When Liberty Gets Leprosy: The Libertarian Lure

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Since we are in between elections, and because public feelings are not running high at just this moment, I thought it would be safe to take a moment to discuss the libertarian temptation. And so let us begin by defining terms.

I am a conservative, not a libertarian, but there is quite a bit of overlap. If we are talking about the manufacture and sale of widgets, or of any other lawful product, I am for all intents and purposes a libertarian. When we are talking about basic economics and black ink/red ink problems, libertarians and conservatives are as one. I have elsewhere described myself as a theocratic libertarian. So far so good.

Libertarians, at least the ones not smoking pot, are good at math. You can’t spend what you don’t have, and you shouldn’t spend what you shouldn’t have. If we had a libertarian president, instead of the one we have right now, my reactions to the evening news would be much the same, toggling between jeepers! and yay! There would be much in that scenario to make me happy. Since the great political threat in our time is the overweening state, there are many instances where conservatives can make common cause with libertarians. We can be cobelligerents on a number of issues. All good so far. So where might the problems be?

I have three basic problems with libertarianism as such, and the first two lead to an informed discussion of the third. Now secular libertarians will respond to these points (if at all) differently than Christians who have come under the influence. So my appeal here is primarily to those Christians who are toying with (anarcho)-libertarianism, and the appeal is as much as to say, “you are being tempted, you are being enticed.” Take care.

First, libertarianism tends to be ideologically-driven, and not driven by love (read, patriotism). Second, libertarianism is backing away from the “social issues” at just the moment when corruption on those issues has reached our nation’s lymph nodes. And third, libertarianism sees the abstraction of “free market forces” as a tree in the orchard, instead of fruit from the orchard. This means that the principles of libertarian argument will tend to trump plain statements of Scripture. So, taking them in turn . . .

Love Your Mother:

One of the first principles of genuine conservatism is a rejection of ideology as such. In Eric Hoffer’s great book The True Believer, he discusses the kind of personality that can swing between avid support for Ron Paul in one election and Bernie Sanders in another one. An ideological approach is a helium balloon, not an anchor.

Now rejection of ideology (as such) is not a rejection of truth, or the fixed reality of objective truth. The ideologue has a comprehensive system, and that system can contain many true elements and yet still be dangerous as a system. Facts can answer facts, but no facts can survive an imperious system.

So here is a litmus test, testing for ideology. Suppose you are talking to a Christian who has bought into libertarianism. If you talk with him about minimum wage laws, or auditing the Fed, or property seizures, or warrantless searches, or the coming collapse of Social Security, the chances are good that you will be having a love fest instead of a debate. He is saying one true thing after another, and you say amen. So the question you should ask is this one: “Do you love your country?”

Now before going any further, I need to enter a couple of caveats. I know that there are forms of patriotism that are simply idolatrous, and I know there are forms of patriotism that when mixed with Christian tropes are blasphemous, and I also know that there are milder forms of patriotism that are just plain corny. Okay, with all that granted, and with nobody wanting to do any of that, do you love your country?

If in response to this question you start to get a learned discourse on the rise of the nation/state at the beginning of the modern era, and meaninglessness of lines on a map, with some international bankers thrown in, the answer to your question is no.

But Christians have a duty to love their families, to love their people, and to love their nation. This is a responsibility that is subsumed under the fifth commandment—honor your father and mother, so that your life many be blessed in the land.

Consider this wisdom from the Westminster Larger Catechism, and reflect on it.

Question 124
Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, (Prov. 23:22,25, Eph. 6:1–2) but all superiors in age (1 Tim. 5:1–2) and gifts; (Gen. 4:20–22, Gen. 45:8) and especially such as, by God’ s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, (2 Kings 5:13) church, (2 Kings 2:12, 2 Kings 13:14, Gal. 4:19) or commonwealth. (Isa. 49:23)

Question 125
Why are superiors styled Father and Mother?
Superiors are styled Father and Mother, both to teach them in all duties toward their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations; (Eph. 6:4, 2 Cor. 12:14, 1 Thess. 2:7–8,11, Numb. 11:11–12) and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents. (1 Cor. 4:14–16, 2 Kings 5:13)

This is not to say that parents (along with parents in the civic order), are somehow above correction. In times of declension and apostasy (and flaming nonsense), we must dissent, and we must resist. But we must do so as loyal and affectionate sons and daughters.

“And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God” (Ps. 78:8).

But libertarians do not approach the problem this way. Imagine an elderly mother, now widowed, and who is contemplating investing her life savings in the bullion that an exiled Nigerian prince has so thoughtfully emailed her about. The returns promised to her are mathematically impossible, but she has nonetheless been persuaded. Should her children intervene on her behalf? Well, of course. But suppose further that one of her sons has been trained in mathematics, and has advanced degrees in it, and he intervenes on that basis alone. He draws himself up to his full height. “As one formally trained in mathematics . . .” No. She needs to be protected by sons (who do understand mathematics), and not by people who think that the purity of math is the thing that must be protected. No, it is their mother who must be protected.

