Religion, Rights Theory

Christian Pacifism but not Christian Libertarianism?

We do not find many libertarians in the history of the Christian religion. In the cases where Christians become social critics, they have held almost every conceivable view – socialism, fascism, communism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, etc., but seldom libertarianism.

Among these critical Christian views is Christian pacifism, which holds that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Many believe that Jesus himself was a pacifist. Perhaps the most famous Christian pacifist in recent memory is Leo Tolstoy, though Martin Luther King, Jr. also partly represents the tradition. Obviously some Christian denominations are pacifistic as well, such as the Amish and the Quakers. Today Stanley Hauerwas is probably the most famous Christian pacifist.

I recently met a Hauerwas student at a conference at Notre Dame, a Catholic theologian with strong pacifist sympathies. I found her absolutely delightful and incredibly smart and kind. However, she expressed hostility to libertarianism. I find that hostility peculiar, and I’d like to explain why.

Pacifism prohibits all or nearly all violence. Libertarianism allows for more, though exclusively in defense of person and justly acquired property. Perhaps libertarianism invariably leads to social systems that are deeply coercive in nature, but at least in principle it is almost as hostile to the use of violence as pacifism. Even defensive violence is risky and dangerous on libertarianism, if entirely justified.

Plenty of Christians reject pacifism. They believe that God legitimizes nation-states to enforce justice, defend the weak, etc. Pacifists are right to insist that these Christians are often blind to the effects of violence. But they still acknowledge that these individuals have an orthodox Christian view. At the least, one can be devout, holy, pious and theologically informed and not be a pacifist.

But many of my sophisticated Christian friends think it is obvious that one cannot be a Christian and a libertarian. The most basic argument is: “AYN RAND, BOOO!!” And the more general thought is that the radical individualism and celebration of profit making in libertarianism is incompatible with Christian tradition. What’s worse, many libertarians have expressed active hostility to Christianity. But neither radical individualism, the celebration of profit or atheism are basic libertarian principles. The only direct incompatibility I can think of is that some Christians of a particularly conservative bent think rights discourse in general is problematic, but that of course does not single out libertarianism. And surely Christians who believe in individual rights aren’t unorthodox.

Christian libertarianism needs merely say this: take whatever rationale for pacifism you like, your social conception of the person, your thick, eudaimonistic notion of the common good, your interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, and then argue that they permit a bit more coercion than pacifism, enough for libertarianism. For example, one could argue that defensive coercion is required to protect the weak and vulnerable. Or you could argue that Jesus only ever used coercion once – to protect his house. A society deeply wary of the use of violence, following Jesus’ example, will invariably require a limited government if not the abolition of government entirely, if pacifism applies to government officials. Social life therefore will take the form of family, mutual aid societies and lots of markets, even on deeply Christian communitarian principles. Again, if your Christian theological apparatus can generate so much hostility to the use of violence that Christian pacifism is theologically viable, then surely Christian libertarianism cannot be beyond the Christian pale.

So it seems to me that my new friend is wrong to see libertarianism as fundamentally in tension with Christianity. If pacifism is compatible with Christianity and the natural law-based forms of statism endorsed by many Catholics is compatible with Christianity, then why not libertarianism, a view approaching pacifism?

  • Jameson Graber

    Nice post. I’d like to hear more about this sometime: “some Christians of a particularly conservative bent think rights discourse in general is problematic.” It’s not the first I’ve heard of it, but I admit I still find it very strange.

    • Jeremy McLellan

      Hauerwas believes that rights discourse crowds out more morally determinative language, that it undermines thicker conceptions of the good, that its anthropology is overly individualistic, and that it’s another failed attempt at establishing a universal morality (MacIntyre’s “Enlightenment project”) separated from communities and relationships. It would be hard to overestimate the influence that the intellectually disabled (in L’Arches) have had on his thinking. He follows MacIntyre and Hans Reinders in believing that liberalism cannot give an adequate account of the profoundly intellectually disabled (or the elderly, young, or mentally ill) or those who share their lives with them. This is partly because some libertarians view any and all moral obligations as arising strictly from contractual relationships between rational independent individuals. FWIW, I see no reason why a libertarian could not say that moral obligation arises from non-contractual relationships and that the benefits are a consequence rather than a condition of said relationships. I also see no reason why a libertarian could not accuse him of advocating a form of pacifism that merely outsources its violence to the state.

      • Jameson Graber

        Thanks for the explanation. I guess the key point is the “crowding out” idea. If that part is true, then I think it constitutes a good critique. But I suspect it’s simply not true.

    • David

      I’ve heard different variants of “you give up your rights when you become a Christian.” What people mean by this varies based on the individual: they aren’t all advocating limitless statism. In my personal experience this has had less to do with a political ideology and more to do with an argument for apolitical or at least less political attitudes. In other words (according to these people) we shouldn’t be fighting for our political rights and doing so isn’t that important because as Christians we have to turn the other cheek and we give up our right to fight back. Or at least, that’s my interpretation of what I’ve heard people say. I don’t quite buy that, but I actually think this is less hostile to libertarianism than the other extremes…

      I am not sure if libertarianism and pacifism are incompatible per say. If pacifism was believed and practiced by everyone, we would certainly live in a libertarian society. The problem is that most pacifists are not actually consistent. They are pacifistic in the personal realm but not the political realm. I’ve heard people respond to my assertions that they don’t truly oppose aggression that “they do in their personal lives.” Most of them don’t get or are unwilling to consider that their personal beliefs and political beliefs are contradictory.

