Well, the time has come to field my thoughts and animadversions on a personal blog so that a serious and thoughtful public record and ongoing body of my concerns regarding the application of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as taught and understood within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the sphere of politics and political philosophy.
This blog will be dedicated to a detailed and developing look at the intersection between the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, and the questions, issues, and quandaries of politics and political philosophy. This comes, both because we are living in a pervasively ideological age in which political ideologies and loyalties compete with the gospel for our minds and hearts, but as much because of the tendency of human beings to fall back, when push comes to shove, upon “the traditions of their fathers” and upon cherished human idealistic visions in a general sense, as it does because of the unusually ideological and political age in which we have lived (which properly extends to much of the 20th century).
It also comes, as we will see below, because of the degree to which, especially since the “progressive” era of the twenties and thirties, political ideology and etatism (statism) have come to pervade and color so many of the basic elements of the human condition. We and our progenitors, going back to the first third of the 20th century, have lived in an environment saturated with notions of inevitable human progress and felicity, brought about by an omnipotent and omnicompetent state peopled by “experts” in human behavior, social control, and the sciences of social engineering. This has been (and still is, despite stress fractures here and there) an age in which faith has been, among many, transferred from God to the state, the “social sciences”, and from the individual to the collective (“society”) in which, Rousseau – like, greater wisdom is thought to reside.
Charity, once the realm of personal care for the poor and involvement in their lives by individuals personally concerned with their welfare, has become a political and ideological industry of the securing of continuing incumbency by politicians through the transferring of the confiscated property of others to “the poor” as an act of class vengeance. It has also become a primary venue of social engineering among specific classes of citizens. Social workers and case workers within the welfare state now do, as a matter of bureaucratic routine, what individuals once did for one another out of personal, individually tailored compassion.
Freedom, as always, is considered a terrible, unruly danger because it is always used improperly (think of the Fairness Doctrine, or of free markets per se) by the masses. Religion and the family, the two greatest and most viscerally feared and hated threats to the kind of government necessary to “transform” society such as to create a “better world” has been and continues to be the focus of the most sustained and aggressive ideological, philosophical, and political kulturkampf. The Left’s long and belabored attempt to politicize virtually everything has been largely successful, and with so much of the human condition politicized, by definition, there are ever more areas of culture within which politics and the gospel meet and which then must fall under gospel critique.
As with other areas of the mortal experience, when this happens, there are some with preexisting investments in an ideological or philosophical framework who then find themselves in conflict with the gospel they have otherwise embraced. Unlike other areas in which acceptance of the gospel may precipitate a “culture shock” of sorts, in the personal realm, politics seems to be unique in the degree to which consistent and vigorous attempts are made to reconcile concepts and beliefs clearly and unambiguously out of harmony with gospel teachings with those teachings, and to preserve them within a gospel context, to the point of reinterpretation and revision of key gospel doctrines so as to blend one’s ideology with the gospel in a process that could only be termed one of syncretism. One is reminded immediately of what the Church (and a substantial corpus of secular historical scholarship) teaches happened to the early Christian church under the influence of Hellenistic cultural influence.
In like manner, some modern church members would feign fuse leftist politics and ideology with the gospel, and can be harshly critical of the majority of LDS members who perceive conservatism and libertarianism, generally speaking, to be more compatible with the gospel than their rivals in the marketplace of ideas, and feel more “at home” in these political philosophies than within the Left.
Some members see the United Order, for example, as a potential (if not quite literal) vindication of Marx and egalitarian socialism generally, and of the anti-free market economic animus that perhaps consumes the traditional leftist mind as no other concept (save for its hostility to religion and the family). Others wish the Church to accept homosexuality, homosexual marriage, feminism, environmentalism, welfare statism, identity politics, aspects of postmodernism, and other features of the cultural Left as if the Church was ours to do with a we please; as if the Church were a place upon which we can project our own cherished nostrums and traditions, writ large, in final vindication, upon a cosmic stage.
