Why I can’t stand Libertarianism

On the most important issues, libertarianism is no better than rank liberalism, and sometimes liberalism is better. Case in point above. Here is the relevant exchange:

Rachel Maddow: “Do you think that a private business has the right to say, ‘We don’t serve black people?'”

Rand Paul: “Yeah…I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what’s important about this debate is not getting into any specific ‘gotcha’ on this, but asking the question: What about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized.”

Notice the logic here. Paul essentially says, “I’m personally opposed to racial discrimination, but I do not support federal laws to eliminate racial discrimination.” You may recognize that statement as the very same logic that Cuomo-style pro-choicers use in favor of abortion rights. All you have to do is substitute “abortion” for “racial discrimination.” It goes like this: “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I do not support federal laws to eliminate abortion.”

Do you see the problem here? The absolute privatization of morality is something that none of us can live with—especially when that morality has to do with the inherent dignity and value of human beings created in the image of God. Our laws will either honor that value or they will not.

Conservatives and liberals agree that the law is inherently moral. What they disagree on is what is and is not moral. Libertarianism is not concerned with this question, and that is why I think libertarianism is untenable. The public good is fundamentally a moral question, and libertarians cannot see that reality.

The inability of citizens to tell the difference between libertarianism and conservatism is most frustrating. And I suspect it’s what made Rand Paul’s victory on Tuesday possible.

80 Responses to Why I can’t stand Libertarianism

  1. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm #


    I normally agree with your take on things, but I think you’re off base on two counts here. First, Paul is not arguing for an absolute privatizing of morality. He’s arguing for focusing attention on federalism and limiting the powers of the FEDERAL government. Now, there’s a debate to be had about the Civil Rights Movement and the role of the federal and state governments in it, but Paul is clearly not a radical individualist on morality. The rest of the interview bears that out.

    Second, in my mind on questions like these there are two evils involved, one greater than the other, but two evils nonetheless. First, there is the evil of abortion or racial discrimination, which is fundamental. At the same time, there is the evil of centralization of power in Washington D.C., which, though not in the same league as abortion, is still an evil. In my view (and I think the Bible points this direction) closer government is better government. In other words, it is preferable for the most important elections to be for city, county, and state officials, rather than federal. Concentrating all the power in one place leads to our current massive power struggle to control that one place. Distributed power (i.e. federalism) allows for more responsive government, for good or for ill, and means that hearts and minds must be changed BEFORE laws can reflect them.

    This is, I think, Paul’s main point here, and one that I agree with: namely that when we encounter some societal evil, we shouldn’t immediately rush to a FEDERAL law.

    For more on Paul’s position on Civil Rights, see this press release here. http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZGJjMGVjZDNkOGJlNTBiYjNiMjg5NTViMmZkY2JjNDc=

    And, as a libertarian-leaning Christian, I hope you recognize that much of our concern is built on the limitations of laws to accomplish aspects of the public good, and not some Enlightenment privatization of morality. Envy is a grievous evil, and harms the public good, but it shouldn’t be a crime.

    Thanks Denny.

  2. Christoph May 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Good point. That’s how I usually argue when it’s about free speech, which abortion would not fall under (it’s absolutely wrong).
    But since we have the right of free speech, why shouldn’t we be allowed to say what we want, even if it’s dumb? That’s a serious question, I’m not trying to make a point.

    I just see that soon Christians won’t be allowed to speak out against sin anymore (as is already happening in the UK, as you are aware), so I’d say you have the right to say what you want, even if I don’t like it, and I claim that same right.

    I wouldn’t make that same argument about abortion though, because that has nothing to do with free speech. Let people _say_ they support abortion as much as they want, as long as the practice is illegal.

    Hope that made sense.

  3. Derek May 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m with Joe on this. The parallel with abortion breaks down here in many ways.

    But Denny, you might understand Paul’s perspective better if you understand that the same civil rights laws and legal precedents have also been used as justification with which to restrict a private club’s right to restrict access to their private group – for example, gays that are not allowed to join a Christian club at a university, for instance.

    Denny, you said that he was effectively saying “I’m personally opposed to racial discrimination, but I do not support federal laws to eliminate racial discrimination.”

    Denny, all due respect, that is just not fair. If someone else had said that, I’d call it a cheap shot (but I know this wasn’t your intent).

    He is opposed to this provision because it effectively gives government the authority to dictate virtually anything it deems to be discriminatory into a private organization or assembly. It is a very slippery slope to give government the reach and authority to determine what is discriminatory and what is not. Paul agrees that government can do this in certain instances, like when federal dollars are being used for an enterprise. But there needs to be very real limits on government’s authority to do this, especially when we’re talking about private property, churches, private organizations, etc.

  4. El Bryan Libre May 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    I was watching that interview and I thought, “This isn’t gonna turn out well for him”. His unwillingness to come right out and say it should be against the law for a business to deny service to someone solely because of their race was pretty shocking. He tried to dance around it as much as possible without answering. Crazy. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in November.

  5. Matt Stokes May 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    I don’t really agree with Paul, either, but Joe Rigney really wins the day here. Libertarians AND conservatives were originally opposed to the CRA on constitutional principles…namely that whatever good might come from the law, the federal government would overreach and eventually begin to curtail liberty and encroach upon state governments in ways that the original law never concieved of. And that’s exactly what happened. I have two words for you: school busing

    Of course, Paul should let this go, but there was a constitutional principle at stake originally.

    The inability of a college dean to understand a Constitutional objection to a law designed to correct a very real grievance is most frustrating.

  6. Collin May 20, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Joe’s gotten into the kool-aid.

    A strong central government is not inherently good or bad. The Bible doesn’t describe “moral” governments. And if you want to make a case for a “biblical government” then the only one to be made supports monarchy, the most basic form of strong central government.

    Historically, in America anyone who invokes states’ rights tends to be on the current losing side. Liberals have championed states’ rights when they thought it would help them; conservatives have done the same.

