Skip to comments.Libertarians and the Church
Posted on 08/30/2014 3:01:15 AM PDT by matthewrobertolson
I have argued before that, in their fullest, libertarianism and Catholicism are incompatible -- but to what degree are they so?
Leaders of the libertarian movement have certainly said silly, anti-Catholic things. Ludwig von Mises, for example, compared Christ to the Bolshevists and also said, "..[I]t is the resistance which the Church has offered to the spread of liberal ideas which has prepared the soil for the destructive resentment of modern socialist thought" (Socialism, Chapter 29). Translation: opposition to liberalism of one stripe must be blamed for inspiring liberalism of another. Huh?
Much of the conflict between libertarians and the Church can be traced back to key misunderstandings. Mises assumed the worst and demanded that the Church accept "the indispensability of private ownership in the means of production" (Socialism). The thing is, She already does: that is what distributism is all about.
This conflict need not be so heated, because both sides have mutual points of interest. And you can see this in some of the writings of the famous Murray Rothbard.
Rothbard noted in his Memorandum on Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism (1957) that Protestantism had resulted in the elevation of work itself as "divine" and over the worker, causing a serious perversion of economics. He considered Catholic thought on the subject, overall, to be superior to ideas based in the supposed "Protestant work ethic". This is a huge admission, especially given the time period and the strength of misconception -- still in force today -- on that topic.
But he went even further, in Readings on Ethics and Capitalism: Part I: Catholicism (1960). He said that much of the Church's teaching is "fundamentally libertarian and pro-capitalist", mentioning later therein that it has "been interpreted (by Ropke, Baudin) as compatible with capitalism".
Rothbard admired Rerum Novarum's emphasis on Man over the State, its condemnation of socialism, and its insistence on "the absolute right of the individual to private property", which he recognized as "derived from natural law, the nature of man". He had his frustrations with Quadragesimo Anno, though. He said that the Church had a "fascist tendency" in response to the World Wars, about which he was not thrilled. He saw Pius XI as undoing Leo XIII's work. But the idea of Pius "misinterpreting" Leo here, on social justice, is absurd. Leo himself lamented the "misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class" and made multiple comments about it in his own letter. Both pontiffs demanded a return to Christian principles and worked to ensure "that a high standard of morality should prevail, both in public and private life".
Where he critiques Pius, Rothbard is not very well-grounded. Pius held concern for "those who needed [workers' associations] most to defend themselves from ill treatment at the hands of the powerful", yes, but that hardly makes him a socialist. Still, I do not blame Rothbard too much for these mistakes. Leftists like Franklin D. Roosevelt had been trying to take advantage of Pius' letter. For clarification, one merely has to look at Pope St. John Paul II's Centesimus Annus.
John Paul recognized transactions "mutually agreed upon through free bargaining" as "important source[s] of wealth in modern society", and affirmed them as long as they were subject to "the judgment of Christ". He wrote, "It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are 'solvent', insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are 'marketable', insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish. It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity. Inseparable from that required 'something' is the possibility to survive and, at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good of humanity."
So, Rothbard clearly respected the Church's teaching on economic matters, but just failed to look at some of it in the fullest context. The Church is not necessarily hostile toward capitalism. She just wants safe-guards put in place -- and for them to be put in place at the lowest possible level, in subsidiarity.
On another issue -- secularism -- Rothbard argued a most interesting point: by demanding respect for human dignity and the natural law, the Church limited the power of the State to a degree that made libertarianism -- in practice, at least -- more possible. (Take that, statists!) This is no surprise, really. Monarchies, favored in Catholic countries, traditionally, have spent less than 10% of their GDP on average. Secular democracies, meanwhile, tend to turn into welfare states. Monarchs, usually, are more responsible.
With all of this in mind, a logical libertarian simply could never support those who (to, again, quote Rothbard in 1957) "place their theology -- and their ethic -- on a more emotional, or direct Revelation, basis". Protestantism is intellectually stunted, and, in many ways, it disables people. We know that. Consider the inherent subjectivity of the religion: Everyone is individualized by their own interpretation of a book of which they, typically, have hardly any knowledge. This shatters community, destroys economics, and benefits only secularism. Liberty cannot thrive in such an environment.
Libertarians, join the Church.
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Libertopians - anarchist who hate taxes
This article is another attack against the Founders. No surprise, the Catholic Church considered the United States of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison the enemy back in the 18h and 19th Centuries. The author even makes the observation that Monarchy is preferable to constitutional republicanism. The author could not resist a bigoted attack on Protestants to conclude his reactionary case. The author’s views are alien to the Founders and true Americans.
