Pope Francis’ recent warning about the evils of libertarianism is full of the usual ignorant misrepresentations (selfish, antisocial, etc.). In it, he warns of the dangers of individualism and freedom. He worries, “[Libertarian individualism] minimizes the common good, that is the idea of ‘living well’ or the ‘good life’ in the communitarian framework.”
Let’s talk about that communitarian framework for a moment. I am neither surprised nor disturbed by the Pope’s commitment to the collective. Organized religion, by its very nature, is collectivist. Human beings need communities. We need family, friends, neighbors, etc. And religion does a great job of both nurturing and fortifying those important communities. Churches are better at this than secular or government busybodies.
Why? Because a church is chosen. Government, on the other hand, is forced. Collectivism can be beautiful right up until the moment it is mandated. When it is mandated, it loses its true purpose. It becomes a force for decay and, yes, even evil. The good power in collectivism is derived from the fact that it is freely chosen by the individual. A community is only as strong as its individuals are free. Religious collectivism works because it is voluntary. Government collectivism fails because it is forced.
One good way to think of the separation of church and state is that collectivism is the territory of the church and individualism is the territory of the government. In the Constitution, all the enumerated rights are individual rights.
The Pope doesn’t seem to understand this. He thinks that because collectivism works well in churches, it must then be good policy for states. He ignores history, which has repeatedly demonstrated the folly of this point of view. If he insists on ignoring history, then let him look to today’s Venezuela. The socialist policies he applauds don’t just stagnate economies, they harm people. Mandated collectivism harms individuals.
So, yes, when it comes to the policies of state, we libertarians focus on the individual. And those of us who are Christians––including Catholics––look to Christ as an example of that focus.
One last thing: The Pope likes to disparage capitalism. I would remind him that in the past thirty years, free market capitalism has been primarily responsible for the cutting in half of extreme poverty in the world. That is the greatest accomplishment in human history. No church or state has even come close to that kind of poverty relief. Only freedom. Only free individuals.
Dear Francis, when Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, it wasn’t a mandate.