Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

On this the penultimate day of the year, with just a few (too few, in my view) days to go until the Iowa caucuses (in which Ron Paul is a—not the—front-runner ), it’s worth spending a few moments thinking about the connection between libertartianism and Christianity.

If Ayn Rand is the, er, fountainhead of libertarianism, then the two must be antithetical.  Her pseudo-Nietzscheanism is about as far from Christianity as one can get.

Ron Paul would, however, seem to be a different story.  Drawing from some of his writings, this piece makes the case for Christian libertarianism.  It’s plausible in a sort of Augustinian way, but strikes me as problematical in at least this respect: we need small government, we’re told, because (as James Madison reminded us) men aren’t angels (and so can’t be trusted with power).  But if men aren’t angels, if there is evil in the world, then how can we endorse a foreign policy described in the following oversimplified terms?


It is truly unfortunate that modern American churches seem to think the state’s means of “spreading democracy” through aggressive war is more important than spreading the peaceful message of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus came to bring “peace on earth, good will to men,” and by extension the Christian’s goal ought to be the same. Rep. Paul wrote in Liberty Defined : “It’s a far stretch and a great distortion to use Christianity in any way to justify aggression and violence.” War kills the innocent, destroys property, and bankrupts nations. Christian libertarians believe that a non-interventionist foreign policy of peace, commerce, and honest friendship is more consistent with how God expects us to interact with world neighbors.

For a brief  on the other side, we can turn to this piece , which grants some of what is argued in the aforementioned essay.  But:
Paul’s opposition to moral legislation betrays his failure to appreciate the government’s divine mandate to punish evil and praise good. Domestically, that’s a mandate to make moral distinctions between good and evil behavior. To restrict what government can punish simply to whatever limits the freedom of others to chart their personal courses has no basis in Scripture, and is more akin to the 17th century liberalism of John Locke or the 19th century utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill.

Biblical government not only secures us in our lives and property so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” It also actively cultivates a moral environment that facilitates people’s ability to live their lives “godly and dignified in every way” and pass such moral habits along to their children ( 1 Timothy 2:2 ). Libertarians like Ron Paul deny this fundamental biblical political principle. As a result, Ron Paul’s America would look more like It’s a Wonderful Life ’s Potterville than Bedford Falls. What is worst in us, unchecked and undiscountenanced, would flourish among us, freely chosen but encouraged by those who would exploit their neighbor’s moral weakness for gain.


Non-pseudo-Nietzschean libertarians  have always struck me as somewhat Pollyannaish in their assumptions regarding the power—more precisely, the lack of power—of human sinfulness.  They see sinfulness in government, but somehow assume that the rest of us will be “good enough” with only the most minimal restraints.  What’s more, they seem to assume that a “merely individualist” public philosophy won’t have untoward consequences for our common lives together.

If you think that moral authority is either unnecessary or can flourish when government gets out of the way, then perhaps you might consider supporting for Ron Paul.  If you think that moral authority is necessary, but embattled in this world, then I don’t see how Ron Paul can be your candidate.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles