Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
Progressives absolutely love to tell those in power about their expertise in how the world ought to run. Progressive Christians, opportunists they are, jump at offering their better and more enlightened ethics of the kingdom into this political arrangement. Compassionately and with good intentions, they seek to change the world through changing the structures of power to lean their way, so that the goals, outcomes, and real-world arrangements of society look like they believe it ought to look. Justice will reign, they say, when the right legislation is passed, the right regulations are placed on commerce and exchange, and the right leaders are in place. (We need to forget for the moment that, by definition, the “right legislation, regulations, and leaders” would lead to whatever ideal society they are looking for. But such shows the arrogance of progressives.)
What Progressive Christians especially forget is the key ingredient to the outcome of social justice. The idea of freedom, or liberty, is essential to life, and—yes—justice. And here is where I believe libertarianism offers an incredible insight into the ethics of social interaction. This insight is the foundational principle of libertarians, and is quite obviously very compatible with the Christian faith.
This cornerstone principle is called the “non-aggression axiom,” which states that no person has the right to aggress the property or person of another person, with exception of self-defense. So unless you have previously been aggressed upon, you should not, under any circumstances, do unto another something they do not wish that you do.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this arrangement sounds very Christian to me. Would Jesus approve of our aggressing another to do what we would have him do? Would Jesus approve of our enforcement upon another a belief with which he did not agree? I doubt it. In fact, I believe Jesus would probably go one step further, and disregard the “defense” exception of the axiom, since he tells us to “turn the other cheek” if someone aggresses us, and to pray for those who persecute us. But that doesn’t exclude the non-aggression principle.
What most people don’t think about is the flip side of this argument. While I’ll address the so-called “selfish” components of libertarianism in another post, I should briefly point out that this principle means we passionately defend other people’s right to not be aggressed upon. It’s definitely easy to say “Don’t bother me,” and point out the inherent selfishness in that statement. But we ought not forget the converse, which means, “Leave them alone, too!” “Them” is our neighbor, the poor person, the downtrodden, the widow and orphan. But that is not, as it might be misconstrued, a call to leave people to fend for themselves. It’s akin to saying, “Don’t harm them!”
So at the start, Christianity is indeed compatible with libertarianism’s foundational principle. Both seek to respect one’s neighbor. Both defend everyone’s right to life and liberty. And both share at least half of Jesus’ principle of peace, though of course Jesus would probably go further.