Libertarianism as Social Ethic

A common argument against libertarianism — heard mostly in conservative circles — is that no moral society can be a free-for-all, devoid of moral content. A social order worthy of the name must be based on certain ethical principles that extend beyond selfishness and individualism. These principles form the basis of culture, which is ultimately more central to the proper ordering of a free society than mere enforcement of contract.

The problem with this argument is not that it is wrong; it is simply misdirected, and, as stated, is impossible to disagree with. Anyone who feels intellectually threatened by it needs to do some serious reflection on history: no society can long exist, much less thrive, which does not have -oot a notion of the common good. That is why the political philosophy of libertarianism, by now well developed and mature, is not affected by the central claims of these conservative critics. It is libertinism which exalts personal fulfillment and eschews restraint, and which proves to be a fragile basis for a social order.

Libertarianism rightly understood is best expressed in the title of Professor Burke’s book: do no harm. It means no more (and much more is required for a full view of life itself) and no less (we need not approve of all behaviors that the principle of non-aggression would permit). Harm in this context is understood as physical violence against another’s person or property, a crime (or sin) as likely to be committed by individuals as by the state. Think of the Hippocratic Oath. In the old days, when most doctors really saw their profession as a vocation, the ancient axiom carried meaning: primum non nocere.

It is that principle that Mr. Burke, a professor of religion at Temple University, attempts to resurrect. It used to be said that if you gave a Jesuit the first premise of the argument, he would win the debate. It is as difficult to deny the conservative criticism of libertarianism as it is to deny Mr. Burke’s first premise: a general prohibition of causing harm to person or property ought to be the legal foundation of a civilized society. From this seemingly non-controversial premise, Mr. Burke constructs a finely argued case for the social ethic of libertarianism, which recognizes that the flowering of prosperity and civilization requires social peace along with individual and communal freedom.

Professor Burke’s work, then, is evidence of this mature sort of libertarianism afoot in the land. He is widely read, knowledgeable about history and theory, sophisticated in his understanding of philosophy, and, most importantly, deeply concerned about moral values. He has brought forth a well-rounded, well-documented, and clearly written defense of the free society.

From the first pages of No Harm, Mr. Burke directs his attention to the falsifiability of his argument, a mark of both intellectual integrity and confidence. We learn from reading his work that Mr. Burke has seen various aspects of the debate he initiates in his book, and demonstrates a personal willingness to revise his thesis when the facts necessitate such a revision.

No Harm approaches the defense of the free society from several vantage points: historical, arguing that with the rise of science eventually came economic prosperity and the liberal doctrine of tolerance; economics, favoring the market economy over the state-directed society; and moral philosophy. Unlike so many similar books, this work is never dull, and inevitably employs just the right illustration to clarify a point.

The book covers a wide scope of questions, including monopolies, market failure, the individual and community, the Great Depression, the role of labor unions, and the implication of just price, the living wage, and victimless crimes. In each of these areas the author proves unafraid to apply and test his theory, with persuasive results.

Only one area is really left untouched, and it is the great divide between libertarians: the question of abortion. From the principle so carefully outlined throughout the book, we can conclude that causing harm is the violation of the person. Granting that determination and ownership of the individual human being is a difficult area, based on such strictly libertarian thinking, even the secular philosopher ought to regard abortion as a violation of the no harm principle.

I urge critics of libertarianism to read and understand Mr. Burke’s presentation. They would thereby appreciate both historical and moral dangers of excessive state involvement in social and economic life. Conservatives can especially benefit from understanding the book’s primary moral premise, so they can more informatively direct their intellectual fire. In all, this is a welcome contribution to the debate.


No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market
T. Patrick Burke
Paragon House
289 pages, $24.95

This article originally appeared in the September 1995 issue of Crisis Magazine.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico


Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  • Gian

    All societies that have ever existed have depended upon imposition of social cohesion by non-libertarian means.
    That a purely libertarian society could be stable is entirely unknown and on the face of it, even improbable.

    If somebody insults one’s mother, should a honorable man look away? If one’s children are tempted to perversion, would a normal man
    say ‘I must not harm property of the perverter’s’.

    Why the Gandhian reduction of harm to physical violence?.
    Why is libertarianism confined to US? That this fact alone tells us nothing?

  • Martial Artist


    You ask: “Why the Gandhian reduction of harm to physical violence?” You are correct to point this out. Father Sirico may understand libertarians to be talking about “physical violence,” but not all libertarians would so limit their position (I cannot speak for Mr. Burke, as I have not read his book, but I can speak for myself as a libertarian Catholic).

    First, In my opinion a somewhat clearer way to express the “no harm” principle would be to state it as follows: No one has the right to initiate the use of force, fraud or coercion against another person. Thus, I can make the argument that what a perverted adult individual does in the privacy of his own home with other perverted adult individuals, all parties to the activity freely participating, is beyond the lawful authority of someone not a party to the activity to prohibit, if, and only if, the activity is not carried on in any public space nor within public view. I, and my fellow citizens, being aware of the perverted activity, are free to use moral suasion to convince the participants that the activity is to their detriment, but we ought not be at liberty to use the legal system (i.e., the threat of force) to attempt to compel them to cease and desist or to punish them for that conduct. If the participants fail to take reasonable measures to prevent others from being forced to witness their conduct, then they will have failed to keep their activity private and should be subject to appropriate legal sanctions.

    Second, an honorable man, or woman, confronted by someone insulting his or her mother should not look away, but should reproach the one making the insult, and should likely pray for that malefactor’s soul, and do do visibly and audibly. The one doing the insulting has publicly demonstrated that he or she has no proper sense of Christian, or even simply humane or charitable conduct. I say in accord with the advice of Proverbs, show him charity and concern as by doing so “you will heap coals of fire upon his head.” What would you have the honorable man do, commit a battery? To do that would be out of all proportion to the offense.

    Libertarianism is far from confined to the U.S., it is just that the folks who control the main stream media don’t want us to be aware of it, so they simply pretend it does not exist and ensure they aren’t the ones to bring it into the conversation. Just off the top of my head I can think of several countries which have moved in a libertarian direction or have libertarian organizations (The Cobden Centre in the UK, an increasingly libertarian market economy in Chile, and others).

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    • Gian

      So you would term immoral the laws against heresy that existed in all Christian countries?.
      You would let free dissemination of heresy and erroneous opinions?
      You would also term immoral the laws against unnatural sex including the laws given in Torah?

      Frankly, the problem with libertarianism is the lack of belief that society is an entity in its own right and that
      deserves its own flourishing. That goes along with a short-term view, that is concerned only with personal virtue and salvation
      and forgetful of the long-term flourishing of the society.

    • hombre

      Libertarian Catholic is an oxymoron. Our religious heritage is rooted in a cultural heritage described by biblical scholars such as John Pilch as “collectivist.” By that he means, people gained a great deal of their sense of self, dignity, and worth from their connection to the larger society. That is why belief in the common good has always been a key part of Catholic thinking.

      Individualism is a creation of the Renaissance and rationalist though beginnin in the seventeenth century and continuing until now.

      We cannot avoid living within our individualist world, but there is a real danger we will lose our cultural roots and let individualism define our world view. When we call ourselves libertarian catholics, we are playing an orchestral piece on a ukelele.

      • Cord Hamrick


        Well, there’s collectivist, and there’s collectivist.

        Libertarian-leaning Catholics are, of course, strong proponents of the common good. They embrace morally legitimate means of working for the common good; they reject morally illegitimate means of working for the common good. Among the morally-illegitimate means they reject are all means in which men (themselves, or through employees or proxies) initiate the use of force against other, innocent, men.

        This is not selfishness on their part; it is more like non-violence.

        As for individualism: Well, there is individualism, and there is individualism. You seem to be using a definition of that word which equates it with self-seeking greed or Social Darwinism. But no libertarian Catholic would define individualism that way…and why should they? There are already terms like “self-seeking greed” and “Social Darwinism.” Why not use those terms for the things they represent, and reserve the term “individualism” for what individualists claim it means? Surely if Catholics are allowed to be the authorities who define what “Catholicism” means, then individualists should be allowed to be the authorities who define what “individualism” means?

        A libertarian Catholic, when he uses the term “individualism,” means:

        – A rejection of communism and other such “hive-mind” collectivisms which deny the dignity of the human person;

        – An assertion and celebration of the intrinsic human dignity, free-will, and creativity which God placed in every human individual;

        – An assertion of individual moral responsibility for one’s own sins and failures, which rejects the notion of blaming them on one’s parents or society;

        – An assertion of individual moral responsibility to do good works and good work, which rejects the notion that almsgiving is a duty “for other people, or for the state, to take care of,” and rejects any notion that the quality and morality of the work one does for money is beyond one’s own control;

        – An assertion that individuals ought, of their own individual free will, to join together to cooperatively and voluntarily create communities for noble purposes, such as civic organizations and universities and lay apostolates and Christian businesses, the better to form the kinds of subsidiary authorities which decentralize power within a nation-state and allow Subsidiarity and Solidarity to cooperatively co-exist;

        Now: What part of that is bad? What part of that definition of individualism makes you want to reject individualism, so defined? Indeed, what part of that is incompatible with (the good kind of) collectivism?

        It is of course radically incompatible with the bad kind of collectivism: Marxism, Nazism, and Fascism. It is even incompatible with the bad kind of individualism (Social Darwinism, Ayn Rand’s glorification of greed). But incompatibility with those evils is a selling-point for Catholic individualism, isn’t it?

        This is why the term “Libertarian Catholic” is not an oxymoron. You know only a caricature of what Libertarian Catholics think; derived solely from the criticisms of people who disagree with the views of Libertarian Catholics. In that sense, you are like a Protestant Fundamentalist whose opinion of Catholics comes only from anti-Catholic sources and is therefore a caricature of people who worship Mary and try to work their way into Heaven.

        This is why I took pains in this note to state what the motives of Libertarian Catholics are, and also to give you their definition of the word “individualism” instead of someone else’s definition. If you’re going to disagree with the views of a Libertarian Catholic, that’s fine: No true Libertarian Catholic would want to force you to agree! But at least do him the courtesy to disagree with what he actually thinks, and not a caricature of it.

