". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Libertarianism Is Cancer: Liberty, License, and Life Everlasting

May 29, 2024

There was a time when the term “libertarian” might have been applied to America’s Founding Fathers, those courageous men who so tirelessly fought for liberty. Even now, “libertarian” as a philosophical term might call to mind images of Patrick Henry standing before his fellow members of the Virginia Convention and crying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Despite these grandiose allusions, both the philosophy of libertarianism and the political faction (if such it might be called) of the Libertarian Party are cancerous: like cancer, each will only kill that which it inflicts, be it a soul or a nation.

The libertarian philosophy, of which the Libertarian Party is a manifestation, might trace its roots back to Christian principles enumerated and clarified in the early and late medieval ages. The legendary St. Patrick may be said to have laid the groundwork in the fifth century with his “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus,” at the time a highly countercultural epistle harshly condemning the practice of slavery, which had been in broad use for centuries, and would be still for centuries more. In the twilight of the Roman Empire, the British warlord Coroticus would capture and brutally enslave the Irish whom Patrick had labored so hard and so lovingly to convert to Christianity. Having been a slave himself and being now elevated to the office of bishop, Patrick was uniquely suited to condemn the dehumanizing practice, appealing to Coroticus’s soldiers when the warlord obstinately refused Patrick’s entreaties.

“I cannot say that they are my fellow-citizens, nor fellow-citizens of the saints of Rome, but fellow-citizens of demons, because of their evil works,” Patrick wrote of the slavers. “By their hostile ways they live in death, allies of the apostate Scots and Picts. They are blood-stained: blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.”

Patrick’s was perhaps the first exhortation to elucidate the notion of individual rights — that is, the rights inherent to individuals as individuals alone. Up until that time, rights were largely derived through strength — “Might makes right” — the strength of one’s own self, of one’s family or tribe, or of one’s nation or empire. Patrick, being a Roman citizen by birth, would have been familiar with the Roman citizenship customs and the rights afforded thereby; he also would have been familiar with the concept of the ius gentium, a moral law extending even beyond civil law. Filled with the love of Christ and inspired by the gospels, Patrick recognized that the ius gentium was more expansive even than Cicero had expounded, and that one’s right to life and liberty were derived not from brute force nor from citizenship, but from God, granted to each and every individual who was made in His image and likeness.

Christian scholasticism further clarified and defined this way of thinking throughout the late medieval ages. The Dominican thinkers Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, and Bartolomé de las Casas were instrumental in furthering the Christian understanding of the ius gentium. In his encyclopedic “Summa Theologicae,” Thomas Aquinas explained the concept of intrinsic human dignity, clarifying the profound and inherent worth bestowed upon all who are made in the imago Dei. Over a century later, as the Spanish were colonizing the New World, de Vitoria and de las Casas followed the concepts elucidated by Aquinas to their natural conclusion, applying them practically in defense of the Native American Indians.

Of particular concern was the encomienda, a system whereby a conquering people assumed the “right” to enslave conquered non-Christians, although the system did require that conquerors protect their slaves in times of war and provide them education. Vitoria railed against such systems, insisting that the American Indians had individual rights as human beings, including the fundamental rights to life and liberty; he also argued that taxes, levies, and laws could not be imposed on the natives that were not also imposed on the Spanish colonists. Las Casas took similar positions, eventually being declared “Protector of the Indians” and both advising Spanish governors and representing the American Indians in court. So committed were the Dominicans to upholding justice in laws that priests actually withheld absolution from slaveholders in the sacrament of confession.

These principles, championed by Christianity throughout the centuries, are of course good and noble and foundational to Western civilization. But, again, the libertarian philosophy is a cancer, and just like a cancer, it grows where it ought not. What Christianity has long upheld is liberty, the freedom to seek and choose the good; what libertarianism upholds is license, the false sense of freedom to declare anything a good.

