01 Aug 2010

Austro-Libertarianism & Christianity

Religious 27 Comments

I have many new readers because I plugged the blog at the recent Mises University. So first, let me explain my policy: I blog on secular matters 6 days a week, but on Sundays I only post on religious themes. I am a born-again Christian and do not shy away from this, but I also understand that many readers don’t want to wade through that type of discussion. So, if the J-word makes you uncomfortable, then don’t read this blog on Sundays.

At Mises University, one student asked me to comment on the relationship between my extreme libertarian views and my Christianity. After all, there is an undeniable streak in the latter that says we should obey the ruling authorities. (The most famous example is from Paul.)

So here are some of my thoughts, some of which I have gleaned from deeper theological thinkers:

* Paul spent a good deal of time in prison himself, and so did Jesus (and John the Baptist, a bunch of prophets, etc.). So there is also a strong tradition in Judeo-Christianity of speaking truth to power and defying the authorities when they oppose the will of God. According to my views on property rights (derived from Austro-libertarianism), I think State officials in our modern world are a gang of robbers and murderers. Therefore, I oppose them.

* Having said that, I do NOT advocate violent rebellion. I am NOT trying to overthrow the government. I am merely trying to persuade anyone who will listen, to withhold his or her consent from the State. I still pay my taxes, for example, and pull over when a cop turns on his lights. So in that respect, I am not directly defying the ruling power structure, just as Jesus didn’t attack Rome the way many thought He would/should.

* Even though I call myself a philosophical anarchist, I do not “reject authority.” I have submitted to Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I serve a King. (I never was fond of Paul’s language of being a “slave to Christ,” because what type of slave has the master’s permission to leave? God doesn’t force you to serve Him, He asks you to and teaches you that it is in your long-run interest to do so.)

* As far as American evangelicals, most of them are inconsistent when they lecture radical libertarians by saying the governing authorities are put there by God, and so you have a duty to obey them. If they really thought that, then why did so many of them support the invasion of Iraq? After all, if Saddam’s political opponents had behaved correctly, he wouldn’t have needed to kill them, right? Saddam was just God’s arm of justice in Iraq, right? (To belabor the point: Once the typical American evangelical starts explaining why it was just for Iraqis to disobey Saddam, then we’re back on secular political grounds: The libertarian and the evangelical are now disagreeing on what a just government is, not on what God wants us to do with respect to political leaders.)

* To switch focus: I know a lot of atheist libertarians think the idea of spontaneous order shows how wrong-headed Christians are. I can summarize their frustration like this: “After all, we don’t need a central planner in the economy, and we don’t need an intelligent designer in biology, so how in the world can libertarians of all people cling to the irrational belief in a God??”

But I view these things the way (I believe) that the Scottish moral philosophers originally did. The reason we have spontaneous orders is that an orderly, benevolent Creator designed the structure of the universe and the human mind. If the world is just a big coincidence, then there is no reason to expect all of the beauty we see in higher mathematics, cell biology, or international trade.

Let me put it like this: What capitalism does, is take the most greedy, power-hungry people–if only they will respect the Ten Commandments and don’t steal or kill–and lead them to unwittingly serve their fellow men. Isn’t that just the kind of world the Christian God would design? The Bible is full of examples where God takes sin and transforms it into salvation. An obvious example is Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery, and of course the prime example is the murder of Jesus being, at the same time, the defeat of Satan.

27 Responses to “Austro-Libertarianism & Christianity”

  1. John Goes says:

    Bob, what exactly are your present-day views on property rights? Is your view Biblically derived?

  2. Joe Cesarone says:

    Nice post, but I was unaware that Jesus spent “a good deal of time in prison” – I was only aware that he spent the last day of his life there. Could you please provide the source for this claim?

    • Daniel Hewitt says:

      I think Bob just made a mistake. Jesus was crucified the day after he was arrested.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Sorry, I was originally saying Paul spent a good deal of time in prison, and then I started adding other people to the list, but didn’t change the sentence accordingly. I.e. Jesus certainly disobeyed the authorities in a sense, and ended up receiving a death sentence. So on that ground it’s difficult for a modern evangelical to say, “You have to stop criticizing George Bush, because political rulers are put here by God.”

