story is part of Walter
Block's Autobiography Archive.
How I Became a Christian Libertarian
day, long ago (I think it must have been sometime during 1995),
I woke up in the morning and realized that I had ceased to be one
of those agnostics or atheists I had known and interacted with while
teaching in philosophy departments. Instead, I had become a Christian
libertarian. That these two were compatible was one of the important
realizations of my adult life. I wish more Christians would realize
that initiating coercion to achieve desirable social goals is out
of accord with true Christianity (see Rev. 3:20, which I will discuss
below). And I wish more libertarians would realize that the freedom
philosophy they rightly treasure cannot be made to last among a
people who have no sense of the transcendent in their lives, because
people just arenít like that. The story is a fairly long one, but
we can hit the high spots. (I know, I know: famous last words.)
Usually Begins With Ayn Rand But Not Always and Not Completely.
think Iíve always been an instinctive individualist. By that I mean
I donít recall a time when I wasnít aware of my individuality, whether
it came from a sense of being somehow different from most of the
people around me (classmates, when I was in grade school and high
school; later, when I was teaching, professors) or a larger and
not-yet-articulated sense that the word individuality touched
on something important about the human condition. Individualism,
of course, stands at the core of libertarianism, even before we
get to issues about rights or proscribing the initiation of force.
We are essentially individuals before we are anything else family
members, members of a community, citizens of a nation, members of
an ethnic group or gender. That doesnít mean these other entities
are imaginary or unimportant, of course. Individualism does not
mean complete individual self-sufficiency. Strong families are important
(weíll see why below). So are stable communities (ditto). Individuality
doesnít mean complete aloofness or aloneness. People involved with
family, professional groups, and community are both happier and
healthier. Communities villages come about when the breadwinners
in families settle together and transact with one another peacefully,
each person trading skills, services or goods for compensation in
a value-for-value exchange (I am using the word value in
its economic sense, of course).
individuality is still the bottom line for us. No two people are
alike; none have the same levels of intelligence, skills and motivation.
This is why egalitarianism is impossible a "revolt against
nature," as Murray Rothbard called it. This is why, should
it turn out that there really are racial differences in intelligence,
the claim doesnít carry as much weight as either its advocates or
its detractors think. Claims about average intelligence within groups
are statistical abstractions and entail nothing about the intelligence
of any particular individual. Likewise, men and women can be spoken
of as members of a group. Perhaps in some sense men are more "logical"
and women are more "emotional." But again, even despite
the obvious biological and hormonal differences between men and
women, this says nothing about any particular individual. I have
encountered my share of "emotional" men (they usually
become socialists, or "alpha males" like Al Gore). And
I know or have met women whose "logical" abilities are
good as any man (they donít become radical feminists!). Group
identity is not a nothing. Most people prefer the company of those
similar to themselves. This is normal. But group identity will not
bear the weight placed on it by either neo-racialists or sexists
of any stripe, or academic leftists, those purveyors of the "politics
on with the story. I just realized I mentioned Ayn Rand in my subhead
but nowhere in the text! Not to worry; sheís coming.
was always a bookworm. My parents both having scientific and professional
degrees, I grew up surrounded by books: on science, on history,
on health, and so on. My neighborsí collection of books eventually
came to my attention while I was taking care of their cats. Among
the volumes that I kept going back to was the small, dog-eared paperback
edition of a book called The
Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. (There she is!) One day I started
reading it. The next thing I knew, three hours had gone by. Howard
Roark had captivated me that long.
in college, the philosophy virus infected me, and I never recovered.
How this came about is a story in itself. I had been casting about
for a major I could propel myself into completely. Iíd tried anthropology,
history and geology. None of them had worked. During one chaotic
semester, at age 19, what little time I spent apart from a member
of the opposite sex who had captivated me in a different way, I
spent trying to figure out what the dickens I wanted to do with
my college education and my life. Much of modern education, even
then, struck me as a direct and concerted attack on the studentís
individuality. College and university curricula had only molds to
force-fit people into. Most people fit into them reasonably well,
of course. But some of us did not.
my hobbies and the relationship I mentioned consumed
far more time than my studies which were then cure-alls for insomnia.