      For me, personally, I’m not a true pacifist but I respect true pacifists. I cannot abide by the idea, say, of refusing to use violence to kill a child rapist on the spot if I had to. Romans 12:18 says as far as it depends on you to live at peace with all men. If someone is acting in an exceptionally aggressive manner and will not respond to logical appeals, violence is unavoidable. I am not saying every single case where libertarianism would ALLOW violence must or should be taken advantage of by the Christian (As a Christian I would not violently resist the tax collector who wants to steal from me even though my rights as a libertarian might allow me to kill them) but I don’t think a 100% pacifistic approach is really compatible with scripture though. At the same point, I’m firmly in the “no State” camp and not the “limited State” camp because I believe all AGGRESSIVE violence is wrong, and any State must engage in some aggression to exist.

  • Ben Kennedy

    Great post! To borrow some of Arnold Kling’s terminology, I see Christians fall quite easily into the oppressor/oppressed axis of politics just as easily as I see them fall into civilization/barbarism axis. If my facebook feed is any indication, progressive Christians view Libertarian theory as a tool to dismantle the welfare state and is therefore oppressive and bad. Conservative Christians view Libertarian theory as a tool for legalizing immorality, and therefore a threat to the fabric of society and bad.

  • SavageManatee

    I see Christianity and Libertarianism going hand in hand. In fact people of any religion should embrace Libertarianism. Any other political view will impose it’s view of what is right . Libertarianism gives a person the freedom to practice whatever as long as that practice does not interfere with the rights of another. What better way to freely worship?

    • matt

      Problem is that many religious people seek to impose their view of what they “know” is right. After all, if something is eternally true why don’t we have the authority to impose it by force they will ask? Libertarianism will seem pretty unappealing to those folks.

      • SavageManatee

        That is a problem, and in my view I do not see imposing a point of view through law as a very christian thing to do. I do agree that people that claim to be religious tend to exhibit this behavior but that is not my argument. I am saying that a Libertarian point of view is a better way to go.

        • matt

          But it is a very Christian thing to do as evidenced by the fact that many Christians have been doing out for centuries. Of course, some Christians stress the idea that virtue is impossible absent freedom but they are far from always being in the majority.

          • But it is NOT a very Christian thing to do as evidenced by the fact that many Christians have NOT been doing ever since the Resurrection. Of course, some Christians stress the idea that virtue is impossible absent freedom but they are far from always being in the majority.

            Majorities are irrelevant. The Bible is the tell. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Easily half of libertarians in the USA today, for example, are most definitely Christians.

            The Christians of the state inquisitions, for example, BANNED the Bible. Right up until around WW2, they prohibited their parishioners from reading the Bible.

            “…yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service…” – John 16:2

            What’s more, when we/they finally realize that libertarian thinking is a Christian doctrine straight out of both Old and New Testaments, and that the kingdoms of this world belong to Satan, they become more radically opposed to the state and more articulate in anarcho-capitalism than the editors at Reason magazine, for example, who push both atheism and cheer when the state compels association by force.

      • Problem is that many non-religious people seek to impose their view of
        what they “know” is right. After all, if something is eternally not true
        why don’t we have the authority to impose it by force they will ask?
        Libertarianism will seem pretty unappealing to those folks.

    • good_in_theory

      Religious toleration has occurred in a large variety of political forms. Its hardly unique to Libertarianism.

      • SavageManatee

        Tolerating a religion and religious freedom are not the same. In the United States the constitution protects religion but there are laws that prohibit certain religious practices because the majority felt that it was morally wrong.

        • good_in_theory

          So what? Calling something a religious practice does not make it immune from legal regulation. “Religious freedom” does not include the freedom to disobey justified laws.

          • adrianratnapala

            And of course the right to regulate is the first and most important principle in society. Nothing should be allowed to stand in its way.

          • good_in_theory

            Of course! You’re on a libertarian site. The essential principle of all social relationships is ownership and the regulation of property. Did you forget?

          • SavageManatee

            justified laws? So not allowing a Rastafarian to smoke weed or a RLDS Mormon to marry multiple consenting adult wives, is justifiable? The problem is that calling something a justifiable law is not that easy. Who decides a law based on morality is justifiable?

            Religious freedom means you are free to practice whatever you want as long as it does not directly interfere with the rights of another person. Libertarianism permits that better than any political practice.

          • good_in_theory

            You’re confusing religious freedom with libertarianism. Religious freedom entails not being targeted by laws because of your religion, the freedom to profess one’s beliefs, the freedom to change religions. It does not even require equal treatment, insofar as state religion and religious freedom are compatible. Rather targeted obstruction of religious practice is the issue.

            Libertarianism means doing whatever you want so long as it does not directly interfere with the rights of another person. “Religious freedom” does not require the freedom to indirectly interfere with the rights of others or freedom from *any* interference with one’s alleged “rights.”

            “Although freedom of conscience and the freedom to believe are absolute, the freedom to act is not.” (Pencovic v. Pencovic)

          • ppnl

            State religion and religious freedom are compatible? Good luck with that.

          • good_in_theory

            Yeah, because there’s so much religious repression in England.

          • ppnl

            The establishment of the church of England was a mess that you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of. America was populated by many of those who did.

          • good_in_theory

            So what? Stat religion and religious freedom are still compatible, as observed in present day England.

          • ppnl

            No it isn’t. British schools have a statutory requirement for school prayer and is out of compliance with the European convention on human rights.

            They even had blasphemy laws until 2008. These seem to have been replaced with wishy washy speech codes that criminalize disrespect to any recognized religion. I think Ireland still has blasphemy laws.

