Rev. Jerry Falwell died today. To say the least, his brand of morality did not win him many friends among libertarians. He made some inane public statements–including one that appeared to blame gays and Leftists for September 11–and, disgracefully, he wanted public schools to teach creationism.
Nonetheless, in my judgment, the movement he helped begin did a great deal for the cause of liberty. The so-called “Christian Right” that he helped to found realized that too-powerful state with high taxes and too many regulations tended to corrode the ability of people to live in accordance with their religious beliefs. When the state takes most of individuals’ income, it regulates every aspect of their being. It leaves a lot less time and energy to for people to live in accordance with specific views of scripture.
It’s worth noting that, in Europe, the Christian political movement has largely made its peace with a massive state. Europeans who oppose legal abortion, same-sex unions, and support the state church almost all favor a lavish welfare state as well. They fail to realize that state churches tend to work about as well as other government-run organization–not very. Falwell and his followers realized that a bigger government wouldn’t actually advance their values, even if it implemented programs intended to do just that. Thus, they retained a healthy caution towards most efforts to expand state power. In so doing, they have strengthened the Church in this country and helped to keep state power somewhat in check.
Nearly all those on the political Left and a fair number of libertarians believe that Falwell and his ilk wanted to replace the Left’s imposition of its morality–mandated “tolerance,” class warfare, hatred of tradition–with its own values. I’ve never really bought it. Although a few may have tried to develop one, Evangelicals have never had a sweeping public policy agenda to match that of the Left. It mostly stood against expansions of the state while lobbying for state control on a handful of “values” issues.
It’s hard to agree with everything he stood for but, on balance, I think Falwell was a force for good.
Requiescat in pace.