One of my favorite hobbies was collecting information on what seemed
to be verified facts that didnít fit into anyoneís theories. Iíd
read my way through writers such as Charles Fort, Charles Hapgood,
Immanuel Velikovsky, Erich von Däniken, Charles Berlitz, Robert
Anton Wilson, and many, many others. Some of this stuff was not
very good, of course. Von Dänikenís books are silly. But others
of the Ancient Sea Kings, for example were thoroughly
researched and made a lasting impression. I became convinced there
was something wrong with the "conventional" view of the
human past, and possibly with the Darwinian theory itself. In my
senior year of high school I had done a research paper on flood
legends and myths from around the world. I was amazed how prevalent
variants of this story were. They existed all over the world, from
the Middle East and Eurasia to North America and the Far East, even
among Australian aborigines and other peoples who could not have
had any contact with one another for thousands of years. Sometimes,
in these legends, it was a single family that survived, as in the
account of Noah, his wife and three sons (and three daughters-in-law)
in Genesis; sometimes a single couple, sometimes a larger group.
The names of the survivors were obviously different. But surely
a legend this prevalent reflected a real event, possibly on a global
scale. Add to this any number of curious discoveries, including
objects clearly of human origin found buried in solid rock supposedly
millions of years old (Charles Fort offers primary sources for such
reports), and it paints a picture of the remote past that ought
to disturb purveyors of the status quo.
prevailing view in geology was then called uniformitarianism:
"the present is the key to the past." It completely rejected
the idea of geological catastrophes. Its author was one of the founders
of modern geology, Sir Charles Lyell, who lived in the early 1800s.
Charles Darwin studied Lyell, seeing in uniformitarianism the long-term
ecological stability necessary for evolution by natural selection
to take place. In this view, there were no catastrophes. Yet authors
such as Fort and Hapgood seemed to have assembled evidence, apparently
unknown to my professors, that there had indeed been catastrophes.
A variant on this idea began to catch on in the 1980s that the dinosaurs,
for example, had been wiped out by a global cataclysmic event such
as a comet or asteroid strike on the Earth. The intellectual problem
of what to do about geological anomalies facts that donít fit had
stuck in my mind as a kind of near-obsession that conflicted with
my studies: studies whose working premises seemed to me dubious
at best. I was supposed to be studying geology, but what I couldnít
take fully seriously, I couldnít study. I considered taking a purely
vocational attitude toward the subject: fígetaboutit and learn to
explore for oil! Goes without saying, that didnít fit my particular
was miserable, and almost dropped out of college until the day of
a conversation with a local pastor. We didnít talk about Christianity.
That came much later. But we did talk about ideas, especially questions
about morality and its foundations, questions about science and
its authority including whether science was the sole authority
over such questions as whether human beings really have free will.
These, he pointed out, were problems of philosophy, not science.
I went back, looked at my library, and realized Iíd already begun
collecting philosophical writings, especially the sort that would
help sort out my questions about the nature of science. These came
to include Thomas S. Kuhnís ever-fascinating The
Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhnís ideas about
paradigms seemed to fit my own observations, including the paradigm
shift that began in geology around 1980. At some point I resolved
to change schools and change majors from geology to philosophy.
I would specialize in the history and philosophy of science, because
so many of my interests converged on the epistemic authority of
science in one way or another.
where did libertarianism enter the picture? Actually, it never left.
