Image courtesy of Randy England.
Randy England is a former state prosecutor, a Catholic, and currently a criminal defense attorney in the midwestern US state of Missouri. He is the author of the 2012 book Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarian. Although the socially conservative Christian Right may lead some to assume that Christianity and libertarianism are opposing forces, in this concise text England makes compelling arguments to the effect that not only Catholicism but Christianity overall is fundamentally libertarian.
First of all, the author argues that the Non-Aggression Principle, the basis of the strictest form of libertarianism, naturally follows from the Golden Rule. This is not peculiar to Catholicism, or even to Christianity. As he puts it, “The basic wrongness, the offensiveness, the immorality of harming others deliberately is so ingrained in our nature as to be undeniable. …When every religion condemns the initiation of violence, we find near-universal agreement, even among people of no religion. We do not want people to harm us; so we easily grasp this corollary to the [Golden Rule]: Do not unto others that which we would not want done to ourselves.”1 This holds even in cases of actions done with good intentions.2
England makes reference to the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the writings of the major Catholic thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. England’s quotes from these two saints make them sound surprisingly similar to modern-day libertarians, despite having been born in the fourth and 13th centuries respectively.2 St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, for example, that the law was right not to criminalize many vices, but only to make crimes of “chiefly those that are to the hurt of others…thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.”3 Several Popes are quoted expressing sentiments compatible with libertarianism. These include defending the sanctity of private property, as well as strongly criticizing a central government which tries to take on powers which private or more local organizations could perform.4
England argues that human beings were deliberately granted far-reaching freedom, and could not achieve their moral or spiritual potential without it. God could have created perfect machines which could never malfunction. These would certainly be free of sin, but they would also have no humanity; they would behave correctly, but have no capacity to make meaningfully good decisions. “Good actions compelled under a threat of violence are not good in any moral sense,” he writes.5 “Only free men can become good men.”6
Instead, God made thinking human beings who would sometimes make mistakes. This is apparent from the story of Adam and Eve, who fell from their original innocent state and were thrown out of the Garden of Eden as a result of their own decisions.
God, England argues, took an unusually libertarian approach with regard to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Human authorities in such a situation would have been more likely to forcefully prevent Adam and Eve from eating from the tree. God simply warned them of the danger, though, and left the rest to their free will.
England also points out that Jesus and his disciples never presumed to make any Christian teaching into a matter of law. As he puts it, “having given us free will, did God intend that some men should…enforce His will by violence upon other men? Clearly, Jesus did not commission His Church to use compulsion to make men believe or behave, or even to pay the tithe.” He goes on to point out that the Vatican today does not even legally require its residents to pay taxes; the tithe is still voluntary.7
The author was recently a substitute host on Freedom Feens, a libertarian talk radio show based in the western US. He explains that his conversion to libertarianism, although gradual, was finalized by the issue of the War on Drugs. He objects to applying the criminal law to any behavior which does not have a victim. “It’s reached a point now,” he explains, “where there’s so many laws against so many things that don’t actually hurt other people, every man’s been turned into a criminal.”
1. Randy England, Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarian (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012), 15.
2. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993), 78; Romans 3:8.
3. See St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4; see also Book XIX, Chapter 15.
4. Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 96, Art. 2.
5. See Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio of 18 Dec., 1903; Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, 38; Pope Pius XI, Quadrigesimo Anno (“Encyclical On Reconstruction of The Social Order”), 78, and Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (1991), 48.
6. England, 15.
7. England, 18.
8. England, 19.