August 25, 2014

No, libertarianism is not Equivalent to the Libertarian Party

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

I could honestly write for a long time on this issue, and I have written so much on this in the past that I don’t want to just summarize what I’ve written before. But for those who are not as knowledgeable about libertarian political theory, it is important to remind the reader that libertarianism and the Libertarian Party are two different things in the same way that a republican theory of government structure is distinct from the Republican Party (which of course is not very good at sticking to a republican, constitutional form of government).

Libertarianism can be a very diverse political philosophy and sometimes I question whether or not it should be used in presenting our case of individual property rights to other Conservative Christians.  I understand that it is an immediate turn off.  Here is the thing: if I assent to the proposition “no person should violate the life and property of another human being unless that other human being has first violated the life and property of another,” and I define the libertarian as any person who assents to that proposition, than it is tautological that I am a libertarian.

Questions regarding the specific nature of one’s worldview, including his justification for believing in that proposition, what lifestyles he advocates, and what he thinks of those other libertarians who disagree with him on more general issues, are distinct from the question of whether or not the person is a libertarian (that is, agrees with the above proposition).

In general, the Libertarian Party is very socially liberal.  This is not required of one who agrees with the italicized proposition.  The Libertarian Party is usually supportive of abortion. And it seems to me that this stance contradicts the italicized proposition. Yes, the Libertarian Party is not very Christian.  And it is why I am not a member of, and have even vocally opposed, the LP.

If someone is genuinely interested in understanding the differences and distinctions between the theory and the political party, I hope they email us (reformedliberty@gmail.com), I can list quite a number of things.  As for me, the editor, it is my conviction that the above proposition must rest on a Calvinistic Christian worldview.  The fact that I disagree on the foundations of libertarian theory with atheistic libertarians who also agree with the above proposition, does not make me unable to call myself a libertarian. That would be quite anti-intellectual and absurd.  That is like saying, because both myself and Alan the Atheist agree that murder is bad, we are required to have the same intellectual foundation.  It may be true (and I believe it is) that only I can justify the ethical standard against murder, but this does not change the fact that both Alan and I are against murder.

One who is unfamiliar with all the nuances of libertarian history and theory may think that libertarianism necessarily is against the moral law of God and rests on a secular foundation.  And I am here to tell you that the libertarian is defined by the proposition, not the foundation or justification of that proposition.  And to anyone whose reaction is “well then everyone is a libertarian,” I first point out that libertarianism is clearly not as far away as a Christian might initially think; and then I would ask whether everyone takes that proposition to its conclusion and applies it at all times.

Appropriate human conduct under the standard of the Holy God is a separate issue from libertarianism. Thus, anyone who claims that the libertarian, by virtue of his libertarianism, cannot be a Christian, misunderstands libertarianism. For libertarianism is not libertinism.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com