It subsisted as an implicit demand from my mentors to be allowed
to think for myself, even if this led to a rejection of the dominant
paradigm (to use the Kuhnian term). It emerged openly through a
number of conversations with friends who sent me back to Ayn Rand
and to the appropriate section of a top-flight bookstore, where
I discovered works such as Murray Rothbardís For
a New Liberty, Friedrich A. Hayekís The
Road to Serfdom, Henry Hazlittís Economics
In One Lesson, and Tibor R. Machanís anthology The
Libertarian Alternative. (If anyone had told me that Tibor
and I would one day be colleagues in the same philosophy department,
at Auburn University, I would have said they were nuts.) These provided
perspectives on the topic of liberty other than Randís, whose philosophy
of Objectivism differed in certain respects from libertarianism
in any event. Finally I came across two works by respected academic
by John Hospers and Anarchy,
State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick. I would also discover
the two volumes of The
Open Society and Its Enemies by Sir Karl Popper. I began
to devour it all, and to attend a study group led by a member of
the local Libertarian Party.
a result of this reading as well as my experiences with the sciences
and with the philosophy of science, I became even more convinced
that professional philosophy was where I belonged, and suddenly
my goals seemed clear as a sunlit spring morning: attend graduate
school, work towards a doctorate, and then become a professor of
philosophy at a major research university. I set about doing just
this. Most everything I did (aside from enjoyable diversions interviewing
and writing features stories on the local bands of Athens, Ga.)
was intended to advance me toward achieving this goal.
Academic Philosophy to Civil Wrongs.
became a "lapsed libertarian" in graduate school in the
1980s. I was studying history and philosophy of science and cognate
areas such as epistemology (the branch of philosophy concerned with
the sources, nature and limits of knowledge). My course work was
demanding, and politics was pretty much off my mind. But there were
signs of things to come, had I been looking for them at the time.
There were also very early signs of the eventual breakdown of my
commitment to the atheistic, hyperrationalistic libertarianism many
libertarians had inherited from Ayn Rand and her disciples.
of my subsidiary goals as an advanced graduate student was to find
a mate, hopefully a marriage partner. The fellow who had taught
the first philosophy of science course Iíd taken as an undergraduate
had met his wife as a graduate student she had become a professor
in the foreign languages department. I envisioned something similar
happening with me.
without saying, it didnít happen. I am still single, for whatever
reason (and doubtless there is more than one). To make a long story
short, the female graduate students of my generation were (1) not
especially attractive; (2) mostly uninterested in men they could
not dominate; and (3) held political views I found either silly
or abhorrent. It would not be unfair to say that as the years passed,
I discovered one trait shared by a lot of academic women: with rare
exceptions I could not stand to be around them for any length of
time. They were chronic complainers. The one woman faculty member
where I did my graduate work made a big fuss about the size of her
office. They had no sense of humor. Example: one of my fellow graduate
students on grading final exams: "Just bust your butts, pull
an all-nighter, and get them done." It was obvious to us he
was being facetious. But she retorted angrily, "John, thatís
absolutely heartless, a really insensitive attitude!" They
clearly distrusted "logical" types like myself, as opposed
to guys whose interests were "softer" or more "literary."
I was told: "Steve, there are other ways of doing philosophy
than approaching it as the logical evaluation of arguments and evidence."
female graduate students seemed to wash out of the philosophy graduate
program in a year or two. I know of one who obtained her M.A. and
then went to work for the Democratic Party. (I can hear some of
my readers from here: "That figures.") A handful stuck
it out long enough to get their Ph.D.s. One of the things about
graduate work in philosophy, at least in my program: students were
expected to write papers employing well-reasoned arguments in defense
of clearly stated conclusions. If you took issue with another author,
you were expected to explain why. Our research was supposed to indicate
that we had mastered more than one point of view. In certain seminars,
we wrote what were intended to be publishable papers, and also critiqued
other studentsí papers. I learned a tremendous amount from such
exercises. But by the mid-1980s, the more leftist of the graduate
students couldnít handle this sort of thing. I suspect that standards
were relaxing even then.
graduation in 1987, which began my full-time pursuit of a tenure-track
appointment, what I ran into was what struck me as an irrational
push to get more women into philosophy. I was told openly at a professional
meeting that "our department is under extreme pressure to hire
a woman." I ran into this again and again. Most of these women
were either unpublished or had publications limited to the small
but growing corpus of radical feminist journals. Some did not even
have Ph.D.ís. Combining this with the fact that Iíd had a number
of articles and book reviews either in print or forthcoming before
receiving the Ph.D., and was nevertheless bouncing around in non-tenure
track positions from university to university to university year
after year, my libertarian sensibilities began to reawaken. Their
impetus was my growing battle with the affirmative action mindset
that lay behind the aggressive push to hire women regardless of
their (often marginal) qualifications.
