Published on February 29th, 2012 | by Bojidar Marinov41
Libertarianism: A Presuppositional Approach
In my libertarian activities in Bulgaria I often had to confront questions by secular libertarians about the connection between Christianity and libertarianism. My reply was that one can not be a libertarian without the true source of liberty. And the true source of liberty is Jesus Christ. Therefore I can not be a libertarian without Christ. I wrote about it in an earlier article, “Can I be a Libertarian Without Christ?”
I also showed in other articles that there is no true libertarianism without Christianity. Secular libertarianism can not defend private property (“Classical Liberalism Has No Place to Stand”; “The Only Possible Defense of Private Property”). It can not present a consistent intellectual defense of liberty (“No Other Single Principle but God and His Image in Man”). It has to borrow all its presuppositions from Christianity to be able to stay coherent and consistent (“Is There a Non-Christian Way to Fly a Plane?”). Not that I am an original thinker who came to this conclusions on my own; I learned from men greater than me. R.J. Rushdoony has shown in many of his books and articles that secular humanism and paganism, when developed to social theory, can not produce anything but statism; it can not produce ideas of individual liberty, rights, property, or limited government, the essence of libertarianism. Gary North has shown in his economic commentaries, as well as in his Political Polytheism, that in the political realm the conflict between God and Satan is translated in a conflict between Moses and Pharaoh: the decentralized, libertarian social order based on individual self-government vs. the centralized, statist order based on central planning and government control. And indeed, these two theonomic writers have based their social theory on the Law of God in the Bible; and the Law of God clearly speaks against centralization of power, and places the burden of social government on the individual, the family, the church, and only lastly, and in a limited way, on the civil government. And even then, the civil government is limited to local decentralized units, the cities.
The history of the Christian civilization also shows that Christians in the past have understood the Biblical political mandate for political decentralization and individual liberty. It was Bishop Ambrose who first told an Emperor that he has no right to enter a private person’s home, a statement that was nothing less than revolutionary for the world at the time. Europe – unlike the non-Christian civilizations in history – never united politically. Quite the opposite, it developed to perfection the ideal of the republic: the complete decentralization of power, even to the point of judicial and legislative independence of the smallest social units like universities and villages. And of course, it was the abandonment of the Christian political ideals that led back to the centralization of political power and the loss of individual liberties in Europe. The history of the American Republic is another great example of Christian political ideals applied in practice: political decentralization, individual liberty, private property, self-government at every level, extremely limited central government.
Libertarianism as a political philosophy, with its ideals of limited government, individual liberty, private property, free markets, self-government, was a product of the European Christian civilization. And it was not a mere coincidence, nor chance. Libertarianism was the logical outcome of the development of the Christian social theory.
Given all that, I have never thought that I would ever meet Christians – theonomic Christians at that, or at least claiming to be theonomic – who would reject the idea that a Christian is by default libertarian. Now, of course, I have met non-theonomic Christians who have statist views – but that’s because they reject the Law of God as valid today, and therefore need to go to the state for their source of law and social order. If God is not the source of law, then it is going to be the state, that is logical.
But theonomic Christians, anti-libertarian? And yet, I met a few of them, speaking against libertarianism with arguments not based on Biblical presuppositions, nor on systematic Biblical theology. At the end, of course, eventually, the argument comes to trying to achieve godly goals – which is the “theonomic” part of the argument – through statist means, that is, more government control, centralized government, and less individual liberty. Somehow the Biblical ideal of self-government and decentralization has been replaced by “godly” statism. Moses has been replaced by a Pharaoh who is supposed to stop abortion and punish sodomy.
The main argument, of course, against libertarianism, starts like this:
“Many libertarians believe…”
That is, because there are people out there who call themselves “libertarians” but hold to some anti-Christian views, therefore Christians should reject libertarianism. In other words, our acceptance of a concept should be based on reactions to what other people are doing, not on whether the concept is in agreement with the Biblical presuppositions.
Seldom do the critics stop to think that such argument applied across the board should lead us to abandon almost every concept, practice, or area of dominion out there. Let’s see:
Many scientists believe that science is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore Christians should reject science as a concept.