            In 2010 Harry Taylor was convicted for satirizing Christianity and Islam. Six month suspended and five year Asbo.

            But then many European countries don’t do much better. The laws seem to be designed to maintain respect for religions. They then become an intrusion on both religious freedom and free speech. Wishy washy speech codes to protect the religious powers that be.

            I’m not saying that there massive violations of religious freedom. I am saying that a government that forces other peoples children to pay homage to their god is unacceptable to me. It is a curse from the past that should be abandoned in both fact and principle. Government should not go here.

          • good_in_theory

            Blasphemy laws which protect all religions are an issue of free speech, not free religion. They’re bad because of their effect on speech, but are neutral towards religious freedom.

            One can exempt oneself from school prayer in England. Sponsored prayer is shitty policy and not in conformity with a separation of church and state, but if it’s not mandatory one’s religious freedom is hardly being abridged.

          • Requiring me to pay for state indoctrination of children in a religion or anti-religion or non-religion, is not only #1 theft, but also #2 a violation of my religious rights to use my resources as God directs. (Or in the case of an atheist, where his religious views direct) So-called “faith-based” funding from extorted taxation is a violation of my religious rights as a believer, for example.

            So is state indoctrination into the religious beliefs of Darwinism. (From Jeremiah 2, we see that it is a modernized version of an ancient pagan religious belief from thousands of years agone)

          • SavageManatee

            your confusing Religious tolerence with Religious freedom. True religious freedom requires libertarianism. As long as people are allowed to pass laws based on what another person deems moral they suppress religious freedom.

          • good_in_theory

            If you want to dissolve all concepts of freedom into a sophistical nullity, then “true” religious freedom requires utter anarchism, along with “true” economic freedom, “true” press freedom, “true” sexual freedom, “true” coca cola freedom, and “true” any other concatenation of random words with “freedom.”

          • ppnl

            Religious freedom is simple. It is a negative liberty, a limitation on the power of government. That limitation on government does not mean I have to respect a religion or even like it. It does not prevent me speaking out against it or even making fun of it. In fact the very limitation on government that guarantees the right to worship also guarantees my right to make fun of worshipers.

            It is only a limitation on government and is not a limitation on me. Thus as an individual I can pray in a public school if I choose. But the government cannot force other peoples children to pay homage to their god.

          • good_in_theory

            If the government limits your freedom to practice religion as an incidental effect of a general policy, your religious freedom is not at issue. Rather, the freedom proper to whatever motivates the general policy which incidentally affects your religion is at issue.

          • ppnl

            I can agree with that.

            But if a government establishes a preferred religion, prosecutes those who criticize it, uses public institutions to promote it and even forces your children to pay homage to the government approved god then…

            Government should not go there.

          • good_in_theory

            Yes, that’s not religious freedom.

          • David

            I’m an evangelical and in some people’s minds “fundamentalist” and yet I don’t really like the “freedom of religion” terminology. Everything that one takes on faith is religious. The right to act based on one’s religious faith clearly cannot be absolute. I can’t offer people as human sacrifices just because I may believe that should be done (I ignore the unlikely case where the “victim” consents for the sake of argument) as an act of worship to the Aztec sun god. Yet nobody would say that I should be forbidden to attend church, or that the State could forbid me to do so, just because this is an “action.”

            In a fair justice system (note that I said “justice system”, I am not referring to society, the culture, or individuals, just the legal and justice system) the NAP would be the only relevant factor. So if a Christian believes they shouldn’t sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, that’s fine. If the cult to Aphrodite wants to engage in prostitution, that’s fine. If a native american believes that pot smoking is a requirement of their religious faith, that’s fine. And if someone wants to do any and all of the above for “secular” reasons, that’s OK to. Note that “fine” and “OK” does not mean approving of the actions in question, merely a willingness to allow those who do so to live in peace (again, we are talking judicially, not morally or culturally, where each libertarian can have his own opinion.) But you can’t have sex with your kids or sacrifice a human being on the altar, whether your wish to do so is “religious” or not. Under this perfect legal system, there would be no need for “religious freedom” as a separate category of freedom, the NAP would already be enough. However, we don’t live in anything near a perfect justice system, so if someone, Christian or otherwise, has to appeal to “religious freedom” to justify being permitted to engage in their peaceful practice of choice, I don’t blame them. Its still a weak argument though, because again, society has no obligation to allow someone to make human sacrifices.

      • adrianratnapala

        At least lip service to it isn’t.

  • I’ve discussed this with some Christian pacifists of the Yoder/Hauerwas persuasion. That disconnect seems to result mostly from wishful/aggregative thinking as to the role of the state. Taxation, redistribution, regulation, those don’t involve violence – they’re just collective action. It’s a fairly sophisticated theology with a profoundly unsophisticated political ideology grafted on top.

    If we want to be optimistic, perhaps this means they are not so far off from libertarianism if only they had a more realistic, less romantic, notion of the political.

    • adrianratnapala

      Well, in day-to-day practice they do not involve violence.

      And though all states threaten violence, that is not their bureaucratised ostracism where they freeze your bank account, deny access to services etc.

      • Threats of violence are violence. If I threaten to hurt you, but never hurt you, I have still used violence against you, and the state considers that a crime.

      • David

        Threats of violence ARE violent. Ask these “pacifists” (in this case “morons” would be a better term, they are NOT pacifists in any meaningful sense, and I have absolutely no respect for them at all) what happens if you refuse to pay taxes, and if you use your gun to defend your rights. What then?

