Welcome back to your introduction to libertarianism. We’re exploring:
- What libertarianism is and is not
- Misconceptions about libertarianism
- Why you might be a libertarian and not know it
- Why Catholicism and libertarianism are at least compatible
Last time, we established that libertarianism is not communism; libertarianism despises coercion, and communism is built upon it. Now, we will learn about the varieties of libertarianism and their variable degrees of compatibility or incompatibility with Catholic social teaching. This will require us to distinguish between anarcho-capitalism and minarchism, thick and thin libertarianism, as well as deontological and consequentialist ethics.
Anarcho-capitalism vs. Minarchism
Nope, wrong anarchy. What we’re talking about is anarcho-capitalism. “Because anarcho‐capitalism is predicated on a capitalist economic system, it requires markets, property, and the rule of law.”1 Anarcho-capitalism holds that:
What we expect the government to do would be done more efficiently by private institutions that had to compete with each other.Stephanie Slade
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of subsidiarity, which The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church calls “among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine” and the “most important” principle of social philosophy.2
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 coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.CCC 1883
Both of these concepts prioritize decentralization. Matters ought to be handled by the least centralized competent authority. Why? From a Catholic/moral perspective, we are individuals with dignity that society must respect and protect, as well as social creatures with friendships, families, and other natural associations. The dignity of our individuality as well as of our natural community must not be violated by “higher powers.” From a libertarian/economic perspective, private institutions perform many tasks more efficiently because competition incentivizes innovation and creates barriers to tyranny. My point here is that the concepts come from similar assumptions, and are also compatible. You can believe in the economic benefits of decentralization while also believing in the moral necessity of it.
Now, “anarcho-capitalism” and “minarchism” are terms that describe just how far you carry this principle. Anarcho-capitalists support the elimination of state; I think this position is both impractical and much more difficult to reconcile with Catholicism. However, minarchism will make certain concessions, especially concerning national defense. As an example, while an anarcho-capitalist would advocate for private defense agencies in place of federal defense, a minarchist would hold that one of the roles proper to the federal government is national defense.
Coincidentally, this is also one of the (few) roles assigned to our federal government by the Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.The Constitution of the United States
Stay tuned for discussion on thick and thin libertarianism, as well as deontological and consequentialist ethics.