Politically, libertarianism suggests government ought to be limited, acting only in matters of great importance and primarily to protect the autonomy of citizens. Libertarianism emphasizes the freedom of individuals to do as they please, with as little interference from the state as possible. Those who claim this political theory are known as libertarians. Libertarianism is distinguished from the theological concept of libertarian free will, also occasionally referred to using the term libertarianism.
As with any political idea, libertarianism is actually a spectrum of ideas rather than an explicit dogma. In modern Western politics, the most visible version of libertarianism is often called right-libertarianism. Few, if any, right-libertarians advocate for a complete elimination of the state. This makes right-libertarianism a form of minarchy, or minimal government. In its purest form, a right-libertarian government would only perform two functions: defend the nation against foreign attack and prosecute criminals. Such a government would define crime only as acts of violence, fraud, or theft.
There is also such a thing as left-libertarianism, which shares traits with communism and socialism. Under this view, the central libertarian concept of “freedom” is used to mean that all resources—including property—ought to be freely available to everyone. Some left-libertarians are anarchists, believing that no civic government of any kind is legitimate.
All political philosophies have in-house debates on where to draw the line on government interference. Libertarianism typically prefers far less government involvement—and government power—than competing views. The libertarian benchmark for any idea or institution is its effects on individual freedom and the basic rights of people. More so than in most other political theories, the debate within libertarianism can lead two libertarians to diametric conclusions about the same issue. For example,
• Concerning abortion, one libertarian might say any restriction is an illegitimate interference by government. Another might argue that abortion is an act of violence against the unborn.
• Regarding drug use, some libertarians believe all substances should be legal to buy, sell, and consume. Others suggest unchecked drug use creates threats to safety and security.
• Concerning marriage, libertarians may prefer no benefits or restrictions beyond private religious recognition. Libertarians may also argue the contrary: that promoting the best, most natural child-rearing arrangement is necessary for the survival of society.
• Some libertarians support using tax dollars for infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and fire departments. Others prefer such things to be entirely privatized, paid for only by those who want to benefit from them.
Biblically, libertarianism finds both support and boundaries. People are ultimately accountable to God, not government (Hebrews 4:13). Regardless of the laws of the land, each person has an obligation to do what is right in God’s eyes (Acts 4:29; 1 Corinthians 10:13). Scripture is full of cautionary tales about human government, including God’s own warning about the intrinsic dangers of being subject to earthly kings (1 Samuel 8:10–17). A Christian may lean libertarian due to libertarianism’s emphasis on personal rights. Many Christian libertarians argue that even a “good” government empowered to enforce Christian ideals can just as easily prosecute those ideals later on. Such believers seek the freedom to live a life honoring God without government coercion or interference (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
At the same time, Scripture says that human government is established by God in order to curb human sin (Romans 13:1–4). In every culture, some behaviors are legal, even though they are recognized as harmful—often to the person who participates in that behavior. Immorality is not merely a question of crime and punishment but of the relationship between a culture and God. When certain sins are left unchecked, the results for a culture can be disastrous. In practice, there is no such thing as “private sin”; all sin eventually affects others. If the laws of a society reflect nothing of God’s truth, that society can’t expect to function properly (Proverbs 14:34; 29:2).
There is nothing in the Bible forbidding a Christian from being a libertarian. Nor does Scripture demand believers adhere to libertarianism. Deciding where to draw boundaries around the government’s role is part of our Christian liberty. It’s an issue each believer needs to prayerfully and carefully consider.