    No, libertarianism is not an option for Christians. Libertarians sound eerily like Milton’s Satan in PARADISE LOST. Liberty is not freedom to do what you want. The Christian believes liberty is freedom to do good.

  7. Jason May 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Very interesting topic, and one I have a hard time getting my head around.

    As a Christian, am I supposed to advocate that all aspects of Christian morality be represented in the federal law? I don’t think I’d personally have a real problem with that, but it would be challenging if a different religion was in charge, and forcing their version of morality on me.

    Is a true Christian Tyranny or Theocracy what we are after? I support that more than a true democracy (the democratic majority deciding which morality is legally enforced) in our morally bankrupt society, but I think my ultimate preference is liberty with minimal government interference.

    Abortion is a violation of one’s right to life. Refusing to participate in a voluntary transaction is not a crime, no matter what the reason.

  8. John May 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Denny, I’m with Joe as well, and I’m surprised with your take on Paul here. I think you’ve missed Paul’s position that it is not the role of the federal government to make laws about discrimination.

    The Constitution has enumerated powers, and only through judicial activism has the federal government gained powers to legislate laws on discrimination and countless other powers that it has assumed.

  9. Cliff May 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    So, the federal government should have stayed on the sidelines while African-Americans endured real discrimination and oppression in the Jim Crow South? What’s the point of having a federal government if that federal government can’t protect its citizens from state-sanctioned persecution?

    Any anti-CRA folks willing to offer a word or two for any African-American readers who happen to read these comments?

  10. Derek May 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    Collin, God didn’t impose a monarchy on Israel. Israel demanded it and ultimately rejected God’s warnings that it would lead to imperialism, corruption and enslavement.

  11. Matt Stokes May 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    Let me chime in once more and note that Congress was right to pass the CRA. But supporters of that act are still responsible for any overreaches the bill has allowed (and those overreaches are legion, fyi).

    Paul was making a point that was really unnecessary in the current climate, and I want to avoid defending him too much. But Dr. Burk is misreading libertarianism, and he is overreaching in his attempt to suggest that Paul wants all morality privatized.

  12. thatjeremyguy May 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    I’m personally opposed to adultery, but I do not support federal laws to eliminate adultery.

    Paul’s point is that private entities and companies have the right to discriminate as they see fit.
    Southern Seminary discriminates against non-believers and imagine what would happen if the government decided to impose its will on SBTS and demand we give atheists the right to enroll.

    I am sure you would oppose the government’s intrusion into SBTS’s affairs.

  13. Collin May 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    Derek wrote: “God didn’t impose a monarchy on Israel. Israel demanded it and ultimately rejected God’s warnings…”

    That’s only sort of true. God did warn the people, but God always intended for the Israelites to have a king. It was always his intention for a messianic figure to rule in Israel.

    Besides, look at history. ALL forms of government can lead to “imperialism, corruption, and enslavement.” The premier example of a government which excelled at those evils was Athens’ democracy, not Israel’s monarchy.

    Hold this world and its institutions loosely.

  14. David Vinzant May 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    It’s worth remembering that both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were strongly opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Another conservative, Strom Thurmond, who would switch to the Republican Party just months later said this on passage of the Civil Rights Act: “This is a tragic day for America when Negro agitators, spurred on by communist enticements to promote racial strife, can cause the United States Senate to be steamrollered into passing the worst, most unreasonable and unconstitutional legislation that has ever been considered by the Congress.”

  15. Derek May 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    You’re using the eventual lordship and total authority of Christ as a justification for advocating strong central governments and monarchies while demonizing and invalidating the opinions of those who believe a weak central government is best?

    Please. You cannot even be serious.

    Who is it exactly who is mixing/confusing the institutions of this world with the kingdom of God, I must ask? Who is placing inordinate trust in the institutions of this world – libertarians? Perhaps you should read a brief primer on what libertarianism before you continue to post on this message board. Just a friendly suggestion.

  16. Matt Stokes May 20, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    David – It’s worth remembering that current Democrats like Strom Thurmond voted against it, as did Al Gore Sr. and Bill Clinton’s mentor J. William Fulbright.

  17. Cliff May 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Thurmond is dead and was a Republican the last 40 years of his life, post CRA.

  18. Collin May 20, 2010 at 5:12 pm #


    You’re missing my point. If you recall, I said the Bible doesn’t advocate any form of government.

    And, I know all about libertarianism (and a bunch of other political theories; I teach this stuff for a living). Denny’s got it pegged. Libertarianism is not consistent with a biblical worldview. If you think it is, then you’ve got one of two problems. Maybe you don’t know your libertarianism. If that’s the case, read your Ayn Rand and get back to me. Or more likely, you can’t recognize a Christian worldview. If that’s the case, start attending a good church and God bless.

  19. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm #


    I assume you meant Robert Byrd (D, WV), not Strom Thurmond (R, SC).

  20. Denny Burk May 20, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Joe, Matt, John,

    I fully understand Paul’s constitutional objection. I just disagree with it.

    For instance, I support federal laws that would ban or limit the practice of abortion. Libertarians in principle cannot, and I think that is unconscionable. It is perfectly within the logic of the Constitution to do so (see part 1 of the 14th amendment). A libertarian approach, however, would have abortion legal in one state/city and illegal in another. This to me is absurd and not required by the Constitution.


  21. Alex Chediak May 20, 2010 at 5:32 pm #


    I watched the whole Maddow interview. I appreciate what you are saying about the restriction of FEDERAL power. But was there anything in Paul’s remarks that led you to believe that Paul would support ANY curtailment WHATSOEVER on the rights of private business owners to maintain, for example, a segregated lunch counter?

    I would have agreed with you had Paul said that it would have been OK for STATES or LOCALITIES to curtail the liberties of business owners (e.g., to insist that such owners serve black people).

