Can Catholics Vote Libertarian?

We Catholics all know that the Church is bigger than any one political party, bigger even than a single nation or political system.  It is a commonplace that many Catholics in the United States tend to vote for the Democrats (generally because they see the Democratic Party as being more supportive of anti-poverty programs) and many other Catholics tend to vote for the Republicans (generally because they see the Republican Party as being more pro-life and more supportive of traditional morality).

When I reflect upon these facts over morning coffee, I often wistfully imagine what it might be like if Catholics would only unify and bloc-vote for candidates that are both pro-life and also serious about social justice and poverty relief in all its various forms.  No such “Catholic Party” exists, but one recent morning it occurred to me that the opposite of the Catholic Party does exist.  It is a party that believes that the State should leave people alone about issues of morality and also stop asking people to contribute any significant percentage of their income to the common good.  This is a party that is socially liberal and economically conservative.  It is the Libertarian Party.

This realization prompted me to wonder, “Can a good Catholic who really follows the teachings of Christ and his Church embrace Libertarianism without offending the dictates of a well-formed Catholic conscience?”  Libertarianism is, after all, a strongly individualistic creed that is highly compatible with an atomistic society of solitary units that have little claim on one another.  The Catholic Church seems to represent the opposite extreme, because her creed requires the faithful to die to self, hand over their entire existence, and spend their lives in service of family and community.  Christians, it seems to me, are required to choose the cheaper, less ostentatious car and donate more to feed the poor, and so on.  None of us do this sort of thing consistently, of course, or else we would all be saints and the world would be a much better place.  But, whatever our personal failings, our creed leads us in the direction of self-sacrifice.


Libertarianism, by contrast, is the philosophy of Ayn Rand.  Libertarianism says I should be able to keep my money, spend it on 10 Ferraris, crash 9 of them, and spray paint the 10th with polka dots if I want, and not feel bad about it.  What’s mine is mine, and leave me alone you grasping lay-abouts!

Or something like that.  I must confess that I don’t really understand Libertarianism.  I often find myself agreeing with Libertarian candidates like Ron Paul on about 8 out of 10 things they say, but that 9th and that 10th are doozies.  So, maybe I just don’t understand Libertarianism.

So, I conclude this short piece with a question to you, gentle readers: can Catholics vote Libertarian and sleep well at night?  I truly do not know how they could, but maybe I am just missing something.


Joe L. Fulwiler is a bankruptcy attorney in Austin, Texas.  He holds a degree in Economics from Yale, a law degree from Columbia, and an MBA from Stanford, and he maintains a bankruptcy information site called He is admitted to (and a frequent customer of) the bars of New York, New Jersey, and Texas.  He is also a CPA, a Papist, a grand multipara (male version), and a jedi.

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  • Sad Catholic

    “I must confess that I don’t really understand
    Libertarianism.” Unfortunately, this is the most accurate statement in
    your piece.


    (Trust me when I say I’m not trying to be rude in this.)


    Being a Libertarian doesn’t mean you don’t want
    to help people—it just means you don’t want the government to do it all for
    you. (Or most of it.) As such, if you’re a Libretarian and a good Catholic, you
    should be looking to help everyone out in the way you describe, but doing so
    free of government coercion. Instead, you’re doing it out of free will. (Yay,
    free will!)

    As such, it’s completely a fit with the mission of the Church—the Church
    already does that free of government coercion (hospitals, schools, charity,


    Put more simply, the general idea is that if it’s
    not done with the right heart, then it’s not done right. People don’t always
    follow government laws because they agree with the premise—very rarely they do,
    and instead, they comply because they have to. If they aren’t forced to help
    others but are brought about to do so freely, then they’re probably doing it
    for right reasons. With right reasons, things are going to go a lot more


    Also, I’m glad you admit that you don’t
    understand it, but I’m so bummed you waited until the end to say so. Perhaps more
    unfortunate than your lack of understanding is the effect it’ll have on someone
    who reads the first bit of your piece, doesn’t read up until your admittance of
    not knowing anything, and then carries on in life with a misunderstanding of
    the topic, and less desire to explore it on their own.


    Please fully engage ideas before you write about
    them, or admit it upfront?


  • K.G.

