Editor’s note: this is part of the postliberal conversation at OnePeterFive, in which we discuss and debate how to rebuild Christendom against the Liberal disorder. If you would like to add a submission to this conversation, please email us at editor [at] onepeterfive.com.
Perhaps you are aware of a recent collegial debate I have been engaged in with my confreres Flanders and Bannister, on the topic of Libertarianism and the Catholic faith. It has been fun, but it has also been a bit exhausting, as arguing for some form or methodological use of Libertarianism in a traditional Catholic setting is an uphill battle – to say the least.
That being said, it is not my intention to convince or convert anyone to my point of view, and, as I write on these topics essentially as a hobby, it is unlikely I will be responding to any critiques or willing to engage in any lengthy debates on the subject. If it is your desire to go on about how Kennedy Hall has somehow ‘become a Liberal’ or something of the sort, I believe there are telegram groups and reddit forums where you can commiserate with fellow malcontents.
In the meantime, let it be known that I accept and hold dear every single dogma of the Catholic faith that is required of every Catholic. And, if anyone denies this because of my approach to the practical application of politics, I invite you to reconsider your potentially rash judgement out of fraternal charity for a fellow Catholic.
I believe that something like an FAQ or Q&A format is best suited to this sort of endeavour, thus I have formulated it as such.
Let us define terms
Okay, now that the legal preamble is out of the way, I think it is useful that we define terms in order that we are not speaking past each other with conflicting definitions that only take us in circles.
First, what do I mean by Monarchy?
This FAQ about Monarchy as such is my personal favourite, and is written by OnePeterFive contributing editor, Charles Coulombe (an author so honourable that he even spells honour with a ‘u’). Although Mr. Coulombe does not answer the question “what is the definition of Monarchy” directly, I believe he answers all normative objections to the ancient institution in order to give a complete picture.
In essence, a Monarchy – as far as I understand it – is a form of government wherein a sovereign leader enjoys an office of influence and authority over the temporal realm, which is usually earned through merit and passed on through hereditary means.
That is how I understand the institution, and that is what I am referring to when I discuss the matter. If you disagree, well, you disagree and that is that.
Second, what do I mean by Libertarian?
This is perhaps a bit more difficult to define, as there are as many ideas about Libertarianism as there are Libertarians – which I am sure is one of the primary objections that my integralist and corporatist-minded critics have. Fair enough.
At any rate, as far as I understand the political persuasion, it is an application of political and economic philosophy that holds dear the natural rights of citizens, with special emphasis put on strictly defined use of state authority and protection of private property, along with little to no overt intervention in economics beyond the enforcement of laws against fraud and theft.
Again, you may disagree with my definition, and that is your own affair.
How are Libertarians not Liberals?
Well, how is anyone not a Liberal? Someone is not a Liberal if they are not a Liberal, it is really that simple. We might also ask, how are Monarchs not Tyrants? To which the answer would be – a Monarch is not a Tyrant if he is not a Tyrant.
In addition, I cannot speak for other Libertarians anymore than I can speak for other Catholics. Please do not ask me to speak for Father James Martin or Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, anymore than you would ask me to speak for some ridiculous parody of Libertarianism who believes that the political philosophy was created so that perverts could be free to be perverts in a public setting; I have no common cause with morons of any persuasion.
But I do think it would be useful to discuss the term Liberal here for a moment, as words are funny things in that different people use them differently.
There is of course a condemnable Liberalism, which I think is best illustrated in Liberalism is a Sin, and in Lefebvre’s masterpiece They Have Uncrowned Him. So far as the Church condemns Liberalism, she condemns Liberalism as a false philosophy which seeks to “liberate” the temporal order from the dominion of God and subordinate it to man. In other words, Liberalism is secularist politics, economics, and social morality.
I condemn this Liberalism just as the Church condemns this hubris.
That being said, the use of the term “liberal” (small “l”) refers as much to temperament and societal persuasion as it does political and religious philosophy. We of course do not think that the “Liberal arts” suffer from Liberalism, any more than we believe that for a man to be “liberal with his opinion” necessarily means that a man must have Liberal opinions.