A further question we must ask is: can modern Latter Day Saints shy away from the application of the gospel to their own time and culture? Should we be afraid of such application? Should we shy away from it because of its inherent divisive tendencies? Is it possible, in any way, to separate the gospel from the core political questions of our time, and compartmentalize the gospel (as the Left so dearly wishes we and other religious people would do) into private/public spheres that do not communicate or affect one another?
Let us begin the exploration.
Below is a short introductory essay regarding the core theme of the blog, and which will serve as a concise if hardly exhaustive introduction to that main theme. The same introductory essay will appear on my personal web site, along with a number of other essays on subjects of fundamental interest to me, which I hope to have up in the near future. That website will be primarily one of my own writings and thoughts regarding the gospel, philosophy and politics, while this blog will be for debate and discussion with others regarding general principles and the application of gospel teachings to the problems and challenges of our age of ideology.
The Interface Between the Gospel and Politics
What is the interface between the gospel of Jesus Christ, discipleship, our spiritual lives as Latter Day Saints, and politics? In what manner and to what degree is the gospel relevant to political issues, history, and philosophy? Are there political philosophies and concepts that are closer to and more compatible with the restored gospel, and, by extension political philosophies/ideologies that are not? What would be the criteria within which we would determine which political philosophies have a greater or lesser congruence with the gospel? Upon what basis and to what degree is gospel teaching and doctrine relevant to specific perennial and contemporary political questions and problems, such as the nature of freedom, political and individual liberty, property rights, theories and forms of economic and social organization, and the tension between the individual and the group, between liberty and equality, between personal morality and the moral diffusion of mass consciousness. and the psychology of collectivism.
We will also look at specific issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage, the economic and moral dimensions of taxation, regulation, the proper size, scope, and prerogatives of the state, various economic principles, large scale social phenomena such as the cultural revolution of the sixties and its attendant sub-movements such as the sexual revolution, feminism, environmentalism, the civil rights movement, the worship of youth, the modern cult of eroticism and the forty decade assault on the family, marriage, and fatherhood, and to reprise a major theme, the relationship between the individual and the larger society, from within the frame of reference of the restored gospel.
My desire is to articulate my own ideas on these subjects and provide a forum for debate and discussion regarding the interconnection of these issues with the gospel and with our presence within society as Latter Day Saints as we confront and apply the principles of the gospel to them. The fundamental perspective of the website, representing my own, is that of a libertarian conservative who combines, following eminent 20th century conservative intellectuals such as William F. Buckley, elements of both classical liberalism and traditional modern conservatism grounded in Judeo-Christian morality, ethics and social theory into a philosophy that emphases the primary importance of the individual and maximum individual liberty, but also the necessity of personal morality and a gospel grounded ethics and social framework as the underlying foundation of civil society and ordered liberty. For the contemporary conservative, in general, such Judeo-Christian morality and ethics forms the framework that is the only ultimate means of governing, containing, and mediating those inherent aspects of freedom, and especially of democracy, that perennially seek the undoing of both individual freedom and community.
We will start at the very beginning, a very good place, as a famous song once said, to start.
To understand the inextricable links between the principles and teachings of the gospel and the application of those teachings to both contemporary and perennial questions of politics, we must first have a clear understanding of just what we mean by “politics” and be clear regarding just what aspects of politics are relevant to the gospel. Fundamentally, for our purposes, and for the purposes of gospel study and discussion, politics will be understood as:
1. An attempt to answer the question “how should we live together as a people in a coherent, ordered civil society or social framework?” From a very broad based perspective then, politics attempts to negotiate the task of formulating and applying the first principles upon which a viable, ordered civil society shall be based. This, of course, implies a set of pre-assumptions about what, at the outset, defines terms such as “viable”, “order” and “civil”. The philosophical assumptions underlying ancient Viking or Mongol society, or comprising the fundamental principles of modern theories of social and economic structures as disparate as a constitutional republic, parliamentary democracy, democratic socialism, revolutionary (communism) or transformational socialism fascism, or other forms of government can range from matters of doctrinal emphasis and de-emphasis (as between internationalist class focused (Marxian) socialism, National Socialism, and Fascism) to deep, unbridgeable conflicts of core principles (as between the above and classical liberalism).