      • Joe Cesarone says:

        Good, I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed a passage about an earlier imprisonment! I agree with the point you are making, and enjoyed the post.

  3. fundamentalist says:

    Nice defense of Christian libertarianism! In a nutshell, Christians should study the only government that God ever established – the nation of Israel under the Judges. That is how government should work. And keep in mind that God allowed Israel to have a king as punishment for their rebellion against him. As for the writings of Paul, he is referring to the institutions of government when he wrote that God established them. He is not referring to the actual people filling the position at any time. As Murphy wrote, Jewish prophets and Christians have a long, long history of disobeying the the state when the state violates God’s laws. And Christians scholars during the Reformation discovered all kinds of limits to the authority and power of the state. Christians have an obligation to disobey the state when the state oversteps its bounds and violates God’s laws. If they don’t, they’re guilty of idolatry.

  4. Daniel Hewitt says:

    Romans 13 and Anarcho-Capitalism by Jim Fedako

  5. david says:

    Hi Bob.

    A good post. Thanks for raising the issue.

    I would add a number of points.

    First, a God, if He exists, need not be a central planner at all, other than in establishing a few basic “rules of the system”. Also, as I understand it, in traditional Christian theology, it is assumed that God gave man free will. It is up to man to make the best of what he has been given.

    Second, Christianity is itself largely a spontaneous order or evolved from one. That alone, I would have thought, suggests that it should be accorded a degree of respect by libertarians even if they are not believers and even if they disagree with its moral prescriptions..

    Third, while Christianity may have been co-opted from time to time by the state for its own purposes, Christianity was frequently a check on state power and a competing source of moral legitimacy. This has/had value quite apart from whether one is a believer or not. It is no accident that statist philosophies seek to undermine or displace competing sources of legitimacy, in the form of voluntary institutions (how did that work out? – see history of twentieth century). The mere fact that religion requires man to answer to a higher authority than the state is itself a useful check on the state.

    Fourth, the ethical basis of natural rights libertarianism (self-ownership) has its origin I would suggest in a) the Christian notions of the sanctity of the individual and that individuals are not simply vehicles for the achievement of group objectives, and b) the Judeo-Christian idea that man was created in the image of God. David Gordon’s short biography of Rothbard (online at mises.org) goes into the natural rights philosophical tradition in Catholicism. The difficulty of course is that Christian notions of charity have also been exploited (and perhaps distorted?) by the Left to advance socialism.

    Fifth, I believe that it is a fundamental aspect of traditional Christian theology that, without free will, there can be no virtue. This sounds very libertarian to me – coerced actions cannot be virtuous.

    Sixth,I don’t see the “render unto Caesar” thing as an endorsement of the state but rather as an endorsement of the separation of church and state and, more broadly, a recognition that there is a legitmate role for the secular in the world. It has been remarked that Islam, for example, lacks a doctrinal recognition of the separation of church and state or of the religious and secular, with predictable results for individual liberty in some Muslim countries. Would we have had a Renaissance or an Enlightenment, I wonder, without recognizing the legitimacy of such a separation?

    Seventh, regardless of what some presume to be its irrationality, the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its classical influences, has always exalted reason.

  6. Mark Joslin says:

    Actually there’s another Christian interpretation that even some atheist-libertarians wouldn’t mind hearing: we created the world. I quote “The world is only in the mind of its maker. Do not believe it is outside of yourself. (p. 207)” from A Course in Miracles, written by Jesus through Helen Schucman in the late 1970s. The Course is the most rock solid course to becoming an enlightened Christian the way Jesus would have you be.

    It’s about 600 pages long with 365 daily lessons and a manual for teachers. I highly highly recommend that if you’re truly devoted to a life of Christianity, you at least check it out. You can read a small blog post I put up here: http://www.markjoslin.com/blog/archives/12 where I look at ACIM vs The Bible && quote a notable section of ACIM where Jesus recounts on the crucifixion. Here’s one small snippet if you don’t check it out:

    “The message of the crucifixion is perfectly clear: Teach only love, for that is what you are.

