Sean Parr
To Dan Popp's defense of fighting non-violence with violence, part one
By Sean Parr
April 16, 2015

Those who subscribe to a particular philosophy, and who find themselves at odds with one another, face a relatively easy task when engaging in argumentation. Namely, they can at least agree upon and proceed from certain basic principles which may be foreign or contentious to outsiders. This is more or less true for all "in-the-family" disagreements. Dan Popp and I, however, do not have this luxury when it comes to political philosophy – for though he seemingly shares my reverence for Christ, he certainly does not share my reverence for freedom. Not even close. And this means that we must put substantial work into understanding one another so that, in our grappling, we do not come across as two ships passing each other in the night.

Popp believes that libertarianism is anti-Christian. [1]

I do not.

However, I believe the source from which our troubles stem is simply that we have differing Christian views of government and public policy, and I feel that – before embarking upon my second and final response to Popp's curious position – a discussion must therefore be had in this regard.

Two Competing Christian Views

Laurence Vance calls to attention the separate lenses through which Christians see the state:
    the two historical schools of thought regarding this matter are the Integrated Authority School and the Competing Kingdom School. The former school of thought regards the state as "a potential ally of the family and church in establishing or advancing God's kingdom in the world." The latter school regards the state as on "a course antithetical to God's."
Because Popp advocates sending policemen to the doors of gamblers, adulterers, and the like on the basis of the government being "a deputized arm of the Kingdom of God" it is reasonable to posit that the manner by which he comprehends government is very much in line with that of the Integrated Authority School.

This would necessarily place him at odds with a Christian like me, a Competing Kingdom School-er, who holds to a "passive or non-confrontational public policy theology," or who "considers the state to be evil, and 'having a strong link with Satan and his kingdom.'"

Popp ignores, or does not know, that competing Christian comprehensions of the state and its policies exist. But the fact that they do exist goes far in explaining why Popp and I can look at a scriptural passage like Romans 13:1–7 (or 1 Peter 2:13–17 or Titus 3:1) and have greatly varying interpretations. [2] Where Popp might see the government as biblically necessary, I do not – because I do not conflate the government being within God's plan with "the government being sanctioned and declared inherently moral by God."

My intention here is not to enumerate the "numerous negative references to the state in the Bible, such as Matthew 4, 1 Samuel 8, Genesis 11, and the book of Revelation," and make a case for the Competing Kingdom School. My intention is merely to showcase what is likely the genesis of the disagreements in which Popp and I are entangled. Although I believe that Popp is wrong in his Christian comprehension of the state and that I am right, I am not trying to make that argument here. I am simply asserting my belief that this is the principal reason over which we butt heads.

Libertarianism is Not Anti-Christian

If nothing else, Popp, in his criticism of my assessment, has demonstrated the perils of penning a hasty response. What do I mean by this? For starters, one need only look at the title of his most recent essay to piece together that he has articulately walloped a straw man. Popp quite incorrectly reasons that I am championing "Christian libertarianism." This simply is not true (although others have done so quite admirably and successfully). Were I to champion Christian libertarianism, I might, as Popp has challenged, "start with the Bible" and list some lines of scripture in order to apply them to libertarian principles. Perhaps something along the lines of the following:
  • And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Colossians 3:17)

  • And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. (Colossians 3:23)

  • Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
A Christian cannot initiate violence in the name of the Lord Jesus (to lawfully prohibit a nonviolent action – consensual sodomy between adults, say – is, "by the rules of logic and by definition," to initiate violence). A Christian cannot steal from somebody heartily, as to the Lord. A Christian cannot kill somebody to the Glory of God. And Laurence Vance has argued that Proverbs 3:30 and 1 Peter 4:15, together, "embody the essence of libertarianism. Don't kill anyone, don't take what's not yours, don't do anyone wrong, [and] don't stick your nose in someone else's business."

Matthew 7:12's Golden Rule, though by no means identical to it, is very similar to the non-aggression principle, or NAP (described below). Further, it has been noted that "scripture is consistently skeptical toward power concentrated into the hands of rulers (cf. 1 Samuel 7)," and that "the 'Kingdom of God' is never characterized with the aggression of the state."

Were I to champion Christian libertarianism, I might attempt to demonstrate, as Popp has challenged, "how Christian men applied biblical principles to develop libertarianism" and mention how "Mr. Libertarian" himself, Murray Rothbard, concurred with the assessment of French historian Numa Denis Fustel De Coulanges – ascribing the concepts of individualism and liberty to Christianity. Or how, when attaching a moral philosophy to his political one, Rothbard – in order to make libertarianism sound – did not simply settle on, but required, natural law and natural rights (each having a great evolution in the Christian tradition, from Saint Augustine to Saint Aquinas and on). I might mention how libertarian theorists, even atheist ones, have agreed that the priests of the school of Salamanca [3] were the intellectual and moral predecessors of the libertarian doctrine. Or how "the light of [the truths of libertarian political theory is] but a reflection of the encompassing and eternal light that radiates from God through His Son and the Holy Spirit."