    But Paul kept on making a PUBLIC/PRIVATE distinction not a FEDERAL/LOCAL distinction.

    You say that Paul’s point is that: “when we encounter some societal evil, we shouldn’t immediately rush to a FEDERAL law.”

    OK, but can ANY law be enacted by ANY part of the government, local or otherwise, to ensure that black people get served?

    Maddow gave him 20 minutes to say, “Yes, local laws should have been passed to force private businesses to desegregate” – and he couldn’t do it.

    Perhaps Paul has expressed himself with more nuance elsewhere, and I’m simply not aware. But he clearly blew this interview.

  22. Derek May 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    Not all libertarians are pro-life. Many, like Rand Paul, are. Moreso, many vigorously argue and advocate a pro-life position upon the basis – not in opposition – to their philosophy.

    Here are some of the justifications, as articulated by the “Libertarians for Life”:

    1. Human offspring are human beings, persons from conception, whether that takes place as natural or artificial fertilization, by cloning, or by any other means.

    2. Abortion is homicide — the killing of one person by another.

    3. One’s right to control one’s own body does not allow violating the obligation not to aggress. There is never a right to kill an innocent person. Prenatally, we are all innocent persons.

    4. A prenatal child has the right to be in the mother’s body. Parents have no right to evict their children from the crib or from the womb and let them die. Instead both parents, the father as well as the mother, owe them support and protection from harm.

    5. No government, nor any individual, has a just power to legally “de-person” any one of us, born or preborn.

    6. The proper purpose of the law is to side with the innocent, not against them.

    By the way, I don’t consider myself to be a libertarian, though I am probably like many other conservatives who favor a number of libertarian positions and convictions. I have had many strong and heated arguments WITH Christian libertarians (particularly on the issues of gay marriage, pornography and gambling), but I do not think that informed people can say that a libertarian is automatically or necessarily pro-choice. I think the pro-life libertarians actually have the stronger argument – that the defense of innocent pre-born life is one of the most important and few roles that government should defend and protect.

  23. Darius T May 20, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    What Joe (and others) said. Rand Paul is right on.

  24. Joseph May 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Wow, couldn’t disagree with you more. You’re displaying an inability to nuance.

    Libertarianism does not entail an “absolute privatization of morality.” Lines are obviously drawn: murder, stealing, even abortion. Have your forgotten that Rand Paul is 100% pro-life? Only confused libertarians are pro-abortion.

    Please re-examine libertarianism and your arguments. You have vastly misunderstood things.

    Lastly: When will you blog about neo-conservatism and how millions of Christians are blindly following its twisted tenets?

  25. Derek May 20, 2010 at 6:08 pm #


    You also said in #15: the Bible doesn’t advocate any form of government.
    I agree with you here- I think everyone here does- but this doesn’t mean that we can’t develop a conviction that is based on what we observe from Scripture. I don’t see anyone on this blog who is saying that there is only one valid position that a Christian can hold on the ideal form/philosophy of government. On the other hand, you seem to be telling many of us that a strong central government is the closest to a Biblical standard – it was you who dogmatically stated in post #6 that “the only one to be made supports monarchy”. In fact, the very opposite is the case. God has little to say about which form of government he specifically advocates, but we do learn from I Samuel 8 that a) He did not want Israel to have a human king and b) that human kings tend to abuse their power, which is really close to the argument that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, which is precisely the argument and conviction that informs those advocating a weak central government. When you say ALL forms of government can lead to “imperialism, corruption, and enslavement.”, this is of course true, but is a non sequitur because this statement can be applied to ANY form of fallen human government.

  26. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    Great discussion, and I think this gets at some key issues for Christians. Let me respond in reverse order:

    Alex, good to hear from you. Hope you and Marni are doing well. Looking at the transcript, I think you may be right. And I think on this issue, I see a lot of merit in Paul’s position. However, I do think I would be in favor of local laws and perhaps state laws forbidding segregated lunch counters, but I’m very reluctant to get the federal government involved in anything like that. And it has nothing whatever to do with supporting racist business. Segregated lunch counters were a grievous evil and those involved were sinning. But not every sin should be a crime, and I think that this is one case where it’s not clear that federal involvement is/was a good thing.

    The same line of reasoning has been used to punish couples who refuse to rent apartments to gay couples (in New Mexico, I think). In my mind the use of state coercion is a big deal and should be used sparingly, especially when other means are available (boycotts, protests, etc).

    And I agree that Paul blew the interview. He clarified his position here:

  27. Matt Stokes May 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Denny – thanks for the clarification. In truth, I’m less in Paul’s camp than many here.

    And I was talking about Robert Byrd, the former Grand Dragon of the KKK and currently the longest-serving Democrat senator.

  28. Derek May 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    In #24, I could have said it more clearly at the end by saying this instead:

    When you say “ALL forms of government can lead to “imperialism, corruption, and enslavement.”, this is of course true, but is a non sequitur because no one is saying that there is a corruption-free form of government in a fallen world.

  29. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    Denny, again, I’m not sure I see the same equivalence between private businesses segregating lunch counters and the murder of an unborn child. Both are evil, and both are sins. But I’m not sure that both should be crimes, and they certainly shouldn’t be the same type of crimes. For example, imagine if a group of Klansmen, in full garb, tried to eat at an African-American owned establishment, to make a statement. I think the owners should have the right to refuse service. There is no constitutional right to eat at this restaurant. (And notice I’m talking about private businesses; government entities are a different matter, which Paul acknowledged).

    So I question the equivalence you’re drawing. But even granting it, in my mind it would be preferable to have 50 state constitutional amendments banning abortion, than one federal amendment. (And I would be perfectly happy to have a federal amendment). The reason is because I think we should think big picture, and long term, which means keeping the power of the federal government in check. I’d rather try to win 50 smaller battles than 1 monumental battle. Which is why I don’t find Paul’s approach unconscionable. He’s pursuing two goods (ending abortion and promoting federalism), not just one, and I agree with both, though, like I said, they are not equal values.