    If you interpret the crucifixion in any other way, you are using it as a weapon for assault rather than as the call for peace for which it was intended. The Apostles often misunderstood it, and for the same reason that anyone misunderstands it. Their own imperfect love made them vulnerable to projection, and out of their own fear they spoke of the “wrath of God” as His retaliatory weapon. Nor could they speak of the crucifixion entirely without anger, because their sense of guilt had made them angry.

    There are some of the examples of upside-down thinking in the New Testament, althought its gospel is really only the message of love. If the Apostles had not felt guilty, they never could have quoted me saying, “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” This is clearly the opposite of everything I taught. Nor could they have described my reactions to Judas as they did, if they had really understood me. I could not have said, “Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” unless I believed in betrayal. The whole message of the cruficixion was simply that I did not. The “punishment” I was said to have called forth upon Judas was a similar mistake. Judas was my brother and a Son of God, as much a part of the Sonship as myself. Was it likely that I would condemn him when I was ready to demonstrate that condemnation is impossible?

    As you read the Apostles, remember that I told them myself that there was much they would understand later, because they were not wholly ready to follow me at the time. I do not want you to allow any fear to enter into the thought system toward which I am guiding you. I do not call for martyrs but for teachers. No one is punished for sins, and the Sons of God are not sinners. Any concept of punishement involves the projection of blame, and reinforces the idea that blame is justified. The result is a lesson in blame, for all behavior teaches the beliefes that motivate it. The crucifixion was the result of clearly opposed thought systems; the perfect symbol of the “conflict” between the ego and the Son of God. This conflict seems just as real now, and its lesson must be learned now as well as then.

  7. Gene Callahan says:

    “But I view these things the way (I believe) that the Scottish moral philosophers originally did. ”

    Good point, Bob. It’s fascinating how the very scientific discoveries that until the 19th-century were nearly always put forward, by their discoverers, as evidence for the existence of God, were then suddenly transformed into evidence for the absence of God!

    • bobmurphy says:

      Gene I find you much more compelling when you agree with me.

      • david says:

        ” If the world is just a big coincidence, then there is no reason to expect all of the beauty we see in higher mathematics, cell biology, or international trade. ”

        I tend to feel the same way. For example, my wife probably wouldn’t have married me if there hadn’t been a God.

        But the larger point I would suggest is that, even if the world were an accident, it is an accident within a larger system. A system must have an origin (and not just a previous iteration). I am not aware that science has an explanation for that origin. An origin requires a creation event of some kind.

        An alternative I suppose is that there was no origin, only an eternal history stretching from the world back to the big bang and back from there to whatever was previous and so on. I am not sure that science is any better equipped to explain a “no-origin” theory than it is an “origin” theory. If anything, it sounds more supernatural than an “origin” theory.

  8. ChrisK says:

    You may have heard this either on mises.org or in person: http://mises.org/media/4732
    I think it is a great perspective on the passage of “render unto Caesar.” I personally always wondered why the passage began with the part about the Pharisees wanting to trick Jesus (meaning both a yes or no answer could be shown to be incorrect) yet after reading the passage Christians simply say “yup, there you have it, Jesus tells us to pay our taxes…”

    Also as just another point I like to make in these discussions: how much of the Bible (and Jesus teachings especially) are devoted to the state, political philosophy and how we are to be governed versus the teachings on the Church and the family. I think it is obvious that the family, church and community are the core social building blocks of society, not the state and its institutions.

  9. Matt J. says:

    I know this is a minor point in your larger post but I think it’s a part of a Christian’s foundational understanding of how man stand’s before God.

    I don’t have a problem with the term “slave to Christ” for a few reasons. First, they’re not just Paul’s words, they’re inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul also points out that there are only two options: slaves (translated from “bondservant” in the Greek) of sin or slaves of Christ.

    “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Romans 6:16

    Having been set free from sin, we become slaves of righteousness (v. 18). Jesus also speaks this way in John 8.