Politics asks us to think about and then be willing to live under and impose upon others, the societal structure (laws, social and political assumptions and rules of conduct in the public, private, social, and economic spheres) understood to be the governing template upon which a society will develop its particular character, flavor and unique characteristics.
2. A mirror-like reflection, or projection, into the world outside the self comprising other human beings, of that which lies within the soul, both in a philosophical and moral sense. Our politics, at its most fundamental level, exposes at the ballot box, in that which we support or oppose — especially regarding the principles that form the crux of the social and economic issues that will largely determine what kind of society we and our posterity will ultimately live within, — much of our own character and that which defines us as human beings. This is true both as to our society’s moral and material (economic) character, and in that which we are willing to impose upon both ourselves and others as a matter of a social contract governing the meaning and nature of a civilization, as we desire and understand it.
Most especially, and in a more modern context, what we are willing to impose upon others, and expose others to, while at the same time shielding or immunizing ourselves from through the force of law, is of utmost importance. This is an especially salient aspect of the politics and political atmosphere of the 20th century (that frame of time which modern revelation tells us is an era on the very border of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ) in which class envy, a mentality of entitlement based upon politically designated group privilege, and the politics of identity have created an environment of a war of all against all for the attention and support of a vast, omnipresent and omnipotent government that controls and dispenses such privilege. Indeed, the fundamental concept and structure of the so-called welfare state (what I will hereafter refer to, following Kenneth Minogue, as the caregiver state) implies that certain groups (and hence, any number of individuals) have a preemptive claim upon the labor, property, time, and talents of their fellow citizens through the coercive force of the state (which implies that the state itself has a similar preemptive claim).
Our politics tells us as well as all others with whom we share a common society and country what we believe, at a deep level, about the nature and purpose of the human condition. It exposes, many times in indirect ways, our core assumptions and beliefs about what it is to be human and exist in social/political relations with others, including our central underlying conceptions of human nature, agency, freedom, the proper size, scope and purpose of the state, the purpose, meaning and limits of law, and the meaning of the good, the virtuous and of justice.
Of overarching importance in all of this is the modern concept of ideology, and its particular influence upon the last century as well as the present one. This concept, perhaps one of the most malignant concepts to have ever been devised by the human imagination, and which I will refer to throughout the essays and commentaries on this web site as a fundamental feature of the philosophy of Korihorism (which, as one might guess, includes a number of sects or “schools of thought” that disagree on various points and emphasize different concerns, but are allied across those divisions in their hostility toward any and all values and principles within or associated with the gospel and with truth generally, wherever and in whatever form in may be found) which is a part of the Great and Abominable Church of the Devil that prophets, both ancient and modern, have warned would be a key feature and influence upon human civilization generally immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ, is key to understanding much that has transpired since the beginning of the 20th century.
This condition obtains because it is within the realm of ideology that we find the secular religions of our age that have sought to displace religious commitment of the traditional kind and provide a body of alternative ideas which we can understand as counterfeits of the gospel concepts of the nature and meaning of existence, the underlying essence of human nature, and the potential, possibilities and destiny of the human soul (what the late LDS scholar Dr. Hugh Nibley called “the terrible questions”).
Modern revelation, including the words and teachings of numerous modern prophets and apostles of the Lord, have long taught us that, as the Last Days approach their culmination, a “weeding out” will occur, both within the world in general and within the Lord’s Kingdom (the Church) that will separate, as symbolically represented in the scriptures, the “wheat from the tares” (Matt. 13: 29-30). The fault lines that have and will yet open up to between these two classes of human beings encompass a number of issues and conflicts covering a substantial swath of that which conditions our culture, society and our perceptions of the world, including ethics, morality and the definitions of truth, justice and the good.
