Randy England: Free Is Beautiful

A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 382 with Randy England.

Listen to the podcast

ROCKWELL:  Good morning.  This is the Lew Rockwell Show.  And how great is it to have as our guest this morning, Mr. Randy England.  Randy is a writer, a blogger, a criminal defense lawyer in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Boy, talk about an important profession these days.  His latest book is called Free Is Beautiful, Why Catholics Should Be Libertarians.

So, Randy, when you run into the typical statist Catholic, or statist Protestant, for that matter, they always seem to want to tell you about Romans 13.  What’s your response to that?

ENGLAND:  Well, Romans 13, of course, is where it talks about giving honor to the emperor, and giving honor where honor is due, and paying taxes where taxes are due, and obeying the authorities, and, well, that is a problem if you read it in certain ways.  First of all, the thing that struck me the first time I read that, after I began thinking about Libertarianism, was the part about giving them the honor that they are due.  I remember one time a judge who got angry from the bench because an attorney said to him, “Your Honor, with all due respect,” and he knew that was an insult.  Only a fool feels complemented when they’re wished all the honor that they’re due.  So if there’s no honor due, then that’s not much they’re going to get.  And if there’s no taxes due, then they’re not going to get much.  And I think that St. Paul, when he wrote that, I think there is a little tongue-in-cheek there.  There’s a disrespect that you don’t pick up on the surface.  It’s there.  Free is Beautiful: Why... Randy England Best Price: $5.50 Buy New $12.73 (as of 07:20 EDT - Details)

I wrote a piece a while back about the Emperor Nero and how St. Paul mocked him after his ridiculous turn at the Olympic Games where he cheated.  There’s a whole undercurrent there.  And there’s many articles I’ve read that are good that talk Romans 13 and how they’re not talking about human government at all.  And that can be very true on a certain level.  But I think on the level where he’s talking about human government, in this case, the Roman Empire, he is mocking them.  You can see that from that, and some other writings.

ROCKWELL:  You know, it was once pointed out to me that Tarsus, where St. Paul was from, was a center of Stoicism in the Roman Empire and that Romans 13 is entirely written in Stoic language and that the Stoics, who were quietists — otherwise they would have all been killed for having the view I’m about to express — it was their idea that you only owed obedience to the government if the government was enforcing the natural law.  And so if the government is enforcing a law against murder or theft or rape or whatever, then you should cooperate with them.  So that’s maybe what St. Paul was saying.  And after all, he himself didn’t obey the emperor.  He certainly wasn’t saying, “Obey the emperor in all things,” or his henchmen.

ENGLAND:  Well, and the Catholic Church has a tradition that goes all the way back — and, of course, St. Augustine said that — this was back 400 years after Christ.  He said that an unjust law is no law; unjust government is no government’ and unjust government is a gang of thieves.

People talk to me a lot about Catholic social teaching and how they read that not to go along very well with Libertarianism.  But I really don’t believe that’s true.  It seems that whenever the social encyclicals are talking about government, they’re really talking about a just government or almost an idealized government.  When you read it through and you see, here’s what government ought to do, you think, yeah, but what government is that?  Not one that I’ve ever seen or heard of.

So much of what the church teaches and what St. Paul taught also did come from a practical standpoint.  It’s kind of like the “slaves obey your masters.”  He wasn’t saying that slavery was good.  He was just saying you need to obey, at least at this point, because all you’re going to do is cause trouble, and more trouble for yourself, I mean, and I think that element does run through there.

ROCKWELL:  And certainly, St. Paul did not want this tiny, little Christian church to be targeted even more by the government than it already was.  He did not want it to be seen as a socially revolutionary movement, but rather simply a spiritual and religious movement.  He didn’t want the potential enemies of the church in the govnerment to entirely crush it.  Of course, he wasn’t endorsing slavery.  He was saying just don’t give these people the impression that they should kill us all and the existence of the church at that early time. Basic Economics Thomas Sowell Best Price: $26.24 Buy New $24.47 (as of 08:25 EDT - Details)

ENGLAND:  And they tried to do that for 300 years.

ROCKWELL:  No, that’s exactly right.  Even with this attitude on the part of the Christians, they were murdered left and right by the Roman government for a very long time.

ENGLAND:  I think that’s really true and that’s just — the more you look at the scriptures, you see that Christianity — and, of course Catholic Christians see the same thing — that is very, very compatible with Libertarianism.  For myself, I came at the thing from the criminal law background.  And I was a prosecuting attorney for 14 years and then I finally got out of that.

ROCKWELL:  We still like you though, Randy.