awakened fully when I came to Auburn University in 1988, where Tibor
Machan had been teaching for several years. We became friends. He
was instrumental in helping me return following a year of near-unemployment
(I had had a fellowship for part of the year and a part-time job
at a small college the other part.) During that year, a radical
feminist the philosophy department had hired to a tenure-track job
nearly tore the department apart, sending a secretary into early
retirement (the woman had had a heart condition). She had left after
one year, having hated everything about the university, the town,
the region (it was the South, after all!) and the climate (almost
no winter, from her perspective she was a Canadian). With her having
washed out, I was able to return.
Alabama became, to me, a fairly interesting place. It is also home
to the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which was then housed in a tiny
building literally in the shadow of the football stadium. Their
facilities were small and cramped, but this wasnít stopping them.
They were already publishing a monthly newsletter that was growing
rapidly in circulation, The
Free Market. I admired this sort of independent activity.
While teaching in the philosophy department there and continuing
to publish, I began to attend Institute events, where I met Institute
founder and president Lew Rockwell and several libertarian academics,
many of them in the economics department. I special-ordered a copy
of Ludwig von Misesís Human
Action and began studying it. One of my publications had
been on philosophical theories that were refuted made impossible
by their own internal logic. It came out in the 1991 issue
of the journal Reason Papers, which Tibor Machan was then
editing. I discovered Mises to have a similar argument in defense
of what Austrian-school economists called the action axiom:
the denial of the existence of human action would itself be an action,
and thus be refuted by its own logic. This convergence of methods
gave me an instant rapport with the Misesians. Soon, I was reading
my way through other Mises works, as well as more by F.A. Hayek,
Murray Rothbard, and eventually others. Rothbard was then still
living, and it is one of my great regrets in life that I never took
sufficient initiative to meet him.
immediate issue was affirmative action. It affected me personally,
since it was clear from my own correspondence search committee
chairs were sometimes surprisingly candid about who they hired
that women in particular were being awarded jobs that should have
gone to men. I began to immerse myself in the scholarly as well
as popular literature on affirmative action. Was this just? How
could it be? Even if you dated the civil rights movement from 1964,
the year the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, that meant that
there were people coming of age today that hadnít even been born
when institutional discrimination against women and minorities was
being dismantled. I approached the topic as an individualist and
a libertarian, and began to observe the response. I was not the
only one. A number of solid, forthright scholarly works critical
of affirmative action had begun to appear. Philosopher Nicholas
of Order: Affirmative Action and the Crisis of Doctrinaire Liberalism,
sociologist Frederick R. Lynchís Invisible
Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action,
and political scientist Herman Belzís Equality
Transformed: A Quarter Century of Affirmative Action were
in academia, a taboo had begun to fall over the discussion. It would
gain momentum. None of these books received reviews in major journals,
favorable or otherwise. It was the beginning of the era of political
correctness, and horror stories were beginning to emerge of professors some
of them highly respected in their disciplines and popular with their
students getting into serious trouble over alleged "insensitivity"
to minority students. The latter had come to have a power all out
of proportion to their numbers, the power of inculcating guilt in
white males and having it enforced through university administrations.
It seemed to me almost self-evident that political correctness had
been invented to protect affirmative action programs and the mindset
behind them from the intense scholarly scrutiny it had begun to
receive. The insinuation of political correctness was that anyone
who had doubts about such programs was almost by definition a covert
racist and sexist, and therefore to be discounted rather than responded
to. Critics of affirmative action found themselves shouted down.
The attacks on white males and on "Western, white male-dominated
culture" rapidly snowballed during the early 1990s. Jesse Jacksonís
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!" has become
first did a policy study for a Chicago-based think tank, and then
prepared a longer essay on affirmative action, much of it written
in a kind of white heat. At least one established scholar who knew
what I was up to warned me, "The left will eat you alive."
