Dave Brat shocked the political world last week with his upset win over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary. People are still asking: Who is Dave Brat?
On some key policy questions, it appears he isn’t even really sure. What we do know is that the Tea Party and libertarian-backed candidate received a $500,000 fellowship to spread the gospel of Ayn Rand to college students. Brat is also Catholic. This raises an issue that is becoming increasingly important in the Catholic world: the fundamental incompatibility of not just Randianism and Catholicism, but, more broadly, libertarianism and the Catholic faith.
Libertarianism is an ideology that cannot be reconciled with Catholicism. Unfortunately, it has a relatively wide appeal in our society, including among some who identify as Catholic. But the very foundations of libertarianism directly and unavoidably conflict with the principles of Catholic moral and social thought.
Libertarianism is inseparable from individualism, self-interest, and autonomy. Property rights are sacrosanct. Government is viewed as a necessary evil and a constant threat to liberty. And the market is turned into an idol.
Conversely, Catholics are called to recognize themselves as persons who only reach their full development in community — or, better yet, communities, as we exist in crosscutting communities from our families to the global community. Catholics believe that real freedom is found through communion with God and others. Our desire for love, joy, and communion leads us to choose solidarity over autonomy.
For Catholics, government has a positive role to play. It exists to foster conditions that allow each person to reach their full emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual potential as human persons. National governments have the responsibility to create these conditions for their citizens, but they are also responsible for promoting the global common good — solidarity transcends national borders. The foundation of this understanding of government is the dignity of the human person, which is universal, giving all people equal worth as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.
The closer you compare libertarianism and Catholicism, the more their differences stand out. The Church stands for a living wage, but libertarians oppose raising the minimum wage (which is nowhere near a living wage). The Church believes that access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, but libertarians oppose all realistic means of achieving universal healthcare. The Church demands that we protect God’s creation, while libertarians strongly oppose strengthening environmental laws and regulations. The Church seeks to protect the lives of unborn children, but a majority of libertarians oppose efforts that would offer greater protection to unborn life. The Church wants to defend those at the twilight of their lives, but libertarians favor the legalization of euthanasia. The Church recognizes the evil of illicit drug use; libertarians push for drug legalization. The Church embraces subsidiarity and the role of intermediary institutions such as unions; libertarians push laws to undermine and dismantle unions. The Church favors the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and efforts to promote development to alleviate poverty around the world, but libertarians favor an isolationist foreign policy centered around American interests.
On issue after issue, the contrast between the two worldviews is stark.
Prior to Dave Brat’s primary win, commentators were asking, “Is the Tea Party dead?” His victory shows the enduring influence of Tea Party politics and the libertarian impulse. As Rand Paul gears up for a likely 2016 presidential run, this issue will not recede. It is not confined to a fringe group of hardcore libertarian ideologues; it is at the center of American politics. Social libertarianism will be a powerful force in the Democratic primaries, while economic libertarianism will likely draw support from the strongest Republican candidates.
How should Catholics respond? By committing to an affirmative agenda that reflects a commitment to human dignity and the common good. But also, by firmly, consistently, and relentlessly opposing the malevolent impact of libertarianism in American politics.