The problem is, Cardinal Maradiaga doesn’t seem to know much about libertarianism.
Here are some comments in reply to particulars from the article:
1. Catholics hold a host of incompatible, paradoxical beliefs. Just because there’s one guy at the top saying that those incompatibilities and paradoxes are okay doesn’t make them less incompatible and paradoxical. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Catholic doctrine somehow agrees with both Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo! Generally, humans hold all sorts of incompatible beliefs all the time — it’s called lying to yourself, or more technically, cognitive dissonance. As recently reported on RadioLab, some forms of cognitive dissonance can make you more successful. Given that inconsistency is a part of both human nature and catholic doctrine, what does it even matter if libertarianism is incompatible with catholicism?
2. Everything wrong with this article is presaged in the first clause: “Taking direct aim at libertarian policies promoted by many American conservatives….” There are wide gaps between the beliefs of libertarians and conservatives, and conflating them only shows ignorance and an inability to identify nuance. Some conservatives espouse a few libertarian beliefs, such as small government, fiscal responsibility and the right to self defense — but that’s tantamount as saying, “Some people agree with other people on a few things.” American progressives promote libertarian policies as well, such as civil rights (except, unfortunately, where they tend to ignore the right to self defense) and peaceful foreign relations. Likewise, there are many areas where libertarians disagree with conservatives and liberals together — in fact, bipartisanship is often the very antithesis of libertarianism.
3. “Francis continues to insist that ‘the elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed.'” This is an important issue. There are indeed structural causes of poverty, not to mention racism, sexism, and other bad things. The fact that there are structural causes to these things is precisely why libertarians dislike coercive structures. From a libertarian perspective, the response to structural problems is not more structures, or even allegedly better structured structures. Structures always (and always will) have problems. (Who was that guy who said, “You will always have the poor among you”?) Libertarians believe that the only way to reduce structural problems is to take down coercive structures (government and crony business), and encourage voluntary structures (i.e., every group, formal or informal, that you’ve ever joined because you wanted to be part of it). This is not a perfect solution, problems will still exist, but at least they will not be structural.
4. “Trickle-down economics, he said, is ‘a deception’…” Indeed, insofar as “trickle-down economics” is a straw man. Trickle-down economics is an economic idea that redistributing money to wealthy people will supposedly help people in lower income brackets as it “trickles down.” Libertarians hate redistributive economic policies, regardless of who gets the initial redistribution. Most libertarians call “trickle-down economics” by other names, such as “bailout” and “crony capitalism.” There are a plenty of libertarian economists who explicitly speak against trickle-down economics.
5. Apparently it’s a big deal that Paul Ryan, who is a Catholic, “is also a disciple of the libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand.” However, every characterization in this sentence is inaccurate. Ayn Rand famously despised libertarians and said so vociferously and repeatedly (although the Ayn Rand Institute softens her stated viewpoints quite a bit). Yes, her Objectivist philosophy overlaps with some libertarian ideas, but if Rand ever heard you call her a libertarian, she would probably shoot you in the face and declare self-defense from defamation of character (and then copyright her declaration, perhaps as performance art). As for Paul Ryan, just like Shepherd Book ain’t a shepherd, Ryan ain’t a libertarian.
6. “CUA’s own business school that last year sparked a controversy by accepting $1 million from the foundation of Charles Koch, a billionaire industrialist who is an influential supporter of libertarian-style policies.” Most libertarians I know are as tired of hearing about the Koch brothers as everyone else. (BTW, the name is similar to “Coke”; if you don’t pronounce it that way, you’re saying it wrong.) Furthermore, a lot of libertarians are quite angry with the Koch brothers for their attempted coup of the Cato Institute. Assuming that the Kochs, either together or individually, speak for all libertarians is like saying Warren Buffett speaks for all progressives.
7. “[Maradiaga] said, solidarity with the poor, as envisioned by Catholic social teaching, calls for ‘dealing with the structural causes of poverty and injustice.’” Any organization that talks about structural problems of poverty while spending scads of money shuffling around sexual predators and covering up chronic abuse has some big-ass beams to pull out of its own eyes.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the people who were tortured and killed at the hand of the Catholic Church in the various crusades, witch hunts and inquisitions over the years, while priests, cardinals and popes lived large. Excepting anyone wants to return to the “good old days” when the popes were emperors, I would caution catholics not to take political advice from the Bishop of Rome or his advisors. Then again, I generally caution against taking advice from anyone whose official title is more than 40 words long.
It may be true that whatever ideal Maradiaga and the Pope are arguing against is incompatible with catholicism — but from my point of view, that ideal is not libertarianism.