  • Cord Hamrick


    Libertarianism isn’t entirely confined to the United States, as Keith noted; but even if it were, what of it? So, too, was the reality of a representative government which openly derived its legitimacy from the consent of the governed confined to the United States alone until rather recently in human history. But this advancement spread beyond the borders of the U.S. since then. The United States was, in its early years, a primary “hotspot” for advances in human governance in much the same way that Silicon Valley has more recently been the headquarters for advances in consumer electronics. The polio vaccine was not discovered in every country at once. Why then should a vaccine against government assaults on the dignity of citizens emerge everywhere at the same time?

    As for why “harm” should be reduced to physical violence, I respond that Libertarians do not argue exactly that.

    Libertarians argue instead that there are categories of harm which can merit the use of violence in opposing them, but that there are other categories of harm which cannot. One can, with moral legitimacy, threaten or impose physical harm on Person X in the attempt to deter, halt, or punish a wrongful physical harming of Person Y by Person X. But it is morally illicit to threaten or impose physical harm on Person X if all that Person X has done is to be rude to Person Y.

    One can oversimplify this notion by saying “Violent methods to fight violent wrongs, nonviolent methods to fight nonviolent wrongs.”

    But that’s not exactly correct. The reality is deeper.

    God created man in His image: How so? Well, one primary way is that man has free will, and is thus capable of love and creativity (and likewise of sin). Free will, the ability to choose, is after all the prerequisite of both love and creativity: I can program a computer to tell me “I love you” a thousand times a day, but no one is deceived because the computer had no choice in the matter. And when the artist chooses to use this color and not that in his painting, he makes a creative decision; but when a printing device applies the same color to a batch of a thousand reproductions of the same painting, we do not say the device has made a thousand creative decisions.

    This freedom — by which God “risked” a future of sin and misery in the garden, if one can use the term “risk” of He who sees all futures as one simultaneous Now — is God’s first gift to humanity after existence itself, and He gave it to us that we might be capable of chosen good, and thus be capable of love…knowing all the while that we could also use it to choose evil.

    And we notice throughout Scripture that God is extraordinarily reticent about overriding free will. He holds off on the extermination of the wicked cultures in Canaan for hundreds of years (“the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”) and Jesus, after commanding the wealthy young man to sell all he had, give to the poor, gain treasure in heaven, and follow Him, watched the young man walk away. Jesus had every authority to call a thousand angels to force compliance; He did not.

    Now why is this critical in discussing violence? The answer is straightforward: Violence is the primary means by which one man deprives another of the ability to exercise his free will. It is the theft of that great original gift of God. “Going to oppose the dictator politically? Not after he kills you and your family, you’re not. Going to preach in a non-state-approved church? Not after we cut your tongue out, you won’t. Going to escape the prison we put you in? Not if we shoot you as you’re climbing over the wall, you won’t.”

    And, please notice: Violence allows a very clear “evidentiary trail”; we can tell when the freedom of X has been violated by Y, when we find Y’s knife in X’s back. This certainty and measurability is critical when contemplating human society, because human justice systems cannot “see the heart” or perceive abstract realities as God can.

    So, as I said before, the correct formula is not quite “violent methods for combating violent wrongs, and non-violent methods for combating non-violent wrongs.”

    The correct formulation is, “Measurably, directly liberty-depriving methods for combating measurably, directly liberty-depriving wrongs; and, other methods for combating wrongs which are either known to be non-liberty-derpriving, or which deprive liberty in a fashion which is too indirect or abstract for a human justice system to competently measure.”

    This, sadly, is too wordy to ever appear on a bumper sticker! But what it lacks in marketing appeal it makes up for in precision.

    Libertarians do not hold that there are no non-violent wrongs. Christian Libertarians, for example, hold that when two men with Same Sex Attraction Disorder opt to engage in voluntary sex acts with one another, they do (severe! possibly eternal!) wrong to themselves and each other.

    However, Christian Libertarians judge that it is morally illicit to respond to this wrongdoing through liberty-depriving means, because the connection between the type of wrong being done and a robbing of some person’s free will is not detectable by the sort of physical evidence-gathering a human police force does. In this kind of voluntary act, there is no evidence of either man wrongfully compelling the other. There is therefore no license under God’s moral law to use compulsion against either man to deter, halt, or punish the wrongful act.

    It is possible to answer that whereas in Heaven the saints experience the full loving and creative scope of the freedom God intended man to have, in hell the damned have no freedom left at all, and that by cooperating in one another’s sins each man endangers the other’s freedom in a very final way.

    This is certainly true, but it involves harms beyond a human police force’s evidentiary skills, and I suspect outside their jurisdiction as well. Whereas prosecuting murderers and extortionists and thieves and rapists is well within their competence (one hopes), and is certainly more than enough to keep them busy.

    So the Christian Libertarian argues that it is the proper duty (and falls within the moral limits of the use of force) for the police to enforce laws against violent crimes, and crimes of fraud, and anything else where the liberties of the victim are robbed; but to convince the voluntarily immoral man to voluntarily repent and voluntarily embrace morality is the proper duty of a preacher, and falls within the moral limits on the use of homiletics.

    • Gian

      Unnatural sex is evidentiary.
      Are you a logical positivist?. If something can’t be measured, it does not exist?
      Are men incapable of understanding?
      Again, the libertarians betray a distrust of politics and thus also of polis.

      I would really like to get to the source of your moral intuition. Does your position has a history?

      • Cord Hamrick

        I am not a logical positivist; logical positivism is an irrational philosophy.

        However, I do not believe that police should be tasked with duties which, because they involve the apprehending of invisible realities, are beyond their competence. I don’t think police should, for example, be involved in exorcisms: That is a job for a priest.

        Unnatural sex is visible to a police force if they happen to observe it, although in many cases they should have to violate a lot of rights before they were in a position to observe it.

        However, the eternal damnation which might result from unrepented (consensual) unnatural sex is not visible at the time the sex act occurs or any time thereafter. Police may not, therefore, use that as evidence of harm, in order to prosecute the participants for doing harm. So here we have a visible act with invisible harms. As the harms cannot easily connected to the act by a human police force, that human police force is obliged to consider the redress of those harms as beyond their mandate.

        The moral intuition is this: God does not allow men, directly or through hired proxies, to use armed force against other men for merely any reason; but only for purposes which justify the taking up of arms against other men: And those are, in general, limited only to using force against X in response to X committing a wrongful forceful act against Y.

        In Christianity, this is a pretty high threshold, which is why Christian ethics, seen from the outside, tends to look almost-but-not-quite pacifist. It is why Christian splinter groups such as Quakers are so easily led to a pacifist stance; the Christian ethic is nearly there already, so it takes only minor misunderstandings and oversimplifications to push it over the edge.

        It is why our Just War Doctrine tells us that there is a high threshold for justification for war, involving real harms or the imminent threat thereof. We may not go to war against another country because it decides, internally, to over-tax its people or to legalize gay marriage.

        It is why our doctrine of justified self-defense tells us that there is a high threshold for justification of shooting our fellow man, involving a real threat to our lives or the life of another innocent person by that man. We may therefore use armed self-defense to repel a home invasion, even at the risk of the death of the intruder. But we may not, with moral justification, shoot someone who is standing across the street looking suspicious. We may not, with moral justification, invade our neighbor’s home because we suspect he is having unnatural sex. And we may not, if we catch him having unnatural sex, hold him at gunpoint and lock him up to prevent it happening again.

        Now with Just War, we are dealing with the use of force at the highest level of societal aggregation, where one nation-state collectively uses force against another.

        And with individual self-defense, we are dealing with the use of force at the lowest level of societal aggregation, where one individual singly uses force against another.

        But there is an intermediary level of aggregation which stands between the highest level and the lowest level, and that is in the matter of Criminal Law. In Criminal Law, individuals employ proxies (their representatives and the police) to use force against other individuals within a society.

        It is an irrational (and thus non-God-authored) Moral Code which would forbid individuals to use force under circumstance XYZ at the individual level (justified self-defense), and also forbid whole nation-states to use force under circumstance XYZ at the international level (just war), but which would permit individuals to use force under circumstance XYZ at the societal level (criminal law).

        To argue that a country may not justly invade another country to stop it from legalizing gay marriage, and to argue that an armed man may not enter his neighbor’s home to forcibly prevent his neighbor from committing a homosexual act, is therefore necessarily to argue that We The People may not justly employ the Criminal Code of our country to instruct our proxies and employees to enter the homes of our neighbors to prevent them from committing a homosexual act.

        Or, to put it another way: To argue that we can, with justification under God’s Moral Law, instruct our employees to enter our neighbors’ homes to forcibly prevent them from committing homosexual acts, is necessarily to argue that we may instruct our armies to invade countries which legalize homosexual acts, in order to force them to stop doing so; or that we ourselves may hold our neighbors at gunpoint, to prevent their unnatural sex acts.

        This necessarily follows because the moral authorization for doing all these things derives ultimately from God’s Moral Law, specifically that part of the moral law which authorizes certain uses of force against our neighbors, but morally prohibits others. The prohibition against unjust force, or the permission of just force, may be applied to individuals or to groups of various sizes, but they ultimately stem from the same Moral Law.

        Now I hold that this Moral Law teaches that one may only use force for the defense of innocent persons against wrongful force (either physical literal force, or “intellectual force,” that is, deceit or addiction) which robs them of their intrinsic human dignity and liberty.

        Another person might hold that God’s Moral Law teaches that one may use force to prohibit immoral behavior of any kind, including kinds which do not involve either physical or intellectual force. (You’re in that camp, Gian.)

        However, your camp, Gian, has a logical problem: Its position about what the Moral Law says re: the use of force is inconsistent with Catholic teaching about Just War and also with Christian notions about what does and does not justify use of force on an individual level. If the Moral Law allows such a broad use of force as you suggest, then we can invade other countries or hold our neighbors at gunpoint for lots of reasons other than “they were about to impose grave harm on another.”

        P.S. How do libertarians “betray a distrust of politics and thus also of polls?” That assertion is unconnected to anything you said before or after; was it typed into your note accidentally?

        • Gian

          Unnatural sex is as evidentiary as rape with which police deal everyday.
          Leaving that aside, the questions are
          1) The morality of the Law of Moses: even if all other codes of laws is dubious, this one is directly given by God himself.
          and is pretty free with non-libertarian punishments.
          2) It is not a question of salvation or damnation of sinners but the very different question of the long-term flourishing
          of human societies.
          My remark as to the distrust of politics and polis means that you distrust the legislators and the City behind them
          to judge and reason about the flourishing of the City. That’s why now you have the argument about evidentary police work.
          You don’t trust legislators to reason about things like unnatural sex, pornography, contraception etc.
          3) You also need to explain why the Church says in CCC that the State must regulate and control pornography. Is Church itself
          acting unwisely or immorally?

