Pope Francis recently made some critical remarks about libertarianism. And following these remarks, libertarians responded with their usual bluster.
The immediate and reactionary response is to always claim that whatever has just been said or written about libertarianism is a straw man. It never fails. Every single time a view that is critical of libertarian political philosophy is offered, libertarians inexorably say that libertarianism is being misrepresented. This complaint, however, does not stem from bad interpretations of libertarian political philosophy, but is most certainly due to the incoherence of libertarianism itself. Even libertarians don’t agree on what constitutes libertarianism, which amounts to a self-serving ability to dodge whenever they are criticized on a point of principle or doctrine. If a person criticizes libertarians who are in favor of abortion it is immediately pointed out that not all libertarians are in favor of abortion. If anarcho-capitalism is criticized for its “anarchic” absurdities, which by the way is theoretically postulated by a guy who is dubbed Mr. Libertarian, some libertarians will point out that not all of them are anarchists or that anarchy is not the same state minimalism; on some accounts libertarianism equates anarchy and on other accounts libertarianism equates “minarchy”. No matter which is criticized it can be guaranteed that someone will point out that not all libertarians are in agreement on this division.
Continuing with examples of discord among libertarianism:
If a libertarian commitment to the gold standard is criticized it will immediately be pointed out that not all libertarians like the gold standard, and some may in fact lean towards Friedmanite monetarism. Some think conservatism and libertarianism are allies, some don’t. Some libertarians are metaphysical realists and some are nominalists. Some are natural law theorists and some are consequentialists. Some associate ‘true’ libertarianism to NAP and some do not.
To be a libertarian among this calamity of contradictory opinions amounts to having a mystically infused knowledge of truths applying to the social and political realm. In order to avoid interacting with this dilemma, an almost magical experience is postulated when interacting with the Rothbardian cult of social gnosticism – Rothbard frees people from their statist intellectual tendencies. Creating a mystical social religion rather than a coherent philosophy leads to the esoteric infusion of “truths” regarding the social order; nobody actually knows what libertarianism amounts to other than what the individual believes to be true according to their own subjectively felt involvement with the “philosophy of freedom.”
The above reality points out at least one very important thing; libertarianism is a total mess.
There are, however, two things uniting this divergent silliness (if a cult of personality is excluded from the equation), and that is the reduction of society to the choices of the individual and contractual consent. Libertarianism turns the freedom of choice into a fetish, and this is what Pope Francis is ultimately criticizing; and the Pope is 100% correct in his judgment.
Not only does the inherent confusion of libertarian political philosophy amount to an undeniable need to reject it on purely rational terms, its reductionist principles are at complete odds with Catholic social doctrine. Given the certainty of intellectual and spiritual conflict, Pope Francis’s criticisms are entirely accurate,
“Finally, I cannot but speak of the serious risks associated with the invasion, at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools, of positions of libertarian individualism. A common feature of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, that is, “living well”, a “good life” in the community framework, and exalts the selfish ideal that deceptively proposes a “beautiful life”. If individualism affirms that it is only the individual who gives value to things and interpersonal relationships, and so it is only the individual who decides what is good and what is bad, then libertarianism, today in fashion, preaches that to establish freedom and individual responsibility, it is necessary to resort to the idea of “self-causation”. Thus libertarian individualism denies the validity of the common good because on the one hand it supposes that the very idea of “common” implies the constriction of at least some individuals, and the other that the notion of “good” deprives freedom of its essence.
The radicalization of individualism in libertarian and therefore anti-social terms leads to the conclusion that everyone has the “right” to expand as far as his power allows, even at the expense of the exclusion and marginalization of the most vulnerable majority. Bonds would have to be cut inasmuch as they would limit freedom. By mistakenly matching the concept of “bond” to that of “constraint”, one ends up confusing what may condition freedom – the constraints – with the essence of created freedom, that is, bonds or relations, family and interpersonal, with the excluded and marginalized, with the common good, and finally with God.”
Most importantly, however, is the fact that the Catholic claiming the status of libertarian, or claims that Catholicism can be coherently reconciled to libertarianism, is yet to provide the necessary references of official Church documents to make their case. They do not do this because it cannot be done.
Some people claim that I have a vendetta against libertarianism.
This is false.
I have a vendetta against error.
Libertarian political philosophy – left, right, or anarchic – is in error. This error is incompatible with official Church teaching. So those seeking to unite it to the Church will be addressed and their errors refuted. It is as plain and simple as that.
The social doctrine of the Catholic Church and its relationship with political philosophy can really be summed up as a battle between the traditionalists (who are right) and the modernists (who are terribly wrong).
This article by Jeffrey Tucker, reacting to Pope Francis’s recent remarks, is exhibit A. According to Tucker’s interpretation of history Catholic social doctrine is the natural forerunner to classical liberalism, even linking it to Aquinas. In fact, Tucker is under the impression that the Catholic Church has been an ally with Enlightenment liberalism from the very beginning of this anti-Catholic movement committed to the overthrow of Christendom. This is ridiculous to say the least, but it marks the clear division in the Church concerning social issues between the traditionalist and the modernist.
– Lucas G. Westman