Obligations and The Libertarian and Christian Principles of Ownership

Obligations are those requirements which claim a right to your time, energy, person, life, or property.

The secular libertarian axiom is the “principle of self-ownership.” Since you “own yourself” you have the RIGHT to your life, the actions you do (liberty), and the fruits of these actions (your property.) Because you “own yourself” no one else can legitimately own you. Thus, any obligation applied to you from another detracts from either your life, liberty or property.

On the Christian framework the ownership principle is that “God owns each person.” God is Sovereign. Thus, like secular libertarianism, no person can infringe on your life, liberty, or property because it is not theirs. However, the difference between this Christian ownership principle and that of the secular libertarian is that positive obligations are possible where required byGod. Thus, although an obligation to, say, provide for your family infringes on your personal liberty or property, this is a legitimate infringement because it is a directive from God (who own’s all men), not a burden placed on you from another man (who has no true claim to ownership). On the secular libertarian view, one does not strictly have to support one’s family. A libertarian is completely “at liberty” to ignore the hunger of their children. But the Christian has an obligation to work to feed their children. Libertarianism and Christianity coincide where they both teach to not harm others. But Christianity goes further and puts positive obligations on man. The Christian has obligations to love their neighbor, work to support themselves and their family, and to teach their children the scriptures. Any obligation would conflict with one’s life, liberty, and property if life, liberty, and property were truly in one’s own “self-possession.” But because the real owner is God, He can do as he wishes and obligations from Him, unlike those from man, are legitimate.

The difference between Christian Libertarianism and Secular Libertarianism is in ultimate ownership principles. Whereas the Christian and Libertarian agree that a person has rights to his life/liberty/property above any other person’s claim, these rights, on the Christian view, must always be subservient to God; the ultimate owner. Thus, there are positive obligations on man, despite his self-ownership, because these obligations are from a higher owner, God.

This raises the question, how are these obligations to be enforced? I think the answer is that enforcement is legitimate only when it itself is an obligation given from God. Thus, the enforcement of punishing evil-doers is an obligation of the powers in charge. However, there is no obligation of enforcement associated with the failure of a parent to fulfill there obligation to “teach your children the scriptures.” A parent who fails at this obligation will perhaps be punished by God, but this failure is not associated with any biblical god-given obligation of others to punish the parent.

The liberal Christian, seeing that the “Principle of God-Ownership” allows for obligations mistakenly extends these from God-demanded obligations to other man-demanded obligations. But not all obligations are created equal. It is legitimate for the God to place obligations on us, but it is illegitimate for some men to place obligations on others.

In summary there are 3 possible principles (not just 2 as libertarians would have you believe)

1. Self-ownership

2. Other Person-ownership

3. God-ownership

Christianity is about the third of these, providing liberty where granted by God and obligations where required by God. 


About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat (www.discoversola.com). In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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One Response to Obligations and The Libertarian and Christian Principles of Ownership

  1. C.Jay Engel says:

    This is excellent. I am going to use this on my site (thanks for that!). Non-Christians often tell me that God in the Old Testament is anti-libertarian, and thus my own stance (Reformed Libertarianism) is inconsistent or flawed. They cite a number of reasons including “murder,” and “theft.” But what is not realized is that (Christian) libertarian principles really shine forth in the Old Testament. For God owns all property and mankind and thus has the right to use it how He wills. Good work Doug.

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