Why I Am a Catholic Libertarian

It’s not always easy these days to tell which of our two major political parties is the Stupid Party and which the Evil Party. But it remains true, as a conservative wag once said, that from time to time the parties collaborate on something that’s both stupid and evil and call it bipartisanship.
Although I have no connection to the Libertarian Party, I’ve long been associated with small-l libertarianism. By the time I was finishing college, I found I could no longer be a cheerleader for the Republican Party, so much of my political evolution involves my disillusionment with the GOP.

For one thing, Republicans don’t even pretend to be interested in scaling government back anymore. With the exception of Congressman Ron Paul, no one in the recent Republican presidential debates could name a single federal pencil sharpener he’d do away with. And forget about abolishing the department of education or other federal agencies — what are you, some kind of extremist?

Oh, but we can’t seem anti-education, comes the response, even though spending more federal money has done exactly nothing to turn declining test scores around. (Only recalibrating the tests seems able to do that.) If they had a fighting spirit, Republicans would proudly adopt the conservative view and put the left on the defensive: By claiming we need a federal department of education, aren’t you really saying that Americans are too dense to run their own schools without supervision from Washington? Why do you think Americans are so stupid?

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That won’t happen, though: Republicans are too busy proposing their own national “plans” for education (which are leftist in their very nature). So much for subsidiarity, a central principle in Catholic social thought.

A quick glance at the presidential debates reveals that the Democrats can come up with nothing more original than further proposals for looting the American population. I almost don’t blame people for being Democrats, incidentally. Americans endure twelve years of propaganda in a government institution, learning (not coincidentally) about the government’s glorious deeds and the terrible things that would surely happen to us in its absence. I can hardly blame someone who believes we owe our standard of living to labor unions and federal regulation: After hearing no other perspective on American history year after year, what else can the poor fellow be expected to think?

I don’t expect much from the Democrats. But even the boldest Republicans suggest “replacing” the Internal Revenue Service with some kind of horrendous consumption tax. Instead, the IRS should be abolished and replaced with nothing. Impossible? If the income tax were done away with, federal revenues would still be sufficient to fund the federal budget from the year 2000. I rather doubt we would be climbing over corpses on our way to work if spending were scaled back to its level of seven years ago.

Incidentally, if forced labor is wrong when it takes the form of chattel slavery, why is it all right when it takes the form of government confiscation of people’s income? Combining federal, state, and local taxes, Americans can easily find themselves handing over half their income to some level of government every year. Slavery was wrong because the slave did forced labor every year of his life, the fruits of which he could not enjoy. American taxpayers do forced labor for half the year. Being forced to work for someone else against your will all year long is a moral abomination; being forced to do so for only half the year is a-ok. I just don’t see it.

On foreign policy, I am convinced that the Founding Fathers’ counsel of nonintervention is the most sensible and morally sound position. (Heck, it must be right: None of the hacks in either major party recommends it.) When it comes to foreign policy, moreover, young Republicans are so in the dark about their own history that they think opposition to war is “leftist,” and that demands to “support our president” in avoidable, multi-trillion-dollar wars are conservative. One scarcely knows where to begin.

But aren’t libertarians divided on abortion? Well, yes, but if the polls are any indication, Republicans seem perfectly happy to support candidates who spend half their time trying to figure out where they should stand on the issue that afternoon.

As it turns out, the only person with a serious and workable plan for overturning Roe v. Wade right now is Ron Paul, the 1988 Libertarian candidate for president who is currently seeking the Republican presidential nomination. In accordance with Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, Paul’s bill would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over abortion, thereby overturning Roe through a simple majority vote in Congress.

I bet you’ve never heard about that bill before. That’s because neither major party actually wants to see the abortion issue disappear from public life at the federal level — too much fundraising and grandstanding depend on maintaining the status quo.

We sometimes hear it said that the United States needs a third party. Maybe so. But if we could be permitted a second party, alongside the Republicrats, that would be a pretty good start.


  • Thomas E. Woods Jr.

    Thomas E. Woods Jr. is the author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization and the first-place winner in the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Awards for The Church and the Market. His most recent book is Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts will Make Everything Worse. Dr. Woods earned his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University.

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