Catholic Philosopher Nate Schlueter on Libertarianism

A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Nate Schlueter regarding his work on Wendell Berry here at CV.  Nate has just published a thought-provoking essay (of course, everything Nate writes and says is thought provoking; it simply is who he is) dealing with the issue of libertarianism.  It is well worth reading.  Enjoy.



  • Joe M

    Thank you Brad. I find myself very much in agreement with Schlueter’s position. Of course, there is diversity of thought among libertarians. But, it does seem like many of them simply don’t have patience for trying to understand a nuanced society or complex international issues. Thus, the attraction to “neat solutions”.

  • Andrew

    I admit I’ve only skimmed over this article, due to a very tight schedule which has put me behind on my blog reading, and I intent to read it with much more depth later, but I wanted to put my two cents out here before I forget.

    Based on what I read, I really do not think I can agree with Mr. Schlueter’s arguments at all.

    For one, I think Schlueter commits one of the cardinal sins of scholarship and completely fails to adequately define his terms. “Conservative” and “libertarian” (and “liberal,” and all political labels) are nebulous words that attempt to cover a wide variety of political beliefs and those who hold them. If Schlueter is going to talk about them, he better define them, because neither his view of conservatism or libertarianism seems familiar to me, and I would identify myself as both.

    To say that “they” (or, “we”) fail at “protecting unborn children” is basically a lie, because there is no universal libertarian position. THIS very blog has lauded libertarians for their pro-life stance (“Newsflash to liberal writers: Libertarians can be pro-life”

    His arguments against the concept of individualism is, I think, misguided. His appeals to language about the “common good” strikes me as collectivist and is the same sort of appeal made by those aligned with some of the nastier political ideologies of the last century. Individuals ARE the most important unit – in the end we stand before our Maker and Judge as individuals. What we do as individuals count. God created each and every individual in his image, loves each one individually, and calls each one individually. Life is not a group project, and we don’t get a group grade.

    Having concern for the individual does not mean we aren’t team players – but political philosophers who are overly concerned with the collective group often throw the individual to the curb in the name of utilitarian (and morally abhorrent) ends.

    Lastly, I think Libertarianism is FIRMLY in line with Church teaching on solidarity, and a easy philosophy for Catholics to embrace after the horrors perpetrated against us and others by all sorts of governments both now and in the past century.

    Here is a response to Schlueter’s article and another artile discussing Catholic Libertarians in general. I would like to see these links, or even a rebuttal, posted on this blog.

    “Why I am Not a Libertarian – A Libertarian Response”

    “6 Myths Catholics Tell About Libertarians”

  • Riley

    Irresponsible writing. Rand was an advocate of objectivism not libertarianism. The pro-life libertarian movement is substantial as evidenced by the fact that Ron Paul has been more consistently pro-life than Rick Santorum. Trying to attach all the most individualistic evils of capitalism to the only group in this country that believes in limited government is laughable.

  • Joseph

    Don’t forget the follow-up:

    • Marsha

      Thank-you Joseph for providing the link.

  • Del Trotter

    Ayn Rand instead spent her time worhiphhing her own intellect and achievements. Humans do have a drive to suceed but God made us to be humble and generous with our success. He taught us not to scorn or hate the weak but to embrace them. This isn’t Communism, its LOVE. Mr. Buckley, an equally impressive intettectual, at least gave credit to God for his accomplishments.

    • CGG

      Objectivist libertarianism certainly has its flaws but the suggestion that conservatism is some type of representation of the fullness of the faith and American values is plainly dishonest, especially given the complete absence of conservative principles in the Tea Party or Republican establishment.

  • Del Trotter

    I think evaluating conservatism vs. libertarianism through two individuals speaks volumes about each ideology. William F. Buckley Jr. weighing in for conservatism was a devoutly religious Catholic. Libertarian heavy weight Ayn Rand, on the other hand, was a fierce athiest. Conservatism seeks to promote wholesome morality whereas libertarianism advocates selfish self-seeking satisfaction. It is little wonder that Buckley was Catholic and Rand rejected God. His conservatism sprouted from his faith in something greater, Someone higher. Her beliefs seeped from a notion that the self is the highest power. The difference is clear. Guess which one is better for the soul AND the country…

    • Marsha

      Ayn Rand chose not to depend on faith (something unprovable) but rather on data (truth: that which is provable.) She believed that allowing individuals to achieve all that they could was the highest calling for humankind. She did not spend her time worshiping that which is unprovable. She upheld individual achievement, achievement that moved all of humankind forward. She believed that if God actually did exist that this would be exactly what God would want us to do and in fact, what God designed us to do.

      • Del Trotter

        “She did not spend her time worshipping that which is unprovable.” No, instead she worshipped her own intellect and achievements. God designed us to be humble and generous in sharing with our fellow man. Government coerced charity is wrong but free-will offerings are part of what makes human nature laudable. Rand used the human drive to suceed and perverted it to exclude the weak. Catholics are called to embrace weakness and reach out to the less fortunate. That isn’t Communism its Love. Buckley was also an intellect of great esteem and while not sheepishly humble he acknowledged that even he was small compared to God.