          • Cord Hamrick


            Unnatural sex is as evidentiary as rape with which police deal everyday.

            That response doesn’t answer what I said. Measurable harms (including an imposition on a person’s liberty or an assault on their person) are well within police jurisdiction; thus, rape is within police jurisdiction. Consensual fornication is not an assault and, because consensual, not an imposition on the liberty of either participant (no matter how odious it is morally). The harms are things like moral corruption and hellfire, which are outside police evidentiary competence.

            The morality of the Law of Moses: even if all other codes of laws is dubious, this one is directly given by God Himself and is pretty free with non-libertarian punishments.

            Ah, but there are two good reasons why that observation doesn’t undermine my argument:

            1. The Mosaic Laws precede an awful lot of doctrinal and civilizational development; being addressed to their times they state rules which permit the forcible marrying of captured female prisoners of war, and the required stoning-to-death of obstinately disrespectful children, and other such very era-specific things. Christian thinkers, especially in the Catholic Church, have long held that it would be gravely immoral and mistaken to apply now what God gave then, for of course doctrinal development through the Magisterium of the Church has advanced our knowledge significantly since then. It follows that we should expect any objective improvement in our understanding of crime and punishment and government to be different from the Mosaic Code.

            2. The Mosaic Laws were granted directly by God. He has just authority to kill anytime, and may delegate that authority to others however He sees fit. But you and I did not receive authority to kill the way that Moses and Joshua and eventually Saul and David and David’s heirs got it. The U.S. government was not founded by divine command through the mouth of a prophet, accompanied by signs and wonders. Its criminal code was not dictated by God. Instead, our government was formed on the basis of authority delegated from us as individuals. And God has only delegated to us, as individuals, a much more tightly-constrained authority to use force than that He delegated to Moses, Joshua, et alia. It follows that, since the authority we received from God is more constrained than that Moses received, the portion of that authority we can delegate to our government is even more constrained.

            It is not a question of salvation or damnation of sinners but the very different question of the long-term flourishing of human societies. My remark as to the distrust of politics and polis means that you distrust the legislators and the City behind them to judge and reason about the flourishing of the City. You don’t trust legislators to reason about things like unnatural sex, pornography, contraception etc.

            Oh, you wrote “polis,” not “polls!” Sorry, I misread that.

            But you’re quite right: I don’t at all — at all trust legislators to reason correctly about unnatural sex, pornography, contraception, et cetera. There is no reason to do so: Look at their record!

            But whether I trust them or not, the issue is whether I have just authority to grant them just authority to impose forcible criminal penalties in such matters where no use of force is involved in the offense. I don’t have that authority; God has not granted it to us. I dare not usurp what God has withheld from me.

            You also need to explain why the Church says in CCC that the State must regulate and control pornography. Is Church itself acting unwisely or immorally?

            The relevant paragraph, in relevant part, from CCC is:

            2354 … [Pornography] does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public) … Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

            Now, there you have a valid argument. (Finally! Good for you, Gian!) And if you were arguing against a person who (a.) was Catholic and (b.) held that libertarianism does not permit the outlawing of pornography, you would have won the argument.

            As it happens, though, I am Catholic and philosophically pretty libertarian, but I do NOT hold that libertarianism (as I understand it) prevents the outlawing of pornography.

            I hold that pornography is arguably not only harmful to the user morally and spiritually (which is naturally the focus of the Catechism, but not of the police force), but physically and psychologically harmful, in medically measurable ways, and also addictive to the user.

            The medically measurable ways include erectile dysfunction, inability to competently carry on a relationship with a real woman, the need over time for increasingly graphic or perverse pornography to achieve the same level of excitement, and increasing difficulty with clear thinking and exertion of self-discipline. These have to do with how freely available pornography works with dopamine to create an addiction cycle. Christian anti-porn crusaders have known about this for some time; secular science is finally catching up.

            As the sale of addictive substances/materials deprives the unwitting consumer of his freedom to abstain from them in the future, there is a good libertarian argument to be made for prohibiting their distribution, even to willing consumers. And harms which are scientifically measurable and become medically accepted are of course well within the jurisdiction of the police.

            Of course, we must admit that all this is arguable. With a murder there is more certainty of the connection between the plunge of the knife and the death of the victim, than there is between the distribution of the pornographic movie and the relationship problems of the victim. And the “victim” did appear, at least outwardly, to give consent to the viewing…at least the first time.

            So these are good reasons to put pornography in that realm of things which can be justly regulated, but less harshly than murder and theft where consent is more obviously absent and the cause of harms much clearer. It might be just to fine a pornography producer $50 per minute of film produced per copy; perhaps. But one could not justly execute him or give him a very long prison term.

          • Gian

            The reason I call you logical positivist was
            “but physically and psychologically harmful, in medically measurable ways”
            “I don’t at all — at all trust legislators to reason correctly about unnatural sex,
            pornography, contraception, et cetera”

            So you trust measurement but not human reason. I don’t think it is in keeping with Catholic tradition.

            “the issue is whether I have just authority to grant them just authority to impose forcible criminal penalties ”

            A non-libertarian is not obliged to accept a libertarian theory of state. The State is not merely a servant of people but
            serves more as a Father. This view is doubtless shocking to an American but it fits the historical and even present-day
            State behaviour.

          • Cord Hamrick

            Gian, there seems to be a limit to our ability to reply specifically to one anothers’ posts; consequently, I’ll reply to your note at the bottom of the thread.

  • Mark S. Yaegel

    I would heartily embrace the Austrian Economic Utopia that Libertarians preach but I could never except their endorsement of abortion, so-called same-sex marriage and legalized drug abuse, a.k.a. sin.

  • Cord Hamrick


    I briefly used to be a Libertarian (capital-L, indicating a card-carrying party member) back when it looked briefly like the pro-life minority in the Libertarian Party of America, always a large minority, was on the verge of being a small majority. There was a spurt of pro-life candidates for high office in this period.

    Since then, more of the left-leaning “libertine” Libertarians have tended to dominate, so I am no longer a member of the party.

    In any event, the pro-choice position is an area where the Libertarian Party of America is entirely in contradiction to its own values. The LP holds that government should limit itself to prosecuting violations of innocent Person X’s rights by Person Y; abortion surely qualifies!

    As for same-sex marriage: There, the LP philosophy would tend to say that government should enforce contracts of whatever type between whomever, but has no business sanctioning or defining religious sacraments such as marriage.

    As for legalize drug abuse: Most Libertarians take the experience of alcohol prohibition as instructive and say that voluntary consumption of mind-altering substances should not be prohibited. There is, however, a potential argument, consistent with LP philosophy, for saying that the 2nd and 3rd instances of consumption of a mind-altering addictive substance are not, in reality, voluntary, but in fact constitute a deprivation of the consumer’s liberty by the seller.

    Anyway, as I said, the “libertine” branch of the LP is currently ascendant, so I do not support it. And my reasons are quite similar to yours: The pro-life thing in particular is a deal-killer. So I commiserate.

    But I wanted to point out that libertarianism, generally is permissible for a pro-life, anti-addiction person. And while that philosophy doesn’t easily allow the government to subsidize real marriage at the expense of the gay imitation, it does allow the government to dispense with making such distinctions and leave the matter up to churches. (It could also potentially focus on parenting rather than on marriage per se. There are several ways to address the issue within the context of libertarian thinking.)

  • Martial Artist

    @ Mark Yaegel,

    If I may add a brief comment to Mr. Hamrick’s reply to you, I would like to point out that once a libertarian (any libertarian of any religious or non-religious stripe) recognizes that the unborn baby is a human person, which is what it will become in 40 weeks, absent some medical insult, the sole default position automatically becomes the prohibition of abortion. If that libertarian is Catholic, or even an intellectually consistent practicing Protestant Christian, they will choose to assist the woman with an unwanted pregnancy to find alternatives that see to the raising of the child.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    Also, like Mr. Hamrick, I too, have long ceased to be a member of the LP.

  • @Mark,

    As others have pointed out, allowing something to happen is not an endorsement of the action. As a very large example, God allows evil to take place in the world, even though He does not endorse it.

    The point is that people are given a free will and as Christians, we choose to give that will and our hearts to God. He made us with the ability to make choices, otherwise we could not show true devotion to Him.

  • Cord Hamrick


    In reply to my most recent reply to your previously most recent reply (my, how tangled the thread has become!), you said:

    The reason I call you logical positivist was
    “but physically and psychologically harmful, in medically measurable ways” while “I don’t at all trust legislators to reason correctly about unnatural sex, pornography, contraception, et cetera.” So you trust measurement but not human reason….

    Hmm. I am worried that there may be a lot of mutual misunderstanding in our conversation, Gian. Certainly you seem to have misunderstood me quite a lot, judging by the interpretation you have placed on those two quotations. I worry that I may also be misunderstanding you; that there may be some sort of language-barrier or life-experience barrier which makes it difficult for us to understand one another’s thoughts.

    Let me see if I can clarify.

    A logical positivist, as I understand the term, believes either that only measurable, tangible things exist, or that anything which exists but is not measurable or tangible might as well not exist because it cannot affect us and we can know nothing useful or intelligible about it.

    If that is what is meant by the term “logical positivist,” then I am surely not one of those. (No Christian can be, nor can any believer in objective Moral Law and Natural Law. And I am all of those.)

    The quote from me, which you cite as your reason for thinking me a logical positivist, was one in which I held that a human justice system, peopled by human detectives and human judges and human policemen and human lawyers, administering human laws, should not be tasked with weighing intangible evidence (such as the state of the accused’s immortal soul) when deciding a man’s guilt or innocence of a criminal offense.

    I do not limit human justice in this way because of some disbelief in immortal souls, or intangible things generally. Quite the contrary: I believe in them, but I believe they are not the proper purview of policemen, but of priests. If I were a logical positivist I would say that they were not the proper purview of anyone, because they didn’t exist. But by saying that they are properly relevant to the vocation of priests, but not of policemen, I prove that I believe in their existence, and also that I think such things important enough to leave in the hands of those God has tasked to deal with them.

    The State is not merely a servant of people but serves more as a Father. This view is doubtless shocking to an American but it fits the historical and even present-day State behaviour.

