Does Libertarianism Conflict With Catholicism?

Lately, I have been doing some research on the philosophy of Libertarianism. I don’t quite yet know it inside and out, but so far, I am starting to embrace it to some extent. But I was wondering, does the philosophy of Libertarianism conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Faith in any way, shape, or form?

The stricter schools are definitely incompatible with Catholicism, but there is room to debate the compatibility of others.

Libertarianism, to the extent it advocates the non-interference of religion or self-conscious in the activities of others would seem to be incompatible with the Catholic concepts of community and charity. Limited government itself is not the issue, but to the extent that it allows the course of the culture to be accepting of a free-for-all culture, especially with such fundamental concepts such as life, aka abortion, and marriage, i.e. same sex unions. That all being said, there are probably some variations of Libertarianism that would be more tolerable to the extent it allows advocacy for those two fundamental Catholic principles.

God at the altar vs. freedom at the altar.

Libertarians support things that offend God usually in the name of freedom, so I would say that they conflict.

Conservatives and Democrats also support things that offend God. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t vote, does it?

As someone who has studied Libertarianism myself, I think it depends.

It is not fundamentally incompatible with Catholicism, like Communism. On abortion, there are a lot of libertarians who are pro-life and being anti-abortion is completely compatible with libertarianism under the idea that the right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights and therefore an fetus, as a human, justifies protection from the state. But one the other hand, the idea that you can do whatever you want, so long as you don’t hurt anyone else, is not compatible with Catholicism and has a lot of issues. The level of freedom the philosophy allows can lead someone personally into heresy and acceptance of a lot of really bad ideas, like porn and gay “marriage”.

(This is a common theme with Libertarians today- “Well if it doesn’t hurt me, I should allow it” The problem is that porn, divorce, ect. does hurt people (even if it’s not you directly)- badly. We have some responsibility, and as Catholics we should care deeply enough, to lead people from addictions and sin to life. Legislation might help but there is no way it will get through, be accepted and enforced properly, especially from the fed. The state can not heal and save people from these problems and the state can not create culture of life.)

Take it from someone who’s struggled with this- There is no political philosophy or system that will fix humanity, and be careful of trying to find a “perfect” political system. There isn’t one. Some are better than others, that’s all, and it’s really not much. With moral people, libertarianism would work, with corrupt people, it would be a struggle. Heal the culture and a good political system will follow.

What would you consider some of the more stricter schools? Voluntarism? I’m just curious to know.

There are Christian, pro-life libertarians and economic libertarians who are not anti-Christian. Generally, however, those calling themselves libertarian are hostile to Christianity. Beware of those pushing anti-Christian ideas under various false flags.

Sounds rather Ayn Rand-like, as she expressed in objectivism: “that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness”, aka rational self-interest. Not being a student of Rand, I cannot say what, if any limits she proposed as to reconciling this philosophy with the intricate requirements of society.

Good post. :thumbsup: I think extreme (“Objectivist”) interpretations of libertarianism are not entirely compatible with the Catholic faith. However, there are Christian libertarian politicians who take a less extreme stance; Ron Paul and Paul Ryan are examples, though your mileage may vary on either of them. :wink:

Yes. Many papal encyclicals over the course of the last century have criticized moral and economic liberalism quite sharply. Some introductory materials regarding the conflicts between Catholic teaching and economic liberalism, for example, may be found in Angus Sibley’s book The “Poisoned Spring” of Economic Libertarianism: Menger, Mises, Hayek, Roathbard: A Critique from Catholic Social Teaching of the ''Austrian School" of Economics and many articles of the Distributist Review, such as Thomas Storck’s “Is the Acton Institute a Genuine Expression of Catholic Social Thought?”

We’re treading a fine line here, as selflessness is rather a core of Christianity - or was. Yet, a libertarian system does not attempt to forcibly marginalize the Church, in contrast to the Omerica that is becoming increasingly like the scenario envisioned in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Notably, Rand lived through the violent Russian transition from Tsarist to communist. The utter bleakness that she saw develop in the USSR most certainly influenced her most important work.

Thankfully I am not eligible to vote. I’d have to deep fry my conscience to vote for any politician.

