Christian Libertarians

 Posted by on 21 November 2005 at 10:26 am  Libertarianism, Religion
Nov 212005

A while back, Ari Armstrong sent me to no-longer-available blog post of more horrifying quotes from Christian libertarians than I could possibly stomach.

For example, consider Jacob Hornberger’s reply to this question: “It has always bothered me that so many individuals who purport to be followers of the libertarian philosophy have the notion that liberty and religion are mutually exclusive. What’s your view on that?”

It’s a ridiculous notion. I’m a born-again Christian and a libertarian. To me, the two are entirely consistent, and I cannot see why anybody would find it inconsistent, except if they’re saying that you’re not free because you are subject to the dictates of the Pope, or God. But that is a voluntary choice.

For instance, there is nothing wrong with anybody entering into a voluntary contract for employment — even if it’s long-term — which may therefore interfere with your “freedom.” And there’s no reason why people cannot exercise their free choices to pursue God, and to obey God, and to live your life the way you want. God says, “Thou shalt not steal,” which is entirely consistent with the moral case for liberty. He gives us free will, which argues that people should be free to do what they want with their lives as long as their conduct is peaceful. So the area of peaceful sin would therefore be taken out of the hands of the state. How can any of that be inconsistent with libertarianism?

Hornberger is seriously confusing the fact of metaphysical freedom with the value of political freedom. More precisely, he is wrongly attempting to directly infer the value of political freedom from the fact of metaphysical freedom. That’s simply not possible. The fact that humans can freely choose their actions does not automatically imply that others ought to allow them to do so. That inference requires substantial intermediate steps, most notably: (1) free will as the choice to exercise reason or not, (2) life as the standard of value, (3) reason as man’s basic means of survival, and (4) coercion as the only means of preventing a man from acting by his reason. So political freedom is good because it protects a man’s capacity to act in accordance with the volitional exercise of his reason in pursuit of his life amongst other men by banning coercion.

Without those intermediate steps, the inference from metaphysical to political freedom is nothing but a straightforward example of the naturalistic fallacy: X is the case, so X ought to be the case. Significantly, none of them is even remotely supported by Christian theology. Most significantly, the proper end of Christians is not this life but the next, and the proper means to it is not reason but faith. As the story of Abraham and Isaac makes perfectly clear, the proper servant of God should be willing to do anything — even murder his own son — in obedience to God’s inscrutable will.

On a related point, Peter Schwartz has a nice discussion of why the devout Christian who refrains from killing because of God’s command “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is not actually opposed to murder in his lecture on “Contextual Knowledge.” Such a person is actually in favor of obeying God’s will; that’s the principle that governs his actions. So if God told him in a revelation to murder, he would do so. In refraining from killing other people, he is not acting upon any opposition to the moral evil of murder, but only upon his commitment to conform to God’s commandments. (By way of contrast, a more worldly Christian’s opposition to murder would be based upon common sense reasoning about the evil of destroying an innocent human life. So even if he believed that God commanded him to murder, he could not do so.) Obviously, the same applies to “Thou Shalt Not Steal” — and any other vaguely libertarian Biblical commandments.

If Christian libertarians like Hornberger cannot see the contradiction between religion and liberty, that’s his problem, not ours. It’s his failure to think seriously about the philosophical foundations of liberty.

I also love this bit from Cato Institute “Senior Fellow” Doug Bandow:

Is capitalism Christian? No. It neither advances existing human virtues nor corrects ingrained personal vices; it merely reflects them. But socialism is less consistent with several Biblical tenets for it exacerbates the worst of men’s flaws. By divorcing effort from reward, stirring up covetousness and envy, and destroying the freedom that is a necessary precondition for virtue, it tears at the just social fabric that Christians should seek to establish. A Christian must still work hard to shed even a little of God’s light in a capitalist society. But his task is likely to be much harder in a collectivist system.

Capitalism makes people rich — so let’s ignore Jesus’ statements about heaven’s hostility to rich men. Capitalism protects rights by retaliating against the initiators of force — so let’s say that Jesus was misquoted about the obligation to passively comply with compulsion and ignore Paul’s statements about the evil of resisting the powers that be. Capitalism’s justice rewards men according to their this-worldly competence — so we’ll just imagine that’s what God loves too.

Last but certainly not least, let’s consider this lengthy comment on Ayn Rand from Jacob Hornberger from a Full Context interview.

Q: On the topic of ethics, Ayn Rand maintained that self-sacrifice is wrong and destructive. The morality of most of America is the Judeo-Christian ethic, and self-sacrifice is one tenet. Rand maintains that the ethic of self-sacrifice is undercutting American Capitalism, giving the liberals the moral justification of the welfare-state, and leaving the conservatives morally helpless to argue against it. Because of this, we keep sliding further into socialism and our rights are continuing to be diminished. As a Christian and a Libertarian, how would you solve this dilemma?

Hornberger: I’ve concluded that this subject is so complex that not even the Randians understand it. For example, Randians would argue that Mother Theresa acted irrationally because she sacrificed her life for others. Yet, if a person donates all his earnings to an Objectivist foundation, Randians would say that he hasn’t sacrificed his life for Objectivists but simply placed a high value on feeling good over what the foundation did with his money. Well, why can’t we say that Mother Theresa put a high value on feeling good through helping others?

Or let’s say that a child is about to be run over by a bus. A 50-year-old Christian jumps in front of the bus, knowing that he will be killed but that the child will be pushed to safety. The Randian would say that the man has acted irrationally by sacrificing his life for another. But if the 50-year-old happens to be a Randian and the father of the child, the Randian will say that his act is rational because he places a high value on his child’s life. Well, why isn’t it possible for a Christian to put a high value on a child’s life who he doesn’t know?

Part of the problem, of course, is that Randians haven’t yet discovered that God really does exist, and therefore it is entirely rational for them to believe that those who have are acting irrationally. Moreover, Rand was not being logical in suggesting that simply because people in society like to help others, that that necessarily means that they’ll turn to the state to do so.

But what attracted me so much about Rand is the strong moral foundations she presented for a free society, even if the roots of her convictions are different from mine.

Actually, I believe that the failure to understand this supposedly complex subject lies solely with Jacob Hornberger. He cannot conceive of self-interest as anything more than the satisfaction of whatever subjective desires we happen to feel. The Objectivist conception of self-interest as defined by the actual facts about what promotes a person’s life is not even on his radar. That’s an understandable confusion for a typical college student. It’s inexcusable coming from a leading libertarian intellectual.

However, even that pales in comparison to his summary and criticism of Ayn Rand’s view that altruism in ethics (i.e. the moral obligation to sacrifice self to others) means collectivism in politics (i.e. the political obligation to sacrifice individuals to the group) as “Rand was not being logical in suggesting that simply because people in society like to help others, that that necessarily means that they’ll turn to the state to do so.”

I couldn’t make that up in a million years.

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