Laissez-Faire Institute - Freedom Without Compromise

Are Libertarianism and the Catholic Church Incompatible? Damn straight!

So, the top hierarchy of the catholic Church is criticizing libertarianism, claiming in effect that the political platform of their Church is not compatible with libertarianism.

Well, I can't speak for all libertarians, since, indeed, we have no central hierarchy like "the" Church, but here's my personal answer: Damn right it ain't. We don't want anything to do with you, your justification of violence, your political support for violence, and your actual violence. Our philosophy of non-aggression is profoundly incompatible, not with religion (indeed, some commandments of your religion might support libertarianism), not with any opinion on God (or lack thereof), not even with Jesus the anarchist pacifist, but with your Church's violence as an organization and with your Church's political platform of State-condoned violence.

In short, we reject you, because we're moral and peaceful, while your organization is immoral and violent. Ours is the philosophy of civilization, and it is indeed very much incompatible with your philosophy of aggression and support for aggression.

Can you be a libertarian and a member of the Catholic Church? Sure, like Ron Paul is member of the GOP. Yet the GOP is not libertarian, and nor is the Catholic Church. Indeed:

  1. The Bible defends aggression;
  2. Historically, the Church has committed aggressions whenever and wherever it held power;
  3. Whenever and wherever the Church doesn't hold political power, it still uses politics to indirectly promote aggression.

Given these three points, joining the Catholic Church should be anathema to any consistent libertarian, exactly like joining a Communist Party, for the same three reasons.

What is libertarianism: non-aggression

First of all, what is libertarianism? Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It deals with the legitimate use of violence.

We believe, in short, that everyone should be free to do whatever they want with whatever is theirs. We believe that everyone is acting rightfully when they respect non-aggression, and wrongfully when they don't. We believe that everyone is the owner of their body here on earth, and thus the absolute authority in deciding what to do with it - as long they respect that same right in their fellow human beings. We believe the metaphysical question of whether God actually owns our bodies to be irrelevant as far as earthly matters are concerned - if God owns my body, I - not the bishops - am still its caretaker here on earth. We believe that whether God exists or not is irrelevant to politics. (As a personal note, I think that whether God exists or not is irrelevant to morality as well - I wouldn't change my behavior even if I had proof of God's existence: I know right and wrong and act accordingly, and no religious theory, even if proved right, would change that.) We believe that religious views are irrelevant to politics - religion is an individual opinion, whereas politics is concerned with universal rules governing the behavior of peoples of all faiths.

We believe, in terms you might understand, that if you commit aggressions, that is, don't respect other people's physical integrity and material property, you are a bad person, and deserve to be dealt justice here on earth by the police. What expects you in the afterlife is irrelevant, but I'd venture to say that committing aggressions would definitely affect your karma as well, or the opinion of a rightful God, if he exists.

Libertarianism, of course, defends absolute freedom of religion. But it doesn't defend it per se. It defends it as part of a wider philosophy. It defends freedom of religion as a consequence of the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, etc. And it defends all of these as mere consequences of property rights, the principle of non-aggression. There can be conflict between freedom of religion and other freedoms, but not among correctly defined property rights, which all include their own limit: my right to do whatever I want with what is mine never includes a right to do it with what is not mine. Freedom of religion, thus, is a consequence of property rights - not an excuse for trampling them.

As libertarians, we have nothing to say about God, or about religion in general. And we would have nothing to say, qua libertarians, about religious organizations, if they limited themselves to expressing opinions about which behaviors lead to heaven and which lead to hell, about the meaning of life or about the origin of the world. We would have nothing against you if you stayed out of politics – that is, didn't use - or attempt to use - the State to commit violence against us.

What is the Church: aggression

But you do, alas you do.

At which point you'll tell me: "errors" may have been committed. The Crusades, the Inquisition, bunches of idiots burning the smartest people of their era at the stake, etc. Sure, sure. But we apologized, didn't we? Those are now things of the past.

Even if this were true, you are still the same organization whose active members committed those crimes. One same organization doesn't become good once it apologizes for past crimes. Al-Qaeda shan't be taken off the terrorist list if it drops no bomb for a few years and apologizes for 9/11, Communist parties whose members ruled as dictators can't be considered legitimate organizations merely because they lost the power to commit crimes, etc.

And no, it's not true. Your cult's prophet might have been a pacifist, opposed to violence, yet your Church still supports violence, exactly like it has for the 2000 years of its existence. The types of the violence change to account for historical and regional sensibilities, sure, but the principle remains. You may not commit violence directly, but you use the State to do it for you, like you always have. And groups using the State to commit aggressions is precisely the politics we libertarians oppose:

Wherever it is not in power, Marxism claims all the basic liberal rights, for they alone can give it the freedom which its propaganda urgently needs. But it can never understand their spirit and will never grant them to its opponents when it comes into power itself. In this respect it resembles the Churches and other institutions which rest on the principle of violence. These, too, exploit the democratic liberties when they are fighting their battle, but once in power they deny their adversaries such rights.

