Libertarianism & liberty

Rand Slam

I write not as an expert on Catholic social teaching, but as a political theorist. I’m profoundly pleased with what I’ve read in Commonweal of late, because it addresses and critiques a development that has concerned me for a number of years now, namely the increasing influence of libertarian thought over the minds of Catholics. The editors get it exactly right when they attack the Paul Ryan–inspired fusion of Randian individualism and Catholic social thought (“Bad Influence,” November 9). In the end, this synthesis can’t work. As an ideology, it exists in a state of high internal tension and sometimes outright contradiction. Something’s got to give, and indeed it does, for example when Paul Ryan interprets the “preferential option for the poor” as a preference for a market that prices tens of millions of Americans out of insurance coverage. Or (even more egregiously) when American bishops claim that health care is not a basic human right.

The libertarian influence is indeed “baneful,” as J. Peter Nixon claims in his insightful dotCommonweal piece “A Right to Be Healthy?” (published in the November 9 issue). The American bishops do more than a disservice when they conflate the teachings of Ayn Rand, et al.,...

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