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June 12, 2014 12:07 PM The Catholic Calvinist Libertarian

By Ed Kilgore

It seems that I was a bit too flip in summarizing David Brat’s world view yesterday as something of a Christian Objectivist operating from a Protestant perspective. As Julie Ingersoll explains at Religion Dispatches today, it’s more complicated, if ultimately not much different, from that characterization:

Brat calls himself a “Calvinist (in theory not practice)” by which he likely means that while he is a practicing Catholic, it is the Calvinist tradition that shapes his view of the world. This means at least two things: first, that there is no aspect of life outside the realm of religion, and second, that human beings left to their own devices are inherently sinful (what Calvinists refer to as Total Depravity).
These commitments play out in Brat’s Interpretation essay in the form of an argument that not all biblically prohibited activities must necessarily made illegal. He is relying on the Reformed notion, popular among Tea Partiers, that God delegates limited authority to specific human spheres.
Brat notes a division between the responsibilities of the state and the church. The state, in this model, is severely restrained in its authority over economic activity. The best check on the depravity of individuals who make up the civil government is the decentralization of authority into the distinct spheres; the best check on the depravity of human beings in the economy is the decentralization of the market created by competition.
Historian Michael McVicar has this called this “theocratic libertarianism”: it creates an economic zone free of government regulation, but it does not create a zone free of the regulations of religion.
This is the model in which care for the poor is the responsibility of the family and the church and any government safety net is labelled “socialism.” It is the model in which education is the sole responsibility of families, leading to the goal of eliminating public education and any state regulation of private education and home schooling. At the very heart of this version of Calvinism is the goal of bringing all areas of life “under the Lordship of Christ.”
So yes, Catholic, Calvinist, and (sort of) libertarian. Brought to you by the voters of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.

Brat represents a form of the latter-day convergence of conservative Catholics and Protestants I hadn’t appreciated, one in which John Calvin, of all people, is the solvent of ancient differences. But even if he views market economics as part of God’s Eternal Plan consistent with theocratic approaches to non-economic issues, while Objectivist followers of Ayn Rand view market economics as central to the natural laws of a godless universe and oppose theocratic approaches to non-economic issues, the common ground is pretty obvious: no compromise on the role of government in the economy is morally permissible. And that’s a proposition wealthy and self-righteous conservatives of every metaphysical persuasion can support.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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