    Second, God is not a man and so the axiom, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” does not apply to him. Were I to be the slave (or bondservant) of a corrupt human master (or state) that would be cause for concern. But since all we know of justice, mercy, love, peace, holiness, wisdom, etc. comes from God, being his servant should give me no cause for concern. Also, consider the alternative — being a slave to sin.

    Third, we are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ (Ephesians 2:10). We are not our own:

    “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14:7,8

    The concept of self-ownership means something with regard to other people, but we should never forget that he is the Potter and we are the clay (Romans 9).

    From what I presently understand about Austro-libertarianism (or anarcho-capitalism), this doesn’t negate the concept of authority altogether (there would be private police, courts, etc.). There are several portions of scripture I have to try and reconcile with it though before I could ever fully embrace it. For now, I am glad that I can appeal to the U.S. Constitution for many things that I oppose in government (since it ostensibly stands above our elected and unelected leaders) while still maintaining a clear conscience before God.

    I would really like to see from a biblical perspective what our submission to authority actually entails or doesn’t entail. I can’t say that I’ve decided that yet so I appreciate your discussion of it. From just a cursory understanding of Romans, Paul wrote about our submission to earthly authorities in the context of speaking to the Christian church living under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

  10. Tomas says:

    Wow wow wow. I just lost all my respect for you. A truly reasonable man cannot believe in the superghost that is “God”.

    To test if there is a god (which I performed when I was twelve) – ask for some proof. Real proof. If God truly wants us to belive in him and worship him he wouldn’t demand us to worship him based on other people’s stories.

    • Kurt says:

      They see me trollin’…

    • Daniel Hewitt says:


      Another person’s story that you may want to check out is Kierkegaard’s parable “The King and the Maiden”.

    • AB says:

      I have to agree with you. I provided my own commentary which he appears to have decided not to publish.

      It is a bit rich to make fun of Paul Krugman while doing exactly the same thing yourself when commentary is posted which doesn’t suit or cannot be repudiated.

      But everyone appears to have limits when it comes to libertarianism. Especially when mixed with religion.

      • bobmurphy says:

        Give me a break. I have been doing other things besides monitoring the comments in the queue for my personal blog. You posted your comment yesterday morning.

        I have been getting inundated with “coach handbags” and “gucci” spam; your comment was buried amidst 75 (literally) other spam comments.

        Speaking of Paul Krugman, what’s really annoying about him is that he automatically rushes to the conclusion that someone else is a liar or otherwise devious. Hmm.

        • bobmurphy says:

          Just to clarify, everyone, if you post a comment here and it doesn’t show up after a full day, feel free to email me and ask if I rejected it. Unless you use racial slurs or other obvious disqualifiers, I will post your comment.

          • AB says:

            Sorry if I offended you, but I have emailed you several times and never got any replies so that’s why I didn’t bother going down that route!

            • bobmurphy says:

              Sorry, I have not been able to keep up with emails. (I get a bunch.) I’m just saying, it would go against my DNA to censor someone’s argument because I couldn’t beat it.

              And if someone emails me saying, “my comment’s not showing up at Free Advice” then I will look into it promptly. (If that’s what you sent me, and I ignored the email, then double apology–I just missed it.)

    • Matt J. says:

      I take it you are a reasonable man? I assume that means that you will adhere to logic and reason as the method by which all other claims are proven? If so, and if you are an athiest, a naturalist, materialist, strict empiricist, etc., then would you mind answering for me how something that is immaterial, abstract, and invariant — such as the laws of logic — can exist in a world where nothing exists except that which is material (that is, nothing but matter and motion)?

      Also, since you are a reasonable man, I assume that you would not accept any arguments that were question-begging or unjustifiably circular in nature. If reason and logic are the only way to prove things, then how do you prove that statement itself? If you say by reason and logic, you are begging the question. If you say “by some other means” you are refuting the statement itself.

      While I agree that reason and logic are the way we prove things, such could not be true if the universe were simply matter and motion. People who begin with the presupposition that God does not exist will have to explain how reason and logic exists in a strictly material world (apologies to Madonna) or admit that they have no justification in using them. Your presuppositions about the nature of the universe also necessarily determine what you will accept as evidence (or what you will rule out). If your unproven assumptions can’t provide justification for using reason and logic (and yet still you use them?) then how can you proceed to trash anyone else’s worldview — especially if theirs can provide the necessary preconditions for the use of reason and logic, which Christianity can?