Ludwig von Mises, Socialism

In my very own country, Switzerland, your Church is still financed through the violence of taxation in 24 out of our 26 federated States. It coerces children into following its indoctrination programs in State-mandatory schools. It takes positions on political issues, supporting various legislation proposals. Legislation proposals that imply aggressive violence against me and other people. In other words, the Church has, like it always had, a political agenda, an agenda which goes against libertarianism, in the same way as the political agendas of socialist or conservative parties or political movements.

A few actual examples. Your Bible says people who work on the seventh day of the week shall be put to death (Exodus 31:15). Of course, of course, this is a thing of the past. Of course, of course, this should be interpreted as Saturday, like Judaism does. Yet–surely a coincidence–your official Church of my country does support State violence against people who work on Sundays. Sure, you've evolved regarding the degree of violence you wish to inflict upon peaceful people: congratulations. But the principle-using religion as a pretense for aggressive violence-is the same.

We, on the other hand, are the prime fighters for the right to open business whenever you want, as part of our philosophy of letting people do whatever they want with whatever is theirs.

Same thing for homosexuality. Your Bible says homosexuals should be put to death (Lev. 20:13), and that is exactly what you support when you can get away with it, in countries like Uganda. In the rest of the world, you might not advocate such "extreme" measures, yet you still advocate some form of legal violence, or legal discrimination, against gays.

We libertarians, on the other hand, believe gender and sexual orientation to be irrelevant to the universal Human Rights of any human being. We thus consider they have no place in any text of Law, and thus oppose their being used as pretense for any sort of restriction on the freedom of association (such as gay marriage).

You have also actively supported a radical gun control proposal (even our government was against it and it was ultimately rejected by the electorate), that is, violence. Yes, gun control is violence, not the other way round: it is violence against peaceful people to confiscate some arbitrarily defined items from them. Religious people have no excuse for ignoring that-especially since the Waco massacre.

Conversely, we libertarians are uncompromising advocates of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

To anticipate the objection that these positions may not be representative of the official stance of the Catholic Church: the Catholic Church is a hierarchical organization. The Pope can excommunicate priests who fall out of line. Indeed, he does excommunicate priests for defending gay marriage and female priesthood, so surely he could excommunicate them for defending violence–if he wanted to, that is.

You, therefore, are not our friends. You are part of the problem. You are, in fact, a major ideological justification of the problem.

What are the roots of this worldview of yours and why are they so damaging to the world? Let's have a look the roots of your philosophy and their consequences for the political state of the world.

I should mention here that these philosophical justifications, unlike your support for outright violence, may not be stricto sensu incompatible with libertarianism. Yet since the former lead you to the latter, they are worth addressing, in the same way as the Marxist labor theory of value is not unlibertarian in itself, but is used to justify communism, the very opposite of libertarianism if there ever was one.

The crucifix: an apt symbol

It is no coincidence that the crucifix was chosen as the symbol of your Church. Like any good symbol ought to, it summarizes the foundations of the ideology it represents.

The crucifix was originally an instrument of torture, but not of torture in the waterboarding sense, torture used to obtain information–bad enough as that may be. No, it was an instrument of torture in the sense of supplice, a French word meaning torture intended to lead to painful death. The goal of the torture, in this case, is not to obtain information, but instead, to inflict pain. It is the infliction of suffering as an end in itself. It is pain, not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself-pure evil from any decent morality's point of view.

What it came to represent is directly related to its original function. It came to symbolize the sacrifice of Christ for "our" sins, his redeeming pain. Which implies two things:

  • one, a non-individual concept of ubiquitous sin;
  • two, the value of suffering qua suffering.

A non-individual concept of ubiquitous sin

You believe in the theory of Original Sin: that all men are evil, sinful, and should be ashamed for their instincts, desires. That sin is both omnipresent and collective. That we do not choose to be sinful or not, but are all sinners whatever we do. That we can pay for someone's else's sins–we for Eve's, or Jesus for ours. That there is no presumption of innocence, but that we are all guilty (the very converse of the libertarian achievement of presumption of innocence, and the logically related presumption of freedom).

A great foundation for the whole idea of collective reparations for slavery, or of judging people by their gender or origin, as if you could somehow be responsible for other people's crimes.

Virtue, conversely, is of course not seen as an individual accomplishment either: That whenever we accomplish something of value, we should be thanking God, or "giving back to the community", instead of being proud of our individual greatness.

