Charlie's Blog: The Cult of Liberty

7.11.2015

The Cult of Liberty


Libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people.
AYN RAND

I used to be a libertarian. My arrival at libertarianism was the logical destination when I lost my faith and became an atheist. In my twenties, I was a right wing Limbaugh listening conservative Republican. I was also a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian. When the Calvinism went, the conservatism went with it. The joke goes that a libertarian is simply a Republican that smokes dope. That joke gets it exactly right even if libertarians wish to deny it. Libertarianism is the belief that freedom in all things is the best way to go. Naturally, this makes it anti-Christian. The Christian believes that the only true freedom is the freedom to do good. The libertarian believes that all freedom leads to doing good, but reality shows otherwise.

The appeal of libertarianism for me was that it offered an ethic to replace the Christian ethic that I had abandoned. This ethic was the non-aggression principle or NAP. Basically, the NAP is the principle that you should not violate anyone's life, liberty, or property unless they violate your life, liberty, or property. All things considered, it is a nice principle mainly because it borrows from the Christian ethic. As long as you don't go around hurting people, you are a good person. The flaw is that you don't go around helping people either. Though libertarians will argue that people are free to pursue charitable aims, I never encountered any that actually did beyond trying to repeal the income tax. When I was a libertarian, panhandlers and homeless people would approach me asking for money. I always responded in this manner. "What's in it for me?" This line would always shock them and shut them up. This is because all beggars appeal to a sense of God and a shared humanity. When they met me, they were meeting a monster who believed in neither God nor any humanity except his own.

Libertarianism is about the individual. The individual is all that matters. Society ought to promote the interests of the individual. This all seems right and good except for one fatal flaw in the libertarian logic. This is the word "ought." Why should I respect anyone else's life, liberty, or property? Why should I be compelled to not steal? Why can't I exploit the weak and the helpless for my own selfish gain? Libertarians will try and make the case about best possible societies and all that as if they can use logic founded upon an abstraction to arrive at the only sane and rational conclusion which is the libertarian society. Yet, it never goes that way.


All rights and duties find their foundation in natural law which finds its foundation in God. This was not a problem in a Christian country that was Catholic. But that Protestant Revolution put a wrench in the machine, and people were suddenly able to arrive at their own theological conclusions. Once you are set free to be your own pope and priest, the individual becomes the final arbiter of what is true, good, and beautiful. The result is obvious to see from the thousands of Protestant denominations that proliferate today. When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to that door in Wittenberg, that one act became the beginning of all that would come later from Protestantism to the Enlightenment to Atheism to Commmunism and on and on. The reason for this is because the cause of the greatness of Western Civilization was the Christian religion and the Roman Catholic Church. The Church brought order to the barbaric lands of Europe. I doubt Luther would approve of all that happened since his act of revolution. But he started the ball rolling when he exalted the individual over God. He laid the cornerstone for a new order of things that was really just the old disorder of pagan Europe.

When you are cast into a world of such unfettered freedom, it can be exciting but also disorienting. You have the freedom to go where you want, but you have no idea how to get there. The compass is thrown overboard, and the stars have dimmed. Without God to order things, some new foundation has to be laid which is how the Protestant Revolution gave birth to the Enlightenment. Reason would be the new guide in things. Instead of a living deity to worship and serve, the new man would worship and serve an abstraction. If this sounds eerily like pagan idolatry, you are correct. People exhanged the Creator for the created. The Cult of Reason in Revolutionary France is the most potent and visible example of this new paganism as Enlightenment minded people converted Catholic churches into temples for the worship of reason. If Protestantism set people free to embrace heresies, the Enlightenment set them free to embrace idolatry.


Those idols are still with us today in the form of the various "isms" that came from that Enlightenment era. Today's secularism is essentially the Enlightenment carried forward from that time. Libertarianism is simply one of those idols fashioned after communism turned out so radically bad. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment has rewritten the history books such that the Catholic Church is painted as the darkness while these modern thinkers are painted as the light of a new age instead of the rebirth of a barbaric old paganism.