    This view is not at all shocking to me; it is merely the “status quo” view which I am trying to argue against. Mankind had a long history of thinking that human Emperors were to be worshiped as god-kings, until Christianity corrected the error. Mankind has also had a long history of granting to Caesar that which only belongs to God; I am trying to correct, in my own little way, that error.

    A non-libertarian is not obliged to accept a libertarian theory of state.

    Of course he is not! A non-libertarian is certainly not obliged to accept any view that his reason and conscience tell him is false.

    But my intent is to convince the non-libertarian through appeals to Reason and Moral Law that my view is correct so that, once he is convinced, he will gladly and wholeheartedly accept the theory.

    You must understand that my theory gives a Christian explanation of how Just Authority, which always comes ultimately from God, gets delegated to governments, thereby granting them just authority to govern.

    My theory achieves this without once appealing to the (very un-Christian) notion that “might makes right.” So far as I know, all alternative theories (such as the “divine right of kings”) boil down to the proposition that “might makes right.” I consider “might makes right” to be a notion which is incompatible with the mind of Christ, which is why I eliminate such theories from consideration: They cannot be true.

    As far as I know, the theory I espouse is the only theory left standing, because all the others boil down to the claim that “whoever won the battle is the regime God wanted to be in charge.” This might possibly be true if two Christian groups were to wage civil war against one another, constantly pleading for God to be their judge. But it is certainly not true generally. When the Soviets took over Russia, their successful coup did not somehow indicate that God had granted those godless thugs a title to divine right rulership!

    So, I will continue to try to persuade people to the “libertarian” view until someone either demonstrates that it is false, or proposes an alternative and superior view of how just authority is transmitted from God to any particular government…one which better fits the evidence and is more in accord with the Christian understanding of Moral Law.

    Of course, if Holy Mother Church were to dogmatically, definitively, and unambiguously teach a view incompatible with mine, then my view would thereby be proven wrong. I would alter it to fit whatever Christ was teaching through His Church, even if that meant retracting much or all of it.

    But I don’t foresee that happening. I think, instead, that the libertarian view of the proper limits of government is a doctrine which has not yet developed into dogma.
    Consider the fate of a Christian, in the year 550 A.D. or thereabouts, arguing that not only should masters treat their slaves well, but that there should be no institutionalized slavery at all, and that the taking of slaves should be outlawed.

    In response to this, his fellow Christians might say: “But look, even Paul did not forbid slavery! Look, this is how it has always been done! Look, Christian emperors have never said what you are saying. Look, even the Roman Pontiff has not said what you are saying!”

    In response, the anachronistic abolitionist were to say, “I agree that slavery has long been with us; but I argue that the time has come to put it behind us. This is not a falsification of earlier doctrine but a natural outgrowth or development of doctrine. The Roman Pontiff may not yet have decreed it, but I expect in another five hundred years he will do so.”

    Were he to say all that, our 6th-century abolitionist would, of course, be entirely correct. But there would be little history for his view at the time he was saying it.

    I offer this little story as an analogy. I do not think of myself as anything so grand as an early abolitionist, but I still think that the future development of Church doctrine will move in the direction I have indicated.

    Thus I try, even now, to whip up support for this view, not because it is popular (or unpopular) or traditional (or non-traditional) or for any other such reasons, but only because it is true, and intuitively suited to Christian Morality; and the alternative is not.

    • Gian

      Measurement requires interpretation and that requires reason. If you distrust reason, then you have no reason to trust measurements.
      The state of the accused’s immortal soul is not the only intangible and I have repeatedly argued that it is irrelevant to the theory of state. The legislators are properly exercised with the intangible question of whether narcotics harm development of citizenry
      or ready availability of pornographic materials hurts proper development of juveniles..

      You operate with a caricature of Divine Right theory. Also when you write
      “Of course, if Holy Mother Church were to dogmatically, definitively, and unambiguously teach a view incompatible with mine, then my view would thereby be proven wrong”

      There is also something called Thinking With the Church. You can’t think up something at variance with all the Church has said and
      all the faithful have thought and take refuge that Church has not dogmatically pronounced you in error.

  • Cord Hamrick


    I do not distrust reason! Good heavens, now you are ascribing to me a view opposite of that for which I have been passionately arguing! I am astonished that you would get the idea that I was arguing against the validity of reason.

    Really, how can anyone get the idea that I consider human reasoning irrelevant, when I am constantly appealing to reason in my arguments? I am not a fideist; I am an advocate for Natural Law, which is to say, that there is a portion of God’s truth which can be apprehended through human senses and reason without requiring recourse to divine revelation.

    How is it that you are able to derive from my words thoughts which have never entered my head (e.g. logical positivism, or a mistrust of reason)? I do not mean any disrespect to you, Gian, but…is English perhaps not your first language? Or did you grow up in a place where English was spoken but in which the words used had radically different meanings, connotations, or associations than they have when used by Americans?

    I grant that I distrust politicians, and think them not competent to legislate about such things as marriage. But surely recent decisions by some states to give recognition to “gay marriage” are proof that I am correct in my distrust?

    Surprisingly, you say, “The state of the accused’s immortal soul is not the only intangible and I have repeatedly argued that it is irrelevant to the theory of state.”

    It surprises me that you say that, because:

    1. I never argued that the state of the accused immortal soul was the only intangible; it is one among many, but I used it as an example. Wherever did you get the notion that I thought the state of the accused’s immortal soul was the only intangible? Indeed I stated plainly that I thought the Moral Law and Natural Law were intangibles also, which I also held to exist and believed in, along with all the other Christian doctrines.

    2. You say that you “repeatedly argued that it is irrelevant to the theory of state.” Really? Where? I find no evidence of that as I review your posts in this thread. If you have argued that somewhere in this thread, you have done so in a way that I could not understand that that was what you were arguing.

    So you see why I am concerned about whether our discourse may be pointless. If you and I cannot communicate well enough for you to know what my arguments are (which seems to have been a problem, since you have several times attributed ideas to me which I have never held), and if you and I cannot communicate well enough for me to know what your arguments are (which seems to be a problem if, as you say, you have “repeatedly argued that it is irrelevant to the theory of state,” and I was never aware of it), then how can we be sure that we are arguing about the same thing?

    I say all of this to express my worry that our conversation may turn out to be fruitless.

    Now, to deal with the substance of that conversation (in the hope that we are not, after all, miscommunicating):

    You say: “Measurement requires interpretation and that requires reason.” I agree wholeheartedly. I also cannot see anything about my arguments or views which is incompatible with that observation.

    You say: “The legislators are properly exercised with the intangible question of whether narcotics harm development of citizenry or ready availability of pornographic materials hurts proper development of juveniles.” I agree wholeheartedly, with one stipulation: I assert that “harm” to the citizenry or “hurt” to juveniles must be sufficiently observable or measurable that evidence about it may be presented in court. For that reason, harms which are entirely intangible are inadmissible, and redress of such harms is beyond the proper reach of human Criminal Law.

    You say, “You operate with a caricature of Divine Right theory.” It is true that I have given a very unflattering assessment of Divine Right theory. If it is unflattering because I have highlighted only the things which are wrong with that theory, then my assessment is not caricature but just criticism. If it is unflattering because I have claimed things that are wrong with it which are not, in fact true, then my assessment is not caricature but error.

    Do you hold that Divine Right theory is the correct theory of how governments obtain justification for the authority to govern?

    If so, will you please show me how, in Divine Right theory, a man may use his senses to learn whether a particular government is (or is not) authorized by God to rule the territory it claims to justly rule? And will you also show me how, in Divine Right theory, a man may determine what are the limits of the just authority of such a government, so that he may judge, of any particular government action, whether that action exceeds or falls within the just authority of the government?

    These are the things which are perfectly clear in the “libertarian” view. (I use quotation marks around the word “libertarian” because, although it is my view and I am sympathetic to libertarian ideas, many self-described libertarians would not consider my views entirely libertarian.)

    But it seems to me that these things are not answered by Divine Right theory, except in ways which either logically contradict themselves, or contradict what the Church teaches about human dignity and God’s Moral Law.

    If I am in error about this, please show me how. Show me how we can know “who is justly in charge” of a particular area without recourse to the authority of the individual people (an authority granted to them by God). And show me how we can know what the limits of their authority are, to judge whether their actions fall within or exceed those limits.

    • Gian

      Popes did crown Napoleon and various emperors of the Holy German Empire over a thousand years.
      Pope did declare Elizabeth I illegitimate and this implies that the previous occupant of English throne was legitimate.

      What is the difference between Samuel anointing Saul or David and Pope anointing Napoleon or Fredrick I?

    • Michael PS

      “And will you also show me how, in Divine Right theory, a man may determine what are the limits of the just authority of such a government, so that he may judge, of any particular government action, whether that action exceeds or falls within the just authority of the government?”

      But that is precisely what he cannot do, on any theory of government, for it would be subversive of government as such.

      Rousseau saw this very well. “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign [the People] is sole judge of what is important,” for “ if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.”

      • Cord Hamrick

        Michael PS:

        I didn’t see this post from you when you originally wrote it; sorry.

        But I cannot agree with what you wrote.

        It is absolutely false that “on any theory of government” it would be “subversive of government as such” for a citizen, when observing an action of his government, to draw conclusions about whether the basis of his government’s claim to just authority did, or did not, authorize that action.

        Let us suppose I am an Iraqi citizen circa 1994, and Saddam Hussein’s odious younger son kidnaps my sister, rapes her, slowly feeds her feet first through an industrial bottle-shredder, videotapes the act, and then sells the videotape as pornography. (He did this kind of thing often.) Now if I were to think your statement literally true, it would mean that I had no right to conclude, within my own mind, that this act was out-of-bounds. If I complained to the Iraqi police, and they failed to go arrest the younger Hussein in response to my complaint, I would have no right to think that their actions were unjust. If they arrested me instead of him, I would have no right to believe they’d exceeded their just authority.

        Surely you cannot think that.

        As for the Rousseau quote:

        This quote can mean one of two things, but since I am not much interested in Rousseau I am uncertain which way he meant it.

        First, there is some question about how he is using the word “Sovereign” in that quote. Now your usage suggests that you believe this quote contradicts the views I’ve expressed in this comment-thread. For that to be the case, you would need “Sovereign” to mean “government.” But in square brackets, you have indicated that it means “[the People].” This makes a big difference!

