Everything Wrong with the Libertarian Denial of the Universal Destination of Goods in a Single Word

Everything Wrong with the Libertarian Denial of the Universal Destination of Goods in a Single Word June 11, 2015

""I had to look up velociraptors"You, apparently, have never seen Jurassic Park."

Yesterday, we talked about meeting pro-choice ..."
"You're "sure." Right, lawfareblog is well known for sensational pulp. You seem determined to remain ..."

St. Thomas, Chesterton and the Transformation ..."
"I'm sure I'm not. Nothing about Trump has changed. He was a criminal before during ..."

St. Thomas, Chesterton and the Transformation ..."
"And for what purpose do you present these arguments in reply to a post of ..."

Yesterday, we talked about meeting pro-choice ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • prairiebunny

    I don’t think you were paying attention. I will grant you that Paul gave a long winded answer, but here is what he said at the end.”There wont be any care and everybody is going to starve to death on the street without medical care. That’s the implication of question.That’s just not true.” So yes the child would get treatment.By implying that Paul would kick the child out onto the street was a total misrepresentation of what he actually said.

    • Patrick

      You must not be familiar with Mark’s regular attack on what he likes to call “libertarianism”. It has next to nothing to do with actual libertarianism, but he feels compelled to misrepresent libertarianism whenever he gets a chance, apparently even if that means misrepresenting what somebody who is known to be libertarian says, like here.

      • chezami

        Yeah, Ron Paul is not a *real* libertarian or anything.

        • Patrick

          If you noticed, Ron Paul did not say that the child should not get emergency care…of all people, HE would be among the first to actually administer medical care to those who approached him and needed it (as he has done in his career). Thinking people look at the context of the
          question – the candidates’ debate – and realize that he’s trying to get people to understand that the simplistic question is not what it appears.

        • Patrick

          You might actually read the entire comment here too, since I explicitly mention that Ron Paul is “somebody who is known to be liberterian”. Asking a lot, I realize, but it’s a good habit to develop.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Actually, I seem to have seen the argument somewhere that there is really no real libertarian… in the same way as there is no real capitalist, etc.!

  • Dagnabbit_42

    Ron Paul actually said “Yes.”

    He just said a lot of other things as well, which touch on the same topic; and said them ramblingly instead of clearly.

    And, for the record, there isn’t anything anti-libertarian about saying “Yes” as a response to that statement provided that one doesn’t draw the unnecessary corollary that, “…therefore, it doesn’t matter one whit how the funds for that care are paid for, on whose authority, at whose expense, and at what opportunity cost.”

    The Libertarian is the man who says that if Tom, Dick, and Harry live on the same street, and Harry’s having trouble paying his bills, it’s okay for Dick to voluntary give some money to Harry and try to convince Tom to do the same, or for Tom to voluntarily give some money to Harry and to try to convince Dick to do the same, but it’s flagrantly immoral for Dick to point a gun at Tom and say, “Yes, Tom, you’re going to help Harry; I don’t care how much you need the money or what for, because I have decided independently that Harry needs the money more than you do.”

    Libertarians draw such distinctions because they believe that The Use Of Force is sometimes justified, and sometimes unjustified, and that an unjustified use of force is sinful, and that no man has a Natural Right to commit a sin (though he may very well have a purely negative Civil Right to do so), and that, having no just authority under Natural Law to commit a sin, he also has no capacity to delegate to any of his employees the authority to commit that sin on his behalf.

    In the Tom, Dick, and Harry example, if Dick has no just authority to point a gun at Tom (because it’s wrong!), he cannot (logically) delegate that authority (which he doesn’t have!) to an employee, to commit the sin on his behalf. He also cannot (logically) form a political solidarity with twenty other people, to collectively hire an armed man to commit a sin on their behalf collectively…because, of course, if none of them have that just authority as individuals, they also don’t have that just authority as a group.

    There are, of course, ways as a society to organize collective action to help the stranger, the injured, they dying. And doing so is a moral duty not just of individuals working alone, but individuals joining voluntarily to work in solidarity. No Libertarian would oppose that.

