Michael Gerson Rebukes Libertarianism

Michael Gerson has a strong rebuke of “libertarian nonsense” in his column today for the Washington Post. He writes:

A Republican ideology pitting the “makers” against the “takers” offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.

A few libertarians have wanted this fight ever since they read “Atlas Shrugged” as pimply adolescents. Given Romney’s background, record and faith, I don’t believe that he holds this view. I do believe that Republicans often parrot it, because they lack familiarity with other forms of conservatism that include a conception of the common good.

But there really is no excuse. Republican politicians could turn to Burkean conservatism, with its emphasis on the “little platoons” of civil society. They could reflect on the Catholic tradition of subsidiarity, and solidarity with the poor. They could draw inspiration from Tory evangelical social reformers such as William Wilberforce or Lord Shaftesbury. Or they could just read Abraham Lincoln, who stood for “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

Instead they mouth libertarian nonsense, unable to even describe some of the largest challenges of our time.

Read the rest here.

10 Responses to Michael Gerson Rebukes Libertarianism

  1. Matt Svoboda September 21, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    His title, “An ideology without promise” is interesting to me…

    I would like to read his argument as to why his political ideology does in fact have “promise.”

  2. Matt Sorrell September 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm #


    This is something I struggle with, personally, when it comes to politics and compassion for the lost and hurting. When it comes to the Federal government, I tend to be “little L” libertarian. I want it to get out of the way. I want it to restrict its efforts to the enumerated powers. Part of that comes from a principled position (I like to think). The other part comes from fear. Let’s call it the slippery slope argument. If we allow government intrusion based on theological principles we support, and with which we agree, have we not opened the door for government intrusion based on principles we don’t support, or with which we don’t agree? What’s to put the brakes on the locomotive if another group comes to power?

    State and local governments are different, and should be tackling this issue more head-on.

    But for me, what I want to see is government that gets out of the way and lets the church work. We shouldn’t have to worry about tax-exempt status, or if we can receive block grants for helping the homeless because of some misguided interpretation of the separation of church and state.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see a conflict between Christianity and libertarianism. In fact, I’d much prefer that the government get out of the way and the church step up instead. Here’s what I wrote back in March:

    If we want to make government smaller, I think we have to make society bigger, and especially our churches. While government does overreach and inject itself where it’s not needed, a lot of the intrusions start innocently, because there is a need to fill. Naturally, government thinks it can fill that need best. But what if the need was already being met, was not going unfulfilled? Then there is no impetus for government to act.

    So, to make government smaller, we have to remove the need for government to act. How do we do that? We meet the needs of those around us, both physically and spiritually. Get involved in community outreach through your church. Donate food to the food bank and articles of clothing to the clothing closet. Volunteer in a soup kitchen. Get involved in clean-up teams.

    And guess what? The size of the church doesn’t determine how big it is. A 4,000 member megachurch that never steps outside its walls is a hovel. The 200 year old church with 50 faithful attenders that runs a soup kitchen is like a mansion. The size of the church doesn’t matter as to its impact. And churches can partner together in ministry, even across denominational lines.

    • Brian Boswell September 21, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      Matt – I think I understand what you are saying and agree. As far as politics, I do not see the needs for such a large federal government and I honestly think it is the biggest problem we have. With the ability of SuperPACS to give unlimited money to two candidates, they can basically run the country, whereas, if power were given to the states and local county governments. I’d like to see the power divided down to the lowest level of government. It is much easier to hold my local politicians accountable than to hold some big-wig in Washington accountable. I realize it wouldn’t solve our problems, but it would at least make them more manageable. You can thank Lincoln and Hamilton for this mess.

      As far as the church, I agree with that as well and I think the church needs that kind of involvement in its community, if it is to experience true growth. Memberships mean nothing, the small church can do equally important work as the megachurch. All it takes are people willing to deny themselves.

  3. John Caneday September 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    I have no reason to question Michael Gerson’s character or faith, but I am consistently appalled every time I read what he has to say concerning the nature of government and the role of the state in the lives of the people.

    Gerson clearly believes the state has an active interest in the lives of its citizens. He acknowledges that “Perverse incentives in some government programs may have contributed” to the moral and economic decline in America, but he doesn’t want the government to get out of the way, instead, he believes we need “creative policy.”

    What about the church and its utter failure to address the culture’s sin, the government’s overreach and capture of the welfare system? If the problem is government, then how is more or different government the solution? How can the state fix anything? It does not have the redemptive power of the Gospel–it has only coercion and other people’s money.

    As long as Christians buy into the idea that the state can and should play an active role in the moral shaping of its people and its economic welfare, they will keep the church in a subservient, servile role that only concerns itself with the soul and its eternal destiny but leaves the body to the machinations of the state and its godless ideology.

  4. Jeff Wright September 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Dang it… followed this link from SBC Voices’ Twitter feed. That’s the only way I end up on Denny or SBC Today and it gets me every time. Shame on me.

  5. Ian Hugh Clary September 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Rather a mealy-mouthed rebuke at that. I guess he would take issue with the basic policies of someone like Thomas Sowell?

  6. Paul Abella September 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    The problem with today’s conservatives is that they want it all…They want the libertarian’s view of every man for himself. They want the social conservative’s longing for big government (without mocking anyone, you have to recognize that picking and choosing what forms of birth control can be made available, or who can and can’t have equal access to certain tax, property and next of kin laws IS big government). And they want the huge military industrial complex that makes America the policeman to the world. The big tent ideology of the GOP has come home to roost, and simply as a political geek, it will be interesting to see which group in that tent will win out. Sadly, for social conservatives, I firmly believe that it will be the S.E. Cupps and Rand Pauls that will win out over time. Grab the popcorn…

  7. Mark Nenadov September 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    “Instead they mouth libertarian nonsense”

    Name-calling: A sign you are losing an argument and can’t figure out what else to say.

  8. Mark Nenadov September 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    And of course the neo-conservative Gerson has expressed lots of “sympathy for our fellow citizens” himself.

    • Mark Nenadov September 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      For instance having the audacity to call another country “low hanging fruit”. Is this the “human worth” and “civil society” he speaks of?

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