To the degree that any of these issues involve consequences for and effects conditioning the larger society and to the further degree that these questions become public questions of legislation, judicial decision, and the making of positive law regarding, they become political; they become political to the degree that their effects alter, bias and condition the underlying structure, essence and character of a political order and its people. They also become applicable to inspection, scrutiny and critique relative to the principles and standards of the gospel at any point at which the issues existing within the political sphere are also, by their very nature, or to the degree to which they overlap or encroach within the gospel sphere of concern, related to the gospel by their fundamental assumptions, effects, means, sphere of influence and scope.
The interface, therefore, between the gospel and politics is at those points at which politics and ideology invade, colonize and assimilate those aspects of human existence that are the most sensitive to and affected by gospel principles. The greater the degree of salience with respect to the gospel, its doctrines and its standards, the greater the applicability of the gospel to the political realm. By definition here then, a strictly limited government of few and well enumerated powers that had, for all intents and purposes, a peripheral and limited impact upon the lives of the average citizen, would have little overlap with the gospel and its teachings, save for the area of the importance of upright and ethical individuals for political office, regardless of party affiliation.
A state, however, such as ours here in the United States, and, to greater or lesser (mostly still greater, at this juncture) extent, throughout most of the west and for much of the rest of the world, that conceives of its purpose and scope as, not those of protecting and guaranteeing the unalienable rights of its citizens, which are understood to inhere in those individuals independent of and preexistent to the state, but as that of a caregiver; or a “big brother”, as Orwell put it, who is ever present, ever watchful, and wields vast centralized powers with which to make all things right among mortal human beings, is a state without any inherent limitations as to its scope, responsibilities and power.
This form of government (the characteristic form of modernity) is not primarily concerned that each individual exists in a relationship to the laws and rules upon which society is governed in the same way and to the same extent as every other citizen, regardless of other status. This form of government is concerned primarily with fairness; it is concerned with equality, equity and the euphemistic concept of the “level playing field”. It is concerned, in other words, not, as we said above, that each individual exists in a state of equality respecting their relationship to other citizens and to the state under the law, but with using the law to create an equal state of existence or condition between citizens. This is not then the negative equality of opportunity, relative potential and standing before the law of the Constitution, but the positive equality of result, condition and outcome whose realization, or attempt at realization, introduces an entirely new dynamic into the fabric of society in the form of the principle and, over time, cultural assumption of a preemptive claim upon the lives of others through the coercive force of the state through a preemptive claim upon one’s fellow citizens time, talents, labor and potential.
The great classical liberal political economist Frédéric Bastiat articulated this concept as well as any have before or since in his classic text The Law:
But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man – in that primitive, universal, and unsuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.
This Bastiat called “a fatal tendency of mankind”, one tendency being to labor “ceaselessly” for one’s support and economic security, and another in which:
…a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.
Bastiat was not here concerned with the plunder of bandits, pirates and similar organized criminal groups who live on the fringes of society and use overt violence to take what they desire, but with the “legal plunder” that eventuates as the concept of government is corrupted and becomes “the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else”.
The legitimate concept of taxation then becomes a process of legal plunder, with individual citizens, through their support of elected representatives, doing with regard to their fellow citizens what, were they to do it themselves, would be understood as criminal in nature. This is, indeed, one of Bastiat’s fundamental insights into the difference between legitimate government and the corrupt counterfeit it can become under democratic pressures:
But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
This implies that, In a free, self governing society (such as a constitutional republic), the citizenry, through that which it supports and upholds through participation in the political life of the nation, has a great degree of control over the moral, as well as material nature and implications of the public policies actually imposed by the force of law. Very few would personally rob or steal from their neighbors for money to pay medical bills. However, very many more would empower a third party – the state – to do so in an organized manner wrapped within the folds of legality through formal legislation, making the coerced transfer of wealth from some to others for the same purposes legal, and hence, enveloping the entire concept in a cocoon of, if not moral legitimacy, then moral indeterminacy.