This first began in the 17th century, when well-intentioned writers like John Locke removed God from the equation. Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” “Two Treatises on Government,” and “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” were pivotal publications in the evolution of human political thought, not least of all because they put forth the argument that man has rights independent of God — that is, Locke posited that individual rights were derived through merely being an individual, not being an individual who is essentially made in the image and likeness of God.

For all the not inconsiderable influence Locke’s ideas held over them, America’s Founding Fathers did attempt to rectify Locke’s humanism, explicating in the Declaration of Independence that man is “endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They also acknowledged the necessity of the Christian tradition in sustaining the form of government they had just instituted. John Adams, for example, wrote, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

But others were less astute than the men who built America. Across the ocean, French “enlightenment” thinkers like Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Maximilien Robespierre, and the Marquis de Sade would take Locke’s “empirical” ideas to their horrifying terminus, rebelling not only against the king but against God Himself. Like most evils, the libertine philosophy fell into the fatal error of mistaking man for God, and from that followed the error of mistaking license for liberty. The bloody French Revolution and the notorious Reign of Terror was founded upon this error and cost nearly 30,000 their lives. Those most hated by the libertine revolutionaries were, unsurprisingly, kings and noblemen, priests and bishops, and anyone else who dared to proclaim that morality and right order were determined and instituted by God, not tribunals and parliaments of men.

For, ultimately, that is where libertarianism (and its deadly acolyte libertinism) went wrong: where Christianity declared the truth that the rights of man are derived from God and are thus subject to Him, libertarianism declared that the rights of man are subject only to man’s desires, bounded not by any morality but only by possibility, by man’s own reach. Christianity recognizes that it is morally imperative to respect the rights of men — not because they are men but because they are made in the image of God. Christianity further acknowledges that those rights are limited or prescribed — again, not by man but by God — thus the Christian maxim Error non habet ius, “error has no rights,” formulated by the third century theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo.

Libertarianism instead declares that man has a right to error. The only two “moral” boundaries placed in the libertarian philosophy are consent and consensus. Pornography, prostitution, sodomy, drug abuse, and a whole host of other moral degeneracies which would have appalled prior generations are embraced by the libertarian philosophy. What is derided is order and hierarchy — for if each man is his own god, then no man can be higher than another, wield greater authority, or — worst of all — prescribe or proscribe the license of another.

This is no purely theoretical point. No, the Libertarian Party has made this cancer manifest. At a 2016 Libertarian Party debate, one candidate denigrated the idea of requiring a license to drive, asking, “What’s next? Requiring a license to make toast in your own damn toaster?” When one-time governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson suggested that he would “like to see some competency exhibited by people before they drive,” he was actually booed by the audience. Nor is this an anomaly. Earlier this week, former President Donald Trump visited the national Libertarian convention in Washington, D.C. to appeal for votes. He also was met with boos and jeers, but responded in typical Trump fashion: “Maybe you don’t want to win. … Keep getting your 3% every four years.”

Instead of cheering for the man currently being besieged by the “legal” machinations of the Biden regime, the Libertarian Party chose Chase Oliver as its presidential candidate. Oliver’s political positions resemble a cocaine-fueled manifesto penned by John Goodman’s character in “The Big Lebowski.” In all seriousness, Oliver once endorsed gun rights in a debate by declaring, “Armed gays are harder to oppress, and they’re harder to bash.” He supports federally-legalized abortion, the full decriminalization of recreational marijuana use, and vastly increased legal immigration. Oliver also promoted mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 fiasco, has posed for photo-ops flanked by drag queens, and endorses transgenderism.

The libertarian philosophy has tried desperately over the past three or four centuries to make man into God, but has succeeded only in making its adherents and acolytes into clowns. Contrary to the myriad promises and ideologies offered by this fallen world, there is only one way for man to become God, and that is to repent of sin, live a life of Christian virtue, and pray to be finally made one with God in Heaven. Libertarianism is cancer, but Christianity is the gate to life eternal.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.