  30. Collin May 20, 2010 at 6:26 pm #


    Regarding post #24: Deuteronomy 17:14-20 clearly indicates that God always wanted and planned for the Hebrews to have a king. In Samuel 8, God just doesn’t like their attitude.

  31. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm #


    I didn’t know it was kool-aid; I thought it was a hard cider 🙂

    I don’t have a problem with a strong central government. If the feds strongly protected our citizens from enemies, if it strongly established just weights and measures, if it secured the border so we know who’s coming in and going out, I would be very happy. But I do have a problem with an INTRUSIVE central government, one that recognizes no boundaries on its power. And we’re moving that direction.

    On the biblical issue, I don’t think there’s one form of government that is inherently righteous, or not. But I do think that biblical principles point us to government that is accountable and close the people. I’m thinking of Jethro’s advice to Moses in Exodus 18, among others. A strong, intrusive federal government like we have requires that my voice compete with 350 million others, which means that we’re always playing high stakes poker. I’d much rather try to persuade a couple thousand in my state congressional district, or even a couple million in my state in order to have a say in the laws that will govern me and mine.

  32. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    In my last post, I addressed Derek, but meant Collin. My bad.

  33. Derek May 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Deuteronomy 17 is consistent with what we find in I Samuel 8. This very passage actually reinforces the argument in favor of a limited role for central governors and governments. God permitted them to have a king, but note that He gives a number of stipulations and limitations of the king’s authority. You can still have a king or a president in a weak central government model. Note that “weak” is not the same as “none”. Furthermore, we see from Deuteronomy 17 something that is very important and would have been unheard of at the time that it was written – that the king shall be subject to the laws of the nation and not the other way around. That is, Israel would be a nation ruled by laws, not men.

  34. scott shaffer May 20, 2010 at 6:49 pm #


    I’m not sure I follow your thinking regarding abortion and libertarianism. As I understand libertarianism at the most fundamental level, it sanctions only those laws that preserve individual sovereignty, rights, life, liberty, and property. I’ve never considered that principle to be at odds with protecting the right to life for the unborn child.

  35. Collin May 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    I suppose you can interpret it that way, but just admit you didn’t know that passage existed.

    And you’re wrong again. Ancient kings were bound by the law too. For example, in Daniel 6:15, Darius, the Persian Great King is bound by the law of the Medes and the Persians. For a non-biblical example the Spartan kings were bound by their law as well. See Herodotus 7.164.4.

  36. Derek May 20, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    How am I wrong? The examples you gave happened many years after Deuteronomy 17 was written. For all we know, the limited manner to which these kings were subject to law might have been influenced by Israel’s example.

    I can however, give you an example that pre-dates Deuteronomy, the Hammurabi code of laws. Yet, to whatever degree kings were subject to this code is a matter of pure speculation.

    I’ve read Deuteronomy and this passage before. Again, the passage is in harmony with I Samuel 8.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for an acknowledgment from you that this statement from you in #6 is untenable and can only be charitably called “partial truth”: if you want to make a case for a “biblical government” then the only one to be made supports monarchy, the most basic form of strong central government.

  37. Collin May 20, 2010 at 7:49 pm #


    I appreciate your points in post #30. One thought though. It only helps to have the government accountable to the people, if the people have a Christian worldview. History contains too many instances in which “the people” embraced and enacted horrific abuses of governmental power.

    You willfully misconstrue the intention of post #6. I said, “The Bible doesn’t describe “moral” governments.” The “if” clause in the next sentence was a hypothetical statement. Perhaps my meaning was too subtle for you. I merely meant that one would be hard pressed to argue any other government from Scripture. My point was that you SHOULDN’T argue governmental forms from Scripture. Is that clear? Read paragraphs for comprehension, not sentences.

  38. Darius T May 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    The same logic that supports the complete criminalization of racially segregated groups supports the banning of Christian groups that won’t accept unrepentant homosexuals. So those who don’t like what Rand Paul says here can only blame themselves when Christian student groups on campuses across America are shut down because of their membership requirements.

  39. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 9:28 pm #


    Agreed on the necessity of a responsible Christian citizenry. But again, I think this just proves my point. A godless state or county can wreak havoc in a more limited area than a godless national government, especially one that is propped up by funds from locales where Christianity still exerts some cultural influence.

    A related point is that seeking to impose righteous laws on an unrighteous people only gives them more creative opportunities to sin. So again, in my view, the more we have “laboratories of democracy,” the more opportunities we have to demonstrate the wisdom, justice, and fruitfulness of godliness in those areas where Christians can promote and pass godly laws with the consent of the governed.

    And though I don’t want to wade into it too much, I don’t think you and Derek disagree too much. Neither of you think that monarchy is the only righteous form of government, and as far as I can tell, neither of you think that the Bible mandates a precise form of government. Maybe that can help diffuse things a bit?

  40. Joe Rigney May 20, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    Denny, I had another thought about how to frame the issue. Imagine three candidates for office.

    Candidate A (Cuomo) is personally opposed to abortion but thinks it should remain legal.

    Candidate B is personally opposed to abortion and thinks it should be outlawed by the states.

    Candidate C is personally opposed to abortion and thinks it should be outlawed by federal amendment.

    It seems to me that the big divide is between A and B/C. Both B and C agree that abortion should be outlawed; they just disagree on who should do the outlawing (feds or states). There’s is a disagreement about MEANS. Whereas Candidate A is talking nonsense when it comes to the issue of abortion. We disagree with him about ENDS. At the same time, his way of reasoning (personally opposed, but there shouldn’t be a law) fits all sorts of other issues (like lust, covetousness, and greed).

    So again, I don’t think you can draw an equivalence between Candidate A and Candidate B. They’re two different animals. Plus I’m not sure what Rand Paul thinks about a federal amendment on abortion.


