government does it. England points out that every “government relies on the kind of aggression that would be criminal if used by an individual – that is, the initiation of violence.” Sadly, in present times, we have become accustomed to government using aggressive force or the threat of force to achieve its goals. Libertarians, England states, reject “violence as a solution” and “embrace the goal of eliminating all authority that relies upon the initiation of force to accomplish its ends.”

The supporters of state action on the Left and the Right would be quick to label such rhetoric as the ranting of an anarchist, which, in practice, would produce a lawless society. England addresses such criticism by arguing that order can be accomplished through voluntary, nonviolent means. England reminds readers that authority does not need to come only from an “aggressive government. There are other ways to secure agreement so that orders may be given and obedience expected. Authority based on reciprocity and trust is more powerful than that based on physical coercion.” One idea proposed later in the book is cooperative contractual agreements, which are based on private property rights. These cooperatives, many of which exist today, can take the place of the role presently handled by coercive governments.

As England explains, a society that is based on voluntary association will not make a “perfect world, but real virtue makes a better world than compelled virtue…. Liberty frees us to live – if we choose – a virtuous life in this world, and a life capable of sharing in the divine life in the next.” England echoes that last point throughout the book. “Only free men can become good men. True virtue requires liberty.” This might be met with grumbling from the conservative wing of Christians who view moral evils as an area for state action, but the author reminds the reader that we should have learned from similar approaches in the past, such as the failure of alcohol prohibition, which have shown us that criminalizing vices do not rid us of social problems and, in the majority of cases, end up making the problems far worse.

Libertarianism and the Church

England spends an entire chapter explaining why libertarianism is entirely consistent with Catholicism. From Papal Encyclicals to the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, England highlights the similarities and consistent themes between the two belief systems. Such alignment may sound off the wall to Catholics because there are clear pronouncements from church authorities that advocate the use of government coercion to solve social ills, such as for unlibertarian laws like taxes, wage laws, and – in modern times – government-run healthcare and even a global political authority.

Unfortunately, he does not address this contradiction in the book, which some critics might label as misleading. England did not attempt to reconcile libertarianism with the church’s statements, though such a seeming contradiction is easily explained, as he briefly told me in an interview about the book:

Church social teaching calls on authorities to promote the common good…. Peace, protection of rights, defense of persons and property; these are the very values that libertarians consider absolute. Those who want government intervention cite certain passages in the social encyclicals that seem to call for government manipulation of wages, the economy or other matters. It is easy to make too much of such statements for the church has always recognized strict limits to its competence in prescribing solutions to problems, as noted in more recent encyclicals, [Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, 41 and Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 2009, 9.]

England further explained that the church cannot “bind” Catholics on these “technical solutions” using government power and that any pronouncements that go this far in advocating certain “technical solutions” comes at the expense of the church’s true authority in matters of faith and morals.

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Patrick D. Krey, Esq. is a freelance writer who works in the corporate world and has an M.B.A., J.D. (law degree) and an L.L.M. (masters of law) from the University of Buffalo. Patrick is also a general practice Attorney admitted to the bar in New York State. His writings focus on national issues and have been published online at JBS.org, PrisonPlanet.com, Antiwar.com, Infowars.com, The Tenth Amendment Center and in The New American bi-weekly print magazine.

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