Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Religion and Liberty

Religion and liberty—few issues are more controversial among current-day libertarians.

-          Jörg Guido Hülsmann, from the Preface to The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton by Ralph Raico.

Guido Hülsmann is one of the truly shining lights when it comes to Austrian economics, libertarian political philosophy, and the understanding of the intersection of culture and liberty.  I have also come to believe that there is not a single subject known to man on which he is unable to provide informed thought.  Maybe Major League Baseball, but other than that….

In this Preface, Hülsmann offers four possibilities when it comes to this intersection: first, that religion and liberty are separate spheres, with little to do with one another; second, that these two are completely antagonistic; third, that one complements the other – a sense of piety in man facilitates the possibility of limited government; fourth, religion – particularly Christianity – is fundamental to liberty, and this is demonstrated by both the historical record and by conceptual thought.

When considering these four, I see my journey going from the first to the third and finally the fourth.  To walk through this here is too much to consider, covering a journey of at least five years – and, in some ways, a lifetime.  I can describe, instead, why I am here.  Let’s start at the end; Murray Rothbard writes:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises’s utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic—an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual—grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man’s nature.

The first time I read those words, many, many years ago, I didn’t grasp the full weight of the meaning.  To further his point, Rothbard writes:

…only forms of natural or higher law theory can provide a radical base outside of the existing system from which to challenge the status quo.

And if this isn’t sufficient, Rothbard would elsewhere add:

…the natural law provides the only sure ground for a continuing critique of governmental laws and decrees.

Elements of natural law can be found in many faiths, as C. S. Lewis offered in the Appendix to The Abolition of Man.  He offers numerous illustrations of Natural Law to be found in history and in many cultures: ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Chinese, Old Norse, Babylonian, Roman, Hindu, Christian, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Australian Aborigines.  There are many features in common across these.

Yet the historical record demonstrates that these features only took meaningful root in establishing liberty in civilizations influenced by Christianity.  Why is that?  I believe it is because of concepts unique to Christianity, unique from other religions.  And one need not believe in the Virgin Birth or Resurrection to recognize these concepts as Christian.

God made all men and all women in His image; God breathed into man, giving him reason and a soul; in Christianity, we have the perfect archetype; man has a unique and special purpose – a proper end toward ordering life; an extremely low time preference, considering eternity; men and women offer service and are subservient to each other; there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.

Yes, some of these can be found in other religions – after all, God breathed reason and a soul into all men and all women, regardless of their faith or lack of faith.  To my knowledge, however, no other religion integrates all of these into one cohesive narrative.  From these, one can derive the natural law of which Rothbard wrote.

And this is how I ended up understanding that the fourth of the four possibilities offered by Hülsmann is the only one that offers a path toward sustainable liberty.  Continuing with Hülsmann, who has, obviously, come to the same realization (perhaps for other reasons, I cannot say):

This realization has been a slow process and I could not say now when and where it will end. But I can pinpoint the circumstances of its beginnings. I can pinpoint the one writer who got this stone in me rolling.

For Hülsmann, the journey began with something else written by Raico.  For me…I also have no idea where this journey of mine will end, but I can also point to where it began…kind of.  Early in the life of bionic, I wrote a good amount examining the positions of left libertarians – concluding that what they advocated was not libertarian, nor would it lead to liberty.  At one point, a left-libertarian challenged me to take on Hans Hoppe in the same way, pointing me to Hoppe’s essay, A Realistic Libertarianism.  This was five years ago.

Prior to this I had read much of Hoppe, but never with this specific focus.  In my examination, I ended up agreeing with Hoppe – albeit so much of my thin-libertarianism-and-only-thin-libertarianism-is-sufficient-for-liberty came through (I am almost embarrassed to offer the link).  My thoughts have obviously developed since then.  But it is clear that this was my singular objective, identifiable, starting point.


