The love of many shall wax cold – Libertarianism and apocalypse

Dissolution seems to be our most recent zeitgeist. With the recent referendums in Spain and the UK, the strife in Ukraine, and the increasingly schismatic politics in the US, it seems that long-held social ties and traditions hold less value than in the past. We seem more and more capable of drifting away from one another.

I have a tendency to see the rise of modern conservative libertarianism as concurrent with this trend. After all, the elevation of individual rights, to life, liberty, and property, always carries with it the degeneration of the social contract. As Hobbes noted some time ago, we give up our right to doing whatever we want, however we want and with whatever we want, when we enter into a contract with others who agree to the same. Limits are established and, with them, government. Without mutual obligation, community cannot exist.

President Benson frequently advised the Saints to read the chapters leading up to the coming of the Savior as a guide to last days. The problems discussed there would be roughly parallel to the times leading to the coming of the Savior. However, a close reading does not reveal a one-world government, bent on domination. The overall government had been corrupt, there was even a secret combination in charge, but all of that occurred years prior to Lord’s arrival in America. The people, formerly known as the Nephites and Lamanites, were much more splintered. In fact, they were living in a failed state:

“Now behold, I will show unto you that they [the secret combination whose rise was traced in chapter 6] did not establish a king over the land; but in this same year, yea, the thirtieth year, they did destroy upon the judgment-seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land.

And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.” (3 Nephi 7:1-2)

There is a theory out there that people can only maintain about 150 relationships at a time. This number, named Dunbar’s number after the anthropologist who first proposed it, was arrived at by watching primate groups interact and extrapolating to human behavior. Functionally, this theory proposes that we only have the time and ability to cultivate close relationships with about 150 people, which is roughly the size of an extended kinship group or a small tribe. We know and trust our family and extended family (usually). We are bound together by mutual love, but also by the sense of obligation and interdependence that close contact over years instills. We don’t usually require the government to intervene in family affairs, because we know and understand one another.

It is when we get well beyond the Dunbar number that government becomes an important factor in community maintenance. When I cannot know you, because I’ve never met you and you aren’t related to me, I have to rely on other cues to know if I can trust you. The existence of a government which fairly enforces law or maintains an environment in which crime is justly disparaged goes a long way to providing a kind of guarantee for interactions with strangers. To quote Hobbes again, a world in which we cannot trust strangers would mean a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Certainly that describes the life of the Nephites during the period between the fall of the judges and the coming of the Savior. In 3 Nephi 7:14, we read:

“And it came to pass in the thirty and first year that they were divided into tribes, every man according to his family, kindred and friends; nevertheless they had come to an agreement that they would not go to war one with another; but they were not united as to their laws, and their manner of government, for they were established according to the minds of those who were their chiefs and their leaders. But they did establish very strict laws that one tribe should not trespass against another, insomuch that in some degree they had peace in the land; nevertheless, their hearts were turned from the Lord their God, and they did stone the prophets and did cast them out from among them.”

The absence of a government has made the people no better. There were (and almost always are) some righteous, but the sudden abandonment of a means to enforce a unified legal system and provide general welfare did not render the people any better than they had been. According to 3 Nephi, many became much worse.

This is not to argue that government should be sacrosanct. I’ve no love for dictators, nor a desire for government surveillance to work its way into every aspect of my life. Frankly, governments are obviously capable of causing great harm, just like any large, organized movement. But government, with its explicit and implicit restraints on our rights, is also not a universal evil.

We’ve had much recent discussion of Zion and excellent thoughts on what it might take to achieve it. The church can act as a kind of Dunbar multiplier, given members cause to trust strangers. This can, of course, be used for evil (MLM groups and bogus medical products come to mind), but it is also a great source of good. Mormons, whatever their faults, know how to mobilize. This should make us excellent citizens, ready to sacrifice our own comfort and, occasionally, safety to see to the well-being of others, members or no. And, it frequently does. But you don’t have to look far on facebook to find Mormons mobilizing for causes not based in love. We frequently find the quick proliferation of exclusionary language amongst the saints, the desire to amputate parts of the Body of Christ.

Our love for one another waxes cold, both within the church and without. There is no surer sign of a coming apocalypse. When love and trust dies, communities die with them. The social bonds break and there is never a way to reform them as before. The constant emphasis on individual rights may well be in the individual’s interest, but the individual’s interest never extends too far beyond themselves. If we would be great as a people, we should be prepared to love one another as Christ commanded. There is no other way.

Comments

  1. Thanks for these reflections about the political symptoms of our failure to achieve Zion, and especially for your concluding call “to love one another as Christ commanded.” I taught GD yesterday, and in discussing the “two sticks” of Ezekiel 37 I talked about how they represented two divergent nationalistic narratives (the northern and southern kingdoms), saying that redemption required bringing them together into one. The modern American analogue I used was the Republican story and the Democrat story. Both exist in the Church, and both must be brought into one if Zion is going to happen. Frankly, most days that seems like the “Impossible Dream” of the Man of La Mancha, but hey, I’m feeling quixotic.

  2. I have one recommendation for the author to consider. What has been directly responsible for the highest amounts of murder in the history of the world? The governments of the last century. Genocides and wars caused by governments, not individuals have cost nearly 1 billion lives in the last century. People would have been far better off without the war mongerers of the last century.

  3. I find the tension between communal ties and individual rights fascinating. I shouldn’t have been surprised last year when I moved to Rexburg and participated in the community planning sessions called Envision Madison. Several hundred people at the high school gathered to plan how to grow our county (supposedly doubling in the next 15 years) and any time anyone mentioned individual property rights half the crowd burst into applause and cheers. The school has tried to expand in a few blocks across campus to avoid suburban sprawl (trying to get housing to build up) but there are just a few holdouts that refuse to sell. For a supposedly communal, zionlike people – we sure are libertarian. On my way out of the meeting there were people handing out Glenn Beck’s UN Agenda 21 flyers that any and all community planning was about controlling your life and taking away your rights.

    And yet on the opposite side I claim my own individual right to wear pants to church, and I’m sure that might cause some people’s love for me to wax cold . . . I’d hope to help create a open and welcoming community, is it possible I’m weakening bonds created by conformity? Great questions, thanks for this post.

  4. Randall B. says:

    Patrick-

    While the 20th century may have seen the “highest amounts of murder”, the rate of murder was arguably lower than previous centuries in spite of the wars and genocide.

    There is no question the world would be a better place without war mongers, but the very governments you point to have kept us all much safer than our ancestors who did not benefit from government. Take a look at The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker. It’s long, but the argument is compelling.

    To me, this appears to be one of the primary reasons “We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man” (D&C 134:1).

  5. Joe Vasicek says:

    The Dunbar number isn’t the maximum number of relationships a person can maintain, but the maximum size of a community in which you know how you relate to everyone AND how everyone relates to everyone else. Also, it isn’t a specific number but a range that varies from about 100 to 200, with 150 at the middle. Communities significantly larger than that tend to break down into cliques, with a sense that people outside of our clique are somehow “other.” That’s just as true in the church as out of it; the difference, IMO, is that the gospel teaches and trains us to love those who are outside our immediate circle of friends, and not to fear or hate them. But we still see people in terms of “otherness”–that is, in terms of us vs them. Indeed, from the way we categorize people as Mormon and Non-Mormon, there’s an argument to be made that we’re more prone to this than other people.

  6. Thanks for the clarification, Joe.

  7. Randall B., right on.

  8. Ugly Mahana says:

    Does community give rise to government, or does government give rise to community? I think there is a reason why we are commanded to be “one;” and Priesthood authority is not the only power that becomes illegitimate when exercised unrighteously. Government matters, sure, but it has its bounds, too. And vigilance is the price of freedom.

    That said, any community that cannot organize itself to do good, to cooperate in caring and serving each other, is telestial at best.

    The conflict between government on the one hand and individual rights on the other strikes me as false. The better way is for free individuals to voluntarily contribute to the welfare of the group. Anything coerced is second-best from the start.

  9. Ugly Mahana,
    That’s what I tell my kids, but it’s effectiveness is variable at best.

  10. John,

    An excellent post, asking important questions; I’m happy to see it here at long last. Let me throw out a few additional (unnecessarily pedantic, I know, but this sort of thing is my bread and butter) questions of my own:

    As Hobbes noted some time ago, we give up our right to doing whatever we want, however we want and with whatever we want, when we enter into a contract with others who agree to the same. Limits are established and, with them, government. Without mutual obligation, community cannot exist.

    First, even Hobbes–who was generally a defender of the absolute sovereignty of the ruler–allowed that there some inherent limits built into human beings. For example, Hobbes assumed that it could not possibly be in accordance with the laws of nature for the sovereign, despite his political omnipotence, to command someone to kill themselves; fighting to keep oneself alive is what later classical liberals would call an “inalienable” right. Second, you conclude here correctly stating that “without mutual obligation, community cannot exist”–but your lead-up to that conclusion assumes that the social contract, with human beings willingly giving up their liberty, is what creates that mutual obligation. True, it may–but that’s not the only say such obligation may arise. The social contract is not the be-all and end-all of community founding.

    We are bound together by mutual love, but also by the sense of obligation and interdependence that close contact over years instills….When I cannot know you, because I’ve never met you and you aren’t related to me, I have to rely on other cues to know if I can trust you. The existence of a government which fairly enforces law or maintains an environment in which crime is justly disparaged goes a long way to providing a kind of guarantee for interactions with strangers.

    Again, the social contract–that is, an agreement on a common governing authority that arises from our own self-circumcision of our own liberty–is a very good (and, in our modern world, by far the most common) way of accounting for the kind of cues which allow large numbers of people to interact with each other with sufficient trust as to hold a social order together. But it’s not the only way. The question of how one builds up affection and trust can be answered through the marketplace (Adam Smith’s idea that the mutual pursuit of commercial advantage will make manifest our better sentiments), through language (J.G. Herder’s idea that a shared language actually involves us in a shared historical consciousness and moral psychology), through acts of political imagination (basically the whole early modern history of nationalism). And of course, as you note, the church provides its own non-contractual basis for trust: the socialization which occurs through participating in worship and service with like-minded people.

    Some of these (Smith, for example) depend upon a contractual approach to individual rights, but many others do not.

    The constant emphasis on individual rights may well be in the individual’s interest, but the individual’s interest never extends too far beyond themselves. If we would be great as a people, we should be prepared to love one another as Christ commanded.

    I couldn’t agree more. I am reminded of the wise words of the political philosopher Michael Sandel: through love and civic trust “we can know a good in common that we cannot know alone.” To me, this means it is important to always emphasize the historical contingency of the social contract model, and explore alternative construals of our political and social existence; if people really believe, implicitly or explicitly, that Hobbes is the only game in town, then trust will always be assumed to be something that can arise only after our individual rights are fully secured. Which gives libertarianism a leg up in argument which, frankly, it doesn’t deserve, certainly not if we take our scriptures seriously.

  11. John Mansfield says:

    Verse 11 says that one thing the fragmented clans had in common was a hatred towards those who had destroyed their government. Being broken clusters with lots of boundary maintenance against trespasses was not their first choice. They preferred life under the judges, but central government wasn’t so appealing that they would transfer their loyalty to King Jacob.

  12. Stephen R Marsh (Ethesis) says:

    “all, the elevation of individual rights, to life, liberty, and property, always” requires a strong social contract.

    Just editing for clarity.

  13. John Mansfield,
    Of course. It was Jacob’s mistake to assume that power comes from the throne, not the people.

    Russell,
    I’m afraid I just don’t believe that Smith is right. The oft repeated “It’s not personal, it’s business” cliche immediately comes to mind. As for the other examples you provide, I’d be interested in learning more (feel free to recommend a good introduction), although I’m skeptical of the nationalisms proposed (both linguistic and mythological). I like my political societies secular and nationalism has an ugly tendency to tip over into national religion if secularism isn’t written into the Constitution (as it is with ours). So, if I don’t believe in Smith’s mercantile bond and think the nationalistic ones are too mythological, do I have any alternatives to Hobbes? (again feel free to recommend a good introduction :))

  14. Stephen,
    I mildly disagree. I’d say the guarantee of life, liberty, and property (for whatever that is worth) requires a strong social contract, but people seem most often to elevate those rights in pursuit of personal achievement, not societal. Not that the two can’t commingle, just that they don’t necessarily commingle. Also, Deja vu!

  15. John,

    I’m afraid I just don’t believe that Smith is right. The oft repeated “It’s not personal, it’s business” cliche immediately comes to mind.

    I agree with you; I’m not all convinced that Smith’s philosophy provides a good account of how our moral sentiments are supposed activated by the pursuit of self-interest. That, and he ignores the role of unequal power in market transactions (though writing as he was before the Industrial Revolution, perhaps he can be forgiven that, slightly). I mention him, though, because many smart people I respect really are convinced that Adam Smith was, in fact, a builder of virtuous communities. I don’t believe them, but I try to give their case some credit.

    if I don’t believe in Smith’s mercantile bond and think the nationalistic ones are too mythological, do I have any alternatives to Hobbes?

    Well, first of all, don’t assume that all forms of religious, linguistic, or ethnic affection necessarily ramp up into the nation-state; there are–in my view, at least–plenty of “nationalisms” which endured (and continue to endure) separate from the construction of state or sectarian institutions. But that would get us into a long conversation about what it really does and doesn’t mean to love one’s own Volk, and exploring that would really make me pedantic. Aside from that, if you’re looking at basically “liberal,” basically secular forms of bond-formation that don’t depend upon some hypothetical contracting around individual rights, I would recommend beginning with basic republican or anarchist writers. Jane Jacobs, Richard Sennett, and Daniel Kemmis have all written about how communities–even large cities–can hold themselves together through a particular kind of “disordered order,” a selective kind of civilized and mutual recognition, prior to any arguments over who has a right to what space and where. Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin had all sorts of ideas about mutualist, non-state-based social organizations. Thomas Jefferson himself, though he poached classical liberal ideas about “inalienable rights” in the Declaration, concluded later in life that the ideal kind of social arrangement was “ward republics,” a kind of federalism on steroids where education would be handed amongst nearby people you could really trust, law and order would be addressed at a slightly higher level where a different, more limited sort of trust would play a role, and so on up the ladder until you get to national defense, where the only kind of affection necessary was the bare belief that the army would prevent us from being invaded by Canada, and that’s it. Anyway, a couple of good books that capture some (if not all) of these ideas are Michael Sandel’s Democracy’s Discontent, Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City, or Gar Alperovitz’s Making a Place for Community.

  16. Thanks, Russell. I’ll see what I can track down and read.

  17. So . . . It was libertarians who burned Ferguson last night; is that what you’re saying?

  18. Patrick, you could argue those genocides are largely a result of technological innovation and the armaments industry. Groups of people have always committed genocide against each other–the difference now is the scale on which it can be carried out with great efficiency. Although perhaps Rwanda is a counter example of a low-tech genocide… But in any case, it’s rather simplistic to lay all war at the feet of “government” since it is very specific forms of government that tend to facilitate or touch off that sort of thing.

  19. I don’t see an inherent and necessary incompatibility between Zion and political libertarianism. A libertarian can be an honorable and charitable Christian, committed to the welfare of his or her family and community.

    It seems unkind for members of a religion to say that other fellow members cannot be good members because of their political differences.

    If we ever achieve Zion, I’ll be happy to greet the libertarians among us — I sincerely suppose there will be some there.

  20. ji and JimD,
    You are misreading the OP. Enjoy your trolling, though.

  21. Wahoo Fleer says:

    I’m just curious as to what to original poster and subsequent commenters think the current lot of women would be without the elevation of Scottish enlightenment ideals of inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property and where the social contact would leave women in the absence of their elevation.

  22. I appreciate John C’s call for more loving community-mindedness and action. But while I admire the cheek of his click-baity title, it perpetuates common mischaracterizations of both libertarians and conservatives. Ironically, such false charges can contribute to the sort of social atomization and boundary building the article says it is against.

    Far from being against community, libertarians are actually for all the decent, traditional, sustainable, and/or equitable communities people may choose to create or join, as long as they do so voluntarily. The only alternatives to voluntary communities based on trust are involuntary ones based on force—ones where the state and its men with guns enforce the desires of some people over others—forcing them from their own family homes because someone else wants a new Wal-Mart or expanded school, or forcing them to pay for causes they find immoral like wars or abortion.

    So it is not a matter of being for or against community, but what kind of community we want. Do we want to live in trusting communities of our choosing where people develop morally through exercising their agency? (See D&C 101:78-80)

    Or do we want to live in a world where we are forced to do what others see as right for us and, if our team wins politics, we get to force others to do what we think is right for them? Don’t Mormons believe we decided before we were born where we stand on this?

    John C’s casting conservatives as co-bad guys in his drama is also perplexing. Numerous studies have shown that, compared to liberals, conservatives are much more likely to give money to the poor, volunteer their time in the community, to be informed on local and world events, to know their neighbors, and report positive loving relationships with family and neighbors. In short, conservatives are leading by example doing the very things John’s essay claims they are thwarting.

    (BTW, these studies have been so often reproduced, show such clear results, and are so often conducted by surprised liberal social scientists that it makes little sense to try to refute them except to avoid the personal gut-wrenching process of abandoning one’s prejudices and familiar ideological community. Tired of your crisis of faith? Google this topic and have a crisis of politics! I say this all as someone who is not a conservative. Though my mother-in-law thinks I would be a better person if I were. Maybe she is right.)

  23. Wahoo,
    Obviously, women are better off since the Enlightenment. I never said that the elevation of individual rights was an inherent evil, just that it wasn’t a universal good. Like Kristine states above, good societies hold these things in tension.

    Eric,
    No click-bait intended. I actually think libertarianism could lead to apocalypse. Fear not, you are not deceived.

    I’d love you to point to any specific mischaracterizations I’ve made. I don’t believe that I pointed out that conservatives don’t donate to charity or some such. It’s confusing to stand accused of accusations I didn’t make (also, take another look at those well-publicized studies; they do more to demonstrate that religious people donate at a higher rate than that conservatives do).

    You are correct to note that I’m not discussing the whole range of libertarianism here. I am focused on the Minimal State argument, best delineated by Robert Nozick, that argues that the state should primarily enforce contracts and protect folks from physical assault and invasion and then not do anything else. This in particular is the version that I find amongst the self-identified conservative libertarians I encounter, especially in the church, due to its elevation of individual self-determination above all other concerns. Folks who feel like the gospel teaches agency über alles tend to hang their hat on similar versions. I freely admit that this criticism doesn’t apply to versions of libertarianism that are more socialist.

    Now, as to the specifics of your post, there was a reason that I brought up the Dunbar number. I never said that libertarians can’t form communities; I said that they don’t really have a means for forming a large one. As you note, they are happy to form small communities. Small communities can function fairly well without some form of coercion because everyone knows one another and their is a great degree of social punishment for bad behavior. But if we get much bigger than Dunbar’s number, libertarianism has no means to maintain the community. Not that that is always bad, but you should at least understand the limits of the Minimal State.

  24. No trolling on my part, just honest reflection on the original posting.

  25. Carry on then, I guess.

  26. “I never said that libertarians can’t form communities; I said that they don’t really have a means for forming a large one. As you note, they are happy to form small communities. Small communities can function fairly well without some form of coercion because everyone knows one another and their is a great degree of social punishment for bad behavior. But if we get much bigger than Dunbar’s number, libertarianism has no means to maintain the community.”

    While I largely agree with where you end up, this premise seems like a flawed way of getting there. There is in general no one-to-one mapping of my individual community onto the individual community of each member of my set. It’s a network of overlapping communities (Just ask FaceBook!). So I don’t see how each person looking after their closest 150 can’t in principle extend to caring for the whole society, and without formation of clan boundaries. In practice, I suppose that’s not how it would work out because it would be so horribly inefficient. But in principle…

  27. AaronM,
    All I can say is that sad experience has taught us that such systems tend to result in the societies described in 3 Nephi 7:13. The closest modern analogs seem to be warlord states.

  28. Oh, I think you’re right on the outcome. If we were to follow the advice of Patrick the Anarchist, we would probably initially look after our own, then rediscover efficiencies of division of labor, including collective security, administration, and rule enforcement. This kind of structure would require forming defined tribes (or whatever), which would then compete with one another for resources and security. Then alliances, mergers, etc, and we would either (1) get right back to the state structure we had dissolved, (2) destroy one another along the way (a la 3 Ne), or (3) fall prey to some external threat along the way. State structure makes sense, and strong states are states that do stuff, whether by the will of the people or decree of Leviathan.

  29. John C,

    Thanks for your response and happy Thanksgiving. I’ll take a shot at answering some of your questions.

    You do say that “conservative libertarianism” is concurrent with us “drifting more and more away from each other.” Maybe with “concurrent” you did not mean to imply causality. But assuming you at least meant a noteworthy correlation, I supplied evidence that conservative behavior to show that they are less likely to be drifting apart and losing that loving feeling than many others. As you correctly point out, many of these conservatives are religious. But this does not make them any less conservatives or make what they do any less an expression of their conservative values in their minds I would imagine. When conservatives seem to be among those most likely to be holding on to love and community, why blame them for the breakdown?

    You said, “After all, the elevation of individual rights, to life, liberty, and property, always carries with it the degeneration of the social contract.” Huh? What is a legitimate social contract except one where we agree to respect others’ rights? Such rights are not the degeneration of the social contract; they are the very guarantors of a healthy social contract that allows civil society to flourish. For libertarians these rights are not just ones to claim for themselves but, perhaps even more importantly, to fully honor in others. Sounds like a loving thing, no?

    You go on to paraphrase Hobbes saying, “we give up our right to doing whatever we want, however we want, and with whatever we want, when we enter into a contract with others who agree to the same.” Amen. If Hobbes seems to be critiquing libertarianism here, he has built a straw man. When he adds his caveat on the contractual limits of behavior he doesn’t undermine actual libertarianism, rather he comes pretty close providing its very definition, though I doubt he meant to.

    There is no version of libertarianism where people are free to do whatever they want when they want. In fact, it is respect for life, liberty, and property that checks those who would do whatever they want to whomever they want with no though for others’ happiness. Respecting these rights in others seems like a basis for growing love for others, not its dissolution.

    Your claim that libertarian ideals don’t scale beyond Dunbar’s number is somewhat perplexing. There is ample evidence that they do and have. It has been exactly those times in history when more places in the world more closely approach the libertarian ideals of free movement of people ideas, and trade that the world has been more peaceful, prosperous, and globally interconnected in relationships of trust rather than fear. It seems that it is the abandonment of these ideals, not their embrace, that lead to, conflict, poverty, and the atomistic waning of love you decry.

    Libertarians have little affinity for suspicious and violent tribalism as seen in 3 Nephi 7:1-2. But suggesting such an affinity has become common enough that it serves as a fairly reliable shibboleth libertarians use to know they are dealing with someone who does not understand them.

    The BOM passages that best presents a libertarian society might be Helaman 6: 7-8, 14:

    7 And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites.
    8 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.
    14 And in the sixty and fifth year they did also have great joy and peace, yea, much preaching and many prophecies concerning that which was to come.

    (This is a pretty good description of how most Scottish Independence supporters want their relationship to be with England by the way—full of trust and interconnection, not dissolution.)

  30. Not just on the international scale, but within nations too we see more peace and prosperity the more fully countries approach libertarian policies of limited government, rule of law, and free economies. Many social, cultural, and historical factors unrelated to policy may influence national well-being, so comparisons work best between countries of similar size, histories, resources, ethnolinguistic backgrounds, and degrees of diversity. Consider the following:

    South vs. North Korea
    West vs. East Germany (historically)
    Finland vs. Estonia (historically)
    Botswana vs. Zimbabwe
    Chile vs. Argentina
    Hialeah vs. Havana (Not countries of course, but comparable entities)
    Thailand vs. Myanmar.
    Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua
    Taiwan vs. PRC

    (In case anyone was wondering, libertarian policies not only improve over all prosperity, but seem to lead to more equal divisions of wealth too. Johan Norberg found from countries’ own data that the greater role a government plays in national economies, the more income disparity appears. Socialist countries are the worst, being playgrounds for rent seekers and crony capitalists, but terrible for everyone else.)

    Now what all this has to do with the apocalypse, I am not sure. The parts of our canon most clearly associated with apocalyptic literature, namely Daniel and Revelation, have little to say about little tribal groups like in 3rd Nephi but feature ginormous empires oppressing the faithful.

    In at least one instance in the Bible, The Lord’s prophet strongly resisted the formation of a larger, more centralized state out of a loose association of culturally-related tribes. Samuel warned:

    11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
    12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
    13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
    14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
    15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
    16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
    17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
    18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

    In the modern world as well, there does seem to be a correlation between smaller political entities and peace and prosperity. Look up the stats on the culturally and geographically similar, but landmass and population disparate, countries below and compare:

    Switzerland vs. Germany
    Liechtenstein vs. Switzerland
    Belgium vs. France
    Luxemburg vs. Belgium
    Singapore vs. Malaysia
    Cayman Islands vs. Jamaica
    Hong Kong vs. China
    Uruguay vs. Argentina
    Sri Lanka vs. India
    Djibouti vs. Eritrea

    Also, the smaller the country, the less likely it is to wage expansive war or oppress conquered peoples. Might Europe have fared better in the 20th Century had Germany remained the collection of dozens of not fully contiguous principalities and city-states it was during most of the 19th Century?

    So, if threatening Scottish independence from Britain is evidence of waning love and apocalyptic dissolution, What about India and Ireland? Should these independent nations have stayed in the loving embrace of Britain? Should the Baltic States still be part of the Soviet Union? Should Ukraine?

    What do we do with the early Mormon support for independence and secession (Check out Craig Livingston’s From Above and Below: The Mormon Embrace of Revolution, 1840-1940). One of Eliza R. Snow’s first poems as a Mormon was a paean to Greek independence from The Ottomans.

    I see much apocalyptic implication in Daniel’s successively more tyrannical empires, Revelation’s all-enveloping whore of Babylon, and
    the desire to keep people more loving by forcing them to remain subjects to other countries. Less troubling to me are some tribal groups in the Book of Mormon, Scottish independents, and libertarians lovingly respecting other people right to life, liberty, and property.

  31. “In case anyone was wondering, libertarian policies not only improve over all prosperity, but seem to lead to more equal divisions of wealth too. Johan Norberg found from countries’ own data that the greater role a government plays in national economies, the more income disparity appears. Socialist countries are the worst, being playgrounds for rent seekers and crony capitalists, but terrible for everyone else.”

    Because, you know, countries like Norway, Iceland and Sweden–wealthy countries that have essentially eradicated poverty and have less income disparity than the vast majority of other countries–are totally libertarian. No one would possibly call them socialist.

  32. The Nordic countries indeed have higher overall taxes and relatively larger per capita social welfare outlays—more a result than the cause of their success. But as their populations age, these policies are likely unsustainable. Also, these are only two small facets of a much larger overall picture.

    Compared to elsewhere (including the US), Nordic tax systems are far less complicated and less full of special favors; they have lower defense budgets; very strong property rights; they don’t tax expatriates; their corporate tax rates are lower; it’s easier to start a business with less red tape; the rules for doing business are less numerous and more clear; their social programs are less redundant and more streamlined; they have fewer protective tariffs; they are relatively open for international trade; and tend to practice fiscal discipline rather than Keynesianism during recessions.

    Rather than cherry picking one or two policies, Norberg (a Swede) and many other economists, have tried to look at all the relevant dimensions and found the Nordics are indeed quite “libertarian” compared to just about anywhere else in the world. Kind of surprising considering the popular stereotype!

    But if the Nordics are socialist countries, then they are rare, dramatic outliers numbering only six (if you count the Faeroes) and not likely indicative of what socialism would bring. Most countries that actually call themselves socialist are basket cases of poverty, violence, and inequality people risk their lives to get away from like Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. The only socialist countries heading toward success (Vietnam, China) are doing so only to the degree they are abandoning socialism. “Becoming less socialist” also describes the Nordics over the last 30-40 years by the way.

    If we really want a just and equitable world, it is really important to understand what actually gets us there. Fortunately, there is good data to suggest a general direction to head toward and general directions to avoid. Rule of law, free markets, robust civil society, separation of economy and state, free trade, and light and stable regulation are the ticket.

    BTW, another reason for Nordic success may be that one aspect of their ostensible “socialism” has actually hewn relatively close to policy prescriptions first developed by libertarians such as Milton Freeman, F. A. Hayek, and Charles Murray. I’m talking about the popular-even-among-progressives idea of “the guaranteed minimum income.” If libertarians believe in a role for government in the economy at all, it is first, and maybe only, to use taxes give the poor direct cash payments—rather than channeling money through government agencies that siphon most of it off to pay salaries for bureaucrats who decide which poor can get money, and what they must or cannot do with it once they get it.

    The Nordics do not follow the GMI prescription exactly, but they do so a lot more closely than the complex and lobbyist-captured U. S. system that—thanks to social security and government contracts—actually, in balance, takes money from the poor to give to the wealthy.

    So if you like the Nordic countries; love those libertarians! Spreading the love to those most in need, and saving the world from apocalypse rather than leading us towards it, eh John C?