Stephanie Slade is Managing Editor at the libertarian publication Reason. She’s also a practicing Catholic. In an article for America: The Jesuit Review, she eloquently explains how that is not only possible, but it’s actually fitting. She explains how libertarianism is the political philosophy best suited to complement the Catholic teachings of subsidiarity, solidarity, and the common good.
One way to think about libertarianism is that it is a political philosophy that prefers voluntary, nonviolent human interactions over coercion. Because government dictates are by nature coercive—we do not get to choose whether to pay taxes or comply with zoning restrictions—libertarians advocate relying on private solutions to problems whenever possible. Civil society institutions—family units and neighborhood groups, labor unions and trade associations, churches and charities—must do the heavy lifting. State interference in people’s lives should be a last resort and then undertaken only for grave reasons.
In the first great social encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” in 1891, Pope Leo XIII taught that men and women can solve most problems by forming “associations and organizations” and working together in goodwill. Public authorities should step in when suffering “can in no other way be met or prevented,” but they “must not undertake more, nor proceed further, than is required for the remedy of the evil.” Even almsgiving “is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity—a duty not enforced by human law.”
That is not limited to progress and flourishing for a select few. Good-faith skeptics might be surprised to learn how active libertarians have been in the fight to end mass incarceration and advance criminal justice reform in the United States, for example, or how many libertarian groups filed amicus briefs siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor during their showdown over the Obamacare contraception mandate. When on a randomly chosen Saturday in June I visited the homepage of HumanProgress.org, a project of the Cato Institute, three of the featured stories were “Charitable Giving in U.S. tops $400 Billion for First Time,” “Paraguay Declared Free of Malaria by World Health Organization” and “Zero Carbon Natural Gas: Is This the Solution We Have Been Searching For?”
When capitalism spreads to new corners of the world—especially as it begins to reach the 7.2 billion residents of India and China—it brings enormous prosperity along with it. In 2016, the World Bank reported that nearly 1.1 billion people moved out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2013 and that the overall rate of poverty fell by half. As a result, we are living through a decline in global inequality. “This is the best story in the world today,” the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in 2015. And it comes as middle-class citizens of more affluent countries are also gaining access to an ever-wider array of foods, medicines, communication technologies and more.
Though libertarians do not usually speak in theological terms, this surely contributes to the common good—what the church defines as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1906).
And she summarizes it with:
Libertarians believe that a program of freedom redounds to the benefit of us all. It fosters peace and prosperity while creating vast space for intellectual and moral pursuits. One might even say, in the words of the catechism, that it helps produce the “conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”
Read the entire article here.