There are people and peoples who tend to lean towards a “liberal” approach to governance insofar as they view their fellow citizens as big boys and girls who can put on their own pants and handle their own affairs quite well, and thus should be allowed to do so as much as possible without interference.
Ironically, if we take a look at various Monarchies of the past, we find the application of this liberal temperament to be more common than not – think of the Magna Carta affair, for example. There is a reason why Hilaire Belloc could stand shoulder to shoulder with members of the (then) Liberal Party, while at the same time spending his literary life bashing the Liberal philosophical mindset – he was a man of liberal temperament but not Liberal Religion.
But many of the Libertarian thinkers were Liberal philosophical!
Yes, you are correct, just as there are many Catholic Bishops who are Liberal philosophically. By this logic, we should condemn their religion just because they understand it badly, just as Libertarianism is condemned because some of the thinkers contain errors in their thinking.
Now, you may protest that it is not an apt comparison because Christ promised that what is Divine about the Church would not be corrupted, so it is not fair to compare an earthly philosophy with a Church and Religion established by God.
You are right, I would not suggest that Libertarianism was ever promised to be free from error by God, and I would never view the thinkers of the political school as I would the Fathers and Saints of the Church. It is because it is an earthly philosophy that I expect to find errors in both the ideas and the men behind the ideas, and therefore am not troubled when I do.
If I cannot look at a collection of thought and take what is good and leave what is bad, then I am failing to do what our fathers in the faith have done for many centuries with non-Catholic works and philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.
But the Libertarian philosophical tradition is against the entire Catholic theological and philosophical tradition!
I have heard this objection before, and it is perhaps the weakest in my opinion. Which Catholic theological and philosophical tradition are we referring to?
Augustine’s? Bonaventure’s? Thomas’s? Loyola’s? Von Hildebrand’s?
There is a reason that the Church has dogmas, which are different than principles.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The Church was established by Christ and guards the Deposit of Faith and provides a stewardship through her Princes and Prelates who illuminate and clarify as Grace perfects our fallen nature.
I view all philosophies through the heavenly lens of dogma, and do not expect to find a totality of truth outside of the Fullness of Truth.
Was Augustine a Neoplatonist? Surely. Does this mean that he held to the same religious errors of Plato? Of course not.
Was Thomas an Aristotelian? Yes of course. Was Thomas a Thomist?
Again, we would not call Thomas a pagan because he studied a pagan, anymore than we would call a man an atheist because he studied what an atheist wrote.
I have been told that because Locke – who was surely not void of errors – is cited by Libertarians, that therefore you must naturally subscribe to all of Locke’s errors if you say you are a Libertarian.
You may as well say that if you are an American lawyer, you must be a Lockian in order to defend the natural rights of a Catholic in America because the Constitution was inspired in part by Locke. Or perhaps you could recognize truth where it is recognizable, where it is found even in men like Locke, who were intelligent enough to be correct about certain things.
We could also say that anyone who supported what was good about the Donald was therefore a Trumpian.
I have read citations in Libertarian literature that come from men like Locke, and many have been objectively correct when referring to the subject in question. I also attended an anti-lockdown demonstration a while back – at some point within these ‘two weeks to slow the spread’—where one of the speakers was a Protestant minister. He gave an excellent speech on the Kingship of Christ and how and why it ought to be recognized in Canada. He quoted Magna Carta and King Alfred the Great. I have never heard a Canadian bishop speak so forthrightly and boldly about what amounts to a Catholic truth.
He was of course a Protestant, therefore a heretic, but he was in fact correct about religious and political truth. For all I know he might have also been a disciple of Locke or Hobbes, or Calvin or Zwingli, but I cannot pretend that he was not correct and not in fact a political ally as a fellow Canadian who hated Marxism.
Well and good, but what is it about Libertarianism that you see as useful as a Catholic?
Personally, I agree with the Libertarians when they criticize the modern state as it has become something of a Leviathan. If one reads their literature closely, you will notice that the critiques of the State tend to begin with the changes in how states tended to operate, starting in the 1500’s or so. I too criticize the changes in statism that have taken root since then, especially as the Protestant Revolt perverted the distinct yet unique union between Church and State and gave us the heresy of the Divine Right of Kings.
