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What The Question Isn’t: Can A Catholic Be A Libertarian?

Unknown artists. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1885.Can someone be an unapologetic member of the Catholic Church and a proud member of the Libertarian Party at the same time? One is a faith with a strong moral code and high expectations for individuals and societies, the other is a political party which is for liberty across the board and for government only big enough to protect us from aggression and fraud.

There are, after all, many who say these two philosophies are contradictory, that it is impossible to be both, that to do so borders on scandal. See, for example, the Washington Post column Can you be Catholic and Libertarian?, as well as the National Catholic Report piece on Catholicism and Libertarianism Clash Over Property and the Common Good and Catholics Divided on Libertarianism as ‘Heresy’ on the Blaze site.

Moreover there are occasional, impassioned discussions at the Catholic Answers Forums and occasional blog posts both ways around the web such as Can Catholicism and Libertarianism Co-Exist? and Catholic and Libertarian? Cardinal Says They’re Incompatible. This is Why He’s Wrong. The problem with many of these, though, is that they are answering a flawed question. The real question is not can you be a Catholic and a Libertarian, the real question is how can a Catholic be anything else?

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On Confirmation

It turns out there is always hope.

The country seems to be in quite a mess. It appears to be headed for impossible, socialist-style spending with a leader who thinks that’s his birthright and a people who know and just don’t care. The executive branch is attacking the First, Second and Fourteenth Amendments and if people’s paychecks weren’t being cut most folks would be just fine. The culture is not just leaving Christ behind, but seems to have him fading away in the rear-view mirror as it travels quickly who knows where. Ego rules, humility is forgotten, and as a direct result everyone is unhappy and they don’t even know why.

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On Socialism

Socialism is defined by Dictionary.com as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”  Put into more practical terms, it means that the government owns or runs industry and services that it need not own or run because of a belief that it can best provide for the welfare of the people.

Everyone can certainly agree that the federal government must be in charge of some matters. Indeed in the United States that is exactly the purpose of the Constitution—it expressly specifies the powers and responsibilities of government, then in its Tenth Amendment the Constitution vests all remaining powers in the people and the States.  See here.

The question is how much the federal government should do when it has a power. For example, it is the federal government’s right and responsibility to regulate “commerce between the States” and “provide for the common Defense.”  See Article I, here.  Thus, while there were no airplanes flying over the founder’s heads as they ratified the Constitution, clearly Congress has a responsibility to pass necessary safety and commerce-related laws regarding air travel. Many countries, however, have national airlines where the passenger airlines in the United States are private. Does the federal government have the power to take over this section of the economy? Possibly.  Should it?  No.  To do so would clearly be a move from free enterprise and capitalism toward socialism, by any definition. And despite the roller-coaster nature of the airline industry as a business, this can be run by private enterprise.  And so it should.

Traditionally, of course, Europe is more socialist. Not only in fact but in name. In America to call something socialist has distinctly negative implications, while in Europe political parties take on the name socialist prominently and without shame. Quite apart from the connotation (how a word is thought of in a culture), it is sometimes important to take the denotation (the dictionary definition) and apply it. And thus the question: Is America slowly but steadily moving from capitalism toward socialism?  A Newsweek cover piece suggested we have been, and implied that it is not such a bad thing.  See here.  Looking back, the article was right in its first point, but remains profoundly wrong in its second.

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