Apologetics, Philosophy, Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Politics

This is a Hard Teaching: Catholic Social Doctrine vs. the Austrian School

this-is-a-hard-teaching-photoFollowing our Lord Jesus’s Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of St. John, many disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”[1] The reluctance to believe the teaching that, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed”[2] is too much for those who doubt the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to the Sacred Page, those with little faith turned and walked away from Christ after this difficult, but necessary teaching of the path to eternal life. Simon Peter, however, empowered by the gift of faith appropriately submitted to this divinely revealed truth, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life: and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”[3]

The Eucharistic teachings of the Catholic faith are often a stumbling block for those who are outside of the salvific ark of the Church. It was difficult for people to accept in the days of our Lord, and it is difficult for many still today. But instead of launching into a defense of the Eucharist as a true gift containing the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, I would like to pivot towards something that has become a stumbling block for not only those outside of the Church, but those who are presently in the ark traversing the storm of modernity. No Catholic in good standing would in their right mind deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but there are many who seem to be implicitly denying another vitally important teaching of the Church – the Great Commission.

Before ascending into heaven our King tells us this,

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[4]

The Great Commission is the divinely instituted duty of the Church Militant to baptize the nations in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Given the importance of the assignment, isn’t it unreasonable to claim, as I have above, that many practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church, would outright deny the relevance of the Great Commission? Indeed, there are many who do so implicitly when they incorrectly interpret the Gospel undertaking as a pursuit of only evangelizing individuals, seeking to convert only singular persons into the faith rather than entire neighborhoods, communities, cities, states, and nations. The purpose of this article, then, is to confront the errors of Murray Rothbard and the influx of Rothbardian libertarianism into the Church, which ultimately subordinates the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the teachings of the Austrian School of Economics.

In order to properly juxtapose the social doctrines of the Church in light of the Great Commission to those of the Austrian school, a proper understanding of Church teaching is required.

These passages quoted at length from the Scriptures, Tradition, and Magisterium establish the manner in which the Church proclaims the truths necessary for the maintenance of the social, civil, and cultural order so that mankind may flourish and the common good be upheld:

Matthew 22:15-22, “Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man: for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.’ And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”

Matthew 28:16-20, ““Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Romans 13:1-7, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

All Authority Comes from God

  1. We have learned that certain teachings are being spread among the common people in writings which attack the trust and submission due to princes; the torches of treason are being lit everywhere. Care must be taken lest the people, being deceived, are led away from the straight path. May all recall, according to the admonition of the Apostle, that ‘there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation.’ (Rom. 13:1-2) Therefore both divine and human laws cry out against those who strive by treason and sedition to drive the people from confidence in their princes and force them from their government.[5]

Promotion of False Liberty

  1. These beautiful examples of the unchanging subjection to the princes necessarily proceeded from the most holy precepts of the Christian religion. They condemn the detestable insolence and improbity of those who, consumed with the unbridled lust for freedom, are entirely devoted to impairing and destroying all rights of dominion while bringing servitude to the people under the slogan of liberty. Here surely belong the infamous and wild plans of the Waldensians, the Beghards, the Wycliffites and other such sons of belial, who were the sores and disgrace of the human race; they often received a richly deserved anathema from the Holy See. For no other reason do experienced deceivers devote their efforts except so that they, along with Luther, might joyfully deem themselves ‘free of all.’ To attain this end more easily and quickly, they undertake with audacity any infamous plan whatever.[6]

Concord Between Church and State

  1. Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the State, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty.[7]


  1. The State, as being the origin and source of all rights, is endowed with a certain right not circumscribed by any limits – *Condemned
  1. The teaching of the Catholic Church is hostile to the well being and interests of society. – *Condemned
  1. The civil government, even when in the hands of an infidel sovereign, has a right to an indirect negative power over religious affairs. It therefore possesses not only the right called that of exsequatur, but also that of appeal, called appellatio ab abusu… – *Condemned
  1. In the case of conflicting laws enacted by the two powers, the civil law prevails. – *Condemned
  1. The best theory of civil society requires that popular schools open to children of every class of the people, and, generally, all public institutes intended for instruction in the letters and philosophical sciences and for carrying on the education of youth, should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, control and interference, and should be fully subjected to the civil and political power at the pleasure of the rulers, and according to the standard of the prevalent opinions of the age. – *Condemned
  1. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church. – *Condemned