        “The government” is a different group of persons from “the people.” They are not mutually exclusive, of course; in fact, normally “the government” is a tiny subset of “the people.” But unless one is founding a new country (a la Paddy Roy Bates and Sealand), the two sets are never coterminous.

        To really clearly understand what Rousseau is saying, it would be helpful to create an imaginary country consisting of 500 persons, with 10 of them selected to be the government. Let us assume that numbers 1-10 are those employed by the rest for the task of governing, and that persons 1-500 are the citizens; that is to say, the employers who voted to employ persons 1-10.

        In that case, to understand the Rousseau quote, it would be helpful to know he intended “the Sovereign” to indicate persons 1-10, or persons 1-500.

        And while it is obvious that an individual must mean only one person, it would be helpful to know whether “the public” meant persons 1-10, or persons 1-500, or persons 11-500, or just any group of one or more persons who might happen to be quarreling with an individual in a court of law (say, persons 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and 89, who are suing person 144 in court).

        Now as a matter of fact, if by “the People” he means persons 1-500, then the Rousseau quote is entirely compatible with my views, albeit badly lacking in clarity.

        On the other hand, if by “the People” Rousseau actually means “the government” (that is, persons 1-10, not persons 1-500) then the quote contradicts my view. But in that case, it seems to me that Rousseau’s statement would either reduce to muddleheaded foolishness, or indicate that the people have no right to revolution no matter how nasty their government is, or both.

  • Cord Hamrick


    First Saul, then David, were chosen by God to exercise power over His People and to enforce His Law. Moreover, predictive prophecy and the promise of God’s covenant to Abraham established that kingdom and its location and territories. And, we have assurance in infallible Scripture that this is the case.

    I suppose the anointing by the Pope would constitute the same kind of authorization from God as the anointing by Samuel if….

    1. A pre-existing covenant promise from God to an ancestor of the relevant people existed, attested to by Scripture, that they would have a king and kingdom, to lend some miraculous credibility to the notion that this message was from God and not from men;

    2. We knew as a doctrine of the Church that the relevant prophet’s charism included authority from God to pronounce on this topic;

    3. We knew who had and did not have that charism (Pope? Bishop? Priest? How low does the prophetic charism go? All these exercise a prophetic charism inasmuch as it is their duty to preach the word of God, but for which of these does the word of God include the choosing of the leaders of nation-states);

    4. We knew from God what were the territories to which the anointed leader’s reign was limited, apart from the questions of (a.) which territories he had conquered and (b.) which populations were loyal to him;

    5. In the case of a conquest, the anointing took place prior to the anointed leader having actually won all the battles and become the de facto leader, so that the anointing was truly prophetic and not merely a convenient legitimization of the status quo.

    6. In the case of an inherited throne, the prophecy which initially legitimized the formation of the kingdom had also promised that kingdom to the heirs of the original king. (David had this; Saul did not.)

    Gian, as we know, God did some very unusual things with Israel which He has never repeated in the history of other peoples. We cannot merely assume that He will be involved in choosing a dynasty for every people when only one dynasty was ever the focus of His chief purpose in human history; namely, the Davidic dynasty and the salvation of the world.

    And even the Davidic dynasty is not something for us to assume; it was surely not something that, for the Israelites, rested only on assumptions. As indicated above, God made it perfectly clear in authoritative and supernatural ways whom He had chosen, whom that person was to rule and how, and whether or not that rule was transmitted to the heirs of that person.

    But I see no evidence to suggest that, now that God has founded a Kingdom which is “in this world, but not of this world,” He has any interest in pronouncing prophetically on the kingdoms of this world except insofar as they shall all bow the knee to the King of Kings on the last day. It may be that divinely-appointed rulership of that kind has simply gone out of the world since Jesus took His throne.

    Now, I believe the ordained clergy, and most especially the successor of Peter, have a prophetic charism. But we are taught its limits are “faith and morals” but not such things as science and economics. It is hard to see how the selection of monarchs for countries would fall within this charism, rather than outside it.

    God has certainly not said that He will not use Popes to select kings. But have they? Has a Pope sometime located a man “hiding among the pack animals” or “tending his father’s sheep” and said, “You are chosen by God to lead the people of Vanatu?” Or has the Pope always been asked, merely as a courtesy or act of diplomacy, to bless someone who already had control, and who was perfectly willing to expand his territories if the opportunity arose? Did the word of God select the king and his kingdom, or did “might make right” with an after-the-fact gloss of respectability applied belatedly?

    And if a Pope were to receive a private revelation that he should go and select a peasant to be king of France, would that not in fact be a private revelation, holding no de fide authority for the faithful?

    I ask these questions. I am not certain that my answers to them are correct; I am willing to be taught by the Church. But I pose them to point out that one cannot merely assume that the Pope anointing Napoleon at his coronation, post-conquest, is a prophetic utterance of the will of God comparable to Samuel’s anointing of David. There are more differences than similarities.

  • Gian

    Popes have not selected kings but have legitimized them. Thus unless you disown the entire history of Christendom for the sake of
    Libertarian theory, you should accept that those kings were as legal as the present President of USA or the prime minister of UK.

    We believe in the Jewish fable of Samuel and David (as Belloc puts it) only by the authority of Church. It is only rational for us to believe in Church when she pronounces Napoleon legigimate Emperor of France.

    • Michael PS

      “Divine right” has been used in three different, but related, senses.

      1 Christians are bound in conscience to obey the civil magistrate in all things, but sin. This is the common teaching of the Fathers, basing themselves on our Lord’s injunction to “Render to Caesar and his words before Pilate, as well as the injunctions of both St Peter and St Paul. The common opinion of theologians applies this to mere de facto rulers, as avoiding civil conflict and so conducive to the common good.
      2 From the great 11th century conflict between Empire and Papacy onwards, it came to mean the autonomy of the civil power within its own sphere, free from clerical control, against what some saw as the extravagant claims of Popes like Gregory VII and Boniface VIII, especially in their assertion of the deposing power. In French, this is called “laïcité” ; the nearest English equivalent is secularism
      3 In the 17th century, it was used by the defenders of legitimism to mean the indefeasible authority of a particular royal line, particularly by the Jacobites, although some French Catholics adopted it after the Revolution.

      Clarity requires us to distinguish them.

      • Cord Hamrick


        Thanks for the clarification. Applying your three senses to the dispute between Gian and myself, I conclude that:

        Sense 1 is compatible with my view, inasmuch as my view criticizes rule-by-right-of-conquest as a mere de facto kind of rulership and advocates a ruler-choosing process more in accord with Christian morality. That Christians should obey the de facto ruler (except when he commands sin) for the sake of preserving civil order for the common good is perfectly reasonable. That they should also simultaneously long for a more morally legitimate process of obtaining rulers is also reasonable.

        Sense 2 strikes me as an early movement in the direction of the “libertarian” view which was incapable of fully articulating the “libertarian” view because the concepts and vocabulary did not yet exist.

        Sense 3 comes closest, I think, to the kind of “divine right” Gian seems to be defending and which I am opposing. I am not certain, however, whether Gian wishes to see a Windsor, or a Hanoverian, on the throne of the United States. Of course, if Church blessing confers legitimacy, and allows for the retraction thereof, then perhaps only a Tudor will do.

    • Cord Hamrick


      You are quite correct: Popes have not chosen kings. They have only legitimized them after their identity had already been determined (by conquest or lineage from a conqueror). Thank you for agreeing so readily to my argument!

      Clearly the ecclesiastical authority was not involved in the determination of whom should rule and in what way and over what territory, which is what I claimed from the beginning. It was armed might which ultimately did that. Might made Right (in the sense of authority); and the Church came in after the fact to do her duty of saying: “Now that you have conquered this land, remember that God is watching you: Rule well, and not poorly; with justice and not from crude self-interest.” It is well that the clergy should thus pray for a person who has accumulated such power, that he should (by God’s grace) use it wisely. I certainly do not disown the propriety of such prayers!

      But this is clearly a very different matter from the question of choosing the king. You are speaking only of the certain prayers and admonitions and blessings on the king after we know who he shall be; and my view of the just origins of ruling authority in no way requires me to disapprove of those things.

      You say,

      …unless you disown the entire history of Christendom for the sake of Libertarian theory, you should accept that those kings were as legal as the present President of USA or the prime minister of UK.

      This is not quite right, for several reasons:

      First, as I just stated, I do not disown what the popes were actually doing; I am just pointing out that, by your own admission, what the popes were actually doing was not what God did (through the prophet Samuel) when he appointed the as-yet unknown private figures of Saul and David to lead His people. Thus I have no need to disown the history of Christendom. I can have my cake and eat it too; I can have my view of just government authority and still applaud the history of papal blessings of recently-victorious war-leaders by keeping in mind that they are dealing with entirely different questions and are therefore not incompatible.

      Secondly, what I espouse can only be called “Libertarian theory” in a qualified sense, since, as I have mentioned, not all persons who call their own philosophy “libertarian” would agree that mine ought to be called “libertarian.” The word “libertarian” is hard to precisely define. (Perhaps we should adopt a precise working definition of the term, just for the purposes of this conversation?)

      Please remember that my goal in holding my theory is not to keep it in line with “libertarianism,” however defined, but rather to keep it in line with the Moral Law of God. By adhering to the Moral Law more strictly than some of our forebears, especially in matters of the limits on the just use of force, we find that the limits on the just authority of government are more restrictive than our forebears imagined.

      This realization brings our view of the just authority of government closer to that of libertarian thinkers. We may say that, at the end of our chain of reasoning, the resulting policy prescriptions are very similar to those which libertarians achieve by their own reasoning…but only the Christian Libertarians use the same chain of reasoning that we do. And they are only known by the name “Christian Libertarian” because their policy prescriptions happen to be similar to that of Libertarians in general…but for the Christian Libertarian, it is not the “Libertarian” part of his identity which he truly cares about, but the “Christian.”

      It is only with that understanding that I am willing, provisionally, to accept the name “Libertarian theory” for my view. If any man recognizes that government’s just authority to use force is restricted by my application of the Moral Law of God, all is well. But if he thinks that I arrived at that conclusion the same way Ayn Rand did, he is very much mistaken!

      Thirdly, must I accept that King Louis IX of France (Saint, Crusader) was “as legal as the President of the USA or the Prime Minister of the UK?”