But I couldnít stop. The truth had to be told! The essay kept expanding
until I it reached book-length proportions. One day I awakened with
the title Civil Wrongs on my lips, attached it to the manuscript
and began to seek a publisher. Civil
Wrongs was rejected by something like 80 publishers until
ICS Press accepted it (under the condition that I rewrite it for
a more policy-minded and less academic audience, a condition I happily
accepted since it was already clear that few academic philosophers
would be interested).
book came out in November of 1994. By that time I was no longer
teaching in a philosophy department whose senior people were mostly
sympathetic to the libertarian premises that underwrote my particular
critique of affirmative action. It was official policy at Auburn
University that tenure decisions had to be unanimous among senior
faculty, and one senior person had blocked my promotion to a tenure
line. The person hadnít given a reason and had even concealed his
identity from me until I was out of the picture. I ended up at a
more typically leftist department (at the University of South Carolina)
under a fairly left-of-center administration. This department had
needed someone at the last minute. The appearance of Civil Wrongs particularly
as it received a certain amount of local media coverage and was
prominently displayed in the front window of an independent bookstore
in downtown Columbia turned out to be a kiss of death, so far as
my remaining there or pursuing a tenurable position in a philosophy
department went. Part of no longer pursuing such was admittedly
my own decision. I had had enough experiences with academic philosophy
that I was less impressed by it with each passing year. I had also
discovered the hard way that those few senior-level colleagues I
could trust generally had no power in their departments. (Most,
in fact, have since retired, in some cases out of frustration with
an academic environment in free fall.) So I although I enjoyed teaching
university undergraduates, I took an early retirement from the profession
that was only partly voluntary at best.
Wrong with Atheistic Libertarianism.
experiences with philosophy departments had not taken away my interest
in ideas, and I continued to write whenever possible despite the
need to undertake "odd jobs" to survive. These included,
at different times, clerical work as a "temp" in a state
office, an assortment of technical-writing contract jobs, some ghostwriting,
a stint in a health education department and later a consulting
firm, and later (by this time LewRockwell.com was getting
off the ground) as an obituary writer for the city newspaper. During
this period the mid-1990s and shortly thereafter I occasionally
did philosophical work with research institutes such as the Acton
Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. I had minimal contact
with academia but kept in touch with the folks at the Mises Institute,
attending the occasional Austrian Scholars Conference where I could
interact with like-minded individuals. But during this period, something
was happening. The fact that my involvement with the folks at the
Acton Institute created no cognitive dissonance offered an important
near-atheism that had characterized my thinking when I had been
at Auburn had disappeared, and been replaced by a renewed sympathy
for Christianity. This happened for at least two reasons. First,
there was my mounting puzzlement over something I had noticed more
than once: there are people both in and out of academia (e.g., someone
else I had known well at Auburn) whose hostility toward Christians
and Christianity bordered on the pathological and literally suffused
everything they did. Had I been a psychologist, I might have called
this a defense mechanism. Without fully realizing it they feared
that Christianity was true, and compulsively attempted to convince
themselves that it wasnít. Not being a psychologist I donít know
this, of course. But it was clear that something not rational was
going on one might call it the phenomenon of the "irrational
rationalist" who is locked into a materialist and atheist view
of the universe with what can only be described as a religious fervor.
This fervor the "irrational rationalist" passes off as
Reason (capital ĎRí).
second reason was far more important, however. Civil Wrongs
had been a secular tract. The somewhat Hayekian "theory of
social spontaneity" it advocated as a solution to the problems
affirmative action had failed to address was as much a product of
Enlightenment thinking as any other current libertarian idea. The
thought had begun to eat at me that this wasnít sufficient, that
in the absence of some "deeper" grounding for moral action,
being "socially spontaneous" wouldnít be good enough.