Authority from God

  1. Indeed, very many men of more recent times, walking in the footsteps of those who in a former age assumed to themselves the name of philosophers, say that all power comes from the people; so that those who exercise it in the State do so not as their own, but as delegated to them by the people, and that, by this rule, it can be revoked by the will of the very people by whom it was delegated. But from these, Catholics dissent, who affirm that the right to rule is from God, as from a natural and necessary principle.[9]

God the Origin of Political Power

  1. But as regards political power, the Church rightly teaches that it comes from God, for it finds this clearly testified in the Sacred Scriptures and in the monuments of antiquity; besides, no other doctrine can be conceived which is more agreeable to reason, or more in accord with the safety of both princes and peoples.[10]

On the Christian Constitution of States

  1. And yet a hackneyed reproach of the old date is leveled against her, that the Church is opposed to the rightful aims of the civil government, and is wholly unable to afford help in spreading that welfare and progress which justly and naturally are sought after by every well-regulated State. From the very beginning Christians were harassed by slanderous accusations of this nature, and on that account were held up to hatred and execration, for being (so they were called) enemies of the Empire. The Christian religion was moreover commonly charged with being the cause of the calamities that so frequently befell the State, whereas, in very truth, just punishment was being awarded to guilty nations by an avenging God. This odious calumny, with most valid reason, nerved the genius and sharpened the pen of St. Augustine, who, notably in his treatise, The City of God, set forth in so bright a light the worth of Christian wisdom in its relation to the public wealth that he seems not merely to have pleaded the cause of the Christians of his day, but to have refuted for all future times impeachments so grossly contrary to the truth. The wicked proneness, however, to levy like charges and accusations has not been lulled to rest. Many, indeed, are they who have tried to work out a plan of civil society based on doctrines other than those approved by the Catholic Church. Nay, in these latter days a novel conception of law has begun here and there to gain increase and influence, the outcome, as it is maintained, of an age arrived at full stature, and the result of progressive liberty…[11]
  1. It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence, it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life – be it family, or civil – with his fellow men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But, as no society can hold together unless some one be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every body politic must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its Author. Hence, it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything, without exception, must be subject to Him, and must serve him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern holds it from one sole and single source, namely, God, the sovereign Ruler of all. “There is no power but from God.”[12]
  1. As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice – not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion – it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, it is a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, would hold in honor the holy name of God, and in one of their chief duties must be to favor religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety.[13]

When interpreting these passages provided by Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical, Fr. E. Cahill S.J., says,

“(a) Public Recognition of God – The State (viz., the governing authorities of the State), is bound in its public and official capacity to acknowledge God as the supreme Lord and Creator and to offer to Him due worship and Honor.

The reason is that the duty of religion is founded upon man’s nature, and attached to all his activities. Hence, it cannot be lawfully excluded from man’s civil life. This reason is confirmed by the fact that the State is a moral person formed by the natural law…

Hence, God should be formally acknowledged in the written laws and constitutions of the State as the sovereign Lord and Master of all.”[14]

Finally, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II, concerning matters of economics,

  1. The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism.’ She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of ‘capitalism,’ individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for ‘there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.’ Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.[15]

These passages have been quoted at length for the express purposes to elucidate the fact that the Catholic Church has authoritatively espoused views concerning the social order that manifestly run contrary to the modernist dogmas of libertarianism generally, and specifically Rothbardian libertarianism espoused by the Austrian school. There are many more passages that can be highlighted, for indeed to do so would require nothing more than reading the Encyclicals referenced in their entirety. These samples provide ample evidence against the libertarian persuasion. This is a vitally important issue because there are a number of influential Catholics advocating on behalf of the Austrian school, and are therefore trusted by many others in the Church to be trustworthy sources of guidance on matters of the social order, the nature of government, the common good, economics, and the political economy. Moreover, the teachings professed by these Catholics are taken from men who deliberately seek to undermine the influence of the Church upon the social order in the name of a godless liberalism, to which the Church has also condemned as an erroneous political philosophy. Liberalism of every stripe – classical, progressive, or conservative – is incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It is not possible to consider, by any reasonable mind, that what is provided above does not present a deep conflict between the social doctrines of the Catholic Church and that of the “church” of Mises & Rothbard. There is no amount of “proof texting” from the corpus of St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas that will amount to a denial of these official doctrines of the Church.

