Libertarianism – A Question

I really appreciate the writings of those who are labelled libertarian. Although they come from different schools of thought, I’ve been helped by books like The Law by Frederic Bastiat, The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I believe in small government, the right of an individual to own their property, low taxation, no government intervention in the market and other such libertarian ideals.

But I do so as a Christian.

Paul in Romans 13 gives us an explanation of the purpose of government: it is a minister of God to protect citizens from wrong-doing (v. 3). I am not an anarcho-capitalist (though I have sympathies), because v. 1 tells me to be subject to the authorities God has put in place. However, when it comes to God’s law vs. the law of the state, I echo Peter’s words in Acts 5:29 that it is better to serve God rather than man–hence why the Christian sometimes is called to civil disobedience. In terms of private property, the eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal”; this presupposes the ownership of property that can be stolen. The bible also speaks to charity and the welfare state (1 John 3:13-18) as well as honest financial dealings and inflation (Deut. 25:13-16Prov. 16:11).

Many other libertarian ideas find their support in the bible—I recommend Greg Bahnsen’s lectures Economic Ethics as a great place for more info—but my point here is that my views are not determined by an arbitrary appeal to myself as the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Rather, the scriptures provide for me an unchanging, external, objective, universal, moral standard—something indispensable for a person to avoid being arbitrary or subject to the whims of convention in their ethics, view of reality and knowledge.

So, my question to libertarians who do not believe in God or that his Word is truth is this: by what standard do you determine your economic/political values? Do you determine them by your own autonomous faculties of reason? If so, does this not leave you open to the charge of being arbitrary? Are they determined by societal convention? If so, what of changes in the whims of society? Or what if society chooses to follow a path that you know to be wrong (say, cannibalism)?

The biblical worldview is necessary to make sense of ethical norms (just as it is for reality and knowledge). It makes sense of how markets work (a chance universe, not guided by God makes market predictability absurd), why theft and inflation is wrong (if survival of the fittest, then why not steal?), why no one–including governments–has ownership over another (we are only subject to God, not humans). In my opinion, the great thinkers like Mises or Rothbard, who have much good to teach us, ultimately can’t account for the views that they espouse. And, to be frank, when they do offer up good economic ideas, they do so by breaking with their presuppositions and borrowing from the bible’s. They’ve climbed up on the branch of the Christian worldview and cut if off in the hopes that the branch wouldn’t fall.

If a libertarian can’t account for their own ethical norms, why be a libertarian? Why be a socialist, a communist, a hedonist, a materialist, a Marxist, or a typical-sports-watching-beer-guzzling-North-American for that matter? Without the biblical worldview, everything in this world is meaningless and absurd.

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Filed under economics, ethics, f a hayek, greg bahnsen, libertarianism, ludwig von mises

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