ENGLAND:  Well, I know.  And I still have thoughts about that.  You know, the last domino to fall for me was drug prohibition.  Even as I was still a prosecutor, it seemed like it was just a waste of time and money and really lives, and lives, you know, even of the defendant.  That was one of the reasons that I got out and became a criminal defense attorney.  At least I could work the other side of the fence.

ROCKWELL:  That’s great.

ENGLAND:  Yeah.  But you have to look at these things.  And, of course, you have to get something right in your own head.  I’m a Catholic, and we try not to separate the truth, whether it’s religious truth or scientific or philosophic.  I mean, if it’s true, it’s got to be harmonized or it isn’t true.  And so as I started to look into Catholic Christian teaching as it related to Libertarianism, I really started seeing things that were very encouraging to me.  I started with my own area, in criminal law.  St. Thomas Aquinas, I mean, his teachings on what ought to be a crime and what ought not to be a crime were just philosophy and political thought; that went into it wasn’t exactly the same as what you would read in Murray Rothbard, but he basically said vices are not crimes and should not be made criminal.  Nobody could possibly be expected to obey all these.  Nothing should be a crime unless you can figure that the majority of people could even begin to obey it.  So the criminal law should be limited to murder and theft and the like.  In other words, implementing the non-aggression principle.  I just was shocked when I found that and saw that it fit so well with what I had been reading in Libertarianism.

ROCKWELL:  And like St. Augustine, he also said that an unjust law is no law at all.

ENGLAND:  Yes, he did.  He agreed that it was an unjust law.  St. Augustine said the same thing about what ought to be crime.  In his City of God, you had the City of God and the City of Man, which was like the wheat and the tares in the Gospel.  St. Augustine said that they have to grow together on this earth, they have to live together.  And the only thing that should be a crime is this least common denominator of peace.  In other words, leave each other alone.  If that is the rule, that is enough for the law and the law should not include vices.  And he expressly took victimless crimes like prostitution and said these should be legal.  They’re not moral, but they’re legal, and it would cause a tremendous harm to try to outlaw things like that.  And, of course, things like that are like prostitution and other sexual behavior and drug use, things along those lines, gambling, drinking, what have you.

ROCKWELL:  But how many Catholics even know this?  How much of this is expressed in the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church?

ENGLAND:  Well, you know, the Catechism of the Catholic Church — one thing that I found that just almost shocked me — and let me make sure I’ve got it right here.  There’s this thing talking about respecting of rights by the government.  And the Catechism, it says, when the government flouts the rights of people, by that, they undermine their own moral legitimacy.  It’s basically saying that any government that doesn’t respect people’s rights is morally illegitimate.  And Catechism paragraph 1930 says, “If the government does not respect the rights, authority can only rely on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects.”  It’s almost setting out a test that a government would only be legitimate if it could get obedience from its subjects without using violence.  And they might as well as put a footnote to that —

[LAUGHTER]

— at the bottom that said, “And we don’t know of any government that does that.”  But when you put violence as the hallmark of an unjust government, then you’ve just about said it all.  And I point that out to people all the time.

And there are other things in there that people think point to a more socialistic and certainly non-Libertarian view, like the definition of “the common good,” but if you look at the definition of “the common good” in Catholic teaching, you see that it does not talk about the welfare state and that sort of thing.  It talks about protecting people’s rights.  And when it talks about providing spiritual and material goods, it doesn’t talk about providing those two individuals in any way.  It simply talks about sort of setting up the conditions that would give prosperity, which, of course, goes back to security and protecting rights, and so there’s so much there.  You can pick and choose and take things out of context in Catholic social teaching that goes in one direction.  But the social encyclicals, first of all, are written mostly for their own time.  When you read a later one, it will often refer to earlier ones, and say, yes, Pope Leo was talking about this and that and the workers or talking about land, and now we don’t have those problems; we have different problems.  So you can’t do a whole lot with it.  You have to always go back to the basic moral teachings, which nobody has any trouble with, you know, don’t steal and the whole Ten Commandments and what have you.  But I really believe that the vast majority of the teachings and the Gospel go towards liberty, towards free will, and that we have to make our way without government forcing that on us.

ROCKWELL:  Of course, while all the social encyclicals are very much worth reading and contemplating, I’ve always been struck by the fact that they’re not actually coherent.  They’re different from each other.  I’ve never seen a book on the social encyclicals that actually argues that there’s a core doctrine in there, because they’re all different and sometimes contradictory.  So if people are seeking to put them on the level of scripture or tradition or whatever, they’re just making a mistake because I would say they sort of can’t be.  They’re certainly not part of Revelation either.

