My personal political journey began in middle school when, in imitation of my dad, I started to identify as a Republican. I began as a default George W. Bush fan, since he had been the last Republican president, and I knew he had served as the Governor of Texas at some point. Soon after, I began watching videos online of Ben Shapiro “owning the libs” and triggering liberal college students with his famous saying, “facts don’t care about your feelings.”
However, the more hours I spent online, the more I became exposed to different political ideologies, and among them, libertarianism stood out. As a young boy who grew up in a traditional evangelical church, was often made fun of as a “goody two shoes” by his older brother, and was the typical straight-A and piano-playing Asian kid, the edginess of libertarianism appealed to my pre-teen emotions. In other words, I, along with many other zoomers, went through our libertarian phases because it seemed “based” at the time. The ideas that taxation is theft, that we should “End the Fed,” and that heroin should be legal, made me feel like I had taken the red pill while everyone else was brainwashed government drones still in the dark. I mixed my conservative views on abortion and LGBT issues with my edgy libertarian views on drugs, taxation, and regulation, and I felt that my views blended harmoniously.
But my belief in libertarianism started to wane as my interest in the Bible and theology grew. I had come to a simple realization: society is complex, selfishness harms society, and evil people exist. For me, libertarianism did not adequately address these issues. Some may say this is my problem and not libertarianism’s, but perhaps this is not true and there really is a flaw buried in libertarianism.
Conservative and Libertarian Ideals
Both conservatism and libertarianism are committed to the protection of individual liberty. Furthermore, both are attitudes regarding society rather than mere ideologies. They are defined not by their agreement with a defined manifesto or list of policies, but by a set of common values, beliefs, and heuristics with which they approach political problems. There is no confessional standard for either school of thought. Instead, both are based on a set of principles that guide how one should view society. However, in contrast to libertarians, conservatives inherently believe in hierarchy, inherited traditions, and reform over revolution. They also view the preservation of faith, national sovereignty, and the nuclear family as the fundamental unit of society as necessary for any functional society. Society should be centered on families, not individuals. Libertarianism on the other hand, is primarily hinged on the non-aggression principle, and maintains that society is made up of atomic individuals who have the right to ignore tradition if they are so inclined.
Within a libertarian framework, it would be completely acceptable if everyone in society decided, as far as their personal lives are concerned, that the idea of the nuclear family should be discouraged and dismantled. Under conservatism, however, the state ought to wield its authority against those attempting to dismantle the nuclear family and instead proactively promote the idea of the nuclear family. When faith and the family are under philosophical attack, conservatives accept the potential necessity of aggression, even when there is no direct threat to an individual, their property, or the enforcement of a contract.
“Taxation is Theft” or “Render unto Caesar?”
Conservatives, stop saying taxation is theft. Not only does this radical attitude of the state’s role in taxation violate conservatism’s “reform over revolution” principle, the Bible is diametrically opposed to this libertarian view of government. The reality is that the Bible condemns the “taxation is theft” mentality. In the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he argues that the civil magistrate consists of God’s ministers who are ordained by Him and under His authority. God has ordained the church to administer word and sacrament while ordaining the state to carry out taxation, justice, and security.
Romans 13:1, 6-7 (KJV)
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God…For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
By no means does the Bible affirm the socialist view of taxes. While conservatives must fight for lower taxes, Scripture is clear that taxation itself is not theft because if taxation was theft, there would be no moral obligation to pay it—thou shalt not steal.
When drug legalization is discussed, both libertarians and progressives often bring up this common myth of victimless crimes, maintaining that such “crimes” should not be punished by the state. The very basis of this argument, the idea that there is such a thing as a victimless crime, opposes the Biblical teaching on sin and crime. Just as there is no such thing as a private sin, there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Just as personal sin affects more than the sinner, so called “victimless crimes” indirectly harms society. This is why conservatives, unlike libertarians, oppose the legalization of prostitution, hard drugs, and polygamy.
Not only is that law useful for Christians, but the Bible teaches that law is still useful for non-believers. The second use of the law (the first use in Lutheranism), also known as the civil use, says that one of the functions of the law is to restrain and temporarily punish evil. Even “private sin” and “victimless crimes” must be curbed for the sake of order. While the law itself cannot convert, it is still useful in ensuring a society has order and justice. Not only is this idea taught by the Protestant Reformers, but also the Apostle Peter in his first epistle. In 1 Peter, he states that governors are sent by the Lord “for the punishment of evildoers.”
1 Peter 2:13-14 (KJV)
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
Evil is not defined by the government. It is defined by God. Therefore, Peter does not teach that governments can punish whoever they want for any reason they so choose. Rather, Peter argues that governments can and should punish those who violate God’s definition of evil. Notice that Peter prefaces the command to submit to the civil magistrate with the words “for the Lord’s sake,” making clear that a person should submit to “every ordinance of man” only if obeying does not entail disobedience to God.
Furthermore, conservatives do not believe that all sin demands governmental punishment. This is not only impractical and impossible, but unnecessary. There are different degrees of sin and crime, and the government should measure the practicality of the enforcement of punishment for each law. For example, lying about one’s height harms society differently than distributing cocaine or committing arson. Remember, the law is used to curb sin, not to make sin disappear.
Without a doubt, the libertarian will object to the enforcement of the Biblical moral law. If conservatives enforce the moral law when in power, what’s to keep the progressives from just enforcing anti-Christian laws once they return to power? The answer is that progressives are trying to force their moral laws on everyone already. Planned Parenthood-backed politicians aren’t trying to make abortion tolerable, they want abortion access up to, and even after, birth. Leftists aren’t content with legalizing gay marriage, they want to force pastors to officiate same-sex weddings in their churches. When leftists and the Democrat Party advocate for infanticide and religious persecution, Christians and conservatives must not be passive. Conservatives must take an active and hardline stance, pushing back against leftist ideology. Since the progressives will utilize government power to enforce their morality regardless of what we do, conservatives might as well do so too.
My purpose is not to bash libertarians or suggest that they cannot be Christians. In fact, some of my most respected political figures are libertarians: Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Thomas Massie. Libertarians sometimes fight for the same policy proposals as conservatives, but often they don’t. My message for conservatives and libertarians is this: we’re not the same. The conservative movement must divorce libertarianism and conserve something more than mere individualism.