  41. Derek May 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    You said what you said in #6 and you can split hairs and spin this any way you want – but I did not distort the substance or intent of your comment. No reasonable reading of I Samuel 8 or Deuteronomy 17 can be used to suggest that a modern understanding of monarchies would have or is God’s preference. God allowed Israel to have a king, He did not command it and He certainly put a lot of restrictions on it – so much so, that God’s definition of a king would have been that of a figurehead with limited authority. That is not a monarchy in the modern day parlance or understanding.

    But I didn’t even get into the most dogmatic statement you made in #6: “libertarianism is not an option for Christians.”

    That’s a pretty bold statement – care to back that up?

    And fwiw, I am not a libertarian, at least not in the sense that my libertarian friends would accept. But I would never say to someone that they cannot legitimately be a Christian and also be a socialist or a Democrat or a Tory or whatever. So please, let’s hear your explanation of why a Christian can not be a libertarian. I’m going to make some popcorn for this.

  42. Chris Poe May 20, 2010 at 11:19 pm #


    Adultery and fornication are both immoral and have a very harmful affect on society. Would you support laws to curb these immoral activities?

  43. David Vinzant May 21, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    It is certainly true, as Matt points out, that “current Democrats like [Robert Byrd] voted against [the Civil Rights Act], as did Al Gore Sr. and Bill Clinton’s mentor J. William Fulbright.”

    The key difference is that all three of these later repudiated their opposition to the CRA. By contrast, Strom Thurmond, though he did soften in his opposition to civil rights, never renounced his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. To my knowledge, neither did Goldwater or Reagan.

    The divide over the CRA was between liberals and conservatives/segregationists. The divide was also essentially between North and South. Almost all northerners, regardless of party, were liberal/progressive on race issues. Southern leaders, nearly all of them Democrats, were almost unanimously conservative and segregationist. As hard as it is to believe now, back then there were many liberal Republicans in the North (“Rockefeller Republicans”) and many deeply conservative Democrats in the South. All that changed in the 1960s and afterwards. By the late ’60s and early ’70s, conservative Democrats had to choose between remaining conservative or remaining a Democrat.

    Thurmond and many other white conservatives in the South stayed conservative and became Republicans (or at least voted Republican in national contests, ala Nixon’s Southern Strategy).

    Those like Byrd, Gore, and Fulbright (and eventually even George Wallace) who remained Democrats became liberal, at least on race. Byrd voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and has since repeatedly expressed regret for his opposition to the CRA of 1964 and his membership in the KKK in the 1940s.

    Al Gore, Sr. voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and thereafter became a proponent of other civil rights legislation. “By 1970, Gore was considered to be fairly vulnerable for a three-term incumbent Senator, as a result of his liberal positions on many issues such as the Vietnam War and Civil Rights. This was especially risky, electorally, as at the time Tennessee was moving more and more towards the Republican Party. . . Gore . . . was ultimately unseated in the 1970 general election by Republican Congressman William E. Brock III. In this Senate race, Brock was widely perceived to have won by playing on white voters’ fears of civil rights and desegregation for blacks. Gore was one of the key targets in the Nixon/Agnew “Southern strategy”; Spiro T. Agnew traveled to Tennessee in 1970 to mock Gore as the “Southern regional chairman of the Eastern Liberal Establishment.” (wikipedia entry on Gore).

    Fulbright’s conversion to pro-civil rights was slower and less visible. The shift began as early as 1969, when Fulbright began supporting Edward Kennedy as majority whip over Louisiana’s Russell Long. In March 1970, he voted for a five year extension of the Voting Rights Act, “the first time since Reconstruction that an Arkansas senator had voted for a civil rights bill” (Fulbright biography by Randall Woods).

    Bottom line – the CRA of 1964 was opposed by conservatives on ideological grounds. Liberals favored the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mark me down as a proponent of “rank liberalism.”

  44. Derek May 21, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    There were a number of sections and parts to the Civil Rights legislation, 11 parts as I understand it. Paul and many libertarians support virtually all of those parts, but oppose the 1 or 2 parts that is a tick or two away from what thatjeremyguy mentioned in post #12.

    Also, Paul rejects even the notion that a rape or incest is grounds for abortion. That’s pretty bold. Want to know why? Because he subscribes to the libertarian idea that once a child is a child, it doesn’t matter how they became a child – they deserve to live and to be protected by government.

    Some folks need to take a deep breath, put down the pitchforks and torches, and sit down for an adult conversation.

  45. Denny Burk May 21, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    Chris (#40),

    Yes, I do support laws that curb adultery. For example, probably one of the worst things to happen to marriage in our society was the adoption of no-fault divorce laws. People can get in and out of marriages very easily these days because of no-fault divorce. I would favor any effort to abolish no-fault divorce laws. Such laws remove many of the negative legal consequences for adultery, and it makes divorce easier. As a result, families and children are hurt. These laws are inherently immoral in my view and are against the public good.

  46. Denny Burk May 21, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    Joe (#39),

    I agree that their is a huge difference between A and B/C in terms of intent, but not in terms of effect. The effect of a libertarian position is no different than a liberal one. Abortion-on-demand remains legal.

    Libertarians have a pie-in-the-sky view of human nature–a view that does not square with reality as the Bible defines it. Humans are sinful, and God gives government to us as a common grace to restrain evil. Libertarians don’t believe that the federal government has the responsibility to restrain this particular evil, but I don’t think that squares with what the Bible teaches (Romans 13:1-4).

    At the end of the day, libertarians underestimate the fallen, human condition. There will always be people willing to kill unborn babies. In a libertarian world if enough of them populate a state or a locale, then abortion would always be legal. I think this is abhorrent.


  47. Derek May 21, 2010 at 1:07 am #

    Re: posts #34 and #35, I don’t think I took your words out of context. But others can read your comments in #6 and make their own determination.

