Catholicism and Libertarianism

May a libertarian be a Catholic in good standing?

This election season has me flirting with libertarianism; my dad and brother identify as such. But I have my own reasons:

  1. Libertarians are able to be pro-life across the board. For example, Rand Paul (who recently dropped out of the election) is against abortion and wants to limit the size of the military industrial complex.

  2. I have grown tired of the two-party system. It has become a circus sideshow of people choosing who their overlords will be: Washington or Wall Street. Anyone who knows politics knows the two are in bed with each other.

  3. I have developed a mistrust for worldly authority. I’m convinced that those who seek political power seek it only for their self-interest and for power’s own sake. Politicians have been saying they stand for the “common man” for decades, and all of them have been liars. Anyone who think a politician has the common man’s best interests at heart is, in my opinion, a sucker.

As J.R.R. Tolkien said: "my political opinions lean more and more to anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs). The worst job of any man is to boss another man around. Not one in a million is fit of it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.

  1. I’ve grown averse to cutting into other people’s lives. It seems like so many people these days are micromanaging Buttinskis. I hate being a Buttinsky, and don’t think anyone else should.

  2. Some may think I’m promoting corporatism, anarcho-capitalism, or Objectivism. None of those do I endorse. Corporatism is kept artificially afloat by the government, anarchism has no way of enforcing the property rights it enshrines, and Ayn Rand was a crabby old bat who thought every man was an island. I read a little bit of John Galt’s speech, and was revolted by it.

  3. I think people should help others, albeit voluntarily. Notice how Jesus said to the rich young man, “go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” When he went away sad, Jesus did not call a centurion to come beat it out of him. You cannot force the virtue of charity any more than you can force faith or hope.

Your thoughts?


I’m interested in what others have to say, because I identify as libertarian. I don’t agree with every libertarian on every issue, because they are as varied as can be, but generally a government severely limited in their authority is appealing to me.

How do you stop the interference of the State in Church matters? Liberterianism

I’m not that familiar with the tenets of Libertarianism, but I’d imagine it wouldn’t be treated much differently that other political parties. Each aspect of the party platform would be weighed against Catholic teaching. Some aspects will be compatible and some won’t be.

Firstly, I would like to say that I sympathise and agree with many of the criticisms that you direct against the present state of politics Jack, particularly in terms of how the two main parties represent the interests of Wall Street and Washington respectively.

However, since the beginning of modern Catholic social teaching, the popes have been consistently condemning both Marxism on the one hand and right-wing economic Liberalism on the other. I have a strong feeling that Libertarianism is almost synonymous with the latter in many of its primary tenets.

Libertarianism may violate solidarity, just as Marxism violates subsidiarity (and some of the related movements that fall under the rubric of Socialism).

Ultimately, you have to make up your own mind about this issue, using the Church’s Social Teaching to form a prudential judgement.

My own judgement of this issue is that libertarianism may not be reconcilable, at least in its pure form, with our social doctrine.

I would like to quote from some relevant encyclicals and apostolic exhortations, firstly from Pope Blessed Paul VI in his 1971 Apostolic Letter ‘Octogesima Adveniens’:

  1. Therefore the Christian who wishes to live his faith in a political activity which he thinks of as service cannot without contradicting himself adhere to ideological systems which radically or substantially go against his faith and his concept of man. He cannot adhere to the Marxist ideology, to its atheistic materialism, to its dialectic of violence and to the way it absorbs individual freedom in the collectivity, at the same time denying all transcendence to man and his personal and collective history;** nor can he adhere to the liberal ideology which believes it exalts individual freedom by with drawing it from every limitation, by stimulating it through exclusive seeking of interest and power, and by considering social solidarities as more or less automatic consequences of individual initiatives, not as an aim and a major criterion of the value of the social organization.**…

See the bold. Catholics cannot adhere to the ideology described.

Now consider this quotation from his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio:

  1. However, certain concepts have somehow arisen out of these new conditions and insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. **These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations

This unbridled liberalism paves the way for a particular type of tyranny, rightly condemned by Our predecessor Pius XI, for it results in the “international imperialism of money.”(26)

Such improper manipulations of economic forces can never be condemned enough; **let it be said once again that economics is supposed to be in the service of man. (27)

33 **Individual initiative alone and the interplay of competition will not ensure satisfactory development. **We cannot proceed to increase the wealth and power of the rich while we entrench the needy in their poverty and add to the woes of the oppressed. Organized programs are necessary for “directing, stimulating, coordinating, supplying and integrating” (35) the work of individuals and intermediary organizations

Now before I go on to other encyclicals from other popes, please tell me your initial thoughts. Do you think that Libertarianism as you understand it, and as it is reflected in the policies of the politicians you could potentially vote for, would fall under the censure above or not?

I’ve been investigating libertarianism myself lately. The one thing that makes me weary of them is they are very against any type of social welfare systems such as subsidies, SSI, social security, food stamps etc. We are called to care for the poor and see Jesus in them. How can we do so if we cut off initiatives to help them? While I do agree that if every person did their part to help it would be much better than the current federal and state welfare systems, that doesn’t seem like it is happening anytime soon, although it is happening in select communities.
Personally, I see anarchy>libertarianism. Yes, there are similarities but I see greed/individualism more infiltrated in the libertarianism movement.