I could mention all these things in defense of Christian libertarianism, but such is not needed. Such is an irrelevancy because my claim is in no way tantamount to championing Christian libertarianism. My claim is that libertarianism is not anti-Christian. Mine is a far more modest claim than the one with which Popp chooses to contend.

Now, I do not love the fact that Popp has ascribed to me assertions that I did not put forth. Which is not to say that I hate that Popp has done this – for "hate" is not the opposite of love; "not love" is the opposite of love. And to not love something is not to hate it. I include this little exercise in contradictories in order to arrive at this point: To state that libertarianism is not anti-Christian is not to state that it is "just so darned Christ-honoring." It is to state, only, that there is nothing about libertarianism that is inconsonant with Christianity. That is all.

As an illustration of this point, few would deny that culinary artistry is not anti-Christian. But look at what Popp would demand as proof of this. To avoid the dark result of being deemed anti-Christian, culinary artistry (or anything?) would have to have its advocates demonstrate "how Christian men applied biblical principles to develop [it]." This is an outrageous standard. Does the Bible say that culinary artistry is wrong? If yes, then throw it down as an enemy of God and smite its ruin upon the mountainside. If no, then it is not anti-Christian and demands a more responsible criticism.

The lynchpin of libertarianism is the NAP which states that it is illicit, only, to initiate, or threaten to initiate, physical violence against innocent persons or their legitimately held property. Tacitly embedded in this foundational principle is the notion of property rights, for the NAP is useless without some means of differentiating what belongs to whom. Libertarianism, then, is the NAP plus property rights – that's it. If Dan Popp can show me where the Bible forbids those two things I will eat my hat.

But such cannot be shown because nowhere in the Bible does it state that it is wrong to lawfully prohibit "murder, theft, rape, trespass, fraud, arson, etc." Nowhere in the Bible does it state that other persons have a better claim than we do to exercise control over our bodies or legitimately held external possessions. Libertarianism thus is not, and cannot be, anti-Christian.

Ownership of both Self and External Things

As far as libertarianism is concerned, a property right in a possession – an external thing – can be discerned by means of Lockean homesteading ("the first use or possession of [a] thing") and contract (licit title transfer). I don't imagine that Popp has a problem with this. The rub for Popp comes into play, I think, once libertarianism attempts to identify a property right in one's body – self-ownership.

My intuition is that Popp has a problem not so much with the concept, but with the identifier of "self-ownership" because taking issue with the former would entail all sorts of trouble. To begin with, to argue against the concept of self-ownership is to engage in a performative contradiction. According to Hans-Hermann Hoppe, arguing is an activity that necessitates an individual's sole control over the resources required for argumentation "(one's brain, vocal cords, etc.)." Those engaged in argumentation mutually acknowledge the other's exclusive control over these resources. Hoppe goes on to state that "the fact of self-ownership is a praxeological precondition of argumentation. Anyone trying to prove or disprove anything must be a self-owner. It is a self-contradictory absurdity to ask for any further-reaching justification for this fact."

And Rothbard continues on the subject:
    Consider, too, the consequences of denying each man the right to own his own person. There are then only two alternatives: either (1) a certain class of people, A, have the right to own another class, B; or (2) everyone has the right to own his own equal quotal share of everyone else. The first alternative... contradicts itself in denying natural human rights to one set of humans. The second alternative... rests on an absurdity: proclaiming that every man is entitled to own a part of everyone else, yet is not entitled to own himself.
Let us hope, then, that it is only the name of the thing, the identifier, with which Popp takes umbrage. As I've stated, and Popp has ignored, there is nothing inconsistent with referring to, or thinking on, self-ownership as self-stewardship. As a matter of fact, were he to do so, Popp would be in excellent libertarian company. Gary North, a respected libertarian and Christian has said: "What free market economists call self-ownership is in fact stewardship: delegated ownership under God's original ownership." How can North get away with changing the identifier "ownership" to "stewardship"? Because whether it's one or the other the concept remains the same: an individual has a better claim to his own body than any other person whom might wish to aggressively claim title to, or exercise control over, it. Popp's objection to self-ownership is simply a non-issue. Ostensibly, it is polemics for polemics' sake.

