Libertarianism: the Gospel of Death
Libertarianism underpins both Conservative and Liberal ideology in the United States. The former advances an economic libertarianism and the latter a social libertarianism.
Both Republicans and Democrats share this belief in individual autonomy: that human beings are islands, that our private decisions don't impact others, that the "self made man" is actually possible.
The market is the buying and selling of goods and commodities. Goods and commodities that are ultimately the product of human work. So if I say that there should be no regulation of the market I'm ultimately saying that there should be no restraint on my ability to use my body however I want.
The conservative political-economic position that the market should be free from regulation and that government should have little to no influence in the economy is just as much a proclamation of "my body, my choice” as the liberal position that the government should have little to no say regarding abortion.
But this belief is ultimately false. It doesn’t match the reality of human experience.
Human beings are radically dependent. I didn't bring myself into existence. I didn't nurture myself. I didn't educate myself. And, as the pandemic made clear, human beings cannot truly thrive in isolation.
Further, living in a modern society means I'm benefiting from the work of others, past and present. Things like roads and utilities funded by taxpayers or the innovations of past creators and entrepreneurs.
From this it's clear that simply by existing and living I owe debts to the community that I cannot pay back. I am not an island. I am responsible for so much more than my own happiness and well being. And if you extrapolate that out to everyone then it's clear that everyone is responsible for everyone.
So it's not even just that human beings are radically dependent, but we are radically interdependent. Simply by existing I owe a debt to the human community and simply by existing the human community owes a debt to me.
In other words, the right to private property and the right to bodily autonomy both come with social responsibilities, responsibilities Americans are all too willing to dismiss. And by not taking those responsibilities seriously we have created a culture of death:
“Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. Ultimately, ‘persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly’” (Fratelli Tutti 18).
We know this even without the light of Revelation, but Scripture and Tradition make it explicit.
Human beings are made in the image and likeness of a Triune Community, not an isolated individual. We are made by a God who describes himself as Lover, Beloved, and Love Exchanged. Thus the Church proclaims:
“Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except ‘in the sincere gift of self to others’. Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons: ‘I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others’. No one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love.” (Fratelli Tuttti 87)
Sin tempts us to individualism, to think we don’t need others or that all we need to be concerned about are “me and my own.”
God has always warned his people against this temptation by revealing to us that even our most private actions have social consequences and that even our salvation hinges on our preferential treatment of the most vulnerable.
With that in mind, I find Michael Sean Winters’ new article compelling. He concludes:
“The libertarianism of the upper middle class, on both the left and the right, is fortified by their money. It will not be moved.
It is difficult not to feel disgusted at pro-lifers who are willing to look the other way at the Republican party's embrace of anti-democratic, proto-fascist, downright crazy ideas. No one should feel morally dirty for voting against the GOP this year.
But, voting for a Democratic Party that is increasingly defined by its devotion to abortion-on-demand at all stages of pregnancy poses a different but unmistakable moral conundrum for a serious Catholic: If libertarianism, not solidarity, is the defining principle of the Democratic party, is it a party with which we want to be associated?”