Last week, in reply to a post by Jacqueline Otto, I wrote an article asking What is a Christian Libertarian? Ms. Otto has written an additional reply entitled, “Four Things Christian Libertarians Believe.”

To address Mr. Carter’s doubts, and to counter Mr. Teetsel’s unbelief, here is my layman’s attempt to articulate four of the fundamental beliefs held by Christian libertarians that synthesize their faith with their political ideology. For a more developed understanding, please visit Norman Horn’s website: http://libertarianchristians.com/.

While I will likely test the reader’s patience by providing a lengthy rebuttal, I believe it is important to take the views of Christian libertarians seriously (even if the views presented are only shared by a small sub-set of the movement).

As I hope to show, of her four points:

#1 is shared by the group of Christian libertarians that I doubt she would want to be associated with,
#2 is not a basis for Christian libertarianism and would be rejected by most members of the movement,
#3 isn’t particularly Christian, and
#4 is an ahistorical reading of both Christianity and Christian libertarianism.

But for now, back to Ms. Otto:

This is why this discussion is so important. This is why Christian libertarians take such issue with and offense to attempts to dismiss their existence. They do not simply “mash the two words together” or “don’t like the label conservative.” For many Christian libertarians, their acceptance of the political ideology of libertarianism came after, and as a consequence of, the acceptance of their salvation through Jesus Christ.

I agree with Ms. Otto that this discussion is important. Clarifying the meaning of terms, especially political terms, can often help us advance the conversation by providing us the means to think more clearly and argue more effectively. What I find curious, though, is that she thinks Eric Teetsel—the program manager of Values & Capitalism—and I are trying to “dismiss their existence.” I think it is Ms. Otto who has dismissed the existence of the largest branch of Christian libertarianism (assuming she is even aware of their existence and historical place in the movement). But more on that later.

2) Christian libertarians believe in individualism because of their own salvation. Eric Teetsel called “radical individualism,” the “libertine ideal.” But to Christian libertarians, individualism isn’t about one individual, it is about two—Christ, and the one who accepts his salvation.

Salvation is voluntary and it is individual. I do not wish to wander into the debate of predestination, but simply to present the scripture.

While this may be Ms. Otto’s reason for believing in individualism, I think it should be obvious to anyone familiar with Christian libertarianism why this is not a view that is widely held: The most infamous and renowned Christian libertarians have been Calvinists (bear with me, I promise we’ll get to this later).

This is not the place to delve into the distinctions between Arminianism and Calvinism, but I will say that no self-respecting Calvinist would agree with Ms. Otto’s formulation. I would be surprised if many Arminians based their view political views on soteriology, but I suppose it’s possible they do.

In any case, I do not think this opinion is all that popular, much less dominant, among Christian libertarians. But since Ms. Otto bases on her own views on this claim, I think it is worth rebutting an additional, related claim she makes:

And as Christians, we believe that when we die, we will not be judged corporately, but that we will be standing individually before God.

Since our very salvation starts individually, and grows into our Christian community working self-sacrificially for the building of the Kingdom of God, Christian libertarians orient their whole lives in the same manner

I think Ms. Otto is half right in that first line. We will indeed be judged individually and, I believe, will be held individually accountable for salvation. But Scripture seems to imply that corporate judgment is also the fate of some, if not all.

Throughout the Old Testament households (the family of Achan), nations (Israel, Nineveh), and cities (Sodom, Gomorrah) were judged by God corporately. Jesus also implies that in the Kingdom corporate judgment will continue (see: Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum). Since God also judges corporately, does it make sense to abandon individualism? I would say no and I suspect most Christian libertarians would agree. So why should a particular version of soteriology be the basis for our belief in freedom? Since God judges corporately, does that lend support to collectivists?

3) Christian libertarians believe that social engagement is voluntary. But is an imperative of our Christian faith and is the course by which we develop individual virtue.

This is another peculiar claim. It’s either meaninglessly true (i.e., since all actions require our free choice, all actions are voluntary) or it is a claim that would be rejected by many Christians. While libertarians may believe that all social engagement is voluntary, Christians are aware that we are required to submit to a broad range of social obligations.

For example, the Apostle Paul commands that slaves submit to their masters, children submit to parents, wives submit to husbands, and believers submit to church leaders. Additionally, the Apostle Peter says we are to submit to “every human institution” whether it be to the emperor, governor, etc.