    But let’s get to the most remarkable thing you said in #6:
    libertarianism is not an option for Christians

    Pretty dogmatic statement, don’t you think? Can you please enlighten us to how you come to this conclusion and why we should accept this statement? Don’t get me wrong – I’ll challenge anyone who thinks that Marxism is compatible with Christianity. Hey, I’ve challenged libertarians on many issues, including gay marriage, gambling and pornography. But to tell them they can’t be a libertarian and a Christian at the same time? I’m going to get my popcorn ready – I want to see how you connect the dots on this one.

  48. Denny Burk May 21, 2010 at 1:09 am #

    By the way, Chris Matthews had an interesting discussion about this on “Hardball” earlier this evening. See below.

  49. thatjeremyguy May 21, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Dr. Burk, the question is not whether you support laws to curb adultery, but support laws to eliminate adultery.

    You said:
    Notice the logic here. Paul essentially says, “I’m personally opposed to racial discrimination, but I do not support federal laws to eliminate racial discrimination.”

    So do you support laws that would eliminate adultery? For example, would you outlaw it and make it a crime?

  50. Joe Rigney May 21, 2010 at 7:50 am #


    I’m still not tracking with you. Christian Libertarians like Paul and Candidate B above want abortion to be outlawed; they want it illegal, just like you. They differ from secular libertarians in that they think abortion is not just personally offensive, but a crime, just like you. Why is it so vital that the Federal government be the one to outlaw it? Why couldn’t 50 state amendments accomplish the exact same goal?

    And if the answer is because New York and Vermont aren’t going to outlaw abortion any time soon, then I say that that’s part of my point. We’ve got to win a large portion of them over so that they view the law as good and right and not an imposition of Southern values (or some such).

    Come at it another way. In order to get a federal amendment, 2/3 of both houses of Congress would need to propose it and then 3/4 of the states would need to ratify it. In our current climate, that seems to me almost as pie-in-the-sky as aiming for 50 state constitutional amendments. So if we’re aiming high, why not shoot for the moon? And in reality, 50 state amendments might be more doable, because we could pick them off one at a time, concentrating resources on a state-by-state basis over a number of years, rather than try to herd all the cats into one room to vote for the big amendment. In order to win a Battle Royale like that, we’d have to have massive amounts of money and lots of politicians with the courage of their convictions. I’m not holding my breath.

    And again, I would be happy with a federal amendment, if we could pull it off. But I’m not going to throw stones at those who want make abortion illegal with a different means.

  51. Joe Rigney May 21, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    Doug Wilson weighs in on this along the same lines that I do.

    And for the record, I think laws making adultery a crime would be just fine in principle (How’s that for a libertarian-leaning Christian?) However, certain pre-conditions in the society as a whole would need to be met first in order for the law to be effective and lasting and I wouldn’t want the federal government anywhere near it.

  52. Darius T May 21, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    I would recommend that everyone read that Doug Wilson link that Joe just posted, it nails this issue perfectly. He says exactly what I said in comment #38 (only he does so more eloquently than I).

  53. John May 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Comparing racism to abortion is a categorical failure. Just because they are both moral issues does not make them equal. The issue here is about how much power we want the government to have. If the government has the power to close an establishment because it is racist, then the power lies with the person determining what constitutes racist actions. Libertarianism has never been about allowing immorality in society, but whether or not an empowered government (especially at the federal level) is better or worse for the greatest common good. I think history is perhaps on Rand’s side.

  54. John May 21, 2010 at 12:42 pm #


    Are you aware of the controversy surrounding the “ratification” of the 14th Amendment? Many are not. Even Wikipedia ignores the controversy.

    Granted, this is from a Libertarian website, but this breaks down the controversy. Many actually believe the amendment was never legally ratified.


    Thomas Woods and others deal with this in books. It is worth considering, because your view that laws such as the CRA are constitutional rest on the constitutionality of the 14th amendment and its proper ratification.

    You may disagree with Paul on this point, but a strict reading of the Constitution, as we conservatives desire, gives its full weight to Paul’s view.

  55. Andrew Cowan May 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    I think that Wilson’s post raises an important question that I’m not sure he answered clearly (but maybe I missed it) and I’d really like to hear some thoughts on: which sins should be crimes?

    The preceding discussion seems to have focused on two separable issues: 1) what laws should be made by state rather than federal governments? 2) what moral issues should be addressed by laws?

    I’m not sure if I have ever heard a compelling answer to the latter question, and I’m just curious as to whether anyone has thought deeply about this. Thus, I’d like to know what people think about where to draw the line in legislating Christian morals (and all legislation is the enforcement of some type of morality) and why. Is there an answer to this question that is biblically justifiable?

    Alternatively, if there is something wrong with posing the question this way; I’d be happy to be instructed regarding that as well.

    (Note: I’m not asking what our national consititution allows the government to do; that is another question. I’m asking what ought all governments to enforce from a biblical perspective.)

  56. John May 21, 2010 at 12:55 pm #


    Great question. I believe Doug Wilson has answered more thoroughly in other places, including his book Joy at the End of the Tether.

    He also touches on the topic in this (excellent) post:


    Having said this, I would still like more from Wilson on this. But its a good start at least.

  57. Andrew Cowan May 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm #


    Here is what I found in the article to which you linked: “A particular activity should be criminal if the Scriptures identify it as the sort of evil that should be forcibly stopped and punished by the magistrate…In order to protect society from unlimited abuses, it is therefore necessary to classify as crimes only those practices which Scripture identifies as criminal.” But where does Scripture tell us which practices are criminal and should be punished by the magistrate?

  58. John May 21, 2010 at 1:14 pm #


    I am reluctant to answer, as I don’t want to speak for Doug Wilson.

    But I will point you to a sermon he recently gave on Romans 13:


    It gives a bit of a biblical framework for the role of the magistrate.

    I believe that Wilson would point primarily to the OT for what sins are criminal.