First and foremost, the authority to rule through the proper chains of government is derived from God, not the will or consent of the people. This is true by revelation and reason. Additionally, there is no secular will of the people that can amount to a negation of the hierarchal nature, the necessity of government or the state, to protect and provide for the common good of any given society. Second, human nature is communal in its very structure; therefore a communitarian approach to organizing the social and cultural order is of the utmost importance for the flourishing of the human person in the context of the civil society. Third, the human person cannot be reduced to a mere atomized individual in possession of rights that bear no burden of communal duties. To love your neighbor as Christ has commanded requires the imposition of duties upon personal actors found within the context of the communally grounded civil society. Fourth, although not referenced above, the Church recognizes the indissoluble nature of the family, the first community, for the development of persons who will carry on the heritage of the true faith, and a morally sound culture. Fifth, the just distribution of goods and resources cannot abrogate the divine and natural law so as to promote an economy guided by the “market alone.” The market is not a demigod people find themselves participating in humble adoration as riches are bequeathed out of its mechanistic functioning. The “market” is formed and functions as a derivative of the moral foundations recognized by a given culture. And as we have read above, the culture, protected by the divinely ordained civil authorities, have a duty to recognize the moral promulgations of the one true religion, that is, the Roman Catholic Church and her Catholic faith.

Let us now consider some of the teachings of the Austrian school, so there can be no doubt that those proclaiming to be Catholic libertarians, and promote the philosophies of the Misesian/Rothbardian persuasion, are in grave error. And to produce such a demonstration, let’s focus on the Rothbardian presuppositions of the incoherent philosophy of anarcho-capitalism, which is a brand of capitalism that is rejected by the Catechism of the Catholic Church quoted above.

Murray Rothbard begins his most famous work, Man, Economy, and State, by describing the basic tendencies of human actors. He says (his emphasis),

“The distinctive and crucial feature in the study of man is the concept of action. Human action is defined simply as purposeful behavior. It is therefore sharply distinguishable from those observed movements which, from the point of view of man, are not purposeful. These include all the observed movements of inorganic matter and those types of human behavior that are purely reflex, that are simply involuntary responses to certain stimuli. Human action, on the other hand, can be meaningfully interpreted by other men, for it is governed by a certain purpose that the actor has in view. The purpose of a man’s act is his end; the desire to achieve this end is the man’s motive for instituting the action.”[16]

He continues,

“All human beings act by virtue of their existence and their nature as human beings. We could not conceive of human beings who do not act purposefully, who have no ends in view that they desire and attempt to attain. Things that did not act, that did not behave purposefully, would no longer be classified as human.

It is this fundamental truth – this axiom of human action – that forms the key to our study. The entire realm of praxeology and its best-developed subdivisions, economics, is based on an analysis of the necessary logical implications of this concept. The fact that men act by virtue of their being human is indisputable and incontrovertible. To assume the contrary would e an absurdity. The contrary – the absence of motivated behavior – would apply only to plants and inorganic matter.”[17]

This seems straightforward enough. It is indeed the case that men act, and that they act for specific purposes with an end in mind. It may be worth noting that Rothbard being an agnostic or an atheist (both of which result in the denial of God’s existence which is known through the effects of creation), cannot provide adequate metaphysical or epistemological justification for this starting point into the realm of economic thought. Given his agnosticism/atheism, the Rothbardian attachment to purposeful action utilizing various means for a specific end would necessitate an imminent teleological understanding of natural philosophy, which would require a specifically Catholic worldview to provide the proper foundation. On the Rothbardian worldview, he cannot provide adequate justification for any objectively identifiable purpose behind any action. He is simply creating an axiom to give his economic proclivities a starting point, and this starting point is ultimately arbitrary.