Abstractions such as liberty or equality truly are idols. They are not bad in themselves anymore than a statue is a bad thing. But when you put it on a pedestal and erect an altar to it and start making the sacrifices to it, then its idolatrous nature is clear for everyone to see. Since the Enlightenment, people have fought and died for what amount to mere words. Millions of lives have been sacrificed on the altars of one idol after another. The chief one in the twentieth century was Marxism but a close second is the one we know as "liberty."

True freedom is the ability to do what is good. True freedom is not the ability to decide what is good. That is the key distinction between Christian liberty and Enlightenment liberty. With Christianity, you are free to create beauty. With the Enlightenment, you are free to decide what is beautiful. With Christianity, you are free to pursue truth. With the Enlightenment, you are free to define truth. With Christianity, you are free to do good. With the Enlightenment, you are free to decide what is good. The result is that nothing good, true, or beautiful came out of the Enlightenment except by accident. And this is where libertarianism finds its footing.

Libertarianism believes that the freedom is what matters most. In the petri dish of liberty, the true, the good, and the beautiful are allowed the space to emerge. Competition will remove the ugly, the false, and the bad. This is why libertarians love the free market so much and wish that it was applied with equal zeal in the political realm. Certainly bad things will crop up from time to time like a tacky strip club next to a church, but they are a small price to pay for all the blessings of liberty like the new iPhone and craft beer! Let chaos go unfettered, and order will emerge. Unfortunately, that new order is a new totalitarianism. In the history of the world, freedom is that small blip of time when the slaves exchange one master for another master. Unfettered economic freedom produces monopolies and cartels. Unfettered political freedom produces dictatorships.

Cultivation is what produces a garden from a field of weeds. One side says to let the weeds grow wild and tomatoes will emerge eventually. The other side says to burn the field to ashes so that the tomatoes will have the space to actually grow. The Christian ethic is to allow the good to grow while weeding out the false. This takes work and lots of it. Yet, this is the only way a good garden can grow. You encourage the good and discourage the bad. This cultivation requires wisdom, virtue, justice, and many other things that secularists can only guess at and try and reinvent. The sad reality is that people don't want what works which is Christianity but that thing which saves them from working and thinking. Libertarians are those who think the garden that is uncultivated grows best, and they spend the bulk of their time not doing anything about it except to lament when someone sets their field of weeds on fire from time to time.

My own life and intellectual journey has been a microhistory of the macrohistory of Western civilization. I began with Protestantism which led to atheism, philosophy, and libertarianism. But when I encountered Catholicism which is the true Christian religion created by God and not man, I knew it was superior to my inferior worldview. Whatever criticisms can be hurled at Catholicism, it isn't because Catholicism fails but because people fail to live up to what Catholicism teaches. People wonder why I suddenly embraced the Catholic religion, and I did it the same way a thirsty man reaches for a glass of water. In a world of confusion and emptiness, I could see clearly the order and common sense and wisdom in Roman Catholicism.

People are not going to find the right way on their own. That is the story of the Bible and human history. Humanity cannot save itself. God had to intervene, and God still intervenes even today. People believe that Christianity emerged from pagan superstitions, and today's enlightened thinkers have emerged from the superstitions of Christianity. But this is a myth. The reality is that Christianity came from God, and people now reject it to return to the pagan superstitions of the pre-Christian world. There is no progress. There is simply regress. The barbarians have traded their axes and swords for predator drones and nuclear weapons.

Libertarianism was born out of the reaction to the horrors of all those Enlightenment philosophies run amuck. It doesn't have the answer, but it does have the virtue of dismantling the guillotine before the heads start rolling. Libertarianism is the Enligthenment defanged. It doesn't have any answers except to refrain from killing people for not thinking like you do. But this is essentially a Christian idea. If some kind of order were to emerge from the chaos of liberty, it would look very much like Christianity which is why I ask the most absurd yet most elementary of questions. Why reinvent something that already exists?