Can a Catholic Be a Libertarian?

Lately I’ve been extensively reading the Austrian Economists and the thinkers of the Libertarian tradition. I can already hear the groans and screams of some readers pulling their hair—or beards—out as they lament the seemingly inexcusable faux pas of a traditional Catholic such as myself dabbling in the world of political and economic liberalism.

I admit, my reading journey into the world of authors that make integralists and old right conservatives cringe has been an uneasy sojourn. I’ve written and commented extensively on works such as Liberalism is a Sin and produced videos and articles on the errors of modern political and religious liberalism—and I still stand by them.

But alas, three important factors have caused me to seriously reconsider “touchy” political and economic subject areas with a deep fascination. 

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First, I am a Chestertonian to the core; it is hard for me to find something I disagree with regarding the Prince of Paradox—even when I disagree with him, I don’t really disagree with him. I always knew there was something different about the “liberalism” that he and Belloc professed, so I owed it to my literary hero to take a second look.

Second, if we are being honest about the buffet of political options available to us in our day, none of them can be fully reconciled with Catholicism at every jot and tittle. If you think liberalism is bad…you should look into what “conservatives” have been saying for decades. 

Third, I have lived—and still am living—through a political hell on earth; Ontario, Canada, is an unmitigated disaster of public health policy that has relegated the unvaccinated to a rung of society that has shook me to my core. Never in my life did I think that I would be living through a never-ending twilight zone of veritable psychosis where I would have to figuratively—and I hope not literally—shield my children from the State to this degree. 

I don’t think any of us would describe G.K. Chesterton as a “liberal,” at least in the sense the word is used today—but he certainly called himself a liberal. Chesterton fanatics are surely familiar with his use of the term in his seminal work Orthodoxy, where he writes: “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.”

Now, Chesterton was still an Anglican at the time of publishing that work, so perhaps one might brush off what looks like a pre-Roman gaff due to the great Apostle of Wit not having crossed the Tiber. That would be mistake, however. As he progressed in his literary career as a Catholic, he did not stop defending the Old English Liberalism. There is more I could say on the matter, but that would be another essay. 

Suffice it to say, I spoke with the man who is perhaps the world’s most prominent Chesterton scholar—Joseph Pearce—and he defended Chesterton’s use of the label. According to Pearce, it is as simple as words meaning different things to different people and in different cultures. Basically, Liberalism for Chesterton was not of the condemned theological or philosophical sort, which I think holds up to scrutiny when investigated. 

Analogously, Chesterton—as does Pearce—defended “democracy” his whole life, but again, this did not make him a modern democrat. It also does not mean that any number of individuals will even use the term democracy in the same manner.

Regarding the smorgasbord of political offerings, there is not a pronounced dogma on what type of political movement a Catholic is required to adhere to. Surely, there are condemnable errors that we ought to avoid, but there is no one binding Catholic political/economic solution. 

Even in the realm of Catholic Social Teaching, there are many things that are strongly considered, such as the notion of a “just wage;” how we apply political realities to address those issues is more complicated.

There are certainly Catholic-inspired options, such as Distributism, Integralism, Corporatism, Christian Democrat movements, and so on. All present their pros and cons, and all have been scrutinized, debated, loved, and hated by devout Catholics of all persuasions. 

Distributists sometimes come off as economically naïve—please don’t shoot the messenger—but address pressing issues pertaining to the rights of families as good or better than anyone. In fact, I believe the Distributists and Libertarians have the most in common. But one thing I cannot reconcile is how a state could remain small enough to not trample on the lives of citizens while at the same time be big enough to break up oligarchical monopolies. 

Integralists make a strong case for Christendom-inspired national movements toward Catholic Monarchy, but suitable monarchs and unified Catholic populations in our day are about as rare as a bout of sobriety for Nancy Pelosi. I sympathize with the hankering for the Old Christendom—I feel it too—but for some reason, Providence has permitted us to descend into an era of post-modern decay; thus, I see the Integralist option as unlikely and improbable. 

Corporatists provide an option for monarchical sentiments without the monarch. However, there is a tendency for the strong man who leads the state to become the leader of a cult of personality, which can lead to veritable authoritarianism and statism; as it has done in the past.