The arbitrary nature of his philosophy can be more clearly seen in the following passage,

“The first truth to be discovered about human action is that it can be undertaken only by individual ‘actors.’ Only individuals have ends and can act to attain them. There are no such things as ends or actions by ‘groups,’ ‘collectives,’ or ‘States,’ which do not take place as actions by various specific individuals. ‘Societies’ or ‘groups’ have no independent existence aside from the actions of their individual members. Thus, to say that ‘governments’ act is merely a metaphor; actually, certain individuals are in a certain relationship with other individuals and act in a way that they and the other individuals recognize as ‘governmental.’ The metaphor must not be taken to mean that the collective institution itself has any reality apart from the acts of various individuals. Similarly, an individual may contract to act as an agent in representing another individual or on behalf of his family. Still, only individuals can desire and act. The existence of an institution such as government becomes meaningful only through influencing the actions of those individuals who are and those who are not considered as members.”[18]

There is a footnote associated with this paragraph, stating,

“To say that only individuals act is not to deny that they are influenced in their desires and actions by the acts of other individuals, who might be fellow members of various societies or groups. We do not at all assume, as some critics of economics have charged, that individuals are ‘atoms’ isolated from one another.”[19]

These paragraphs presuppose a very specific understanding of the natural order and the anthropology of the human person. And while Rothbard may reject the idea that individuals are “atoms” isolated from one another, that is precisely what such a reduction of the communal order amounts to on his worldview. The metaphysical presupposition embedded in this reduction of society to mere individual actors “cooperating” within various contexts is called nominalism. Nominalism can be expressed in various ways. It can be used to deny the reality of universals; it can be used to deny any objective existence of mathematical entities such as numbers; it can be used to deny formal and final causal features in nature; and when employed in the arena of economics, or social and political philosophy, it can be used to deny the reality of things such as communities, society, the government, or the state. And what Rothbard is presenting here is nominalism applied to the communal reality we find ourselves living. This philosophical view is associated with the position that terms such as “community,” “society,” “government,” or “the state” are products of only the human mind, and are useful to describe various features of human interaction, but they do not exist in any real way external to the mind. To the contrary of Rothbard’s assertion in the footnote, he has most definitely espoused a metaphysical view of reality that reduces the human person to individually atomized entities because he denies the hierarchal structure of the communal order.

It is important to also recognize that this commitment to metaphysical communal nominalism (to give this view a name), presupposes a kind of Humean causal theory postulating a natural order that has no formal or final causes. Indeed, even the leftover material and efficient causes of the natural order are not necessary causal links, but are disjointed patterns impressed upon the blank-slate of the human mind. So understood, there is no such thing as knowledge, outside the probabilistic suggestion of future contingents.

It should be fairly obvious at this juncture, that these Rothbardian philosophical presuppositions run contrary to what the Catholic Church has stated to be her official position concerning the social order. Rather than the individual being an atomized actor existing within a structure that has no existence in reality because all action has been nominally reduced to the material and efficient causes of the subjective human mind, the Church dogmatically teaches a metaphysically structured existent upon which human nature is naturally inclined toward the formulation of society and the God-ordained institution of government occupied by appointed ruling authorities acting for a recognizable common good.

These two positions could not be more fundamentally different.

The highly problematic nominalist presuppositions of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism are more readily detected in his analysis of a purely market provided defense service. Rothbard says,

“It is all the more curious, incidentally, that while laissez-faireists should by the logic of their position, be ardent believers in a single, unified world government, so that no one will live in a state of ‘anarchy’ in relation to anyone else, they almost never are. And once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as being in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy,’ why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the State? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighborhood? Each Block? Each house? Each person? But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society, where defense is supplied along with all other services by the free market and where the invasive State has ceased to exist.”[20]