Unfortunately, the individual who challenged me posted his comment as anonymous, therefore I am not able to thank him, profusely.  In any case, I don’t think the outcome was as he hoped.

In any case, I am able to offer profuse thanks to Hans Hoppe.


  1. This is why the Churches rolling over to the State on so many issues, as exemplified now by Coronavirus shutdowns and not allowing good clerics to speak out against BLM/Antifa, is so disconcerting. I was struck by a thunderbolt sweating on the pages of "The Ethics of Liberty" while reading it on a treadmill at the hotel gym at The Galleria in Houston long ago, but it took awhile to understand force needs to be against the force of the State. The Empire vs. the Republic, Good vs. Evil, except it must be the actual Institution He instituted with His Incarnation.

    1. Eric, by far this has been the most disconcerting aspect of the entire episode for me. Of course, I already had difficulties previously with the church - broadly and narrowly speaking. Support for wars, various financial and sexual corruptions, etc. But closing for six months, and during Holy Week - I would have bet my net worth against this.

      Prayer is the only answer I have, for God to call forth the strong leaders in His church. However many or few of these that there are, this will be the only foundation we have.

  2. "God man all men and all women in His image;"

    Did you mean "God made all men and all women in His image;" ?

  3. The essential value of Christianity is obedience. Obedience to the will of God, whatever that will decrees. This is antithetical to freedom. To claim that freedom derives from Christianity is nonsense.

    1. Oh, you have convinced me. The depth of your knowledge is surpassed only by the elegance of your argument.

    2. So, obedience to God is NOT the first principle of Christianity?

    3. You have changed your argument. There is so much to dissect in your first comment; meanwhile, your second comment, while it might be considered literally correct, has so much behind it that it cannot be understood in a manner than one can conclude it is antithetical to freedom.

    4. Too much time to deal with the issue. Too complicated an issue to respond to. Evasion is the typical response by Christians to hard questions. You and your religion are not up to any serious intellectual challenge.

    5. Start here; click on and read the embedded links within the post as well:

      Then go to this link:

      At the above link, read all of the posts under Fritz Kern, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, C.S. Lewis (specifically regarding The Abolition of Man), Robert Nisbet, (specifically regarding The Quest for Community), Heinrich A. Rommen, James C. Russell, Richard Storey, and Frank van Dun.

      Then read this:

      Finally, read every chapter of this book:

      After this - in about 30 years when you have finished - drag your pompous ass back here and you might be qualified to have a third grade level conversation on this topic.

      Ignorance is the typical response by morons who don't understand what they are talking about.

    6. You are unable to answer a direct and simple question: So, obedience to God is NOT the first principle of Christianity?

      It doesn't require 30 years of study to say yes or no to this question. Your refusal to say yes or no shows you are afraid to speak the truth, which is YES, obedience is the PRIME virtue of the Christian.

      You can't own up to your own servility.

    7. Afraid to read the links, that is clear. Meaningful questions, unlike the simplistic caricatures you live in, are not answered so simply.

      I answered your question, several comments ago. It seems reading comprehension is not your skill.

  4. Interestingly enough, Rothbard and Raico were unbelievers, as is Hoppe. Having embraced natural law, however, they recognized as reasonable the leap of faith undertaken by the Christian, who posits the existence of both natural law and the Father of Natural Law. They just refused to make that leap.

    That's what separates the paleos from the left-libertarians. On and on the lolberts go, singing paeans to (their version of) "rights" while scoffing at the very existence of the Christian God. The irony escapes them.

    1. I don't recall if it was Rene Girard or Tom Holland or both, who said something like: if a non-Roman citizen said anything about his treatment or wondered why he wasn't given his "rights," the only answer would have been to be sent to the gallows.

      The concept of rights as we claim these in the West, derived but not directly correlated to natural law, has been passed to us through the Christian tradition.

    2. Dalrymple has an interesting, and amusing, take on "human rights" in this video: Peg