Was Jesus a Libertarian?

Michael Gerson, the architect of all that “Compassionate Conservative” nonsense, had a column in the Washington Post claiming Jesus was not a libertarian (or even a fiscal conservative with “socially conservative” views).

Gerson’s rationale goes like this: Jesus and his followers opposed slavery, therefore they would also support Medicaid.

I’ve written on why that logic (used by Governor Rendell) is both poor policy and poor theology, and revisited the topic of charity and markets vs. the “compassion” of taxation. But since this type of rhetoric makes me angry (I’ll give you fair warning before my eyes turn green and my shirt rips off), I’ll refer to the Acton Institute’s reponse to Gerson:

Here’s the key assumption in Michael Gerson’s piece from last week, “The Libertarian Jesus”:

Private compassion cannot replace Medicaid or provide AIDS drugs to millions of people in Africa for the rest of their lives. In these cases, a role for government is necessary and compassionate — the expression of conservative commitments to the general welfare and the value of every human life.

Private compassion certainly could do this, and much more. Private giving generally dwarfs government programs in both real dollars and effectiveness.

Does this mean that there is no role or never a role for government? No. But that role is one of last and temporary resort. The dichotomy that Gerson draws from one side (and many libertarians draw from another) is false.

Gerson also misunderstands the import of Coburn’s claims that compassion cannot be coerced, “that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver.” The divide between government programs and individual charity isn’t a public/private distinction, but rather a political/moral distinction, where the moral element may sometimes but not always necessitate political action. Poverty is simply not morally equatable with slavery or abortion.

I will note that Gerson missed the obvious point that libertarians and classical liberals (dating back to John Locke) were strong opponents of slavery – believing that the role of government was to protect our natural rights (endowed by the Creator), including the rights to the fruits of our labor (i.e. property).

Obviously libertarians, classical liberals, and fiscal conservatives believe there is a role for government. But forcibly taking our property (taxes) to redistribute through ineffective government programs – and undermining private charity and the free market in the process – is not such a role.