    But there are also unjust ways of doing the same thing, which try to achieve similar effects and which have similar stated motives, but which employ an immoral use of force in doing so. The argument in favor of doing this is, “It’s okay to do things the wrong way, if you’re trying to achieve the rightful ends.”

    Normally this view is called “consequentialism,” and normally Mark Shea opposes it.

    But in this case, Mark Shea supports consequentialism, because whenever he gets dazzled by the opportunity to express contempt for his own political allies (as happens all too frequently!), he doesn’t allow himself to be constrained by such things as being Catholic in his moral theology or proportionate in his criticisms.

    This is why he lays into conservatives and libertarians with such Goebbels-esque vigor, deriding them as haters of poor folks, neglecting the fact that these red-staters are responsible for twice as much charitable giving in the U.S. as their blue-state leftist counterparts. (You see, blood-libel also is no impediment, when you’re having too much fun saying nasty things about your coreligionists.)

    • Guest

      I guess you could say that the libertarian perspective on politics is like Mark’s perspective on the death penalty: the question is not whether we get to use force, but whether we have to.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      He also cannot (logically) form a political solidarity with twenty other people, to collectively hire an armed man to commit a sin on their behalf collectively…because, of course, if none of them have that just authority as individuals, they also don’t have that just authority as a group.

      The problem with the Libertarian approach is that once you start talking about Natural Rights, the initiation of violence, and putting a gun to someone’s head and forcing him to pay money to support others… you’ll find that the Church says that the sovereign actually does have the right to do that. CCC 2406 states that “Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.” (Read 2403-05 for context). Although in modern democracies the state is the people, and the individual people have no right to steal, the whole has greater powers than the sum of its parts.

      This doesn’t mean that redistribution of wealth or any other government spending program is effective or even not counterproductive, nor does it mean that you have to support every tax increase and social welfare program to be a good Catholic. It certainly doesn’t mean that Washington D.C. knows best. It does mean, however, that you cannot extend “you shall not steal” to the government simply on the basis that the government is a collection of individuals who may not steal. Legitimate government authority has rights that individuals don’t have.

      • Dagnabbit_42

        Yes, CCC 2406 does say that.

        But what a lot of people fail to appreciate is that all authority comes from God.

        If it comes from God, one must ask: How did it get delegated to a particular set of persons who are the current government?

        The answer is only “directly from God” when God Himself ordained a particular government through a prophet. First Saul, then David, were put in power that way.

        But for most governments, the answer is “indirectly from God, through the people.”

        For of course God Himself delegates to the people the authority to form political solidarities, to hire employees, to delegate to those employees some part of their own existing just authority, and to defend the innocent.

        But of course God does not delegate “all authority in Heaven and on earth” to each individual. Therefore they cannot possibly delegate to their hired employees (the government) such a broad scope of power.

        Instead, God grants a more limited authority to use force to each individual. In the main, it amounts to “defending the innocent, including oneself, from wrongful uses of force (including fraud, which is intellectual forcing) by others.” We Christians have just authority to repel such forcible evils by force. But we don’t have just authority to repel all evils of any kind by force. For example, it is a grave evil, because of the disordered aesthetic sensibilities involved, to enjoy Britney Spears recordings. (I’m kidding…mostly.) But however grave an offense that may be, we aren’t authorized by God to use force to resist it. We may justly point guns at would-be robbers and rapists and murderers and fraudsters; we may not justly point guns at teenyboppers listening to bubble-gum pop crap.

        But consider: If we do not have just authority to point guns at others for such reasons, then there’s no way we could delegate that authority to our employees, the government.

        Which means the government can’t justly do it, either.

        So, no: Legitimate government authority doesn’t have rights that individuals don’t have, unless you wish to assert that a government other than the Davidic Kingship which is currently held by Jesus Christ was ordained directly by God in the relevant sense. If you think the U.S. government was founded that way, then you have to show me the prophet, show me the anointing of George Washington, et cetera.

