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Christianity and Libertarians, the Republic, and the Consent of the Governed

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed Declaration of Independence

The last few months I’ve seen some strident statements of opposition against libertarians by conservatives.  I’m on several email lists where I’m seeing such commentary and of course its on the web, as in this example.  I personally didn’t detect a huge uptick in libertarian sentiment, but alright.  I describe myself as a ‘constitutional libertarian’ and in explaining why I hope that I can shed light on what I believe are the true reasons for a rise in libertarianism- among Christians in particular.  I can’t speak for them all, of course, but I think I recognize in some of their commentary some of my own thinking.

So, to begin with, let me make two important observations.  First of all, when one thinks ‘libertarian’ one might immediately think licentious.   However, the two are not identical terms.  This leads to the second observation, the direction by which one arrives at libertarianism greatly impacts the flavor of that libertarianism.  There can be no question that there are a great mass of individuals, who calling themselves libertarians, really are just people who wish to engage in whatever depravity that they want, with no one to tell them otherwise or worse- stop them.  By my observation, the people coming from this direction are really your typical atheist secular humanist progressive who is perfectly happy to foist as much government as people can bear onto themselves and others- in the form of nationalized health care, eg- just so long as they can have sex with whatever and whomever they want and smoke whatever happens to come across their path.

However, someone coming at ‘libertarianism’ from the other direction, say, from a Christian perspective and a conservative, is not looking for a reason to misbehave.  This is why I led off with the John Adams quote.  ‘Moral and religious people’ will continue to be ‘moral and religious’ whatever freedoms or restrictions are placed on them by the government.  I might say:  “Libertarianism was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the [government] of any other.”  There are any number of forms of government that can work with a ‘moral and religious people.’  For an amoral or immoral or anti-moral or non-religious or anti-religious people, no kind of government is going to work for the long haul.

So, this leads to another important observation which I think is critical in fueling the push towards Christian conservatives leaning libertarian:  it is clear that the form of government we have at present is chock full of the secular humanists, progressives, etc, etc.  They didn’t elect themselves.  They were voted in by a mass of Americans who saw no harm in that worldview, or worse, didn’t even think it was relevant.  Once elected, folks like this appointed other like minded individuals, and these folks tend to stay on in government in one way or another, no matter who is in the White House.  In short, John Adams didn’t mean only that the populace needed to be ‘moral and religious’ but also those in the government.  In his day as in ours, the latter draws from the former;  therein lies our current predicament.

Unfortunately, this is as often true of our Republican representatives as the liberal ones.

But I said that I was a ‘Constitutional-libertarian.’  Aren’t the Republicans supposed to be gangbusters about the Constitution?  Why shouldn’t I just be a Republican?

As it happens, there are two basic kinds of Republicans.  There are the ‘limited government’ sort, who believe that the government shouldn’t go further (or very far from) what is laid out in the Constitution.  If I could count on Republicans to carry that out consistently, I might be one today.  But there is another kind of Republican.  This one we often dismiss as a RINO, or a Republican in Name Only, but in point of fact, this person also abides by the Constitution.   No, really.

Let’s take an example:  Mitt Romney.  Here is a man who is a man who put Massachusetts under the thumb of Romney-Care, a close precursor to Obama-Care.  His justification for why this was an ok thing for a Republican governor to do?   Many claim that Obama-Care is unconstitutional but Romney-Care gets a pass, and Romney defends it.  Why?

the judge clearly explained that Mitt Romney’s health care did not violate Federal or State constitutional principle because a state can regulate health care on the basis of a state’s police power. Link

And strictly speaking, the judge is correct.  Romney is correct.  Under the auspices of the state, one has all sorts of flexibility in heaping on layers and layers of government.  So, Romney is able to walk around taking the name of Republican- rightly- because he acted within the parameters of his state’s and the federal Constitution.   Do you see the missing ingredient?

A Republican like Romney doesn’t really buy into the whole ‘limited government’ thing.  If a particular measure or activity is not specifically precluded from the Constitution (as interpreted by the Supreme Court), they don’t see anything really wrong with it.  Why, they’re perfectly happy to go along with it, provided it is done so ‘responsibly,’ that is, it doesn’t put us into huge amounts of debt.

Take away the Constitutional part, and I’m sure that loads of Republicans could go along with ObamaCare- they may have to, since they’re also willing to accept the premise that the Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means.

Thus, I don’t feel like merely calling myself a Constitutionalist is sufficient.  I add the ‘libertarian’ modifier in order to make clear the principle that I believe was shared by the founders.  They believed that people ought to be free and the government at all levels ought to mind its own dang business by and large but if there was an extremely compelling reason for the majority to inflict its will on the minority, there would at least be a process that would protect the minority’s rights.   Certainly, times change, and new circumstances manifest that weren’t dreamed of by the framers, but they built into the Constitution a way to handle such things that makes a great deal of sense to me today- not that anyone these days actually uses those mechanisms.  They’re just as likely to ram it through to the Supreme Court, bypassing the legislative branch altogether, ala Roe vs. Wade.