      • Ed says:

        I find your argument disappointing as well in that you assume that the laws of logic and reason are actual existing things similar to the Platonic idea of there being an objective world of forms having an existence independent, necessary, and influencing the world we live in. And even assuming that they were real in a sense of actually existing beyond their physical manifestations and necessary for the existence of this world, there is little justification for the humongous jump in conclusion that the Judeo-Christian god exists, unless of course, you define those forms as your god.

        Simply because we can grasp a truth like 1+1=2, does not mean that the world is dependent on a necessary existing immaterial universal instead of the existence of of our world making such a thing understandable by you.

        If there were no existence, would 1+1=2 still be true? I think so. Would it matter then? No. Would it actually exist? Probably not.
        And here’s a question just out of curiosity, is your concept of law of logic and reason’s existence dependent, independent, one and the same, or an aspect of your god?

        “People who begin with the presupposition that God does not exist will have to explain how reason and logic exists in a strictly material world (apologies to Madonna) or admit that they have no justification in using them.”

        People that live with the lack of belief that a god exists have no burden of proof on them to explain their lack of belief. You are the one making the positive claim that there is some thing in a higher state of existence called the laws of logic and reason of which your definition of existence is necessary for our use of it. Furthermore, you can even believe in reason and logic the way you believe and still have no justifiable reason for belief in your god so they still do not “have” to explain anything.

        “If your unproven assumptions can’t provide justification for using reason and logic (and yet still you use them?) then how can you proceed to trash anyone else’s worldview — especially if theirs can provide the necessary preconditions for the use of reason and logic, which Christianity can?”

        One thing Christianity provides is a long list of unsupported claims for that which is unanswered.

        To summarize it up, your preposition is flawed, your assumption is unproven, you make unsupported positive claims, and while you may think the your preconditions as necessary, they are unjustified. Oh, and one of the reasons people use reason and logic is because it is proven to work if the prepositions and conclusions are correct and clear of fallacies (of which your arguments are not.)

  11. Austrian Banker says:

    The biggest problem with Christianity is that Jesus was clearly wrong in one important aspect vs. the Austrian School of Economics.

    Jesus was against charging interest.

    This led to the dark ages where the west had a slumbering economy until the charging of interest and banking took hold again.

    Anyone who is an Austrian and a christian will have difficulties in joining up these two enigmas.

    Possibly, this also contributed to the demise of the Roman empire. It also explains why the other Christian sect, Islam, also banned charging interest leading to the same result there as well.

    The only difference between the middle east where Islam prevailed and the West where Christianity ruled is that Christianity offered a more legally bound security for Jews for whom charging interest was not a problem.

    • Matt J. says:

      Here is a case of someone saying what Jesus did or did not teach without knowing what scripture says (possibly in history as well, leading to the alleged direct consequences in Rome and the Middle East). Scripture passages in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy deal with the subject of oppressive or exploitative usury, not usury (interest) in general.

      As for Jesus’ teaching specifically, in Matthew 25, verses 14-30 are where Jesus gives his ‘Parable of the Talents’, likening the kingdom of God to a man who entrusted his servants with some of his property (talents). When he returns he finds servants who invested his property wisely and earned him more. One servant buried the talents he received in the ground, dug it up, and gave it to the master.

      The master says: “‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” (v. 26, 27)

      The servants who took what the master gave him and increased it were deemed “good and faithful”. The one who buried it in the ground, not so much as earning a bank’s interest rate, was deemed “wicked and slothful’. Jesus used this as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. Does that sound like Jesus was against interest?

  12. Maurizio says:

    “because what type of slave has the master’s permission to leave?”

    But what happens if you leave? There’s still the threat of hell. For this reason it seems to me it’s more like a master who says to the slave “you are free to leave any time you like. Of course, if you do, eventually I will find you and burn you down”.