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Archive for the tag “libertarianism”

Pro-choice and pro-life

At first sight, the use of the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” to represent opposing ethical viewpoints seems a little strange. Are “choice” and “life” necessarily opposed to each other?

When they first came into general use I assumed (on no evidence) that people settled on those terms in order to avoid negative stereotyping in debate. Saying someone is “anti-” something sounds so negative, and it is generally better to say what one was for rather than what one was against.

The illogicality of the implication that “choice” and “life” were antithetical was regarded as the price one had to pay to avoid negative stereotyping.

Or at least so I assumed thirty years ago when “pro-choice” and “pro-life” first began to be bandied about in public debate.

But now I am not so sure.

It seems from recent debates that they really are antithetical. There’s this US Senator Ron Paul. I know nothing about him except that American libertarians (or at least those American libertarians whose blogs I sometimes read) seem to like him.

Now if there is one thing that seems to characterise American libertarians, it is that they are pro-choice. They seem to elevate choice to a supreme value. The essential freedom is the freedom to make choices (provided, of course, that you are rich — but that is an unspoken condition).

And in a recent TV debate, it seems that “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are indeed antithetical. GOP Tea Party Debate: Audience Cheers, Says Society Should Let Uninsured Patient Die:

“What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn’t have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? Are you saying society should just let him die?” Wolf Blitzer asked.

“Yeah!” several members of the crowd yelled out.

Paul interjected to offer an explanation for how this was, more-or-less, the root choice of a free society. He added that communities and non-government institutions can fill the void that the public sector is currently playing.

This has led to an interesting discussion in the Progressive Orthodox Christianity forum on Facebook, where I first learnt about the incident.

And in that discussion I suggested that if Christians were to adopt the “let them die” attitude, then the story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) would have to be modified to the effect that the rich man, in Abraham’s bosom, seeing Lazarus burning in hell, would say to him “it’s all your fault — you didn’t have health insurance.”

I’ve written about that aspect of it in more detail in other blog posts, so I won’t repeat all that here.

But what I have discovered from this recent incident is that pro-choice and pro-life are indeed antithetical, and that “pro-choice” is mainly about the inalienable right of the rich and powerful to choose when those poorer and weaker than they are should die.

What is a libertarian?

What is a libertarian?

I read the blogs of people who claim to be libertarians, and it’s really hard to tell.

  1. Some sound like libertines.
  2. Some sound like liberals on steroids.
  3. Some sound as though they believe the universe has given them the right to grind the face of the poor into the dirt, forever, and they are just longing for the opportunity to do it.

And some sound like all three, switching from one to the other in as many sentences.

Hat-tip to Ron Paul Is Not a Libertarian | Clarissa’s Blog — I originally posted the above as a comment in response to Clarissa’s post, but thought I would also post it separately as well.

There is a chain or restaurants here in South Africa that advertises by saying “You can’t have too much of a good thing.”

It is an invitation to gluttony, saying, in effect, that over-eating is not a vice.

I am a liberal, and I generally think that liberalism is a good thing.

I think that liberty, human freedom, is a good thing.

But when I read blogs by people who claim to be libertarians, I get the impression that what they are after is not so much liberty as licence. That is why I say that they are like liberals on steroids.

Liberals think that liberty is important, it is an important value, and the lack of it should be remedied as quickly as possible. Libertarians seem to believe that personal liberty is the only value, and that everything else must be subordinated to it.

Someone once asked me how, as an Orthodox Christian, I could say that I was a liberal. They thought that liberalism was the essence of everything that is evil and wrong with the world.

Yet Orthodox writers assume that freedom and love are essential characteristics of being human. For example, Christos Yannaras (1984:33) writes

Man’s insistence on his individuality is an indication of his failure to realize his personal distinctiveness and freedom, of his falling away from the fulness of existence which is the life of the Trinity, personal coinherence and communion in love. This falling away is sin, amartia, which means missing the mark as to existential truth and authenticity. The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and ‘missing the mark,’ as the loss of that ‘end’ or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

But making freedom the main thing, or even the only thing, as libertarians seem to do, is to turn freedom into an idol. It turns liberty into an ideology, a kind of binding principle, so that in embracing the idea of freedom, and bowing down and worshipping it, one actually loses one’s freedom. When one makes liberty a principle and a rule by which everything is judged, one loses one’s freedom to live and to act; freedom as a false god is anything but free.



Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Mere Ideology: The politicisation of C.S. Lewis

I recently read a couple of articles that appear to me to be attempts to co-opt C.S. Lewis for the cause of American Libertarianism.

C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 1:

In comparison to contemporary ‘progressive’ Christians such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who clamor for the foolish and disastrous notion of achieving ‘social justice’ through gigantic government powers, was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities, or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? (See Robert Higgs’s book refuting the ‘progressive’ myth in American history, Crisis and Leviathan, and his book on the disastrous ‘progressive’ state since 1930, Depression, War, and Cold War; see also Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism and The Civilian and the Military, and Jonathan Bean’s Race and Liberty in America.) In this article, I only begin to touch on some of Lewis’s many writings pertaining to the subject of liberty and Christian teachings because any truly adequate examination would warrant at least an entire book.

Hat-tip to C S Lewis on economic and social liberty – National Hobbits, Narnia & Spirituality |

Though the authors of both these articles acknowledge that C.S. Lewis was decidedly non-political, he was also, and I would say even more decidedly non-ideological. Yet both authors seem to want to co-opt Lewis to support an ideology.

What gives me that impression is the use of the word “statism”, which I associate with the decidely anti-Christian ideology of Ayn Rand. I know she didn’t invent the term, but she used it and her followers used it to give it a particular meaning, so it has become an ideologically loaded term.

Not that I like “statism”. It also speaks to me of the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin, which elevated the state to the highest value.

I suppose as a political (but not economic or theological) liberal I could make a case for C.S. Lewis being a liberal, and supporting a liberal view of society. When he says things like:

I am a democrat… I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretentions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt (Lewis 1966:81).

It was sentiments like that that led me to sign up as a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party when I was a student, and to reject the ideology of the ruling party — Christian Nationalism — as evil and anti-Christian. When Lewis says “I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others” that decided the case for Liberalism back then, because the Liberal Party was the only legal political party that advocated a policy of “one man, one vote”. Even the Progressive Party (whose descendants, the Democratic Alliance, like to claim to be heirs of South African liberalism) believed that one group of men, the rich and the educated, were good enough make decisions on behalf of others.

And Lewis goes on to say

Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique. That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. Hence, in whatever direction the change is made, it is for me damned by its modus operandi. The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The character in ‘That hideous strength’ whom the Professor never mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won’t get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it (Lewis 1966:82).

And in the fascist South Africa of the 1960s the Security Police (Veiligheidspolisie) were literally the “safety police”.

Lewis may have been non-political, but it is clear from the above that he was not just non-ideological, but anti-ideological, and I’m pretty sure he would have rejected ideologies like Randism or American Libertarianism just as strongly as he rejected Hitlerism and Stalinism. Ideologies, of course, have codes of political correctness, and American Libertarians make it very clear indeed what views and attitudes they regard as politically incorrect, and we have been given a list of people whose views must be regarded as politically incorrect: Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren.

I know nothing of Tony Campolo, but I’ve read some of the writings of some of the others, and I’ve not noticed a great love of totalitarianism or theocracy in what they write. Missing from the list, however, is Rousas John Rushdoony, who advocated something like the theocracy that Lewis thought the worst of all possible forms of government.

I agree with David Theroux and Mark Sommer to some extent, when they say that not all human problems can be solved by politics. But their silence on the ways in which they think they can be solved leaves me wondering whether they perhaps think that it is better that they not be solved at all. Christian attempts to solve all problems by politics do not work too well, as Will D. Campbell and James Y. Holloway point out in their book Up to our steeples in politics. As they say, what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us.

