Monday, February 6, 2012

Why I Am Not A Libertarian

Frontispiece, The United States Magazine and Democratic Review

The line between Libertarianism and non-Libertarian Conservatism has grown indefinite during my lifetime. What was originally a watchword of the Democrat Party—the slogan of John L. O'Sullivan's The United States Magazine and Democratic Review magazine, "The best government is that which governs least"—has now become the prevailing slogan of the Republican Party. This slogan can be found as the battle cry of limited-government Conservatives or Libertarians, but taken at face value it is necessarily an Anarchist sentiment. If the least government is the best, then it logically follows that no government AT all is the best government OF all.

Of course, most of the people who wield this slogan don't really mean it—they stop somewhere far short of anarchy. They mean to say that government would govern better if there were less of it than there is now. The major problem is that, while they don't really mean that government governs best when it governs least, too many of these people THINK that they really do mean that. A desperate need exists within the general landscape of political conservatism for all of us to think carefully toward the development of a consistent and comprehensive philosophy of government. For those of us who are Christians, our careful thought must also be prayerful thought, and the philosophy of government that we adopt needs to arise out of statements that the Bible has made about government.

I'm thinking that I might devote some time and some space on this blog to this topic. I will examine what the Bible says about government and interact with the major political systems of our day, hoping that we can all arrive at a better-informed and more carefully-developed concept of Christian citizenship than we might have at present.

Today, I would like to consider Libertarianism

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy accurately defines Libertarianism as "the moral view that [people] initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things." The only justification for denying full liberty to any individual person, according to Libertarianism, is in order to protect the liberty of other people. This concept of self-ownership is the foundational concept of Libertarianism without which other Libertarian political convictions are incoherent. I would encourage you to read the entire Stanford article. It is excellent and well-sourced.

I disagree with Libertarianism. I offer the following as my primary objections against this political theory:

  1. As a Christian, I consider the foundational premise of Libertarianism to be a form of sinful rebellion against God. To state that individuals initially and fully own themselves is to fail to acknowledge that we exist as creations of a Creator. God is our Owner. He has authority over us. This truth is really the starting point of the gospel—if God is not my Owner, and if He does not have authority over me, then I have very little need for the gospel and very little reason to hear it.

  2. As a Christian, I believe that the best government is that which governs according to the scope of authority and the purposes that have been given to human government by God. The Bible is quite explicit on this point:

    Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due to them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7, NASB)

    This can hardly be construed as a Libertarian manifesto. It is a statement of support for the Roman Empire! It speaks of "subjection" as something that is "necessary" from God's perspective. Individual liberty appears in this treatise absolutely nowhere. The purpose of government, according to the New Testament, is not for the protection of individual liberty. Rather, God has authorized secular governments for the purpose that those who "do what is good" might "have praise from" their government, but that those who "do what is evil" will have cause to "be afraid" of the "sword" borne by the state who, on God's behalf, is "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

    Biblically, it is the purpose of government to encourage good behavior and to punish bad behavior. This purpose is derived from the One who has delegated authority to human government, from God.

    If this is the purpose of government, does that purpose exist across the entire scope of human life, or are there things that are beyond the purview of governmental authority as invested in government by God? I believe that there are limitations to the scope of governmental authority. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus specifically commanded His servants not to attempt to uproot the tares from the wheat field. The field, Jesus said, represents the world. The wheat are the Christians and the tares are those who are not. Jesus explicitly commands that judgment upon people for rejecting Christ not take place until the Final Judgment.

    This, the most important execution of justice, is not something that God is willing to delegate to anyone else. I'm sure that God has many reasons for insisting upon performing this kind of judgment Himself, but the concern listed in the parable is that "while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them."

    It is this parable and other passages like it that make me an adherent to Roger Williams's theory of "The Two Tables of the Law." God has not authorized government to execute justice in matters of human beings' relationship with God. God will tend to that Himself. Rather, God has authorized human governments to execute justice in matters of human beings' relationships with one another. For this reason, I support unbridled religious liberty. The concern given in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares has proven in history to be well-taken: Governments that enforce religious conformity have, without fail, been governments that have persecuted Christians who share my theological convictions. No government should ever try to enforce a good relationship with God.

    Governments do rightfully exist to regulate human relationships. Business relationships, family relationships, and community relationships require governmental restraint upon the innate wickedness of human beings. The governmental justice that comes into these relationships, being mediated by fallen human beings, is imperfect—sometimes horrendously so. The human author of Romans 13 was all-too-aware of this, having been wrongly imprisoned and brutally punished more times than we dare count. Nevertheless, he knew, as God does, that imperfect human justice, inferior as it is to the ideals of divine perfection, is still far superior to anarchy.

    It is within this scope of authority—intercourse among human beings—that government can fulfill its purpose of rewarding the doing of good and punishing the doing of wrong. This biblical philosophy stands in marked contrast against the Libertarian philosophy of protecting individual rights.

  3. As a Christian, I recognize Libertarianism's exaltation of individual liberty as spiritually unsophisticated. According to the Bible, this kind of liberty is actually slavery. Whoever deprives a person of the liberty of being a Crystal Meth addict is PRESERVING that person's individual liberty, not taking it away. Libertarianism, in its most consistent forms, fails to understand this.

    The contrast between the biblical concept of liberty and the Libertarian theory is striking. Libertarianism presumes that liberty is the natural state of mankind, and that people only lose their liberty when someone intervenes. Christianity presumes that bondage is the natural state of mankind, and that people only find liberty when someone intervenes.

  4. As a human being, Libertarianism seems to me a hopelessly naïve philosophy of human liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Libertarianism fails to acknowledge that the liberties most precious to most of us are inherently social in nature rather than individualistic. Among all of the other liberties that I desire, I want the liberty to live in a community where my children can walk the streets in safety. I desire the liberty to choose an environment for my family in which we will be exposed to good role models who are trying to be moral people. I desire for my children to be able to choose mates from among a pool of peers who have at least seen something of a functioning home. Libertarianism does not acknowledge these as liberties, because they are not INDIVIDUAL liberties, but are instead liberties tied to the collective state of society.