        Ostracization usually isn’t violent. I actually wish ostracization could be used against “Christian” statists but there aren’t enough of us (By a “statist” I do not mean the guy who just accepts statism by default, rather, I mean those people who have been confronted with the violence they support and nonetheless continue to support it.) But, since the State has a legally enforced monopoly on violence, ostracization by them is violence. If somebody kills a family member of mine ,its not like they are going to just let me hire a private investigating company to handle the problem, let alone pay exclusively that company and not the State.) And, if I deposit money in the bank, it is MY property and refusing to let me access it is another form of theft.

    • good_in_theory

      “It’s a fairly sophisticated theology with a profoundly unsophisticated political ideology grafted on top.”

      Sounds like libertarianism.

      • David

        libertarianism is not a theology. At most, its a portion of an ethical system which includes gaps that can be filled in a variety of different ways. libertarianism tells you you shouldn’t steal or murder, and it tells you government shouldn’t do these things either. But, it doesn’t tell you whether or not you should believe in God, whether or not its right to be a jerk, whether or not its OK to kill your body with heroin (although it does tell us the guy who does this should not be physically violated in order to prevent this), and… more importantly than any of hese issues and so many more, it doesn’t tell us WHY we should or should not do anything.

        I would say “libertarianism”, meaning, the NAP, has theological implications, and that these are good theological implications, but it is not a theological system. Its not even really exclusively a political ideology, but its closer to that than a comprehensive ethical system, Or, at least, that’s true for me. Its certainly possible to believe in libertarianism as a comphrehensive ethical system. Such a person wouldn’t be a Christian though, and it certainly wouldn’t be a theological system in any case.

    • David

      I don’t view these types of people as either libertarians or pacifists. The fact that these people don’t realize these actions are violent just makes them idiots, period. I know that’s harsh, and I know I’m implicitly insulting people that I respect with that statement, but that’s ultimately what it is. State propaganda has crushed critical thought on this issue for a long, long time. Of course, the prophet Samuel was intelligent enough to realize it (1 Samuel 8) as was Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord (I forget off the top of my head which verse “the Gentiles lord it over each other, so it shall not be with you is, but I think it may be Matthew 25:46)/ I don’t see how their theology could be sophisticated at all if their “political” views are that inconsistent with what they say they believe.

      • Mark 10:44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

        God himself told Samuel to warn the elders of the tribes about what to expect from a king.

        Nowadays many nations (republics, “democracies”) we have a peacefully rotating king. A rose by any other name, a limited monarchy by any other name, an outhouse by any other name….

        Jesus also said that the majority is ALWAYS wrong. “Many there be that go in thereat” at the wrong gate….

  • awp

    I am not sure how to explain it theologically or philosophically but,

    My fire-breathing fundamentalist Baptist upbringing is actually made it very easy for me to come to Libertarianism. It also eventually led me to reject the Baptist “church” as an institution, especially as the conferences and confederations became (or, I grew to realize they were) political institutions as opposed to ways to pool resources for the Christian mission.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Same here, Much of the message of the mainstream evangelical groups was one that emphasized personal choice and personal responsibility. As such I think it led me in a roundabout way to my libertarian views. When such people as a group become political however, they are usually quite forward into trying to enact their moral views into law.

      • awp


      • David

        I “grew up” (I’m still only 19, so maybe I haven’t completely grown up) Baptist. I’m still Baptist, but Calvinistic, which would make some people label me “fundamentalist” and others not. I don’t really see any meaningful connection between political freedom and “free will.” Ethics ultimately come from scripture. Scripture teaches (I don’t want to defend this assertion right now, but I could) that aggression is wrong. Scripture also teaches (Romans 9, Isaiah 10, etc.) that God is in sovereign control of everything that happens. Regarding Baptist churches, to my understanding they are mostly independent so it really depends on the church. I’d love to see a church that actually recognized statism for the evil that it is. But, I can tolerate a gospel-oriented church as long as they aren’t PUSHING statism. If my church ever started having pro-State or worse, pro-Republican (or pro-Democrat, but that’s extremely unlikely) sermons, I could not remain. I couldn’t attend a church that was constantly preaching on how the Iraq War was a holy crusade or that constantly beat into our heads how America needs to support everything Israel does. And I even have a hard time with the fact that I have heard prayers “to protect the troops as they fight for our freedoms” in our church. But, it is what it is. The Bible certainly supports the church as an institution though, despite the fact that there are tons of ignorant Christians and false Christians (both) in the US.

  • M Lister

    My impression is that while many Christian pacifists have anarchist streaks, they are also typically strongly communitarian, and therefore tend to recoil from the individualism more typical of libertarianism. (For a comparison, think about how John Gray moved further and further away from Hayek as Gray decided that the “creative destruction” of the market mostly lead to the destruction of various goods Gray found valuable. I think that something very similar is in the background for many, perhaps most, Christian pacifists.) Similarly, there is often an attachment, at least in theory, to a sort of Christian communism/socialism which, while not strictly incompatible with libertarianism (if set up voluntarily, etc.) is not very easily psychologically compatible with libertarianism, and not likely to be well received by many libertarians.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I think if we were talking libertarianism circa 1980, you’d be right. But over the last ten years in particular, there has been so much work attempting to work out various left, left-anarchist, mutualist versions of libertarianism that we may now be capable of bringing many Christians into the fold in a way we weren’t able to in decades past.

      • matt

        I wish we had more data on this. I believe Liberty conducted a poll years and years and found some 75 percent of its readers were atheist or agnostic. I personally haven’t met many religious libertarians but the ones I know are mostly young and young people in general tend to be less religious.