Since both Peter and Paul command us to submit to authority (which, they claim, is ordained by God), it would be rather odd if we were to assume that they meant that such social engagements were a mere prerogative, something we could do or not do based on how we feel.

But perhaps all Ms. Otto means is that libertarians believe that social engagement is voluntary but that Christians are not required to compel non-Christians into submitting to the authority of Paul, Peter, Jesus, et al. That seems rather unobjectionable and is what most conservatives believe too. But what is the point of being a Christian libertarian when you are required to submit to all types of authority but unbelievers are not? Why is that not just garden-variety libertarianism?

Christian libertarians understand that any social obligation put forth in the New Testament is voluntary. There are no calls for governments or even church leaders to force servitude, only encouragement to voluntarily serve others.

Well, Paul’s command for slaves to submit to their masters certainly seems like a case of a church leader forcing servitude. But since that is not really applicable today, the question we have to ask is what would classify as “servitude?” Is taxation a form of servitude, since we are giving the government the monetary equivalent of a portion of our labor and property? LibertarianChristians, a site Ms. Otto recommends, says that “Taxation and government spending are always bad.” But that is not a view that Jesus held.

While not a theologian, the father of free markets, Adam Smith, was foremost a moralist. Before he wrote the much-famed Wealth of Nations, he wrote a lengthy book on ethics, called The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith strongly believed that free markets were capable of cultivating morality within individuals. Capitalism, by design, marries a man’s moral and material growth so that both will be fully achieved.

It is true that Smith believed that free markets were capable of cultivating certain virtues—a view shared by all good free market conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians. But let’s not overstate Smith’s view by implying that he thought that markets alone were capable of cultivating morality. I’m sure that is not what she meant, but Ms. Otto should have made that more clear.

Christian libertarians believe that freedom is engaging and experiential. It is through social and market interactions that relationships with fellow human beings are built. In turn, it is these relationships that foster within individuals virtues including honesty, civility, prudence, restraint, industry, frugality, sobriety and reliability.

Well said. But this is not a view that is limited to Christian libertarians. Classical liberals and conservatives believe that too.

4) Christian libertarians take a very literal position on Christ’s message of liberty. There is no way to ignore the significance of liberty in the message of Jesus Christ.

This raises an interesting question that I’ve never heard a Christan libertarian fully address: If libertarian principles flow so obviously out of Christian doctrine, why are libertarians the intellectual descendants of the atheist John Stuart Mill rather than, say, Augustine, Calvin, or Wesley?

The reason, I suspect, is that there is a critical difference between acknowledging the “significance of liberty in the message of Jesus Christ” and thinking that this leads to libertarian principles. But there is no obvious connection. Loving liberty no more makes a person a libertarian than loving society makes one a socialist.

A peculiar tic I’ve often noticed—especially in young libertarians—is the presumption that a love of liberty is the sole province of libertarians. If pressed, they usually admit that, sure, other political persuasions can love liberty too. But because they believe that liberty is the highest political aim (and perhaps the chief end of man) they tend to treat liberty as if it were a principle only they cherished. That is where they differ from conservatives, who would say that liberty is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for human flourishing. (And if pressed, we conservatives usually admit that, sure, other political persuasions can love human flourishing too.)

Christian libertarians believe that a civil society must do as much as possible to encourage choices, and must do as little as possible to separate the choice from the consequence.

Myself and V&C podcast host, RJ Moeller, have blogged before about the saying, “Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell.” Christian conservatives and libertarians could agree on that. But Christian libertarians extend that principle to social issues as well.

While it’s a trivial point, I can’t help but notice that the claim above seems contradictory. If Christian libertarians believe they “must do as little as possible to separate the choice from the consequence” then they should oppose, not support, bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy laws are put in place for the sole purpose of “separating the choice from the consequence”: by filing the right paperwork, a capitalist can avoid the worst consequences of his bad choices. This is good and necessary for the advancement of capitalism. But bankruptcy protections should make hardcore libertarians cringe.

Christian libertarians believe that people should live wholesome, productive lives because they have a conviction to do so. They also believe that people should be able to choose not to live in such a way, and those people will suffer the consequences in their lives and before God.

The flaw in this thinking is the idea that the  people who are engaging in the illicit behavior are the primary ones or the only ones that suffer the consequence. But that is rarely the case. One of the reasons why libertarianism is popular among middle/upper income whites and not viewed as favorably by the poor and minorities is because the former often have resources that allow them to avoid the bad consequences of their own actions and of the actions of others.