    Consider, for example, divorce. The Libertarian approach to divorce must simply be that people, being full owners of themselves, have the unabrogated right to determine that they no longer wish to be married. The Christian approach to marriage is far different. According to the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:4), in marriage each individual is owned by his or her spouse, and together they are obligated to God who has joined them together (Mark 10:9). Both of these concepts—spousal ownership and divine obligation—directly contradict the fundamental precepts of Libertarianism.

    Furthermore, as the divorce rate skyrockets (and a consistent Libertarian can only rejoice that people are exercising their individual liberties), the fabric of society is being affected by these fundamental changes. The community is different when marriage is no longer capable of maintaining order in the families of a community. But I have to live in a community somewhere. I have no choice about that. And if I have no liberty to join with likeminded people to create the sort of community that is most beneficial to us—which unavoidably means curtailing the liberty of other individuals within the community to do things that damage the collective good of our community—then the most valuable and precious elements of my individual liberty have been stolen from me. But Libertarianism expressly asserts that I do not have that liberty—it does not even acknowledge that kind of liberty as important, although obviously it is in real life. This is the point at which Libertarianism is so naïve.

  5. As a moral philosopher, I consider Libertarianism to be a ridiculously reductionistic approach to morality. Libertarianism is not the alternative to the legislation of morality; it is among the most inflexible and Totalitarian moral philosophies in existence. Libertarianism takes a single moral concept—that it is morally good for human beings to be free to make decisions for themselves—and makes it the trump card over all other moral concepts. Liberty is not merely good under Libertarianism; it is the summum bonum, and Libertarianism legislates this moral viewpoint upon everyone. Essentially, all other moral concepts cease to exist in Libertarianism, except as points of internal deliberation for the individual. Libertarianism requires that all of society conform to this ordering of moral principles in practice. Talk about cramming your morality down someone else's throat!

    Is morality really this simple? Is it always the most moral thing to maximize individualistic liberty? You need not be a Christian to suspect that something is missing here, but if you are a Christian, you must admit at this point that Libertarian morality is strangely at odds with the central tenets of your faith.

For these reasons I am not a Libertarian. Although I have no idealistic supposition that human government will lead us to utopia or ever be anything other than a stopgap measure imperfectly restraining evil until the day that all will be set right, I do believe that government is, on the whole, an important blessing given to the world by God. I'm all in favor of making it the greatest blessing that it can be. Future posts on that are upcoming, I hope.


Donald said...

"If the least government is the best, then it logically follows that no government AT all is the best government OF all."

This does not logically follow. The Least government is the least necessary government. As I understand Libertarians, they are not call for Anarchy. Your entire premise seems to be based on this logical error. I am not a Libertarian, but I do appreciate the historic American view of personal Liberty from intrusive government.

Bart Barber said...


My conclusion does not logically follow from the statement "The Least government is the least necessary government." And yet, that is YOUR statement and is different from the wording of the popular political maxim. My conclusion most certainly does follow from the statement "The best government is that which governs least."

None of the numbered points that follow depend upon that statement. They build instead on a well-cited, academically produce, philosophically robust definition and analysis of Libertarianism.

Now, having dealt with your objection, let's look at your statement: "The Least government is the least necessary government." This statement begs the question. "Necessary" for WHAT? I think that EVERY political philosophy would agree that it is best to have "the least necessary government." Soviet Russia would agree with that statement. The difference in political philosophies arises within that undefined word "necessary" in your statement.

According to Libertarianism, the best government is the least government necessary to prevent anyone from infringing upon anyone else's personal autonomy. According to the Bible, the best government is the least government necessary to bring praise to those who do right and to punish those who do evil…or, at least, whatever government exists, this is God's purpose for it.

Bart Barber said...

Note: I accidentally left a paragraph out of the original post. I put it back in. It is the paragraph contrasting the Libertarian view of the natural state of mankind and the Christian view of the natural state of mankind. Sorry about the initial error.

Dave Miller said...

In a Libertarian society, you would be free to make whatever mistakes you felt were best!

Bart Barber said...

Dave, ;-)

Anonymous said...


Very interesting! Thanks for posting. SEP goes on to explicate the sense of full-ownership (per your first objection). Your first objection is based upon what you percieve to a conflict between man as created, God as ruler, etc. I wonder, of the five (5) "ownership rights" that constitute full-ownership, can you explain which you find to be incompatable with the creator/creation relationship?

Bart Barber said...


Sure. Thanks for reading and commenting!

I find all of them to be incompatible, because I believe that all of these are rights that God has with regard to our lives. God has control rights over our lives. God does not sell the use of us for compensation, but He does say that we have been "bought with a price" and that our bodies exist that we might glorify Him with them. The same logic applies to the remaining three.

The definition goes on to say that, in giving these five aspects of full ownership, it is not exhausting the possibility of other aspects. Instead, it makes clear that it is trying to articulate "a logically strongest set of ownership rights over a thing." In other words, although those who devised this five-fold test believe these things to exhaust what it is to own a thing, if there's anything that they missed, they meant to include that, too.

Thus the concept is defined as much by the term "FULL ownership," as it is by the definition.

R. L. Vaughn said...

"As a Christian, I believe that the best government is that which governs according to the scope of authority and the purposes that have been given to human government by God."

Amen! The problem is knowing and agreeing on what purposes are given by God.

There are some things I agree with and some I disagree with in your post. For time and space I'll limit myself to two or three of them (I disagree with, of course; just consider a slap on the back for the overall post!). I agree with Donald that "The best government is no government at all" does not necessarily follow from "the best government is that which governs least". I don't know about John L. O'Sullivan's political philosophy, but I do believe the presupposition of the statement has to be that some government is necessary.