        • adrianratnapala

          So your anecdotes about the young are a hopeful sign for Kevin then?

          • matt

            I’m thinking no.

        • jdkolassa

          On the contrary, most libertarians I meet these days – especially online – appear to be religious, specifically some variety of Christian. (Rarely Catholic, though.)

          The majority also seem to be pro-life, even the atheist ones.

          • matt

            Oh really? That’s interesting. I only wish there would be more polling on these questions but, unsurprisingly, a good number of pollsters don’t even really know libertarians exist.

          • jdkolassa

            It’s not so much that they don’t know we exist, it’s that they don’t understand that libertarians are not a monolithic entity. Someone needs to tell them the selling out joke.

          • David

            Yeah. As mentioned above, I am young (19) and a Calvinistic Baptist, an anarcho-capitalist, and pro-life. I don’t think many people agree with what I believe, but that’s OK.

          • jdkolassa

            Well, I am 25, an igtheist, a minarchist, and pro-choice.

            I hereby move to have our philosophical duel at high noon in front of the OK Lecture Hall. Weapons will be texts, of course, I see no reason to deviate from tradition in this regard.

          • David

            lol! If you’re a igtheist, its actually epistemology we have to agree first, since we don’t even agree on the very basic issues of what “logic” is and what “knowledge” is. How do you know anti-abortion laws are wrong? How do you know a minimal state is justified? What standards are you using?

            Or, to go another route, how do you know non-minimal states are wrong? What standards are you using?

          • I’ve been saying since I became a Christian missionary in the 1970s that the case against killing babies in the womb is a Christian cause and secular cause at the same time, in the same way as “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal” are both obviously wrong.

        • That depends. I became a missionary fresh out of my four years of college and most of the others were were college and high school dropouts. Youth make the fieriest and most enthusiastic of any cause they join if they really believe in it.

      • M Lister

        I’d not be surprised if you’re right as to how people _should_ see things, Kevin. I only meant to speculate about the reasoning (right or wrong) that I thought was behind the hostility. (For the groups that don’t want to impose their vision of society on others, or use force in various ways to keep members from leaving, then I can see how they might find something like Nozick’s “framework for utopia” idea attractive, although in practice lots of experiments in this sort of thing died out pretty quickly w/o the ability to force people to comply.)

    • Well, it was easy for me, even though I was a full member of one Christian “new religious group” that lived out Acts 2 and Acts 4, passages that show how the earliest Christian disciples lived and spread the Gospel. “All that believed were together and had all things common”. And, they outdid the Communists on the property thing, even ALL personal property was owned by ALL.

      It was pure and complete “voluntarism”, no compulsion, and no time-conditioned contract. Pledge all you worldly goods, share it. Leave at any time, or leave if the group so decided at any time, understood by all upon joining. It was a great time of my life. Never perfect, and only marred by the same individual action by flawed human beings that affects all of human dealings.

      The globsalist order mind-f***ers created a new pejorative for any maverick non-conformist religious group that did not dance to their thinking orders. They turned the word “cult” into a cuss-word, and turned zombi Christians against the independent-thinking.

  • Eelco Hoogendoorn

    I would argue Christianity contains a lot of communitarian teachings. While I don’t think it enumerates positive rights as such, it does promote a lot of communitarian duties. That said, the ten commandments enumerate strictly negative rights, but they are part of the old testament. From fascism to communism, a positive vision of what society ought to be like is promoted. This likely appeals to the same proselytizing bent that predisposes people to Christianity.

  • matt

    “What’s worse, many libertarians have expressed active hostility to Christianity.” This certainly seems “worse” if one is aiming for some measure of reconciliation between Christianity and libertarianism but for the Christian who thinks libertarianism is nonsense or the libertarian who thinks Christianity and all religion for that matter is nonsense it doesn’t seem to be a bad thing at all right?
    No question though that atheism or hostility to faith is not a basic libertarian principle. Nagel really got it wrong with the whole “libertarianism without foundations.” Libertarianism has many different foundations from utility to natural rights. However, if one is a secular libertarian and believes all religion is utterly irrational and cannot properly be considered a basis for libertarianism anymore than astrology can it’s perfectly valid for him to express that view. I’m not defending that view here at all (you might say I’m more of a bridge builder than anything else so I’m on board with getting as many people sympathetic to libertarianism as possible and avoiding divisive debates) but it seems to me that to argue against libertarian hostility to Christianity and religion in general you need an argument about religion being valid. Otherwise the Hitchens-esque libertarian can reasonably say “Yes maybe my hostility is not wise strategically but I’m right to be hostile because religion is (insert critical remark here).”

    • adrianratnapala

      You might think the two beliefs should be decoupled, and thus hope libertarians keep cool about Christianity on libertarian forums and vice versa. Moreover you might thing one of these philosophies is wrong, without really wanting to correct the rest of the world about it.

      I belong to the latter camp. Christianity is badly wrong about basic stuff, and hundreds of years ago it was harmful to society too. But modern society has figured out how to neutralise that harm, so if people want to be Christian, then that’s no problem for me.

      • matt

        Yeah when I’m talking with other libertarians I’m pretty upfront about my view that Christianity is badly wrong, about most things anyway, but when I’m making the case for libertarianism to people who aren’t already libertarian I leave faith completely out of it. Unless it’s something like “Libertarians are theocrats” (yes people believe this). At that point, I’ll say we think faith is a personal matter and so on and so forth.

        • David

          I don’t see how Christianity is per say “problamatic” when it comes to libertarianism. Even if we’re generous and take everyone’s claim to be Christian at face value, no matter what they actucally believe about religion and politics, I’m not sure how you can say that the Inquisition shows the evils of Christianity, say, without saying that the Soviet Union shows the evils of atheism.

