Common Ground between the Philosophies of Christianity and Libertarianism

By Schansberg, D. Eric | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Common Ground between the Philosophies of Christianity and Libertarianism


Schansberg, D. Eric, Journal of Markets & Morality


This essay is addressed primarily to members of two groups: non-Christian libertarians and non-libertarian Christians. While they often view each other with suspicion or even derision, in fact, the two worldviews are remarkably consistent. For libertarians, while there may be other good reasons for not embracing Christianity, I will illustrate that what the Bible says about government is not one of them. For Christians, I will illustrate that libertarianism is consistent with Christianity, and thus, that there is no good reason for them not to embrace libertarianism as their political philosophy.

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This essay is addressed primarily to members of two groups: non-Christian libertarians and non-libertarian Christians. While they often view each other with suspicion or even derision, in fact, the two worldviews are remarkably consistent. (1) That said, there are good reasons why the two groups have been wary of each other. Some Christians have confused the behavior of libertine libertarians with the philosophy of libertarianism. (2) Moreover, Christians often misunderstand the difference between legality and morality. For example, observing libertarians endorse drug legalization or legalized prostitution, Christians might easily but mistakenly conclude that being a libertarian means condoning or endorsing such behaviors. (3) Likewise, libertarians have confused the personal beliefs and behaviors of some Christians with the philosophy of biblical Christianity. (4) For example, seeing some Christians endorse government activism in economic or social realms, libertarians might easily but mistakenly conclude that the Bible endorses such behavior. (5)

Although the reasons for confusion are similar, my goals in writing this essay for the two groups are somewhat different. For libertarians, while there may be other good reasons for not embracing Christianity, I will illustrate that what the Bible says about government is not one of them. (6) For Christians, I will illustrate that libertarianism is consistent with Christianity, and thus, that there is no good reason for them not to embrace libertarianism as their political philosophy. (7) Given the tasks at hand, I will appeal to passages from the Bible that discuss Christianity and the extent to which the pursuit of governmental activism is an appropriate means to desirable ends.

Libertarians, as a group, find a limited, legitimate role for government-differing among themselves mostly on the extent to which they (1) view markets as struggling in some contexts (e.g., public goods, externalities); and (2) view government as a legitimate and effective alternative in these few circumstances. Many Christians--particularly those who are not politically active--hold political views that are close to those of libertarians, but since they are not in the public eye, it is their more politically active brethren who receive the lion's share of publicity. (8) Of these, the goals of the so-called Religious Right mostly deal with issues of social morality, while the goals of the so-called Religious Left mostly deal with issues of "economic justice." (9) Both groups then advocate government as an appropriate means to desirable ends. Libertarians find government to be mostly incompetent and, beyond that, are philosophically opposed to most governmental activity. In contrast, Christians on the political Left and Right--like Democrats and Republicans-at least implicitly believe governmental activism to be morally appropriate and practically competent in some or many contexts. The competency of government (or lack thereof) is beyond the scope of this essay. Aside from that, their advocacy begs two questions: Does God (as described in the Bible) agree with their specific goals, and does God approve of using government as a means to reaching those goals?

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