For full disclosure I should say that I joined the Republican party in the late 70s or early 80s, when it meant that we might have 3 or 4 vote in the Republican primary in our small precinct and that it meant excluding yourself from voting on county offices in the primary. The party grew until it is the majority party in the county. I was drawn to it because of its conservative principles and claims of "smaller government". On the latter, I'd say that only libertarian leaning Republicans such as Ron Paul hardly ever actually vote for smaller government.

Bart, you wrote that Paul's statement in Romans 13 "is a statement of support for the Roman Empire." I have to disagree. It is a statement of "subjection to" the Roman Empire (and by extension other "empires", of course). "Subject to" and "support" have overlap in this arena, but they will look different in practical application. One interesting thing we throw in the mix in the US of A is that "we the people" are the "higher powers" or authorities. Out of time and to wrap up, I want to throw out 6 things the Bible teaches about our relation to governmental authority.

1. Christians ought to obey the law. Romans 13:1-6
2. Christians should pay tribute/taxes. Matthew 22:17-21 (A lot of us don't want to pay the taxes, and a lot of folks want the services without the taxes.)
3. Christians ought to pray for those in authority. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (especially "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.")
4. Christians ought to honor those in authority. 1 Peter 2: 17 (Isn't this hard quite a bit of the time even in a free country?)
5. Christians ought to use freedom to do good, and so lead others to glorify God. 1 Peter 2:11-17
6. Christians’ first allegiance is to God. The government's power ends when it restricts freedom to worship God and to proclaim their faith in Jesus (or bids us disobey God in any way). Acts 4:18-20 (A lot of so-called Christian civil disobedience has nothing to do with obeying God or not.)

Bart Barber said...

Hi, Bro. R.L.! Thanks for your comments. I respond:

1. I do not disagree that O'Sullivan didn't really mean that the best government is that which governs least. In fact, I tried to make the point that people who use this phrase usually don't really mean it. The fact remains that the words themselves, taken at face value, mean precisely what I have said. The only way to take them in any other direction is by means of, as you have offered (hidden) presuppositions.

2. I'm a Republican too, and I am in favor of a government that is smaller than the government that we have now. I am also in favor of government that actually respects the 10th Amendment, which is supposed to be the law of the land.

However, I am under obligation to have some overall philosophy of government by which I have come to these conclusions. That's what I'm trying to articulate here, and "Smaller Government!" just doesn't cut the mustard as a full-bodied theory of government. I'm in favor of this specific government being smaller than it presently is because I believe that those parts of the government that do not accomplish what I perceive as the God-ordained goals of government need to be improved or abolished in order to make our government better.

As to the Roman Empire, Paul's statement in Roman 13 was that the Roman Empire was (a) established by God and (b) was God's minister. I interpret the declaration of something as established by God as God's minister to be a concept worthy of the word "support," but I do not wish to quibble over words. I meant by support nothing more than those concepts, and my purpose in that sentence was simply to show that God's purpose was being accomplished by a regime that was entirely contrary to Libertarianism. In other words, the point was to demonstrate that God's goals for government are not the Libertarian's goals for government.

I am supportive of your list (by that, I mean that I believe that your list is established by God…er…the scriptural portions thereof, that is, and that your quotation of scripture in your list is God's minister for good in my life). ;-)

How did the singing go?

Anonymous said...


Interesting. God does have ultimate control rights over our lives. You know I agree with that ;). But I assume you believe that God's ultimate control over our lives is compatable with our own responsibility for our actions, which presupposes freedom to obey or not obey. If that is the case, then I am not sure what in (1) is incompatible with belief in creation/Creator.


Bart Barber said...


Rights are not always executed. I can have freedom without having rights. We presume this when we have such a thing as Morality. If I were only free to do that which I had a right to do, then I could do nothing immoral.

And yet, reality is that my freedom and abilities range beyond my rights. It is this very fact that brings about such a thing as responsibility. I am responsible for whether I use my freedom to do only that which is my right or to go beyond that to do that which it is not my right to do. if I do the latter, I have to answer for it. That is responsibility.

To move beyond the abstract to the concrete, consider right #4…the right to transfer. It is because of right #4 and God's ownership of me that, according to Romans 13, government has rights over me. We famously declare that governmental authority comes from the consent of the governed. This is not the biblical view. Romans 13 says that governments govern as God's agent. God, who has ownership rights over me, has transferred some subset of those rights to the civil magistrate.

If I believe that I have full ownership over myself, then government can only govern me with my consent, for I have to transfer to the government the right to govern me. This is the Libertarian view. It is clearly not the biblical view.

Bart Barber said...

And before anyone objects, I'm thankful for our government and I owe it my allegiance. I'm happy with the idea that our government seeks our consent, and I would be saddened to see our government become more totalitarian.

However, what if I lived in Cuba, like some of the brothers and sisters in Christ whom I have met? Their government does not govern with their consent. According to Libertarianism, theirs is an illegitimate government. According to Christianity, they are to subject themselves to this government because government is established by God and acts as His agent. Imperfectly so, both in the case of the USA and in the case of Cuba. Much farther from God's ideal in Cuba than in the USA. And yet, biblically a Cuban believer must subject himself to the Cuban government because he must subject himself to God—God is his owner—and the God who owns him has transferred some of His authority over that believer to the Cuban government.

The Cuban government will answer to God for how that government manages that stewardship.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Have just a few minutes I think I can squeek in a response.

When I speak of "smaller government" I do have in mind "smaller than we have now," but mainly smaller in the sense of only doing what the Constitution authorizes it to do. As an American I feel that is how I have to approach the rule of law. Also as an American and a Christian, I believe I have a right to try to change (through legal & Constitutional means) anything that I think is contrary to God's purpose of government. I also think we Christians are free to want or not want something politically simply because it is biblically correct. Others don't have to accept it for that reason, but I have a right to promote it for that reason! Finally, as a Christian I am obligated to obey God in all things. (Not that I accomplish that.)