Many pagan religions teach patriarchy; it was the center of the social life in pagan Greece and Rome; and in fact, it is central to one of the worst rivals of Christianity, Islam. Therefore Christians should abandon the concept of patriarchy.
Many politicians and political theorists believe that religion should not mix with politics. Therefore Christians should stay out of politics.
Many businessmen believe the moral rules of the Bible to not apply to business. Therefore business can not be a Christian undertaking.
The majority of movie makers in the world are anti-Christian. Therefore Christians should not be involved in making movies.
Many lawyers in the US are self-consciously anti-Christian and believe that legal theory should be divorced from any Christian influence. Therefore there can not be such a thing as a “Christian attorney.”
And so on.
Even worse, such attitude can make Christians be easily manipulated by their cultural enemies. What if enough secular humanists start gathering together on Sunday morning for a mock worship and call their gatherings “church services”? Many secularists have church on Sunday morning. Do we abandon the very concept of a church service because of that? Or, many sodomites call their perverted cohabitation with a person of the same sex “marriage.” Do we abandon the institution of marriage then?
And then, the other argument against libertarianism is a version of the first one: “The definition of libertarianism doesn’t include anything that points to Biblical presuppositions.”
A definition by whom? Usually it turns out it is the definition by Wikipedia, or by the Libertarian Party, or some other non-Christian source. Of course. The definition of “science” given by Wikipedia or by Richard Dawkins doesn’t include anything that points to Biblical presuppositions. We should expect that atheists will twist all the definitions of every good thing out there to erase any Biblical presuppositions from them. But does that make science “anti-Christian” in itself? Do we oppose science as a concept just because of Richard Dawkins and Wikipedia?
But no matter what Richard Dawkins or Wikipedia say about science, are there any non-Christian presuppositions that can lead to the emergence of science as we know it? That’s the question we should ask. That’s the question that a Christian who uses a presuppositional approach should ask about every concept, practice, or idea.
And therefore, our Biblical presuppositional approach to libertarianism must start with the very presuppositions for libertarianism, and the origin of those presuppositions.
Libertarianism, of course, is first and foremost not a religion; it is a political and social philosophy. It is primarily concerned with how the society must be ordered, and how the political order – the civil government – should be established and organized. As a political philosophy, libertarianism in all its forms and nuances promotes the following three principles: freedom from coercion, individual liberty, and the defense of private property. (One may notice that these three correspond to the three basic rights considered by the Founding Fathers to be given by the Creator: Life, Liberty, and Property.) Given the fact that in all societies from the beginning of time the main danger to these three principles of social and political organization has been the political order, or the state, libertarianism has a very specific negative principle in its foundation: limited government, that is, political order that has very limited functions in a society, and also decentralized government, that is, a system of checks and balances, and also of competition between the levels and the institutions within the political order itself. It is important to note that the principle of limited and decentralized government is not conditioned by what kind of government it is, good or bad. Centralized tyrannical government which rules well by good legislation is just as undesirable and immoral for a libertarian as a centralized tyrannical government which rules tyrannically by bad laws. Libertarianism looks to the individual and his self-control as the foundation for the social order.
What are the presuppositions for these principles of libertarianism as outlined above? Do they come from the Bible? Or do they come from any pagan religion or secularist philosophy out there? Or are they shared as presuppositions between the Bible and the pagan religions – which, of course, will mean that there is no antithesis between the Bible and the pagan religions?
A careful analysis of these principles of libertarianism will show us that none of them can be found anywhere in any pagan religion or secular ideology. First of all, of course, there is no pagan religion that looks at the individual as an entity of itself which has a transcendent right to life, liberty, or property. Pagan religions are by default humanistic, that is, unlike the Biblical faith, they do not create human worshipers of a transcendent God. The pagan deities are looked at as serving humans in their human pursuits. “Worship” is not true worship in the Biblical sense, serving a transcendent, absolute God. It is only a means to manipulate and “bind” a deity to do the bidding of a human being. And this bidding is usually set against a universe of other human beings whose will and person must be subdued. Pagans call to their gods when they need to win a battle, plunder a city, prosper economically at the expense of others, or manipulate others to do their bidding. The ultimate example of it is the voodoo practice or manipulating another person against their personality and will through a doll which represents the victim. The gods are not there to provide liberty for another person; nor are they there to enforce an objective, transcendent moral order which favors no person.