We are now so far away from the Constitution- including at the hands of Republicans- that it is hard to see how we can make our way back.  I think this is what people are seeing.  Christian conservatives are coming to this conclusion, if they haven’t already.  The ‘limited government’ Republicans sell them down the river all day long and the pool of available freedoms grows shallower every day.  Where does one turn?  Self-preservation.

A very common criticism of ‘libertarianism’ is that it essentially reduces to, “And everyone did as they saw fit.”  Judges 21:25.  This passage notes that this was in the days when Israel had no king.  The implication of this line of argument is that apparently ‘government’ is the great plan of God- there must have been something awfully wrong with the anarchists in ancient Judea!  There was!  They were not ‘moral and religious’!

Those who argue in this fashion forget two extremely critical points:  1., the people in Israel during the time of the Judges were living under a system of governance that was established by God.  It was not anarchy at all, but theocracy.  Everyone did as they saw fit, but they ought to have done as God saw fit.  Judging from the very loose human governance imposed by God on the Israelites at the time, one may guess that God didn’t think as highly of the need for ‘big’ government.   But there is a second point to add to this one:  2., when finally the Israelites demanded a King, God was really, really, really, really, really, really mad.

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel;  so he prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD told him:  ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you;  it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.'” 1 Samuel 8

Now, this is interesting to me, because many of those seeking the continuation of the Republic, only on purer, ‘limited government’ lines, view the Libertarian casting off of the constraints of the Republic, as a violation of God’s plan for government (and one can see why, see Romans 13), but one might imagine the passage reading, “When they said to them, ‘Give us a president to lead us.’ … it is not you they have rejected, but me they have rejected as their president.'”  To the point:  government is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever- and I mean NEVER- to be deemed as God’s replacement on earth.  A steward, perhaps, but never a replacement.

Now, I have said all that to say this.

Let us say we do go back to the pure foundations of the Republic.  We cite Romans 13 and similar passages as all the more reason to dispense with notions of ‘anarchy’ (for that is what many think when they hear ‘libertarianism’) and attempt to reinvigorate the values of the founding fathers and the Constitution they erected.  What then do we find when we begin such a process?  This passage in the Declaration of Independence:

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Has anyone given any thought to the first section I bolded?  One of the values of our founders was that the government derives their just powers from the ‘consent of the governed.’  Does this jibe with Romans 13 which says that God has established all authorities?  So, Governments have their just powers from the consent of God, not the governed.  No?  In the book of Judges, did God rule through the judges by the ‘consent of the governed’?  When the monarchy was established, was this by the ‘consent of the governed’?  Quite the opposite!  (see 1 Samuel 8:10-18) And the second section I bolded raises issues that need little elaboration.

Now, as it happens, I am inclined to believe that it is possible to reconcile these statements from the Declaration of Independence with Biblical principles.  Indeed, it is because I take them very seriously that I feel like I need to add the modifier ‘libertarian’ to my self-label.

Do you know why libertarians from the right are ostensibly on the rise?  It is simply because of this:  on a grand level, individual by individual, moment by moment, imperceptibly, but definitely, people are removing their consent from this present government.

They are doing this unconsciously.  It isn’t a deliberate decision.  It is a movement along a spectrum, and I don’t even think that they themselves know what they are doing.  But they are doing it.  Confusing the matter, they aren’t alone.  There are people of many diverse political and worldview stripes that likewise have decided (for different reasons, I’m sure) that they don’t like direction the ‘Republic’ has taken.

Now, as for those coming to Libertarianism from the left, I don’t think we need to dwell on them.  Nor should we conflate them with those who come to it from the right, for those that do are (I think) an entirely different animal, even if some of the positions look similar.

Say what you want about those coming from the left, but rather than chastising ‘libertarians’ coming from the right, we should be willing to recognize that they are merely exercising their rights as laid out by the framers.  They have read the writing on the wall, engraved deeper and deeper each time a new Congress enters session.  They are slowly and deliberately withdrawing their consent to be ruled by this corrupt and invasive political system.  By saying they are ‘libertarian’ they are only protecting themselves, essentially advocating for a position that says, “It looks like both sides are going to screw with me, rob me of my rights and fleece me of my wealth.   I don’t trust the lot of them to act morally or with religious virtue;  indeed, I expect the opposite.  Perhaps I can insulate myself and my family from their overreach by urging them to leave me the heck alone in these areas…”

No one is disputing that this would only ‘work’ if lived out by those with a working moral compass.  Likewise, the Republic.   The difference is that there is no chance that the Republic can be restored.  The clutching at libertarianism is a stop-gap position before the consent is fully and finally withdrawn (many decades from now, I expect) and the second section of the Declaration of Independence that I bolded above becomes the next, natural step.

In the meantime, we may wish to take the positions of ‘Christian’ ‘libertarians’ seriously and acknowledge that they have legitimate grievances.  Indeed, it may be that the ‘Christian Libertarian’ is exactly the same as your standard genuine limited government Christian conservative Constitutionalist- the only difference being in outlook.  The latter believes a restoration to our founding principles is desirable and possible, while the former also believes that a return to our founding principles is desirable… but as for possible?  Not so much.