With your explanation, I think our difference on Romans 13 is largely a matter of semantics. I do think when we are speaking in both the religious and political arenas we run into words that have their biblical meaning and perhaps also something a little different in political context. "Support" of government might be kind of that way. Another I thought of is in your statement that it "is the purpose of government to encourage good behavior." I'm pretty sure I agree with what you mean. But in the political arena many run with this encouragement of their supposed good until we have seatbelt laws, and maybe soon sugar taxes to discourage the consumption of sugar. Now, I'm not agreeing with the old bromide "you can't legislate morality." Certainly you can, and we do. Just look at the laws we have against murder, lieing, cheating and stealing.

I agree with you that "God's purpose was being accomplished by a regime that was entirely contrary to Libertarianism" and I must sadly say that I believe God's purpose is being accomplished by our current government (both Dem and Rep) that seems to be mostly contrary to our Constitution and also the Bible. I fear that purpose might be judgement, but hope it might be revival and renewal.

The singing went well. Tim Reynolds, son of long time SWBTS dean of music Bill Reynolds, got to be there, among others. The new dean of music is enthuastic about it, and at the end of the day they announced there were 150 people who registered. That's at lot of people in the rotunda of the music building.

I hope my comments don't lead too far afield. Maybe I can get back to the meat of it sometime in the future.

Anonymous said...


Do you believe it can be virtuous to revolt against a government?


Bart Barber said...


Agreed at all points.

Bart Barber said...


An interesting question. I'm going to break it into two questions, if you don't mind. If, at the end of it all, you do not believe that I have answered your question entirely, please let me know.

Here are the two questions: 1. Is it virtuous to overthrow an existing government. 2. Is it virtuous for Christians to be the ones to do the overthrowing of an existing government.

From the biblical data, we'd have to say that it is part of God's ongoing business in history to establish governments, root them up, and then establish something else in their place. God has explicit identified Himself as being behind the overthrow of governments. The Roman government—the subject of divine approbation in Romans 13—was itself a government that had overthrown many governments.

So I would answer this first question (which was your stated question) in the affirmative. This is part of the business of God, to decide which governments to establish, and He uses human agency to accomplish it.

I have added the second question, because I think it may be lurking around, if not in your mind as you ask this question, at least in the minds of others who may be reading.

No, I do not believe that Christians ought to be the ones involved in the overthrow of their own government. My doctoral research involved reading the stories of Baptists during the American Revolution, and they struggled mightily with this concept. They were not initially supporters of the Revolution (many of them were being persecuted by the COLONIAL governments and their state churches—why would they support greater power for THOSE folks?), but eventually faced the decision not of whether to obey their governmental leaders but of WHICH governmental leaders were the legitimate ones to obey.

They all eventually chose to obey their actual indigenous government rather than the government of a nation an ocean away. Probably the right choice.

If God wants to overthrow a government, He can accomplish it through the reprobate. This is a God who led the Babylonians to conquer and subjugate His own chosen people, after all!

Anonymous said...


I really appreciate the thoughtful response, Bart. George Berkeley developed a whole system for Christians engaging sinful governments, but it does get at the heart of the issue of what gives a government legitimacy, since if Christians can rebel, then at least to some extent, while we recognize that God establishes Governments, he also uses men to bring them down, o it seems to imply that in some way there is a consent to govern. Your answer represents a very consistent line of thinking, although, it puts you in the position of having to say that rebellion can be morally excellent for an unbeliever but not for a Christian. I guess I just don't see a problem with affirming that God establishes governments, part of that mysterious process is worked out through the consent of the ruled, who at times can be justified in forceful overthrow. I think there is a parallel between submission to government authorities and pastors, in that you submit but there is a time to remove...although in the case of pastors, not force-ably :). I appreciate the good conversation, Bart. You've given me much to think about tonight!

Bart Barber said...

Well, Adam, on behalf of pastors everywhere, I'm thankful that we're not subject to forceful removal!

I should take a look at Berkeley's work in this regard. Thanks for directing me to him.

I agree that there is a strangeness to it all, that God would ordain something but not approve of Christian involvement in it. Perhaps there's an ongoing pattern here, however. David fought in wars at YHWH's behest, but when it came time to build a temple, God prevented David from building the temple because of David's involvement in warfare (1 Chron 22). A division of labor? God doesn't want his priests involved with such things?

Bart Barber said...

BTW, Adam, it was the Berkeley comment that finally clued me in and reminded me which "Adam" you are. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Bart,

Thanks for the thoughtful dialogue. Just a quick thought. When God established His "ideal" human government, it looked a lot like libertarianism with a very important difference. In the time of the judges, people did what they thought best but if a conflict arose, the parties sought a judge who would mediate the dispute using the Word of God. Kings (centralized authority) were viewed very negatively because they (unlike God) would not rule with justice. I am a libertarian but not because I believe no power has rights over me. I am a libertarian because with an extremely minimalistic government, disputes can be best mediated through the church. (In other words, while the government would still be very non-Christian, it would be so non-intrusive that believers would be free to associate in the ways they thought best without having a bulk of their money taken to be used for specifically non-Christian ends.) Christians would be the most free to live in the way best conformed to the Scriptures. (Again, for example the money we desire to help the needy goes in the name of God and not in the name of Caesar.) Yes, the world would be more "free" to pursue immoral ends (but it does that already!). However, even that has the benefit of allowing the true believers to stand out (in a positive way) as they did in the days of Rome. I don't believe our current system of a government based on the will of the people is at all Christian. However, of all the governments instituted by men since the days of the OT, libertarianism allows Christians to function as close to that ideal as possible.

