Communitarianism Masquerading As Libertarianism

NOTE: The following is protected by federal copyright law and is an excerpt from the book Marxianity written by Brannon Howse and is not to be published online. The footnotes that document the content in this article are found in the book Marxianity or the eBook.


Problematic nineteenth century thinkers continue to reach into twentieth-first century minds and manipulate even some leaders within the church. I detail a great deal of this in my book Grave Influence: 21 Radicals and Their Worldviews that Rule America from the Grave, but in this chapter, I want to update you on yet another influencer who is affecting the church through a misfit web of so-called evangelicals. The founding principles of the organization that bears his name sound great to many free-market thinkers and conservative Christians, but the reality of what has resulted from its work is quite different.


Actons Speak Louder than Words


British historian and philosopher Lord John Acton, who lived from 1834 to 1902, is best known for coining the phrase, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely;” he is also the namesake of the Acton Institute. The organization’s current president is Robert A. Sirico, a Roman Catholic priest, and it is Sirico’s background that reveals the undercurrents of what the Acton Institute stands for.

On Thursday, May 11, 1972, The Seattle Times featured an article entitled, “Pastor to Perform Homosexual Marriages.” At the time, the idea of homosexual marriage of any kind—let alone endorsed by a church—was still a newsworthy anomaly. The marriage reported by the Seattle Times was performed by the Reverend Robert Sirico, who at the time was a Pentecostal minister. Pastor Sirico had recently “come out” as a homosexual himself and had started a controversial new church embracing the homosexual lifestyle. The Times article says of Sirico:


[quote] Most of his life he was aware that he was a homosexual. He took the position that homosexuality was a perversion and condemned in the Bible, but said his views have changed. Citing in particular I Corinthians 6:9, Mr. Sirico said he now understands the Bible to condemn “trying to change one’s sexual orientation.” [end quote]


Since then, Sirico has converted to Roman Catholicism, and today he is Father Robert Sirico and is president of the Acton Institute.

Although the Acton Institute has been respected by conservatives for a number of years, I first suspected something was amiss in the organization when its 2017 conference focused on the contributions of Catholicism’s Jesuit Order. As I’ve explained in detail in previous books, the Jesuits are champions of ecumenicalism, social justice, and liberation theology. In fact, a decade or so before Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto, a Jesuit by the name of Luigi Taparelli coined the term, “social justice,” a natural lead-in to the toxic mixture of socialism and Christianity called liberation theology. A video from the Acton Institute has this to say about its Jesuit-focused conference:


[quote] Our twenty-first century of globalization, with all its opportunities and challenges, isn’t the first time that the Catholic church has grappled with economic changes on a global scale. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholic theologians explored the moral and economic implications of expanding commerce and trade routes across the globe to India, China, Africa and of course, to the Americas. Many of these theologians were Jesuits. Like Pope Francis, Jesuits such as Juan de Mariana, Luis de Molina, and Leonardus Lessius had plenty to say about topics like trade and money. In doing so, these Jesuits anticipated many of the revolutionary economic ideas in Adam Smith’s famous book, The Wealth of Nations.


On Wednesday, 29 November 2017, the Acton Institute and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s faculty of History and Cultural Heritage of the church will hold an afternoon conference on globalization, justice, and the economy with Jesuit contribution. Held at the Gregorian University in Rome, this conference brings together leading thinkers from around the world to explore the Jesuits’ indispensable contributions to the development of modern market economics, and of course, to Pope Francis’ own economic thinking. (emphasis mine) [end quote]


On the surface, the Acton Institute appears to promote a respectable libertarianism, a political philosophy that appeals to some conservatives. But there are actually different types of libertarians, and the difference is significant. Many people who are libertarian are conservative in some areas. For instance, they uphold the concepts of free market and promote free market principles. Not bad, you might say. But in other areas, libertarians actually favor big government and accept abortion, same-sex marriage, and similar aberrations.