Libertarians don’t claim to be infallible. Accordingly, mistakes made by some are normal and even to be expected, especially during the early stages in the development of ideas.
Pope John Paul II apologized for the past errors of the church (technically, of certain persons, including popes, as the church is maintained to be infallible, but its children not). Possibly he erred in this? If he did not, this is an admission that the church (including its popes) have erred. If he erred in this, that itself would be an err.
Hence, we come down to two sets of mortals, each fallible. Now, let us attempt to fairly evaluate the teachings of the church in matters of economics:
Through much of the 19th century, the church supported monarchy and opposed what it described as liberalism and socialism. Liberalism was what was happening in the countries of northern Europe and in the U.S. Nowadays, we describe this as classical liberalism so as to distinguish it from the left-wing, secular progressive position that masquerades as liberalism in this country.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the church endorsed the private property, free enterprise system, along with a limited role for the state in protecting the poor. Mainstream libertarians and even some anarcho-libertarians recognize this position to be enlightened.
During the early part of the 20th century, the church shifted to an endorsement of fascism. It saw fascism as capable of resisting communism. It thought liberalism (again, this is classical liberalism) to be weak. It endorsed Franco (a fascist) in the Spanish Civil War, and remained neutral through WWII (rather than endorse the US and the UK, i.e., liberalism).
Following the war, the church shifted again, to democracy (not the same as liberalism). In Progress of the Peoples, the church taught that a democratized economy would be good. The encyclical implicitly denies the law of unintended consequences. This is why the current pope sainted John XXIII along with John Paul II (even though John XXIII had no verified miracles). It is because Francis is a Argentine socialist and a sworn enemy of liberalism.
Toward the end of the 20th century, the church embraced liberalism in a most revolutionary way. Whereas Aquinas argued for private property based on prudence, John Paul II said that with private property and dealing with others freely in the marketplace, a person could come to see himself as a lovable creature, and could come to see others as lovable creatures. Contrariwise, relying on the state, people would come to see others only as instrumentalities for their laziness and selfishness. If you want libertarians to convert, this is the message that will appeal to them. Not democratic socialism or fascism or monarchism, and certainly not a constantly shifting position.
Things have now shifted again. We have a left-wing Peronista enemy of capitalism and enemy of America as pope, and a marxist/liberation theologist from Honduras as his right-hand man. And you ask libertarians to convert?
” the resistance which the Church has offered to the spread of liberal ideas”
Mises always used “liberal” in the classic sense. Liberal had to do with liberty. A far cry from today’s perverted use.
I know, Just wants to make it clear for others who might not be inclined to give somebody of Mises leaning a fair hearing. There are a few in these precincts.
Since you say liberalism of one stripe must be blamed for inspiring liberalism of another, does this pertain to fascism? Does supporting Franco in Spain inspire Hitler in Germany? Or, do you have one rule for other people and another for yourself?
(Just to be clear, I do not engage in your game of guilt by association, and do not blame the church for Hitler. That the church supported Franco and remained neutral through WWII is not the same thing as the church supporting Hitler.)
Not at all. I said “Huh?” in response to that assertion. Read the post.
Okay. *thumbs up*
I believe that matthewrobertolsen IS the author.
First of all, I read your article.
“Huh”? Is “Huh” an acknowledgement that you blame all fascists for what any fascists do (guilt by association), just as you blame all liberals for what any liberals do; or, does “huh,” mean “of course I have different rules for me than I have for others?”
The following are examples of clear statements.
“I accept that the church is shares in responsibility for Hitler because it backed Franco. Endorsing fascism of one stripe encourages fascism of other stripes, just like endorsing liberalism of one stripe encourages liberalism of other stripes.”
“I have a different rule for the church than I have for liberals. All liberals are guilty for what liberals of other stripes do. But, guilt by association doesn’t apply to the church.”
It boggles the mind to think that any conservative Catholic could examine the current policy platform of the US Conference of Bishops and still maintain that it is impossible for the church to err.
When Mises says the Church resisted liberal ideas he means classical liberal not lefty liberal.
Mere directives out of the USCCB are not infallible. Please, familiarize yourself with what the Church teaches on the modes of infallibility. It should only take an hour or two (at most) to understand the basics.
I know. I’ve expanded on that here, in the comments section. :)
Well, even Hayek believed in a social safety net.
Revisionist history. The whole idea of the Catholic Church between 1200-1500 was to be the sole governmental body by which all nations would pay tribute. It has communism at its core so, of course, libertarianism is going to be against it.