I had begun to uncover arguments going back at least as far
as Edmund Burke that the freedom I had attempted to describe
would not make for social stability in an irreligious, hedonistic
people, which arguably late twentieth century America had become
quite independently of problems involving race and gender. I began
to write long and meandering reams of material on this topic (supported
by yet another small stipend from a non-academic source) under the
working title The Paradox of Liberty. Hereís the paradox:
genuine liberty requires some controls on individualsí actions.
It cannot last if individuals are doing absolutely whatever they
see fit. It cannot be confused with license. But to have
liberty and not authoritarianism, the controls on
individuals must come from within. Liberty and objective
morality, that is, are mutually dependent. Either individuals
learn through a process of education that must begin as small children
(and is best acquired from two loving parents) to impose moral restraints
on their own impulses or restraints will be imposed on them
from the outside. They will be restrained by strictures of expansionist
government that will actually be endorsed by a majority of people
who, whether rightly or wrongly, see expansionist government as
a bulwark against social chaos.
that is, expands the state. This is an important reason why the
unbridled hedonism that the materialist outlook on the world seems
to encourage must be checked. The hedonism of the Epicureans played
an important role in the transformation of ancient Rome from a republic
to an empire, and today we have our own version of Epicureanism
(think of the MTV culture or most of the evening programming on
the Fox television network). A free society must keep license on
a short leash no less than the state, to ensure stability. Liberty
cannot exist without stability. As Burke argued, "Men are qualified
for civil liberties in exact proportion to their disposition to
put moral chains upon their own appetitesÖ. Society cannot exist
unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere,
and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without."
atheistic libertarians confused liberty with license? Some have,
some not. I have met libertarians who, if they were honest, would
admit that their "libertarianism" is little more than
an excuse for wanting to smoke dope legally. Some are stuck in a
late-1960s time warp as regards their dress and personal habits.
What is worse than the aging hippie who wears a torn, unwashed and
bedraggled T-shirt out in public that reads Libertarian Party
in large, plainly visible block letters! It is hard to persuade
such people that they are impediments to the struggle for liberty.
They should clean themselves up and grow up. Be that as it may,
many intellectually serious non-Christian libertarians do believe
that a source for a morality strong enough to chain our appetites
and human weaknesses can be had in this world, tied (for
example) to our capacity for reason (here they follow Ayn Rand).
I respectfully dissent from this. It had become crystal clear to
me by 1995 that your capacity for reason by itself does not make
you a better person.
thought, which includes a lot of leading libertarian thought, has
trouble with the Christian concept of sin. The Christian concept
of sin conflicts openly with the Enlightenment ideal that through
education, enterprise, etc., we can perfect ourselves and our civilization.
I could look at history, however, and find the idea of sin easy
to accept; conversely, the Enlightenment ideal came to seem naïve.
Science had vastly expanded our knowledge; technology had vastly
expanded our creature comforts and our mastery over our environment.
But neither had made us better people. Even capitalism is
fully capable of corruption. Consider the businessmen who went into
investment banking, seeking to control the finances of the country
and through them, the government. This led to the Federal Reserve,
the IRS, and a decade later the Council on Foreign Relations, and
finally the United Nations. Despite our legacy of constitutional-republicanism,
the urge for power was very much alive! We still fought bloody wars
(often instigated by the very powerful), and with rapidly advancing
technology, twentieth century wars became increasingly destructive
until we reached the appropriately named MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction)
with weapons having the potential to end civilization on this planet.
idea that building a better civilization could happen if only we
elected the right politicians into office something Libertarian
Party libertarians were only repeating in a different guise came
also to seem to me naïve. Though government was bad enough
as a destructive, parasitic entity, this wasnít the whole story.
Many of its same characteristics greed, lack of principle, hunger
for power, etc. could be found in huge corporations, after all.
There was something wrong with human nature itself that kept us
from building the moral utopia of the Enlightenment philosophers.