It is one thing to claim that there are certain things the state should do because those things (such as military, police and emergency services (such as fire and EMS) would be difficult, unwieldy or impractical for the private sector to perform adequately, and quite another to authorize the state to do things that, for the individual citizen, would be unambiguously immoral and/or criminal. The political and moral problem (to the degree that our personal political choices have moral implications – a question difficult to avoid, especially in an age in which politics and ideology pervade our experience and condition ever more detailed aspects of our lives) for Latter Day Saints, as well as for anyone within a Judeo-Christian theological/philosophical context, is: to what extent can our personal morality (what we would do or not do as a matter of personal conduct and choice) be compartmentalized from the moral qualities and consequences of public, political conduct (can we effectively vote away the unalienable rights of others – or our own, with a straight moral face? Can we confiscate by force the fruits of the labor of our fellow citizens, or create a preemptive claim upon their property, labor and time through the public policies we support (or simply acquiesce in) and still claim moral rectitude before God and man?).
Can we use the force of the state, or can we support the use of the United States tax code, to reward ideological friends and punish those with whom we disagree or harbor negative prejudice? Does it make a difference, in a moral sense, whether we legally empower the state and its police/judicial powers to do what would, were we to attempt it ourselves, be understood to be immoral and unjust? What of the tension between freedom and equality? Does one have preeminence over the other? In what sense? How are the terms to be defined?
The interface then, between the gospel and politics, would in my estimation fall along the following perimeters:
1. Those aspects of political life where gospel informed moral and ethical principles are either supported or compromised by public policy or aspects of a political ideology. This is more complex a principle than it may appear at first glance. For example, while I do not support smoking or drinking as a Latter Day Saint, and would exercise all of my persuasive abilities to steer someone away from such behavior, I do not support the present attempts of an aggressive special interest legal community and, what have come to be termed “lifestyle Nazis” to destroy a legal industry and demonize cigarette smokers. The reason is not that I have any love or sympathy for tobacco or alcohol use (indeed, as a recovered alcoholic, there is no love lost between me and alcohol whatsoever), but that in a freedom and personal responsibility based society (and these two concepts can never be disassociated from each other) grounded in the concept of the rule of law, the attempt to both control and abrogate free personal choice, while at the same time relieving individuals of personal responsibility for their choices (though the knowledge that cigarette smoking could be quite harmful to human health, and indeed fatal for many, and the fact that clear health warnings have been placed on cigarette packages for upwards of forty years now, has been pervasive in our society, this has not prevented claimants in personal and class action lawsuits from claiming ignorance of the health risks, and blaming the tobacco companies for “lying” about such risks) through legal/judicial/police power, while attacking and punishing legal industries for producing and selling its products, creates an atmosphere of lawless grievance litigation – a kind of lawsuit lottery – in which, since tort lawyers bear no costs or consequences for bringing even the most frivolous lawsuits to court, there is little risk in making a play for a big payoff. It also encourages a kind of legislation and social change through litigation mentality that circumvents accountable, deliberative legislative bodies for courtroom fiat.
It is never, however, the case that this kind of politically correct lifestyle fascism has a rational end point at which the dictators of virtue see any boundaries to their desire to save others from themselves. Ever more aspects of personal choice, beginning yes, with truly unlikable things like cigarettes, but moving ever onward to everything from soda pop, ice cream, potato chips, fast food of all kinds (and to ever more shrilly preposterous claims that such food is addictive, or in some sense toxic and unhealthy, even in the most modest quantities), transfats, meat per se, the quantity of even good, healthy food we eat; everything becomes the focus of the power of the state to regulate, control and dictate proper behavior.
