Friday, January 20, 2012

Libertarianism's (Scary) Indeterminateness

Libertarianism scares me. There, I said it. The zeal for freedom in America, especially among the Libertarian/Ron Paul movement, has me a bit concerned. Here's why.

Freedom is a wonderful ideal. It is a democratic ideal. It is a strong theme throughout the biblical narrative. No wonder Americans love it. But freedom without a purpose is deficient. Freedom for the sake of freedom is bogus. As Anglican Priest, Ian Lawton, writes, "Freedom without responsibility is often lazy, and responsibility without freedom is often mindless obligation. Freedom doesn’t exist just for its own pleasure. Freedom is the basis for responsibility."

The concept of freedom is complex and I think Libertarianism oversimplifies one side of freedom: the state of being free from alien determination. German theologian Ebelhard Jungel offers a thoughtful explanation of freedom:

"Freedom has two sides: (a) self-determination as the opposite of alien determination, but also (b) self-determination as the opposite of indeterminateness (arbitrariness). Freedom understood without the goal of determinateness would be an impermissible abstraction. The will to determination is what makes self-determination, makes freedom something concrete. Thus freedom is something other than a state of free suspension which has no bonds or obligations. Faithfulness is constitutive of freedom." (God as the Mystery of the World, 36)

It is this second side (b) that seems to be lacking in much libertarian (and American) thinking about freedom. For what purpose are we free? Is the goal simply to de-regulate businesses for the sake of freedom? Is laissez faire capitalism's only goal to have freedom? Such freedom is not true freedom, but rather a one-sided "state of free suspension which has no bonds or obligations."

What frightens me is that such a one-sided state of freedom is ironically the breeding ground for all kinds of freedom to oppress others. It is like the post-lunch recess for junior high kids: there is no structure, no agenda, just "free" teens hanging around... and that's when the bullying begins. It is analogous to what Dr. King said: peace is not the absence of war but also the presence of justice. In the same way, freedom is not just the absence of regulations or government programs, but also the presence of determined purposes.


  1. Nice Josh! thanks for putting this together. Reminded me of John Stott's 3-part definition of salvation: Freedom from judgment FOR sonship; freedom from self FOR service; freedom from decay FOR glory. Also, love your post-lunch recess analogy...

    so, can we say that determinateness, for the follower of Christ, is by definition an alien determination?

  2. Mmm... I love it, Joe. Yes, freedom for the Christian is an alien determination. It's like what Walter Wangerin said: "True obedience was ever an act of freedom."