Take, for example, the issue of drug use. If a middle-class college-educated married mother and corporate executive gets hooked on oxycotin what will be the result? She can take medical leave, go to rehab and get cleaned up, and when she gets out her life can carry on much the same as it did before. There may be some emotional anguish, embarrassment, and strain on the family. But it won’t be the end of her life and her children and community are not likely to suffer too much from her actions.

Now consider a working-class divorced mother and high school dropout who lives in a poor neighborhood and has no familial support structure. What happens if she get addicted to oxycotin? If she goes to rehab, she may lose not only lose her job, but she could also lose her home and her kids. When she gets cleaned up, her life is likely to be even worse than before. She will probably have to rely on government welfare and will be pushed further down the economic ladder. The consequences of her actions affect not only the woman, but her children, her community, and everyone who pays taxes.

In America, the impact of bad consequences often depends on how many resources a person or their family can muster to avoid them. This is true for communal consequences too. Imagine if a developer decided to tear down a neighboring house and build a liquor store or strip club next to the home of a Christan libertarian. If you have a difficult time picturing such a scenario it’s because it would be nearly impossible to do something like that in the white middle-class neighborhood where the typical libertarian lives. (Whatever their view on zoning laws in the abstract, I can’t help but suspect that most libertarians would favor them when it came to protecting their own neighborhood.)

Conservatives will say that there are negative externalities in a society if these aspects of social order are not enforced by government. Christian libertarians absolutely agree. But they believe that those negative externalities are the consequences of our own moral decay. They believe the answer isn’t in government action, enforced by violence and financed by plunder. But in the kingdom-building actions of the church, enforced by love and financed by self-sacrificial giving.

As I mentioned above, it’s easy to dismiss talk of “negative externalities” when you have the resources to avoid them. But this also shows why so few people embrace libertarianism, whether Christian or secular. The idea that society must live with negative externalities just because it is requirement to live consistently with a particular political philosophy strikes most people as absurd.

Even most libertarian sympathizers would not really follow the ideology to its conclusions. But I could be wrong, so let’s put it to the test. I call this “The Nudist Test”:

Roger is committed Christian, ardent libertarian, and unapologetic nudist. Since the laws about wearing clothes in public spaces impinges on his ability to do what he wants (i.e., be naked 24/7), he considers them to be a “threat to liberty.”

He respects the right of private businesses to enforce a “clothes-only” policy at their establishments, but he thinks that government agencies and state-supported functions (such as the DMV, elementary schools, etc.) should be clothing-optional. Also, since being naked doesn’t violate the non-aggression principle, he doesn’t understand why there are laws against public nudity.

My contention is that all true and consistent libertarians—including Christian libertarians—would agree with Roger that there should be no laws against public nudity. I also contend that very few people who call themselves libertarian would be willing to live by such a standard. While they might claim to be fine with it in principle, they would balk when they encountered a few dozen nudists on the subway or discovered their child’s elementary teacher wore nothing but a birthday suit to work. After a few such encounters, they might have second thoughts about coercing people to wear clothes.

But as I said, I may be wrong. I’d be interested in hearing from those Christian libertarians who would be fine with not forcing people to wear clothes in public about how they square allowing this behavior with their faith.

Finally, in her conclusion, Ms. Otto states:

Lest there be any doubt remaining, Christian libertarians have not only developed a consistent philosophy in which libertarianism and Christianity are fully compatible, but have a developed a philosophy in which their libertarianism is dependent upon their Christianity.

Although I think Ms. Otto made a valiant effort, I don’t think her version of Christian libertarianism is sufficiently developed or consistent. I also think it is extremely limiting and revisionist, since it leaves out the largest, most fully developed, and consistent members of the Christian libertarian movement: the theonomists.

Theologian Andrew Sandlin once described Christian libertarianism as the view that “mature individuals are permitted maximum freedom under God’s law.” This, rather than Ms. Otto’s formulation, has historically been the perspective of self-described “Christian libertarians” (as opposed to Christians who just happen to be libertarians, like Rep. Ron Paul).

As Rousas Rushdoony, the godfather of both theonomists and Christian libertarians, once wrote:

Few things are more commonly misunderstood than the nature and meaning of theocracy. It is commonly assumed to be a dictatorial rule by self-appointed men who claim to rule for God. In reality, theocracy in Biblical law is the closest thing to a radical libertarianism that can be had.

