Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christian Libertarianism

Ron Paul presents himself as a Christian libertarian, and this seems paradoxical to many Americans. To most strong believers, Christianity seems to imply using the government to accomplish Christian aims: feed the hungry, protect the weak, punish immorality, and so on. Yet Jesus and his early followers were no great admirers of government. To them the Roman state was so distant as to make little impression at all, beyond the depredations of tax collectors. When the state did start taking an interest in Christians, it was to feed them to lions for refusing to honor the state religion.

So I don't think there is anything inherently absurd about Christian libertarianism; you have only to take the commandments of the faith as applying to us as individuals rather than as citizens. Jesus assumed, though, that the state was under the control of distant Romans, and therefore could never be Christian. What if Christians did control the government? Which, in the U.S., they do. Does it still make sense to assume that the system is inherently too wicked to ever accomplish good?

Ron Paul thinks so. Sometimes when I ponder things like the vast size of our secret, shadow government, and the routine injustice of our courts, I tend to agree; a system can grow so large and self-involved as to largely escape control from anyone outside it. And yet overall, I think, the governments of the post World War II period have made huge progress in improving human life, and so I always end up setting aside those objections.

Which brings me to this ludicrous essay by Norman Horn of Libertarian Christians. As I said, I see no inherent contradiction between Christianity and distrust of government, and I like Ron Paul's insistence that making war to spread democracy is not what Jesus had in mind. But that isn't enough for Horn, who has to derive all of the usual libertarian crap about the monetarism and the Federal Reserve from the Bible:
Libertarians talk a lot about economics, and rightfully so. Money is central to a healthy economy. Christians are also concerned about money; in fact God talks frequently about money in the Bible. God’s warning against unjust “weights and measures” in Leviticus 19 is a warning not to tamper with the market ecosystem of money and trade. Rep. Paul acknowledges the Bible’s concern for honest money as well in End the Fed : “The Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act… It is dishonesty in money that has been a major source of evil throughout history.” If the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as 1 Timothy 6:10 says, how much more seriously ought we to take how our society views the control over the supply of money? If it is true, as many libertarians contend, that the Federal Reserve is the primary cause of the economic crisis we have today, then the only solution is to restore honest, sound commodity money, free from political machinations and special interests.
Oh, come on. The fetishization of gold and silver is one of libertarianism's stupidest obsessions, and it points directly toward their secret desire: to live without depending on anyone else for anything. In their dreams, gold is "real" money with real value, not dependent on the whims of bankers, allowing people to trade with each other in a way that ignores the rest of the planet. But we all depend on each other, in a million ways. Our wealth comes from the web of economic ties in which we are enmeshed, and the gold standard would only make us poorer, not more independent.

Contemporary American libertarianism is rooted, it seems to me, in contempt for most of humanity. All the libertarians I know have a strong misanthropic strain, and they seem to want personal independence because they can't stand the smell of other humans. It is here, not in the theory of government, that libertarianism and Christianity collide. You can be a Christian and want more freedom, a smaller government, fewer wars, and less policing. But you cannot be a Christian while hating humanity. Love thy neighbor as thyself, Jesus said. Show me a libertarian more interested in love than in stockpiling gold, and I will believe in Christian libertarianism.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

David Atkins thinks there is a reason that hard-core libertarianism often walks hand in hand with racism and religious fervor. If you know any history, you know the most common (only?) result of limited government is feudalism and strong local overlords, but a racist person will say of some, "those were Africans," or, "those people were not animated by the Christian faith to do good." Basically, Christianity and the superiority of the white man will keep libertarianism from collapsing into anarchy.