        Now some people misunderstand the implications of this, and because they misunderstand, they raise this objection: “Hey, Dagnabbit, your view means that either the government has just authority to build nuclear missiles because individuals do, or else, the government DOESN’T have authority to build nuclear missiles, because individuals don’t.”

        This is not an insoluble dilemma, but a misunderstanding: Individuals do have just authority to build, and even to use, nuclear missiles, tanks, et cetera for the defense of the innocent. That authority does reside in individuals simpliciter. But that authority does not reside in individuals secundum quid, because each individual is too prone to error and to selfishness for such a concentration of power to be prudent. Therefore such authority may only be justly (safely) exercised in consultation with others, with a prudent distribution of power. And, providentially, that’s just what you get with a government!

        So, there is a sense in which a government can justly (safely, prudently) do what an individual cannot.

        But it does not come from the government having any more authority as government than could be in principle delegated to it by the individuals who formed it. That would be nonsensical; it would be like saying that a layperson could ordain a deacon, and a deacon could ordain a bishop! We cannot hold such views and be good Catholics. We must hold that you can’t delegate authority to another if you don’t have that authority yourself, to begin with!

        Make sense?

      • There are a lot of things that the people running the state claim is for the common good but is not. It is actually for the convenience of those in power. The more I look at how the power to regulate and take property is exercised, the less CCC2406 compliant activity there seems to be.

        One libertarian regulation of private ownership does exist, that scales and measures must be true. The idea that you should not aggress by force, theft, or fraud will lead to a certain amount of regulation on the part of government and all of that is consistent with CCC2406. The amount libertarians do it is tiny compared to other political philosophies but it does exist. This is why libertarianism is distinct from anarchy.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “He also cannot (logically) form a political solidarity with twenty other people, to collectively hire an armed man to commit a sin on their behalf collectively…because, of course, if none of them have that just authority as individuals, they also don’t have that just authority as a group.”

      So, huh, if Dick steals something from Harry, can Harry appeal to a group of individuals to judge Dick and forcefully imprision him?

      Or do you think that Harry, as an individual, should have that right?

      • Patrick

        Biblically speaking, imprisonment was not the punishment for theft, restitution was. Americans can hardly even think in these terms anymore, sadly.

        • Alma Peregrina

          So, you’re against prisons?

          • Patrick

            I’m most definitely against most of what prisons are used for in present-day America.

            • Alma Peregrina

              At least you’re consistent.

              But, biblically speaking, there were saints and prophets that were imprisioned (unjustly imprisioned at that) and yet, there is not a word about prisons being intrinsically evil.

              And it is obvious that such facilities shouldn’t be left at the discretion of mere individuals, but that a group of individuals wielding authority may legitimately do it.

        • ManyMoreSpices

          You can still get restitution. It’s not as if someone who steals your car goes to jail but gets to keep your car.

      • Dagnabbit_42

        Stealing constitutes a use of force: You prevented me from making use of my justly-acquired property by taking it somewhere else.

        According to the Catechism, God has in fact delegated to human beings just authority to use force to punish, deter, and halt wrongful uses of force.

        Therefore I have just authority to, for example, shoot a guy who’s of breaking in my door or window in the middle of the night to steal my TV.

        And, were he and I out in some wilderness beyond the normal reach of law enforcement, I could even hog tie the thief and deprive him of his liberty until he had been punished and made restitution.

        But of course that situation has the potential for all kinds of failures of justice and escalation of violence. For this reason, when societies form, it is vital that individuals enter into political solidarity, exercising their right to hire employees and to delegate to those employees their just authority to use force in the protection of the innocent, and to likewise hire employees to assist in the evenhanded regulation of the hirelings who use force. This combined use of three just powers of individuals (to form solidarity, to use force in defense of the innocent, and to delegate authority to your hired employees) is how one forms a government.

