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The Herbalist Speaks of Liberty

David Giacalone posed a religio-political teaser for weblogging law Professors Bainbridge and Grace:

[S]ince politics are everywhere, I wonder how being a libertarian squares with being a devout Catholic. Sincere inquiries from an apostate.

Martin Grace has responded here, and may have more to say later. I have no qualifications to address this question myself, and I wouldn't even bring the matter up if I hadn't stumbled last night upon an Example From Literature that may be relevant.

Yesterday, I posted a quotation from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, The Leopard, which is my evenings' reading this week. The book follows a Sicilian prince, Don Fabrizio of the House of Salina, during the early 1860s, as Garibaldi and company bring about the ouster of the Bourbon monarchy and the unification of Italy, with the accompanying rise of the bourgeoisie and decline of the old nobility. Among those attached to the Prince is the Jesuit Father Pirrone. In the latter part of the book, Father Pirrone takes a few days away from Palermo to visit the tiny hamlet of San Cono, where he was born. San Cono, we are told, is today "thanks to the bus . . . almost a satellite star in the solar system of Palermo, but a century ago belonged as it were to a planetary system of its own, being four or five cart-hours from the Palermo sun."

In the evening in San Cono, Father Pirrone sits in his room talking with a group that includes a local herbalist. The conversation turns to the changes being brought about by the post-unification regime. Father Pirrone advises that they all must "face up to the reality of this atheist and rapacious Italian state now in formation, to these laws of expropriation, to conscription which would spread from Piedmont all the way down here, like cholera. 'You'll see,' was his not very original conclusion, 'you'll see they won't even leave us eyes to weep with.'"

These words were followed by the traditional chorus of rustic complaints. The Schiró brothers and the herbalist already felt the new fiscal grip; the former had had extra contributions and additions here and there, the latter an overwhelming shock: he had been called to the Town Hall and told that if he didn't pay twenty lire every year he wouldn't be allowed to sell his potions. 'But I go and gather the grasses, these holy herbs God made, with my own hands in the mountains, rain or shine, on certain days and nights of the year. I dry them in the sun, which belongs to everybody, and I grind them myself, with my own grandfather's mortar. What have you people at the Town Hall to do with it? Why should I pay you twenty lire? Just for nothing like that?'

Thus literature teaches us that even a good, simple 19th century Sicilian Catholic prefers his God-given liberty to the petty depredations of the state. Next question, please.


david giacalone

This Sicilian-American treasures his liberty, too (whether it's deemed to come from God, or is a "self-evident" right that the State is entrusted to nurture and protect). The effort that you and Martin have already put into responding to my easily-proffered question makes it clear that I owe the Professors more detailed questions.

For now, please note that my original question is not "how does being a theist or religious jibe with being a libertarian?" The inquiry arises from a personal history (two decades as a Catholic, attending Catholic schools through college) and a perspective that sees the Catholic Church as being severely hierarchical, bureaucratic and hyper-regulated, and as offering a version of "Free Will" that predicts eternal punishment for exercising one's "liberty" in ways at odds with the Church's teachings (even if the conduct harms no other person). Interposing such a bureaucracy between the individual and the Creator seems inconsistent with Libertarianism.

As for the poor 19th Century herbalist, I think he might be overlooking both the many ways in which his Church historically "taxed" its members, and the many ways in which our connection to God suggests an interdependence and responsibility among humans -- which at times must be honored through appropriate "rendering to Caesar" or Garibaldi.

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