This is where we are able to see the crack in the Rothbardian foundation, and when enough pressure is placed on a faulty foundation, the philosophically constructed fortress comes tumbling to the ground. Notice that Rothbard associates the free society within the context of each individual person seceding from the State. This is a logical progression starting with the denial of a world government needed to prevent anarchy among the nations, which ends in the purely free state of affairs when each person is liberated from any outside force. The problem is that Rothbard hasn’t established a “free society” of liberated persons, because according to him, there is no such thing as a “society” and so there cannot be anything external from the mind that connotes a “free society.” Rothbard has collapsed the “free society” into the atomized individual who has successfully seceded from all governing authorities, a position that he expressly denies he is doing in the footnote referenced above. This is the first of many contradictions that are found in Rothbard’s political and economic philosophy when any level of critical scrutiny is applied to his views.

There is much to contend with in the first chapter of Power and Market, so let’s focus on Rothbard’s attempt to explain how a purely market system working in the context of anarchy will adequately provide for the defense of private property.

Rothbard argues that the market will suitably provide for the defense services necessary to protect the private property of individuals existing within a purely voluntary society (don’t forget that the “society” doesn’t actually exist on Rothbard’s presuppositions). He says, “Let us, then, examine in a little more detail what a free-market defense system might look like. It is, we must realize, impossible to blueprint the exact institutional conditions of any market in advance,” and he continues with the following example to weakly support his inability to provide an adequate theory, “just as it would have been impossible 50 years ago to predict the exact structure of the television industry today.”[21] There are many things that are problematic with this statement, one being that military and policing institutions have existed for thousands of years so one would think he should be able to theorize with a bit more confidence, rather than slinking back to the previously underdeveloped television market to hide his guesswork.

Rothbard then examines how justice would be dispensed with competing justice systems and policing institutions (emphasis added),

“Clearly, Smith will file charges against Jones and institute suit or trial proceedings in the Y court system. Jones is invited to defend himself against the charges, although there can be no subpoena power, since any sort of force used against a man not yet convicted of a crime is itself an invasive and criminal act that could not be consonant with the free society we have been postulating. If Jones is declared innocent, or if he is declared guilty and consents to the finding, then there is no problem on this level, and the Y courts then institute suitable measures of punishment.”[22]

Consider the argument being put forth; Jones could break into Smith’s house, steal his T.V., Smith could have the criminal activity tape recorded, the private police force that Smith employs would show up to Jone’s house (assuming they have permission to enter his private property), inform him that he is on tape violating the property rights of Smith and is invited to court to defend himself. And after this information is passed to Jones he is firmly within his right to say, “Sorry, that’s not me. Now please get off of my property.” If there can be no force to even subpoena a man under probable cause, what use is a police institution in the first place? Moreover, if Jones decides to show up to court, and if he is found guilty, he must consent to the verdict. After the gavel falls and he is declared unquestionably guilty Jones could stand up and say, “That was entertaining. I do not consent to this hearing. I secede from this proceeding. Now I am going to go back to my house and eat some chicken wings.” Is it even reasonable to think that a person actually guilty of committing a crime will simply say, “Looks like you got me Your Honor,” when according to Rothbard, said individual has the unassailable right to secede from the institutions attempting to bring him to justice? These are preposterous assumptions being guided by an inherently flawed foundation of metaphysical communal nominalism. If one has reduced the purely free society to the subjective content of the human mind, and said society exists only based upon voluntary predication of specific terminology, as Rothbard clearly has, then don’t be surprised when this version of reality reduces itself to an abject level of absurdity.

In addition to the already unworkable position of private police and private justice systems acting for private individuals based purely on a voluntary society, let’s assume appeals to court rulings will occur even though nobody has to consent to a guilty verdict in the first place. Rothbard argues (emphasis added),

“The Appeals Court decision can then be taken by the society as binding. Indeed, in the basic legal code of the free society, there probably would be enshrined some such clause as that the decision of any two courts will be considered binding, i.e., will be the point at which the court will be able to take action against the party adjudged guilty.”[23]

Rothbard continues in this footnote,

“The Law Code of the purely free society would simply enshrine the libertarian axiom: prohibition of any violence against the person or property of another (except in defense of someone’s person or property)…the task of this Code would be to spell out the implications of this axiom…The Code would then be applied to specific cases by the free-market judges, who would all pledge themselves to follow it.”[24]