But we in the Church persist: we are still hopeful that though all these means we can build a kingdom in which all things will be set right between man and man (and occasionally between man and God), refusing to recognize that these means are an attempt to build a kingdom by our guidelines and blueprints, by our sociology and politics, not by what God’s reconciliation has already done for the world in Christ. In this book we are trying to confess that the goals of the contemporary Church – that is to say, the Church of St John’s by the Gas Station, the Christian College, the denominational and interdenominational seminary – the goals of these Christian communities are blasphemous. The reconciliation the Church is seeking to accomplish today by these subterfuges has already been wrought. The brotherhood – the “one blood” of Acts 17, 26 – that the Church makes its goal today is already a fact. And because this is so, that very fact judges our goals and our efforts to achieve brotherhood by social action as blasphemous, as trying to be God. Instead of witnessing to Christ, the social action of the Church lends support to the totalitarianism of the wars and political systems of the 20th century. By its social action, the Church permits and encourages the State and culture to define all issues and rules and fields of battle. The Church then tries to do what the State, without the Church’s support, has already decided to do: to “solve” all human problems by politics. And this is specifically the political messianism of contemporary totalitarianism and of Revelation 13. “Politics” by definition can only “adjust” and “rearrange.” It cannot – as politics – “solve” anything. But the Church’s social action encourages the very movements in the contemporary political processes which are moving us straightaway into 20th-century totalitarianism (Campbell & Holloway 1970:2).

But the way American Libertarians talk, it sounds as though while they reject the attempt to solve all problems by politics, they propose instead to solve them all by economics, and specifically by American big business, whose interests must take precedence over everything else.

And I doubt very much that C.S. Lewis would have supported that notion. The nearest equivalent to Ayn Rand’s heroes — Dagny Taggart, John Galt and Howard Roark — in C.S. Lewis’s novels is Dick Devine, and Lewis gives him an altogether different treatment. The Sackville-Bagginses could also be said to represent the “entrepreneurial spirit”, which probably needs to be exorcised rather than encouraged.

A few weeks ago my blogging friend Matt Stone posted this ikon on his blog, asking “What is it saying theologically and politically?”

My response was that what it is saying theologically and politically is that political power and authority are to be exercised subject to Christ, and not sought for their own sake. The task of those in authority is to make the earthly kingdom an image of the heavenly one in righteousness and justice.

And I think that C.S. Lewis had somewhat similar notions, when he made Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy kings and queens of Narnia to promote justice and righteousness. And when their successors in Prince Caspian abused their power, they returned to Narnia to put things right. Mark Sommer in his article extols freedom and social liberty, but despises social justice. Yet in The Silver Chair Jill Pole discovers at her school (a libertarian institution, if ever there was one) that liberty without justice is a recipe for misery.

We cannot solve all problems though politics because what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us. It is a bit like the relation between law and grace. Law can restrain us from evil, but it cannot make us good. Justice is not love. The most that can be said is that it is a kind of congealed love. Law and politics cannot make men love one another, but they can restrain the effects of their lack of love, and that is justice.

As for trying to trying to solve problems by economics, let the Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev have the last word:

The Origin of Russian Communism (Ann Arbor Paperbacks)The Origin of Russian Communism by Nikolai Berdyaev

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quote: It was the industrialist capitalist period which subjected man to the power of economics and money, and it does not become its adepts to teach communists the evangelical truth that man does not live by bread alone. The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbours, for everybody, is a spiritual and religious question. Man does not live by bread alone, but he does live by bread and there should be bread for all. Society should be so organized that there is bread for all, and then it is that the spiritual question will present itself before men in all its depth. It is not permissible to base a struggle for spiritual interests and for a spiritual renaissance on the fact that for a considerable part of humanity bread will not be guaranteed. Such cynicism as this justly evokes an atheistic reaction and the denial of spirit. Christians ought to be permeated with a sense of the religious importance of the elementary needs of men, the vast masses of men, and not to despise these needs from the point of view of an exalted spirituality.

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Notes and References
Campbell, Will D. Holloway, James Y. 1970. Up to our steeples in politics. New York: Paulist.
Lewis, C.S. 1966. Of other worlds: essays and stories. London:Geoffrey Bles.