And as theonomist Bojidar Marinov claims,

In my libertarian activities in Bulgaria I often had to confront questions by secular libertarians about the connection between Christianity and libertarianism. My reply was that one can not be a libertarian without the true source of liberty. And the true source of liberty is Jesus Christ. Therefore I can not be a libertarian without Christ. I wrote about it in an earlier article, “Can I be a Libertarian Without Christ?”

I also showed in other articles that there is no true libertarianism without Christianity.

As a school of political thought, the theonomists have developed the most consistent and thoroughly integrated version of Christian libertarianism. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian libertarian should be able to explain why their version differs from the theonomists who, I can assure you, have thought about it longer, harder, and more systematically than almost anyone. Whatever you may think about them (and, to be honest, they scare me), their version of Christian libertarianism is as close to being a “developed a consistent philosophy in which libertarianism and Christianity are fully compatible” as anyone has ever devised.

Now I’m sure Ms. Otto finds the political views of the theonomists to be as repugnant as I do. And I’m in no way saying that to be a Christian libertarian requires one to be a theonomist. But the new class of Christian libertarians can’t simply read the old school CLs out of the movement. They were there long before these young whipper-snappers came along. And if you are going to write an article about “Four Things Christian Libertarians Believe” you should really make sure that your claims apply to one of largest and oldest groups of Christian libertarians in America, the theonomists.

  • RogerMcKinney

    “… I think it should be obvious to anyone familiar with Christian libertarianism why this is not a view that is widely held: The most infamous and renowned Christian libertarians have been Calvinists…”

    You need to bone up on your history. Calvin and most Calvinists throughout history have opposed liberty every step of the way. Calvin’s Geneva was close to a Stalinist police state. The Calvinists in the Dutch Republic opposed free markets and wanted the church to control the economy in the same way that Calvin had in Geneva. Fortunately for the world, the Erasmian protestants, later called Arminians, won the debate over the market.

    BTW, years ago I was doing research on the history of individualism and found an entry in a Catholic encyclopedia online that credited protestant soteriology with creating the concept.

    I would very much like to see your response to Hayek’s “Individualism: True and False.” He includes an interesting history of the term. Christian libertarians hold to what Hayek calls true individualism, as did Lord Action, Burke, Adam Smith, etc.

    “But what is the point of being a Christian libertarian when you are required to submit to all types of authority but unbelievers are not? Why is that not just garden-variety libertarianism?”

    You really can’t see the difference between God requiring something of believers and the state forcing people to do things. I don’t see why that is so difficult.

    How would Christian libertarians differ from atheist libertarians, of which there are quite a few? Atheist libertarians think homosexual marriage, promiscuity, drug use, drunkenness and many other acts are perfectly moral. Christian libertarians differ in their personal lifestyles, not in their politics.

    “Well, Paul’s command for slaves to submit to their masters certainly seems like a case of a church leader forcing servitude.”

    Seriously? You don’t see any difference between the church and the state at all? Let me help you out: people can leave a particular church if they don’t like it. If you disobey the state you go to jail! That’s a tiny difference, but some of us think it is important.

    Paul teaches church discipline, but church discipline amounts to nothing more than excluding someone from meeting with other church members. The state will kill you.

    “why are libertarians the intellectual descendants of the atheist John Stuart Mill rather than, say, Augustine, Calvin, or Wesley?”

    That is simply not true! Libertarians are the intellectual descendants of the Catholic scholars of the School of Salamanca. This is widely acknowledged by Hayek and many Austrian economists, even the atheists. Why do you ignore this historical fact?

    “Christian libertarians believe that a civil society must do as much as possible to encourage choices, and must do as little as possible to separate the choice from the consequence.”

    That’s a very dishonest characterization of Christian libertarians. Libertarianism is Biblical politics and economics. It matters not at all that some atheists find them to be practical and good ideas, too. Christian libertarians merely want to limit state coercion.

    Why have you never commented on the government of Israel that God created without an executive or legislative branch, police force or standing army? That would be a libertarian dream.

    No one can separate the consequences of sin from choosing it. It’s impossible. God has created humans in such a way that the consequences of sin are built in. No one needs the state to do more than its God-given job of enforcing laws protecting life, liberty and property.

    “If Christian libertarians believe they “must do as little as possible to separate the choice from the consequence” then they should oppose, not support, bankruptcy laws.”
    Yes, it is a trivial point and a dishonest one, too. No Christian libertarian wants to separate choice from consequences.

