Is Christianity compatible with libertarianism?
On a rainy Chicago evening on May 25th, we posed the question to The Reverend John C.J. McCloskey and AFF-Chicago chairman Richard Lorenc. The event was sponsored by AFF-Chicago advisory board member Bob Costello.
Lorenc began the conversation by showing a full-page ad placed into the Capitol Hill newspaper Politico by the organization Sojourners that asked pointedly of the federal budget, “What would Jesus cut?” After getting flak for appearing to claim the authority of Christ to advance a statist political agenda, Lorenc explained, Sojourners clarified that they believe Christian legislators should always question how the bills they pass affect the poor and vulnerable.
Libertarians, Lorenc argued, agree heartily with that advice. He quoted a passage in Henry Hazlitt’s ‘Economics In One Lesson,’ which reads, “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”
Explaining the basis of libertarianism, Lorenc said that a person can have socially conservative views and values and still be a libertarian. “Libertarianism doesn’t advocate drug use or liberal social values,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily even imply advocacy of capitalism. Where Christianity is first a moral doctrine that teaches eternal salvation through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, libertarianism is only a political doctrine that is concerned with the proper use of force. One teaches how individual humans have the God-given ability to choose, love, and give, while the other merely concerns the way in which society is governed.”
Individuals require moral guidance to be able to recognize the proper use of force, Lorenc said. And given Jesus’ teachings that salvation must be chosen freely, Christianity is eminently compatible with libertarianism.
Fr. McCloskey also delved into what defines libertarianism and how, from a Catholic perspective, the two can be compatible. On the notion of social justice, he observed that many infer that it requires a large, active state. He disagreed with that interpretation, citing two components of Catholic theology to make the case for the superiority of private charity over government welfare programs.
The first component is the idea of “solidarity,” or “for everyone with regard to everyone,” as seen in the movement led by Lech Walesa against the authoritarian rule of the Soviet Union. The second component was the idea of “subsidiarity,” or the principle that problems need to be solved in the least centralized way, beginning with the individual and the family, and then into the community.
“The beauty of this principle is that it provides for charity only as needed while encouraging self-reliance as possible,” said Fr. McCloskey. “Whether this assistance comes from the government at the local or federal level, from private charities, from the Church, or simply from relatives, it should normally be limited to getting people or families back on their feet, rather than fostering prolonged dependency — the compelling counterexample being the tens of millions of Americans on food stamps.
Fr. McCloskey read passages from a recent piece he authored in Crisis Magazine entitled Private Charity Versus Government Welfare. In it, he wrote, “…private charity is preferable to public welfare, in that it satisfies the principles of subsidiarity, solidarity, and gratuitousness, or self-giving, which ennoble those who provide it and enable those who receive it as needed.”
“Private charity,” Fr. McCloskey said, “allows for the growth of grace.”
After opening statements, members of the audience asked questions. Following Q&A, Fr. McCloskey remained to address questions with AFFers individually.
You can watch a webcam video recording of this event here.
AFF-Chicago’s next event will be from June 4th-5th at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. Support AFF by purchasing free-market texts ranging from Frederic Bastiat’s The Law to Tom Palmer’s new book Realizing Freedom. Details are available here.
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