Review of Elise Daniel, ed., Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian and Libertarian (Wipf & Stock, 2016), xv + 144 pgs., paperback.
I am a Christian and a libertarian. And not only that, I believe it is entirely possible to be a resolute social and theological conservative and at the same time be an uncompromising and hardcore libertarian. I believe that Christianity and libertarianism complement each other rather than contradict each other.
And so does editor Elise Daniel and the contributors to Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian and Libertarian (hereafter Called to Freedom). “We are libertarians because we are Christians,” Daniel writes in the introduction.
Although Called to Freedom is a short book, I cannot stress enough its importance. I have many books on my shelves on the subject of libertarianism, but none of them are written from an evangelical Christian perspective. The other unique thing about the book is that half of the contributors are women.
Called to Freedom has six contributors, none of whom are widely known, and none of whom I had heard of before reading the book. However, my friend, Dr. Norman Horn, the founder and president of the Libertarian Christian Institute, wrote the foreword to the book. None of the contributors are ministers. Two of them are husband and wife. All of them are college graduates, some from Christian universities, some from secular universities, and some from both. They all appeared on a panel titled “Jesus, Morality, and Liberty: Is Christian Morality Coercive?” at the 2014 International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C. Called to Freedom “is an attempt to extend that conservation across the country.”
The editor wrote the introduction and the afterword. The five other contributors each wrote one chapter:
- Can I Be a Libertarian Christian?
- What Does the Bible Say about Government?
- Cool It: You Don’t Have to Be a Libertine
- Bars with Breadcrumbs: Optimists with a Story to Tell
- The State Is No Savior
Although Called to Freedom is not written by academics or scholars, in addition to the foreword, acknowledgments, and a page about the contributors, I note that each chapter (including the introduction and afterword) has numerous footnotes and concludes with a bibliography. Authors quoted include William Röpke, Lord Acton, Hans Hoppe, Walter Block, John Calvin, C. S. Lewis, Frederic Bastiat, F. A. Hayek, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and G. K. Chesterton.
The chapters in Called to Freedom are not equal in length or importance; nevertheless, I did find something of value in each chapter.
In chapter 1, Jacqueline Isaacs explains that although “the social obligations put forward in the New Testament are described as voluntary,” it is through these obligations that “we develop individual virtue,” “emulate our Creator,” and “bring flourishing to others.”
In chapter 3, Taylor Barkley clarifies the distinction between libertarianism and libertinism. He has a good critique of “thick” libertarianism and the idea that normative moral judgments are coercive and therefore unlibertarian. His “position as a libertarian is that government exists to protect life, liberty, and property” and that “any deviation from these core principles and, particularly the infringement of any of those principles, means the government’s action is unjust.” He believes that “a libertarian system of limited government allows for the peaceful coexistence of freewheeling libertines and legalistic Christians.” Barkley concludes: “As a libertarian Christian, my belief that someone’s personal actions are wrong or right is not enforced via the state. Their actions may indeed be morally wrong, but I don’t want the government to use its monopoly on force to make sure that person compiles with my preferred morality.”
In chapter 4, Leah Hughey points out that “even with the hyperbolic emphasis on terrorism across the globe, Americans are more likely to be killed by their own furniture than by a terrorist.” And here is another good statement: “The market, when left free, has its own self-cleansing mechanism for unethical or dishonest business practices.”
In chapter 5, Philip Luca quotes one of the few good things that Winston Churchill ever said—“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery”—even if he didn’t actually say it like that.
The most important part of Called to Freedom is chapter 2. At 50 pages, it takes up over one-third of the book. The author, Jason Hughey, is an adherent of “anarcho-capitalism, the belief that state power is wholly illegitimate and can be ultimately replaced by market and other private forces.” He defines government or a state as “a political organization of individuals that is distinguished from all other social institutions by two characteristics: (1) its territorial monopoly over lawmaking and enforcement and (2) its ability to collect revenue through compulsory taxation for the provision of services.” Government “operates under a different set of moral rules and consequently engages in immoral behaviors with a perceived sense of legitimacy.” Its authority is “inherently grounded on one principle: the threat of aggressive violence against individuals for noncompliant behavior.” It is “an institution that is distinguished from all other social institutions by its ability to inflict violence upon its citizens (or ‘customers’).” The power of government “has inflicted far more damage upon the human race than any other social institution.” Hughey posits five major themes about government that “articulate a biblical perspective of government that is far less rosy than the mainstream Christian perspective on government:”
- Government is filled with sinful humans.
- God is greater than any political authority.
- Political power tends to corrupt the wielder of power.
- Christians ought to grieve over the abuse of power.
- Christianity is advanced through the Gospel of Christ, not political authority or Obedience to it.
Hughey tackles what he terms the “Big Four” Bible verses (Romans 13, First Peter 2, Matthew 22, & Luke 20) that “are widely referred to in Christian circles when discussing the idea of whether or not government is legitimate and what our obedience to it should look like” (I would have also included Luke 4 & Titus 3). Even if you don’t completely agree with his conclusions (I don’t), he still makes some valid points.
Hughey concludes that “as Christians, we should agree with Bastiat and try liberty for a change and leave our desire to control, mold, and fix others up to God’s sovereignty.” Only God “can change men’s hearts, only he can fix sinners, and only he is worthy of honor, reverence, and unlimited obedience.”
The personal testimonies and biblical viewpoint of the contributors to Called to Freedom make it clear that one can be Christian and libertarian.