The State, Libertarians, Socialists, and Infallible Dogma


As a recovering libertarian, I have been doing my best to learn about the implications of Catholic teaching about the State. There are plenty of libertarians and socialists on the internet who twist themselves into rhetorical knots trying to justify their prior political views in light of Church teaching. It seems, though, that if one makes the Church’s social teaching the center of one’s political views, one can’t honestly be a libertarian or socialist. This seems to be the case because the Church has denounced liberalism (of which libertarianism is one extreme view), socialism, communism, capitalism, etc. on various margins. The final line of defense against what seems to be an authentically Catholic view of the state is that the Church hasn’t spoken infallibly on the role of the state, so one is permitted to believe a whole range of views about the state’s role.

How are we to interpret the teaching of the Church on the state? What about the definition of modernism and Americanism as heresies? Do Rerum Novarum and the other encyclicals and other teaching by the popes amount to Magisterial infallible teaching? It seems unlikely that in the future Pope Trotsky or Pope Rothbard will define the state’s role to be unlimited or zero.

I’m only interested in replies to my questions, not apologetics for socialism or libertarianism. Thanks!

  1. What teachings, specifically?
  2. Modernism is heresy. On the other hand, criticizing “Americanism” was one of the papacy’s low points.
  3. Nobody claims infallibility for Rerum Novarum. Laypeople should probably just forget the word infallible. Having said that, Rerum Novarum was and is one of the greatest examples of Catholic social teaching, correctly applying Christian principles to the modern world.


I am puzzled how you come to this conclusion.

How does the definition of heresy apply to either of these? Neither of them are doctrines of the faith…

They are products of the ordinary magesterium, to which Catholics are expected to give consent and docile obedience.

Not only unlikely, but impossible. Human beings live in specific social circumstances. It is incumbent upon us to reconcile these with our faith. There is considerable infallible teaching on these matters.

  1. Let me try again. Has the Church spoken infallibly on the proper role of the state?
  2. Where can I read more about the specifics of the condemnation of Modernism? Why do you say critiques of Americanism are “low points?”
  3. Agreed on its greatness. Not sure about the rest of what you’re saying.


It’s not a conclusion, friend, it’s what some people say to get around the reality of Church teaching, so that they can create a hole through which to fit their political views. Can you help me understand what the Church’s infallible teaching on the state is?



It is a good idea to start with the Scripture.


I’m afraid I’m not finding your answers very useful. As far as I can see, there isn’t a limit on the length of responses. Would you care to be less cryptic and suggest some books/videos/etc that clarify this?


Are you not interested in discussing what Scripture has to say on these matters?


13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13)


Actually, no, I’m not interested in discussing anything. I’m asking for answers. I’m aware of the passages in Scripture on giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and Paul’s admonition to obey princes, but as you know many people find ways to interpret these scriptures differently.


No need to condescend, @guanophore . I (think I) understand what he’s asking just fine. When our Lord say to render unto Caesar and God appropriately, he was giving a catch-all for any type government, be it an empire republic as in Rome, absolute monarchy, democracy, etc. Obviously he didn’t say that explicitly, but we must assume he was meaning any form of government because he didn’t specify ONE. So I believe—correct me if I’m wrong—he’s asking, in light of Catholic teaching, what is the proper role and extent of government in society? And I would imagine that the response changes based on whether it is a good Catholic monarchy, what I believe Hillaire Belloc said was the ideal, or a secular or at least impartial government. Not just what are we to do to and for the gov’t, but what is the government itself supposed to do, and how much?


Actually, they don’t. The persons who manage the site rarely get involved in the topics.

It is a member driven forum. It is true that there are members who enjoy giving answers. There are other members who enjoy discussion. I am sure you can find some members that will give you “answers”.

It seems that you are looking for something simple. Unfortunately you have chosen a very complex topic.

Indeed not. There are many knowledgeable people here. You may be one of them yourself!

I agree. It is also true that Scripture does not meet your criteria, as it is not “infallible”.

Excellent! Perhaps you have some succint Catholic Answers that will not require any extraneous reading of drivel?