          • matt

            It’s not problematic per se from the perspective of libertarianism unless and until it seeks to use force to advance certain ends (in practice this is of course quite common).
            I would say that anybody people believe there’s a man in the sky who wants everybody to live a certain way and that they have an obligation to carry out his will things tend to go badly. And the SU committed those crimes out of a dedication to Marxism and keeping power, not because of atheism. I don’t see how a non-belief can be a motivating force and atheism is non-belief.

          • David

            Atheism is a belief that God does not exist. The logical conclusion of no God is no absolute standard of right or wrong. If God doesn’t exist, why are your morals better than Stalin’s? What objective standarda re you using to judge him wrong?

            I can see how a superficial look at scripture could lead one to believe that force and coercion are Biblical. I think the reason many Christians accept this is because the true Christian faith is hard. The Biblical means to bring people to Christ is through PERSUASION, PREACHING the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20.) Not only is it morally wrong to use force to make conversions, its also impossible to bring about a true conversion by force. And, forcing people to live morally won’t help them either.

            Most people fall into one of two extremes, either they basically have a “whatever you want to believe is fine” relativistic attitude, or they endorse coercion. Those of us who wholeheartedly and absolutely accept the truth of the Christian faith and yet have the courage to also stand against those who would impose Christianity (to varying degrees, I’m counting drug warriors, for instance, in this category) at the point of a sword. Christianity is deontological. The fact that the creator of the universe commands you to repent and believe in him doesn’t give me a right to coerce you into doing so.

  • eccdogg

    I have always seen Christianity being very compatible with libertarianism.

    If Christians should live their lives by the example of Jesus then I have seen little in his teachings or actions that endorse a system of state redistribution or forced morality.

    Jesus seems to base most of his teaching on how the individual should act, not on what we should force our neighbors to do. So Jesus says that you should give most of your money to the poor, not that Rome should take your money and give most of it to the poor.

    And on issues from gay marriage to drug legalization it seems pretty easy to argue that that is god’s place to judge and while you may believe (I don’t) that they are wicked it is not my job to punish folks for those behaviors.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      You are correct, of course the problem is that very few Christians are of the Christian religion, instead they are of the Catholic religion, or the Orthodox, or Baptist, or Methodist etc. And all of these sub groups teach some form of collective action and de-emphasise the personal aspects of Christ’s message.

      • Sol Logic

        That’s kind of a personal distinction you’re making there wouldn’t you say? Those denominations consider themselves Christian as far as I know.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          I am not saying they are not christian, I am saying they are not following a personal interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps my words were not stated correctly. They certainly are christians, but many of them are, how can I say it? Denomination first, Christian second.

          • David

            Who doesn’t follow a personal interpretation of what Christ said? You’re saying that with a negative connotation, but ultimately, we all do it. The question is who’s interpretation is correct.

            Speaking for baptists (since I am one) while there are indeed numerous baptists that hold to unbiblical ideas about the State, I fail to see what this has to do with baptist theology per say. I know the Catholic Church actually formally teaches statism. The London Baptist Confession of Faith (which I probably agree 95% with, although my church does not subscribe to it) may debatably teach statism. But I don’t see what being a baptist church or teaching a baptist view of covenental theology, church government, and believers baptismn has anything to do with support for statism per say. If anything the Baptist churches are by nature as decentralized as you can gt without totally abandoning the idea of church authority and fellowship among believers. I mean, the highest earthly authority in a baptist church (“earthly” excludes both God himself and the scripture, both of which are higher) is within the local congregation itself. So, I actually think baptist ecclesiology fits rather welll with anti-statism, as far as it goes. I don’t know if this applies to you or not, butit seems to me that a lot of people say “veering away from Jesus’ message” but they actually mean that Paul, Peter, John, etc. were not inspired authors and should not be trusted. This is dangerous.

  • ppnl

    Doesn’t Vox Day describe himself as a christian libertarian? Maybe it is something to avoid.

    And can anyone who believes in magic fruit and talking snakes ever be a Vulcan? They can certainly be hobbits and hooligans. But can religion ever be rational, logical and scientific?

  • I’ve sat in the classroom with both Stanley Hauerwas and James Buchanan. I don’t know if anyone else can claim to have done that. I don’t know many who might want to.

    The Hauerwasian – Yoderian approach to theology simply is not informed about public choice. Hauerwas’s pacifism is not only mostly right, but also quite influential. The real problem is that Theology is slow on the uptake, and is only recently getting to Marx.

    Many in the Hauerwas camp are reaching back to Hegel, frequently through Zizek (my friend Creston Davis, for example, or David Fitch). They are right to want to do political theology. Roger Congleton once told me that many Public Choice readings of history tell similar stories as Marxist readings. Both are a critique of power structures. Public Choice is tractable, Zizek, Marx, and Hegel are not.

    Hauerwasian theology has taken a bad methodological turn. Perhaps in due time, with folks like Anthony Bradley, Anne Bradley, and me? this can be remedied.

  • Neverfox

    It might be explained by the fact that there’s a sense in which pacifism is the exact opposite of libertarianism (at least its rights-based versions): “Whoever endorses radical pacifism…is committed to denying that anyone has any rights — a rather odd position for a libertarian to be in!”

