This question poses a conflict between two philosophies, but is not meant to necessarily compare their strengths. Only if Love of Neighbor is indeed the antithesis of the libertarian philosophy.

Libertarianism as I understand it (from reading lots and lots of Robert Heinlein Sci Fi) is the idea that laws should be crafted so that personal liberties are always acknowledged. So long as you don't hurt anyone else, whatever you do is OK. Drugs, Sex etc... are legally OK, but it's not advocated in any way leaving a person in a state to excercise their freewill and follow God in their own way. The other side of it is TANSTAAFL (Their ain't no such thing as a free lunch) which is pretty bibilical (If they will not work, neither shall they eat) in the end of 2 Thessalonians).

Personalism as I understand it (from listening to lots and lots of Catholic radio and reading John Paul II's Love and Responsibility) says that, A person is an entity towards which the only reasonable attitude is love, as an extrapolation of the 2nd greatest commandment and the Golden Rule. Therefore, if you consider yourself a person, then you ought treat others as you want to be treated and you shouldn't do things to yourself that you wouldn't do to others.

So, as far as I can see it, it is pretty difficult to reconcile the two ethics. According to personalism, is there some depth into libertarianism that a Christian can delve, and then they need to pull up and get a breath of fresh air, or should it just be totally avoided?

  • 2
    I think this falls under our discussions of not comparing 2 philosophies. I don't see how this is very constructive
    – wax eagle
    Aug 29, 2011 at 18:57
  • @wax eagle, I thought the consensus was not to compare religions (Mormons Vs Hindus, etc...)
    – Peter Turner
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:33
  • 1
    @Peter any comparison question is going to be hard to justify anywhere on SE
    – wax eagle
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:34
  • 1
    Well, I think this one's a little different. I'll change the title to be what I mean.
    – Peter Turner
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:36
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    @Peter - I would withdraw my close vote if I could ;)
    – wax eagle
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:45

4 Answers 4


When I hear Libertarians talking about how each person's only responsibility is to themselves, I tend to think of Cain. When God asked him where his murdered brother was, he flippantly responded, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (It's not my responsibilty to look after him! He ought to take care of himself!) I don't think most Christians would consider him good company to be in.

Jesus's famous "new commandment" was to "love one another as I have loved you," and the way he loved us was to give of himself at every opportunity, even unto laying down his life for us. And James condemned those who saw others in need and did nothing to help them, saying that their faith was "dead" and could not save them.

Contrast this with the doctrine of Ayn Rand, probably the single most influential philosopher in Libertarian thought. She taught that the highest moral duty is rational egoism, and that altruism and social responsibility are not only not required, but actually evil and inherently harmful to society!

Like any philosophy, libertarianism has some good points, but on the whole it's principles are strongly opposed to the teachings of the Gospel, and it ought to be avoided if not actively opposed by disciples of Christ.


If you restrict libertarian rules to the realm of governing and not personal responsibilities, then these views do not necessarily conflict. Ayn Rand would propose that it is everyone’s personal responsibility to earn what they receive which is hard to reconcile with the view that you should love thy neighbor and the Golden Rule. Sure you can help others too much, but you cannot honestly claim that is harmful in every case.

Other biblical teachings, can be even more difficult to reconcile with libertarianism applied to personal responsibility:

Deuteronomy 15

10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Luke 12:33

"Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

A Christian libertarian may, however, argue that you should give to charity or stop to help someone with a flat tire, but the Government shouldn’t force anyone to do so. This view is more easily reconciled with biblical teachings, however, even this has some dangers. For example, should parents be able to allow kids to have access to alcohol and drugs, allowing them to become addicted before they learn to make mature choices for themselves? Should the government help people help themselves? Some libertarians would say no, even if pays for itself by helping people to become productive members of society (such as with education). Sure libertarianism has some good points, but ultimately libertarianism should be seen as a tool to achieve some greater purpose and you should not lose sight of what is important.


The issue comes down to the difference between the church and the government.

If Jesus was speaking to the government when he spoke the golden rule, then yes, there would be a conflict. If he was speaking to individuals within the church, I don't believe there's a conflict at all. If a person holds that the Golden Rule was given to those who follow Christ, and simultaneously holds that the government isn't as effective at private institutions and citizens at rendering aid to those in need, then you pretty much, by definition, have a Christian Libertarian who follows the Golden Rule.

Underlying this question, however, is a bigger one: Are Christians who hold a Libertarian viewpoint truly following the Golden Rule? That's a question that can't be answered on a macro level, but only on an individual level. Granted, there are those who give lip service to the Golden Rule so they can appease their conscience while they hold a Libertarian viewpoint for no other reason than their own unconfessed selfishness. But there are also those who hold to a Libertarian viewpoint because of a more emotionally removed cost-benefit analysis of the services provided by the government. My guess is that the latter is rarer than the former, but the latter surely does exist. Judging motives, however, is God's role, not ours.

In other words, my short answer is: a personal ethic of libertarianism ought to be avoided by the Christian. However, a governmental ethic of libertarianism need not be verboten.


First off I think posing Ayn Rand as "probably the single most influential philosopher in Libertarian thought", does not reflect reality. As most ideologies go, there are a few flavours to choose from, as is also the case with religions, christianity included.

Ayn Rand does indeed sell an anti-altruistic world view, but it is worth noting that she draws an distinction between egotism and egoism in the introduction to "The Fountainhead". Quote: "The difference is that egoism is equal trade in values, while egotism – exactly like altruism – belongs to the realm of disconnection between what a person gives and what he receives."

My interpretation of that book is that it is not a good idea, and even damaging, to forever be giving of yourself when there is no return. No gratitude, no thank you, no appreciation. So nothing bad in being good to other people, but that it is no healthy to give away your self in the process.

As I see it the golden rule is ever present in most libertarian writings, although there often seems to be an exception when it comes to people who do not follow it when interacting with you. So not so much the turning of the other cheek. And as most psychologists would argue, turning the other cheek and not standing up for yourself is not a good idea, so there might be a point here.

Libertarianism being based on rationale, and not dogma, it seems to me as being a real opposite to any religion. But that's not saying there is no morality to it.

In my experience around the world, not being an unpleasent person seems to work out quite well everywhere, with people of all faiths, in all cultures, everywhere, and that's really what libertarianism is about. It's not an -ism of you're wrong and I'm right, it's an -ism of you do whatever you think is best, and I'll do the same, and we agree not to bother each other.

If you need help, I'll help you, but not for the sake of feeling good about myself, or because I'm compelled or forced to do it, but for the sake that helping you might be mutually beneficial, whatever your or my faith.

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