  59. Andrew Cowan May 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    It seems to me that if you say the OT tells us what sins are criminal, you run into problems (I’m assuming that this means that we know what is criminal on the basis of what laws given to Israel came with judicial sanctions).

    For one, there are significant salvation-historical problems that muddy the waters. According to Numbers 15, breaking the Sabbath was a capital offense. Thus, unless you are a Sabbatarian and think that it should be legally enforced, you already have to have some type of salvation-historical filter to limit what activities identified as punishable by magistrates in the OT should still be illegal today.

    Then, on the other hand, in the OT there are many laws that are enforced by sanction that are inextricably tied to the worship of the true God. In Leviticus 24, we see that blaspheming the name of God was a capital offense, and the same is true of enticing others to worship another God in Deuteronomy 13. If the OT is to be the standard for what is criminal and what is not, it seems that we ought to be working for legislation that forbids taking God’s name in vain and criminalizes all other religions, but I don’t think that many Christians are willing to go that route.

    Thus, I don’t find the answer that the OT tells us what sins are criminal very helpful, unless there are nuances to this answer that are completely escaping me. It seems to cause more problems than it solves.

  60. John May 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm #


    Sorry, but I’m only giving you the little I’ve heard and read from Wilson.

    If you’re looking for more, perhaps others here, that brought Wilson into the discussion have more to offer.

  61. Donald Johnson May 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    The only humanity spanning laws I can find in the OT are the so-called Noachide laws; those established up to the time of Noah.

  62. John May 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    This podcast may be helpful:


  63. Larry S May 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    before buying into Wilson’s view of things it might be a good idea to first get his take on the ‘Bible’s view of slavery’ available in his little book called: ‘Southern Slavery As It Was’ available to read online here: http://reformed-theology.org/html/books/slavery/southern_slavery_as_it_was.htm

  64. Darius T May 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Ah yes, the ol’ ad hominem comeback… is that the best you can do, Larry? How about trying to speak to the issue at hand?

  65. Andrew Cowan May 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm #


    Thanks for pointing me towards that podcast. It seems that Wilson has some view of an “ideal Christian society” in mind that he thinks we ought to work towards, but it is hard to say exactly what that looks like or where the prototype for this ideal may be found (unless he means truly ideal in the sense of the new heavens and the new earth). Nevertheless, thanks for posting the link; I enjoyed listening to it.

    Donald Johnson,

    Would you then argue that biblically speaking, governments ought to enforce Noachide laws? And what laws are these in particular?

  66. Larry S May 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Brother Darius,

    I’m thinking this discussion is impacted by one’s hermeneutic. John’s post #60 was a request for further work of Wilson’s. My suggestion that his ‘slavery’ work and direction towards the section of his work where he displays a certain hermeneutic was my link to the discussion of this particular thread. I apologize if it seemed like an ‘ad hominem’ comeback.

  67. Donald Johnson May 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    From wiki:

    The seven laws listed by the Tosefta and the Talmud are[3]

    1.Prohibition of Idolatry: You shall not have any idols before God.
    2.Prohibition of Murder: You shall not murder. (Genesis 9:6)
    3.Prohibition of Theft: You shall not steal.
    4.Prohibition of Sexual immorality: You shall not commit any of a series of sexual prohibitions, which include adultery, incest, anal intercourse between men and bestiality.
    5.Prohibition of Blasphemy: You shall not blaspheme God’s name.
    6.Dietary Law: Do not eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. (Genesis 9:4, as interpreted in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 59a)
    7.Requirement to have just Laws: Set up a governing body of law (eg Courts)

    These (or something similar) are SINS for anyone, not just Jews. Then the question is which should gov’t enforce by making them crimes. My take is murder, theft, and breaking of contracts/covenants.

    Once you get into the Mosaic covenant(s) portions of the OT, the rules are only for those IN the Mosaic covenant(s).

  68. Nathan May 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    Ah, the good old debate about what biblical laws we should enforce in America…

    Good luck hammering this one out.

    I think the rules people here use are:

    If God abhors AND I abhor it, then we should outlaw it. (God’s laws are good for everyone.)

    If God abhors it and I don’t, then we shouldn’t outlaw it (NT freedom)

    If God does not abhor it and I do, then we should outlaw it (God does not explicitly abhor it, but He really does.)

    If neither God nor I abhor it, then go for it. (We live in a diverse and free country! God bless America!)

  69. John May 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Larry S,

    I’m not sure I understand your point about Wilson’s view on slavery. I’ve not read that particular essay, though I have read his book later built on the essay entitled “Black & Tan.” It is the most sensible and biblical approach I’ve seen on the issue.


    I’m glad you enjoyed the podcast–it was good. Did you listen to the one where it is just Wilson being interviewed? If not, go back and check it out–it was even better.

    Wilson is a post-millenialist and that has definitely impacted his thoughts on Christendom. In fact, you should check this brief video out:


  70. Darius T May 21, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    John (and Larry), Black & Tan is Wilson’s rework of the slavery essay after people pointed out some errors in it. My understanding is that Wilson wasn’t the main contributor to the original essay. Either way, I agree with you, John, that from what I’ve read of Wilson’s slavery piece, he is largely correct (though terribly politically incorrect).

  71. Darrell May 22, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    Federal anti-discrimination statutes are problematic prima facie because the central government has no constitutional authority to abrogate property rights.

    Likewise there is no biblical mandate for the state to control property (the blurring of private and public) in the name of anti-discrimination. While “discrimination” may be a sin, which can be dealt with in the context of church discipline if necessary, there is simply no biblical warrant for treating it as a crime with requisite sanctions.
    Moreover, the stewardship of property by FAMILIES is clear from the bible. The scriptures say that all the earth belongs to the Lord (Ex. 19:5) and that He allows families to be stewards of His creation (Gen. 1). In the Bible, we see that property is owned by families, not by the state or atomized individuals (see for example Naboth’s vineyard in I Kings 20). Importantly, the eminent domain of the state is clearly and directly forbidden in Scripture. In Ezekiel 46:18, we read, “The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property. He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people will be separated from his property.’ Indeed, God warned Israel that the eminent domain of the state was a consequence of apostasy. In I Sam. 8:14, God says that the king “will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.”