This is fascinating. Notice how Rothbard seems to recognize that a purely anarcho-capitalist society will not work, so he slightly recants and smuggles in a common law code preserving the libertarian axiom of non-aggression that the entire society would have to adhere so that order may be maintained; that is, a social contract is enshrined and forced upon the very people that may not consent to the findings of the privately instituted appeals process of the purely free and voluntary society. This sounds eerily like the same institutions and state structure ancaps constantly argue against because, according to them, the inherent nature of such a compact is coercive, arbitrary, and violent. The concept of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is a thinly veiled reproduction of the Lockean social contract to which he previously argued against. The fact that there is a “socially” agreed upon two limit appeals system that will be abided by in order to initiate force against a non-consenting “convicted” criminal demonstrates, once again, the contradictory nature of the Rothbardian school of political thought. The lack of coherence is supplemented by the arbitrarily assumed notion that the judges will obey an oath that is supposedly binding when at any time, if the society is truly free according to Rothbard, they can dissent and secede. The oath is nothing more than political power masquerading as a voluntary contract. Moreover, how can we be sure that such an oath is in the best interests of the paying customers these judges are supposed to be serving in the first place? If the suggestion is that they ought to act as if they are a non-interested, third party arbiter of justice, then what we have is another restatement of the very problem ancaps are seeking to avoid as intrinsically evil, violent, coercive, etc. These positions further expose the internal incoherence of Rothbard’s system.

The implication of a reestablished state is actually recognized by none other than Rothbard,

“It is true that there can be no absolute guarantee that a purely market society would not fall prey to organized criminality. But this concept is far more workable than the truly Utopian idea of a strictly limited government, an idea that has never worked historically…Finally, the worst that could possibly happen would be for the State to be reestablished. And since the State is what we have now, any experimentation with a stateless society would have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”[25]

The argumentative evidence provided by Rothbard himself is all we need to conclude that anarcho-capitalism is nothing more than a Utopian pipe-dream built upon faulty presuppositions that cannot even be justified by Rothbard’s own metaphysical worldview. It gets even worse for the ancap, because the metaphysics of communal nominalism requires the tyranny of subjective governmental will. A consequence of this view is that there is no objectively discernable rule of law in the natural order because the civil society has been placed upon the disjointed material and efficient causation of the subjective definitions of human whim. If there is going to be any possibility for justice or an ordered liberty, it must come from a Leviathan operating from the perspective of a Zarathustrian will to power. Contrary to the repeated assertions of the Rothbardian mantras, anarchy is a form of tyranny.

I began this examination motivated to demonstrate the fact that the official social doctrines of the Catholic Church are not compatible with contemporary modernist libertarianism generally, and the Rothbardian system of anarcho-capitalism promoted by the Austrian school specifically. I maintain that the evidence is overwhelming against any Catholic looking to reconcile these two positions. If the Catholic claiming to be a libertarian is going to reduce the libertarian position to that of locality in governing and economic interaction, then all you have done is conveniently re-labeled subsidiarity. Changing a label is not sufficient for the reconciliation of these two understandings not only of the civil society, but the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical foundation they are resting upon.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Great Commission have important political implications. These implications, outlined by the references above, put the Catholic libertarian in the position to choose this day who they will serve – The Church of Jesus Christ or the “church” of Mises and Rothbard.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] John 6:60

[2] John 6:53-55

[3] John 6:68, 69

[4] Matthew 28:16-20

[5] On Liberalism, Pope Gregory XVI

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] What follows are taken from Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors

[9] On Government Authority, Pope Leo XIII

[10] Ibid

[11] On the Christian Constitution of States, Pope Leo XIII

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] The Framework of a Christian State, Pg. 466

