Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick: Christian Libertarian

March 17 is known as "St. Patrick's Day." Like most other once-religious holidays, most Americans -- atheists in practice -- know nothing of its Christian significance. Most Americans -- imperialists in practice -- know nothing of its libertarian significance.

Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Roman Britain about AD 385, originally called Maewyn. He died on March 17 in AD 461. During these years, Christians were replacing the collapsing Roman Empire with what we today call "Western Civilization."

If you were to be transported in time back to St. Patrick's day, and had your choice, how would you choose to live:
  • under the direct sway of the Roman Empire;
  • under the direct sway of unconverted Irish;
  • under the direct sway of a Christian monastery

"Choice," of course, was not something most people enjoyed in those days.

  • Rome was an "empire" because it was imperialist, conquering people and subjugating them.
  • At the age of 16, St. Patrick was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his British village.
  • And the daily schedule of monastic work and prayer would hardly suit the do-as-I-please-whenever-I-want mentality of most Americans.
But hard work is what raises our standard of living, and prayer and faith transform slave-traders into monks.

I was going to say "businessmen" instead of "monks," but that word has negative connotations for too many Americans. Too many people feel that businessmen don't make a valuable contribution to our way of life; that they're "greedy" and fundamentally unethical. But medieval Irish monks were businessmen, inventors, farmers, scientists, and educators, as Thomas Cahill has documented in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. And the other alternatives -- the slave-traders of Imperial Rome or the slave-traders of pagan Ireland -- represent the antithesis of Christian Civilization.

Libertarian historian Thomas Woods has written a wonderful book that has an appeal well beyond its sectarian title: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.

Woods understands the distinction drawn by Franz Oppenheimer in his book The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically . Oppenheimer distinguishes between "Economic Man" and "Political Man."

"Economic Man," like the Irish monks, takes natural resources and transforms them into something more useful to human beings, and under a division of labor, trades most or all of what he produces for the fruit of the labor of others. Both producers in such a voluntary trade are better off than they were before the trade.

"Political Man," on the other hand, uses force to seize the wealth produced by "Economic Man." This was the operating ideology of Imperial Rome and pagan Ireland.

St. Patrick, and Christians who followed him, laid the libertarian foundations of Western Civilization, raising Biblical family morality out of debauched pagan sexuality, and creating "Liberty Under God" by denying that the State is god.

So drink some green beer if that's your choosing, but honor St. Patrick by making sure that you're "Economic Man" rather than "Political Man."

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