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Libertarian theology

Scott Wagner | Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Recently, I had the pleasure of giving a brief talk on the connections between libertarianism and Catholicism. I had five minutes to talk about it, and made it up entirely as I went along. It was probably pretty entertaining, so maybe this column will be entertaining as well – though slightly more informative.

First, let me wholly discredit myself: I am not Catholic. But I do believe the Libertarian Party offers a viable alternative for Catholics who are disturbed by the direction of this nation.

So let’s be clear. If elected, the goals of the Libertarian Party are simple: stop massive government expansion and waste and start the onerous process of shrinking the federal government back to Constitutional size. If you believe that the government takes too much of your money, wastes it and then tries to control too much of what you are free to do, you are already 89 percent libertarian. The devil, of course, lies in the details.

Many Christians are attracted to the Democratic Party because it is supposedly the party of the “little guy.” The Catholic dedication to the fantastic buzzword “social justice” keeps many good Catholics ensnared by the tentacles of the left. If “social justice” rests on positive rights (which much of it does), then it is not justice at all – justice is about equality. Jailing a murderer is justice. Jailing someone who refuses to be charitable is not.

Then, of course, there is the other side of the coin. Many Catholics fall under the conservative Republican label because of their firm stances on the so-called “non-negotiable” moral positions: euthanasia, gay rights, cloning, embryonic stem cell research and – of course – abortion. These are difficult issues that I am not even going to attempt to address directly, but the question I would like to now pose is as follows:

Where does libertarianism – that is, the moral/political philosophy of “if you harm none, do as you will” – fit under the rubric of Christian political thought? In other words, is it reasonable for a Catholic voter to support a party that, for all intents and purposes, just wants to leave everyone alone?

To make a law, or to retain its legitimacy, any government must rest on the implicit (or oftentimes explicit) threat of violence. Paying the income tax is only required because if you do not, the IRS will soon be knocking on your door with some serious-looking paperwork and some shiny handcuffs. Without violence, a government has no authority.

My question now becomes: as a Catholic, when are you willing to allow violence? Would you hire a gang to rob your neighbor to pay Planned Parenthood? What about a charity? Would you take a gun into a stranger’s house to make him stop smoking marijuana? Would you do anything in your power -I mean anything – to stop the marriage of two women?

How much violence are you willing to ignore? It boils down thus: you either like the state of the country, or you do not. If you do not, you either desire more violence to shape it as you see fit, or you desire less. If it is the latter, libertarianism is a real political option that fits this paradigm.

If it is the former, however, try to avoid a land war in Asia.

According to the group Catholic Answers, in promoting its “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics,” “You should avoid to the greatest extent possible voting for candidates who endorse or promote intrinsically evil policies.” That makes sense to me.

Indeed, Catholic catechism has the following to say about violence: “The short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict.” These words are specifically for inter-state conflict, but I believe it is not so much of a logic jump to apply to state-individual conflict as well.

If we are to avoid war, we must also avoid oppression.

As Americans, we are all called to resist violence against those who do us no harm. A philosophy founded on harming none and reducing state-propagated violence is in full accordance with Catholic principles, and libertarianism is that philosophy.

I’m going to close with a quotation from St. Augustine’s “City of God” because it is shockingly appropriate. He wrote: “…What are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed-upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!”

Remember that the next time you exercise your right to vote. Do your part to stop the plunder.

Marijuana is only illegal in America because, if you grow it in your basement, the ATF is legally allowed to come in and stop you. Scott Wagner is the proud president of the College Libertarians. He can be contacted at swagner1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.