      • David K

        So tell me, is Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism “proveable”?

    • Martial Artist

      Mr. Trotter,

      In the first instance, Mr. Birzer’s argument consists predominantly of broad generalizations. Examples:

      •The “claim, made by F. A. Hayek,” that “Conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them,” is simply false as applied to American conservatism.” But where does young Mr. Schlueter enumerate anything more than very broad principles from the Declaration (I would suggest that they are not simply broad, but vague). Hayek described himself not as a Libertarian (nor even a libertarian), declaring it an invented neologism, but as an Old Whig, an explicit reference to Burke’s An Appeal from the New, to the Old Whigs (1791). Burke was one of the guiding lights to whom the Founders referred.

      • In a reference to the Preamble to the Constitution, “to…establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, etc.” In Schlueter’s world by what principle, or set of principles, are we to determine what constitutes “justice,” what is the nature of governmental legislation and regulations which “promote the general welfare?” What actions are required to “secure the blessings of liberty…?” and who gets to decide the answers to those questions. We are, hence, back at the first bullet above. Who determines the answers to these questions, individuals acting within a framework of clearly stated principles, or government bureaucrats acting in accordance with their own internal moral compasses (presuming they have such compasses)?

      • “the harm principle is not neutral, etc.. Again, who decides. Clearly, as a libertarian Catholic, I do not consider a child capable of deciding what is harmful—the child generally lacks sufficient life experience, wisdom and maturity to perform such a calculation. And I would disagree with Schlueter that the principle is neither self-evident nor demonstrably true, particularly when applied to adults. This is self-evidently just as subjective as are his proffered standards taken from the Declaration.

      But rather than belabor the point, let Schlueter offer a reasonably complete set of principles for adoption by the community, and then we may have something to discuss. In the meanwhile, his current offering proffers nothing susceptible of reasoned analysis, because it is so much subjective fluff.

      And, please pardon me for making the obvious observation, Rand was not a libertarian, she was a self-described “Objectivist,” who denied that those things which could not be objectively identified and, where appropriate, measured, were meaningless. She is hardly a reasonable choice as a representative of libertarianism, unless you restrict the discussion to members of the political party which labels itself Libertarian.

      I am afraid that Mr. Schlueter has failed to make any sort of coherent case either that his definition of what is libertarian is accurate, or that his ideas of what constitutes conservatism offers any sort of solution to the political and economic situation in which we find ourselves today. After all, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum all self-identify as “conservative.” Yet the former two have no problem with an unconstitutionally intrusive government-mandated, if not government-run, healthcare. And the latter candidate publicly boasts on Fox TV about a consistent record of voting for funding of Planned Parenthood in order to provide contraceptives (many of which are not truly contraceptive, but rather abortifacient) at taxpayer expense. Perhaps you, or Mr. Schlueter, can explain to me how any of those positions differ from Mr. Obama, who is neither a conservative nor a libertarian in anyone’s book.

      Pax et bonum,
      Keith Töpfer

    • Alex

      Ayn Rand is not the flag bearer for libertarianism. If you have assumed this, I beg you to reconsider. I am a devoted practicing Catholic and a fierce libertarian, and I write a blog that shows the parallels between Catholic doctrine and libertarian principles and ideals. Please take a gander, and bring an open mind.

      • MLF

        I was going to say something akin to this. Certainly in terms of the American versions of each of these ‘-isms’. Conservatism in American politics has become very ‘us versus them’, illegal immigration is a perfect example. It has also become very hypocritical in terms of ‘haves and have nots’, taking a very Protestant view of wealth being a measure of God’s favor. Conservatism may pay lip service to many Catholic ideals but the real proof is in the actions taken or not taken and in the effort and efficiency of those actions. Abortion is widely used as a topic to gather the perennial votes, yet nothing is ever really done about it nor are the efforts targeted where they ought to be…ala gay rights. Twenty five years ago the homosexuals began to go into law in larger and larger numbers, they went into the arts and media as well. Why? Because that is how change is affected in the US and they did their homework. Conservatives, meanwhile repeatedly staged protests at clinics, which they very early on knew was not gaining any media leverage. Instead of reworking the approach and ‘infiltrating’ the mediums that produce change in America – law and media, they continue to bang their head against the wall. One wonders if the Conservatives are not happy with the status quo.

        Libertarianism American style is essentially saying give each individual free will. dangerous? Potentially, yes but at this point in history much less so than rules made by politicians and the media. What we now get is a see-saw of extremes as each end, liberal or conservative, wins an election. A flurry of Executive Orders and legislation to please whatever contributor needs to be kept happy.

        In it’s theoretical form Libertarianism may be bad, but then theoretically Conservatism might be good too. Neither is in a theoretical state in this country right now and the actual state of things is not likely to mirror Catholic Christianity under Conservatives and definitely not under the Liberals.

        As far as Wm F. Buckley is concerned he never came across as under-awed by his own cleverness; he was an East Coast blue blood all the way.



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