    “She will probably have to rely on government welfare and will be pushed further down the economic ladder. The consequences of her actions affect not only the woman, but her children, her community, and everyone who pays taxes.”

    The “working-class divorced mother and high school dropout who lives in a poor neighborhood and has no familial support structure has already made choices and suffers the consequences. If it weren’t for the welfare state that exists, no one but her children would suffer. The welfare state forces upon others the suffering of the woman’s poor choices.

    Without a welfare state, some good wealthy Christian couple would take in the woman’s children and protect them from their mother’s poor choices.
    You avoided responding to the issue of legal drugs in my previous post, but it’s a fact that criminalizing drugs has had very bad unintended consequences. It’s destroying Mexico as I write and bankrupting the federal government.
     
    The problem with conservatives is they blind themselves to the very bad unintended consequences of their idealism.

    “As I mentioned above, it’s easy to dismiss talk of “negative externalities” when you have the resources to avoid them.”

    I know a little about negative externalities because I teach economics. The problem with an obsession with negative externalities is that the proponents completely ignore the costs. Freedom has positive externalities. Wise people compare the benefits of reducing negative externalities with the costs to the positive externalities of limiting the benefits of freedom.

    But conservatives never do the calculations. They see only benefits, no costs.

    “I’d be interested in hearing from those Christian libertarians who would be fine with not forcing people to wear clothes in public about how they square allowing this behavior with their faith.”

    The solution is simple: get rid of public enterprises. Privatize education and get rid of the DMV. I couldn’t care less if nudists run crazy in Congress or the Capitol. Private businesses who didn’t like the nudity would refuse them service and the nudists would have to put some clothes on to live.

    “Anyone who calls themselves a Christian libertarian should be able to explain why their version differs from the theonomists who, I can assure you, have thought about it longer, harder, and more systematically than almost anyone.”

    Again, your grasp of history is severely lacking. No one thought more about Christian libertarianism than the Church, especially the scholars of Salamanca. You really ought to read the articles about them in the Journal of Markets and Morality.

    Although I appreciate what Ms. Otto wrote, I have made much stronger points for Christian libertarianism than she did, yet you tend to just ignore my posts, except for the occasional trivial point.
     

    • http://www.jordanballor.com/ Jordan Ballor

      Roger, I’m glad you are a part of the PowerBlog community, and I generally enjoy your insights. But can you really not see the fancifulness of the following?

      “You need to bone up on your history. Calvin and most Calvinists throughout history have opposed liberty every step of the way. Calvin’s Geneva was close to a Stalinist police state. The Calvinists in the Dutch Republic opposed free markets and wanted the church to control the economy in the same way that Calvin had in Geneva. Fortunately for the world, the Erasmian protestants, later called Arminians, won the debate over the market.”

      You begin this comment to Joe with this series of historical caricatures, reductionism, absurdities, and so on, and then complain that Joe  ignores your responses?!

      I’ll go this far with you: we all need to bone up on our history.

      • Roger McKinney

        Read Jonathan Israel’s “The Dutch Republic” for the history of Calvinism in that nation. That part wasn’t caricature. The part about Calvin’s Geneva was slightly exaggerated. But Calvin employed agents to sneak around at night and listen in on private conversations between husbands and wives and report anything suspicious. He controlled prices, wages, labor agreements and most parts of the economy in general very tightly. He even executed one heretic. It was very close to a police state. If you need chapter and verse I’ll dig up the books.

        I made quite a few points more important than that. Is that all you want to comment on?

        • http://www.jordanballor.com/ Jordan Ballor

          There are just so many canards about what Calvin did as he “controlled” Geneva that they are tiresome. I don’t deny many of the concrete examples of what would appear from our perspective five hundred years later to be quite problematic. “The ultimate in repression” does not seem like a helpful or accurate historical characterization.

          On the Servetus affair alone there are quite a number of relevant factors, and it is not clear to me at all that Calvin “executed one heretic” is a fair way to describe what happened. On that score, there’s plenty of relevant material. Here’s a good introduction: 
          http://www.calvin.edu/meeter/educational-resources/servetus-controversy.htmYou are right in that we have to consider the context, what was traditional, had been practiced up to that point, and so on.