        So all authority comes from God. On rare occasions, He directly institutes a government (e.g. the anointing of first Saul, then David, through Samuel to create the monarchy of Israel). But most of the time God delegates authority to individuals, who in turn hire employees and delegate to those employees some of their just authority to use force to defend the innocent, thereby instituting a police power for their community; when that police power exerts consistent control over a territory and is regulated by representatives, it becomes a nation-state. Since persons living in solidarity as a society need this, it is a positive good ordained by God…but He bids individuals, in solidarity, to implement it.

        Those are the principles at play.

        Using those principles, we can answer your question: Yes, if Dick steals from Harry, then Harry and Tom can unite to hire a person to whom they delegate their just authority to use force to punish, compel restitution, and deter recurrence of Dick’s wrongful use of force. If this is a temporary hire, we call that “deputizing a posse”; but if it’s a long-term gig, it’s called “hiring a sheriff.” And if you get more people involved in this little society, such that you have to hire more sheriffs, eventually somebody’s got to regulate the burgeoning police power of the society by writing laws. So then you get elections and courts and judges and, hey presto! It’s a government.

        Make sense?

        • Alma Peregrina

          It does make sense. So, if I understood correctly, an individual has the right to judge and arrest a thief while in the wilderness, and that right is transferred to government when living in society.

          Then, let’s assume a diferent scenario.

          Imagine Tom, Dick and Harry are lost in the wilderness, beyond the reach of society and imediate help. A helicopter has parachuted some supplies, with the following message “This is for you all. Manage that the best you can until rescue comes to your aid”.

          Tom was wounded and needs nutrition and first aid badly. However, Dick argues that, because he did most of the work getting the supplies into the shelter, he owns the majority of them. He then proceeds to hoard most of the supplies, much beyond what’s needed for his imediate survival.

          Tom will soon die with what was given to him and Harry.

          Does Harry, as an individual, have the right to take from Dick just the amount necessary to let Tom live?

  • Patrick

    One of these years Mark will finally reveal what it was that some horrible person who self-identified as “libertarian” did to him or one of his family that drives him to attack a caricature he labels “libertarianism”. Until then, here is a bit of actual clarity on libertarian thought as it affects Catholics for those not willing to buy the nonsense.


    • Patrick
    • chezami

      Where on earth did I ever get the idea that Ron Paul is a libertarian?

      • Patrick

        If you noticed, Ron Paul did not say that the child should not get emergency care…of all people, HE would be among the first to actually administer medical care to those who approached him and needed it (as he has done in his career). Thinking people look at the context of the question – the presidential candidates’ debate – and realize that he’s trying to get people to understand that the simplistic question is not what it appears.

    • Marthe Lépine

      I cannot talk for Mark, but I can suggest an answer based on my own experience. When I began to read Catholic blogs, mostly originating from the US, because a friend had sent me a link to Crisis/Inside Catholic/Crisis, I was absolutely amazed at the difference between the Catholicism I had been taught and practicing in my own country and the Catholicism I was reading about on the Internet. At the time I knew nearly nothing about libertarianism or about US conservatives, and I was shocked. From there to be repelled by the label of libertarianism, the way is not very long. It’s a good thing that I have some good friends who had taken refuge in Canada for reasons of “conscientious objection” to the Vietnam war, and who took the time to clarify things for me.

      • Patrick

        It is far more likely that people who fled kidnapping by the U.S. military are closer to libertarian than to conservative. Are you saying that your exposure to libertarianism was Crisis magazine? Because that is not a very libertarian organ.

  • ivan_the_mad

    The correct answer is indeed yes. The social teaching and the bishops both have made it abundantly clear that health care is a basic right.

    In defense of Ron Paul, for whom I shall always have some measure of affection, I am certain that his answer is yes, but in his typical fashion, he takes advantage of the opportunity to offer a nearly incoherent and extemporaneous exposition of what he envisions as an alternative to the current system. Paul is a well-meaning ideologue; I think he is simply incapable of allowing that prescriptions derived from his political dogmata can do any other than succeed.

  • Gunnar Thalweg

    Really. We’re getting a smarmy response from Jon Stewart.

