Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Looking Back: Being a Catholic Libertarian

During my political and life journey I have met some fascinating people, and some very dodgy people. I have also met some very sincere people who challenge you and your beliefs either by direct opposition, or by quietly giving food for thought, making you go away rethink some of your views and beliefs. It is no sin to accept you were wrong and take a different path, which is maybe why I haven't slavishly followed one political party throughout my life.

One thing that has been  constant has been my Catholicism. There have been times in my life, especially in my rebellious youth, when I have doubted and at times I have turned my back on my Church. But in recent years I have been considering my faith much more deeply and been much more open to discussing it with others. In politics it is too easy to just tootle along to Mass on a Sunday and keep quiet the rest of the time. It's strange but peope who demand respect for most people in the world are very often the most abusive towards Christians. But I'm the kind of person, for good or ill, who will stand up and fight, especially when facing bigots, and many militant secularists are extremely bigotted. Which is why, in recent years, I have been much more open, overt, call it what you will about my Catholicism.

One of the people I met last year was a young libertarian called Alex Ellis Roswell . Alex is an admirable young chap and I believe he will have a successful and honourable future in politics. He is brave and intelligent but also extremely likeable and pleasant. He is just the kind of person politics needs. So when pondering a few things in the last few days, one being how sometimes older people read something and see what they want to read rather than what is actually written, Alex came to mind and a piece he asked me to write for his blog about my religious and political position.

It is interesting to sometimes look back and consider how things have or haven't changed. Below is the piece that Alex published on March 31 2011. I still regard myself as a libertarian, certainly Roman Catholic but am neither Chairman of the Libertarian Party now nor politically active as I was then:

I don’t want to use this piece to justify my belief in God, nor would I dream of lecturing people who do not believe or are agnostic, I prefer to leave that to theologians, philosophers and others who have devoted much more time and energy than I have to studying these things. What I hope to do here is to explain how I feel that being a Catholic sits easily with being a Libertarian. The following quote is from the Most Rev Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff:

If you simply try to enforce behaviour by law, it doesn’t work terribly well in practice. Governments can’t do everything, and there’s been a tendency in recent years to think government has to do everything. The downside of that is that people think ‘well, I don't have to bother.

That quote goes a long way to explaining how many people, not just libertarians, feel today about politics and the state, or rather the nanny state. Sadly many opponents of libertarianism claim that we just want a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world where the strong thrive and tough on the rest. That is not true. Libertarians merely believe that the state is not the best service provider and that we should provide the highest level of service we can. In other words, we want value for money. If we can provide a higher level of service, say in health care, by removing state control I would suggest that we have a moral duty to do that.

On the question of human behaviour I feel that Catholicism, indeed Christianity generally, provides a much more valuable guide to behaviour and personal morality than the state ever could. Whether or not people accept it today our laws are derived from our Judaeo-Christian heritage and without that our whole legal and moral framework would look radically different.

My behaviour is guided by my moral beliefs primarily, not because the state dictates how I should behave. If I can get away with speeding, without endangering others, I will, regardless of what the state says. The state would not stone me to death for being unfaithful to my wife, but I would never be unfaithful to my wife because of my moral beliefs.

The church teaches us to stand on our own two feet, to be industrious and look after ourselves and our families properly. Then look to the needs of your neighbour if he needs help and so on throughout your wider community. I would argue that the modern welfare state is the opposite of what Christianity teaches. It discourages industry, it encourages people to take money without earning it which belittles the efforts of others and diverts resources from where they are genuinely needed. Nobody with a shred of decency would argue against helping those in genuine need, to ignore those in genuine need is inhuman and unchristian. But there is a better way.

Charity is a great cornerstone of Christianity. There is nothing more worthy than men helping others who are in need or are less fortunate than themselves. Sadly, in the twenty-first century charity is a dirty word to many people. How often do you hear: “No, I don’t want to accept charity thank you very much”? But that same person will be accepting state benefits. Aren’t state benefits merely charity that has been nationalised? Isn’t the welfare state a massively expensive, wasteful and bureaucratic nationalised charity? Doesn’t today’s modern welfare state encourage people to ignore others, encourage the breakup of communities by taking away our need to help and support each other because we know the state will provide? I see an alternative, improved service to that which the state currently provides as a Christian necessity and imperative, not on the grounds of cost, but on the grounds of providing the most effective service to those in need.

One of the questions I’m asked frequently is how I reconcile my Catholic position on abortion with being a libertarian. As with any philosophy there could be a great debate about the libertarian position on abortion, so I can only answer for myself. I believe that life begins at conception therefore, as a libertarian as well as a Catholic, I believe that abortion is the initiation of violence against another human being and is wrong. It is also the reason why, over recent years, I have changed my view on capital punishment, it seemed a strange contradiction to support death for adults but oppose the killing of unborn children.

I have no doubt that debate will rage within the Catholic Church and within the libertarian movement, as long as those two entities exist and man can walk and talk, about what they actually mean and represent. These are merely the views of somebody who does believe in Catholicism but has had years doubting, and even disbelieving, only to eventually return to the Church. Once a Catholic always a Catholic maybe. But I am also a libertarian who has always been a libertarian, even when I couldn’t put the name ‘libertarian’ to my political ideas in the late ‘70s early ‘80s.

Knowing Catholics and libertarians as I do, I have no doubt there will be those who agree with me and others who disagree, but neither will be shy at responding, and I welcome that.

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