The third article of the libertarian Summa is lengthier than the previous two articles. For this reason the refutation of the third article will itself be broken up into parts so that its key claims can be thoroughly dealt with in a way that avoids overly lengthy exposition.
The Summa of the Libertarian Catholic, article 3, attempts to deal with the argument that the government is a means to promote the common good. According to the libertarian view, government is meant to protect only negative rights by punishing violations of these rights. If governments promote the common good by providing various public services such as welfare for the poor, and exceed the properly defined limits of protecting negative rights, the libertarian Summa suggests that such actions will necessarily work against the common good.
According to my reading of the third article there are at least three arguments being made to justify the libertarian view of government from a Catholic perspective. There is a general philosophical argument, an appeal to papal authority, and an appeal to the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas.
I will address the errors in each argument in this respective order.
The third article states:
Article 3: Whether government promotes the common good.
Objection 1: Libertarianism cannot be correct because the point of life isn’t freedom from harm, it is to do good. Just as man’s purpose is not simply to avoid evil but to do good, it is the purpose of government to make men better by inculcating them with virtue.
Objection 2: It would seem that government is necessary to promote the common good as Pope Pius XII wrote in Summi Pontificatus, “it is the noble prerogative and function of the State to control, aid and direct the private and individual activities of national life that they converge harmoniously towards the common good.”
On the contrary: St. Thomas Aquinas states, “Human government is derived from the Divine Government, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue” (ST II-II Q. 10)
I answer that: The absolute minimum for civilized society is the acceptance of Vulnero Nemo (harm no one) and the only legitimate purpose of government is to enforce this principle. In other words, the only legitimate role of government is to protect its citizens from harm to their negative rights. Whenever government steps outside its natural bounds it necessarily works against the common good.
The answer to the first objection states,
“Answer to Objection 1: It’s true that freedom from harm isn’t the purpose of life. We are called to do more than just not harm people. We’re called to do good and be proactive in love, but that’s not the domain of the government. Once the government attempts to assert positive rights or initiates preemptive war or stops victimless crimes, it is using illegitimate force. One cannot force another to be good and when one attempts that they do evil in order to promote good, a contradiction.”
Following references of Aquinas, which will be examined in later articles, the libertarian Summa states,
“To force the Church’s moral theology on people takes away free will and negates any possibility for a moral choice in the matter. God gave us free will; he intended us to use it.”
And finally, the answer to the second objection,
“Answer to Objection 2: Government should be ordered toward the common good but whenever it steps outside of its only legitimate role of protecting against the infringement of negative rights, it necessarily does harm to the common good. The more government seeks to help people through its bureaucratic coercion, the more it harms those very people. We see this everywhere it’s tried from East Germany (in contrast with West Germany), North Korea (in contrast with South Korea), Venezuela and to a lesser extent in US cities. The bureaucrat’s intent may be right in promoting positive rights toward the common good, but it has the opposite effect…”
Following this paragraph, the libertarian Summa references Pope Pius XII to justify these claims, and as previously stated, these references will be dealt with in later articles.
One thing to take note of is that the contrary position and the clarifying answers that follow are good faith attempts to deal with the objections. This feature of the third article differs from the previous two because these prior articles did not even come close to addressing the objections being offered against the libertarian position. Despite this positive feature there are still a number of issues to deal with in the third article.
It is important to recognize that the third article especially suffers from the primary defect running throughout the entire libertarian Summa; rather than justify the most important claims necessary for the libertarian view of the human person, culture, society, and government, they are simply smuggled into the equation as self-evident refutations of the traditional Catholic position on these issues. Libertarian political philosophy does not exist in a metaphysical, epistemological, anthropological, and moral vacuum. And while the libertarian will energetically declare that there is no such thing as a “libertarian metaphysics,” or a “libertarian epistemology,” or a “libertarian anthropology,” etc., such proclamations do not negate the fact that the entire worldview in question necessarily requires these philosophical structures to even take one step towards systematic cogency. Libertarian political philosophy cannot even begin to make sense unless their metaphysics, epistemology, anthropology, and moral theory are true.
It is also important to be aware of these more fundamental issues because the philosophical positions of the libertarian perspective are entirely at odds with those of the Catholic Church, and the divergence begins at the level of metaphysics. As I have argued in previous articles, the libertarian view of the human person, that is, their philosophical anthropology, is built upon the flimsy foundation of metaphysical nominalism. What this metaphysical position amounts to is a transformation of the human person into a singularly mechanistic entity of commercially motivated materialistic pursuits, which inexorably downgrades society into a conglomeration of atomized individuals acting in accordance to the pretentious reductionism of utilitarian contractual consent and ad hoc “rights” claims invented for the sole purpose of protecting the mechanisms of said atomization.