    I completely agree with the previous comment.  It is rather unfortunate that you choose to wait until the end of the piece to admit you don’t understand Libertarianism.  Of course, being a faithful, orthodox Catholic that understands the principles of Libertarianism (not the platform of the Libertarian Party, as these are two different things) I could tell right away in your piece that you lacked the understanding needed to answer the question you proposed in your title.  Libertarianism is so much closer to Catholic moral teaching than any other political philosophy.  It boggles my mind that Catholics don’t or won’t take the time to TRUELY understand this philosophy.  Instead they are stuck in the cycle of the false left right paradigm.  All the while making little progress in either of these spheres.  One of the main principles of Libertarianism is the right to private property.  Neither party wants to engage in this, as they both want to control people.  This is not what the Church is about.  The Church does not want people to be controlled.  This is what the detractors of the Church proclaim, especially concerning birth control.  But we know this is not true.  As faithful Catholics we CHOOSE to trust and believe in the Churches teaching on birth control and CHOOSE to have large families.  There is no force involved.  The same is true for the common good.  People MUST cooperate in the Works of Mercy FREELY, not by force of their government.  This will never bring about the love of Christ to those in need.  This mentality puts the material above the spiritual.  Anyways, here are some quotes on private property…

    “When the mass of families in a State are without property, then those who were once citizens become virtually slaves. The more the State steps in to enforce conditions of security and sufficiency; the more it regulates wages, provides compulsory insurance, doctoring, education, and in general takes over the lives of the wage-earners, for the benefit of the companies and men employing the wage-earners, the more is this condition of semi-slavery accentuated.”–Belloc, Hilaire, The Great Heresies

    “The denial of the right of ownership to a man is a denial of his basic freedom: freedom without property is always incomplete.”  Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen 

    I suggest you check out America’s Party at

    and research volunteerism, this is big amongst libertarian minded people.  As a writer myself (, I feel that I can say it would have been prudent for you to do more research before writing your piece.  

    In Christ’s Peace,

  • Anthony Santelli, Ph.D.

    There are some key philosophical differences between libertarianism and Catholicism.  I invite anyone interested to go to and read the debate on this in the Journal of Markets and Morality Volume 14, No. 2 pages 487-559.

  • Kay

     You need to give names of articles.  It isn’t set up according to page number.  I am very interested in reading this!

  • servantofcharity

    I don’t agree with everything that’s touted by libertarian philosophy, but I agree with the comments that suggest there is at least much about it that is compatible with a Catholic conscience, especially in this age when we’ve seen the dangers of big government usurping parental rights, individual rights and religious freedoms.  However, in answer to the question, Can a Catholic vote libertarian?, I can’t see how, in 2012, with the need so desperate to defeat President Obama.


  • All of salvation history is about freedom.  “Let my people go” says God in Exodus.  Our Forefathers, in America, fought for small government so that we could work together and protect ourselves, but also so that we could remain free from Tyranny (of the outside world and from within our own borders [i.e. our own government]).  “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” as the saying goes by Lord Acton.  A small and manageable government that can be kept in check is much more desirable than an enormous government, such as we have today, which has become a beast and a burden, not serving the people, but instead heaping burden onto our shoulders which we cannot bear (and continuing to heap with reckless abandon).

    I have not yet sold into Libertarianism (need to do more research), but I do believe in Ron Paul whom is not 100% Libertarian, but rather leans that way.  Certainly compared to the 2 candidates (Obama and Romney), Dr. Paul is the only choice we can make with a clear conscience.

  • K Boucher

    “I must confess that I don’t really understand Libertarianism.”

    Thanks for the disclaimer.

    I think something you’ve missed here is that political parties are about governance (i.e. temporal matters). Christianity is about spirituality (i.e. the eternal and supernatural realities of our existence).

    You can absolutely be a good Catholic and vote libertarian.  “Libertarianism says I should be able to keep my money, spend it on 10 Ferraris, crash 9 of them, and spray paint the 10th with polka dots if I want, [stop here, libertarianism has nothing to do with how you feel about that.]”

    As a [good] Catholic, you will probably not do those things, but you should have the freedom to.

    How can we choose to do the right thing if we have no freedom to choose?

  • K Boucher

    Would you care to enlighten us, doctor? Or just post links?

    It makes no sense to compare two philosophies that have completely different applications.

    Libertarianism is about man’s relationship with the state. Catholicism is about mans’ relationship with God.

