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Seeking a free society

A conversation with Christian libertarians

Elise Daniel and Taylor Barkley Mike Kepka/Genesis Photos

Seeking a free society
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WORLD’s Q&As include perspectives from Christians who diverge from the evangelical mainstream: a Democrat in the last issue, two libertarians in this one. Elise Daniel, co-founder of Bellwether Communications, edited Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian and Libertarian (2017). Taylor Barkley, a program officer at Stand Together, wrote a chapter in that book. Here are excerpts of their comments before a student audience.

How did you become a Christian libertarian?

Elise Daniel: I was raised in a conservative Christian home with the basic understanding that free markets and limited governments are good. A book about prohibition helped me understand what happens when the government tries to legislate something like alcohol consumption: corruption, hypocrisy, crime. I came to a position where I saw how bad the government is at legislating morality, and how costly it is.

Taylor Barkley: I grew up in a Christian household and was homeschooled K-12. In high school I was earning a minimum wage and thought, Who could be against the minimum wage? But I read Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics and read how the minimum wage harms the people it’s meant to benefit. That blew my mind: I loved the counterintuitive nature of free-market economics.

Isn’t government inevitably involved in morality in some ways? For example, the welfare system encourages people not to get married because they often lose money when they marry.

ED: A law may have some small success in creating culture, but it always comes at a greater cost, and even the changes don’t necessarily change hearts. For example, there’s not much virtue in not drinking because you don’t know the right bootleggers.

Many people confuse libertarianism and libertinism.

TB: Libertarianism is a political philosophy, and libertinism is the stance that there is no moral structure, so “I’m gonna live my life however I see fit.”

Libertinism often leads to abortion, and you’re against that.

TB: I think the government should protect lives of unborn children.

On what grounds?

TB: On that it’s a human being.

ED: Yes, on the grounds that it’s a human being and abortion is a violation of the nonaggression principle.

The nonaggression principle that you shouldn’t kill or hurt other human beings. How does that apply internationally?

ED: Foreign policy is hard to grapple with because there doesn’t seem to be a good outcome either way. My dad was a Marine, so I think about what’s necessary to protect our freedom. My foreign policy position is still moving.

What drugs would you legalize?

TB: Marijuana, similar recreational drugs. Not harder drugs that have a clearer link to life destruction like methamphetamine or even heroin. I lost a friend to a heroin overdose in college.

ED: I’m not super passionate about drug legalization. We want a virtuous society. Conservatives will tell me they don’t want to raise kids in a culture where gambling, drugs, prostitution, all these things are OK. Neither do we. Our culture needs to have virtue, which we learn from our faith, from God, from the Bible. The church had a big role. We can’t just shift responsibility to the government. The church needs to do culture work. Just because we’re free doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. It means we have a much greater responsibility.

TB: People are free to make decisions that are harmful for themselves: That comes with the package of liberty. I don’t think we can, neither should we, stop people from making harmful decisions. They have autonomy over themselves. Stewardship of the body, soul, and spirit is important. That comes from God.

‘Our culture needs to have virtue, which we learn from our faith, from God, from the Bible.’ —Elise Daniel

How do you come at the current and growing battle of LGBT groups versus bakers, photographers, and florists?

TB: What do we want a free society to look like? A free society means people are going to be doing things you don’t like, and do I have other means to that product or service from someone who maybe is more friendly to my perspectives? But it’s a tricky question.

That’s why we’ll go to Elise for the answer.

ED: That’s a really tricky one. We have to learn to work together in society and live peacefully.

As you were growing up, how did the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama affect your thinking?

ED: During the Bush presidency, I considered myself more or less a Republican. Supported George Bush. Supported the war in Iraq. Later I realized that government really expanded under him, but Republicans were supposed to be for limited government. Republicans were not living and implementing liberty in a consistent way. During the Obama presidency, social justice, especially in the Christian church, was a very popular movement. I was in college and having conversations with my Christian friends about what they believed in politics. That turned a lot of my attention to how the government cares for the poor. I asked, who deals best with poverty? Is it the church or the government?

What influence is Donald Trump having on people in their 20s and early 30s?

ED: It takes a divisive president to forge a new path, but some of the tribalism going on is discouraging. He’s been outspoken on pro-life issues, and from a libertarian position he’s sided more with former candidates like Rand Paul on foreign policy. His presidency is giving libertarians fresh ground and motivation for the next election cycle.

TB: His presidency has caused people to take a look at the system we have. After his election former Obama staffers and liberal commentators were all of a sudden talking about the importance of state legislatures. People are reconsidering executive power. This has been a libertarian talking point for a long, long time.

What about compulsory vaccination of children?

ED: I approve of vaccination, but I don’t want the state to have that kind of power, even though I do want everyone to be vaccinated. It’s tricky. Freedom is not safe. And we just need to recognize that the government’s involvement in these things is even more risky.

TB: I’m also very pro-vaccination. I’m glad my child will not be subject to immense physical suffering due to measles, mumps, rubella, tuberculosis, typhoid. The libertarian part of me grapples with forced vaccination, but let’s take a step back first: The evidence is not on the side of anti-vaccination. Even if there is a nonzero chance that there’s a risk of a certain vaccination, the risk of death and typhoid or immense high fever is a worse risk to take.

Some conservatives believe liberalism has contributed to a breakdown of society by promoting a radical individualism that creates a culture of people with no obligations beyond themselves to history, tradition, or community, or anything like that. Doesn’t libertarianism contribute to that problem?

ED: Libertarian circles do need improvement on that. You can’t tell the government to get out of the way and then not do anything about it. We have to come together in a community and work to solve those problems.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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