Friday, September 13, 2002

tODD made me post this…

I said in a previous post that I was working on my response to an editorial by Stephen Carson regarding Libertarianism. As my friend Todd pointed out, I have been trying to get away without actually posting any such thoughts. Shame on me!

Let me preface any comments I may make by saying I do not have a background of being a very politically aware creature. (Todd probably remembers this from our days at Rice.) Over the last few years my horizons have been broadened in large part by my extended family, but I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the political debate. Please bear with me as I wrestle with a few thoughts. I should also note that the Libertarian movement is not a single unified voice, any more than the Conservative or Liberal movements are. There are different stances within each camp that make it somewhat meaningless to address an issue like this as if with a unified voice. However...

To get back to Mr. Carson's discussion of whether or not the Libertarian view is heresy, I will try to address the two arguments he frames. First, he says that Libertarians do not argue that man is inherently good. To understand the stimulus for his response, I read Joseph Farah's article, to which Mr. Carson is responding. I have to say Mr. Farah left me confused, as my somewhat limited knowledge of Libertarianism would not support some of his conclusions. I'll leave most of those alone for now and deal with the assertion that the Libertarian system assumes human nature is basically good. If that were the case, would not Libertarians be happy with any system of government? After all, basically good people are working to govern them, and will make basically good decisions, and why all the hubbub? That is obviously far too simplified, but wouldn't any system that assumes people were inherently good either not sweat the details, and/or quickly get extremely frustrated when people don't conform to their goodness? I don't believe that describes the Libertarian system.

The Libertarian view, as I understand it, is to limit government to a few vital functions such as defending its people from actual harm from outside forces (foreign or domestic), and to create a framework via diplomacy and other means for its citizens to interact with the rest of the world. Further, it is to perform these functions with the minimum possible infrastructure and disruption of the lives of its citizens, while allowing said citizens to pursue their own interests, insofar as they do not infringe on the rights of others. I welcome correction on this, but the focus is on keeping government restrained to its intended functions.

If people are inherently good, this may not make sense. If you assume, however, as I do, that the underlying character of government is to grow and expand until its people can no longer support it, the Libertarian system starts to make sense. That may seem somewhat pessimistic, but it is based (I believe) on a Christian worldview that says people are inherently sinful. This sin includes greed and selfishness, which leads to the corollary that those who are handed the reigns of government will seek to further their influence and control. I believe history bears this out, and it is certainly not limited to the world outside our beloved republic. Our Constitution sought to create checks and balances in order to keep our government from overreaching its authority and being subject to the sinfulness of our elected officials. I won't get started on the track-record of our government in side-stepping the Constitution, but the Libertarians would attempt to bring us back to a state of acknowledging man's sinfulness and corruption while not trying to disallow sin by making endless laws and special cases. I would therefore side with Stephen Carson in saying that Libertarianism is not based on a worldview that runs counter to Christianity.

Mr. Carson's second point is that the Christian teaching on man is not simple enough to be summarized as "good" or "bad". Any quick review of Scripture, however, reveals a clear teaching of sinfulness, or "Total Depravity" to use the Calvinist's terms. That is not to say that all men are as bad as they can get, but rather that all of man's faculties are under the bondage of sin. This is in contrast to those that would say, for example, that the flesh may be sinful but the mind still strives for what is right. If you disagree with Total Depravity, read Paul's epistle to the Romans. Christianity clearly teaches that man is fallen and sinful. Only by means of God's grace in Christ do we have any hope of redemption, but even then we do not become "good", but rather struggle with sin the rest of our days. That does not seem too nuanced for a simple summary, but we can agree to disagree.

I would also like to briefly comment on Mr. Carson's example regarding the Law in the Old Testament. I do not believe, as some, that we should base our government on the moral laws of any religion, though we would be remiss not to look at the examples provided in history. To whatever extent the Law given to the Moses may promote social harmony, this reveals God's love to us in desiring to bless us. That, however, was not the point of the Mosaic Law. Rather, it was given to reveal our sinfulness and need of the promised Messiah, while also revealing to us God's character. Certainly God's law to Moses provided many basic principles that are core to any government, and indeed should be, such as the protection of life and property. We should not fall into thinking, however, that God provided the Law for the purpose of showing us how to craft the perfect government. I do not believe this was Mr. Carson's point, but I thought it worthy of comment.

Please feel free to sound off and leave me comments.