Violence is Not the Answer

With that out of the way, I'd like to address a misrepresentation of my position on the subject of morality. I will simply insert what Popp claims I stated next to what I actually stated so that the two propositions can be contrasted.
  • What Popp claims I stated: "Sean tries to separate the political from the moral."

  • What I actually stated: "[Libertarianism] is only concerned with the moral insofar as it posits that the [NAP] ought not to be violated."
To state that "A is only concerned with X insofar as Y" is precisely equivalent to stating "A is concerned with X" and then describing the circumstances under which it is. It is only in Popp's fantasy that I present libertarianism as if it has nothing to do with morality. Libertarianism is a branch of law. It is therefore subordinate to morality. As Rothbard has stated:
    If ethics is a normative discipline that identifies and classifies certain sets of actions as good or evil, right or wrong, then tort or criminal law is a subset of ethics identifying certain actions as appropriate for using violence against them. The law says that action X should be illegal, and therefore should be combated by the violence of the law. The law is a set of "ought" or normative propositions.
An underappreciated and important take-away of the foregoing is that the law is violence. Libertarianism asks: "When is this violence morally permissible? When is it justified?" The answer found appropriate by libertarians and, upon reflection, by most reasonable, peaceful people: When it is retaliatory and proportionate. The prominent French thinker Frédéric Bastiat explained those actions to which the violence of the law may rightfully extend:
    Nature, or rather God, has bestowed upon every one of us the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property.... If every man has the right of defending, even by force, his [natural rights], a number of men have the right to combine together to extend, to organize a common force to provide regularly for this defense.... Nothing, therefore, can be more evident than this: The [law] is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense; it is the substitution of collective for individual forces, for the purpose of acting in the sphere in which they have a right to act, of doing what they have a right to do, to secure persons, liberties, and properties, and to maintain each in its right, so as to cause justice to reign over all.
And, alluding to the law's improper application, Rothbard pointed us toward a valuable lesson:
    Certain actions are considered wrong to such a degree that it is considered appropriate to use the sanctions of violence (since law is the social embodiment of violence) to combat, defend against, and punish the transgressors. There are many actions against which it is not considered appropriate to use violence, individual or organized.
That last touch of Rothbard's, "individual or organized," is instructive. If it is not appropriate for Popp to initiate violence against me for, say, being snarky, then it is also not appropriate for the government (or any other organization of individuals) to do so on his behalf. As Gerard Casey has noted, "If you or I cannot do X, we cannot authorize a government to do X. In the principal-agent relationship, we can only delegate to another the powers that we ourselves possess."

This is important.

For it means that Popp has not fully thought out his position (that those who engage in sodomy, adultery, fornication, gambling, and prostitution be subjected to the initiatory violence of unjust laws), or else he has thought it out and nonetheless believes that he, as an individual, has the legal right to threaten or employ physical violence against gamblers, Johns, philandering husbands, members of the adult entertainment industry, etc., and that those in the government, acting as his representatives, have this right by extension. Popp is either mistaken or a man of violence on the level of a psychopath.

There is, admittedly, a third option for Popp. Perhaps he believes in a double standard. That the moral values and duties to which we as citizens are subject are not applicable to government officials; that initiatory aggression is only right when it is the product of a bureaucrat's meddling. Perhaps Popp believes that human beings who have a job in the government are "composed of different materials from the rest of mankind?" If this is the case, then the onus would be on Popp to successfully argue for the natural superiority of legislators and their agents.

Libertarianism states that proportionate violence, whether individually doled out or collectively exercised in the form of the law, is appropriate in defense of our natural rights. Popp states this and much more: that violence may be extended to those situations in which our natural rights have not been affronted, to those situations in which no violence has first been initiated. If making fertile our neighbors' hearts and minds for Christ is the goal, perhaps a different tack should be considered – for the jailhouse and the bayonet are lousy tools of conversion. Simply put, violence is not the answer to those pressing and troublesome concerns that belong to the arena of non-violent vice or sin.

To Popp (and to my fellow Christians who may believe that libertarianism is anti-Christian) allow me to repeat myself:

Violence is not the answer.

Continued in Part Two.


[1]  See also here.

[3]  The Dominicans: Francisco de Vitoria (1485–1546), Domingo de Soto (1494–1560), Juan de Medina (1490–1546), Martin de Azpilcueta (Navarrus) (1493–1586), Diego de Covarrubias y Leiva (1512–1577), and Tomas de Mercado (1530–1576). The Jesuits: Luis Molina (Molineus) (1535–1600), Cardinal Juan de Lugo (1583–1660), Leonard de Leys (Lessius) (1554–1623), and Juan de Mariana (1536–1624).

© Sean Parr


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