Catholic Social Teaching and Libertarian Economics

Tom Kelly comes back to the program to discuss his recent research on the relationship of Catholic Social Teaching to Libertarian economics.

Kelly is Professor of Theology at Creighton University.

One thought on “Catholic Social Teaching and Libertarian Economics

  1. Daniel

    I’m a Catholic Libertarian, and I disagree with your interpretations of the history of economic development, to put things mildly. More fundamentally, however, I think that a false dichotomy is being drawn. While it may be true that moral libertarianism is at odds with Catholic social teaching, libertarianism as a philosophy for government is not. To explain, the core of my belief in the necessity for liberal government rests in the recognition that individuals are possessed of free will, and that moral decisions must therefore be made by individuals. This isn’t to deny our condition as social beings, but it is to recognize that undue abridgment of the freedom to choose is itself an evil of the gravest sort. To see what I mean, consider Genesis: Adam and Eve were told not to eat the apple, but the apple remained there for them to eat if they so chose. Thus, the necessity that the will remain free is revealed to be so great a thing that God would sooner see Man lose his place in Heaven than lose his freedom. Indeed, this freedom the most fundamental thing about us, for in an otherwise mechanistic universe free will is the one thing that sets us apart from all else.

    When it comes to Catholic social teaching, then, I agree with what the Church says; I believe that we do have duties to our fellows, but I also believe that we must all choose for ourselves to honor these responsibilities. Morally, we are not free to do what we please, but moral actions, if the word moral is to have any meaning, assume the freedom exists to act immorally. Thus, if we turn to the powers of the state to enforce these morals, even to accomplish philanthropic social objectives, then we will not only be destroying the free choice of our fellows (even if it be the freedom to sin, for this too is fundamental), but we shall also be guilty of theft and coercion, and such action destroys any sense of personal responsibility to the poor and downtrodden, for their plight becomes no longer my concern, but rather something to be handled by some case worker from some government program.

    This deep, fundamental respect for personal freedom follows the teachings and example of Christ, who never turned to political methods to accomplish his aims or to enforce his will on his flock. Take the case of the adulteress, whom Christ commanded to sin no more, though he took no action to physically prevent her from breaking this command. Certainly Christ could have done so, (Satan even tempted Him by offering such power), but if one reads through the Gospels one will find that Jesus’ willingness to let people choose selfishness and sin is the only thing as ever-present as the preaching of the good news of the kingdom.

    We must therefore behave as Christ did; as a Catholic I will never cease by word or deed to persuade my neighbors that they should heed the social teachings of the Church and live in solidarity with one another, but out respect for them I recognize that they need to take that step on their own, and not at the point of a sword.


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