Wednesday, 4 March 2009

John Bell, St Paul, and Libertarianism

I first encountered John Bell over 20 years ago. It was on Iona, which is a wonderful island. The Iona Community, however, I was not so sure about. Their main interest seemed to be their socialist political agenda.

This morning, on Thought for the Day, John Bell of the Iona Community spoke rather dismissively about libertarians, referring to "libertarians who speak of a 'nanny state' limiting freedom of choice."

He went on to say that while the apostle Paul said something that was basically sympathetic with libertarianism ("For, as no less an authority than St Paul pointed out, one of the direct effects of law-making is to increase the recorded incidence of law-breaking. Laws don't in themselves make for goodness,") someone else - Reinhold Niebuhr - said something different. Niebuhr spoke about moving from considering the good of the individual to the good of the community, and the need for "justice."

John Bell opted to side with Niebuhr, and concluded: "the freedom of individuals to jeopardise their health and other people's safety should not be put on a higher plain than the obligation of a government to promote the common good." Bell, in other words, prefers Niebuhr to Paul. This is not surprising, since during the 1930s, Niebuhr was a prominent leader of the militant faction of the Socialist Party of America.

John Bell and Reinhold Niebuhr don't like Libertarians. The apostle Paul, however, seems a lot more sympathetic. I'm going with the apostle Paul, myself.


patently said...

Yes, I did rant at the dashboard a bit while on the way to work this morning.

Especially when he said "But libertarians would not say that speed humps of motorway restrictions restrict their freedom" (or the like), at which point I had to reply in the approved panto manner.

If John Bell didn't have such a mellifluous voice, I'd probably detest him. But he is very pleasant to listen to - provided he doesn't say anything much...

Young Mr. Brown said...

Good point.

When John Bell says "But nobody says that speed bumps and motorway restrictions are signs of a nanny state," it indicates he is not very familiar with libertarian views on motorway restrictions.

I must blog on that sometime!