          On the question of enforcement of religious observation and civil order, it seems clear to me that many reformers like Calvin and Bucer knew that true religion is a matter of the heart, but that they thought that hypocrisy was less destructive (both spiritually and socially, perhaps) than apostasy. Maybe they were wrong about that, but good historiography should at least try to come to grips with the self-understanding of those under examination.

          • RogerMcKinney

             ”The ultimate in repression” does not seem like a helpful or accurate historical characterization.”

            You’re right. I posted it in response to your comment “You begin this comment to Joe with this series of historical caricatures, reductionism, absurdities…” to show that other historians are worse in the characterization of Calvin’s Geneva.

            Notice that I didn’t mention the Servetus affair. I focus mainly on the control of the market that Calvin exercised and point out that he did not add to market control but merely practiced what was standard thought of the day, which is why he can’t be considered the father of any kind of change in market relations.  

            “Toleration and acceptance of doctrinal differences were simply not sixteenth-century concepts.” From the calvin.edu article.

            I’m not interested in judging Calvin by any standard, today’s or his day. Calvin, Luther and Zwengli were products of their times. They saw the need for a change in theology but would allow no other changes in society, especially in the market. That’s why they and later Calvinists opposed the changes that happened in the Dutch Republic that gave birth to capitalism.

            Calvinists of the Dutch Republic opposed religious freedom and market freedom. They did so because of Calvin and his model in Geneva. Whether you want to label Geneva as oppressive or not doesn’t matter.

            The Erasmian protestants (later called Arminians) had an unspoken agreement with the Calvinists: the Erasmians would win in the marketplace and allow greater freedom in exchange for the Calvinists restriction of religious freedom.

      • Roger McKinney

         ”John Calvin’s Geneva, however, represented the ultimate in repression.
        The city-state of Geneva, which became known as the Protestant Rome, was
        also, in effect, a police state…” from William Manchester’s  A World Lit Only by Fire, p. 190:

      • RogerMcKinney

        Here’s something I wrote for another publication years ago about Calvin. Most of it came from Graham’s “The Constructiver Revolutionary”:

        Readers will enjoy the irony in Weber and Tawney’s choice of Calvinism as the spiritual father of capitalism, when they realize that Calvinists, from John Calvin down through the 17th century, fought to preserve medieval economics and regulations with its low regard for property rights. Calvin had removed the stigma of charging interest for loans, but he insisted on the state’s obligation to regulate every aspect of financial markets as well as the prices, wages, etc., of all other markets. Calvin’s followers carried forward his emphasis on regulation. For example, Bucer, a disciple of Calvin and professor of divinity at Cambridge, tutored King Edward VI on economic matters. He encouraged the king to nationalize the textile industry, to force landowners to plow pastureland, and to fix the prices of merchants. He held merchants in low esteem, writing of them, “next to the sham priests, no class of men is more pestilential to the Commonwealth.”  

        Calvin’s Geneva emphasized order to the exclusion of freedom. Laws regulated what people could wear, eat, how they could entertain themselves and how late they could stay out. They controlled how servant girls could dress in order to maintain distinctions between social ranks.  Geneva fixed interest rates at 5% and penalized lenders for exceeding the limit by confiscating the principal and fining them. Eventually, the number of lawbreakers forced the city council to raise the limit to 6.67 per cent. Still, many of those with money to lend found the risks to great for a 6.67% return and preferred to keep their money idle.

        Geneva suffered from the general price inflation that hit Europe in the 16th century, and workers responded by demanding higher wages. In 1559, the Council passed and edict: “Here there was discussion of workers who are so expensive and proud, a strange thing, so that no one can be found who wants to work in the vineyards. Therefore it is ordered to make public edicts that no one may pay masons, hat-makers, nor other workers nor laborers more than six sous per day, and to women ten quarters; and when they are fed, just half that, at a penalty of sixty sous, both for the worker and the master.”

         The Geneva city council censored the output of the printing industry and prohibited masters and laborers from organizing, requiring that they submit to the judgment of the council members on matters of wages and labor disputes. The law guaranteed job security to journeyman printers until a piece of work was complete, fixed the number of hours that he could work an apprentice and determined the number and length of holidays. The council abolished copyrights for editions of the Bible, catechisms, prayers and psalms, making them common property after the first impression. Since religious publications were the most popular and profitable, making them common property prevented printers from making up their losses on other topics with new editions of religious materials. The Geneva city council established quality standards and repossessed the licenses of those who failed to meet council standards. 