-Thomas (the Texican)

Bart Barber said...


If I were to write this article again, I would add something. I wrote about how the Libertarian slogan really appertains to Anarchism. The difference between the two is that Libertarianism argues that some minimalist government is a necessary evil. Anarchism argues that some minimalist government is an unnecessary evil. What unites the two of them is the idea that government is evil and ought to be avoided as much as is possible.

I'm challenging that entire presupposition. Government can do evil, and government can be in the control of evil people, but government is not evil. Romans 13 simply does not permit us that understanding of government. Government is an agent of God. It is a different agent of God than the church is. It is an inferior agent of God as compared to the church. But it is nevertheless an agent of God for good.

It is not the biblical ideal that government should go away so that the church could accomplish the function of government. It is the biblical ideal that the government should do what it is supposed to do and the church should do what the church is supposed to do. This is important and necessary because the blessings of the church extend to believers only. Government is a "common grace" by which God provides benefits to all of mankind.

As to the period of the judges, I plan to treat that section of scripture extensively in my next post in this series, which I will entitle "Why I Am Not a Monarchist." In that post we'll pay C.S. Lewis a visit, as well as Samuel and King Saul. Suffice it for now that I might indicate how absolutely non-Libertarian was God's ideal during the age of the judges. Libertarians routinely refer to precisely this period of time (the time in which the law of the land was the Law…the Mosaic stone-your-wife-for-not-being-a-virgin Law as the very antithesis of Libertarianism and the reason why social conservatism must be opposed (because it would return society to something like the Law of Moses).

Baker said...

sI'll be much shorter than the rest of those who have posted a comment and simply say...

I think this is a great post - I have been thinking several very similar things lately and appreciate you expounding on this!

I hadn't been able to reconcile my convictions with the direction that Libertarians want to go and this post does a great job of explaining why.

Bart Barber said...

HEY, Baker! I KNOW YOU!!!

Thanks for stopping by.

Unknown said...

I give you marks for the attempt, but your analysis falls short.
You acknowledged that the term "libertarian" casts a broad net, but then you use one view to define it in the most extreme way, equating it with anarchy. You'd do better to keep it broad, and deal with the observation that you started with - libertarians start with the anarchists and reach over to collect everyone up to and including Thomas Jefferson and the state's rights guys. Anarchists are a subset of libertarians.
You assert that the "individual owns himself" is sinful rebellion. Libertarianism is not a theology, but a political philosophy. It is wrong to take a legal axiom of libertarianism and twist it out of context. God is not taking physical possession of anyone, so the “individual owns himself” statement should be compared the alternative that the “state owns everyone”, which you surely would deny.
Worse than that, the Bible clearly indicates that we do own ourselves an our stuff in the physical world. You see this in multiple places, such as the parable of the vineyard, where the later workers get paid the same as the first ones. This homily foundationally accepts the important position of contract in our society, and specifically rejects a minimum wage.
Your point about being true to the governing authorities ignores the difference between the political environment today and that of the Roman Empire. Part of being an American includes an obligation to work toward a better government, unlike those in the early church.
Of course, gov't is here to punish evil and reward good. The problem is that knee-jerk Christians want to get involved in issues like the minimum wage or so-called safety nets, where the gov't forces those who are productive to give to those who are not. That’s theft-by-government; just because we all get together to steal stuff, and we’re doing it for a good cause, does not make it right.
You go on with a number of wrong notions about libertarian beliefs. Marriage, for example, is not typically considered by libertarians as you envision. Marriage is a social contract. No libertarian would say that it is acceptable to get married and then cheat, or that divorce is a good thing. The state’s involvement is the issue. Most libertarians would say that marriage is not a federal issue, but a state one, because that's what it is in our Constitution, and that approach has worked for a long time. Again, libertarians are not anarchists. And even anarchists appreciate marriage.
Surely you realize there exists a huge number of libertarian Christians. That alone should make you question your analysis.
Let's take the issue of prohibition. In that situation, a bunch of people, largely Christian, decided that they would "do good" by attacking a national vice, and making things worse. Some Christians believe that all evil actions should be illegal, and all good actions should be required. But Christians should not be content to just mean well. If a law does more harm than good, it should be stopped.
The biggest problem you have is that you want to ignore federalism, which figures prominently with most libertarians. Big issues belong at the federal level. Any issue that can be a state level question belongs at the state level (including capital punishment, marriage, and abortion). Charity cannot be performed by a government, by definition.
Libertarianism doesn't worship freedom; it simply says that your life will be better if you allow other people to do as they wish, so long as they don't interfere with you, and they do the same.
We have plenty of appreciation for those aspects of human society that capitalism hasn't worked out yet. We just don't have any illusion that gov't can make people better, or that giving corrupt people more power is going to result in something better than not giving corrupt people power, if we can help it.

Donald Holmes said...

That you for your quick reply. I agree that my amended statement inserting "necessary" solves nothing and that I was particularly unclear in what I intended to say.

My disagreement is that Anarchy is the logical result of the ultimate application of the statement in question. I understand where you are coming from: assuming that the level of government continually moves towards zero, and assuming it is good to do so, then the perfect government would be equal to zero. This is simple if-then logic. However, the fallacy in this is that the initial statement, "The best government is that which governs least", is nonsensical outside of the existence of government. Therefore, the best government does not equal zero.

The advocate of the statement is implicitly admitting to the benefit of some government. The real question is then "How much?" The answer (given in the statement) is "the least".

This is not Anarchy, this is Liberty.

Now, obviously, there has to be a discussion as to just how much government is "least" and this is where a dialogue will have to continually take place. BTW, this is the thought moment where I had previously inserted the word "necessary".

Personally, I like the a test where the state has to prove compelling interest in every issue and then must pursue legislation in the least restrictive way possible. Doing this while adhering to a strict constructionist view of the Constitution.

Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for taking the time to reply. Let me respond to your thoughts about centralized government not being evil. God very clearly equates the request for a king to a rejection of His rule and even idolatry (1 Samuel 8). God then goes on to warn of the evils that will befall them (which are true to this day). It is true that God uses government toward His holy purpose of restraining human evil. However, that does make government itself good. God used pagan empires to be the rod of His judgment against Israel but that in no way endorses those empires as inherently "good". God used Sampson's sinful desire for a foreign woman as part of His plan to restore justice to His people, but we certainly wouldn't say then that the desire was "good". Likewise, human government is declared to be evil and a de facto rejection of Him (albeit one used by God to His good ends).

Thomas the Texican - I am a Texan living in Mexico :)

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for visiting, reading, and commenting. That's not a name you see every day, and it made me curious enough to look on Google. I got a nice briefing on Bankruptcy law, and I think it helps me to blog more Christianly when I've seen the face of someone and they've been humanized fully in my mind.

I'm going to respond to a few of the things that you've written in your comment, not all of them equally important.

"I give you marks for the attempt, but your analysis falls short." Thanks for starting off with something affirming. I give you marks for your comment as well: It is articulate. I assure you that my goal is not to earn marks. I am a believer seeking to approach government in a Christian way. If you can help me to do so better, I will profit from it. Iron sharpens iron, you know.

"You acknowledged that the term 'libertarian' casts a broad net, but then you use one view to define it in the most extreme way, equating it with anarchy." That's a part of the essay that has led to more confusion than enlightenment. I obviously need to go into greater detail about the structure of the essay, which is not as apparent as I had hoped. The first four paragraphs of the essay constitute an introduction. In those paragraphs, I analyze not so much Libertarianism as the phrase "The best government is that which governs least."

In the FIFTH paragraph, I refer the readers to an extensive, well cited, academic treatment of Libertarianism. The numbered items that follow all arise out of THAT definition, and do not depend at all upon my earlier musings about the anarchistic tendencies of the phrase "The best government is that which governs least."

For this reason, although you can take issue if you like with my introductory remarks about Libertarianism and Anarchism, you cannot set aside my entire essay as being based upon a poor, narrow, unduly extreme definition of Libertarianism unless you are prepared to reject the Stanford definition as being those things (and, consequently, are prepared to submit a definition with better credentials).

…continued below…

Bart Barber said...

…continued from above…

"Anarchists are a subset of libertarians." Thanks for that. I'm officially citing Warren in reply to all of you who have suggested that it was inappropriate for me to have mentioned Anarchism in an article about Libertarianism.

"Libertarianism is not a theology, but a political philosophy." Here, perhaps, is the reason why we are coming to this in different ways. The very rationale behind the series of posts that I am producing is to insist to Christians that our theology and our politics cannot be segregated strictly. I promise you, a person's theology determines his politics. A person's STATED theology may not determine his politics, but it is not possible to hold beliefs about who is or is not the Sovereign of the Universe without those beliefs determining one's view of more local questions of sovereignty.

"God is not taking physical possession of anyone, so the 'individual owns himself' statement should be compared the alternative that the 'state owns everyone', which you surely would deny." I do indeed deny statism as being cut from precisely the same cloth (and I will say so at greater length in an upcoming post). I also deny that Libertarianism and Statism are the only alternatives. False dichotomy. Excluded middle. Also, it is my belief that God has physical possession of everyone and everything. "The world is Mine, and all it contains."

…continued below…

Bart Barber said...

…continued from above…

"The Bible clearly indicates that we do own ourselves an our stuff in the physical world." Wow. No, not at all. The Bible clearly indicates that God owns everything in the world, and that He makes us stewards of His possessions. The distinction is important.

The Bible certainly DOES emphasize the importance of honoring covenants, and I believe that this emphasis gives strong support to the idea of contracts, where they are appropriate. However, consider the case of Abraham. God gave to Abraham land that "belonged" to entire races of other people who occupied and had worked that land for generations. He did so without regard for contract or to any labor theory of property ownership, John Locke notwithstanding. I cannot imagine any Libertarian theory by which God's promise to Abraham could be construed as anything but wrongful.

Regarding the parable of the workers hired at various points of the day to work in the vineyard, I agree that the central point of that parable is to emphasize the right of an owner to negotiate with what He owns however He wishes, so long as He fairly abides by the terms of His negotiation. Jesus conclusion from the parable was "So the last shall be first, and the first last." In that parable, God is the owner of the vineyard, and we are the workers who own nothing. This parable hardly makes your case!

…continued below…

Bart Barber said...

…continued from above…

"Your point about being true to the governing authorities ignores the difference between the political environment today and that of the Roman Empire. Part of being an American includes an obligation to work toward a better government, unlike those in the early church." No. I'm not ignoring that at all. I firmly embrace that difference and agree with you passionately that the American system is one that places a greater responsibility upon believers in this country.

I do, however, believe that none of the differences between the Roman Empire and our own government are differences that undo our basic obligation to obey God's command to be in subjection to government.

"The biggest problem you have is that you want to ignore federalism." No, I don't want to ignore that at all. You don't have to be a Libertarian to support federalism. I strongly believe that we need to reassert the 10th Amendment. In my opinion, this is what it means, in part, for us as Christians to subject ourselves to the government. We don't have a king, we have a Constitution. Where we fail to abide by it, we have disobeyed Romans 13.

I skipped down to this point, because I believe that much of the paragraph preceding it presumes this particular misunderstanding on your part. To argue States' Rights is not Libertarianism, as defined by the Stanford definition. A Constitutionalist perspective could argue, for example, that drug legalization should be left up to the states, since the Constitution does not enumerate the regulation of drugs as a function of the federal government. A Libertarian perspective would have to argue that the War on Drugs is wrong regardless of which level of government is waging it, because it infringes upon the right of an individual to engage in a practice that directly harms nobody else.