  • Steven

    We are all called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and love the poor the way Christ loves us. Where is the merit in voting for the state to take money from us to do these things? The state in Jesus’s time provided bread and circuses. The state is and will always be terrible in how is takes care of the poor while it provides an excuse not to do the work that Christ called us to. “Are there not poorhouses enough?” asked Scrooge when asked for a Christmas contribution to the poor.

    One can be a pro-life libertarian and faithful Catholic Christian.

  • Thanks for admitting that you don’t understand libertarianism, which always comes down to Romans 3:8, which condemns doing evil that good may result. Libertarians reject the *initiation* of violence by both individuals and government. So–without resorting to Ayn Rand and luxury cars–explain how a Catholic cannot support the only political philosophy which takes man’s free will seriously. Randy England

  • Mincherjosh

    Libertarianism is ‘classical liberalism’ and has long been condemned by Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, and John Paul II.

    It denies the rights of the community, and the authority of tradition, and is Pelagian.

  • Mincherjosh

    It is true that human freedom is central to Creation. However man, because of original sin, is no longer free. 
    Libertarianism adopts the heresy of Rousseau and Pelagius, which is that is naturally free. 
    The Church has always taught, and experience substantiates, that institutions are necessary for freedom, that government and society are good and necessary for human living, and that the Church par excellence mediates freedom through grace.
    Man is made free through law, most of all through the New Law of Christ, effected by the grace He mediates through His Church.
    Libertarianism denies, or at least denigrates, the need of the human person for the formative discipline of law, and the formative liberation of grace through a relationship with Christ, in His sacraments and dogma.

    In Christ,

    Joshua Mincher

  • Mincherjosh

    It is also incorrect that Catholicism has nothing to do with governance. It is true that clerics do not have the duty to govern temporal/civil affairs, but it is not true that “The Church” does not. The Church includes the laity, of course, who have the authority to govern according to the truth revealed in The Lord Jesus.

  • Mincherjosh

    Hillaire Belloc is a great defender of private property, as is the Church, of course. 

    Both,  however, explicitly condemn libertarianism. In fact, Belloc made it his life’s work to combat this philosophy, which rests on a nominalism that denies common natures, and thus the very existence of a common good.

  • Mincherjosh

    It is true that in contemporary America, “The State” has become divorced from “ourselves” in our minds, and in practice. 
    However, that need not be the case, so it is not logically necessary to condemn “The State” as an agent of service to the poor.

    “The State” can, and should be, a multi-faceted, many tiered organization of ourselves, of society, and the arm with which we serve some aspects of the common good.

    We all (I presume) agree that it is the States legitimate task to defend the common good in war and in police-work, and to tax for revenue to provide for that defense. Why is it categorically wrong to argue that the people cannot, in the State, provide for themselves roads, health care, etc.?

    The questions as to what tasks of the common good are proper to the State, and which are proper to the family, township, etc., are debatable, and therefore Catholics can in good faith disagree.

    It is the philosophy of libertarianism, which Mr. Fulwiler accurately grasps as “atomization’, that is contrary to the Faith. 

  • Mincherjosh

    Catholicism is not merely about man’s relationship with God.

    It is about man’s relationship to the world, to his neighbor, and to himself.

    Philosophy is the articulation of truth, and there is no wall of separation between the truth about the Creator, and the truth about His creation.

    Human governance– human freedom– requires grace. That is the essence of The Gospel, and thus of Catholicism.

    If governments are instituted among men to protect their rights and preserve their freedom, and yet we agree that freedom requires grace, then how can we say there is a philosophical separation between Catholicism and governance?

    Man, due to original sin, is not naturally free. He requires grace to become free. Grace is mediated through institutions– through the family, through community, through civil law and society, and through the natural law legislate by the State. Grace is mediated to men primarily in the sacraments.

    John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both, in their own ways, agreed upon the above. Adams knew men were fallen, and needed the checks and balances of institutions to form them through discipline into freedom. Jefferson, it is true, did not believe in grace per se, but he did base his governmental philosophy on the idea that truth, intellectual enlightenment acted upon the mind as a grace, freeing man from slavery to error and vice. He also based it upon the idea that man must first be civilized, i.e. formed through work and study, before he is capable of being free.

    Therefore our country was not founded upon a divorce between grace/religion and governance. It does generalize grace–which for the Catholic is more specific to the sacraments– to religion in general, and therefore does not mandate a specific ‘church’. Our founders philosophy of governance does, clearly if you read the founders, rely upon the formative discipline of law, society, and truth in order to achieve freedom.

    Libertarianism as a philosophy makes the error that man is naturally free.
    In practice, libertarians may mitigate this error, and simply argue that The State is not the best arm of society for forming persons into freedom, and they would be correct.
    But it is the philosophy of libertarians, with its a-moral economics, and atomization of men, that is heretical.

    The individual is not the fundamental unit of government. The family is the foundation of government. Libertarianism gets this wrong, and The Church gets it right. No one arrives in existence in a vacuum; they are born into a context of debt, indebted to their parents, to their tradition, to their community. No one is an individual free in the libertarian sense, which is free from obligation. Libertarianism would have us see tradition, culture, and society as inherently coercive, impositional.

    The Faithful see themselves as freed BY their laws, by their tradition, by Christ. There is no hostility between freedom and institutions, for the Faithful.

    In Christ,

    Joshua Mincher

  • K Boucher

    Libertarians are not anarchists. And not all individuals are Christians.

  • Mincherjosh

    LibertarianISM as a philosophy is anarchic because 1) it sees all  coercion as evil 2) supports natural law while flatly contradicting it with an atomistic idea of the individual that denies common natures.
    The second point is somewhat irrelevant, since the article is about whether or not Catholics can also be libertarian.

    Now, if we are discussing the most prudent way to get along politically in a society, and with a State, that denies that freedom relies on grace– i.e. a non-Christian society–that is another matter.
    It is one thing to argue that libertarianism is not as incorrect as X,Y, or Z. It is another matter to argue that libertarianism harmonizes with Catholic social teaching.

    Catholics may have to make the most out of a society founded on an erroneous philosophy, but they must not make the mistake that simply because a philosophy is less wrong than another, that it is in harmony with Christ’s teaching, which DOES deal with governance.

  • You cannot find any condemnation of libertarianism by those Popes, but can probably lift passges out of context about what what you may think is libertarianism (whereupon I can cite to seemingly opposing verses, none of which prove anything except that the point in question is debatable among Catholics). 

    Libertarianism does not deny the authority of tradition. It denies no rights of the community, i.e. the common good. 

    It does deny the right to initiate violence against others. Government–not libertarianism–destroys virtue as it steals from one to give to another; and as it makes every vice a crime and almost every man a criminal. These very evils were warned against by St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

    As libertarian Catholic, I do not understand this resistance to finding ways to govern that do not depend upon state-initiated violence. The Church governs without violence. So do thousands of other institutions. 

    Violence is the mark of unjust government (that is, one that does not respect fundamental rights). The Catechism teaches that if rights are not respected, “authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects.”  CCC.

    We should be alarmed by governments’ increasing atrocities. As its laws become more and more unjust, it becomes more and more violent. R.J. Rummel, in “Death by Government,” estimated that in the 20th century, mass murder, genocide and political murder by government caused the death of 169 million souls, not including war dead. Why are we not eager to find better ways?

    Randy England,

  • Mincherjosh

    Centessimus Annus clearly condemns the notion that the State cannot regulate contracts for the common good. It encourages the State do regulate. Clearly The Church must have a different idea of the law than libertarianism– one  which does not view the law as violence against freedom.

    The State should be ruled according to the natural law, which is accessible by reason to all people of good will. Natural law rationally points us towards the common good needed for a sustainable State and society. Civil law should be based on natural law. It is not ‘violent’ to protect the common good from the caprice of the individual license.

    If law is violence, by what means do you propose to protect contracts, or private property?

    Freedom can only be based upon nature, and supernature. It cannot be based upon desire, even if codified in ‘contracts’.

    And Government is the community; it is self government in a communal sense, which is the only sense in which self government exists in reality. No one is born into a vacuum. What Libertarianism offers in alternative to  communal government is license, not law, in which the ‘government’ and ‘the state’ exist only to protect the contracts of individuals, with no reference to the common good.

    Libertarianism is utilitarianism: the idea that the greatest amount of license for the greatest number is the greatest good. I suppose it expects nature to intervene in the vacuum left by self-government, but this pre-lapsarianism hardly a form of society, much less a Catholic society.

  • Keepingitreal

    I can safely say that the reader nor most of the people posting comments have any understanding of the the Libertarian party and what it stands for. I can also say that I’m Catholic and an Independent voter, but I do vote for the Libertarian party and sleep just fine.

    Lets take the 2012 election, I will not vote for Obama or Romney because they are both full of s**t, and they will do nothing to better America; only themselves. This year I’m voting Libertarian and will be just fine with that, and it doesn’t go against any Catholic principles .

  • K Boucher

    This discussion might be easier if you would explain what tenets of libertarianism you object to.

    So far, you have condemned libertarianism, repeated a lot of Catholic doctrine, but your attempts to link them are faulty.

    You seem to be judging libertarianism as a religion when it is simply a political philosophy.

  • JQ Tomanek
  • AEMichael

    The philosophy of Rand is “Objectivism.”  Though some Libertarians have been influenced by her work, she was critical of the movement:

    “…Libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose, and they denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication, when that fits their purpose. They are lower than any pragmatists, and what they hold against Objectivism is morality. They’d like to have an amoral political program.” – Ayn Rand, 1981  – only one anti-Libertarian quote among many at

    This is no defense of Rand or Libertarians, to be sure.  Only to correct the record.  Neither Rand (certainly) nor Libertarianism (generally) can be said to be Catholic, just as neither of the two major can be.  Even a cursory read of Rerum Novarum and Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (both at will show one why.

    In Christ,

  • Hironymous

    Good points. The Social Doctrine (way different from the Left’s “social justice”) does run counter to some Libertarian philosophy.

  • Nmchugh85

    Ayn Rand was an objectivist…not a Libertarian.  She thinks you should act in your own self interest at all times, which was why she was against religion because religion asks you to make sacrifices.  I consider myself a pro-life Libertarian, (so most Libertarians probably wouldn’t claim me).  It is my choice whether I want to give 35% of my income to charity or not.  And governent is the worst form of charity. 

  • Evan

    The Catholic social teaching of Subsidiarity says that things should be handled and managed by the smallest or least centralized competent authority. This is screaming libertarianism.

    Also refer to Tom Woods’ video below. Woods wrote a book that was turned into a show on EWTN. He has strong Catholic views, and supports libertarianism.

  • LibertarianNotCatholic

    Hmm, your research for this must have been quite limited. Or maybe all of your resources on Libertarianism were all Catholic-based. That would explain the criticism.

    I find it hilarious that you lay out a (harsh) scenario of your view of a Libertarian’s attitude, and then go on to say that you really don’t understand Libertarianism, and that you generally agree with about 8/10 of their views (though not so much on the other 2. And hey, it happens–one probably isn’t going to agree with a single candidate on every single issue.). Sounds to me like you’re a Libertarian-in-denial.

    You failed to mention, that while Libertarianism may be based on the philosophy of Rand, she actually opposed the Libertarian Party.

    I haven’t looked around the site, but I’m going to assume you also have similar posts on whether “Can Catholics Vote Democratic/Republican/Green/Constitution/Other and sleep well at night?” That wold only be fair to call each one out. Otherwise, what’s with the unfounded, ignorant hatred on Libertarianism?

  • God gave us free will. So yes, we are born free.

  • I have written about this numerous times. This weekend I will be describing my approach to this in front of a live audience in Idaho. The very simple thing to understand is this. Are you libertarian or Catholic first? Answer that, and all things flow. I have created a new concept, called Catholic Libertarian or as another blog user called it little “l” libertarian capital C Catholic. The entire concept can be summarized in this statement “I am as libertarian as possible until it conflicts with my Catholic faith as written in the Holy Bible, the Traditions of the Church or the teaching of the magisterium.” Why do I even bother to call myself a Catholic Libertarian? It is because I fully understand and focus on the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity. All truth is a Catholic truth. The primary truth of libertarianism is subsidiarity and voluntary association called solidarity.

    I will be speaking with it at Idaho Republican Liberty Cacus and the link is here: If you live in Eastern Idaho, please come out and we can argue the point. The answer to your question is of course we can cooperate with the Libertarians, just like we can cooperate with the Republican or Democrats, however it is an easy question. Are you Catholic first?