On this view, the only thing accepted as “real” is the subjective self-interest of the individual actor. All “things” existing outside of the mind concerning variously defined groups, such as governments, are not in any sense of the term real. All groups are nothing more than colonies of individual actors, and when associated with authoritative institutions, their only claim to legitimacy is whether or not the atomized individual is willing to grant such recognition. This form of individualism is the direct result of nominalist metaphysics. Only the individual is truly real, and all things existing outside of the conscious mind exist in strict accordance to the names given to them by individuals. It is an inherently reductionist program and leads to libertine relativism. This system lacks any organic structure or natural development and can only, ultimately, be enforced by a Leviathan will to power informed by Zarathustrian subjectivist nihilism.
These philosophical foundations become even more apparent when the myth of moral neutrality explicitly rises to the surface of the libertarian Summa. Recall their statement regarding Catholic moral theology and free-will,
“To force the Church’s moral theology on people takes away free will and negates any possibility for a moral choice in the matter. God gave us free will; he intended us to use it.”
This statement is problematic for many reasons. First, it confuses human nature with a political state of affairs. On this view, God has given human persons free will, which would require recognizing the freedom to act as a defining property of human nature as being made in the imago Dei; and because it is an absolute, it cannot be taken away. The libertarian Summa, however, is claiming that not only is our nature created with the property of free will, but that this property can be taken away if the Church’s moral theology is forced on to people who presumably disagree with its decrees. That which we possess by nature, properties that are not accidental, by definition cannot be taken away from the human person. What is being articulated is the idea that human nature is created with the intrinsic property of X, and that this same intrinsic property X can be taken away if P follows. This is absurd. Either human nature intrinsically possesses property X or it does not possess this property as an absolute. The only thing that would make sense regarding the implementation of P is to say that property X of human nature has been violated, but it cannot be taken away. The argument is clearly confusing the properties of human nature with how they might be impacted given various political states of affairs.
This gets to the second critical issue with the above statement, and that is the myth of moral neutrality. I have already spent a lot of time explaining the deceptive nature of this myth, but it is the single feature of the modernist liberal political spectrum that is claimed to be its strongest principle. In truth, this principle is where liberalism, and therefore libertarianism as a participant on the spectrum of modern liberal theory, is most incoherent. There is simply no way to avoid the moral enforcement of comprehensive political doctrines that are informed by the principles of a specific philosophical worldview. Those worldviews claiming to avoid the enforcement of comprehensive doctrines must itself become a comprehensive doctrine to exclude all other worldviews that are openly totalizing in their truth claims. There is no way around this fact of reality. To continue perpetuating the myth is a practice in self-deception.
The third critical issue with this statement is that it directly advocates against the moral theology of the Catholic Church, which no Catholic in good standing is free to do. For example, the stated position of the libertarian Summa would require a position against ending abortion. The moral theology of the Catholic Church obviously opposes the practice of abortion and views this procedure as an intrinsic evil. The libertarian Summa takes issue with this by saying that to force the Church’s moral theology on to people who might want to procure an abortion takes away their free will, and even negates the very possibility for a moral choice on the matter. This reasoning suggests that people are not free unless they are able to pursue and practice gratuitous evils such as killing innocent unborn children.
Another area where this comes into direct conflict with Church teaching is on the nature of the family. The Church has authoritatively recognized the sacred truth that marriage is between one man and one woman, for the duration of their natural life, and for the purpose of bringing new life into the world. The position taken by the Libertarian Catholic would necessarily require the redefinition of the family because to prevent such a redefinition would be to take away the free will of individuals looking to live according to a differing understanding of marriage and the family, and therefore renders moral choice impossible.
It goes even further than these hot button issues American culture is currently dealing with regarding life, marriage, and the family. This stated position would also render laws prohibiting murder, theft, and perjury obsolete because these too are forbidden by Catholic moral theology. Their stated position is that to force these moral theological teachings of the Catholic Church on to citizens who might disagree with them is to take away their free-will, and make moral choice impossible.
