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?