The problem here is not that some things are healthier than others, or that some things are not, indeed, harmful, in one sense or another, for some people, more or less. The problem is deploying the force of the state to determine for others how they will live and the choices they will make, even in the minutest areas of their lives. The anti-tobacco movement began with a most reasonable focus on banning cigarette smoking from commercial airliners. Since then, it has moved to banning smoking in virtually any public space, including restaurants, nightclubs and bars, and has now moved to banning smoking in one’s own vehicle, and in one’s own home (the junk science of “second hand smoke” having been used as the ace in the hole in the political arena). This movement on the Left has spawned its usual brood of ideological pop intellectuals such as, for a prime example in one area, Morgan Spurlock and Eric Schlosser, who have succeeded in demonizing an entire industry that produces what is in essence utterly benign foodstuffs that, in moderation, are harmless and basically healthy looked at as separate components.
This is a more subtle question than that posed by the ERA, abortion, homosexual marriage, or other similar clear moral incursions into the gospel from the secular political sphere. As a Latter Day Saint and a libertarian conservative, I do not support smoking or drinking, but I do not support the destruction of both personal liberty and personal responsibility inherent in the coercive nanny/prohibition model inherent within the cultural Left to an even greater degree. With fast food, the items themselves are not inherently harmful (and are, in fact, quite the opposite, in and of themselves) and hence, the almost visceral desire to deny them to others and persecute those who produce them bespeaks an interesting mentality, one that we will encounter again and again on this website.
2. Those places where political ideology and the gospel conflict as to matters of first principles, or where acceptance of one essentially precludes the other’s principles, values and implications. Within a Latter Day Saint context, This, in my view, means an inexorable and clear distancing and ultimate rejection of all forms of political ideology that we normatively understand to be part of what has come to by known as the “Left” in the philosophical and political realm. Leftist political ideologies exist, by their very nature, in substantial tension and conflict with the gospel and its teachings, and much of what we understand as “leftist” beliefs, ideals and philosophy are, indeed, in a position of polar opposition. This does not mean, however, that any and all beliefs held by conservatives or libertarians, of various schools of thought, just because they are non-leftist, are, because of this, in harmony with the teachings of the gospel.
All forms of leftist ideological thought and social theory (whether this be revolutionary, class based socialism, National Socialism, cultural Marxism, Fascism, democratic socialism, a Comtean scientifically controlled hive society, Rousseauian collectivist democracy, or Skinner’s society of pervasive social conditioning by behavioral experts) conflict directly and severely with the gospel across a number of dimensions, but especially those of free agency and accountability for behavior, the sacredness and importance of the individual and his/her right to determine the character and course of life, and ultimately, the possibility that the gospel choice of life will even be present in any such society at all.
3. In connection with the above we should add the point at which a political ideology colonizes, displaces and becomes an alternative religion to the gospel itself. Virtually any of the above ideologies (and most especially the forms or schools of transformational or revolutionary socialism, including a number of ideas falling under the general rubric of contemporary “progressive” politics in America) contain this element as a fundamental aspect of their appeal, especially among many within the elite western intelligentsia traditionally alienated from and hostile to traditional religion. Marxism and its derivatives (and especially its most successful sect or school, cultural Marxism (the application of Marxian “critical theory” to virtually every aspect of the human condition, including economics but involving all aspects of culture and society including art, media, communications, education, the family, race, class and gender etc. and which, for all intents, can by used synonymously with “political correctness” to describe the same fundamental ideological movement, or set of movements and cast of mind) has been the most overt in its pretensions to a kind of messianic religion of human redemption, salvation and perfection that displaces traditional religion but fulfills its essential functions. Certain appendages of this movement, such as modern environmentalism, contain these elements in profusion.
This then, is a beginning with which we can explore the intersection, or overlapping areas, within which the gospel of Jesus Christ finds living application to contemporary societal and cultural – and hence political – conditions.