Frequently Asked Questions
Political Theory Go To Top
Why do you call yourself a Paleo-Libertarian?
In some circles, for those that are aware of the development of the modern libertarian movement, I will sometimes refer to myself as a Paleo-libertarian so as to make a specific reference to a group of people whose flavor of libertarianism I most identify with. Paleo-libertarianism (now formally defunct) was mostly centered around the Murray Rothbard-Lew Rockwell circles in the 1990s and it sought to accomplish three things:
1: It sought to make a conscious effort to separate the Rothbardians from what libertarianism had become: a movement of libertine, anti-conservative, anti-religion, childish folks who had not a clue about the meaningful and rich body of ideas that libertarianism was supposed to be. In other words, it sought to lead a libertarianism that embraced a social conservatism and a love and appreciation for traditional culture, church, and social customs and values.
2: It sought to reach out to paleo-conservatives as a coalition partner for the sake of strategy in opposing the George HW Bush-led globalists during the rise of the "New World Order" and the beginnings of Global Democracy. Especially it supported the minority paleo-conservatives (especially Pat Buchanan) in the now-lost battle for the future of conservatism over against the intruders: the neoconservatives. In doing this it aimed to revive the spirit of the "Old Right," the right that preceded the New Right marked by the rise of Bill Buckley and the National Review "conservatives."
3: It sought to keep pure the libertarian theory against the compromisers and others who would dilute libertarianism message.
Is Reformed Libertarianism different than regular libertarianism?
The definition of libertarianism is the legal theory (which has political ramifications) which holds that no man may initiate aggression, or threat to initiate aggression, against the property of another human being, lest he engage in criminal behavior. That is to say, under the libertarian legal theory, a criminal is defined as one who breaches the above described “Non-Aggression Principle.” The logically deduced implications of this principle includes actions such as theft, murder, rape, fraud, breach of contract, trespassing, battery, kidnapping, and so on. For the libertarian, that which is illegal is determined in terms of private property ownership and therefore not all things that may be categorized as immoral, unethical, sinful, and so on are necessarily criminal.
The Reformed libertarian agrees with all of this and thus in this way, we don't differentiate "our type" of libertarianism from a "regular one" when it comes to the meaning of libertarianism. We are purist, Rothbardian-Hoppean libertarians.
What we are trying to communicate, however, with our phrase, is that when we look at the foundation or justification of the above meaning of libertarianism, we source it within the context of a Christian worldview, the epistemology and moral theory of which is distinct from other potential foundations for libertarianism.
For instance, there are utilitarian libertarians (Mises), Natural Law libertarians (Rothbard), Kantian libertarians (Hoppe). There are others as well. But what libertarians have in common is not their worldview, not their justification of knowledge, and not their personal lifestyle preferences. Rather, they have in common their agreement with the first paragraph above. Libertarianism is a set of propositions. Anyone who assents to those propositions is a libertarian. Libertarianism is "thin," which means that it is a set of statements about the use of force in society, but the doctrine itself is distinct from the defense of that doctrine. Rothbard and Hoppe are not two types of libertarians, and neither are we a distinct type. The "Reformed" in Reformed Libertarian is not a qualification of the libertarian part. What we propose is that libertarianism, since it is a political theory based on ethical positions, can be best defended from a Christian philosophical system, since Christianity best justifies ethics.
More generally, what we are communicating with the label "Reformed Libertarian," is A) that each editing contributor to this site is Reformed; B) we are interested in investigating relationships in theory and history between the libertarian world and the Reformed world; and C) that, yes, Reformed Christians can and should be libertarian! It is a resource for those Reformed Christians who want to convince their Reformed friends that libertarianism is a wonderful system of political thought!
Does libertarianism deny moral principles and believe that people can do whatever they want?
Absolutely not. Libertarianism is built on ethics and is in fact especially moral precisely because it opposes the moral subjectivism inherent in the idea that, by virtue of the office one holds in society, one has moral permission to violate the ethical standard. Libertarianism is chiefly about the ethical problems with initiating force against those who have not first harmed anyone else. If the citizen does not have the right to initiate aggression (steal, murder, commit fraud or battery, etc.), then neither does the man in a government position.
What people can do is sharply limited to the bounds and restrictions of other people's property rights.
Moreover, libertarianism is a legal theory and discusses what people can and cannot do without a coercive response by a government. Just because something is legal (lying) does not mean that it is moral. The libertarian can--and should-- certainly affirm moral principles.
Is libertarian a secular or a religious political theory?
Libertarianism is a set of propositions about which actions in society are criminal. What makes something "secular" or "religious" is not the proposition itself, but the argument on which the proposition is based.
