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Is There Such Thing as a Libertarian Catholic?

David Giacalone has thrown down the gauntlet! 

Well maybe the glove 
     just "a fluttered" softly down
kissing the soft ground. 

How does one justify being a Catholic and being a libertarian?  I have been thinking about this question for a number of years and while I am neither a moral philosopher nor a theologian, I may have some partially cooked ideas on the subject.  Because one could write a dissertation on this (and I already did that on another subject), I'll focus briefly on two items:  natural rights and social justice.  (Maybe David G. can inspire me write more, but I am pooped out after a hard day professoring about something I, at least, had some training in).

I am intrigued by the correspondence between Aquinas' version of natural law and the more modern Jeffersonian natural law notions of liberty and freedom.  The Catechism describes one's conscience.  When one has an informed conscience (can tell good from evil) one has a choice.  There is a God given freedom in this choice. I think of libertarianism as supporting the notion of freedom as long as it does not interfere with another's property rights.  In my thinking the Catholic version is a bit more circumscribed in that an individual has the freedom to choose as long as it does not interfere with another's natural rights (life, liberty, and property) or contribute to the destruction of another's natural rights by setting a bad example. For example, Catholic teachings (and natural law) would recognize the dignity of the person.  Thus, an individual who did not have a slave, but supported another's right to own a slave would be undermining the putative slave's natural rights.  This would be wrong under my version of Catholic Libertarian Thinking.

On a second approach, I think that libertarians are really sink and swimmers.  Given that I am the product of an economy based on the protestant work ethic, I have some sympathy with this notion for those who have ability. Ability as a I define it is the ability to work in a job that pays a wage. Ability, however, is distributed differently throughout the population.  Some people's ability, through no fault of their own, is so low as to provide no opportunity for self sufficiency.  I believe that natural law requires us to take care of these people.  Rawls made a name for himself by describing how a just society could be made by maximizing the utility of the least well off.  The problem that many social programs have is that while they are made with the best of intentions, they have incentives that reduce the incentive of people with ability to work to support themselves.  Welfare programs that provide no incentives for people to become trained and able to work, or that encourage people to stay on welfare seem especially pernicious.  If government spends money on those that can work, there is less for those that can not work due to their low ability levels.  I would say that the libertarian notion of no social programs is wrong but that those who argue for large incentive packed social programs are also wrong.

Next-how does a so-called "Catholic Libertarian Thinker*" think about the role of government in society?  Hint:  there is a lot of welfare maximizing going on through the relaince on free markets!


*I think we need to create a Catholic Libertarian Society so we can have cool t-shirts and coffee mugs.  Perhaps we can use St. Thomas Moore's profile as our logo.

September 30, 2004 in Catholic Issues | Permalink


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» blinds open from f/k/a
A big "thankyou" to Prof. Martin Grace, who has already begun replying to my question about being both Libertarian and Catholic. [Read More]

Tracked on October 1, 2004 11:09 AM

» The Herbalist Speaks of Liberty from A Fool in the Forest
David Giacalone posed a religio-political teaser for weblogging law Professors Bainbridge and Grace: [S]ince politics are everywhere, I wonder how being a libertarian squares with being a devout Catholic. Sincere inquiries from an apostate. Martin Grac... [Read More]

Tracked on October 1, 2004 11:51 AM


Martin, I just left this Comment at A Fool in the Forest, which I think helps define the crux of my question:

This Sicilian-American treasures his liberty, too (whether it's deemed to come from God, or is a "self-evident" right that the State is entrusted to nurture and protect). The effort that you and Martin have already put into responding to my easily-proffered question makes it clear that I owe the Professors more detailed questions.

For now, please note that my original question is not "how does being a theist or religious jibe with being a libertarian?" The inquiry arises from a personal history (two decades as a Catholic, attending Catholic schools through college) and a perspective that sees the Catholic Church as being severely hierarchical, bureaucratic and hyper-regulated, and as offering a version of "Free Will" that predicts eternal punishment for exercising one's "liberty" in ways at odds with the Church's teachings (even if the conduct harms no other person). Interposing such a bureaucracy between the individual and the Creator seems inconsistent with Libertarianism.

As for the poor 19th Century herbalist [who did not want to pay the government 20 lira to sell his goods], I think he might be overlooking both the many ways in which his Church historically "taxed" its members, and the many ways in which our connection to God suggests an interdependence and responsibility among humans -- which at times must be honored through appropriate "rendering to Caesar" or Garibaldi.

Posted by: david giacalone | October 1, 2004 12:47 PM

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