Many people think the Acton Institute is an organization favoring free market capitalism, but that’s what they want you to believe—because there’s more. In true Jesuit form, the institute is not transparent about what it truly stands for. What it really promotes is socialism mixed with capitalism—communitarianism—but they call it libertarianism. According to an article in the National Catholic Reporter, “The Acton Institute is the spearhead of libertarian thinking in Catholic circles.” The article also characterizes Fr. Sirico’s early work as that of a “gay rights activist.”

An Acton Institute blogpost from October 23, 2006 reveals the central theme of Sirico’s libertarianism. It reports that Sirico had recently given a presentation called, “Capitalism and the Common Good.” Common good, of course, is a term used by communitarians to justify their compromises with socialism. In a similar vein, the Acton Institute website also promotes a book called Banking, Justice and the Common Good.

Another revealing component of the organization’s structure is that the director of the institute’s office in Rome is a former employee of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. And what have recent Popes Francis and Benedict promoted? Social justice, the common good, sustainable development and communitarianism. Remember, “sustainable development,” a concept generated by the United Nation’s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, is communitarianism or communism-lite. The insidious presence of communitarianism also makes its way into the literature promoted by the Acton Institute. One of its heroes is economist F. A. Hayek, perhaps best known for his book The Road to Serfdom. Yet, Hayek was not the free-market capitalist many think he was. He once wrote a paper entitled, “The Liberal as Communitarian,” and although that may come as a surprise to you, please understand that Hayek actually spent several years on staff at the London School of Economics, the Fabian Socialist School in England.

On one of my television programs, I’ve shared a video of a philosophy professor, Erik Angner, from George Mason University, explaining Hayek and his views on mixing socialism with capitalism. Consider these excerpts from an interview with Nick Gillespie, host of Reason TV:


[quote] Gillespie: Talk a little bit about the . . . piece for Politico, which is interesting from a libertarian point of view. Because you actually point out that Friedrich Hayek, one of the great patron saints of contemporary libertarianism, actually was in favor of things like nationalized healthcare.


Angner: He would’ve been in favor of mandates, I think. The first thing to know about Hayek is that he was actually for redistribution, so this doesn’t sound like the sort of thing somebody like Hayek might say. You might think he had a stroke or made a mistake at some point in his writings, but this is actually a theme that goes back his entire career. In 1944 . . . he said something about how he’d always been in favor of a minimum income for all, and the same thing comes back throughout his life.


Gillespie: Right. And then in the Constitution of Liberty, which in many ways was considered his magnum opus, he actually talks about welfare payments, minimum wage. But also, he signals that he’d be in favor of some kind of universal healthcare that relies on a mandate. Talk a little bit about how does he square that with the idea of maximum individual liberty?


Angner: Well, the first thing to note is that you can be for markets without being against redistribution. So, for Hayek, the central argument for markets, the main reason why markets work so well, has to do with a function of the price system. So, Hayek emphasized how forces of supply and demand operate in such a way that prices reflect all sorts of information that any individual member could not have. What is consistent . . . is this idea that you can distribute resources from people who have more of it to people who have less of it, and that you can mandate people to purchase health insurance . . . Hayek does not spend a whole lot of time talking about this, but I think we can fill in the blanks. So, he’s concerned about the minimum income for all. He’s concerned about everyone having access to basic social services. And he proposes mandates essentially as a way to get around this. Why would he have done that? Well, the ideal Hayekian system would really involve cash transfers to the poor, and they would then . . . be maximally free to spend the money they receive. This might be politically unpalatable. This might be part of the reason why Hayek didn’t propose it. But the other thing to note about healthcare is that most people who can afford it actually buy it. And so, by giving people money and mandating that they buy health insurance, you’re not too far off the target. [end quote] 


So, Hayek, a hero of the Acton Institute, favored a minimal income for all. But how do you have a minimal income for all unless you’re into the redistribution of wealth—i.e., socialism? Apparently, Hayek also supported the idea of universal healthcare, and Professor Angner recounts that Hayek would be for distributing resources from those who have more to those who have less. As astounding as that may be, it gets even more amazing to see who has been attracted to the Acton Institute’s “big tent.”

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