      There is an important problem with how you phrased that: You used the word “legal.” I don’t deny that the holders of the office of king and emperor were not breaking (man’s) law by exercising their offices. How could they, inasmuch as authority to legislate emanated from their offices in the first place? To say “legal” is to speak of human law. But to speak of human law is to miss the point; we are not talking about human law, but about God’s divine Moral Law which alone may confer just authority to write and enforce any human laws.

      So what is at issue is not whether a modern legislator and an ancient monarch were equally “legal.” That goes without saying. What is at issue is whether they each obtained their office through equally morally legitimate means. What is at issue is whether the processes for choosing the modern and ancient officeholders were equally capable of conferring just authority to exercise force.

      I am arguing that the modern process more legitimately confers that just authority, and thus we are morally obligated to prefer the modern process over the older. And I am arguing that close examination of the process by which the officeholder is chosen and by which the authority is conferred carries important implications; among them, a limitation of the just authority of government to use force.

      So was Louis IX of France equally legal? Indubitably.

      Was his choosing as morally legitimate as that of a modern republic? No, it was not, although we cannot fault him or his people for that, because the modern process had not yet been invented.

      Now that it has been invented, do we still have the option of using the old, less morally legitimate way of selecting our leaders? No, we do not. Just as we once allowed for legal slave-ownership, but now have abolished this institution in recognition of advancements in our understanding of God’s Moral Law, so too we formerly allowed for hereditary monarchies established by conquerors, but have since then abolished that mistaken understanding of governing authority, in recognition of our advancements in our understanding of God’s Moral Law. To support an authoritarian monarchy then was not a sin; but today, it is.

      Gian, your final argument was a flawed syllogism. You began it this way:

      We believe in the Jewish fable of Samuel and David (as Belloc puts it) only by the authority of Church.

      That is correct, more or less. But you then added,

      It is only rational for us to believe in Church when she pronounces Napoleon legitimate Emperor of France.

      Ah, but you admitted already that she did not, in fact, do that. Napoleon was Emperor, with or without her, having already defeated all other comers. The Church gave her blessing, and some beneficial propaganda, to the only Emperor-candidate still standing.

      Had she pronounced, in a dogmatic kind of way, that Napoleon and his heirs were the just authoritarian rulers of France, then, unless she later made a later pronouncement retracting that authority, the heirs of Napoleon would still be the rightful kings of France. Are you longing to hand the scepter to some heir of Napoleon who even today waits in the shadows, Gian?

      That is one objection to your syllogism. But there are others. The logic is flawed because your syllogism contains many hidden premises, forming intermediary syllogisms.

      A fuller detailing of your argument is:

      SYLLOGISM 1:
      P1: The Church tells us to believe Scripture;
      P2: The Church has just authority to tell us to believe Scripture;
      C: The Church has just authority to choose monarchs for nation-states, and to confer upon them, in God’s name, a just authority to rule equaling or exceeding the just authority of a democratically-chosen elected official.

      SYLLOGISM 2:
      P1: The Church has just authority to choose monarchs for nation-states, and to confer upon them, in God’s name, a just authority to rule equaling or exceeding the just authority of a democratically-chosen elected official;
      P2: When the Church blessed medieval monarchs at their coronations, she in fact was utilizing the “choosing” authority detailed in P1, and was also conferring on the chosen ruler all the just authority to rule detailed in P1;
      C: The monarchs whom the Church blessed in the Middle Ages were in fact chosen by God to rule, and granted by God all the force-wielding authority they later exercised.

      So far as I can tell, that’s your argument, once the hidden premises are brought out.

      If I have not mis-stated your argument, then it is flawed in these ways:

      (a.) The Conclusion of the first Syllogism is not logically required by the Premises;
      (b.) The second Premise of the second Syllogism is not, in fact, true, by your own earlier admission.

      Thus the argument fails.

      • Gian

        The medieval king was not a king till he was anointed by the Church. It was not only Might makes Right. You are
        uninformed about medieval history if you think it was all Might makes Right. Even the Norman Conquest of 1066 was not merely
        Might makes Right but William the Conqueror had serious claims to the English throne and he was accepted as English King by the Pope even before the Conquest.

        The medieval quarrels were really quarrels and not merely fights. They were generally legally settled, the legal process did break down
        often, as indeed with modern nation states, only less so in medieval times.

        I dont understand you reference to “nation-states”. What is special about them?

      • Cord Hamrick


        Yes, the medieval king was not a king until he was anointed by the Church.

        That’s written…where? That principle must be followed, according to…what?

        Isn’t it the laws of that country that stipulate that for the coronation to have been properly concluded, it must include an anointing?

        But what authority did those laws have? Were those laws written by…the pope? No. They were written under the authority of the previous king, or one of his predecessors. And how did they obtain their authority to make such laws?

        To put it another way: In your formulation of the divine right principle, from which dynasty should the current rightful ruler of the United States be taken, and on what basis? And how did that dynasty come to have legitimacy?

        You note that William the Conqueror had “serious claims” to the English throne: Yes, he did. What was the nature of those claims? He was a grandnephew of a Queen-Consort of England.

        She was consort of two different kings, in fact: Aethelred Redeless and Canute the Great. The former was from the Wessex dynasty which originally unified England under their rule (how, exactly, did they do that?).

        And the latter was a Dane, to whom Aethelred paid Danegeld (why, exactly?) and who eventually took over the throne of England altogether in 1016 (how, exactly, did he do that?).

        Of course I agree with you that there were laws involved with succession. (The medievals were great codifiers of everything; C.S.Lewis once remarked that of all modern inventions the one they’d have appreciated most was the “card index.”) But on whose authority did those laws have any force? And where did they get their authority?

        If not all secular authority, then certainly the vast, vast majority of all claims to secular authority in that era trace back to somebody who won a battle or ground down their intended conquest through raids (a particular habit of the aforementioned Danes).

        And I agree with your observation that medieval quarrels were “really quarrels and not merely fights”; it almost sounds like a quote from Chesterton, from his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps, or of St. Francis of Assisi (I have the two bound in a single volume). They, great codifiers and indexers and nitpickers, wanted to make absolutely certain that the fellow taking the throne was not just some stranger without portfolio. No, the claimant absolutely must, for everything to be proper, he absolutely must be a rightful descendant of the guy whose armies had lopped their own great-grandfathers’ heads off.

        But as the preceding sentence indicates, this detail of medieval psychology or culture does not contradict my generalization that the determining factor of exactly who became king was, in all cases, traceable to some act of violence. If anything it shows how culture adapted to it, codifying it to give it a false aura of normalcy. (I mean, “normalcy” in the sense of it being normative, desirable, proper; it was certainly normal in the sense of being commonplace.) I suspect the anointing by local clergy was much the same kind of adaptation.

        But look here: We can solve this dispute very quickly. Show me where the Church teaches (as a matter of normative doctrine, if you can’t find it as an actual dogma) that the clergy of the Catholic Church have been granted, by virtue of their ordination and succession from the apostles, the authority (presumably granted to the apostles by Jesus Christ) to choose a person to become the next monarch of England, or Bohemia, or wherever, should the current monarch die without any heirs or relatives of any kind.

        If the clergy (bishops, possibly priests; it certainly wasn’t always a pope) have that authority, granted by Jesus, alongside the forgiving of sins and everything else, surely I can find that in the Catechism? An encyclical? An Ecumenical Council document, right? A back issue of Magnificat?

        Did even Thomas Aquinas say it? Not even he went that far. Aquinas is characteristically balanced: On the one hand, “When there is no recourse to a superior by whom judgment can be made about an invader, then he who slays a tyrant to liberate his fatherland, he is praised and receives a reward.” On the other hand, he views the pope as a valid authority about whether a given king is a tyrant; thus, the pope gives the populace “recourse to a superior.”

        Aquinas seems to have in mind that, while folk may not take it upon themselves to overthrow a legitimate king who is and remains Christian, they may overthrow a king whom the pope tells them is no longer legitimate or no longer Christian.

        But nothing is said about the pope having authority thereafter to choose just anyone to replace the deposed king. In the aftermath, only folk with a valid claim (that is to say, blood relation to someone who violently conquered that territory at some past time) are considered. And they are not really considered by the pope. At best they are considered by a meeting of nobles who throw their support to this candidate or that, in an attempt to stave off civil war. When the pope or bishop eventually steps in to anoint someone, it will be either the candidate whom the most nobles supported, or the candidate who won the civil war.

        How is that not, in the end, “might making right?” The fact that there is a kind of etiquette about it does not change the nature of the thing.

        And that is the closest you get to clerical choosing of the monarch. The notion of the pope finding a random unknown shepherd or pursuer of lost livestock and anointing him king prior to having any followers, especially any warriors, is a fairy tale.

        Samuel could do it because God authorized him to do so. The pope never did it; this is either because over more than a thousand years the opportunity never arose, or, more likely, because God never sent the pope on a mission like that he gave to Samuel. After all, Samuel was sent, ultimately, to provide Jesus the human lineage which would allow a Messianic Kingdom of Heaven to seamlessly arise out of an earthly dynasty. But that only needed to happen once in salvation history. The business of the Church is different.

  • Gian

    Ultimately even the Republic of USA is based upon the violent dispossession of Indian tribes So that proves nothing.

    “pope as a valid authority about whether a given king is a tyrant; thus, the pope gives the populace “recourse to a superior”

    You won’t find this outside the Christendom. And I don’t see why this doesn’t prove my point about the Church judging the legitimacy of
    I just fail to see why to a Catholic, Holy Roman Empire is illegitimate while Republic of India is legitimate.

  • Cord Hamrick


    The Catholic Holy Roman Empire was as legitimate as people knew how to make it, at the time.

    The United States of America was also as legitimate as people knew how to make it, at the time. As it happens, the U.S. is more legitimate than the Holy Roman Empire, inasmuch as the delegation from God to the people to the government was finally understood and put into practice (which it wasn’t in the Holy Roman Empire). But it was not perfectly legitimate, inasmuch as the rights of the native Americans were trampled, not to mention the slavery issue.

    The Republic of India was also as legitimate as people knew how to make it, at the time. (Insert here particulars about its failings with respect the dalits, et cetera.)

    The question before us is this: Once our knowledge has increased to a point that we know a better, fairer, more morally legitimate way to create a government, are we going to run our governments in that more morally legitimate way? Or are we going to use a less morally legitimate way, on the theory that “it was okay 1000 years ago, so it must still be okay today?”

