Why Can’t Catholics Vote Libertarian?

In an article published on Catholic Exchange, the author, Joe Fulwiler, makes some claims about libertarians and libertarianism that I find offensive, but that I also realize may be shared by many other Catholics.  In musing about a perfect “Catholic Party,” which he says would combine the pro-life aspects of the Republican party and the social justice and poverty relief programs of the Democrats, Fulwiler actually describes the Libertarian Party as the opposite of a Catholic Party.

Sadly, Fulwiler comes to this realization after stumbling through a few fallacies along the way.  The first time Fulwiler slips-up is when he makes assumptions of Republicans and Democrats.  He says, in a nutshell, that the Republican party is more pro-life, while the Democratic party does a better job when it comes to social justice.  While it is true that the Republican party is anti-abortion, anti-abortion ≠ pro-life.   He then says many Catholics vote Democrat for the party’s anti-poverty programs, as if these programs were moral, and as if they even worked.  A Catholic Party, the author concludes, would be both pro-life and would implement anti-poverty programs.

If the anti-poverty programs that the Democrats favored were good, as Fulwiler seems to believe, why then do Catholic church’s not extract the money of their parishioners at gunpoint?  Why don’t they force membership and participation from everyone within their reach, even non-Catholics?  It is obvious, to me at least, that this is wrong.  Why is it OK when the government does it, and then spends the extracted money on unjust wars and abortions?  Does anybody believe this is moral?

So many people and so many Catholics are guilty of this line of thinking.  They believe that the programs that the government institutes to help the poor are good.  But not only is the extraction of money by force immoral, but the programs don’t even work!  Additionally, the government actively prevents charities from helping people, even though the charity uses money that people give willingly (voluntary association), and their programs are more effective than government programs.

Fulwiler describes libertarianism as “a strongly individualistic creed that is highly compatible with an atomistic society of solitary units that have little claim on one another.” The only thing wrong with this description of libertarianism is it’s omission of the implications of such a society, which I will get to.  However, he then claims that the Catholic Church is the exact opposite of this creed.  In saying this, Fulwiler makes a very misleading and dangerous claim.

On the surface, libertarianism is seemingly a philosophy that focuses on individuals.  Why though, does it focus so much on individual action and choice?  From individual choice comes voluntary association, which is the cornerstone of a free society.  Why then is this claim that Fulwiler makes so dangerous and misleading?

Catholicism, like libertarianism, centers around individual choice.  Every part of Catholicism is voluntary association.  Adam and Eve chose to sin.  Abraham chose to obey.  Moses chose to obey.  Joseph chose to obey, and more importantly, Mary chose to obey.  Jesus chose to die for us.  Catholicism, put simply, is a choice for every individual to either submit to the will of God, or not.  The choice is ours to make.  And, as with libertarianism, we as individuals assume responsibility for our choices.

Think of the kinds of institutions that are built on voluntary association: churches, communities, businesses, charities, families, and friendships (to name a few).  So many good things in this world come from voluntary association, which in turn boils down to individuals and the choices they make.  A forced association can never be good, because by nature, the means of this association are immoral, regardless of the ends.

Fulwiler, along with many others, mistake libertarianism as a social philosophy: “what I have is mine” and “leave me alone” and so on.  However, libertarianism is not a social philosophy.  Libertarianism is a political philosophy.  Libertarianism, at its core, says that our natural rights, those rights given to us by our Creator, or that we have as a result of our humanity, can not and should not be violated by any other person or group of people, even if this group of people has large guns, writes laws, and calls itself “The State.”

Libertarianism does not seek to isolate anybody from society, as Fulwiler seems to believe.  If a person choose to isolate himself, he can.  But this is the beauty of a political philosophy that seeks to preserve the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: we can choose to associate.  We can choose to help the poor.  We can choose to see the world.  We can choose to start a family.  We can choose to worship God, gods, or nothing at all.  We can choose to make the world a better place through business, or through writing books, or music, or through the example that we set.

