Christianity Meets Libertarianism, and Bandow Makes It a Match

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This Reagan administration official and Washington intellectual combines a religious sense of caution and humility with his deep political suspicion of handing over the reins of power to others.

Syndicated columnist and Cato Institute fellow Doug Bandow mixes a libertarian-leaning political philosophy with an evangelical Christian faith. "I think religious views have to be the trump. To me, theology is the whole life within which one's political beliefs have to be settled," he tells Insight. "God has pretty much left us alone to work out our political problems," says Bandow, who adds that God has given people the wisdom to be able to recognize the best choices -- if they're careful to take the trouble to find out what those choices are. Ideas cascade from Bandow, and he has a sudden, infectious laugh that sounds like it springs from a mischievous sense of humor

Insight: How would you describe your political views?

Doug Bandow: I certainly grew up with the sense that government doesn't handle economics well. But the way I've moved philosophically comes from looking at how the world works, as opposed to some exhaustive search among the great philosophers of world history. I look at programs to see if they work well or if they don't. I look at them from a very practical standpoint.

I am very much influenced by a sense of what happens when sinful man gains control of coercive institutions. Clearly government is necessary to protect people from the deprivations of sinful man. At the same time, however, you have to realize that when sinful people get control of government institutions, the likely result, all too often, I think, will be sin. So, that has pushed me in a skeptical direction toward the use of government across the board: the use of government to solve economic problems, to manipulate the marketplace -- but also the use of government to promote virtue. I tend to be skeptical whether it is a conservative or a liberal who claims to be doing good things if they're in government.

Insight: How do libertarianism and your religious faith fit together?

DB: I think that a religious sense of caution and humility in terms of human action fits well with a libertarian philosophy that is cautious about giving power over to other individuals. To me, they work together, but you can't say that one dictates the other. I think one can be a Christian and be many different things in terms of political philosophy.

As I read Scripture -- and as an evangelical I give heavy weight to Scripture -- I see an awful lot on how humans are supposed to relate to God, an awful lot on how they're supposed to relate to one another. I don't see an awful lot indicating that you're supposed to force other people to do things, and that is what government is all about: You have to be willing, ultimately, to throw someone in jail if they don't go along with whatever you think is appropriate policy.

Insight: Despite the 20th century's dismal record when it comes to government as the answer to all of mankind's needs, many still look to government as the answer. Why?

DB: It's hard to understand. Paul Johnson, who wrote Modern Times, has called the 20th century the "Age of Politics," and it certainly is that. We've had every conceivable ideology, including the great totalitarian ideologies of communism, fascism, Nazism. All of them promised in one way or another a "New Man," created collectively. All of these experiences ended disastrously, so you'd think they were completely outside the pale. Even the modern welfare state! I tell people government does a few things well. It kills people well. It's very good at seizing the people's wealth. But it is not very good at the more sensitive tasks of molding a society and molding human beings.

I think the experience of the inner cities is a very powerful lesson in what happens with even the milder form of collectivism that we have here -- allowing the state to destroy families, destroy communities, destroy economic opportunity, destroy education. …