        Most of the restrictions on commerce in Geneva didn’t originate with Calvin; many were ancient, but Calvin and the Consistory approved of them and expanded many. Calvin allowed no room for privacy, even in the home, for the council hired people to “play peeping tom to catch persons in private peccadilloes,”  and sent spies to parties in order to discover heresy.

  • RogerMcKinney

    Thanks for the intro to Bojidar Marinov. I hadn’t heard of him before. After reading the article you linked to, I find nothing objectionable. Maybe you could be more specific about what you dislike. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/housewar Matt Houseward

    I’m having a hard time responding because there seem to be multiple arguments going on at the same time.

    -The purely semantic discussion of what is a Libertarian and what is a Christian.  I.e. can you still call yourself a libertarian if you treat core principles as Biblically rooted values as opposed to hard-and-fast rules.
    -A discussion on the compatibility of said Libertarian principles with Biblical principles.
    -A discussion on specific policy differences.

    I’m glad you mentioned theonomy, however, because even though I don’t consider myself a theonomist, I find myself asking again and again, “Where does God’s Law provide for this?”, and “Where does God’s Word mandate that the state has this obligation?”, and “Where does God’s Word provide that these Christian obligations should be satisfied thru the state?”

    Where most find theonomy “scary” is their commonly held view that there should be criminal penalties for adultery and homosexuality.  But theonomists are the most “scary” precisely where they are the least libertarian.

    They are often accused of presuming the authority to enact a theocratic dictatorship, but if anyone presumes more authority than the scripture provides, it’s the so-called conservative who can justify state intervention into every facet of private life on the slightest pretext with very little scriptural support beyond the tacit scriptural admission that x is bad (and therefore should be criminalized) or y is good (and therefore should be subsidized).

    You mention drugs, which is a great illustration.  There is no provision in scripture for criminalizing drug use.  Even so, because scripture suggests that drug use is harmful and sinful (which I believe it is) conservatives feel compelled to enact laws which criminalize drug use and sale.  In this way, conservatives add to the Law what was not there previously.  Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the laws they created without scriptural support have failed, and have likely made matters far worse, still they press on, claiming that it’s God’s Will that they try and fail again and again to usher in the Kingdom (dispensationalism, anyone?). Never do they consider that perhaps substance abuse is a social problem that the church, as opposed to the state, is more equipped to deal with, which might be precisely why it was never included in the Law.  None of that matters because drugs are sin, therefore the state must use the sword.  That’s dogmatism that ought to make even a theonomist blush.

  • http://www.facebook.com/housewar Matt Houseward

    While my previous post awaits moderation, I read the link to Marinov’s article.  Marinov seems to disassociate himself from any theonomists who might use the state’s power to punish sodomy, so I have to ask, as RogerMcKinney asked, what do you find scary about Marinov, or are you referring to “other” theonomists whose views you find repugnant?

  • LIBIntOrg

    Thanks for the article. Libertarianism is strictly secular and the voluntarist proposals in public administration are not derived from any religion. In 1966 Libertarians agreed that no hyphenated Libertarianisms are sustained.

    For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues, please see http://www.Libertarian-International.org , the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization……

  • http://www.facebook.com/housewar Matt Houseward

    Did a little searching on Marinov and found another article where he suggested that, ultimately, Calvin’s Geneva was pretty much the right direction to take, reminding me why I’m not a theonomist.  But again, this view is “repugnant”, not because it’s too libertarian, but because it’s not libertarian enough.

  • http://twitter.com/jurisnaturalist Nathanael Snow

    God Judges corporately. Yes and no.  The corporate judgement we see is the earthly temporal sort of judgement which is in accord with God’s decrees.  He is fully justified in judging each individual within any corporate group, though he has, importantly, vowed not to judge corporately that group which includes a remnant of righteous.  Eternal judgement is certainly individualized.

