Libertarians are selfish materialists! They trample upon the common good! They don’t have any moral compasses because they think people should get to do whatever they want!
No… no… no, and sort of.
Popular First Things editor Rusty Reno published a piece in November of 2018, “Common Good Conservatism,” in which he claims, among other accusations:
In its most extreme forms, libertarianism rejects the ‘we’ as a perennial threat to individual freedom. In its more moderate forms, libertarianism focuses on state power, saying that it should never be used to impose a moral, religious, or cultural consensus—the soul of the ‘we.’ In this respect, libertarianism is like its Enlightenment sibling, communism.
Lest we too make the (dangerous) error of equating libertarianism to communism, let’s define our terms.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy that prefers voluntary human interactions over coercion and that advocates relying on private solutions to problems whenever possible.
I’m borrowing this definition from Stephanie Slade (@sladesr) who delivered a presentation at the 2020 Acton University conference, “Reconciling Libertarianism & Concern for the ‘Common Good,’” and will lean heavily on my notes from her presentation throughout this series. In case you prefer a more “credible” source, her definition isn’t far off from definitions offered by other sources.
An extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens.(Google/Oxford Languages)
Libertarianism (from Latin: libertas, meaning “freedom”; from French: libertaire, meaning “libertarian”) is a political philosophy and movement that upholds liberty as a core principle. Libertarians seek to maximize political freedom and autonomy, emphasizing individualism, freedom of choice and voluntary association. Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power, but they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing economic and political systems.Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism
I prefer Stephanie’s definition for two reasons: 1) it’s succinct 2) it comes from an actual libertarian, stating what she believes qua libertarian. If you want to know what a plumber is, for instance, it’s best to ask a plumber and not an attorney or a zookeeper. If you want to know what a libertarian is, ask a libertarian. However, these other two definitions are correct: libertarianism can be considered extreme, it advocates for minimal state intervention, it’s a political philosophy, it upholds freedom as its core principle. All true.
Now, let’s define communism.
A political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.Google/Oxford Languages
Communism is a political and economic ideology that positions itself in opposition to liberal democracy and capitalism, advocating instead for a classless system in which the means of production are owned communally and private property is nonexistent or severely curtailed.Investopedia: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/communism.asp
And now, compare:
|Political philosophy||Political philosophy|
|Hyper-focused on people as individuals||Hyper-focused on people as members of a class|
|Minimum state intervention||Maximum state intervention|
|Production & property owned privately||Production & property owned by government|
We clearly see that libertarianism and communism are both political philosophies, but are otherwise polarized. But, back to R. R.’s accusation – libertarianism says state power should never be used to impose moral, religious, or cultural consensus, and in this respect, libertarianism is like communism. “Both seek the withering away of the state.”
Libertarianism usually rejects coercion by the state (it depends on what type of libertarianism it is, which will be addressed in a later part). Communism, however, takes no issue with coercion. Evidence of this is abounding, but let’s take a quick look at a few headlines regarding the Chinese Communist Party to quickly understand communism’s take on the use of coercion to impose religious or cultural consensus:
“The Vatican should speak up on China’s repression in Hong Kong and beyond” – Washington Post
“Christians Worry Hong Kong’s New Law Will Hamper Missions” – Christianity Today
“One-child policy vs. religion: Why China produced more diabolical and enduring communism than Russia” – The Times of India Blog
“China fines man for holding online Bible study, violating anti-religion law as persecution of Christians escalates” – CBN News
Also, let us not forget about historical events like the Tiananmen Square Massacre, one of the most brutal violations of human rights recorded. Nearly a million (estimates vary because the CCP continues to censor information regarding the Massacre) pro-democracy protestors were killed. The crowds, mostly composed of young students, were fired at indiscriminately and crushed under tanks. If that isn’t coercion by the state, what is?