ENGLAND:  Well, no, they’re not part of Revelation and they’re not part of the infallible teachings doctrine or morals that the church teaches.  They’re really just — I don’t know how you would put it — I mean, advice.  I mean, when I look at them, I have great respect for them, but if I find something that just doesn’t fit with a certain circumstance or doesn’t fit with something that was said before, then you’ve got to look at that and say things are a little different in this situation or that, and you can’t just take this as a universal principle.  They certainly are not that.  And they don’t claim to be infallible.  So people that hold them up so that they can, well, you know, defend the government or defend socialism and things like that, it’s a pretty thin reed for them.  And there’s enough in them, as you said, things that even seem to be even contradictory or certainly need to somehow be harmonized.  There’s enough things in there that support Libertarianism that, I mean, you could argue about them all day long.  It’s not real productive.

ROCKWELL:  I always liked Tom Woods’ point that if the pope is addressing matters outside of his core competency, if he’s talking about physics or economics or architecture, maybe he’s right and maybe he’s wrong.

ENGLAND:  Absolutely.

ROCKWELL:  People can shut you up on the basis of, oh, how dare you differ with Paul VI and his encyclical on the progress of peoples.  He could be right; he could be wrong.  Even when he’s wrong, he’s obviously an interesting intellectual and interesting theologian and all that, and maybe a very interesting pope, but nobody can sort of say, well, therefore, you have to be for government foreign aide because Paul VI seems like he might be in favor of that.

ENGLAND:  Yes.  And, you know, the social encyclicals, they do change through time.  There was a time during the first hundreds and hundreds of years of Christianity and up through almost most of the first 1,00O years, you didn’t punish, harm or execute, do anything to heretics.  It was some Christian somewhere that killed a heretic around the later part of the fourth century once, and the church just went ballistic, all the church leaders, about how horrible that was.  And this kind of went on for hundreds of years until the Middle Ages.  When you get up to around 1,000 and then up through the time of Columbus, and the church was kind of like thinking, well, that may be necessary.  And then later on, it just completely stopped.  And now, starting in the last few hundred years, well, no one would dream of punishing or, god forbid, executing a heretic.  And other views, like slavery, that was tolerated for a long, long, long time and then some teachers and popes started attacking it.  They attacked the trade.  And over time, it grew on everyone that this was just wrong, this was just evil.  And now, no one would dream of tolerating it in any way, and condemn it completely.  This social teaching that would involve like, say, those two issues, they have changed over time.  And it’s not the underlying morality but our understanding of it.  And I think that the Catholic Church, like society in general, is moving towards freedom and liberty.  I mean, you had a guy like Lord Acton, 150 years ago — who was really kind of silenced and quietly persecuted.  I mean, he just had to shut up or he was going to get in more trouble.  He was moving in this direction but he was ahead of the church.  And so many things that he believed in, you come up to the Second Vatican Council, and now the things that he said are much more accepted.  And we’re moving ahead in the future.  I think 100 years from now, we’re going to see changes that show a much more skepticism as to the goodness of government, and that’s going to change.  I think it just takes time for men to get a handle on these things.  I mean, so many things have happened in the last 200 to 300 years, going from Feudalism and then the monarchs and then these huge monster governments that we see now and saw in the last century, things are going to move forward.  I mean, I feel good about it.  I don’t know if I’ll live to see it.  But I think things are changing and the church’s understanding of this is changing.

ROCKWELL:  And I thought Benedict XVI was quite wonderful on these issues.

ENGLAND:  Yes.

ROCKWELL:  And his writings, very, very powerful on government and the church and religion and the power of the government.  And, of course, he also held that there could be no such thing as a just war because of modern weapons.  So he was a great figure.

ENGLAND:  Yes.  Yeah, the war issue.  Of course, the popes have been pretty good on war.  And I know that John Paul II, he opposed both of the Gulf wars, I know that, and worked, not only in public statements, but very much behind the scenes to try to avert those and, of course, it didn’t happen.  And we see what’s happened, and not just the evil of the war but how it’s built up the government and turned it into — well, just giving it power and taking it away from everyone else.

ROCKWELL:  Well, Randy England, thanks for coming on the show today.  And I know if I ever get in trouble in Jefferson City, Missouri, I’m going to try to hire you as my defense lawyer.

ENGLAND:  Well, give me a call.  And I hope it doesn’t happen.

[LAUGHTER]

ROCKWELL:  We’ll link to, of course, your book, Free is Beautiful, Why Catholics Should Be Libertarians.  We’ll link to your website.  And it’s great to talk to you today.

ENGLAND:  It’s great to talk to you.  Thank you, Lew.  Have a good day.

ROCKWELL:  Bye-bye.

ENGLAND:  Bye.

ROCKWELL:  Well, thanks so much for listening to the Lew Rockwell Show today. Take a look at all the podcasts. There have been hundreds of them. There’s a link on the LRC front page. Thank you.

Podcast date, August 6, 2013