[15] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pg. 642

[16] Man, Economy, and State, with Power and Market, Scholars 2nd ed., Pg. 1

[17] Ibid, Pg. 2

[18] Ibid, Pg. 3

[19] Ibid, Pg. 3

[20] Power and Market, Pg. 1051

[21] Ibid, Pg. 1051

[22] Ibid, Pg. 1052

[23] Ibid, Pg. 1053

[24] Ibid, Pg. 1053

[25] Ibid, Pg. 1055


11 thoughts on “This is a Hard Teaching: Catholic Social Doctrine vs. the Austrian School

  1. Good analysis. I don’t take Rothbard as the end-all of the Austrian School, but you do well in pointing out that Rothbard’s treatment of a later-generation of Austrians pursuing a “constitution of liberty” is faulty on a variety of points. Some of the faults are actually quite damning of the project he seemed to have envisioned.


  2. Pingback: Anarcho-Capitalism & Moral Subjectivism | The Socratic Catholic

  3. Pingback: Catholic Social Doctrine & False Libertarian Narratives | The Socratic Catholic

  4. Pingback: Catholic Social Doctrine vs. The Austrian School | The Socratic Catholic

  5. Conquistador says:

    Hm…. I bet you rightfully so would hate if someone would constantly say that Catholics are cannibals and keep on saying that even after you explain to him why we ain’t cannibals but you seem to be OK with strawmaning this with individual atomization even though they all deny it AND also deny homo economicus …
    Libertarianism is very broad and putting us all in one basket really shows how much study you put into this. I give myself as an example : I’m an ancap catholic and hold certain beliefs about history and necessity of violence in society that if other ancaps would hear would straight up call me a religious fanatic theocrat ( and they might be right to some extent xD ) .
    Just because I believe that we should abandon the current ABSOLUTE CRAP system that we have and replace with Common Law and actual private property ( not fiat property aka priv prop granted by the state which they can confiscate at any time – > see Merkel taking houses from germans to give to refugees )
    Have you read Hans Hermann Hoppe ? I really agree that for a libertarian society to function we cannot allow degenaracy other parasitic behaviours loose, there needs to be ORDER. And this where it gets triggering to some libertarians. Because I really believe in order and the state is absolutely incapable of mantaining such an order. Some libertarians see democracy as an improvement, I see it as a stupid idea and a plague. Some people see religion and ” collectivism ” as a farce while I say NO and the only way we can have nice tight communities is if we get the state OUT, literally OUT of our lives. And I’m saying that as someone from a post communist country whose community WAS UTTERLY DESTROYED by communism and the country itself is still being destroyed by the state . You need to be in a very priveleged positions to criticize private property …. you will never hear africans or chinese or people from ex communist countries do that.
    And by capitalism I mean just that : free markets, free trade, freedom of association and disassociation and private property rights.
    If the state is abolished today most corporations would go bankrupt tomorrow because they are in bed with the state and take the time to look at all the subsidies, all those disgusting bailouts they get and other legal tricks they use, it’s disgusting and no one is advocating for that as far as libertarianism is concered. Really the only way you can ” cheat ” is through state power because if you steal directly some people might ” cut your arm off ” but if the almighty states is by your side …. worry not .
    I don’t want to sound rude but this essay has a yankee tone to it ( I know you are catholic ) which would definitely impress Protagoras if you know what I mean ….
    Also you say that some things which Rothbard presented are incompatible with Catholic Social teaching or it’s metaphysical pressupositions are bad. Don’t get me wrong, I hate nomialism but I’m not gonna go full Hegel either. I do believe that we are born in a social structure and there is group feeling and I hate libertarians who ( in their philosophical illiteracy ) bring the subjective value theory of PRICES into other stuff which is ridiculous . I really don’t see how the state ACTS. I mean it’s just those sick megalomaniac politicians with corrupt businessmen playing their mad power games ( I wish they read Plato that this doesn’t make them free at all but politicians….that says it all ESPECIALLY in a democratic era where you have to be the biggest asshole to get to the top ) .
    As a side note if you are worried so much about consumerism then you should actually read Mises and other austrian economists and come to the conclution that it’s theft, nothing more or less. It’s pure theft from the poor to the rich and I don’t there is any debating here that individuals prefer money that rises up in value rather than fall and we had the Gold Standard which was very good and international and I propose a return to that. Consumerism is a result of inflation, pure and simple . You HAVE TO buy it now because in the future it will be more expensive . I would argue inflation is one the sins against the Holy Spirit because it exploits workers and small businessmen and even big businessmen who are not psychopaths ( not all big business is bad, but most of it nowadays is ) . You were promised X sum of money but actually after 10 years you realize that all the money you saved amounts to about 7 years of savings in terms of purchasing power. If that is not theft and a grave sin against working people then IDK what that is and I totally oppose it and Capitalism is THE ONLY SYSTEM that stresses the importace of sound money that rises up in value. The Austrian school, in that regard, stands up for the worker.
    Back to ” this as it is incompatible ” …. well so what ? So was Platonism and Aristotle DIRECTLY as they presented it. Our great Catholic minds took some of those great ideas and “catholicized” them and made them even greater.
    Same thing with anarcho-capitalism…..rather than going for the socially liberal route we can go the Catholic Social Teaching route . One might say ” But that is gonna be a bit of mental gymnastics ” but …. so what ? It’s not ad hoc and one can explain why he has a vested interest in formulating a social theory based on private property rights with a monopolist on culture aka the Catholic Church.
    I mean seriously, if ,God help us, we ever get to the stage that everything is privatized who will be there to stop the Church from spreading it’s influence ? It will be the only ” player ” when it comes to spiritual matters, all other sects and ” philosophies of life ” simply cannot compete with the Church. And now here’s the important point….I assume you are not a marxist and believe that culture influence the way material matters work more than the other way around so once the Church has all this cultural power what stops it from modifying the base ? Aka make people more charitable, encourage virtuous behaviour.
    I’d like to end with the fact that I’m not bashing you and I think a lot of bleeding heart libertarians trigglypuffs should read it but read more about a topic before drawing some hard conclusions ( and yes, I repeat, if you don’t ” catholicize ” it, it not be compatible but no one stops us from using Reason to do so ) .
    Also, check out Yuri Bezmenov to give you an additional insight into why the west is so depreaved….it’s scary .


