Catholicism and Libertarianism

by Brian Jones, Catholic World Report  |  published on November 19, 2013

Earlier this year, a friend and I attended the Ludwig von Mises Institute conference in Houston, Texas. The conference centered upon an analysis of the current financial challenges facing our country, and a discussion of some economic and political solutions. Since the keynote speaker was Ron Paul, I thought it was safe to say the majority of those in attendance identified themselves as libertarians, either socially or philosophically. But I learned otherwise. During the first session break, following Lew Rockwell’s lecture, I began talking with a young man by the name of Bo. After a brief introduction and small talk, Bo quickly asked, “So, I am guessing you are a libertarian?”

“No,” I responded. “I am actually a Thomist.”

To my astonishment and joy, Bo knew what this meant, for he himself had read Aquinas in college, and said that Aquinas changed the way he viewed, and did, philosophy. Bo did favor the libertarian view of politics, and he was intrigued as to why I was there, perhaps hoping that my presence was a sign of “conversion.” I informed him that, as a Thomist, I disagreed with many of the libertarian positions, but was willing to affirm whatever was true in what libertarians held and taught.

To be a Thomist is not simply to hold to a particular set of doctrines (it is that, as well), but, more importantly, it is a way of viewing everything—a manner of distinguishing and separating in order to unite, thereby seeing the relation of the parts to the whole. Ultimately, it is the search for truth as the end of the human intellect, pursuing it wherever it can be found, no matter its source. Ralph McInerny provides a magnificent insight on the authentic image of a Thomist in his book Thomism in an Age of Renewal:

One reads Thomas with the growing awareness that he was, in principle, interested in anything available to him, from whatever source it came; moreover, the sympathy with which he reads authors whose fundamental tenets are opposed to his own, the value he insists on finding truth in whatever he reads, is something almost unique in the history of philosophy. (p 52)

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