When I lived in a lay Catholic/ecumenical community that was mostly anarchist, the poor were fed, housed, and treated at a free clinic by the community completely funded by donations and took no federal assistance.

I think that’s a pretty fair summary of modern Libertarianism, a lot of libertarians can be snooty and call themselves “Classical Liberals”.

Thank you for pointing out those encyclicals, because I think they’re important.

I also think it’s important to look at what Libertarian politicians do offer:

They are usually against war except in the most dire defensive circumstances; the current military operations conducted by the United States has led to the killing of many civilians, as well as the unintended creation and arming of terrorist groups, and that is something I cannot support by voting for either of the mainstream political parties.

They are against political coercion of any kind, which means people of faith would be protected for acting on their conscience, something that has been a huge news maker in recent years, and a libertarian approach to people of faith and business owners would solve the problem.

While it is the Catholic position that taxes should be necessary to fund social programs, the amount of debt that the United States government is incurring due to the number of programs, as well as due to their ongoing wars, leads to an unjust taxation system which harms more people than it helps. A libertarian approach to a reduction of national debt and taxation would do the most good to the most people.

I’m not saying Libertarianism is perfect, but nothing is. I just think for these reasons, the libertarian party could be a legitimate choice for a Catholic voter.

Peace :slight_smile:

It’s a complex question with a complex answer. I should say, as I said earlier, my version of libertarianism is not merely trickle-down economics or corporate supremacy.

In reality, there has not been a time in history that was truly libertarian in the free market sense. One may say that the Second Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were, but in fact they had government intervention in favor of big business (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency breaking up strikes). Again, free market libertarianism is not necessarily corporatism.

I favor small business as much as I favor small government. Of course, some business and government aspects have to be big to function at all, like, say, UPS, the Department of Transportation, and the supply chain.

Milton Friedman, a known libertarian economist, once said that a business’s only ethical obligation is to provide goods and services that create economic value, so long as they stay within the rules of the game (emphasis mine). However, one business ethicist at the Catholic University of America says that businesses have four ethical tiers:

  1. Economic (which business they are in)
  2. Legal (which laws they have to obey)
  3. Societal (to avoid any negative externalities)
  4. Discretionary (what they do of their own accord)

I think many of these should be voluntary. A lot of people think libertarianism is just social Darwinism, but in reality it is that good things should be done voluntarily, and not out of coercion.

Many social programs are inefficient. Instead of helping people get out of poverty, they keep them in serfdom to the welfare state.

Speaking of efficiency, I favor free market economics because efficiency (getting as much out of what you put into something) is objective and measurable, whereas equity, a sense of “fairness”, is more subjective.

Ron Paul gave an eloquent, secular argument against the HHS’ contraception mandate. We live in a market economy based on voluntary exchange. If you don’t want to pay for it, you shouldn’t have to.

My favorite quote from him: “just because you want something does not make it a right”.

You know, I just thought of something: why can’t we choose to pay for which government activities we support, and opt out of the ones we do not support? Why hasn’t anyone thought of that yet?

Because a large number of people would simply opt out of all of them and they would not be able to be funded.

You’d probably also have lots of time and money wasted by government agencies launching PR campaigns to encourage people not to opt out of supporting them.

I tend to think libertarianism works better in theory than in practice. In theory, if everyone followed the principle of subsidiarity and helped their neighbor, the need for a lot of federal programs would decrease dramatically. Getting people to volunteer their resources, though, is a lot easier said than done.

Would libertarians not generally be pro choice and pro (at least not anti) same sex marriage?

Does not less government control and greater personal freedom mean that libertarians would tend to not interfere in a person’s decision to have an abortion or marry a same sex partner?

Hi JackVk,

Great question! Tis the season for politics so we might as well tackle this issue. It’s important to note that you determine your own political opinions and no one else. But how can a Catholic ensure that their politics are in good standing with the Church?

Luckily - Pope Benedict XVI wrote a document exploring the manner:

Basic take aways are the following:

  1. Catholics are not single issue voters
  2. Tactics are a part of politics. If you’re left with with two bad options it’s okay to vote for the lesser evil rather than your perfect candidate who has no chance of winning.
  3. Voting is a civic duty and a moral choice. On judgement day, we will have to answer to God for our voting records.
  4. Lawmakers have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose laws that attack life”
  5. We must maintain a clear separation of church and state by neither requiring religious activities by law or banning them.
  6. Authentic freedom can only exist with the truth. We have a duty to vote in a way that we believe “promotes the common good”
  7. People have a right to freedom of religion and conscience and this must be defended. This is not to imply that all religions are equal in truth but only that the dignity of the human person demands that we respect and allow for opinions to be expressed that differ from ours.

I like to call it the “Seven Catholic Political Commandments” :D. But to answer your question directly - yes you are allowed to identify as libertarian and remain Catholic if you so choose. Keep in mind - the Libertarian Party is pro-choice. But it sounds like you’re choosing to support libertarian leaning Republicans who are pro-life which is fine.