Since that era, we have seen an undulating up and down of revolution and authoritarianism as the whole temporal order has been made topsy turvy. There are of course many reasons why this is the case, and I cannot discuss them here.
In my opinion, the modern state is a Cancerous Tumour, and it is replicating and destroying the host. It is not that the cells that make up the tumour are inherently evil, or that the replication of cells is by nature an evil thing. It is more that the replication has become exponential, useless, and imbalanced. We cannot reason with the tumour, and we cannot cure it – it must be removed.
In addition, we must recognize that we live in a Cancerous Age, and therefore that we are predisposed to such ailments. Even the best of us can contribute to the illness that has destroyed any dignity that was once found in the states of Christendom, and those structures are being used to oppress us. I believe the checks and balances of Libertarianism are practical and can actually be applied to the current state of affairs, and many of them should be put in place.
Like the nuclear bomb, we would all be better off if the thing that threatens us all was never created, and it should be dismantled – this is not to say that arms and weapons are evil, but simply that a line has been crossed, and we have to reconcile with that fact.
This is just a natural solution to what amounts to a spiritual problem
We should all be putting on sackcloth and ashes in some way and must recognize that we have been given the rulers and governments we deserve because of our great sinfulness – this is true.
But let me ask you, if an intruder came into your home and abducted your children, would you say to yourself, “well since this is a question of evil, it is really a spiritual and metaphysical issue, I guess I will just pray this away!”
No, you would use every natural means you could, and you would retrieve your children come hell or high water, and then you would put every measure in place to ensure the safety of your children in the future. It would also be possible – and laudable – to pray for your enemies and pray for protection, and to become more holy; it is not a matter of either/or.
Currently, the state in my country is among the most wicked in history, as far as I can tell, and it must be checked. Again, we probably deserve it, but we must also sensibly fight against it in any way that we can.
You can’t possibly think that the Libertarian Party is reconcilable with Catholicism or morality, look at what they stand for!
I am not American, so I couldn’t care less what an American political party does as far as my life is concerned. But I will say, from my conversations with serious American Libertarians, they all view the Libertarian Party as a group of unserious reprobates – not unlike the Republican Party, which is full of… saints?
In addition, most activity on behalf of Libertarian parties in the political system is compromised by a Civil Libertarianism, which is nothing more than a Libertinism, which is to say political hedonism.
There are however men who have been champions of a way of life that is more useful and fruitful for your life as a Catholic than most in the GOP. I would not call Ron Paul or Rand Paul or Thomas Massie a Libertine, but I would call them Libertarian, and I would call them heroic.
Okay, but how does Monarchy fit in?
Well, firstly I am a Monarchist in my bones. I love the traditions, the ceremony and the kingliness of the whole affair. In addition, you will find that it is not uncommon for serious Libertarians to advocate for Monarchy as the most efficient and practical method of ensuring a just state.
Monarchs historically have little power or authority over the personal lives of citizens, and even the most tyrannically Monarch of the past could not do with an entire army what Justin Trudeau can do with a TikTok video.
Monarchs are historically self-starters, and self-funded, and they prove themselves to be competent or face ridicule and rebellion from a citizenry and a Church that holds them to account. They are also undemocratic, which means even with a bad Monarch you are dealing with one madman, rather than one million madmen who vote in an even worse man.
Furthermore, as I am a Libertarian, I expect that whoever holds a position on which I depend ought to be competent. The aspect of the ‘family business’ seems reasonable to me in ensuring that Monarchs will be relatively competent, just as I would expect the son of a mechanic who was trained as a mechanic his whole life would be good at plying his trade. He would certainly be better than any joker who gained a position because of a popularity contest.
Besides, what do you think a Catholic Monarchy would look like in a healthy society in a Christian age?
Would there be a Public Health department telling you to sanitize and mask-up? A Public Education department? Standing army funded by income tax? Would there even be income tax?
Would working men be regulated out of their ability to open up shop? Surely there would be no public libraries with drag queen story hours.
There would likely be no floundering fiat currency, or Crony Capitalist nepotism in a government that can take away your money with an edict.
I think you can see where I am going with this. The fact is, a Libertarian society would not be so different from what you have imagined of a Catholic Monarchical society.
You may retort that none of this would happen in a truly Catholic society. It did happen in a truly Catholic society, nay in many of them. Look at Western Europe, or Latin America, or Quebec. As the people lost the faith, the Marxists used the mechanism that existed to oppress all that was good and true in those places. Just because we are Catholic does not mean we can’t become devils or that our societies won’t become devilish.
Fair enough, but how could a Libertarian Monarchy be Catholic if Libertarianism does not espouse Catholicism or the Kingship of Christ?
How could any Monarchy be Catholic? The people are Catholic; therefore the rulers are Catholic, therefore the State governs with Catholicity.
In order for the State to be Catholic and to recognize Christ as King, the people will have to be converted over time – some massive Divine Manifestation notwithstanding.
So long as our Cancerous State continues to jab us with experimental meds, cover our faces with cloths, and make it illegal to tell your son he is in fact your little boy – this is now illegal in Canada under certain circumstances – we will be hard-pressed to even live legally as Catholics, let alone evangelize.
My hope, is that a Libertarian spirit – serious and well-read – takes root amongst my people, and that the Cancerous Tumour of Statism is removed so that we may live.
After this, I pray for a more stable form of governance like Monarchy, with checks and balances baked into the cake that recognize the terrible power the modern Monarch can wield.
It may seem like a pipe-dream, and you may be right. But, in the world of dreamers, there are those who try and make their dreams a reality, and those who simply dream them. From where I can tell, at least in my nation, it is the serious Libertarians who are actually organizing and moving towards something, whereas my traditional Catholic critics tend to spend most of their time lamenting my political associations with the philosophically ‘impure’ and non-Catholic riff raff.
In the meantime, I will find like-minded neighbours who are willing to march against the invading barbarians, and hopefully we can pray the Rosary together along the way.
Reading list for those curious about serious Libertarian thought
Nota bene: I am not putting forth these recommendations because they are “Catholic” even if some of the authors are Catholic. I am putting them forth because I believe they offer a serious and intellectual presentation of well-thought out political and economic philosophy from the Libertarian perspective.
There are statements in various works from the authors that one will disagree with of the qualitative nature when describing things like religion, however, I believe the economic and political ideas are useful.
In essence – don’t shoot the messenger if you read something that you disagree with.
- Democracy: The God that Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Hoppe is a very measured and learned thinker, very precise. He is an excellent historian and argues in this book that a monarchy is the best option for governance, even if deficiencies are probable. In addition, Hoppe deconstructs the classical liberal belief in the possibility of limited government. The historical insights are quite fascinating as well
- The Mises Reader compiled by Shawn Ritenour
A little-known fact about Mises is that he advised Christian Corporatist and Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. He was an ardent anti-Communist and anti-socialist. He was not Catholic, although some say he warmed up to the faith in his later years, but it does not seem like he ultimately converted. He is seen as one of the pioneers of Austrian Economics. His writings are painstakingly precise in a typical fashion of Germanic precision. It is not easy reading, and again you will find statements that you may disagree with, but his economic theory is fascinating and practical. People often criticize his works and ideas on economics, but often have only read critiques of his work, rather than reading it themselves.
- Leftism by Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
This book is a bit of a ‘magnum opus’ and offers a unique overview of the history of how we have received what we now call ‘Leftism.’ The author was a faithful Catholic and could read twenty languages and speak eight. He had an encyclopedic mind and offers a truly unique perspective on history and government.
Kennedy Hall is a contributing editor for OnePeterFive. He is the author Terror of Demons: Reclaiming Traditional Catholic Masculinity and Lockdown with the Devil, a novel published by Our Lady of Victory Press. He is a writer at Catholic Family News, LifeSiteNews and is the host of the Conservative talk-radio show, The Kennedy Report. He is married with four children and lives in Ontario, Canada.