  • brandon

    Kevin, here’s a theory:

    Many Christians think that governments simply cannot be neutral about many issues that they take to be of great moral and social importance. Libertarians, by and large, seek to be neutral about many of these issues. Therefore, Christians react strongly when they see libertarians advocate for putative neutrality with respect to things they think a government should not (and cannot) be neutral about. This leads to a rejection of the sort of vision of government that libertarians envision.

    • adrianratnapala

      So keep it at the abstract plane: they hate our freedoms.

      • brandon

        Well, of course, as they see it, killing an immature human being, for example, ought not always be a freedom one should be able to enjoy.

        • anonymous

          I think you nailed it right there. They aren’t libertarians because they disagree with us about what is a person, and who owns what. The Pope is always going on about how the wealthy owe something to the poor, and that an individual’s talents are the result of God’s gifts.

          We might as well ask why there aren’t more Scientologist astronomers, because they care so much about outer space. You’re trying to make sense out of madness.

          • David

            I guess Ron Paul, Laurence Vance, C Jay Engel, John Robbins (late) Norman Horn, etc. are not libertarians?

            I’d actually say the “pro-choice” crowd is unlibertarian because they don’t believe in human rights for ALL people. But, I’m not going to go down that rabbit trail. That’s why I don’t even claim to be libertarian in all situations because it leads to people assuming that I favor abortion rights.

            The Pope is not a Christian so I don’t care what he says. He’s a Roman Catholic, and Catholicism is indeed collectivist by nature. By contrast, Biblical Christianity is voluntaristic in nature.

    • Kevin Vallier

      But why can’t Christians say the same thing about pacifists? I mean, non-pacifist Christians do say this, but at least the pacifists talk a good communitarian game. My thought is that with careful theorizing, libertarians might be able to talk a good communitarian game as well. Hence my fascination with Bernard Bosanquet.

      • brandon

        I’m confused. Why the preoccupation with pacifism? Isn’t the question: why are there so few Christians who are libertarians? What does this sort of proposed answer have to do with pacifism?

        • Kevin Vallier

          That’s the whole point of the post! If Christianity can be joined with political pacifism, then, probably, Christianity can be joined with political libertarianism. That’s the claim I wanted to explore in the post.

          • brandon

            To say that it was the point of the post doesn’t answer my question 🙂

          • I’ve engaged in conversation with even further left Christian pacifists. Mark Van Steewyk has a good book on Christian Anarchism.

            To take Yoder to James Buchanan instead of to Zizek is the task at hand. The problem is that Ph.D.s in Theology are just now getting to Hegel – Marx – Zizek. See the work of Professor Creston Davis (whom I worked with as a missionary before turning to Economics).

            Hegel-Marx-Zizek is ultimately not a tractable framework for explaining history and what amounts to rent-seeking stories. Virginia Political Economy can do the job.

            But Christian-dom has no desire to become pacifist. Evangelicalism is getting cozy with Catholicism in order to make the tent of Christian-dom bigger. The goal remains the same as at the outset of evangelicalism surrounding the issue of Abolitionism in Great Britain: Use a politically expressive issue to capture the median voter within your coalition and then you will have influence over the legislature.

            This is what evangelicals are doing now in the major flip-flop on immigration and the zealousness over sex trafficking.

            Nathanael Snow
            GMU Econ, Ph.D. Student

          • good_in_theory

            I think the author of the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte probably has something to say about rent-seeking.

  • Bob Waldrop

    The Catholic Worker movement, founded in the 1930s by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, uses Christ’s Sermon on the Mount as the basis for social organization, and one could argue that the non-aggression principle is part of that tradition. For Catholic Workers, “purity of means” is every bit as important as “purity of ends.” Or, put another way, orthopraxis should be an inevitable result of our orthodoxy. Thus, as anarchists, most Catholic Worker houses aren’t incorporated, we don’t have a central organization, we don’t give out tax exempt certificates for donations to our organizations. If someone asks me about the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, I say, “We are an unincorporated lay association of the faithful. And no, your contributions aren’t tax deductible.” Our founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin opposed the origination of the welfare state, in particular the social security system, because they saw it as an attack on the family and an admission of the Christian church that we were failures and were not willing to practice what we preached. Dorothy Day wrote that their program was best typified by the distributist movement, and Hillare Belloc and G.K. Chesterton were and are considered leading intellectual influences on the movement..

    Part of the problem is that libertarians have never really had a good idea about how to transition from where we are now to where they think we should be. So in reflex, they tend to support any lessening of state power. Thus they oppose minimum wage laws, while typically saying nothing about the laws that create a large class of people dependent upon others for a job with cheap wages, said cheap wages being caused by the artificially large number of people looking for low level jobs because low level microentrepreneurship is closed off to them by a host of rules, laws, regulations, zoning ordinances, and etc. Who benefits from that? Not the low income people, that’s for sure. Libertarians then embarrass themselves even more by arguing that minimum wage laws hurt the poor — and they rarely if ever both to mention how the limitations on microentrepreneurship cause the problem in the first place. If low income workers were not in legalized bondage to employers, the more enterprising would go off and start their own jobs, and that would drive up the wages for everyone who stays behind and decides to work for someone else. That’s what would happen if we had an actual natural marketplace, but somehow that never gets brought into the discussion.

    Further, there is little critique of wealth among libertarians. The assumption tends to be that if you are wealthy, you earned it, but historically that has not been true. In days of yore, if you were wealthy, it was because you were more violent and parasitical than others. Cf the feudal aristocracy of Europe and its oppression of the serfs. Today, plenty of wealth derives from dishonest, unlibertarian means. . . starting with the limited liability corporation — now there’s a grant of state privilege if I’ve ever seen one. But I am still waiting for the Cato Institute to come out with a concerted attack on the limited liability corporation as a statist structure that violates the natural market place where everybody should be held liable for all of their actions.

