Lucente tries to co-opt Jesus in libertarian defense

December 13, 2013

In his defense of libertarianism (Dec. 8), Thomas Lucente summarizes the libertarian philosophy as “the ethic of reciprocity,” which he epitomizes by citing Hillel: “Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you.”

So far, I have no disagreement. The major philosophers of the 20th century who defended libertarianism did so on the basis of a “no harm” or “equal liberty” principle: I agree not to harm you or infringe your liberty if you don’t do so to me.

But Lucente goes on to attribute the same view to Jesus. That is, in fact, an inaccurate attribution. Jesus taught: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 5:12; cf. Luke 6:31). Notice that there is no “not” in Jesus’ teaching.

What difference does a “not” make? Much. The “negative” Golden Rule of libertarianism commands only that we not harm others, a minimal ethic which we can fulfill simply by inaction. The “positive” Golden Rule of Jesus, however, commands that we do good for others, which requires us to take action to help others and improve their welfare.

Consider Jesus’ parable about the man beaten and left to die on the roadside. Were I a passerby, the libertarian philosophy would not require me to help the man, only not to harm him further. So, I should not steal his wallet or kick him while he’s down. Jesus’ ethic, however, as the Good Samaritan in the parable illustrates, would require me to help the man up and see that he got the health care he needed.

Jesus’ ethic thus cannot be co-opted to defend libertarianism.

Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Lima