    Ron Paul’s answer is inelegant, and he addresses some of the implications of the question. Of course the answer is yes, as Ron Paul has provided lots of care as a doctor, and I’ll be some of it was free. How much as Jon Stewart done? Oh right, none.

    Here is the bottom line of Catholic teaching on the universal destination of goods:

    “The Church has rejected the
    totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with
    “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the
    practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the
    law of the marketplace over human labor.207 Regulating the
    economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social
    bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social
    justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by
    the market.”208 Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and
    economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a
    view to the common good, is to be commended.”

    But the Church also teaches that economic initiative is a basic right.

    The U.S. bishops have said healthcare is a basic right. Mark Shea has said elsewhere that food, water and housing are basic rights. The Church clearly respects private property and unjust taking of goods. But if it’s a right, others cannot deny it to you.

    I think libertarians get hung up on the language of rights. Once you make rights material, it sounds like socialism and communism. The church condemns that.

    It has to be understood within other teaching. There are lots of teachings about what our responsibilities are as Catholics. And one is paying for stuff if we have the money. And we are responsible for how we use our money so that we can spend on healthcare for our children. And the church furthermore offers flexibility for the political system to act.

    What the Church is saying there is a base level of charity for all mankind, something we would agree with. A five-year-old has a right to healthcare. But the hospital has a right to be paid for their services, too.

    As usual, when you start to dig into church teaching, it’s always more commonsensical and reasonable that it sounds at first. It’s usually how any charitable and loving person would behave, anyway.

    And that doesn’t have a blessed thing to do with smarmy Jon Stewart and his creepy little gotchas. It has more to do with Ron Paul and his medical career as well as his desire to preserve freedom. Better a nation of Ron Pauls than Jon Stewarts.

  • kirthigdon

    I think the error common to both libertarians and their opponents in
    this discussion is the assumption (either express or implied) that an
    individual would never have the right to use force or coercion to
    confiscate someone else’s property – or for any other reason beyond
    immediate self-defense. This leads the libertarian to assert that no
    collective or ruler could have this right either and the opponent to
    assert, either expressly or by implication, that the collective or ruler
    is not bound by moral standards which would bind the individual. But
    clearly the premise is wrong. There are instances where an individual
    would be entitled to use force or coercion to confiscate another’s
    property or compel behavior.

    If A is dying for lack of a certain medicine and B, not needing the medicine himself, was withholding it for whatever reason, C could rightfully compel B to give A the medicine. Same goes if A desperately needs surgery, and B, a skilled surgeon,
    refuses the operation. C could rightfully compel B to operate.

    Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a self-described European style liberal (which
    most Americans would call libertarian), uses the example of a sinking
    ship where the crew and passengers have lost their heads from panic. An
    armed clear–thinking passenger, he writes, would have the authority to
    compel the orderly evacuation of the ship.

    I certainly agree that force and coercion should not be the preferred method of dealing
    with any problem, so I am in practical agreement with libertarians
    probably 95% of the time. We should never be gleefully trying to come
    up with scenarios where we get to use force, but sadly sometimes we have
    to. The inability to deal with these instances is a flaw not just in
    the philosophy of libertarians but also of even such more extreme groups
    as Christian anarchists and pacifists – the Catholic Workers, for example.

    Kirt Higdon

    • Allen

      So, thou shall not steal, unless you need it more than the other.

      • Matt Talbot

        “Stealing” bread when you’re starving, particularly when the owner of the loaf refuses to share, isn’t actually theft.

        • Marthe Lépine

          And I ay be wrong, but that, morally, but not according to secular law, the owner of the loaf would be considered as the one guilty of theft by holding on to the bread. And if the owner of goods, not necessarily bread but for example a certain type of building material (which has been known to happen), proceeded to hoard large amounts of such goods, in order to keep the prices artificially high or climbing, he would be honestly earning his money and nobody would mind – because the market… and even taxing such income would be taking his legitimate earnings by force.

