Libertarian Papers Vol. 2, Art. No. 14 (2010)

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As organizations, the purpose of the Freeman, Faith and Freedom, and Christian Economics was to educate the opinion makers in society in correct economic principles; with the presumption these ‘converts’ would use their influence to lead their followers to the same truth. For all three journals, albeit with a difference in emphasis, ministers of American churches were to comprise an essential part of the vanguard of the conservative counter-revolution. A counter-revolution in that ministers would shepherd their flock back to an understanding of the Christian roots of political liberty that had infused colonial Americans, and inspired them to overthrow the might of the British Empire in the original Revolution.

Rev. Stewart M. Robinson (treasurer of the Christian Freedom Foundation), declared in the August 13, 1951, issue of the Freeman, that the modern clergy, products of liberal dominated seminaries, “may be surprised at the courage of the colonial clergy in scourging the all-powerful state.” He used examples from colonial sermons to illustrate, they were “both informed and vocal on the fundamental issues of liberty under law and the necessity for a government of laws, not men.” And these colonial clergy were not reluctant to avow their conviction that freedom was threatened in America. They stood up and took their chances with the other rebels in the “crisis of 1776.”40 Their endorsement and justification of the cause, Robinson exclaimed, “was so vital to the needs of the people that no public gathering was complete without a sermon.” Robinson ended his article with a call to arms, emphasizing that his article was not an historical lesson of what had happened, but an historical example of what could happen again. Ministers, he asserted, retained much of the respect they had commanded in colonial times. And it was their duty to use that spiritual authority, in this time of crisis, to remind their congregation of how the Scriptures endorsed, the “high dedication to personal liberty, the dignity of man, and freedom for each man from the deadening hand of the state.”41

Other articles in the Freeman proffered similar explanations of the fundamental relationship between religious faith and individual freedom, especially after the FEE assumed control of the magazine in July, 1954. Rev. Edmund A. Opitz joined the staff of FEE in 1955, moving from Spiritual Mobilization, and this prolific advocate of Christian libertarianism produced a string of articles over the next ten years with titles like: ‘Religious Roots of Liberty (February, 1955), and ‘The Religious Foundations of a Free Society (September 1959). The Congregationalist minister, Rev. Russell J. Clinchy, a board member of the CFF and a staff member of FEE, who wrote articles for Christian Economics and Faith and Freedom as well as the Freeman, contributed ‘Religion is a Free Response,’ (May 5, 1952) and ‘The Protestant Basis for Individualism (January, 1955). Even J. Howard Pew joined in. ‘Governed by God,’ (July, 1957) asserted that religious faith, “is the condition without which individual freedom and liberty are impossible.”42

But alongside these positive affirmations of the religious basis for individual freedom, the Freeman also offered its readers as long a list of articles (many written by Opitz) criticizing the ministers of the church who, they believed, were preaching the message of the Social Gospel as the pretext for establishing a socialist government in the United States. One such article title of July 27, 1953—Julian Maxwell’s ‘Our Pink-Tinted Clergy’—is, perhaps, self-explanatory, but the abstract hammered home the accusation that, in “their sponsorship of Communist causes a growing number of our churchmen are furthering the aim of a secret core in their midst to destroy religion.”43

Maxwell’s article appeared at the height of the controversy surrounding the alleged communist infiltration of the clergy in the United States. July, 1953, also saw the publication of J. B. Matthews’ ‘Reds in Our Churches,’ in American Mercury, which claimed ministers were the most influential group in America in promoting communist ideas, primarily through their membership of communist ‘fronts.’ The ensuing outrage forced Matthews to resign his position as Executive Director of McCarthy’s investigating committee, a position he had only taken up three weeks previously, but it also led to HUAC conducting its own appraisal of the validity of Matthews’ charges. The Committee’s Annual Report for 1953 conceded that communists were trying to infiltrate the church, and that they had achieved a certain success by ‘duping’ many ministers to join ‘fronts’ from a humanitarian impulse; “completely unaware of the purposes for which they have been used and the ends to which the prestige of their names has been lent.”44 They concluded, however, that an examination of the record showed that, “only a very small number of clergymen in the United States have been consistent fellow travellers with the Communist Party.”45

For Christian libertarians the main threat to individual freedom from the churches lay not in the small number of actual communists trying to infiltrate the clergy, but the no less alarming menace of the church, as a corporate organization, promoting the socialist philosophy of the Social Gospel. The Freeman, Faith and Freedom, and Christian Economics consistently inveighed against the tendency of the NCC to make pronouncements on political topics that were issued as representing the opinions of every member of the Council’s constituent denominations. And they all—but especially Faith and Freedom—criticized the NCC’s sponsorship of Social Action groups; committees composed of liberal clergymen who lobbied in Washington, and through the media, to establish the Kingdom of God (the society envisioned in the Gospel of Jesus Christ) by ‘coercive’ legislation.

The most outspoken opponent of the NCC (and its predecessor, the FCC), however, was the Presbyterian minister, Rev. Carl McIntire, who founded the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC) in 1941, to counter the twin dangers of theological modernism and the Social Gospel movement prevalent in the FCC. But, McIntire and the ACCC also promoted a positive message; a Christian libertarian outlook that was ignored by commentators content to label McIntire as an ‘apostle of discord,’ or a ‘hatemonger.’46 In his weekly paper, the Christian Beacon, McIntire explained in October 25, 1956, that the purpose of the ACCC was to call “God’s people back to the liberty, the individualism, the rights of private property, and the blessings of free enterprise in America.”47 The Christian Beacon of April 12, 1951, enunciated the religious foundations of the ‘blessings of free enterprise in America,’ by declaring: “We do not say that Christianity is freedom, or capitalism, or private enterprise. But Christianity presents the principles which undergird all these.”48 And, in an ACCC release of 1953, ‘Marx or Christ in the Churches?’ McIntire reiterated his belief that, “the Christian religion does lay down in the most specific manner the fundamental principles which undergird our free enterprise, capitalistic order.”49

As well as Christian Beacon (which first appeared in 1936), and the ACCC, McIntire also disseminated his philosophy in the radio program 20th Century Reformation Hour, established in 1955. 20th Century Reformation Hour also produced pamphlets for the program’s listeners, and one such, ‘What is the Difference between Capitalism and Communism,” further elaborated McIntire’s Christian libertarian views. Like the Freeman, Faith and Freedom, and Christian Economics, McIntire regarded the American Revolution, and the religious beliefs of the founders, as the fountainhead of political and economic liberty in the United States; arguing it was the “God-ordained concepts of man and freedom that gave birth to the Bill of Rights which constitutes the protection of the individual in the United States of America.”

It was also the duty of ministers, McIntire argued, to remind their congregations of the Christian sanction of individual freedom untrammelled by interference from the State, and to “take the initiative in re-establishing in the minds of men everywhere the validity of profit, the responsibility of stewardship, the obligations of freedom, and, above all, the defense of the individual in his right to enjoy the fruits of his own labor.” McIntire completed his account of the differences between capitalism and communism by warning his readers that, in these times of confusion and uncertainty, the capitalistic order could only withstand the advances of the Marxist philosophy by, the “offering to men of the standards of righteousness and the moral law set forth in the Ten Commandments.”50

McIntire provided a full exposition of the relevance of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments to contemporary problems in his 1946 book, Author of Liberty. He began with the standard conservative excuse for the liberal domination of politics: that America “is in the predicament which she finds herself today,” because her citizens “are too scared to think, or too self-satisfied to think, or too downright lazy to think.” Instead of thinking for themselves they, “depend upon the thinking of others,” and “this thinking in many cases is being directed along socialistic or collectivistic lines.”51 As a result America’s free institutions were in danger of being destroyed, and the only way to prevent this calamity was to “go back, away back to the Author of Liberty,” and “sit at His feet, hear Him tell us again and again what it is that makes freedom and enables men to keep it.”52 The intention of the book, McIntire continued, was “to recall for the thinking of the Lord’s people, and to offer also to those who are not Christians, the basic idea of freedom as our fathers believed it and as they received it from Him.”53 And the basic idea of freedom that the fathers believed in was, he proclaimed, “revealed to us by the Almighty God in the pages of Holy Writ.”54

For McIntire, the Scriptures were “the handbook of freedom,”55 containing eternal laws applicable to all stages of human history. And central to the Biblical message was the “unchanging moral law” of the Ten Commandments, “the most individualistic charter that has ever been written,” without which, “the individual is crushed in numerous forms of tyranny.”56 McIntire explained the meaning of each Commandment in the struggle to preserve individual freedom, and in his discussion of the Eighth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ asserted that it “establishes upon divine authority the right of private enterprise.”57 God decreed that that each individual held the sacred right to dispose of their private property as they deemed most suitable to fulfil one of the obligations of Christian freedom; the stewardship of responsibility to God to aid those who were not as fortunate as they were. The state could not usurp that responsibility by the forcible redistribution—taxation—of an individual’s private property without condemning America to a socialistic future. McIntire ended his explanation of the Eighth Commandment with the declaration that it was the religious justification of the private enterprise system, as understood by the nation’s founders, that conceived, “the system of freedom that made America great!”58

The Author of Liberty also contained the reasons for McIntire’s opposition to the union closed shop. And those rationales are very different from those ascribed to him by Arnold Foster and Benjamin Epstein in their discussion of the founder of the 20th Century Reformation Hour in their 1964 book, Danger on the Right. Written to warn the electorate of the consequences of voting for Goldwater in the forthcoming presidential election, Epstein and Forster claimed his support rested on a ‘Radical Right’ whose ideology was, “no more sound as a political position than the troublesome communist conspiracy.” And worse, these Radical Rightists, with their continual divisive criticisms of the existing order, “pose a threat to our democratic institutions.”59 In the chapter devoted to McIntire they stated that he based his opposition to the closed shop on the “fantastic argument,” that “Christians objected to joining unions and thus being ’yoked together with unbelievers.’”60 Unfortunately, as with every other argument in the book against the Christian Right, and the conservative movement in general, no references were provided to substantiate their allegations.

In fact, McIntire supported Christians joining unions, and never called for a separation of the Christian from the ‘unbeliever’ in the workplace. Unions were a legitimate expression of the constitutional right to peaceful assembly, he argued, and even agreed with the unions’ right to strike and collective bargaining. He objected to closed shops, however, because they repudiate the “whole doctrine of the freedom of conscience, which gives to us the individualism of the Christian religion.”61 Some Christians, and non-Christians, did not want to join a union, and when “men cannot even work at their trade unless they will join the union whether their conscience will permit it or not, we have a form of totalitarianism.”62 McIntire considered a man’s right to labor as an integral part of his private property, protected by the Eighth Commandment, and thus no authority or organization other than God could interfere in his exercise of that right. Once the union movement began to recognize, “the right of any and every man to work freely in America,” and did not attempt to, “bind men and compel them to stifle their reason or their conscience,” then it would, McIntire predicted, “commend itself to the labouring man in America,” be he a Christian or an ‘unbeliever.’63

McIntire’s 20th Century Reformation Hour enjoyed a large amount of popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s because it did not merely confine itself—as Epstein, Forster, and many other accused—to negative criticisms of the existing political system. It also offered a positive philosophy of individual freedom that appealed to Americans who, while they could not articulate it, felt that they were being subsumed in the mass of a socially engineered, conformist, liberal society. Other organizations espoused the same message, and achieved a similar prominence. Dr. Frederick C. Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communism Crusade and Rev. Billy J. Hargis’ Christian Crusade attracted large numbers of followers because, while they were against communism, socialism and liberalism, more importantly, they were for the individual and the full expression of his God-given freedoms.64

The desire for action and self-expression by individuals explains the following Robert H. Welch drew to The John Birch Society. Before a prospect could join the Society they needed a recommendation form an existing member, who vouched for their moral character. Only men and women of faith—Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Mohammedan—were then allowed to attend a two-day seminar; the first day devoted to a presentation of the current communist threat in the United States, and the second to an explanation of the constructive values the Society was fighting for.

This two-day seminar, published as The Blue Book of The John Birch Society, made clear that the organization’s fight against communism was only a first step in eradicating the collectivist philosophy in the United States, and “that the whole essence of our purpose, and the guiding principle for our action … can be summarized in the objective expressed by just five words: Less government and more responsibility.”65 (emphasis in text) Religious faith, of whatever denomination, was necessary because the Society needed to become, “dynamic in our spiritual influence,” (emphasis in text) and establish the moral foundations for the “positive leadership and example to provide a governmental environment in which individual man can make the most of his life in whatever way he—and not his government—wishes to use it.”66 (emphasis in text) And in case the attendees of the seminars had not grasped the fact that the Society was not just an anticommunist organization, Welch’s final statement reminded them that, “after we have destroyed the communist tyranny, let’s drive on towards our higher goals of more permanent accomplishment,” and found, “an era of less government and more responsibility, in which we can create a better world.”67

Welch, McIntire, Schwarz, et al, were not systematic Christian libertarians in the sense that they expounded a libertarian position exclusively predicated on the religious foundations of individual freedom. But their positive visions (as varied in emphasis as they were) of a ‘better world’ populated by individuals of religious faith reclaiming their freedom from an encroaching State had the same ultimate end as the Christian libertarian position. And some ‘intellectual’ journals of opinion also advocated libertarianism with a religious foundation. Jack Schwartzman, the editor of libertarian journal Fragments, declared in 1963, “I am an individual. I possess an individual soul… I believe in God. I recognize no interloper between God and me. If I yearn for a union with the One, it is a union which preserves my individuality.”68 In the same magazine, in 1964, Admiral Ben Moreell warned that Americans were turning away from God, and “in His place we are building a graven image, The Giant State.”69

One of the more rigorous explorations of the relevance of religion to libertarian thought occurred in the pages of the New Individualist Review (NIR). In the Autumn issue of 1964, Ralph Raico reviewed ‘What is Conservatism’—a collection of twelve essays, edited by Frank S. Meyer, presenting the ‘fusionist’ ground where traditionalists and libertarians could unite to argue a common conservatism. Raico took particular umbrage at M. Stanton Evans’ essay, ‘A Conservative Case for Freedom,’ for arguing, the “libertarian, or classical liberal, characteristically denies the existence of a God-centered moral order.” He then proceeded to demolish Evans’ argument by documenting the Christian faith of classical liberals like Ricardo, Bright, Cobden, Acton, Macauley and Bastiat. He quoted approvingly Bastiat’s ‘Harmonies of Political Economy,’ where the French economist wrote: “There is a leading idea which runs through the whole of this work… and that idea is embodied in the opening words of the Christian Creed—I BELIEVE IN GOD.”70 (emphasis in text)

Evans, due to the pressure of work commitments, took two years to reply. In the Winter 1966 issue of NIR he informed Raico that the NIR writer was mistaken. His ‘fusionist’ essay had explained there were some irreligious classical liberals of importance, J.S. Mill and Herbert Spencer especially, but only to highlight his argument that a secular foundation for the idea of freedom cannot hold the whole together. Indeed, the central topic of his essay was consideration of the question—“Can a regime of political freedom long exist without the underpinning of religion and moral sentiment derived from Judeo-Christian revelation.”(emphasis in text) And Evans’ answer, unlike Diderot and Mencken, was no. He contended that religious classical liberals, “men who combine both ethical affirmation and concern for human freedom,” are “the heroes of the piece.”71 (emphasis in text)

The reason libertarianism became associated with greed and selfishness in the ‘popular’ mind was, largely, the result of the successful identification by liberals, especially in the years of the Great Depression, of conservative thought as nothing more than the mouthpiece of big business. Historians have propounded that error by claiming, as one of the more discerning writers on conservatism did, that the conservative movement in the 1950s was nothing more than, “the spokesman of business interests, business ideology, a business elite.”72 But, the telling blow against libertarianism, for many, came from the enormous popularity, in book sales at least, of Randian Objectivism. Ayn Rand wrote a succession of novels, including Atlas Shrugged (1957) and The Fountainhead (1943), outlining a rationalist philosophy of materialism that placed the greatest value for an individual in their efforts to transcend the restrictions and stultifying norms society imposed upon them. Unfortunately, as the Christian libertarian Joseph R. Peden, publisher of Libertarian Forum, pointed out in his own journal in 1971: “Wealth and the bitch goddess success are the household deities of the Randian cult,” and because of their “anti-human values,” the “Randian value system is a potential millstone around the neck of the libertarian movement.”73

In the same issue Peden’s editor, Murray N. Rothbard, delivered a cogent defense of the philosophy of Christian libertarianism. While admitting, it “is a bitter pill for us non-Christians to swallow,” he argued that in the two thousand years since the death of Christ “the greatest thinkers… have been Christian, ” and to “ignore these Christian philosophers and to attempt to carve out an ethical system purely on one’s own is to court folly and disaster.” Of course, Rothbard noted, Christian libertarianism should be questioned, as all tradition should, by the faculty of reason. But, the empirical record showed that the Christian system of values has “the longest and most successful tradition,” and that the “Christian ethic is, in the words of the old hymn, the Rock of Ages.” In an almost Burkean conclusion, Rothbard acknowledged that modern libertarians “stand on the shoulders of the thinkers of the past,” and reminded them, “it is at least incumbent upon the individual to think long and hard before he abandons that Rock, lest he sink into the quagmire of the capricious and bizarre.”74

Christian libertarianism arose in the 1950s as the first attempt to organize conservative opposition to New Deal liberalism. Faith and Freedom, Christian Economics, and the Freeman provided the platform for many conservative intellectuals to oppose the Leviathan state from deeply held religious convictions, which insisted individual freedom was a God-given right that the state could not abrogate except for a few sharply defined functions of defense against violence. It was made possible by individuals, who financed the movement from their personal assumptions of how the United States could get off the ‘Road to Serfdom,’ and not to advance their business interests. Pew, for instance, could have made more money by cooperating with the military-industrial state than he would make in a competitive laissez-faire economy.

That is the bare-bone explanation of a movement that still holds relevance for libertarians today. If you take individual freedom from state coercion as the highest political end, as Murray Rothbard and Lord Acton maintained, and not as end in itself, then what standards prevent that collection of individuals from descending into a state of anarchy. Rothbard explained that his “own position grounds libertarianism on a natural rights theory,” but recognized that there are many different (and equally valid) philosophic and non-philosophic arguments, “within the libertarian camp,” that provide “a satisfactory groundwork and basis for individual liberty.”75

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