At the end I’d have to vote for the least evil of the bunch, so conservative would be least evil.

The counterpoint being that the magisterium also condemns all forms of collectivism, as they exalt the state, an artificial, man-made entity, above the individual, who is made in the image and likeness of God. Here is where libertarianism may be compatible:

1881 Each community is defined by its purpose and consequently obeys specific rules; but “the human person . . . is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions.”

1882 Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged "on both national and international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political affairs."5 This “socialization” also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights.

Yet, caution is advised when applying these principles.

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."7

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

Not sure how you think this is a “counterpoint.” If I say the Church rejects the belief that Christ is merely a creature I am not thereby suggesting that the Church teaches Christ is not human at all. As the Church rejects both Arianism and Docetism, the Church rejects both collectivism and liberalism (popularly called “libertarianism” here in the States). :shrug:

Liberalism and libertarianism is different. One big difference is that liberalism is for big government the whole “Nanny State”. They want to regulate everything. While libertarians are for smaller government and personal responsibility.
Liberals are for a lot of social entitlements, while libertarians prefer as little as possible. Liberals usually have to raise taxes to fund their programs, while libertarians want to tax the bare minimum. Liberals think the Constitution is a piece of paper that gets in their way, while libertarians take it very seriously. Libertarians are basically socially liberal and economically conservative.
Both want adults to be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. Liberals just want to bail out the individual after they messed up, and libertarians think you should suffer the consequences. lol.

Your confusion is understandable. You’re using “liberalism” in a contemporary American rather than classical sense. “Libertarianism” is the contemporary American term for classical liberalism. But whether one uses the classical “liberalism” or the contemporary American “libertarianism,” neither accords with Church teaching.

Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian; I don’t think any of them adhere totally to church teaching.
I’m not confused. Why would I use the definitions of things that are outdated and don’t apply? We don’t use a lot of words in their classical sense. Liberalism and Libertarianism is different in America. :shrug:

You seemed to think libertarianism is something other than the classical liberalism criticized by the Church. It’s not. Neither is the classical use an “outdated” use of “liberal”; it’s still current in other parts of the world. :shrug:

It is the other end of the personhood spectrum - in that the individual is paramount under various systems that champion freedom, whereas the state/society collective is paramount under all forms of collectivism. In that sense.

Although I disagree with Libertarianism I have not seen conclusive proof that it is essentially contradictory to the Catholic Faith. However, I’m not sure if it can be implemented on a practical level in a way that is compatible with Catholic teaching… I mean “not sure” seriously in that I simply don’t know one way or the other.

Certainly when I have spoken with devotees of Smith, they speak of the market as though it should be capitalized as “Market”, as though it had some sort of intelligence and as though it were some sort of god. Perhaps I mischaracterize it but if not then it is evident why Smithians scorn any sort of social safety net. Myself I have less confidence in the market: it can be brutal and even foolish. Its ups and downs are temporary inconveniences to the rich, but to the poor they can bring total disaster.

It seems to me that Libertarianism and anything that relies too heavily on Game Theory suffers from an interesting sort of myopia: it assumes that everyone is basically rational. This cannot be assumed! Intellectuals make this mistake all the time: they reason as if everyone were an intellectual.

For many reasons, I myself favor a “third position” model. You might think of it as a Catholic version of fascism (but traditionalist rather than revolutionary, and rightist rather than leftist). You cannot have a strong nation without belief in God, without coherent families or without patriotism. But to have these things, especially good families and patriotic fervor, requires virtue. And people are not naturally virtuous! To even start to be virtuous you must first escape the grip of vice. For those who are so vicious that they don’t even see the need, or have the desire, to abandon vice, this requires violence. Only a society purified in the crucible of violence can rise up in strength and honor.

I think that Libertarianism assumes that people will behave out of “enlightened self interest”. That’s fine if everyone is a committed Aristotelian. I think, rather, that most people are committed louts and behave out of “unenlightened self interest”… the so-called “low information” populace. The Libertarians want to raise man up by dangling a carrot. But the carrot itself is not enough. He who spareth the rod loveth not his son. Most people will not rise to reach for the carrot when the muck of the earth has many tasty bugs and carrion. They can only be coaxed upward at the point of a bayonet.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit