The last presidential election (between a boorish, unprincipled billionaire and an unlikable, war-mongering party hack) seemed to mark a new low in a process that purports to choose the best possible rulers for a great nation.
Last week the president tweeted a warning to Joe Biden:
“Welcome to the race, Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty – you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas.”
Loutish and nasty as ever, Donald Trump may not be wrong about the coming election. I will not, however, waste your time in a clichéd plea for civility.
Establishment politicians have always appreciated the need to pretend that theirs was a noble vocation; their lives selflessly dedicated to serving the nation. They romanticize their rule by erecting great buildings that evoke the grandeur of Greek and Roman temples. Those that value their position as wise and respected leaders must look on in horror at the clown car now delivering the next crop of candidates. The Marx brothers seem dignified by comparison.
It is not the public loss of confidence in this freak show that is important in itself. What is important is that it helps us see past the respectable veneer to the violence that underlies state power. Sixteen hundred years ago, St. Augustine called the state a criminal gang. H.L. Mencken has described the government as:
“a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”
Most Catholics have only a hazy idea of what libertarianism is; that it seems to approve of things that we all know are immoral, but that is untrue. The sole idea of libertarianism is respect for one’s neighbor. The golden rule teaches that we must not do to another what we would not want done to ourselves. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t hit. Don’t harm others. Live and let live. Mind your own business. Libertarians call this the non-aggression principle.
Centuries ago, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine recognized the futility and evil in trying to force people to be virtuous. They taught that government should limit itself to keeping the peace by protecting people’s lives and property. The modern state knows no such limits.
Consider a society where voluntary solutions are preferable to coercive ones; where our neighbor is viewed as another Christ and not simply as a means to achieve the goals of others. This is libertarianism, the most just system in a fallen world and the only political philosophy that takes human dignity and free will seriously.