Can Catholics Be libertarian? According to an American Values Survey, libertarians make up at least 7% of Americans. In addition, about 15% of Americans would consider or already do vote for libertarian values, even if they’re not exclusively affiliated with the party. The fact that most libertarians are younger (under 50 demographic) has led to some stereotyping that libertarians are by and large non-religious conservatives. But the statistics suggest otherwise. Up to 27% of libertarians are Protestant, while 23% are white evangelical Protestant, and only 11% identify as Catholic.
While it’s true that 25-27% of libertarians are religiously unaffiliated, the data show that libertarianism is a fairly broad political leaning and not only could libertarians be Catholic, but about 11% of American libertarians already are Catholic.
That raises multiple interesting questions: Should Catholics vote libertarian? If so, how do they reconcile their faith and their politics? Does libertarianism present any problems to Catholic believers, or does it help make better sense of the world? Lastly, how do liberal Christians view libertarian Catholics with so much political feuding happening in the modern era?
We’re going to consider all of these questions, starting with a discussion of libertarian values.
The Heart of Libertarianism is Freedom
Libertarianism at its root is a political philosophy that holds freedom as a core value—in fact, that’s the original meaning of the French word “libertaire,” or “freedom.”
What the philosophy ultimately proposes is that real justice requires more autonomy for the individual, particularly when it comes to minimizing the power of the State to override individual liberties.
It is true that libertarians advocate for free markets and freedom of interaction, which does tend to maximize wealth creation as a consequence. Nonetheless, that position on markets is a natural consequence of the logically held prior that liberty is the political priority.
Should Catholics Vote Libertarian?
As free and sentient beings, we have the right to make important decisions regarding politics and social civics in peaceful ways.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was probably as far from libertarian as you can get. But even he saw something precious in the right to vote being guaranteed by the Constitution, saying: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves—and the only way they could do that is by not voting at all.”
The fact that so many people are pressuring others to vote for the “moral side,” or the “right side,” and not preserving the individual’s right to vote one’s conscience is telling.
If voting for a party were just a “rubber stamp” process to preserve what is moral, there would be no need for an election. Morality is more complex than that.
Voting, therefore, will often be a complicated activity. Before making a moral decision and hurriedly following the loudest crowd, the voter should endeavor to learn more, to research more political viewpoints, and ultimately to better understand what a proper political philosophy entails.
Catholics would do well to realize that voting is more than picking a side, and even being libertarian does not necessarily mean sticking with one party label. Conscience matters, and philosophy matters. Parties—less so.
A War of Christian Values?
Politics can be polarizing. We’ve seen this throughout history, with warring factions of religious and royal figures, as well as in modern times, with liberal Christians arguing with libertarian Catholics, or Conservatives over what God might think about a particular issue.
But it’s important to remember that extremist political viewpoints tend to dehumanize our fellow man. Suggesting someone’s personal belief or political party makes them your enemy is dangerous thinking. Not coincidentally, extreme political views have been the start of many atrocities throughout history.
One thing every Christian should agree, regardless of their denomination, is that war is an ugly thing, and that wishing evil upon your neighbor or friend is contrary to what Christianity preaches about love, acceptance, and being patient—yes, even with one’s enemies.
One’s perspective can often be broadened by talking to someone of a different, less-understood viewpoint. Seeking to understand before reacting is almost always the better part of valor. For some reading this article, that might be investigating the libertarian perspective for the first time.
Jesus Did Not Elevate Charity Over Spiritual Things
Voting should not be a legal or ethical problem for anyone, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
If anything, voting for your party may be a test of one’s faith and conscience. And in that regard, rereading the scriptures may help you reach a viewpoint closer to your core beliefs.
When analyzing the teachings of Jesus Christ from the Gospels, Jesus is sometimes inaccurately portrayed as a singularly self-sacrificing figure—despite the fact that he stressed individual self-responsibility and anti-government messages on several occasions.
- Jesus said His kingdom would be no part of “this world” (John 18:36)
- Jesus resisted the crowds when they tried to make him king (John 6:15)
- Jesus told Judas “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me.” (Matthew 26:11)
- Jesus said “Follow me: and let the dead bury their dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
- Jesus said “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)
However, this line of thought is not suggesting that Christians never can work with (or for) the government. Listen to LCI’s previous podcast on “Protect and Serve” in which service to the state is discussed.
At the Heart of Catholicism is Love for Humanity
The Church and our traditional theological positions are to be the final authority on matters of faith, not any government or any political ideology.
But it’s also worth noting that Pope Francis once said: “Love and charity are service…When you forget yourself and think of others, this is love! And with the washing of the feet the Lord teaches us to be servants.”
When it comes to politics, what is most important is for Christians of all persuasions, Catholics included, to remain true to the spirit of Christianity: love and service. That is, to give to others who are in need, to serve others in whatever way you can afford to do so.
Therefore, the libertarian philosophy is a choice people can indeed make after considering various political intricacies because of its emphasis on avoiding aggression and treating their neighbor the way they would want to be treated.
Forced Service is Not Charity
Many Christians feel that the government should not dictate how one ought to use their resources to help others.
The individual should do so in advance of any government ultimatums simply because they love Christ and the Church—far more than they love their own material wealth.
Forced service is not from the heart. It’s worthless, especially if the one giving is being coerced physically, legally, or emotionally to follow someone else’s morals.
Forcing someone to be charitable with their money is not the moral or kind thing to do. If anything it wreaks of oppression and takes away the very notion of charity—to give gifts out of a spirit of love.
How to Reach Out to the Catholics in Your Life
A crucial component of Jesus’ ministry was personal responsibility—to exercise faith in his heavenly kingdom and follow him. Because putting more faith in either government or wealth would be contrary to being a disciple of Christ.
Despite our associations with saints and self-sacrificing Christians, such qualities are secondary to the primary mission of The Roman Catholic Church, by its own admission. The Church professes loyalty and obedience to Jesus, and submission to proper Church authority.
The rituals are also of utmost importance, including Baptism, Mass, and First Communion. (The House of Joppa’s guide offers some more ideas on First Communion, including etiquette on gift giving.)
But the two greatest commandments of all, indeed, were to love God and love your neighbor.
If you can make peace and friendship with someone you disagree with, you have truly won them over in Christ-like fashion. Open your mind to their perspective and always treat people with respect. In the end, this loving attitude may touch someone’s heart to reconsider your perspective.
This article was originally featured at the Libertarian Christian Institute and is republished with permission.
Editor’s Note: This article refers to “voting libertarian” in the ideological sense, not in reference to the Libertarian Party of the United States.