Have you never read Utopia? How about The Three Musketeers?
Indeed he did, and it was a state based safety-net at that.
Personally, I believe the church + most organized religions to be better + more efficient at that role than the state in almost every case.
But there have been instances long past where the Catholic church in particular has sought to regulate private transactions. As a nation state - this does fly contrary to lassiez-faire beliefs.
Perhaps I misunderstood the context the author was using here as well. I think a few others on this thread did. Or maybe I need more coffee.
Because it teaches trust in a personal savior and self reliance in the economic realm?
You would be correct.
View all posts by Matthew Olson
A lot depends on the definition of things.
The “Church” as the body of Christ does not err, although individual Christians can and will.
The “Church” as an institution, including the Roman Catholic one, may certainly err. Both as individuals and as an institution.
The whole argument needs to be turned on its head.
Socialism is an atheistic *parody* of Christianity. If you rewrite the Bible, replacing “God” with “Man” at every instance, you have this parody in a nutshell. But socialism takes it further, by rewriting the Bible to replace the spiritual with the “natural and material”, as long as Man stays at the center of the universe, in charge.
Over time, some elements of this parody seem to have similar goals as does the church, for example, caring for the poor. But the *motivations* for doing so are entirely different. Socialists only care for the poor in exchange for their political support and embrace of socialism. The church cares for the poor to help their sustenance while they are spiritually enhanced and led in the direction of righteousness.
The failure of the church exists only in assuming that they have alliance with socialism for the same ends. For example, when some Catholic clergy embraced “Liberation Theology”, with the idea that socialism and even communism offered the poor better lives than the church could offer, this crossed the line.
Of late, the Pope offered commutation to those clergy who were removed for embracing political roles, which was interpreted by the leftist media that he was restoring “liberation theology” as a legitimate act. Fortunately this was yet another misinterpretation on their part.
Yet the temptation to embrace socialism remains in many clergy, though it is still as intolerable as any other grave heterodoxy or heresy.
Thanks for the clarification. Jesus, who once said “let your aye be aye and your nay be nay,” also spoke in parables and employed exaggeration and sarcasm. So, I don’t begrudge your mocking. But, when you use another person’s mocking (Mises) to make a point of your own, there is the possibility of miscommunication.
With regard to Mises, having met him during the 1960s, it was my impression that he was an embittered and defeated man who took a kind of refuge in insisting on his own correctness. Judging from his early work, it seems that he had been a more engaging fellow. His later demeanor might be understandable given that he came this far from being taken by the Nazis and was holed up in Switzerland through the course of WWII, and only secured a university position in the US after the war by reason of the benefaction of some generous admirers (as opposed to securing a university position by reason of his work). Having said this, his didactic and sometimes polemical style had a certain persuasiveness, and at an advanced age he wrote a major work (The Theory of Human Action) and influenced many students who went on to prominence.
Do you know how many of the original founders were Catholic? Only one.
Is what is written, therefore, more truthful that you might want to admit?
Check the original
The USCCB has made mistakes. They aren’t the Pope. And the Pope speaks only without error when he speaks ex cathedra. (from the chair.)
Thank you for your post.
If I might add to what you say, the encyclicals of the 19th century castigating both liberalism and socialism might be viewed as castigating the assertion that reason alone is capable of knowing the truth. That we do not require the spark of truth available through special revelation.
To be sure, this was not a fair reading of all liberals, since many liberals were both Christian and liberal. The church has always had liberal thinkers, most obviously Aquinas, a doctor of the church, but also Erasmus, an acknowledged Christian Humanist, and of course John Paul the Great.
As for the non-liberal thinkers in the church, to include the current pope, who insist that all we need is good intentions, they deny man’s fallen nature. We are not only too evil to be trusted with unlimited power, we are also too ignorant. Socialism, says Hayek, is the pretense of knowledge. It is not merely a violation of the commandment against theft, it is a violation of the commandment against putting anything ahead of God. It is blasphemy. To say that the church is apostolic, or that the Holy Spirit is with the church, is not to say that Christian leaders can act like they are divine. It is merely to say that they should not persist in error. Democracy is not justified because the majority is right. It is justified because majorities change.
It’s also important to note that both are independent of the tyrannical state.
Thanks for the pings, bamahead.
For example, citing your own writings as support for your own opinions is not consistent with scholarly argument, unless you are citing to an earlier publication of facts, as sometimes happens when scientific researchers cite earlier research results.