Christian Democrats in today’s world are frequently unchristian and undemocratic. Pure democracy, as in a mob of majority rule, is evil. So, whatever Christian Democracy could be, it still relies on the broken democratic systems that plague our nations today. 

Should I throw my lot in with the conservatives? If so, which ones? The ones who call pornography an aspect of freedom? Or how about the George Weigels of the world who evangelize through the military industrial complex? My personal favorites are conservatives who are “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”—which is to say perverts who like being rich. 

Maybe I should trumpet the call for a return of the Trump. He was, after all, championed by Catholic politicos writ large—despite his support of rainbow lifestyles. Last year, when I voiced my support for Trump and the Republican Party—a support that was only in spirit, as I do not live in America—I received very little if any criticism for doing so. Even among those who did not like the Orange Man, it was a recognized fact that he was the best option for Christians, and the alternative was immeasurably worse.

I was not accused by Catholic commentators of “being a liberal” even though I supported a politician and his movement that was a home to significant modern liberalism. No one said to me, “Kennedy, you cannot support the Trump movement, there are philosophical errors in his understanding of the human person, which inevitably leads to a state riddled with errors.” In fact, I have heard more than one traditional Catholic priest say that Trump is the “greatest president we have ever had.”

However, as I have “outed” myself as an Austrian, I have received my fair share of criticism—from the same crowd that could proclaim the reign of The Donald without realizing the irony. I imagine if I outed myself as an Austro-Hungarian, the reception would have been warmer.

If we were to take a fine-toothed comb through all political options, we would find potential grave defects in the application of all of them. Living and operating in the valley of tears ensures that we live in a world of iniquity, where natural inequalities will always be exploited by bad actors—no matter the political or economic system. No matter how you slice it, without a moral populous, no system will be free of grave defects.

This leads me to my last point of consideration, namely the disaster that is Canadian governance. It is hard for Americans to conceptualize just how bad things are here. I love my country, but my government is run by demon-inspired Marxists, who fill the majority of each and every political party. If we are lucky, we might have a reprieve from the muzzle mandate in the Spring of 2022…it will be weird for me to not have to defy the government every time I enter a store.

Australia gets all the press, but the policies are more or less the same here. Aussies have more of a fighting spirit and a rugged individualism than Canucks, so I believe that they are simply fighting harder, which makes for more fireworks.

At any rate, I do not believe that immutable truths change with time. I am not a relativist or subjectivist. But I do believe that the application of true principles can take different forms in different historical contexts. In essence, when considering civil engagement, we must use our prudence. 

As an example, it is licit for a group of Catholics to rebel against a tyrannical regime under certain circumstances while not under other circumstances. This is simply prudence, as any political activity or rebellion against a truly evil tyranny must be done in a way that does not endanger the innocent populous.

In a sense, I view the libertarian literature in this way. I concede that there are arguments for why other political movements were appropriate for different cultures and contexts. Personally, I find Monarchy to be the strongest and most stable form of governance; I also see it as amenable to a libertarian mentality—again a discussion for another essay.

But I would be daft to think that the eugenics-minded environmental cultists of the British Monarchy should recapture control of Canada. The Canadian people are not kingly, and the kings are not kingly either.

In addition, in this complex age of pluralism and technological revolution, I am not convinced that even a good King, nay a great King, could guarantee that something like the lockdown would never happen again. All the “experts” agreed, and even the Church agreed. The power that modern states have over individual citizens is simply too great, even if the rulers are otherwise good.

I don’t know if I can adequately express what the lockdown and vaccine passport hysteria has done to my view of government—maybe I am jaded. But I now live in a nation where the government—“liberals” and “conservatives” alike—have destroyed the psychological framework of a generation with ease.

Maybe it is a bit much to suggest, but the modern state in this age of revolution is like a nuclear bomb; the costs of using it are just too great. And, like a nuclear weapon, we would all be safer if it was disassembled. I support guns, and the ownership of weapons of all kinds, but some things should just not have been created.

From where I am standing, only the serious libertarians offer any reasonable and practical solutions to escape this statist hell. 

Some may believe that a Catholic can be virtually anything but a libertarian—well, I will tell you that if some sort of libertarian spirit does not take root in my country, it might not be too far off that the government says a Canadian can be anything but a Catholic. 

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]


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