Piracy – the libertarian dream?

Since the collapse of the Somali government in the 1990s Somalia has been effectively without a government. According to what I hear American libertarians saying, this should be the fulfilment of a dream.

But then Somali pirates attack shipping in the neighbourhood. Well, that’s a libertarian dream too — after all, they are only exercising their natural human right to bear arms, and what’s the point of bearing arms if you don’t use them for fun and profit?

What about the people who are robbed by the pirates? Well that’s easy enough — they have the right to bear arms too, so let them do so and fight it out. As one American libertarian blogger puts it: A conservative blog for peace:

A free-market solution to piracy. With the rest of the world I’m happy that Captain Phillips is free and salute the US Navy for their work. But like companies have private armies in Iraq, why not rent a private navy (seagoing security guards) for your company’s ships? (Because in a truly free society like that the state would lose power and we mustn’t have that, oh no.)

So what have we here?

It seems to me very like a hankering for the kind of society that prevailed in Western Europe after AD 476. The collapse of civil authority, the Pax Romana and rule by feudal warlords who gave themelves titles like Duke, Count, Baron etc., and of course gave themselves the right to bear arms. In fact something very similar to the state of Somalia today.

The proposal for armed security guards on ships, a private army, is, of course exactly the same solution as was adopted by the feudal warlords in Western Europe in the “Dark Ages”, and by those in Somalia in the 21st century.

And how did the Somali pirates get going?

Well, in a very similar way to the private security guards on ships — if they ever do get going. By exercising their right to bear arms, that’s how.

The Mahatma X Files: K’naan sez

Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia have been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.

But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company called Achair Parterns, made a deal with Ali Mahdi, that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying Warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.

In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including “Uranium, radioactive waste, lead, Cadmium, Mercury and chemical waste.” But this wasn’t just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia’s aquatic life. Now years later, the deterring has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to [bury] our nation’s death trap.

So the Somali pirates are simply following the free market solution advocated by American libertarians.

Wicked evil governments should not exceed their powers by trying to restrict good honest capitalists from dumping toxic waste. Let the people who are poisoned by it act themselves to stop it, and exact compensation from any other passing vessels trespassing on their waters. An ideal libertarian solution.

But I think libertarians like A conservative blog for peace might just possibly be missing something, somewhere.

See also SAFCEI: Somali piracy and toxic waste

Taking your political temperature

About 18 months ago I looked at the test on the Political Compass to see where the US presidential hopefuls stood. All of them, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, were on the authoritarian right. I found I was on the libertarian left, in about much the same place as Nelson Mandela, which is no doubt why I voted for him.

Now Jams O’Donnell at The Poor Mouth: Political Spectrum has found another site, The Political Spectrum, which does much the same thing, but from an American viewpoint.

Here is my result:

My Political Views
I am a left social moderate
Left: 3.86, Libertarian: 0.9

Political Spectrum Quiz

The result was not very much different from Political Compass, but a little less libertarian so not much surprise there.

My Political Compass results were:

Economic Left/Right: -6.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.00

Nor is there much surprise in these results on Political Spectrum:

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -5.73

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -2.57

Political Spectrum Quiz

But the tests are like chalk and cheese.

The Political Compass has carefully-worded questions, designed to be clear and unambiguous, and where the answers will actually measure something.

In the Political Spectrum test the questions are biased, tendentious, and very often beg the question, and it is difficult to see what they are trying to measure.

The Political Compass did not give the opportunity for a neutral answer, but it wasn’t needed, because the questions were clear and unambiguous.

The Political Spectrum gave the opportunity for neutral answers, and also gave the opportunity of indicating the importance of the issue. In theory this should make the test more accurate, but in fact I answered most questions as neutral, and of neutral or little importance, because of the bad wording.

I can’t remember the exact wording now, without going back and doing the tests again, but one example that struck me was that the Political Compass test asked something like:

Do you think that abortion should be legal for a woman when there is no danger to her life?

whereas the Political Spectrum equivalent version was something like:

Do you think that the state should deny a woman her right to an abortion?

which begs more than one question.