    When Federal Courts and the Congress use the law elastically (i.e., its perverse use of the Commerce Clause) to blur the distinction between public and private, the state effectively claims ownership of private property and the rule of law is systematically undermined. Moreover, a truly biblical social order, with the family fulfilling its role as the institution of godly dominion, is undermined.

  72. Larry S May 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm #


    My exposure to Wilson’s biblical approach to slavery is confined to the linked piece. It seems to me his is a modern example of ‘sola scriptura’ on steroids :). I’m much happier with Webb’s approach (Slaves, Women & Homosexuals) aka the ‘redemptive-movement’ hermeneutic (I recognize this will be a minority view on this site 🙂 ).

    It makes me nervous when I hear Christians musing about how to apply or which Old Testament laws (NT principles) should be applied within a multi-faith secular society. It seems to me that trying to create a Christian society will inevitably lead those embarked on that project to forget the global nature of the One People of God and become tribal. So I echo brother Cowan’s concerns in the present discussion.

    p.s. just as sola scriptura can be pushed out of shape, I recognize a similar charge can be laid upon the ‘redemptive-movement’ hermeneutic.)

  73. Donald Johnson May 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    The “Southern Slavery as it was” paper has a few typos in it. The basic mistake it makes is in using a 1-step exegetical process, as if the Bible was written TO us, when it was not. It was written FOR us, but it was written TO people thousands of years ago in different circumstances than we find ourselves or the US found itself in 1850.

    The 2-step exegetical process of discerning WHAT the text meant to the original reader and then seeking the application for today is a much better method than the 1-step process that Wilson used in the paper.

  74. Darrell Dow May 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Dr. Burk, this is far too simplistic on your part.

    On the issue of anti-discrimination, the first thing to say is that Federal anti-discrimination statutes are problematic prima facie because the central government has no constitutional authority to abrogate property rights. I would argue that the blurring of the private/public distinction as it relates to property amounts to the national government claiming authority over all property.

    Likewise there is no biblical mandate for the state to control property in the name of anti-discrimination. While “discrimination” may be a sin, which can be dealt with in the context of church discipline if necessary, there is simply no biblical warrant for treating it as a crime with requisite sanctions.

    Moreover, the stewardship of property by FAMILIES is clear from the bible. The scriptures say that all the earth belongs to the Lord (Ex. 19:5) and that He allows families to be stewards of His creation (Gen. 1). In the Bible, we see that property is owned by families, not by the state or atomized individuals (see for example Naboth’s vineyard in I Kings 20). Importantly, the eminent domain of the state is clearly and directly forbidden in Scripture. In Ezekiel 46:18, we read, “The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property. He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people will be separated from his property.’ Indeed, God warned Israel that the eminent domain of the state was a consequence of apostasy. In I Sam. 8:14, God says that the king “will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.”

    When Federal Courts and the Congress use the law elastically (i.e., its perverse use of the Commerce Clause) to blur the distinction between public and private, the state effectively claims ownership of private property and the rule of law is systematically undermined. Moreover, a truly biblical social order, with the family fulfilling its role as the primary institution of godly dominion (Gen. 1:28), is undermined.

  75. Darius May 24, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    The Washington Times has a good piece on Rand Paul: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/24/rand-paul-and-racism/

  76. Ben Stevenson May 25, 2010 at 5:45 am #

    There is a real danger with laws that restrict the freedom of organisations to associate with whoever they see fit.

    What if a Christian group at a university wanted to have a membership policy that limited membership to Christians?


    Or what if a business owner wanted to not let their business be used for what they see as immoral activity?


    I want to see people treated equally regardless of race or ethnicity. However, laws to restrict freedom of association do have real implications in other areas. Sometimes it is better to simply boycott business that do things we don’t approve of, rather than seek a legal solution.

  77. John June 8, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    This horse is all but dead, but some of you, Andrew, in particular, may be interested in this video from Doug Wilson on this very matter. He gets more specific about the difference between sins and crimes.


  78. Michael June 12, 2010 at 10:21 am #


    You said: “I support federal laws that would ban or limit the practice of abortion. Libertarians in principle cannot, and I think that is unconscionable. It is perfectly within the logic of the Constitution to do so (see part 1 of the 14th amendment). A libertarian approach, however, would have abortion legal in one state/city and illegal in another. This to me is absurd and not required by the Constitution.”

    This just isn’t true. Libertarian philosophy is compatible with the non-aggression principle. There are libertarians who appeal to this principle when arguing for pro-life legislation (e.g. Doris Gordon and Ron Paul). Assuming the non-aggression principle and also assuming it extends to any fetus can provide a libertarian a principled reason for supporting pro-life legislation.

    Libertarians aren’t forced into the box you attempt to put them in. If this is the best reason you have for not being able to stand libertarianism then you should start looking for a better reason.

    Thank you,
    Michael Neal

  79. John Fraiser June 13, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    You, sir, are very ignorant of the ideology of libertarianism. Others here have repeatedly made this point very well, but I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who point out your mischaracterization of libertarianism. In a short word, libertarians very much affirm the role of the government in protecting the rights of its citizens deleniated in the US Constitution from infringement by a third party. A great many libertarians (such as myself) support federal and state laws against abortion according to libertarian ideology since they believe that a fetus is a person and that therefore the government has the responsibility to protect the life of its citizens from harm by a third party. Until you have dealt with this libertarian value, you haven’t struck down libertarianism, only your caricature of it.


  1. Libertarianism « Ad Fontes - May 21, 2010

    […] Denny Burk has a post about why he can’t stand Libertarianism. […]

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