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Five Ways to be a Christian Libertarian

One of our dutiful bloggers, my former-intern-turned-friend Jacque Otto, has taken to the pages of Values & Capitalism in defense of something called “Christian Libertarianism.” I’ve always been skeptical of attempts to mash these two, despite the best efforts of certain interns, co-workers, and friends to convince me otherwise. We’ve devoted many words to this topic here at V&C, but my view is pretty straightforward: Christianity’s self-sacrificial love of neighbor is irreconcilable with the libertine ideal of radical individualism. That’s it. Jacque’s post was written in response to a piece Joe Carter put up over at the Acton Institute’s Power Blog. Joe, the very model of thoughtful and engaging Christ-centered cultural commentary, was good enough to write back. His reply contains a masterful summation of the many ways so-called Christian Libertarians get it wrong. Read the whole post, but I can’t avoid sharing them:
Type #5 Those who are Not-all-that-Christian and/or Not-all-that-Libertarian — Some people are simply confused about one or both terms, yet insist on self-identifying as a “Christian libertarian.” They hold views that should not really be associated with Christianity (e.g., antinomianism) or that should not be associated with libertarianism (e.g., libertinism). Not too many people fit this description, which is fortunate because those that do are very annoying. Type #4 Christians who are really conservatives, but don’t like the label conservative — It used to be that if a person called themselves “libertarian” it was a reliable indicator that the person was a bit, well, unusual… The web radically transformed the popular perception of libertarians. Online culture allowed people to let their freak flags fly, and so when many displayed the banner of libertarianism, many politically inclined folks found it attractive… The result, which is still in effect, is that some people want to be associated with the political view even if they hold mostly non-libertarian beliefs. Many young people (especially Young Republican types) think the terms “conservative” and “libertarian” are all but interchangeable. If they’ve attended Sunday School their entire lives and have one or two libertarianish views, they assume they are “Christian libertarians.” Or at least they prefer to use that term to describe themselves since “Christian conservative” smacks of Jerry Falwell-esque Religious Rightism. And what young person would want to be associated with that? Type #3 Those for whom the “Christian” in Christian libertarian is a weak modifier – Think of a noun, any noun. Chances are that someone somewhere has at some time slapped the adjective “Christian” in front of it in order to “transform it for Christ.” My own tribe (evangelicals) has made an art of such adjectivalization. People who use the term Christian libertarian in this way tend to be libertarians until it conflicts with their Christian values—and then they let the modifier do the heavy lifting. In essence, it’s a way for inconsistent libertarians to be able to be both libertarian and Christian based on their political needs. Type #2 Those who mash the two words together. – This type of Christian libertarian, which is similar to Type #2, thinks that because they considers themselves to be both Christian and libertarian that the two terms must be compatible. This is a common type of thinking in a country where we can choose our own traditions. Many people think that if they can say “I believe X” and “I believe Y” that X and Y must therefore be compatible. Since internal consistency is not something they’ve ever considered as a requirement for a belief-system, they’ve never given much thought to whether Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. Indeed, since they are able to hold both views without their heads exploding, they assume the two views must be compatible. Type #1 Those who have developed a consistent philosophy in which libertarianism and Christianity are fully compatible. – Although I’m not sure I’ve ever met a Type 1—and I’m not sure it’s even possible—I believe this is the ideal use of the term.
In the wake of the Franklin Graham mini-scandal over whether our current president is really a Christian, such frank conversation about the meaning of labels feels especially valuable.