We libertarians, in contrast, believe in individual responsibility. We believe in rights as individual rights. We believe in crimes as being crimes not against God, society, yourself or the State, but only against another actual human being (victimless crime is a contradiction in terms). We believe the way to fix them to be paying back the damages to the victim-not confessing and being forgiven, nor suffering for the sake of suffering.

We believe that you can only be punished for your own crimes, crimes you actually committed against another person, and that other people's crimes are none of your responsibility.

We do not believe in the "common good":

Instead, he said, solidarity with the poor, as envisioned by Catholic social teaching, calls for “dealing with the structural causes of poverty and injustice.” The cardinal stressed that the church “by no means despises the rich,” and he said Francis “is also not against the efforts of business to increase the goods of the earth.”

“The basic condition, however, is that it serves the common good,” he said.

And no, we do not tremble before Piketty,

“But now they are trembling before the book of Piketty,” he said with a laugh, referring to the controversial best-seller on the wealth gap by the French economist Thomas Piketty. “At least it is making them think,” he added.

because we consider his "findings", besides being wrong, as irrelevant, because we see nothing wrong in inequality. Why? Because we believe, that in a free market (which the world is not, but that's another issue), people who create more deserve more, something completely alien to your ideology of non-individual sin and virtue, of course.

The value of suffering qua suffering

Even if one person could somehow pay for the sins of another, why on earth would pain be the way?

Pain, suffering, hard work, sacrifice, are somehow values in and of themselves in your Church's ideology. This has dire consequences, as economical and political theories are based on this worldview, such as the labor theory of value.

We believe, on the other hand, that blisters have never fed anybody. We believe that pain and suffering, in themselves, give you no rights, accomplish nothing, create nothing. We believe work to be good, not because of suffering, but because of the production, of the value it creates: the sheer creation of wealth. We believe, indeed, in the creation of wealth, in stark contrast to you:

In some ways, the fight is over competing interpretations of the American story, said Meghan J. Clark, a moral theologian from St. John’s University. The libertarian telling of that story stars a frontiersman who carves the American West out of nothing, in radical autonomy, with only a hunting knife. Only, doesn’t that self-made man creating something out of nothing sound a lot like God? "That’s the [Catholic] problem with libertarianism," Clark said. "It depends upon a human person who creates himself, and there’s no way to make that harmonious with Christ."

Which leads us to your static, zero-sum worldview. The worldview that God created the world, and we can't create anything. That is the static, zero sum game view. The view of wealth as a fixed pie to be redistributed, ignoring the creation of wealth, the subjective values that allow both parties to gain through trade, etc.

No wonder you end up rejecting the free market, which sees poverty not as a virtue, but as a condition to escape from through capitalism:

Pope Francis said "There is an entire generation of people that is not studying or working. This culture of waste is very serious. Europe is not the only place where it exists, but it is strongly felt in Europe. It is an inhumane economic system… this economic system kills."

All of this makes laughable the pretense of the Church to have been against communism: sure, you've stood against it–as a competitor in the fight for violent control over mankind. But philosophically, you're the ones who made its advent possible, who sow the seeds which we had to reap.

Your glorification of sacrifice and misery, your collective morality, your adherence to the zero-sum, static, labor theory of value worldview: what better ideological ground could Marxism have dreamt of to plant the deadly seeds of communism?

Conclusion: A philosophy of life versus a cult of violence

So, please, by all means: tell the world our philosophies aren't compatible. Ours is the philosophy of civilization, progress, science, reason, wealth, happiness, space exploration, transhumanism, life. Yours is the philosophy of superstition, stagnation, blind faith, irrationality, poverty, suffering, praying, decay, death. Our is the philosophy of man's greatness, future and evolution. Yours is the philosophy of man's denigration, superstitious past and economic stagnation.

To sum up, your holy book might be the most influential in the US, but let me quote the second most influential one - the one we libertarians prefer:

You, who have lost the concept of the difference, you who claim that fear and joy are incentives of equal power-and secretly add that fear is the more ‘practical’-you do not wish to live, and only fear of death still holds you to the existence you have damned. You dart in panic through the trap of your days, looking for the exit you have closed, running from a pursuer you dare not name to a terror you dare not acknowledge, and the greater your terror the greater your dread of the only act that could save you: thinking. The purpose of your struggle is not to know, not to grasp or name or hear the thing. I shall now state to your hearing: that yours is the Morality of Death.

Death is the standard of your values, death is your chosen goal, and you have to keep running, since there is no escape from the pursuer who is out to destroy you or from the knowledge that that pursuer is yourself. Stop running, for once-there is no place to run-stand naked, as you dread to stand, but as I see you, and take a look at what you dared to call a moral code.

Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accept his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged