Libertarianism, Tehran and SLC

I recently drove through the streets of Salt Lake City with Reading Lolita in Tehran. As I listened to the account of life in Iran, which I had previously read, I confronted my own vision of Zion and its concurrent political realities. In balancing my Mormon values to discern an appropriate perspective, I realized that the ultimate question does not consider the rectitude of Libertarianism, per se, but the magnitude of its ideal realization.

Iran is not a backwards country whose system should be valued for its diversity’s sake. It is a totalitarian moral wasteland. A government among many in the history of the world that brakes humanity in a totalitarian vice. Azar Nafisi, adeptly shows the satanic designs and the reader, or listener, desires to rebel against them, even while sitting in a Honda Accord on I-15.

In Iran, the values of the most extreme are conflated with the legal requirements of all. Women are required to wear the chador. Licking ice cream is illegal. Virginity testing of girls is common. Alcohol is illegal. A large body of literature and journalism is illicit. Heterodox belief and practice is banned. And the Morality Police enforce the law and imprison the offender.

My thinking then turns to what the ideal society should be. Free, I imagine. Yet, some Mormon conservatives advocate strong laws that penalize behaviors considered immoral or uncivil and the arguments are sometimes attractive. In Zion, will bars and pornography be outlawed? What about tank tops? Or premarital sex? Or Nabokov?

The struggle I have is the perspicuity of Iran’s legal depravity, while concurrently not seeing a definitive means to judge where the line should be drawn. I am not convinced that a pure libertarian society is healthy, nor do I think there is precedent for it in our evanescent Zions. What, then, is Mormonism’s Libertarianism?


  1. Anyone…anyone…Bueller?

  2. a random John says:


    I’m really tempted to turn this into yet another discussion of “The BYU Honor Code as Satan’s Plan” but I don’t have the heart to do it.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    I’ll take a stab at this. I think, in Zion, bars, pornography, tank tops, premarital sex, and Nabokov may not be “outlawed” per se, but the people in Zion will have no need or desire for these things, so they probably won’t be available.

    In the real world, we outlaw pornography because people haven’t yet developed the spiritual knowledge that pornography is destructive to one’s soul (or if they have realized this, they are still unable to resist it).

    I’m not sure there is room for a Mormon Libertarianism in the current Mormon culture. But I’m hopeful as we evolve as a society we’ll spend less time making sure everyone else is following the rules, and more time developing our own spirituality that will enable us to live Christ like lives no matter whether we live in SLC or Tehran.

  4. I’m sorry; I can’t bring myself to respond to a post where “perspicuity” and “evanescent” are used in consecutive sentences…

  5. I think people in Zion will need Nabokov as much as anywhere else. Pale Fire, for instance, is one of the greatest works of literature from the past century.

  6. Difficult questions J.

    I am a conservative, but I also have libertarian sympathies. I think that we have to find a balance. Despite my conservatism, and advocation of strong moral laws, I am also a big fan of the John Milton’s essay Areopagitica.

    My favorite quote:

    If every action, which is good or evil in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance and prescription and Compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise could be then due to well-doing, what gramercy to be sober, just, or continent? Many there be that complain of divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?

    They are not skillful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin. . .Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left, ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste, that came not hither so; such great care and wisdom is required to the right managing of this point. Suppose we could expel sin by this means; look how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue: for the matter of them both is the same; remove that, and ye remove them both alike.

    I agree with Milton that “great care and wisdom is required to the right managing of this point.”

    I personally draw the line with two criteria:

    1. Any addictive component.
    2. Negative effect on the stability of the traditional family.

    Homosexuality, Prostitution, Alcohol, Drugs, Pornography, Drugs, Adultery, all meet at least one of these criteria–most of them meet both.

    If the choice is between the tyranny of addiction and widespread societal chaos that results from family disintegration and a less libertarian government, I will choose the government.

  7. lyle stamps says:

    That depends. If Zion has perfect knowledge, or its rulers anything close to that, then it will be easy to show whether there are externalities imposed upon others by the so-called victimless vices that you wonder about. It seems that most of the arguments about whether X should be legal or not are decided based upon whether there is a scientifically provable externalities imposed upon another.

  8. perspecuity? I have a five pound dictionary which doesn’t have this word in it. I hate when people gratuitously use big words when a simpler word would do. Although, in this case, since I don’t know what it means, maybe there is no other word.

    J. Stapley, I truly do not know the answer or have an opinion on this, I truly want to know– Iran sounds terrible, then do you think we should invade them?

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Annegb — Perspicuity means clarity.

    Also, NO WAY should we invade Iran. NOOOOOO!

  10. LOL!!! That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all day, “Perspicuity means clarity.” So clear that nobody understands.

  11. Wow, for the first time I actually agree with Steve Evans. There’s no reason to invade Iran under current conditions. The regime will fall if we step up support for the pro-democracy opposition. All bets are off if Iran develops nukes and threatens to suitcase-nuke New York, however. It could happen sometime in the next five years.

    As for the original point of the post, I would side with Max. He said it better than I can.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Careful Geoff – agreeing with me is a gateway to the dark side.

  13. J. Max Wilson,

    I wonder if your criteria are overbroad. One of the problems with overbroad principles is that they allow a person to selectively mix and match –which limits the usefullness of the criteria to providing cover for personal bias. I’m not attacking (or at least trying not to attack) your criteria per se, just suggesting we ought to have a healthy skepticism towards the principles we use to explain our preferences since they often amount to little more than post hoc justifications.

    I think it’s difficult to address a range of problems with 2 or 3 general principles in any meaningful way–which may be one reason why law is so labrythine.

  14. Good points, Mathew. I think the dangers of overbroad criteria are real, but I think that in the case of my criteria, the danger can be mitigated by a circumspect approach to the laws that govern these things.

    Just because they meet my criteria does not mean that I am advocating punishing them with the same degree of severity as, say, murder. Sometimes people talk about making things illegal as if it means that all violators will be punished with the worst possible punishment–like being beheaded–see Iran. The fact is that we can tailor our punishments to be proportionate to the crime–that is what is called justice.

    As long as the laws and punishments are administered justly and fairly–which I am sure they will be in a Zion where the Savior reigns–we are not in danger of becoming Iran.

  15. Elisabeth, sounds like spiritual libertarianism is something we should strive for. Or spiritual independence and that is what I find difficult, because no one is independent in a society. Our decisions do effect each other.

    J. Max Wilson. While your delineation is definitive I don’t find it particularly concrete. Is it our current conception of the family or that of the 19th century? Does working over 60 hrs a week become illegal? Or is blogging going to be illegal because I just can’t seem to stop? It seems like all those things you mention can be classified as deleterious to a certain conception of the family and addictive; however there are many things that can also be so classified. Do they all get proscribed?

  16. a random John says:

    J. Stepley,

    Don’t worry, as long as it’s JMW drawing the lines we’ll all be ok. He has already explained to us how he knows true literature vs. trash without even reading it. I’m sure he’ll show similar abilities on more complex issues! :)

  17. john fowles says:

    Where’s Mark B when we need him.

  18. Daylan Darby says:

    What was the war in heaven fought over? Equality of results (Satan’s plan – “I will save all”) vs. Equality of opportunity (Jesus’s plan – “I will provide an atonement, so all who choose to be save may be saved”). I envision Zion the same way as Jesus’s plan – Freedom of choice, where force and fraud are punished by Justice and sin punished by freedom of disassociation.

  19. Bob Caswell says:

    J. Stapley-

    How did I miss this beauty of a post?! I’m very sympathetic to your views and find your reply to inactive blogger J. Max Wilson very intriguing. If he were here, I wonder if his answer would be yes to the question “Is blogging going to be illegal because I just can’t seem to stop?”

  20. LOL, Thanks. I guess the answer is yes.