The libertarian Summa ends the statement under examination by saying that God has given us free will with the intention of our using it. Indeed, God has given us this gift, but we are to use this gift toward the fulfillment of its proper end in worshipping and honoring God, which in turn prepares us for good works. Advocating for the abuse of free will by choosing that which is intrinsically evil is endorsing libertinism, and has nothing to do with the Catholic faith. The libertarian Summa’s rejection of Catholic moral theology in favor of moral relativism is as absurd as it is insane. It is madness for any person claiming the mantle of Catholicism to take this stance, and yet libertarians pretending to be in line with the Catholic Church proudly trumpet these fallacious views.
In addition to all of this, the libertarian Summa creates the illusion of false dilemmas when promoting their erroneous understanding of the common good. Consider this argument, “Once the government attempts to assert positive rights or initiates preemptive war or stops victimless crimes, it is using illegitimate force.” On this view, asserting positive rights or stopping a victimless crime is tantamount to initiating a preemptive war of aggression, all of which are the same expression of using illegitimate force. This is sophistry at its finest. On the one hand it is argued that to force Catholic moral theology on to people would take away free will and make moral choice impossible, and on the other hand it is being argued that preemptive war is an illegitimate use of force. How can this dilemma of preemptive war be solved? Well, according to Catholic moral theology there are very specific criteria for executing a war based on just causes,
280. Definition. War is an armed conflict between two opposing armies.It therefore differs from a duel, a quarrel, or an insurrection. War is either offensivewhen it is fought to obtain satisfaction for injury, or defensive when it is intended as a means of warding off unjust aggression from another ruler or State. Sometimes it is far from easy to distinguish an offensive war from a defensive war, since it does not always follow that the army which opens the war is conducting an offensive war.
Principle. A supreme authority, a just cause, and a right intention are required to justify the declaration of war. To wage war legitimately all the statutes of International law must be observed.
The first condition required for the declaration of war is self-evident. The second condition of war – a just cause – is best explained in the words of Francis de Vittoria: “There is only one just cause for entering upon war – violated rights.” Therefore one would not be justified in waging war for the purpose of self-aggrandizement or winning renown or in order to convert the pagan.
The third condition is also immediately evident.
Once war has broken out it is necessary to observe the statutes of International law of which the most important is: war is not waged against individuals but against an entire nation as a public person. Generally speaking, one is permitted to use everything necessary for crushing the resistance of the enemy. Soldiers commit grave sin if in the course of a just war they desert or cross over to the enemy lines.
According to the reasoning of the libertarian Summa, these principles cannot be used to guide the foreign policy of a nation or to guard against the injustice of preemptive wars. To do so would be a violation of their previous claim forbidding the enforcement of Catholic moral theology on those who might disagree because it would take away their free will and make moral choice impossible!
Another false dilemma is maintained when discussing the issue of the common good. The libertarian Summa says,
“The more government seeks to help people through its bureaucratic coercion, the more it harms those very people. We see this everywhere it’s tried from East Germany (in contrast with West Germany), North Korea (in contrast with South Korea), Venezuela and to a lesser extent in US cities. The bureaucrat’s intent may be right in promoting positive rights toward the common good, but it has the opposite effect…”
On this view, attempts to help people through bureaucratic coercion is harmful due to the comparative analysis of East and West Germany, North and South Korea, Venezuela, and “to a lesser extent in U.S. cities.” Although I have routinely denounced the dictates of secular bureaucratic mandates, the comparison made here is entirely ridiculous. What is being provided isn’t the comparison of a governmental program attempting to help promote the common good with a relevant state of affairs where the lack of a government program provided similar services in a more efficient manner with better results. What is being offered is the comparison of an intrinsically evil and tyrannical regime of atheistic Marxist Communism with freer societies that were/are largely guarded by the bureaucratic American nation-state. Moreover, this line of reasoning promotes the false dichotomy of communism or capitalism, and ignores anything that might exist in between the current economic and political dialectic modern politics is enslaved.
According to this examination, the philosophical argumentation of the third article is exposed as being entirely fallacious. The libertarian position, as expressed in this Summa, begs all of the most important foundational philosophical questions, unites itself to the myth of moral neutrality, endorses moral relativism over the objective moral truths authoritatively declared by the Catholic magisterium, mistakes human nature for political states of affairs, forces itself into untenable moral contradictions, and creates the illusion of false dilemmas by comparing tyrannical Marxist regimes to governmental programs.
– Lucas G. Westman
 Dominic M. Prummer O.P, Handbook of Moral Theology