It stands in the way of any global elite building a utopian New
World Order today. Now to be sure, Mises, Hayek and others offered
sound explanations why the centralization of socialism could never
be made to work. But even if centralization could somehow
work, human corruption would still get in the way.
is wrong with human nature is sin, and this is where Christianity
enters the story. Sin affects us all (Rom. 3: 23). It is separation
from God the sort of separation that makes the Christian-theist
worldview seem incredible to a certain kind of mind. Jesus Christ
forgives sins when one becomes a Christian, but this does not mean
the Christian ceases to sin. This is why Christians are not necessarily
better politicians than non-Christians. The temptations of power
involve one significant set of human sins, the wielding of state-sponsored
force by some over others. But does the introduction of sin mean
that libertarianism is as futile as anything else weíve tried? If
we embrace this sort of view, what becomes of libertarianism?
and Christianity: Enemies or Allies?
is rooted in a philosophy of natural rights that inhere in individuals,
not groups. By calling them natural, we mean that they antecede
legal pronouncements made by those in governments. They are not
created by government. They are encoded by government and sometimes
protected by government. But what a government gives, it can take
back. Thereís an old saying: any government powerful enough to give
you whatever you want is also powerful enough to take away everything
you have. This means that if we subscribe to the doctrine that government
is somehow a necessary evil, its being a necessary evil means keeping
it on a very short leash: hence, the idea of limited government.
fail to see why this must be at odds with Christianity. If anything,
it complements a Christian theistís worldview. A Christian libertarian
contends that rights originate not with anything essential to human
beings, such as their (fallen and fallible) capacity for reason,
but from God. This view has considerably more intellectual power.
Most libertarians (following Ayn Rand on one of the points where
she was entirely correct) stress the need for a metaphysical philosophy
incorporating the idea of an objective reality capable of being
known by us, at least in part. But why should anyone believe this?
Through experience? What is this Ďexperienceí? Isnít it very different
for different people?
to a philosophical tradition going back at least as far as St. Thomas
Aquinas and kept alive by those in the Thomistic and related traditions
today, God created a universe of many entities with objective properties
that interacted with one another in specific ways. He also created
human beings with minds designed to function in specific ways, to
apprehend reality sufficiently well to solve the problems they needed
to solve in order to survive and build a prosperous civilization.
According to this tradition, our minds are capable of knowing objective
reality because both were created Ďin syncí with one another by
God. Our knowledge of reality is not perfect. There is much that
is real that we do not experience visually because our eyes arenít
attuned to it; some of these realities nevertheless affect us if
conditions are right (ultraviolet radiation is an example; we canít
see it but we can be burned by it).
to Kuhn, inquiry is a team effort of sorts. Participation in large
organizations can impede the growth of knowledge, however.
Those in them are too busy fitting into the organization and being
obedient to its rules, including its taboos. A well prepared, highly
motivated and highly self-disciplined outsider is sometimes, even
often, actually better off! If individualism best describes the
human condition, this is precisely what we should expect. Ayn Rand
had this much right: there is no such thing as a collective brain.
Organizations, even those organized around scientific inquiry, do
not have collective brains, either. (These observations should lend
at least some comfort to Austrian-school economists, who despite
a number of gains over the past decade remain, by and large, outsiders
within academic economics generally, just as philosophical libertarians,
with rare exceptions such as Robert Nozick, have been outsiders
within academic philosophy.)
upshot: aspects of the Christian tradition supply not just the objective
moral outlook philosophers beginning with Edmund Burke have argued
is necessary for a free society. They also offer to libertarians
the idea that in this life we also really do answer to an objective
reality, about which we can have at least some firm, decisive knowledge.
The prevailing academic alternative today postmodernism
is disintegrating into an orgy of skepticism, nihilism and politically
correct politics. From the standpoint of social, political, and
economic philosophy, a population most of whose members subscribe
to moral views obtained through a Christian education will act in
the ways F.A. Hayek, in those crucial chapters 4 and 6 of his tract
Constitution of Liberty, says they must act for liberty
to be possible. As he puts it (p. 612), "a successful
free society will always in large measure be a tradition-bound societyÖ.