Pagan religions, therefore, are always religions of power. The morally high ground is the ground which allows for oppression, manipulation, and immoral appropriation of another person’s property or of the fruits of their labor. If they are not religions of power, they are religions of escapism, of completely erasing the individuality of the worshiper himself, and therefore of surrendering all rights or claims to life, liberty, or property. It is only natural that the end result of all pagan religions is not liberty nor anything close to as libertarian society but an empire: a world of rulers and ruled, a society whose moral order is completely subservient to the ruler or the ruling class.
Secular humanism is not any better than that. It’s ideals do not look at the individual as an entity which deserves to have its own fulfillment or ideals. As the Humanist Manifesto III puts it, “Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.” An individual is not “fulfilled” if he serves his own ideals. Neither is he “fulfilled” if he serves divine ideals. The individuals has existence and fulfillment only insofar as he serves the collective humanity, the total entity of humans. Of course, the final end of all secular humanism is a society where an elite class controls the individuals and sets the goals and the ideals for all. Life, liberty, and property can have any meaning only in the context of the collective existence and the goals of the ruling class. There is no place for libertarianism in secular humanism.
Only in the Biblical worldview can libertarianism’s ideals and principles find presuppositional support and vindication. Only the Bible explicitly establishes the right of the individual to be secure in his life, liberty and property. Only the Bible explicitly subject the political order to the same requirements as the individual. Only the Bible mandates the decentralization of the society into different levels and institutions of government. As R.J. Rushdoony pointed out, the Biblical social order doesn’t limit “government” to civil government only; it establishes the equal ultimacy of the different governments in the society – self, family, church, state. A Biblical social order is therefore a libertarian social order: where the civil government is only minimal, just as the libertarians want it. Rushdoony actually used quite strong words about the libertarian nature of the Biblical social order when he said that “theocracy is the closest thing to radical libertarianism that can be had.” The attempts of some to claim that Rushdoony did not mean it, or that he only used “libertarian” to describe his view of the Biblical social order in a conditional way, not really meaning it, are not supported by the evidence in his books. Not only did he mean that the Bible mandates a libertarian social order, he also called himself a “Christian libertarian.” And there was a good reason for that: R.J. Rushdoony knew very well that libertarianism can not come out of any pagan doctrine or religion; it is Christian by origin and by default. Just like science can only be based on Biblical presuppositions, libertarianism can only be based on Biblical presuppositions to be true libertarianism. If there are atheist scientists, who reject the Bible, they still need to borrow Christian presuppositions to do science, as Van Til pointed out; in the same way, even if there are atheist libertarians, they still need to borrow Christian presuppositions to defend their libertarianism. Without Christian presuppositions there can be no talk about life, liberty, or property. Without Christian presuppositions, there is only one society that can be had: statism.
Gary North’s original title for his economic commentary on Exodus 1-19 was aptly called, Moses and Pharaoh. Indeed, the political battle between a centralized, statist order and a libertarian, decentralized order was not a side issue in the spiritual war. It was the very embodiment of the antithesis between the Law of God and the laws of men. God did not set out to create a theonomic society in Egypt, under Pharaoh and his centralized authority. There was no offer to Pharaoh to institute or enforce the Law of God. The thought didn’t even cross God’s mind, and God never ever envisioned a centralized order which will be theonomic. (In fact, later, in 1 Samuel 8, when the Israelites wanted a king “like the other nations,” God told Samuel that that was because they rejected God as their King.) The very foundation of a theonomic society, the Law of God, started with a clear declaration: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” A theonomic society could not be built under a centralized order; a political liberation was needed before such a society could be built. Conversely, like we saw in 1 Samuel 8, when a people start losing their faith in God, their first desire is not for more freedom but for less; they want a king to control them and rule them, and to enforce the law over them. A rejection of the libertarian social and political order can come only from a rejection of the Christian faith.