    To say “kudos!” to the Holy Roman Empire for what they did then while nevertheless not wanting to repeat it now is entirely sensible: Like complimenting the ancients on having sometimes had indoor plumbing, but not wanting to have crazy-making all-lead plumbing like theirs!

    To put it another way: Jesus once stated, of the Pharisees, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty; but I have spoken to them, so their guilt remains; they have no excuse.” The ancients and medievals had an excuse for the way they governed: They were the ancients and medievals! They didn’t know. Louis the IX of France governed like a saintly king, in an age of kings. Kudos to him. And serfdom was a genuine humanitarian improvement over the institutions of slavery and other barbarisms you’d have seen a thousand years earlier.

    But that was then and this is now. They had an excuse for serfs and vassals and conquests, just as the patriarchs and Israelites had an excuse for concubines and slaves and bedding handmaids and capturing wives as war booty and whatnot. (We can’t help thinking a bit less of them because they did it, but their times give them at least a partial excuse.)

    We have no excuse for doing as they did, in slavery, in marriage…or in government.

  • Gian

    Your more legitimate USA has partial birth abortion, same sex marriage and no-fault divorce.

    ” the U.S. is more legitimate than the Holy Roman Empire, inasmuch as the delegation from God to the people to the government was finally understood and put into practice (which it wasn’t in the Holy Roman Empire)”

    This is exactly the point in dispute. CS Lewis says that Christianity proposes no theory of state. Your elected democratic states have been far
    more illiberal and despotic than any medieval state.
    All the existing states, even the most democratic, are as far from libertarian theory and practice as any medieval state. In fact, the medieval state was more decentralized so in practice the medieval state is closer to the Catholic idea of subsidiarity. Why doesn’t this word occur even once in your arguments?

    The libertarian also have problem with Solidarity of Catholic idea. I hope you would use force to stop a friend from committing suicide,
    why is it morally allowed?.

  • Cord Hamrick


    Of course you’re right about the evils of abortion, et cetera in the U.S.; but I was talking about legitimacy in the way the government was constituted, not in how it misused its power after being given it.

    Lewis says Christianity proposes no theory of state; but he does not mean thereby that all theories of state are equally acceptable to a Christian!

    Lewis is saying that Jesus did not, like Mohammed, say: “You must pursue political power, and once you have it, here is how you must run things.” But Lewis is certainly not saying that it is all one if you found a state on a theory of popular sovereignty, or if you found a state on the theory that you’re a divine emperor whose great-grandsire was Zeus, and that all your subjects are your personal property and playthings.

    My argument is that it is more morally and doctrinally and logically consistent with Christianity to see authority as delegated from God to men, and from men to their servants, amongst whom are the government, than to adopt earlier conceptions of the path by which authority is delegated by God to those with governing authority.

    That is the only kind of legitimacy I am discussing here: I am talking about the legitimacy of how the authority was placed in the hands of X, Y, and Z.

    If X, Y, and Z thereafter misused their office by allowing abortion; well, that they used their authority badly is not the same as saying they never had just authority to begin with. The U.S. government allows things it ought not, and thereby fails in its duty to protect the innocent; but that is not the same as claiming that they never had that duty to start with.

    I strongly disagree with your statement that libertarians have a problem with the Catholic idea of Solidarity. (Naturally I would use non-lethal force to halt a suicide; but nothing about the libertarian view contradicts that.)

    And Solidarity is unreal to the degree that it is forced: It is one thing if folks in your society voluntarily join the Lions’ Club or the Rotary Club or the Model Airplane Club. That is Solidarity in action and these Subsidiary units within society are reflective of its health; it organically “grows” them like branches on a tree or buds on a branch. These groups of people then do good works in the community for the benefit of themselves or others. It is a neighborly affair.

    But imagine how different it is if the government controls all the clubs and assigns you to them according to its own purposes. Would that be Solidarity? No, it would be communist totalitarianism, which is the devil’s counterfeit version of Solidarity. All Subsidiarity is subsumed into the central power of the state and all variety and heterogeneity is squashed out of existence.

    The former Soviet Union is of course the classic example of faux-Solidarity. Were they really all one country, united with one spirit for one cause? Obviously not; the truth about their Solidarity was revealed the moment the Central Committee lacked the muscle to keep all the little East European countries and Soviet Republics under its thumb. The moment they dared, they declared independence.

    In a real Catholic society, the rule is “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The libertarian genius is for noticing how few things outside the doctrines and practices of the Christian faith fall into the first category (essentials), and how the practice of charity in “all things” is enhanced by allowing folk liberty in the much wider category of “non-essentials.”

    And of course it’s part of Catholic morality that the parts of life which justify pointing a gun at our fellow man are a very narrow subset of human experience, indeed. Compulsory Solidarity may be compulsory, but it isn’t Solidarity; the libertarian rejoices at persons using their liberty to voluntarily form Subsidiary Communities within the larger society, thus giving voice to true Solidarity.

  • Gian

    Your error lies in the supposition that all men are equal. But some men are fathers to other men and the society had ever been organized on the patriarchal principle. Father is the natural ruler of his family, the eldest son inherits this role and heads the clan and head of the biggest clan is the tribal chief.

    You confuse the metaphysical equality of men with the political. An adult son is metaphysically equal to his father but he must pay the deference that is owed to his father. My claim is that we understand better the origin of state in this way rather than the Social Contract that no man has ever made.

    Even if, my forefathers made a compact or a Constitution, why should I be bound by it? Especially according to the libertarian principles?.

    • Cord Hamrick

      The deference and (with limitations) obedience owed by children to fathers is not at issue here.

      Libertarian principles allow that one may enter into a well-known “default” contract implicitly by simply not rejecting, it and that being the child of citizens of a particular country implies a default choice, unless stated otherwise, of becoming a citizen of the same country, oneself.

      But you are not compelled to be a citizen of the country of your parents, should you opt to go elsewhere. That is up to you, if you are an adult.

      A Constitution is binding on those who make that choice, even if it is the default choice. However, if a sufficiently large bulk of them should opt to revise that Constitution, they may of course do so. (This may turn out to be a wise thing or an unwise thing to do, depending on what changes they make.)

      To understand the origin of the government without recourse to a decision made after adulthood by citizens to remain citizens, even by default, is more problematic.

      That is to say: Your understanding of the origin of the state as a decision of our fathers or grandfathers which we, as children and grandchildren, are morally obligated to obey begs the question: Why, now that we are adults, must we heed the decisions of our fathers and grandfathers in every particular?

      You may answer this question in various ways: It is morally right, we owe deference, they were wiser, et cetera, but such answers are not pertinent to the issue: Why should our fellow men use force to make us, adult men and women, adhere to a code which our fathers and grandfathers chose?

      For it is one matter if we defer to our forefathers out of a sense of moral obligation. It is another if, because we decide no such obligation exists, we choose as adults to govern our lives otherwise than our forefathers did, and suddenly our neighbors come armed to our door to stop us.

      So the Contract, into which an adult may enter by default, is the more reasonable approach.

  • Gian

    I see that you have avoided my repeated questions as to the intellectual roots of Libertarianism.
    Isn’t it so that the Libertarianism has descended from JS Mill’s On Liberty with its motto ‘Your liberty ends where my nose begins’
    Thus the notion of liberty as everything goes save violence.
    And JS Mill follows Bentham and his utilities.
    Their notion of society is poor, inadequate and does not capture the richness and nuance of Catholic Tradition,

    Suppose a man is spouting profanities and bad language in front of my family that includes women and children.
    Would I be justified or not justified in asking that man to restrain myself?
    Would the Society as personified in a policeman be justified in asking him to restrain himself?

    • TomD

      The roots of libertarianism are firmly planted in the Garden of Eden. As for the “intellectual” roots . . . they spring from the fertile imagination of the human mind.

    • Cord Hamrick


      Excuse me?

      Show me where in the whole preceding discourse you ever asked me a question about the intellectual roots of the view I’m defending, that I failed to answer. There’s been no such question.

      And really, look briefly at the history of our conversation, here. Do I give the impression of someone who is avoiding engaging you, when you raise a point? Am I not rather engaging you at excruciating length? Look at the number of words I’ve bothered to type. Compare them to your own. There is a pattern, and it isn’t one of non-engagement!

      Are you getting your conversation with me confused with another conversation you’re having elsewhere?

      Liberty is not “everything goes save violence.” That view is not mine, and I never said that it was. With whom are you arguing? Not, apparently, me.

      As for the man using profane language in front of you (women and children are optional):

      Would you be justified in asking that man to restrain himself? Why, of course…if “ask” is interpreted as a request, not a command.

      Would you be justified in shooting, jailing, or taking property from that man if he did not restrain himself? Not generally. But there might be exceptions.

      Would a policeman be justified in asking that man to restrain himself? Why, of course…if “ask” is interpreted as a request, not a command.

      Would a policeman be justified in shooting, jailing, or fining that man if he did not restrain himself? Not generally. But there might be exceptions.

  • Gian

    Well see for example, my post on 1/10/11

    “I would really like to get to the source of your moral intuition. Does your position has a history?”

  • Gian

    I refer you to a comment at First Things blog for a restatement of my position:

    The church, as did the majority of humankind prior to the Enlightenment, views the family and the community as the centers of human life, rather than the individual and the state. The best way to serve the common good is to strengthen these institutions, from this perspective. This ultimately means that for an economic order to be just, it must provide for the family, so as to furnish the necessary and customary goods for the household, and that it serves the strengthen the community, which means some measure of economic control at the that level


    It is telling that you never refer to family, for you the individual is all. But as Esolen has explained in the notes to Paradise
    (page 421) that the individual is an abstraction. Man is always found in families and cities.

    • Cord Hamrick


      Ah, I see. I misunderstood the importance of that original question, because I saw it as two questions:

      (1.) What was the source of my moral intuition on this? Well, my arguments regarding abstention from unjustified force, and how justification was interpreted at the individual and the international levels, and how for consistency’s sake the same justification threshold should exist in civil society, explains my moral intuition.

      (2.) Does my position have (“has”) a history? I thought that question was answered when I said that (a.) I held this to be genuine doctrinal development, which I thought might be explicit in Church doctrine or dogma in another hundred years or more, but that now was too early for it; (b.) its history is only in the last few decades for that reason; but (c.) this is not reason to disregard it because when the first few voices in the Church argued that slavery ought to be entirely abolished, they likewise would have been told “Your view is without precedent!” yet could have (quite correctly) responded that their view was a logical outgrowth of developing Church doctrine about the dignity of man.