We Ö are able to act successfully on our plans [involving others]
because most of the time members of our civilization Ö show a regularity
in their actions that is not the result of commands or coercion
Ö but of firmly established habits and traditions." History
has shown us no better source for these traditions and habits than
the Christian faith.
arenít you advocating a kind of theocracy (perhaps in a way
that will allow you to squirm out from underneath it if challenged)?
answer is No; that is why this is a Christian libertarianism.
I have argued, in effect, that there are things libertarians can
learn from Christians, such as the need for a transcendent morality
as necessary for the liberty and the extremely limited government
libertarians espouse. There are, however, I am sure, Christians
who believe we would all be better off if we simply had a Christian
government. I made the point above, however, that Christians are
no more fit to rule than anyone else. Weíre all sinners. On a large
scale, this suggests one of the most important theses a Christian
libertarian ought to advocate is decentralization, the idea that
power should be as widely dispersed throughout society as possible.
That way the damage humans with power are capable of doing can be
minimized. On a smaller scale, it underlines some important lessons
Christians can learn from libertarians if they are to avoid the
charge of being closet theocrats.
abjures the use of force no less than does libertarianism. Begin
with the Christian concept of salvation through faith itself. God
does not force His saving grace on anyone; the person must
come to Him, genuinely desire to be absolved of punishment for sin
via Jesus Christ, and ask for salvation, which only then
is granted. Here is the verse I mentioned close to the outset: "Behold,
I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open
the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with
me" (Rev. 3: 20). I consider this to be one of the most libertarian
verses in the entire Bible. It implies directly that Jesus does
not force His will on anyone. He does not command coercion against
anyone, least of all that anyone be converted by force. This has
important implications for the Christian libertarian attitude toward
any of a number of social phenomena of which Christians do not approve
(and of which many libertarians either do approve, accept, or are
homosexuality. Homosexuality is condemned outright in both the Old
and New Testaments. Hence no Christian can condone it. Christians
have the right, in a free society, to make their case against homosexual
conduct. What Christians should not do is advocate force to be used
against homosexuals. No Christian should advocate violence or imprisonment
or any other such action. Citizens will be secure enough in their
own beliefs and confident enough from their own successes in practice
that they can allow those who want to be different to go their own
way in peace, so long as the latter (1) are not bothering anyone
else, (2) not using anyone elseís financial resources to fund their
deviant practices, whatever they may be, or (3) not making appeals
to the government to use the financial resources of the productive
to fund whatever it is they are doing.
libertarianism is not a widely promulgated philosophy of society
and life, not even on the World Wide Web (although Vox Day, a weekly
columnist over on WorldNetDaily.com, also characterizes his
views in this way). I believe that reconciliation between Christianity
and libertarianism has much to offer. Christianity can check any
libertine tendencies hiding within libertarianism tendencies
to moral relativism, subjectivism and latter-day Epicureanism. Libertarianism
can check any theocratic impulses hiding inside the veneer of the
so-called "religious right."
the story of how I become a Christian libertarian. This story has
no ending, because obviously it hasnít ended yet. My life is still
a work in progress, so to speak like all of us, I hope! My
writing continues, including a treatise on logic, a collection of
these sorts of essays, and either a science fiction novel or an
attack on the idea of global government disguised as a science fiction
novel (take your pick!). I became a libertarian out of consciousness
of my need for freedom and sense of my own individuality, a need
and sense I share with my fellow human beings. I became a Christian
out of consciousness of my sin and a need for redemption
again shared with my fellow human beings. The marriage between the
two Christianity and libertarianism is bound to be
an uneasy one at least for a while yet because of longstanding tendencies
within each that lead to distrust of the other. Too many libertarians
are too close to Enlightenment rationalism and can become "irrational
rationalists." Too many Christians succumb to the temptation
to seek state-sponsorship for their goals. A marriage between the
two would benefit both. That such a marriage would strengthen the
movement to restore our rapidly diminishing liberties in this country
is and continues to be my hope.
December 22, 2003
Yates [send him mail]
Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action
is an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and next
January will be joining the adjunct faculty of Limestone College.
He lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
© 2003 LewRockwell.com