According to an article on Breibart, Pope Francis recently issued a broadside against libertarianism in a message sent to members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Referring to libertarianism, the Pope stated in part,
A common characteristic of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, that is the idea of “living well” or the “good life” in the communitarian framework, while at the same time exalting a “selfish ideal.”
Thus, the libertarian individual denies the value of the common good because on the one hand he supposes that the very idea of “common” means the constriction of at least some individuals, and on the other hand that the notion of “good” deprives freedom of its essence.
Unfortunately, Francis has been woefully misinformed about the libertarian philosophy. If he understood the genuine principles of libertarianism, he would see that it is the only philosophy that is consistent with Christian principles and that contrary philosophies, including socialism, violate Christian principles.
Libertarianism simply holds that people should be free to live their lives however they want, so long as their conduct is peaceful. That is, people are not free to murder, rape, steal, defraud, or otherwise violate the rights of others. But in all peaceful activities, people should be free to make their own choices, even if those choices are immoral, irresponsible, selfish, or sinful.
It’s that last part that’s the rub. When people who don’t know much about libertarianism hear that part, they immediately jump to the conclusion that libertarians are, therefore, libertines — that the reason they favor freedom and free will is because they endorse immorality, irresponsibility, selfishness, and sinful conduct.
Take drug laws, for instance. Libertarians favor the legalization of drugs. For anyone who hasn’t studied the libertarian philosophy in depth, the temptation is to immediately conclude, “Oh, so you libertarians favor drug usage, drug abuse, and drug addiction.”
Au contraire, we libertarians say. When we call for drug legalization, we aren’t saying that drugs are good or bad. We are simply saying that people should be free to make their own choices on what to ingest without being punished by the state for doing so.
In other words, libertarianism, as a philosophy of freedom, does not make value judgments on the choices that people make. It simply holds that genuine freedom entails the right to make choices that are responsible or irresponsible, moral or immoral, selfish or unselfish, sinful or non-sinful — so long as the choices are peaceful.
The Pope might respond, “But Jacob, drug addiction is a horrible thing. It damages the person, his family, and society.”
All of that might well be true. Libertarians don’t deny that. We simply say that people should be free to make such choices without being put into jail or fined. In other words, it’s none of the government’s business what a person puts into his mouth, no matter how harmful, unhealthy, or sinful it might be.
The principle is no different in economic affairs. A person doing business in the free market might be the greediest, most selfish person in the world. He might be a person who hoards every dime he earns and refuses to donate even one penny to the poor, to churches, to cancer societies, to education, or anything else.
Libertarianism defends the right of people to make such choices and to live one’s life in that manner.
Once again, however, that causes people who lack a deep understanding of libertarianism to jump the conclusion that libertarianism defends such choices and lifestyles.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Libertarianism simply holds that freedom entails the right to live one’s life the way he wants, so long as his conduct is peaceful. As a philosophy, it doesn’t pass judgment on the particular choices that people make in their lives.
Within a genuinely free (i.e., libertarian) society, people are also free to preach and counsel how best to live one’s life. That includes churches, ministers, counselors, therapists, and everyone else. But it also means that people are free to reject the advice and counsel and continue down the road that some might consider immoral, irresponsible, evil, or sinful.
Freedom entails the right to live a solitary life, much as many Catholics have done throughout the ages. It also entails the right to combine with others in common pursuits, such as with churches and monasteries. It entails the right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and to decide for one’s self what to do with it. It also entails the right of people to take vows of poverty, much as some Catholic priests and nuns do. Once again, libertarianism is a philosophy of freedom in that it protects the right of everyone to live life the way he wants, so long as he isn’t violating the rights of others.
Socialists, on the other hand, believe that people cannot be trusted with freedom and free will. That’s why they want the state to intervene and force people to do the “right” thing. That’s what drug laws, for example, are all about. It’s also what Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, three core programs in the socialist agenda, are all about — forcing people through taxes, fines, and imprisonment to care for their parent, the elderly, and the poor. For socialists, “freedom” entails the right to make whatever choices people want to make, so long as the choices are the “correct” ones.
Thus, the fundamental issue that separates libertarianism from socialism is the nature of freedom. Libertarians hold that freedom entails the right to make irresponsible, immoral, selfish, and sinful choices without being punished by the state for doing so, so long as the choices involve peaceful action. Socialists, on the hand, hold that the state should force people to make the “right” choices and should punish people with fines and jail who make the “wrong” choices, even when such choices are entirely peaceful in nature.