So the first problem is that libertarians tend to believe that their “nation” is an abstraction, and a stupid and evil one at that, and so they don’t believe they have a duty and a responsibility to love their nation. But they do. The training of the sentiments that reside in “the chest” is what enables us to do this, and libertarianism is far too heady in this regard.

“In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use.”[1]

Slaves to Sin Cannot be a Free People:

America is rapidly turning into a land that is filled with lotus-eaters, and lotus-eaters are nothing but tyrant-fodder. I begin with this pungent observation from our second president, John Adams.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

That we have a growing problem in this area can be readily ascertained. As you drive around, and you see casinos and cannabis shops springing up like mushrooms, what you are observing is the agonizing death of the preconditions of liberty. You are not watching an expression of liberty, you are watching the corruption of liberty. This is what it looks like when liberty gets leprosy.

If you want slavery to sin to somehow become the fertile soil out of which freedom grows and expands, you want something that has never happened in the history of the world.

Now thankfully, a number of Christian libertarians do see that abortion is a violation of their “non-aggression principle.” They see that the unborn child is a human being, and so is someone who is possessed of the right not to be attacked and dismembered. So the lie that abortion is a “victimless” procedure is easily dismissed.

But libertarians are particularly susceptible to the “victimless” argument when dealing with other activities that do not appear to wreak havoc immediately. Pot, porn and perversion seem to them like “leave the guy alone” opportunities. There is enormous pressure to “live and let live” on things like same sex mirage, and drug use, and so on.

The reason we are losing our liberties is not because of millennials voting for Bernie. That is just a symptom. They are voting for Bernie because of an education that did not even try to form their chest. They are voting for Bernie because of all the pot and porn.

The Market Has No Majesty:

Government is personal. There are good rulers and bad rulers, not to mention mediocre ones, but they will always be personal rulers. We cannot be ruled by abstractions. Good and godly rule will not be swollen and grasping, as ours currently is, but it will be true governance—but noble and admirable.

Good kings, good rulers, are anointed by God.

“And the Lord magnified Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed upon him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1 Chron. 29:25).

Good government can be a life-giving instrument, and not a money sucking parasite.

“The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, Even a morning without clouds; As the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain” (2 Sam. 23:3–4).

Got that? A ruler over men, ruling in the fear of God, is like a beautiful dawn. He is like a cloudless morning. He is like fresh grass, springing up after a refreshing rain. All of this is to say that a ruler need not be like a tapeworm.

And this is not just language that shows how God accommodated His grace to those primitive times. This is what is promised to us at the conclusion of human history. God sets out political goods as part of our future goods.

A glorious promise is given that in the coming age the average man will be blessed under his own fig tree. He will be living under genuine liberty—but he will not be living in an anarchistic state. Note the italics below.

“But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; And none shall make them afraid: For the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it . . . And thou, O tower of the flock, The strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; The kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem” (Micah 4:4, 8).

What will happen in the days of gospel prosperity? Among other things . . .

“Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: And they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; And thou shalt know that I am the Lord: For they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” (Isaiah 49:22–23).

In other words, kings and queens will nurture and protect the church, and kings and queens will show great honor and deference to the church. What the kings and queens will not be is nonexistent.

So the kings of the earth are not vaporized. They are not thrown into the dustbin of history, as the communist thugs were. Rather, they still have a great deal of glory, and they bring their glory into the New Jerusalem, which is the Christian Church.

“And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it” (Rev. 21:24).

“And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:26).

In short, the nations are healed. Not annihilated.

“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2).

God is not willing that any should perish—slave or free, rich or poor, ruled or ruler. God is willing to save kings, and He does so.

Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee. And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee. Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought (Is 60:9-11).

The waters that will heal the nations, the waters that irrigate the trees whose leaves are for the restoration of the nations, are waters that flow from the sanctuary of God. This is a function of the gospel, and the preaching of Christ crucified. It is a gospel work. It is not something we get from Murray Rothbard.

“And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (Ezekiel 47:12).

So in conclusion. Wise Christians love liberty, but it is not our god. We receive it as a blessing from hand of the Lord Jesus. If we serve it as a god, as though liberty were the source of anything, what will happen is that we will lose what we have idolized.

If we worship anything instead of Christ, we lose Christ, and we eventually lose whatever thing we substituted for Him. If we are ra-ra-Republicans, and worship America instead of Christ, we miss Christ and then we lose America—as we are currently doing. If we are commies, and worship income equality before Christ, then we miss Christ, and we wind up with the very worst forms of income inequality. If we are libertarians, and worship liberty before Christ, we miss Christ. And it won’t be very long before we miss our liberty.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (HarperOne, 2001), 24.