    • You wrote a lot of words and didn’t even come close to interacting with the content of the article. Also, you should check out my article titled “Libertarian Gnosticism”. In that article I point out the tactic that libertarians use when they are criticized in any way, and you employ that exact same tactic in your comment.

      And for the record, Rotbard’s incompatibility with Catholic Social Doctrine goes far beyond mere metaphysics. His libertarian ethic is as repulsive as it is ridiculous.


      • Conquistador says:

        . . . I’m one of the few people that actually bothered to read the article entirely and got some of your points and even directly said something about it and adressed some of the repulsive things some libertarians say and stated my position briefly ( as briefly as I could ) and the best you can tell me is that I completely misunderstood you and that I should check out another article of yours in which you talk about what sorts of “excuses” I may use(I read it but honestly who doesn’t start making arguments in defense of an idea they strongly believe in, but there are lots of autistically screeching ancaps. And what Francis said about libertarianism being everywhere…more like the left wing version of it that includes moral relativism and feelings matter ) .
        I’m not trying to be cynical but why don’t you go debate some great libertarian minds and then put it on YT. I mean if I had more knowledge and time at my disposal I would certainly argue with a lot of people . It’s so easy to just contact people and argue with them nowadays .


  6. I didn’t say you “misunderstood” me. I said you didn’t interact with the article, which you didn’t. You gave your opinion on a lot of things but those opinions have very little to do with what I argued in the article. And I mentioned the other article because it is relevant to the argumentation you employed.

    Also, I am debating “great libertarian” minds in this essay. I offer significant references to Rothbard’s own arguments and point out why they are totally wrong.


    • Conquistador says:

      Well I didn’t want to take it paragraph by paragraph but I’ll leave it be . Anyway, your zeal against libertarians is misdirected. I’m pretty sure they are better and most of them are not hostile at all towards the Church ( in tems of policy ) than the rest of what is going on in the world and if the Bible talks about legitimate authority it’s definitely nowhere in the world and I fear it will never really come again ( absolute monarchy ) . Have a nice day .


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