Sunday, July 25, 2010

Christianity and the Free Society

I encourage anyone wondering whether Christianity and the free society are compatible to read a very important contribution to 20th Century American history by Lee Haddigan. In his paper "The Importance of Christian Thought for the American Libertarian Movement: Christian Libertarianism, 1950–71," Haddigan recounts the importance of the Christian convictions of important pastors and laymen such as the Rev. Carl McIntyre and industrialist J. Howard Pew on the broader libertarian movement during the third quarter of the 20th Century. Indeed, one of the great virtues of the piece is that it shows how the link between Christian doctrine and the free society played itself out in the minds and actions of many Christians during this period.

Another great service done for us by Haddigan is his mining of some very hard to find and forgotten literature such as Christian Economics, a bi-weekly periodical featuring economic commentary from the likes of Ludwig von Mises and Hans Sennholz. Each issue was sent out to as many as 200,000 pastors at its peak of circulation and helped shape the thinking of that generation.

The article's rather lengthy abstract reads:

Murray N. Rothbard argued that there are many philosophic and non-philosophic arguments that provide a satisfactory basis for individual liberty. Rarely, however, did he discuss the claims of Christianity to be a suitable foundation for individual freedom. By looking at the Christian libertarians of the Old Right, between 1950 and 1971, the article contends that religious values were the most important reason for libertarians pursuing a society composed of free individuals during that period. By examining the journals Faith and Freedom, Christian Economics, and the Freeman, and the positive views of Rev. Carl McIntire, the author explains the philosophy of Christian libertarianism. It is the belief that individual freedom is only the highest political end; the necessary means for God’s Creation to develop unhindered their conscience and the full ‘sacredness of their personality.’ Christian libertarians maintain that individuals cannot be coerced by government to lead a virtuous life. They must instead be persuaded, by a true understanding of the life of Jesus especially, to choose to follow the moral life sanctioned by the Bible. The desire to follow the Golden Rule voluntarily, Christian libertarians explain, is the God-given template that allows a society of individuals to live in freedom. It was this Christian ethic, Christian libertarians insist, couched in terms of the Natural Law, that inspired the founding fathers to establish a system of government where the individual is free to enjoy their ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The article concludes by discussing Frank S. Meyer’s ‘fusionist’ attempt to find a uniting theme for traditionalists and libertarians, and suggests that it was the Christian libertarian philosophy in all but name. It also suggests that if America has any valid claim to be ‘Exceptional,’ then it is based on the nation’s traditional defence of individual freedom as a God-given grant.

Haddigan's piece also demonstrates a point raised by Joseph T. Salerno in his history of the revival of Austrian economics during the second half of the 20th Century. Salerno stresses the importance of not only ideas, but also the necessary capital invested in institutions that propagate such ideas.

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