Libertarianism, by any academic definition I have seen, is a theory about what ANY government should or should not do, not a theory about WHICH government should do what.

…continued below (almost finished, I promise)…

Bart Barber said...

…continued from above…

"Libertarianism doesn't worship freedom; it simply says that your life will be better if you allow other people to do as they wish, so long as they don't interfere with you, and they do the same.
We have plenty of appreciation for those aspects of human society that capitalism hasn't worked out yet. We just don't have any illusion that gov't can make people better, or that giving corrupt people more power is going to result in something better than not giving corrupt people power, if we can help it."

I'll end by responding to this section, which strives to articulate a basic theory of Libertarianism. I never said that Libertarianism "worships" freedom. Rather, I said that Libertarianism starts with a naïve and unbiblical view of freedom and then makes that view of freedom the prime moral directive that trumps all others. The quoted statement does nothing to dissuade me from that view. It asserts as the principle rule of society that non-interference is the prime directive. That's an attractive viewpoint to a lot of people, no doubt. It has a strong philosophical history. I'm simply saying that it is a concept contrary to the ideas about government that the Bible articulates.

Again, thanks for visiting my blog. It is not my intention to question the salvation of any who espouses the Libertarian viewpoint. Rather, I believe that those Christians who think carefully and biblically about government will find that this process will lead them to other than Libertarian views. Even if it does not, I am thankful to be united by the blood of Jesus Christ with those who differ with me on this point.

Bart Barber said...

Donald: "Personally, I like the a test where the state has to prove compelling interest in every issue and then must pursue legislation in the least restrictive way possible. Doing this while adhering to a strict constructionist view of the Constitution."

I like that, too. The determination of "compelling interest" could measure the benefit of legislation over against the burden that it imposes upon the governed. Individual liberty should be a factor involved in this consideration, just not the only factor or even the "trump card" factor.

And of course, the government should have to abide by the Constitution.

And I can agree with you on ALL of this without being a Libertarian. ;-)

Bart Barber said...


Government, the abstract principle, is good. It is superior to vigilanteism. It is superior to anarchy. It is good that there is such a thing as government.

Particular manifestations of government may involve the work of evil people to do evil things.

Here's where you tell the difference: The call to REFORM government (which may involve a call to reduce the size and scope of government…and certainly should in our particular case here in the USA) by making it better is different from the call to RESTRAIN government to as small a role as possible because one believes that it is inherently and unavoidably evil (in a way that somehow individual sinners are not?) and therefore cannot be made better.

Bart Barber said...


I'm spent. And you've all brought excellent questions to this thread. I've really enjoyed the conversation. I've got to work on some other things for a while.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bro. Bart,

Several more things. I initially thought to discuss your definition of libertarianism, but held off to mull over how to best articulate what I wanted to say. I think Warren Norred expresses some reservations I had about the piece -- defining libertarianism in a purist philosophical form which appears to me somewhat removed from the real life application of libertarian politics (not completely, just extreme). Or, I would like to see more of a connection made between this academic definition and what is going on in libertarian politics in the U.S.

I liked your discourse on whether it is or can be virtuous for Christians to overthrow an existing government. I agree with you, though I necessarily find what I believe is the correct biblical view troubling to my historic appreciation of both my Colonial and Confederate ancestors who seemed to think otherwise. In the midst of it you wrote, "I agree that there is a strangeness to it all, that God would ordain something but not approve of Christian involvement in it."

We often have difficulty separating what is moral for God to do, yet immoral or unethical for us to do -- such as overthrowing a government. But I believe this is an important truth of the sovereign God with which we must come to grips. Your illustration of David and the temple is a good one. Another is the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. It was perfectly legitimate for God to strike them dead, but it would have been immoral for Peter or the church to have done so. And so on.

Back to government in general, government doing evil, and government being an agent of God for good. I agree with your assessment of this as the ideal in the purpose of God. Yet does that fully take in the entire concept of what we know about God and government? Government is not evil. As an agent it is ordained by God. But particular governments can be evil. How do we understand that with the fact that some evil powers that be were ordained by God? For example, God raised up Pharaoh to show His power, and he wreaked a lot of havoc on the children of Israel. Or Nebuchadnezzar, whom God used as a instrument of judgment of the land of Judah. How do we integrate these truths about these "powers that be" that were ordained of God into our overall theology of government?

P.S. Bart, I'm late getting to the party! The above was written earlier, before all your latest posts, but I'm just now getting around to posting it. Perhaps you have already answered some of these comments. Thanks.

Bart Barber said...


To do what you have asked me to do in your first paragraph would be contrary to my purpose for this series. I believe that the right way to approach this question (and many others) is to start by knowing what you believe and then to struggle with how to apply it. Too often I think we attempt the practice of, for example, the "real life application" of Libertarian politics without having come to well-grounded conclusions about the ideal nature of government from a Christian, biblical perspective. When we do that, I believe we become rudderless ships.

And so, the "purely philosophical" is my intention.

I will say this much about application: I wonder whether this post would have generated so much conversation if there were not a man named Ron Paul running for POTUS. I do think it is possible not to be a Libertarian and yet to decide to vote for Ron Paul. Perhaps, even for some non-Libertarians, Paul winds up being the least-worst candidate. So be it.

Real-life application of our ideal political principles almost always involves compromise. But you don't even know what you've compromised until you have decided what you believe in an ideal, philosophical sense.

As to the role of God in the administration of Pharaoh, that's certainly a difficult question. From all theological stripes, we tend to find refuge in some idea of a greater good understood by God and mysterious to mortal men. We both know that the church flourishes best when persecuted by evil governments—at least, it has tended to do so. The most exciting place for the gospel today is Communist China. Exciting things are happening in Eastern Cuba as well. Faced with the opportunity to trade the earthly comfort of His followers for their spiritual maturity and effectiveness, I think God would make the calculations differently that we would.

