Acton Institute Powerblog

Libertarianism + Christianity = ?

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Reflecting on the GOP presidential campaigns and the Iowa caucus, Joseph Knippenberg has voiced serious concern on the First Things blog regarding the compatibility of Ron Paul’s libertarianism with traditional Christian social and political thought. As this race continues, this may be a question of fundamental importance, and I expect to see more Christians engaging this issue in the days and months to come.

Indeed, as Journal of Markets & Morality (JMM) executive editor Jordan Ballor has noted in his editorial for the most recent issue (14.2), the importance of this question is also highlighted by “the recent denial of a proposal for a master’s program in Austrian economics at Loyola University New Orleans [that] was in part attributed to ‘specific conflicts … between Catholic social teaching and the Austrian view of government, unions, taxations, human life and the place of Christianity in the public sector.'” Clearly, Loyola University New Orleans has already answered the question of compatibility with a strong no.

In light of the pressing need for a thoughtful and educated engagement of this question, I am pleased to note that the upcoming issue of JMM also features a debate in our “Controversy” section between Daniel Finn, Anthony Santelli, and John Mueller over the question: “Does libertarianism tempt some Catholics to stray from Catholic social thought?” The contributors represent an interesting spectrum of viewpoints on the issue and argue their stances with candor and conviction.

If you or your school or institution is not currently subscribed to JMM, this timely controversy is yet another reason to do so. For more information on how to subscribe, visit our website here.

Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.


  • Anonymous

    Hi Dylan,
     I think if we were to require passing a test on Constitutional substance and  intent in order to obtain a license to vote, much like passing a test is required to drive, then we wouldn’t have the intellectually lazy driving US into ditches, running stop signs, and letting their friends drive. C-SPAN’s ratings would go through the roof, and Libertarians would displace both ruling parties.
     Why is Democracies most committed proponent, Socrates in Plato avoided by “modern democratic opinion”, like Foxes book of Martyrs at an ecumenical convention? What ever happened to the Federalist party?

  • Chuckcamp2011

    I have said for many years that libertarianism is licentiousness, libertine and leads to moral anarchy. It is not compatible with a Judeo-Christian worldview.
    Bold Evangelical

  • Marjon

    I think Martin Luther was one of the first Christian libertarians.

    • GAAPrulesIFRSdrools

      Actually, he was the first Christian anarchist.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree respectfully that libertarinaism, at least in the political sense, leads to liscentiousness. It is very compatible with a Christian worldview, at least one based on revelation, to insist that Goverment (and not a theocratic Gov’t as in the OT)  cannot extend beyond the bounds given it in revelation, which would be the maintaining of order. If Goverment was actually ordained for a purpose, it can only operate well in that purpose… and it most be limited since it is the only institution ordained that has the right to use coercive force. We must persuade men to be moral, to love. To force them to do so is to not do so at all

  • Dickersoneric

    I think that Thomas E. Woods Jr. did an excellent job in his book, “The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy” in illustrating that there is in fact no controversy between Austrian economics and Catholic social teaching. The only controversy that exists is in the misconstruing of Papal encyclicals by many catholic writers towards a political end (ex. pushing labor unions), or sheer ignorance of economic matters by these writers (albeit innocent in most cases).

  • Patrick Powers

    I haven’t found anything in Libertarianism that is antithetical to Christianity, as we find in the various forms of socialism.  In reading Judge Napolitano’s book “It’s Dangerous to Right, When the government is Wrong”, I found the Judge called heavily on his Catholic background along with the Constitution. 

    Yet, the Judge’s opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, leads me to believe that much in Libertarianism needs to be tested and defined.  I was surprised on the Judge’s stance, since the conjugal act is the legal form of “consideration” required for consummation of the marital contract.  Henry VIII’s annulment to Ann was based on failure of consideration or conjugal contact.  Consideration is a legal concept in contracts that has been set.  While the Judge’s Libertarian suggestion “Who cares if Henry marries Mary or Larry?”, society was significantly altered by Henry’s decisions based on sexual desire.

    Libertarianism’s reliance on both a self-evident Creator as the source of man’s rights (dignity) and a Natural Law, suggest that it is more open to Christian anthropology and world view than most political philosophies.

  • Bradley_p_wood

    Agree with LukenPride completely.  The role of government outlined in Scripture (sorry, not Catholic) is essentially the maintenance of order.  The church advances the kingdom of God, but never through government.  The extent to which the government has any role beyond law/contract enforcement is the extent that it becomes corrupt.

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