In addition, you misrepresent the actual opinions of some of the authors you cite. For example, you write that "[Rothbard] considered Catholic thought on the subject, overall, to be superior to ideas based in the supposed Protestant work ethic, and characterize that as "a huge admission..." But Rothbard was writing about the history of economics, and referring to the contributions of Catholic intellectuals that also shaped modern economic thought. One of his conclusions, for example, was that "capitalism began in the Catholic Italian cities of the 14th century"
You attempt to use Rothbard's writings to suggest an endorsement of the church's teachings, but the actual text of the cited works doesn't support your opinion as you have expressed it.
It is also important to realize the difference between writings exploring the theory of libertarianism, or economic philosophy, and writings exploring morality, society, and spirituality.
As can be seen in the real world, spiritual and moral ideas are often mixed in with political theories and movements, often to ill effect, and occasionally to good effect. Understanding that process, and how to influence it is a worthy area of study.
The Roman Catholic Church always viewed themselves as creating a nation church on earth to which all nations would be subservient. Thomas More’s Utopia is about such an idea society. That is historical fact. The Reformation was fueled, in part, by some nations rejecting paying tribute to the Roman Catholics and falling under the rule of the “Holy See”.
But, nice try.
“Libertopians - anarchist who hate taxes”
And I add (cut and pasted from other FReeper posts)
More and more rinos realize that they arent liberal on social issues, instead they are libertarian on social issues. Libertarianism is a way to use a new vocabulary and new arguments to promote liberalism, for instance notice how many libbers try to tell us that this country was founded, not by social conservatives, but instead by libertarians.
What libertarians say is geared to fit the audience. To a Christian audience, they try to sound like Christian conservatives. To a liberal audience they do the opposite and concentrate on social libertarianism.
Interesting how you use your own writings as a reference. That’s quite a research technique.
You must have missed references (links) to John Paul II at the Vatican website, wiki, and others.
Putting everything into one basket doesn’t seem to work here.
This is one of his references.
I shouldn't be amazed (but I am) that Catholics would come onto a conservative website and pitch liberal and statist ideas. It's part-and-parcel of Catholicism:
Market Economy and Ethics By Cardinal Ratzinger(Pope Benedict XVI) 1985
Encycli-bites for reading Caritas in veritate
Pope says rich nations "plundered" Third World
Is Obama Thinking Like a Catholic?
These are good posts. I really liked the one “Is Obama thinking like a Catholic”. Except on abortion, I often wondered if the Catholics are thinking like Obama.
the Judeo-Christian view of politics starts with Joshua. About to cross the Jordan after 40 years in the wilderness, Joshua said “Choose you this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
1. Whom you serve is a choice..not an echo.
2. ME is the 1st level of government.
3. My household is the 2d level of government. If you are under my roof, you will obey my rules.
4. If you are not under my roof, make your own choice.
In the next phase of “evolution”, public opinion wanted a King like all the other peoples had. Samuel warned the people that they would regret that request. One of the first “Becareful what you wish for”. So they got their king. The first king started ok but then turned bad. By the 4th King, 10 out of 12 “states” seceded from the Kingdom because they didn’t like the oppressive taxes and incide the beltway advisors of the King.
5. The New testament repeats Joshua. Jesus wasn’t there to create a Roman style kingdom. He was there to again emphasize personal choice. Each person chooses for himself whether to repent, believe, be baptized and recieve the Holy Spirit.
6. That Biblical teaching is the basis for the Judeo-Christian culture.
7. Heresies (sinful desires) have entered the Judeo-Christian tradition from time to time.
8. “MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” is the current dominant heresy. God asked Cain a question. Cain did not like the question and tried to deflect the conversation by asking a non-sequitor: Am I my brother’s keeper. Currently, many who claim the Judeo-Christian label base their heresy on the false premise created by Cain. The truth is I am my brother’s brother; not my brother’s keeper. Keepers keep animals in zoos, or specimens in collections. Keepers keep slaves on plantations. It used to be that some slave keepers beat their slaves. But Christian Keeper theology of Rev JJ and Rev AS and entire seminaries is that we should be nice and kind to others on the plantation and not beat them.
9. When a plantation dweller is beaten as in Democrat Ferguson of Democrat St Louis County under Democrat Governor with the hated name Nixon, that is not Christian. That is not what we all understood was the social contract between people on the plantation. We understood that when the oppressed act a certain way it is because we have been less than perfect keepers of the plantation. We must redouble our efforts to be better keepers of the plantation.
10. Many both on the plantation,and who have chosen to leave the plantation do not understand the above 9 points. They see the religion of some and conclude that is the religion of all.
11. (There are other heresies, sinful choices of those who claim the Judeo-Christian tradition. But above is the dominant heresy in the US right now.)