You set me up for a good note on which to end the comment: We can safely conclude about politics that God regards them as far less monumental than we do. He has more important things afoot.

. said...


Thanks for the thought-provoking post. We need more of this kind of discussion, especially during election seasons!

Since you brought up the subject, there is something I have personally struggled with for years and I'd love to get your views on it. You mention in your post, and in further comments above, that while some may be justified in overthrowing a government, Christians are obligated to submit. Where the context of our own country's revolustion was concerned, your contention was that Christians were obliged to simply submit to the new American government.
This brings me to my struggle. To quote the declaration of independence:

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."

And in particular, later on:
"In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. "

As you know, this document, while penned by a known Deist and non-Christian, was signed by several Christians.

In light of this, coupled with the arguments you make above, how do you believe we should look back on our own country's fight for independence, and furthermore, how should we view those who claimed to be followers of Jesus who signed this document and led that revolution?

Thanks in advance for thinking with me through such an easy subject. :-)

Bart Barber said...


I've felt the same struggle, along with many others of the same nature (how do we feel about a denomination of churches born out of a defense of racial servitude?), and I don't know any way to end that struggle or even necessarily to minimize it.

I do not agree with the Declaration of Independence in the passages that you have cited. These concepts cannot be derived from the Bible and cannot be reconciled with biblical teachings.

Nevertheless, I do believe that God willed the formation of the United States of America. I believe that the existence of the USA has been to the benefit even of the British Crown, in the long view of history (a couple of world wars come to mind). It is possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Where the rubber meets the road:

1. I think that those moral sentiments in the Declaration are not biblical.

2. I think that Christians who signed the document were signing a document with some sentiments that were helpful and biblical and some sentiments that were not helpful and biblical. As we both know, the subject of how to relate to the Crown was hotly debated down to the wire. Maybe they tried for something better and settled for what they got. I haven't read the minutes closely enough, recently enough, to recall.

3. Subsequently unfolding history makes it clear (to me) that God's hand was behind the formation of our country.

4. I like the example of David and Saul. It was God's will that David replace Saul. It was God's will that David not be the one to cut Saul down. God accomplished both. I think that Christians involved early and directly in the overthrow of George III in the colonies were ahead of where they should have been. I think God would have accomplished it without them.

5. I celebrate the birth of our country because (a) it is my obligation to be in subjection to and prayerful support of this country, and (b) even if not everyone involved was involved perfectly, I believe that God accomplished the creation of this country.

Thanks for the comment.

. said...

Thanks. You have challenged me in a way that is helpful and at the same time caused more struggle. Just glad I'm not the only one. :)

I appreciate the balance you are trying to strike. I have always wondered--usually while feeling a sense of "righteousness" in celebration of our independence and the rights that I do believe are ours directly from God--if there is any way to reconcille a war we celebrate each year and which gave birth to this nation, with the clear Biblical injuction to submit, particularly given the context of Romans 13 to which you rightly appeal.

Guess I'll keep on struggling. Appreciate the exchange.

R. L. Vaughn said...


I suspect you are correct. This post might not have generated much conversation if it weren't for Ron Paul running for President. Not only that, probably a lot of folks wouldn't even look at Ron Paul were it not for the dire mess we're in. He’s run for POTUS several times, and he seems to look better and better in fields that seem more Lilliputian every 4 years.

In situations such as those of Pharaoh, to me there is (1) no doubt that God raised him up; and (2) no doubt that there is some "greater good" principle at work. Much in these kinds of situations is beyond our comprehension. At least we can see the big picture, in which God birthed the nation of Israel from the womb of Egypt, carrying them there until the birth pangs cast them out. I'd see the slavery and persecution as bad in one way, but good in another as with the pain of childbirth. This seems to me to fall into the "overthrowing governments" type category you mentioned in a previous post. God can and does raise up whomever He wants, but we are bound to follow the revealed will of God for us in matters of "establishing" governments.

I agree that the Lord's people have tended to flourish under persecution. That is interesting in light of I Timothy 2:1-4, where our prayers for those in authority is to the end that we might go about quietly undisturbed, living according to the principles of God without persecution. (At least that's how I read it.) On the surface it might seem that we should pray for more persecution that we might get more done. But that's not what Paul said. Perhaps we don't need to pray for persecution because it will come. I think this weaves back into your conclusion that God regards politics as far less monumental than we do. In a society such as ours, it is easy to lose sight that HIS kingdom is not of this world. I doubt they have that problem in Communist China or Eastern Cuba!

volfan007 said...

Most of us know you're not a're a Pastor. Duh!



Anonymous said...


Thanks again for the reply, sorry it has taken me a while to get back to you on this.

Government the abstract principle is not inherently good. As I mentioned in my previous post, centralized government is said by God to be a de facto rejection of Him. Likewise, your comment that particular manifestations "may" involve evil people doing evil things should read "necessarily involves sinful people who have been given the power to carry out their sinful decisions". We must be thoroughgoing in our doctrine of man. Recognizing that man is a sinful creature, is the best answer giving him even more power to exercise that evil or is there a better way?

Your primary error falls in your call to REFORM government. You say we should make it "better". Who defines "better"? If it is personal opinion then that phrase is of course meaningless. If it is according to the only fixed standard in the universe (God) then "better" would look like the government that He instituted amongst His people that they later sinfully rejected. That is, everyone lives at peace in a state of voluntary interaction and when the inevitable conflicted arises, wise elders in the Scriptures are sought to mediate the conflict (not pagan man-centered law). Restitution must be made and if the party found to be in the wrong refuses to pay, they are put out of the society.

I appreciate your thoughtful answers but I do believe that you are basing them far more on secular (anti-biblical) American political theory and not on the Word of God.

Thomas the Texican