What is Catholitarianism, you ask?
It is my own idiosyncratic word for a synthesis of Catholicism and libertarianism, which I believe is absolutely necessary at this point in American history.
Philosophically, the synthesis is all but complete already. It is Christianity alone that really sets forth the concept of free will and defends it as an article of faith. Upon the freedom of the will depends the very existence of morality itself. Many people today are debating the question whether or not one can be “good without God”; the more pressing question to me is how entirely determined beings without a single atom of genuine liberty can ever be considered morally responsible for anything they do. It ought to go without saying as well that a “libertarianism” that does not acknowledge the reality and significance of free will is a fraudulent ideology. Insofar as Catholicism is metaphysically libertarian, and libertarianism acknowledges that freedom is what bestows moral responsibility on human beings, there is a core fundamental agreement.
But what about morality? Doesn’t Catholicism prescribe a very specific and some might say rigid set of moral rules, while libertarianism prescribes nothing at all, declaring simply that you can do anything you like as long as you don’t “harm” anyone? This is a blog for readers who know the difference between serious discussion and the brandishing of childish stereotypes. Catholic morality is far more flexible than the average person, Catholic and non-Catholic, imagines; if it appears otherwise, it is because on those issues on which there can be no flexibility, such as the sanctity of innocent life, this morality will not budge a millimeter. Libertarianism is actually very similar, especially among those who adhere to the non-aggression principle. So both can appreciate the necessity of moral absolutes. I would argue that a non-theistic libertarianism, which, along with all other secular philosophies, cannot convincingly answer the question “why be moral?” is simply an irrational philosophy. But what about a non-libertarian Catholicism?
This brings me to politics. Catholic hostility to libertarianism comes in two main forms: statism and traditionalism. Those who identify themselves as liberal or conservative Catholics believe that either “social justice” or “social order”, respectively, depend upon an active government. Traditionalists identify libertarianism as a product of an anti-Catholic Enlightenment and point to numerous encyclicals condemning liberalism as a political theory, an economic theory, and a social ideal. These ideas can overlap as well.
And yet it is clear to me, especially after reading the political encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII, that libertarianism not only has a place in any discussion or debate about Catholicism and politics, but has a positive role to play. The reality we face is one in which the militant secularism of the state poses a direct threat to religious institutions in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This is not the first period in history in which militant secularism has threatened the Church. The French Revolution was one of the bloodiest examples. Pope Leo XIII himself led the Church at the time of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf. The Cristeros War in Mexico, the Spanish Civil War, and countless communist atrocities against the Church are other examples.
This threat posed by the militantly secular state was therefore very well understood by the Papacy, and this is why it is very easy to detect not only sympathy for countries such as the United States, but direct agreement and affirmation with the same natural law principles that underpin “classical liberalism” or libertarianism. Above all, the Church came to the defense of private property against the threat of socialism and insisted that, to quote Rerum Novarum, “man precedes the State”, and so therefore do his rights. They are not the products of government, but the gifts of God. This is what “classical liberals” believed, even if many modern libertarians style themselves – irrationally – as agnostics or even atheists. The concurrence is the result of the fact that natural law arises out of the Christian tradition. A modern libertarianism severed from its Christian roots is a tragic laceration that this blog hopes to play a part in mending.
So in these troubled times, the libertarian critique of the state is necessary. It must be taken seriously, and to whatever extent possible, integrated into a Catholic worldview. The basic foundation is in fact already there, with metaphysical libertarianism. It also present in the proposition that our dignity as human beings derives not simply from the fact that we are created by God, but that we are created in His image, with a free will. Our dignity and our freedom are inseparably linked, and every assault against our liberty that cannot be completely justified as an absolute necessity for the preservation of social order – and there are too many to count in modern society – is an assault on our dignity. Thus Catholics and libertarians can and ought to unite on a common platform of human dignity.