The difference may be because Political Compass is a serious exercise and appears to have drawn on professional expertise in designing the questionnaire and formulating the questions. The Political Spectrum one is on a public quiz site, where anyone can post a questionnaire, and there is nothing to prevent the wording of the questions reflecting the biases of the compiler.

But I can’t help wondering whether it is also perhaps a reflection of the differences between British and American culture.

And now, with a general election looming, I wonder where our own political leaders stand.

I imagine Jacob Zuma would be a circle in all four quadrants, getting a different result depending on the last person he spoke to.

I also suspect that Patricia de Lille is still closest to my position (and that of Nelson Mandela).

Anthropology – individualism, collectivism or communitarianism

A conservative blog for peace quotes, with apparent approval, an article that denounces communitarians as boring, bossy and fascist.

The mind boggles!

When I hear the word “communitarian” the first person who springs to mind is Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement, and anyone less boring, bossy and fascist I cannot imagine.

What is communitarianism?

To quote the Catholic Worker movement

We are working for the Communitarian revolution to oppose both the rugged individualism of the capitalist era, and the collectivism of the Communist revolution. We are working for the Personalist revolution because we believe in the dignity of man, the temple of the Holy Ghost, so beloved by God that He sent His son to take upon Himself our sins and die an ignominious and disgraceful death for us. We are Personalists because we believe that man , a person, a creature of body and soul, is greater than the State, of which as an individual he is a part. We are personalists because we oppose the vesting of all authority in the hands of the state instead of in the hands of Christ the King. We are Personalists because we believe in free will, and not in the economic determinism of the Communist philosophy.

If one sets aside the rather overblown rhetoric, this is not all that much different from the Zulu proverb frequently quoted as an example of ubuntu: “umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu” — a person is a person because of people.

There have been a few reported cases of children who have been separated from their parents at an early age, and raised by wild animals, but in spite of the romantic legend of Romulus and Remus, such children usually find it very difficult to relate to other human beings, and are very deficient in personal development.

This is also similar to Orthodox anthropology — see, for example, the following books, passim:

  • Vlachos, Hierotheos. 1999. The person in the Orthodox tradition. Nafpaktos: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery. ISBN: 960-7070-40-2
  • Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. ISBN: 0-88141-028-4


Dorothy Day -- advocate of communitarianism

Dorothy Day — advocate of communitarianism

The young fogey often advocates libertarianism, as does the author he quotes. As far as I have been able to ascertain, libertarianism is liberalism on steroids, and libertarians are liberals with attitude. In other words, libertarians have turned liberalism from a political idea for governing a country into an ideology and a complete worldview. I must admit, however, that Stanley Fish has attempted to turn liberalism into such an ideology. Even though I can see what he is getting at, I am in fundamental disagreement with his thesis.

Liberals tend to see things in terms of practical politics, rather than a complete worldview. I was, briefly, a member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, at a time when its vision of a nonracial democratic South Africa was under extreme pressure from the government of the day. The Liberal Party had members of just about every racial and religious group in South Africa. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans and Secular Humanists joined together in a common enterprise. Their theology and their anthropology, their understandings of human nature, may have been very different, but in spite of the differences, they were able to join in a common political vision of the kind of society they wanted South Africa to be — with freedom, justice, the rule of law, and a nonracial democracy in which all citizens would have a say in the government of the country.

Libertaranism, on the other hand, if I have correctly understood the article cited by the Young Fogey, seeks to impose a much wider worldview, and one that, as far as I can see, is essentially antithetical to a Christian one, in many ways as much so as the Communist worldview. It is based on a view of man that is fundamentally at odds with Orthodox Christian anthropology.

As Christians we have a model, the Holy Trinity, which is neither individualist nor collectivist. The persons of the Holy Trinity are neither three individuals, nor a collective. But libertarianism begins to look like a heresy.

A conservative blog for peace

I blogged this so I can find it again, and look at it a bit more closely. It’s not what it seems.

A conservative blog for peace

But then liberals in a free society are conservatives too, because they have a vested interest in conserving freedom.

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