We cannot, however, choose to hurt other people without consequence.  We cannot steal another person’s property.  We cannot take another person’s life.  We cannot put people in prison for transporting raw milk.  We cannot put a terminally ill individual in prison for smoking marijuana to relieve pain.  We cannot force people to buy anything.  We cannot force business to hire certain people. We cannot molest people waiting to get on an airplane.  We cannot build and destroy foreign regimes at the expense of foreign lives.

These are some of the things that the state does illicitly, and this is what libertarianism, as a political philosophy, seeks to avoid.


6 thoughts on “Why Can’t Catholics Vote Libertarian?

  1. paleolib 01/11/2013 / 2:46 pm

    What anti-libertarian Catholics often do is just assume that the Democrats “anti-poverty” programs actually do something to combat poverty. At best they create a class of dependents whose dignity is ripped away; at worst they are a gross misallocation of resources extracted from productive laborers at gunpoint. The Church itself, on the other hand, is a testament to the idea that you don’t need a welfare bureaucracy to care for the poor.

    B16 is a European “Christian” Democrat, the Christian version of the social democrat. But Pope Leo XIII was influenced by classical liberalism, i.e. that evil “individualism.” He wrote that man exists prior to the state, that private property is the creation of an individual man’s labor, that charity is never a duty of human justice (that is, to be compelled by the state), and that the state exists to protect natural rights. So there are conflicting tendencies within Catholic thought, and there always have been on non-dogmatic issues.

    Unfortunately we are always going to have to deal with people who attempt to dogamtize these issues, who seek to end debates because pope x said so in some encyclical. Forget logic, reason, and evidence to the contrary. Infallibility by association is what some of these people seek.

  2. paleolib 01/11/2013 / 2:49 pm

    One more thing: Catholics can vote for any candidate that doesn’t advocate abortion, gay marriage or the elimination of school choice. Those are the big three non-negotiables.

  3. Randy England 01/31/2013 / 12:57 am

    Good points Alex. The statist Catholics like to proclaim their “solidarity” with the poor, by which they mean robbing from one man to give to another. I’ll put the catholicity of my “solidarity”–by which I mean voluntary charity by individuals and institutions–up against their violent aggression any day of the week. Randy England, http://www.freeisbeautiful.net

  4. Rob 06/09/2013 / 9:24 am

    1) God gave man Free Will. Why do some in the Catholic Church think they know better than God. The Catholic church has been the champion of personal freedom and conscience throughout time.
    2) Catholic religion is based on rational interpretation of God’s word, guidance through the Holy Spirit and our observation of God’s creation. Libertarianism has its philosophical basis in Catholic thought – that man’s life, reason and conscience allow him alone to decide what is best for him- to decide his own destiny.
    3) Nowhere in Catholicism is coercion used to compel a man to action. Judgement day is the only consequence of our morality, and even that consequence is completely our free will to choose.
    4) God did not ask us to eliminate poverty. He asked us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sad and visit the interned. None of this compels a catholic to vote for welfare. Never once did Christ ask I was lonely, did you vote for welfare? Our obligation to Christ is a personal obligation to Him and He asks for personal acts.
    5) I believe that people who vote for govt programs and promote social justice through govt coercion are evil and cowards. They would rather violate another persons free will than take personal action to help others. They authorize a govt to use police force and threat of jail to take property from others so that they can calm their personal guilt over not doing more for the poor. There is no more immoral position than this.
    5) I am Catholic and a pro-life libertarian. It is the only position that makes moral sense to me.

    • Alex Sullivan 06/09/2013 / 12:40 pm

      Thank you for your fantastic thoughts! I silently cheering while reading your points.

  5. Chubbs 07/08/2013 / 8:04 pm

    I’m both a Libertarian and confirmed Catholic…I wouldn’t advise reading a book by it’s cover. While I subscribe to many of the teachings I still am my own person with my own thoughts.

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