      • kirthigdon

        If you need “it” to preserve life or restore health from a grave deficiency and there is no other way of getting “it”, then it is not considered stealing in the moral sense. That is the traditional teaching of the Church and I say that on the basis of 16 years of Catholic education including a theology minor in college. I don’t know if you are Catholic or not and of course there are usually other ways of obtaining necessities, at least under civilized conditions. Under conditions of war, famine, or genocidal government, it might be another matter.

        Kirt Higdon

      • Alma Peregrina

        Thou shall not kill, unless it is a just war.

  • Jared B.

    Ron Paul is living proof that to be a libertarian does not necessarily mean denying the universal destination of goods.

    Every part of his answer to the question was first and foremost true, that should be the most important thing. But I might add it also showed a sensitivity to Catholic social justice that I seldom see in his opponents, Republican or Democrat. The fact that he didn’t give a straight answer does not mean he really meant to say “no”, as I think Jon Stewart was implying. It meant that he saw through the false assumptions behind the question. Good for him.

  • anna lisa

    Recent immigrants are a very hardworking group of people. Just drive through the central valley of CA, and watch them picking your veggies for a while.

    I had to go to an ER in Mexico once. They didn’t charge us anything–no questions asked. They finally agreed to a donation for the meds when my husband insisted. My grandfather had the same experience.

    Healthcare: yes, always
    Breakfast in bed just because you can: sometimes.

  • Dave G.

    The biggest problem is that Ron Paul was giving an answer that was later played for Jon Stewart’s audience.

  • Peggy

    The healthcare law is not about denying care. It was many other things: control of the people, most importantly. For Catholic hospitals, they want the feds to foot the bill for their charitable works of mercy. They didn’t care if they had to sign on to abortion, birth control, etc., in order to get it. Sr. Keehan and friends just had their hero Barry speak at their conference. I am hopeful of the subsidies being overturned by SCOTUS…I know….don’t hold my breath.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Behold! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Libertarian to give a simple answer to a simple question.

    • Patrick

      Ron Paul’s answer was based on the fact that the question was not simple, it was simplistic, and a gotcha, and he recognized that and tried to expose it for what it was in order to try to get the sheeple watching to think in a new and different way about the big picture. Libertarians can and do give very simple answers to simple questions, but people don’t like those answers because most people are quite comfortable with the aggression brought to bear on people that benefits them somehow.

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        It’s not rocket surgery. If Ron Paul wanted to give a full answer, all he had to do was say,

        “OF COURSE any five year old should receive medical care, but the larger issue is …” and then he could explain all he wanted.

        Instead he obfuscated and hmmd and hawed all over the place, never answering the question.

        • Patrick

          There was no obfuscation – he was not being willfully ambiguous. He was trying to cram in as much as he possibly could in the tiny amount of time he had to reveal the question as misleading and to try to educate. For those who actually listened to what he said and were not predisposed to dismiss him (nobody around here, I’m sure), he did a decent job. Not perfect, of course, but he is held to a higher standard for some reason. As someone else mentioned, everybody would be far better off with a government full of Ron Pauls than one full of Jon Stewarts (or Mitt Romneys or Rick Santorums).

          • chezami

            Of course there was obfuscation. The sane answer was “Yes”. He could have said that. He chose not to. Because libertarian dogma denies the universal destination of goods in favor of absolute private property rights. Because it has no concept of the common good. It’s a philosophy for people with no children.

            • Mark S. (not for Shea)

              Correct. Libertarianism isn’t hard to understand. “Every man for himself.” “Let them eat cake.” Libertarianism has turned old news into new political thought. But it’s nothing new.

          • Mark S. (not for Shea)

            I don’t buy it. Watching the entire thing, I was very much left with the impression that the reason Paul talked so long without getting to the point was that he couldn’t really say what he thought. Had he been 100% honest, the question would have gone like this:

            Question: “Should a five year old without insurance receive treatment?”

            Ron Paul: “No.”

            Because that is the end result of Libertarianism’s goals. But you can’t say stuff like that and run for President.