    Consider the Koch brothers, considered by many to be libertarian heroes.. Among other things, they build and operate pipelines. What if somebody doesn’t want the pipeline going over their property? Not a problem, pipelines are like railroads, WalMart, and roads. They use eminent domain powers to condemn property and force its sale at the point of a gun.

    So the non-aggression principle is fine as far as it goes. Modern libertarianism obviously doesn’t quite understand its full implications and isn’t about to crusade against corporations, big rentier wealth, and economic oligarchy. It is as quick as conservatives to demonize low income people. It’s unfortunate connection with Ayn Rand’s philosophies doesn’t help much. (I always thought it was interesting that her heroine Dagny Taggart’s industry was the railroad, which is certainly the most statist of 19th and early 20th century American industries.)

    Bob Waldrop
    Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I simply do not agree that libertarians are remiss in pointing out the problems with government causing lack of as you say it microentrepreneurial opportunities. Libertarians talk about this sort of thing all the time. But rarely can libertarians get any real time in front of media, and when they do they are often limited to responding to attacks.

      • Bob Waldrop

        When I was running for office on the LP ticket, I used to talk about it, so yes, it gets an occasional mention. Nevertheless, libertarians are not “known” for their defense of the economic rights of the poor. The Institute for Justice is about the only libertarians related institution I know of that has consistently defended the economic rights of poor people.

  • Michael Snow

    Good article and food for thought To your list of famous ‘pacifists’ (though the word had not yet been coined in his day) add Charles Spurgeon. He is famous and a hero of the faith for many evangelicals. But the best kept secret in America is his view on war and Christians.

  • Satori

    1. A coercive Christian state will save more souls than a libertarian state would due to indoctrination and social pressure

    2. Going to hell is the worst possible thing that can happen to anyone by definition

    3. From 1 and 2, Christians should oppose libertarianism

    I’m an atheist, but if I were a Christian I think this argument would be very convincing. Religious nations like Saudi Arabia do a better job of passing on religious values to children, and a strong Christian state would be better at that than a libertarian state would.

    • You’re probably right that this is the implicit reasoning in a lot of Christian political action. But I’ve written a good bit on why premise (1) is false, at least from the perspective of the people who would find that result desirable.

    • David

      #1 is wrong primarily because Calvinism is correct. Without God’s grace working in a person’s life, he will always reject God by nature. And while God does use human means to do this, the only* means he uses to do this is the preaching of the gospel. God does not use coercive imposition of a Christian state as his chosen means to bring people to himself.

      *God can, of course, use supernatural means to bring people to himself, such as giving them a dream or a vision in which the gospel is revealed. These would be non-human means. Even still, my point remains: that PERSONAL faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ is what saves, not any form of outward morality, ceremony, etc. and a heart change cannot ever be imposed from the government.

  • Nearly all Quakers are unrepentant statists. They are faux pacifists.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Like Richard Nixon? Wasn’t he a Quaker? He certainly was a statist.

  • One root cause is that libertarianism falls into the same category as socialism and marxism – that of a poorly understood perjorative label. Many Christians in the USA regard themselves as conservative, and one thing I have discovered in the last 15 years is that a lot of conservatives regard liberatarianism as another variant of liberalism (and not because they understand classical Liberalism – they are clueless about that aspect). I have lost count of the number of times I have had to ostentatiously correct self-identified conservatives when they describe libertarians as liberals. It gets old really quickly. However, as I said, I think that the underlying problem is the extent to which labels like “liberal”, “socialist”, “marxist” and to a lesser extent “libertarian” have been recycled as perjorative slogans devoid of both content and understanding.

  • Damien S.

    Heh. “Free-market communist” (don’t ask me) and Trotskyist SF author Ken MacLeod had a couple of Christian libertarians in his an-cap centered novel _The Stone Canal_. Or possibly _The Cassini Division_, but they were definitely living on the an-cap world, New Mars or something.

    • David

      I’ve read Carl Milsted’s stuff awhile back. He’s better on politcs than most. But he’s not a libertarian. I generally accept minarchists as libertarian, and even near-minarchists, but Milsted isn’t even really that close to minarchy (i’ve even seen him say tax raises could be justified in order to pay back the debt.) Again, I don’t think Milsted’s stuff is all bad, a lot of it is good, but he’s more of a smaller government moderate than a true libertarian.

  • Charles Ross

    Back in the 90s Christianity Today published an opinion piece the thesis of which was the Christianity was incompatible with libertarianism. I was then and still am a Christian libertarian and my wife and I wrote an article in response that was never published other than on my own web site. I’m sure it’s not nearly as rigorous as some might hope for who participate in this site, but perhaps it’ll at least be of interest.

  • Charles Ross

    Back in the 90s Christianity Today published an opinion piece the thesis of which was the Christianity was incompatible with libertarianism. I was then and still am a Christian libertarian and my wife and I wrote an article in response that was never published other than on my own web site. I’m sure it’s not nearly as rigorous as some might hope for who participate in this site, but perhaps it’ll at least be of interest.

  • mick

    Interesting, however the post does not deal with some of the scriptural hang ups most pacifists appeal to like the turn the other cheek concept. There is this ex-navy seal (now preacher) named chad williams that hands the pacifist his hat in my estimation. His argument here:

  • Biblical Christianity, based in the first principle that the Bible is the ultimate authority for Christian doctrine, requires libertarian practice. (“Libertarian practice” being defined as the non-aggression principle)

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