I recently wrote about why libertarians are not conservatives, and I want to comment on an article I recently read that continues my education about this topic. I became a “born-again” Christian, as we called it back then, in the fall of 1978. I was 18, and as ignorant and naive as all 18-year-olds are. That started an odyssey of learning that only intensifies by the day as I continue to learn a basic truth of maturity: The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. It’s one of the reasons I Corinthians 8:2 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Also, realizing that all knowledge and wisdom is found in God himself, tells us knowledge is limitless, boundless, and as infinite as he is. That means we will be learning, literally, forever. How exciting is that!

What his this to do with libertarians, you ask? For me, libertarianism is a symbol of a life-long struggle to figure out my political philosophy, although I wouldn’t have put it that way until very recently. Part of this life-long learning process always included politics, but not as an all-encompassing philosophy. Maybe I didn’t think that was possible or necessary, I’m not sure, but I wasn’t compelled to grapple and get into the weeds of what I believe about human governance. Now I am. This drive is part of the questioning everything mentality that has overtaken me with the advent of Trump, more because of those who opposed and despise him, than the man himself.

As I went through my college experience growing in my Christian faith, I came across Francis Schaeffer, and because of him I realized I was a political conservative. I started reading the once great National Review (it went full-on NeverTrump in 2015 and lost all credibility), and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. This must have all happened after the 1980 election because (again, just between you and me) I voted for Jimmy Carter. My dad was a Catholic, Italian, Democrat, and he would never change, so having given up the Catholic part I figured I’d stick with the Democrat. I gladly can’t change the Italian.

I quickly learned the conservative movement Reagan represented consisted of those who embraced a traditional/religious view of reality, and libertarians who did not. A lot of libertarians, as I found out, are religious, but their political philosophy is driven more by the conviction of the primacy of liberty, than by what their religion might say about the human condition related to politics. It’s complicated, as I discovered and have been frustrated by ever since. I was clearly part of the traditional/religious wing of the movement, but I didn’t exactly know why I wasn’t a libertarian. I do now, but I’m still working through exactly what my political philosophy looks like. A piece at American Greatness called, “Libertarians are Not Our Friends,” helped me to better understand why I am not one of them. The author’s conclusion is true if a bit overstated:

All thinking persons know—and evidence abounds—that libertarians with anti-statist mentalities are dangerous, ideological, illusory, and impractical. Taking a one size fits all approach to every situation is wrongheaded and totally misguided. It is philosophically illogical and amounts to policy stupidity. It is zealotry at worst and naïveté at best.

His assessment gets to the heart of why I’m finally understanding libertarianism is not an ally of true conservatism, and why the American Founders were not libertarian at all. The pure liberty of the libertarian is a universal abstraction that doesn’t exist in life and fails to consider the lived existence of actual human beings.

God made man his own image primarily as a moral and not choosing creature. In other words, it’s not the choosing that determines the morality of the thing, but the thing chosen, or not. This brings us to Aristotle’s concept of telos, or purpose, a famous concept in the history of Western thought. He asked why things exist, and discovered four causes, the ultimate reason being the final cause or the reason for its existence. This idea gets us close to the idea of morality. Something is moral not merely because God says it is, and thus morality is not arbitrary, not merely God’s will. Rather, morality, what is right and wrong, good and evil, is a reflection of the being of God himself, an extension of that being into the nature of things. That is deeply profound for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is it proves God’s existence, and that reality is not mere matter in motion that came together by chance. 

To make this point, I told someone recently, that means what is moral is not determined by our preferences, as when we prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream. Things are wrong or right, good or evil, not because of what we prefer, but because they are, and it is our job to discover whether they are one or the other.

The reason liberty, or the freedom to choose, can’t be our ultimate good is because what is chosen is more important than the choosing itself. If we choose evil, the choosing is evil; if we choose good, the choosing is good. The choosing itself cannot be a moral value. The Founders of America understood this. Just two months prior to the ratification of the Constitution in September of 1787, the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. In Article 3 they wrote:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

And the religion and morality they are talking about is Christian religion and morality. It is the religion and morality, and the choosing informed by those, that determine good government and happiness, not the choosing itself.

This isn’t to say that along with Patrick Henry we shouldn’t cry, “give me liberty or give me death!” And mean it. One of the most precious things we’ve inherited from our Creator through Christ through Christian Western civilization is our liberty, and it is our Christian duty to defend it. But liberty is not libertarianism, which is an ideology that tends to promote license, and doing whatever we want or whatever we choose. That is called anarchy which eventually leads to tyranny. Only when God’s law is the law of the land, can there be true liberty, and tolerance, but that is a topic for another post, or book.

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