    Some Christian libertarians see our submission to authority and social obligations as a sacrificial and subversive act of obedience which has supernatural ramifications.  Note that Paul’s admonitions were for the purpose of brining others into knowledge ond relationship with Christ.  Not for social rest, the common good, or any sort of consequentialist benefit.  Indeed, it is often through submission that others, those who seek to acquire or manipulate power, are revealed to be what they are, and negative consequences follow.  Thaat God be glorified is the motivation of obdedience.
    Again, the point of being a libertarian in this context is that one recognizes participation in subverting power-over structures.
    Jesus paid His taxes, and so do I, but I don’t expect them to do any good.  Those who questioned him over the Denarias were not asking about taxes, but power.  They wanted to know how Jesus was going to overthrow Rome if He were indeed the Messiah.  That He pointed to a subversive approach was both puzzling and unacceptable to these zealots.
    Smith leaves a lot of room for altruistic action in TMS, but not so much for sacrificial altruism.  The one perceives the long run benefit of altruistic action, the other is sacrificial.  A Christian Libertarian may engage in sacrificial action in worship, not in expectation of a reward, but in appreciation for having already received the reward that is Jesus Christ.  That is, regenerate souls can rationally act in sacrificial altruism because they have a changed nature.  They are no longer purely self-interested because their long run self interest has already reached a point of total satisfaction, or saturation.  Instead we seek Christ’s interest, or adopt His motives in action.  This is Piper’s Christian hedonism.
    Beyond motivating the public virtues Otto listed (which remind me of McClosky’s recent work) we can go further and employ freedom to give of ourselves to others, whcih has a transformative effect on others, instilling the private virtues.  What is peculiar to the Christian Libertarian piece here is the idea that both sets of ideas are passed on more effectively through voluntary mechanisms rather than through state enforcemnet of virtue.  Indeed, forced virtue is not virtuous at all.
    Your attempt at historicism is not necessary.  Libertarians are not the descendents of J.S. Mill, per se.  Mill had his own statist tendencies, and could just as easily be accepted by the odd fusionist.  Libertarians might claim no heritage but freedom itself, shaking off conservative tendencies to require an ideological ancestry.  The Ideological Aristocrats must demonstrate their family trees to justify their existence, but all of us are children of freedom, and all have the opportunity to become adopted by Christ.  
    Perhaps liberty is not your highest political aim, but without it you can not expect me to allow you to pursue whatever your highest political aim is.  What other political aim has this same beneficient quality?  Conservatives, you seem to be saying, believe other conditions are required for human flourishing, but which of these conditions lead to universal human flourishing for each according to their understanding of flourishing?  Liberty uniquely allows for conflicting perceptions of the good to be pursued by each.
    Joe’s comments about bankruptcy are correct.  Rather we ought to favor outright failure, and not rescue.  I think this is what Otto meant by bankruptcy though.  
    Your comments on drug use fail to see that the majority of the burden of prohibition falls on the lower classes.  The negative externalities of drug use are fewer than those of prohibition, and less regressive.
    I like the zoning question because it really pushes the issue.  A new Wal-Mart is being built 500 yards from my house, and  many of my neighbors are upset about it.  I’ve told them I don’t like it, but that the appropriate way to do something about it is to buy the land and do something else with it themselves.
    I’m bold enough to say the same should be true of a strip club or nudist colony.  Incurring the cost personally of out-competing such an enterprise for scarce resources requires one to put his money where his mouth is.  Employing zoning laws is cowardly in comparison.
    I think people reject libertarian principles for the same reason the Israelites asked for a king.  they want a law they can manipluate to their own advantage.  Though they might not always be on the winning team in the competition for wielding the billy-club, part of the fun is in the playing.  Especially when you can draft other people to do the actual fighting for you.
    Your nudist analogy presumes too many public spaces.  These tragedies of the commons are not a failure of morals, but a failure of property rights, as has been so well demonstrated in the literature.  Start with Coase.  Then we would pay Roger to wear his clothes.  Done.
    As far as squaring this with my faith, I don’t expect pagans to accept Christian morals.  Neither did Jesus.  He died to make it possible for anyone to adopt His peculiar ethic.  Sacrifice is required, we must carry he cross as well.  The world does not owe us anything.  We are the aliens here.  We are the Coasian party without the rights.  I’m giving the farm away here.  Call it the year of Jubilee.
    Ah, theonomists.  Hasn’t North’s defection been sufficient for rejecting this?  They basically adopt an eschatology which determines the ethic of dominion through power-over rather than power-under.  They fail to adopt Jesus’ demonstrated method of sacrifice toward transformation.  This is a failure of theology, not economics.  The antidote is Yoder/Hauerwas/Boyd.  

    • Roger McKinney

       Good post. Keep in mind that while the apostles commanded Christians to submit to the government, they never submitted when government commands violated the word of God. They all died horrible deaths with torture, not because they submitted, but because they did  not submit. The principle then is to submit to the state unless the state violates God’s laws. That much is pretty clear.

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