Desiderius Erasmus: The Forgotten Christian Libertarian

“Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) is known by some as the premier humanist scholar, to others the compiler of the first Greek New Testament, and to others the theological spar-partner of Martin Luther (…and John Eck…and about every other theologian alive at the time). But a less popular — yet well-established — facet of his life is his political contributions through an explicitly Christian lens.

Erasmus was perhaps the greatest critic of the warfare state since the rise of ConstantineAnd not only did his writings relentlessly undermine war (and specific conflicts during the 1500s), but Erasmus maintained a deep suspicion about the state in general, railed against worldly empires and kingly authority in Hebrew-prophet-like fashion, mocked the vanity and incompetence of government bureaucracy, and applied the teachings of Jesus regarding peace as readily and immediately as possible. More than a theologian, a priest, or a professor, Erasmus was a pacifist.

The true and only monarch of the world is Christ,” he writes, “and if our princes would agree together to obey His commands, we should truly have one prince and everything would flourish under Him.” Empires, after all, are just large-scale gang operations. Famous kings, rulers, and politicians are therefore little more than effectivegangsters. In Erasmus’ own words, “When you hear of Achilles, Xerxes, Cyrus, Darius or Julius, do not be overwhelmed at all by the enormous prestige of their names; you are hearing about great raging bandits.”