Libertarianism, therefore, is simply the political philosophy of the Bible. Men must be free from other men, and secure in their life, liberty, and property, for God’s Kingdom to be able to advance on the earth. Conversely, the alternative to libertarianism is statism, and statism is the political philosophy of paganism and secular humanism. Christians who reject libertarianism are by default statists – they do not understand, or they self-consciously reject liberty as a Biblical value for the social order.
Indeed, those professing Christians who speak against libertarianism usually defend a statist view, expecting a centralized government to take over the civil functions of the local governments, or even of the self-government of the individuals. “The Federal government,” said one of them, “must defend life, and therefore it must pass laws against abortion”; forgetting, apparently, that the defense of life in the Bible was given to the local governments (the cities), not to a centralized royal power. Not to speak about the fact that a government that protects life also takes life away. Can such power be given to a monopolist government which has no competitors? What about the cities of refuge in the Law? How would such check and balance to a judicial power work in a centralized political order? Another claims that the Federal government must enforce laws against prostitution and drug abuse; but in the Law of God these two are sins but not civil crimes. Fornication (as distinct from adultery where the innocent partner takes the adulterer to court, or from a father of a daughter who takes a rapist to court) and consumption of drugs are left to the self-control of the individuals, not to the civil government to control. Others just don’t see what the big difference is between centralized government and local governments, as long as they “enforce the Law of God.” The size of the government or the political system is believed to be morally neutral by some and not subject to the Biblical Law. (“There is nothing in the Bible against centralized government.”) Others yet believe that liberty and political decentralization must come later, after the “important things,” like sodomy and abortion, are first dealt with according to the Biblical Law, even if it takes centralized action in Washington DC to achieve it. Some even say that it is dangerous to claim that the individual must be free from government control because freedom from government control is the same as freedom from God. And others yet find the talk about taxation, the Federal Reserve, regulations, unions, etc., unnecessary and unimportant for a Christian.
All these Christians have basically surrendered to a statist view of society, whether they admit it or not, or whether the are aware of it or not. If a Christian’s political goal is not a theocratic order which is the “closest thing to radical libertarianism that can be had,” then his political goal is statism of some kind. If a Christian, in his political efforts and participation, does not aim at limiting the civil government to the size prescribed by the Biblical Law, then he is not seriously trying to establish the rule and the prerogatives of the other institutions in the society whose place the state has taken: the family and the church. Even worse than that, if a Christian does not work to destroy the centralized political power in the society and decentralize society, he is not working to expand the rule of God as the only centralized Ruler in a society. The Kingdom of God can expand only where there is maximum political and social liberty for the individual, simply because the Kingdom of God is primarily based on self-government, not on political dictate.
Such views make just as much sense as the claims that Christians should not withdraw their children from the public schools but to try to convert the public schools. One can not achieve godly goals through evil means. Godly goals can not be achieved by statist means, as Mark Rushdoony said when commenting on the libertarianism of his father. And R.J. Rushdoony said that for a Christian to be a statist is to “involve a serious contradiction.” And he also called it a “practical denial of Christ.” Indeed, in the final account, no matter how much these Christians expect a central government to enforce the Law of God, it never will. Central governments are by default a consequence of an anti-Biblical ideology; they never enforce Biblical laws; because if they did, the first thing a central government should do is to dismantle itself. The expectation that a centralized government will enforce Biblical laws is schizophrenic.
So, to summarize, libertarianism, in its presuppositions, can be only Christian and nothing else. Granted, there are many who call themselves libertarians but reject Christianity; but just like secular scientists, they are forced to borrow Christian presuppositions to be true libertarians. A Christian must be a libertarian in his political and social philosophy if he wants to be faithful to the Bible. Those professing Christians who reject libertarianism, have adopted a statist worldview, whether they admit it or not, or whether they are aware of it or not. The end of such view is more tyranny, more oppression, and more wickedness. The kingdom of God can only grow in a decentralized society where self-government is the main and first form of government. And that is libertarianism, in its pure and true form.