      To be more precise: If I correctly understand government as employees of the people hired by the people to wield by proxy their just authority to use force to defend innocent persons, then my position flows logically from this fact and from the Christian teachings requiring a high level of justification before we resort to the use of force. But the history of understanding government as employees of the people is relatively short. This notion will have to percolate through Catholic thought (as indeed it has clearly begun to do in the last hundred years or so) before it “locks together” with Church teachings about the use of force and, in maturity, produces the conclusions I have listed about the scope of government…irrevocably and unavoidably, I suspect.

      Now that you have pointed that question out to me, I see that you intended it as a single question. Still…I don’t see that you ever asked it again, so “repeatedly” seems incorrect. And, while my misunderstanding of the question meant my answer to it was scattered here and there, I did answer it.

      Gian, I actually like the comment at First Things quite a lot.

      But are you aware that comment (partly) supports my view?

      You say, “The church, as did the majority of humankind prior to the Enlightenment, views the family and the community as the centers of human life, rather than the individual and the state. The best way to serve the common good is to strengthen these institutions, from this perspective.”

      This sets up a false dilemma: EITHER “family and community” OR “individual and state.”

      My view is different from that you ascribe to the Enlightenment, but shares some differences from how you describe the pre-Enlightenment view also. My view is more like this:

      1. First, the individual, because we are responsible before God for our own moral conduct;

      2. Second, the family, because families are formed out of individuals;

      3. Third, the community, because communities are formed out of families;

      4. Fourth, the state, because states are formed out of communities.

      Therefore, ALL these things must be included in human life…but, they must be kept in their proper order.

      And of course Subsidiarity comes in at this point. Subsidiarity says that whatever can be done at more than one level of aggregation ought to be done at the smaller and more local level. Applying this to the four parts, we find that:

      1. Whatever can be done by both individual and family, ought to be done by the individual — although if more than one individual opts to do it, they can of course cooperate, which produces Solidarity between individuals;

      2. Whatever can be done by both family and community ought to be done by the family — although if more than one family opts to do it, they can of course cooperate, which produces Solidarity between families;

      3. Whatever can be done by both community and state ought to be done by the community — although if more than one community opts to do it, they can of course cooperate, which produces Solidarity between communities.

      Gian, you also state that,

      It is telling that you never refer to family, for you the individual is all.

      …but this again demonstrates that you misunderstand my position, and are arguing against a chimera.

      For me, the individual is NOT all, otherwise I would not be so urgently pro-family! Yes, I am urgently pro-family.

      You see, I am:

      1. Urgently pro-individual against the overbearing usurpation of any family, community, or state which attempts to violate Subsidiarity by doing at the higher level what can be done at the lower;

      2. Urgently pro-family against the overbearing usurpation of any community, or state which attempts to violate Subsidiarity by doing at the higher level what can be done at the lower;

      3. Urgently pro-community against the overbearing usurpation of any state which attempts to violate Subsidiarity by doing at the higher level what can be done at the lower.

      Now, it just so happens that in our society the family and community are rarely overbearing. They rarely usurp the just responsibilities of the lower levels.

      But it just so happens that in our society the state is often extremely overbearing, and frequently usurps the proper duties of the individual, the family, and the community.

      The state does this with relative impunity because it, alone, has been granted authority to use force to achieve its ends. Who can successfully argue against it, when it holds the gun?

      So it diminishes our individual ability to save and give alms through government redistribution programs; it diminishes our family ability to train our children by making it difficult to homeschool and encouraging families to leave their children in government schools which will indoctrinate them against the Faith; it diminishes our community ability to run parish schools and medical services and adoption programs through the loss of conscience protections and enforcement of political correctness and the anti-life and pro-homosexual agendas.

      The chief way in which you, Gian, misconstrue my argument is that you take my criticism of the state, and my desire to limit its power, and you say that I am thereby attempting to harm the family, or the community.

      You believe this, because you believe that the best way to assist the family is to use the compulsory armed power of the state to help the family. You likewise believe that the best way to assist the community is to use the compulsory armed power of the state to help the community.

      I am calling your attention to the fact that the compulsory armed power of the state has been meddling with family and community for years, but negatively: The state uses its compulsory power to disintegrate the family and the community.

      Why does it do this? Simple: For the same reason that Communist states didn’t like the people setting up labor unions or other Subsidiary organizations: They didn’t like the possibility of any alternative centers of power or identity apart from themselves. They wanted to expand and retain control. The state always prefers to expand its reach, to usurp the proper role of all Subsidiary entities.

      Thus the state’s involvement with family or community or church is “the camel’s nose in the tent.” If you get the state involved in subsidizing the family instead of merely protecting it, you quickly get a state-run family. If you get the state involved in subsidizing community instead of merely protecting it, you quickly get a state-run community. If you get the state involved in subsidizing the church instead of merely protecting it, you quickly get a state-run church, and that is why the Church in Europe and all the Eastern Orthodox churches wrestled constantly with caesaropapism and lay investiture for so many centuries.

      So this is the wrong approach to take. Don’t subsidize. Make the individual and the family and the community (and the church) immune to state interference by limiting the state to a very small number of well-defined duties, and the individuals and families and communities, which had atrophied under the weight of the overbearing state, will expand back to their natural levels of health and influence.

      So you see that you are entirely wrong to characterize me as pro-indvidual and anti-family. I am pro-individual; I am pro-family; I am pro-community. I wish all of them to be liberated from their current enslavement under the crushing weight of the state which has usurped their roles in society, so that, when they have recovered, they can once again fulfill those roles.

      • Gian

        Thanks for a through reply.
        I am all for a limited state. But I do not accept that state is an employee of the people.
        With Solzhenitsyn,I view it as the Roof for the People (Red Wheel, Nov 1916, the lady professor at St Petersburg).
        Another way is to note that man have never been equal but hierarchies have ever existed among them and one reason being
        the unequal relation between fathers and sons. As a matter of empirical fact, the modern state is the development of
        this primordial patriarchy.
        There is nothing extraordinary or novel in this. It is implicit in the American Constitution even. So the State has authorities
        not delegated to it by people.

        I would probably agree with you in all practical matters, saving the pornography, profanity, contraception etc, but you view of
        the state is lacking.

  • John Zmirak

    Historically (that means in reality) the only way for an economic order to center on the family is to grant rights to the family instead of the individual–by vesting all those rights in one figure, which historically has been the father. So if you’re happy to go back to the old Common Law that rendered wives and children “chattel,” that deemed a woman’s rights (once she was married) to be “covered” by her husband’s, then you can have your familial order. Good luck selling that idea outside the Muslim world, or the parts of Africa where polygamy is still practiced. The “individual” is simply the legal recognition of the sanctity of the PERSON, which is the only thing (not families, or tribes, or races) which will be answerable to God on the day of judgment.

    • Gian

      Sanctity of the person coexists with the subjection of wives.

      Why must I assume that the Old Common Law is inferior to the present-day law.
      Esp when the current law allows for easy divorce, abortion and same-sex marriages.

    • Michael PS

      In Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, the family-based system lasted until quite recent times.

      “The main social functions of the family were gradually transferred to the state. Justice, production and consumption, education, health, which, before 1745, were almost entirely the responsibility of the family unit, the sept or clan, were henceforth increasingly entrusted to the public authorities”

      At the root of this was the change to a money-based economy. In the absence of large accumulations of specie or of credit, the only way to acquire the most important instrument of production, land, was by inheritance and, in the absence of purchasers or lenders, no one who inherited land could disinherit his successors by selling or mortgaging it.

      Commerce always goes hand in hand with social instability.

  • Sarto

    What really changed the family was capitalism. This is not a criticism, but an observation. Capitalism with its incredible and demanding energy has turned every part of society upside down.

    • Cord Hamrick


      Y’know, depending on how one defines “capitalism” I either agree or disagree with you that capitalism has negatively changed the family and society in general (“turned [them] upside down”).

      When people are advocates of capitalism, they define it one way; when they are critics, they define it another way.

      Greed and consumerism and envy and keep-up-with-the-Jones-ism and businesses who use unethical means (dishonest advertising, bought politicians who write exceptions into the tax code, mistreatment of employees) to defeat their competition: This is what some folk mean by “capitalism.”

      On the other hand, what a proponent of “capitalism” means by the word is something like this: A legal and economic framework in which strong property rights protections and the ability to buy shares in the means of production provides the average person an opportunity to acquire some profit from the means of production without resorting to force. In this view, just as regular elections are a preferable alternative to violent revolution, securities exchange is a preferable alternative to violent Marxist appropriation of the means of production.

      It goes without saying that I’m against the greed and consumerism, et alia. And it should go without saying that whenever these evils of are of a type which impinges on the liberties of persons, they should be forcibly suppressed by the state to a degree which is proportionate to the directness and severity and certainty of the assault on liberty.

      But it also goes without saying that I’m in favor of widely distributed ownership of capital. As G.K.Chesterton noted: “The problem with capitalism is not that there are too many capitalists, but too few”; that is to say, too small a percentage of the population are shareholders. That, not Marxist revolution, is the proper way for the proletariat to have a share in the profits from the means of production.

      And there is yet another problem: “Capitalism” is often confused with “free markets,” although they are not the same. And “free markets” can also be defined negatively or positively. The negative form would, I assume, be “a system in which you can sell slaves and pornography and addictive substances and you can bait-and-switch your customers.” The positive form would be something more like, “a system in which barriers to entry are low enough to encourage entrepreneurialism and small-business success, and in which pricing is voluntary, and in which regulations on the sale of goods and services are no greater than that required to ensure that nobody’s rights are violated through the transaction.”

      I think that we’d be much better off if we could get rid of the “bad capitalism” and the “bad free markets” while retaining the “good capitalism” and the “good free markets.”

      And I also don’t think that it’s a simple matter of, “well, if you accept enough regulation to eliminate the bad capitalism (or free markets), you inevitably limit the good at the same time.” I think that the bad capitalism (or bad free market) is qualitatively different enough from the good that it is possible to write regulations and criminal laws in such a way as to target the former and largely leave the latter unscathed.

      In fact I fear that one of the most common tricks of our political class is that instead of doing the hard work of writing legislation cleverly enough to leave the good stuff unscathed while attacking the bad stuff, they write it in a haphazard, ill-thought-out way which indiscriminately limits good and bad alike, and then say in their campaign advertisements, “Look at how I have been working so hard to fight the bad stuff.”