I agree, and I think the Church has been, over the millenia, very careful not to side with certain forms of government.

It seems so. I find it a very complex topic, but perhaps those of you that are more knowledgeable than I can manage it in the requisite “less than 500” posts!

Yes, clearly the Church has noted that certain forms of government are contrary to the life of faith, communism among them.

An excellent question. Perhaps you can suggest the desired books, since Scripture has been excluded as relevant?


I’m not sure that the Church’s teaching on the proper role of the State would be considered infallible. Because it’s less of a matter of faith and morals, and more of a matter of prudential application of said morals.

Anyway, read the CCC n. 2211


I’m not a deep scholar here BUT the Bible states to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless & visit the imprisoned. So, the Caravan needs basic needs met. It doesn’t have to be in USA. They were coming hereknowing they were breaking the law. What is bad about this Caravan is: It was an organized group to challenge USA &Pres. TRUMP. Google: see Glenn Beck.
So, the next issue is : RULE OF LAW. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s & to God, the things that are Gods. Then: ROMANS 13:1_3.
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
For God is not the author of confusion , but of peace…
1 Peter 2:13-17
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Ppl should be respectful of Pres. Trump & pray for him…


I may be wrong but I don’t think an infallible teaching on the state has been tendered. I quoted scripture below to answe what God would like.


I don’t know. I wasn’t giving an answer, I was clarifying for you, as you seemed to not be getting his question.
In any case, let’s not deride his query about other texts, as he said he’s already familiar with the verses you presented. Not irrelevant, but in the OP’s mind, already covered. He’s looking for extraneous texts to supplement and expound. If you cannot suggest any, do not reply, and certainly don’t reply with barely-there sarcastic dismissal of an earnest seeker.

  • Let me try again. Has the Church spoken infallibly on the proper role of the state?

As you persist in seeking some infallible teaching, the short answer is no. The Church teaches against moral wrongs, but does not prescribe a form of civil government.

  • Where can I read more about the specifics of the condemnation of Modernism? Why do you say critiques of Americanism are “low points?”


The irreformable principles that have been handed down in the natural law and revelation are:

(1) public authority comes from God and is a necessary part of human nature
(2) the sole reason for the existence of public authority is to serve the common good of the society it is set over.
(3) public authority’s laws must be in accord with right reason, the divine law, and ordered to the common good.

Now you just need to understand what the common good is and what the contents of the natural and divine law are. But within those parameters, public authority can take all sorts of forms and employ all sorts of measures.

Socialism is unacceptable because it denies the right to private property or at least ownership of the means of production and promotes enmity, rather than harmony, among the economic classes.

Libertarianism errs primarily by giving the purpose of the state as maintaining a kind of minimal “public order” that neglects important elements of the more lofty concept of the common good.

Modernism is a theological heresy that denies that there is an objective and credible revelation from God that requires the obedience of faith.

Americanism is an error that sought to take certain elements of American society, which were acceptable in those particular circumstances, and make them the principles that all societies, even the Church, needed to be governed by.

Finally, the social encyclicals, while all based on irreformable principles, are generally geared at applying them to particular circumstances–which is why we get a new one every few decades as economic conditions change.




I guess that is what threw me - it just did not come across that way at all.

Catholic social teaching is very broad and varied, and it is rooted in Scripture. If a person is not interested in knowing about what the Church teaches unless it is “infallible dogma” then it seems like a disingenuous inquiry.

You have given a list of perspectives that are not consistent with the basic principles of social teaching. I guess you don’t really agree with what you have written here? You are putting this comment forward as an “excuse” that people use when they want to disregard what the Church teaches?

Do you think that Catholics accept teaching that is “infallible”?


So St Paul tells us to obey and respect state authority. But he does not forbid Catholics from going into politics and seeking to modify political structures. So if a state were to reform and introduce certain libertarian principles for example, or certain socialist principles (as indeed many governments have done in the past), St Paul would still want us to collaborate with and support that state. Of course within the bounds of reason. Obviously if the government were to transform into a fully feldged socialist or fascist monster, we would no longer have to cooperate with it and respect it.

Is this statement true or false?

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