Take, for instance the summary statement of libertarian political theory: "no man may initiate aggression, or threat to initiate aggression, against the property of another human being, lest he engage in criminal behavior." This is called the Non-Aggression Principle. If you believe this, because it best reflects God's ethical standard, you are a libertarian; if you believe this because it is the most practical way to run society, you are a libertarian; if you believe this because it is supported by "observing nature and the world around us," you are a libertarian; if you believe this because the sun is yellow, you are a libertarian.
Assenting to the set of propositions themselves makes one a libertarian. But various proponents of libertarianism use differing justifications for assenting to these propositions. And this is where the debate over the most logical and defensible foundation for libertarianism takes place. As for the editors of this site, we believe that the most logically sound justification for the principles are Biblical arguments.
When we debate foundations, we are engaging in intramural libertarian debates. As I have written before (here), Mises, Hoppe, and Rothbard might slightly differ on foundation, but their differences are all within the realm of libertarianism because libertarianism is the doctrine, not the justification for that doctrine per se (as important as the justification is!)
What is the Non-Aggression Principle and what does it have to do with libertarianism?
The Non-Aggression Principle, or the NAP, is the summary statement of libertarian political theory. It serves at the rubric by which various actions in society are categorized as either criminal or non-criminal. More profoundly, it is also the rubric against which government activity is measured so as to determine whether the government has overstepped its legal bounds. The Non-Aggression Principle has been articulated in slightly different ways, but here is the one we use:
No man may initiate aggression, or threat to initiate aggression, against the body or property of another human being, lest he engage in criminal behavior.
Is libertarianism more similar to conservatism or to liberalism?
This really gets into complicated matters as it depends on history, social context, and definition. I will answer more fully in a coming article.
In the meantime, libertarianism is a rationalistic theory of the lawful use of force in society. Inasmuch as conservatism and liberalism are refer to theories of the state and government, libertarianism is unique from both.
On cultural matters, the libertarian is allowed to to have either progressivist or conservative cultural tendencies (the editors of this site are conservatives). This is because libertarianism refers specifically to questions of aggression, not social/cultural preferences.
In the development of socio-political orders, liberalism was seen as the great throwing off of the Ancien Regime of Old and the promotion of private property and the division of labor. This is called classical liberalism. It barely got off the ground before the socialists starting taking over the label and appropriating the name for themselves. On this, see my article here. This New Liberalism continued to morph into what it is today: totalitarianism.
However, just because the classical liberals opposed the Old Order, doesn't mean the Old Order had nothing good about it. In fact, it was the best thing about the Aristocracy that it appreciated both tradition and private property over against the socialist disdain for private property and their violent revolutionary fervor. In this way, there have been a good number of libertarians in our time (Rothbard, Hoppe especially) who have pointed out that certain aspects of Traditional Conservatism can work quite nicely with a libertarian view of the state and legal order.
Again, this is a very nuanced and difficult issue and I will link to a more expansive essay when it is complete.
What about Abortion, Prostitution, Gary Marriage, Adultery?
The libertarian believes that a crime is constituted by the initiation of aggression (or the threat thereof) against another man's property and those things which are not aggression is not criminal. What this means is that there are some actions which are indeed grievous to God (and therefore sinful), but not all sins are crimes. The meaning of criminal is: can be legally responded to with force. By this, we can judge the following.
Abortion: Abortion is an aggression against the life and body of the unborn human being. It is therefore criminal.
Prostitution: Prostitution, so long as it is voluntary and there is no aggression taking place, is not criminal. Therefore, we do not respond to it by way of government and force. But with compassion, persuasion, and other "peaceful" means.
Gay Marriage: See the following on this topic:
- Considering Marriage: Part One
- Considering Marriage: Part Two
- Do “Civil Liberties” Demand that Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?
- Considering RC Sproul on Marriage
- Doug Wilson: “A libertarian approach to marriage is not an option”
Adultery: Please read this link for a full consideration of adultery.
Economic Theory Go To Top
Do Austrians deny empirical evidence?
Immediately, we should draw a distinction, as Ludwig von Mises did, between economic theory and history; the former being the study of human action as it relates to man in a world of scarce resources and the latter being an actual account of how men, prices, goods, and services had interacted with each other in the past. In other words, by definition, there is a difference between what we claim to achieve via the theory of human action versus historical inquiry. And thus, Mises authored an entire book called “Theory and History.” Consider Mises’ statement in Human Action:
[Economic] statements and propositions are not derived from expe- rience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification and falsification on the ground of experience and facts. They are both logically and temporally antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts. They are a necessary requirement of any intellectual grasp of historical events.
Mises called the general and formal theory of human action praxeology. Economics was one subset of praxeology.
So then, the correct answer to the question is that Austrians do not believe that economic laws can be discovered via empirical evidence/statistics. For by definition, the purpose of the evidence and statistics is to gather historical information, not to discover economic theory. Therefore, empirical information relates to “economics” only in a broad and general way; to get a better picture of the past, but never to acquire laws of human action. A good example of this can be found in Chapter 4 of Murray Rothbard’s “America’s Great Depression.” In preparing to make his case that the 1920s were marked by an inflationary monetary trend, Rothbard makes an observation regarding his method (paragraph breaks added):
Most writers on the 1929 depression make the same grave mistake that plagues economic studies in general—the use of historical statistics to “test” the validity of economic theory. We have tried to indicate that this is a radically defective methodology for economic science, and that theory can only be confirmed or refuted on prior grounds. Empirical fact enters into the theory, but only at the level of basic axioms and without relation to the common historical–statistical “facts” used by present-day economists. […]
Suffice it to say here that statistics can prove nothing because they reflect the operation of numerous causal forces. To “refute” the Austrian theory of the inception of the boom because interest rates might not have been lowered in a certain instance, for example, is beside the mark. It simply means that other forces—perhaps an increase in risk, perhaps expectation of rising prices—were strong enough to raise interest rates. But the Austrian analysis, of the business cycle continues to operate regardless of the effects of other forces. For the important thing is that interest rates are lower than they would have been without the credit expansion.
From theoretical analysis we know that this is the effect of every credit expansion by the banks; but statistically we are helpless—we cannot use statistics to estimate what the interest rate would have been. Statistics can only record past events; they cannot describe possible but unrealized events.
What is Austrian Economics?
The Austrian School of economics refers to a certain “school of thought” in regards to economic theory that has its roots in the economic theorists who came out of Austria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hence the name. There are many schools of economic thought: there are classical economists, neoclassical economists, Marxists, Keynesians, Chicago School economists (many of which morphed into the modern day Monetarists), and various other subcategories and branches. There is also some overlap. The point is that Austrian Economics is a specific school of thought that offers an alternative view compared to the many other approaches.
Here is a great overview of Austrian Economics that we wrote up.
Theology Go To Top
Are there any "Reformed Libertarians" among past or present Christian leaders?
While the editor of this site was the first to coin the phrase "Reformed Libertarian" as an actual label, and therefore there has been no "Reformed Libertarians" in a formal sense, we do find aspects and tendencies toward our conclusions in some of the following individuals:
- J. Gresham Machen [Deceased]
- Gordon H. Clark [Deceased]
- John Robbins [Deceased]
- Ronald Nash [Deceased]
- Hans Sennholz [Deceased]
- RC Sproul Jr.
- William Anderson
- Timothy Terrell
- Shawn Ritenour
- Voddie Baucham
How do you respond to those like Dr. Mohler who say Christianity is incompatible with libertarianism?
My first reaction is to encourage them to get to know the theory before they criticize it based on what they have heard about it. One of the biggest mistakes that some people make is to categorize all libertarians as belonging to the loudest group. For these Christians leaders in particular, I would encourage them to reflect on the fact that, as conservative Christians, we are certainly in the minority among those who wear the label and we would rightly object to being thrown in the same category as Christian-labelled celebrities such as Joel Osteen or TD Jakes. In this way, it is unhelpful to the pursuit of truth to, say, look at the Gary Johnsons and other pop-libertarians and assume that they are a reflection every libertarian, "Reformed Libertarian" or otherwise.
Secondly, I would want them to know that libertarianism is a legal/political theory that is based on the very ethical ideas sourced in the Bible itself. To say that Christianity and libertarianism are incompatible is, vis a vis the very core of libertarianism's proper definition, to say that Christianity is incompatible with the idea that we shouldn't initiate force against peaceful people; that is, we shouldn't steal, murder, commit fraud, kidnap, rape, commit battery. Any reference to libertarian's alleged disdain for "community," "society," and "this country" is irrelevant on the basis that libertarianism has nothing to do with whether someone seeks to contribute to society; it is merely about whether or not it is ethically permissible for one man to initiate force against another man. Libertarianism is a theory deeply rooted in ethics.
As Hans Sennholz once noted, (as quoted by John Robbins here):
“A [political and economic] reform…would have to restore the harmony of interests and repair moral standards. It would have to rebuild the economic order on the old foundation of the Eighth Commandment – Thou shalt not steal – and the Tenth – Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s.... No Social Security System should eradicate this moral law and Biblical Commandment.”
And in another place, here is Sennholz again:
The market order or capitalism finds its answers in the Judeo-Christian code of morality. Private ownership in production is squarely based on the Ten Commandments. It obviously rests on the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. The private-ownership system also builds on the solid foundation of the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill, which includes every form of coercion and violence…. To freely exchange goods and services, the contracting parties must not deceive each other. They must not bear false witness, which is the Ninth Commandment of the Decalogue.
How does libertarianism take Total Depravity into account?
This answer is excerpted from this post; please read that for more.
The doctrine of Total Depravity is often misstated, perhaps most severely in the context of socio-economic discussions. Sometimes, with no prior discussion of individual rights, the Calvinist will say something to the effect that “libertarianism doesn’t work because of human depravity.” We can’t let the free market be too free, they say, because humans are inherently wicked and chaos might ensue.
Of course, the obvious and clear answer is the same one Mises gave:
If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.
Now, besides Mises’ answer to the objection, there remains the fact that the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity is not to be confused with a Hobbesian worldview wherein everyone is all the time at each other’s throats, against the betterment of others, and by default a threat to their person and property. In the Hobbesian framework, without the laws given by the state, mankind will devolve into chaos, murder, and destruction of each other.
This is not the Calvinist understanding of total depravity. Sure, men are capable of such things, but they are also capable of reason, of kindness, of peace, and of noble interaction with each other. In history there have been eras where men have acted better than in other eras.
The Calvinist does not say that man is always and everywhere hateful toward his neighbor. Rather, what the Calvinist says is that no matter how many nominally good things the individual does, no matter how peaceful, no matter how kind and sweet, even these things are like filthy rags to a holy God. The Calvinist view is not that men can’t be nice to each other and that they can’t work together, on the market, to build up a civilization and make remarkable achievements in economic and social growth; instead, the Calvinist view is that God alone is righteous and nothing man does meets that righteous standard.
What do you think about "Natural Law?"
This depends entirely on what is meant by the phrase. It should be noted that Natural Law itself is a phrase that has been used in different ways and different contexts. Even Calvin uses the phrase, and truly he was no Thomist. We ought to be sympathetic to its different uses.
The importance of natural law, and what it seeks to offer to the political philosopher, is a category of norms that are distinct from, and form the foundation of, positive laws, which are often laws created by men for the context of a given jurisdiction. Positive laws may be said to be based upon the whims of the ruler, or they may be attempted to be grounded on something more transcendent, which is what natural law attempts to be.
This understanding of a natural law can coincide with the Christian idea of a moral law written on the heart. This moral law stands eternally and independently of all positivist expressions, most importantly the expression found in the Mosaic law code in the Pentateuch. Sometimes then, the phrase “natural law” is used as a substitute for the theological idea of moral law, but in any case the Moral Law is categorically a type of natural law.
On the other hand, Natural Law can sometimes refer to a method of discovering ethical principles in the sense that one can look out at the world around us and conceive of "ought" propositions. This is the more popular use of "Natural Law" and it is not very logically compelling, facing of course the long-standing problem of the "ought-is" divide (as expounded by David Hume). John Robbins writes:
Hume’s Gap, that gulf between observational data and ethical commands, has never been bridged by philosophers. This is simply because there are two distinct logical categories of statements involved: declarations and commands. One cannot deduce commands from mere declarations, because, among other things, declarations have truth-value, and commands do not. Commands can be neither true nor false; only propositions can be. So the natural law theorists are beset not only by ethical difficulties... but also by an insurmountable logical difficulty, which I call Hume’s Gap.
John W. Robbins. Freedom and Capitalism (Kindle Locations 782-787). The Trinity Foundation.
What do you think of so-called "Radical Two Kingdom Theology?" (R2K)?
This question is answered most completely in this article.
Politics Go To Top
Who were the Best and Worst 5 Presidents?
5: Chester Arthur
4: Rutherford B. Hayes
3: Grover Cleveland
2: Martin Van Buren
1: John Tyler
5: Lyndon Johnson
4: Abraham Lincoln
3: George W. Bush
2: Franklin Roosevelt
1: Woodrow Wilson
What are the three most important political issues of our time?
1: The Federal Reserve. This is the true reason our economy is suffering. Issues like regulations and taxes are very relevant; but the central bank is the foundation of the horrific economy and far more central to our malaise.
2: Foreign Policy. Our foreign policy of interventionism and military globalism is a threat to our liberties and security. Far more than ISIS and al Qaeda, the United States and her European satellite NATO is a threat to world peace and is the chief instigator of global conflict.
3: Abortion. Mass legal human slaughter in the millions. The genocide of our time.