Reply To: Catholicism and Anarcho-Libertarianism


Dear David,

I must apologise for the long delay in responding to your questions. What I have written below is far from a complete or adequate set of answers to what you ask but, rather than delay even further, I give you what follows as a brief response. I don’t address every specific question you ask but rather I try to outline a position which might explain why what is stated in the various sources you cite may be somewhat less than compelling in an obvious way.

The first point I would make is that there is a difference between the products of theoretical reason and those of practical reason. Some years ago, I wrote the following account of St Thomas’s though on this matter:

“There is a very important difference between theoretical and practical reason. The basic principles of theoretical reason and the basic principles of the practical reason are both the same for all and are known by all. The proper conclusions of theoretical reason are the same for all though they are not necessarily known to all. By contrast, the proper conclusions of the practical reason are not only not necessarily known by all, but they are not necessarily the same for all, either. The example given to illustrate this point in the discussion of law in the Summa Theologiae is the same example about the maniacal or antisocial depositor which was given to illustrate the changeability of human nature.”

Russell Hittinger writes: “The strongest suit of traditional natural-law theory is not necessarily its capacity to generate a list of precepts, which are then used to generate tables of positive laws. Such lists and tables can be, and indeed have been, done on the basis of something other than explicit natural-law theory. The long tradition of scholastic natural law has recognized that particular rules are ordinarily derived in a rather remote way from basic natural-law precepts, and that moral deliberation is usually governed by a complex network of traditions: civil, ecclesiastical, cultural. It is a mistake to expect natural law theory to constitute an over-arching tables of laws which can be straightforwardly applied to issues ranging from the use of condoms to the allocation of public monies.” Russell Hittinger, “After MacIntyre.” For a more complete discussion see, by the same author, A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987.) [Emphasis added by me]

Hittinger’s point is, I think, vital.

The second point is this:
I want to give you an example of such variability in the products of practical reason. Take the Church’s teaching on slavery. In 340 AD, the Synod of Gangra decreed that ‘If anyone, on the pretext of religion, teaches another man’s slave to despise his master, and to withdraw from his service, and not to serve his master with good will and all respect, let him be anathema.’ This decree was incorporated into the Church’s collection of canons and was used for the next 1400 years! [see Canon 3. C. J. C. Decreti Gratiani, II, C.XVII, Q. IV, c. 37] In 1918 the selling of slaves was condemned and finally, in 1965, in Vatican II,, all violations of human integrity were condemned, including slavery. It took almost 2,000 years to get clear on this matter, part of the reason being that we are dealing with complex issues of labour, employment, political control, justice in war, and so on. It may now seem obvious to us that slavery is a gross violation of human dignity and freedom and so fundamentally unchristian but it wasn’t so obvious to many before our time. I doubt if anyone would deny that (a) we have here a change, and (b) a change for the better. This is, I believe, a remarkable illustration of the point made by both myself (quoting Aquinas) and Hittinger.

Now, let me address myself to the specific paragraphs from the CCC that you cite.

1882. Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him.
The notion of what a state is is essentially contested. If this paragraph is understood to endorse the contemporary state as we have come to know and love(!) it then mankind has been deprived of this allegedly necessary institution for almost the whole of the time he has existed on this earth. If it means that some form of organisation is required for the provision of certain goods (security, justice, etc.) and this is necessary for human existence, no libertarian could disagree. What libertarians do disagree with others on is the nature of such organisations, their funding and their authority.

1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.
As for the previous comment.

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country: […]
Libertarians believe in paying for what they contract for. If we contract for security and justice services, then we are obliged to pay for them according to our contract. If not, not.
Voting is such an historically contingent arrangement that it is difficult to see how it can be morally obligatory. Were Persian peasants in the 4th century BC morally defective because they didn’t vote!
If there are no countries (as would be the case if libertarianism prevailed) then the moral obligation to defend them becomes otiose. Again, countries as we now have them are historically contingent entities.

2354 […] Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
Libertarians make a distinction between the moral and the legal. Depending on the arrangements that libertarians might make, the production and distribution of pornographic material with a specific libertarian community might well be the subject of a covenant and so, within that libertarian community, legally enforceable.

To return to my main points:
1. the conclusions of practical reason are not necessarily the same for all.
2. moral deliberation (as Hittinger writes) is usually governed by a complex network of traditions: civil, ecclesiastical, cultural. It is a mistake to expect natural law theory to constitute an over-arching tables of laws which can be straightforwardly applied to issues ranging from the use of condoms to the allocation of public monies.
3. we have examples of the radical development of authoritative pronouncements on moral matters (slavery)
4. contingent social arrangements cannot be the subject of moral judgements semper et ubique (voting)
5. libertarians distinguish sharply between the realms of the legal and the moral
6. given 1-5, many (all?) of the pronouncements are capable of being interpreted in accordance with the principles of libertarianism.

Once again, I apologise for the sweeping and cursory nature of the response but I hope that it gives some indication of how libertarian anarchism and Catholicism might be reconciled.

Best wishes,