There has been a fairly recent trend in social and political discourse to hold simultaneously what appear to be two comprehensive and contradictory moral doctrines, namely, libertarianism and Christianity. The first view is based on the idea that agents fully own themselves and also own the fruits of their labor. It follows from this self-ownership (according to what has been termed “right-libertarianism”) that “agents have a robust moral power to acquire full private property in natural resources. . . without the consent of, or any significant payment to, other members of society” (Vallentyne 2007). In contrast to this view are the traditional Christian teachings on property and obligations to others. Various biblical passages explicitly call for beneficence to others who are less fortunate, and a rejection of the importance of personal property altogether. While a cursory examination of these two views may draw one to concluded that they are mutually exclusive and thus incompatible, recent political candidates and movements (e.g., the presidential bid of Ron Paul, and the Tea Party movement) have embraced both. It has been suggested by defenders of this dualist position that the two views can be reconciled by holding that one is a claim about legitimate state authority, while the other applies to what is morally required of individuals. Can an appeal to a public-private distinction reconcile these two views? Can one consistently claim to be a Christian and a libertarian with appealing to essentially ad hoc arguments? In this paper we examine the extent to which these two view can be reconciled.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH, USA