Just remember - you have to use your own judgement and answer to your conscience on this. As long as you are being honest and doing your best to promote the common good of your society then you are fine.

Great question - thanks for asking! I hope you find this answer helpful!

Another quotation, this time from the most recent encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si:

  1. Nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today. Isolated individuals can lose their ability and freedom to escape the utilitarian mindset, and end up prey to an unethical consumerism bereft of social or ecological awareness. Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds. This task “will make such tremendous demands of man that he could never achieve it by individual initiative or even by the united effort of men bred in an individualistic way. The work of dominating the world calls for a union of skills and a unity of achievement that can only grow from quite a different attitude”.[154]


Libertarians are not generally pro choice. There is a wide spread on this issue, but some see life as the very first liberty that should be protected.

Libertarians do typically believe that the Federal Government has no right to regulate who gets ‘married’ to whom, because the government’s authority should be limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of the citizenry from being encroached on by others. They view civil marriage as nothing but a legal contract entered into by consenting parties.

Thanks for the information. What you say makes sense .

The encyclical I quoted earlier, Populorum Progressio by Pope Blessed Paul VI, was heavily attacked by the libertarian (and incredibly anti-religious, materialist and sexual liberationist) ideologue Ayn Rand. Here is a link to a full copy of her scathing assault on this encyclical:

I would suggest that if anyone reads through this and agrees with Rand rather than Pope Paul, then it’s a case of “Houston we have a problem”.

I don’t think I’ve ever read more anti-Christian, selfish bile in all my life. If that is Libertarianism then it’s profoundly evil :eek:

She decries the Pope for preaching altruism and self-sacrifice. That lady was truly wickedness personified.:mad:

A few highlights:

The encyclical is the voice of the Dark Ages, rising again in today’s intellectual vacuum, like a cold wind whistling through the empty streets of an abandoned civilization.

Unable to resolve a lethal contradiction, the conflict between individualism and altruism, the West is giving up. When men give up reason and freedom, the vacuum is filled by faith and force.

No social system can stand for long without a moral base. Project a magnificent skyscraper being built on quicksands: while men are struggling upward to add the hundredth and two-hundredth stories, the tenth and twentieth are vanishing, sucked under by the muck. That is the history of capitalism, of its swaying, tottering attempt to stand erect on the foundation of the altruist morality.

It’s either-or. If capitalism’s befuddled, guilt-ridden apologists do not know it, two fully consistent representatives of altruism do know it: Catholicism and communism.

Their rapprochement, therefore, is not astonishing. Their differences pertain only to the supernatural, but here, in reality, on earth, they have three cardinal elements in common: the same morality, altruism—the same goal, global rule by force—the same enemy, man’s mind.

There is a precedent for their strategy. In the German election of 1933, the communists supported the Nazis, on the premise that they could fight each other for power later, but must first destroy their common enemy, capitalism. Today, Catholicism and communism may well cooperate, on the premise that they will fight each other for power later, but must first destroy their common enemy, the individual, by forcing mankind to unite to form one neck ready for one leash.

Is there any difference between the encyclical’s philosophy and communism? I am perfectly willing, on this matter, to take the word of an eminent Catholic authority. Under the headline: “Encyclical Termed Rebuff to Marxism,” The New York Times of March 31, 1967, reports: “The Rev. John Courtney Murray, the prominent Jesuit theologian, described Pope Paul’s newest encyclical yesterday as ‘the church’s definitive answer to Marxism.’ . . . ‘The Marxists have proposed one way, and in pursuing their program they rely on man alone,’ Father Murray said. `Now Pope Paul VI has issued a detailed plan to accomplish the same goal on the basis of true humanism—humanism that recognizes man’s religious nature.’”


So much for those American “conservatives” who claim that religion is the base of capitalism—and who believe that they can have capitalism and eat it, too, as the moral cannibalism of the altruist ethics demands.

And so much for those modern “liberals” who pride themselves on being the champions of reason, science, and progress—and who smear the advocates of capitalism as superstitious, reactionary representatives of a dark past. Move over, comrades, and make room for your latest fellow-travelers, who had always belonged on your side—then take a look, if you dare, at the kind of past they represent.


Well, history shows us no political party lasts forever, they come and go, repubs and democ will be long gone one day, replaced by new parties.

I think we at a sort of crossroads right now, we will either dive headfirst into larger, more tyrannical Govt, eventually leading to some kind of dictatorship (but probably disguised), as to make people think the US is still the US that was founded on certain principles.

Or, we will chose the opposite route, leading to very small Govt, more freedoms for the people, less intrusion. Id say the first is most likely though, those in power will try to hold onto that power with all they have.

Ayn Rand hated libertarians because many of them were religious. And I said earlier that I find Rand’s pseudo-philosophy abhorrent. Objectivism is not libertarianism, though the two are often conflated.

(The irony is that Rand and her successor, Leonard Peikhoff, have a definition of Objectivism that does not allow deviation from Ayn Rand’s direct thoughts or even her personal tastes in, say, music or literature. Look up the Atlas Society, who were swiftly excommunicated from the Church of Objectivism).

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