Was King Benjamin a Socialist? #BOM2016

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.–Mosiah 4:16

BenjieMormon liberals love to quote King Benjamin. He seems to validate the whole social-justice/safety-net program of the contemporary left. He admonishes us to give to the poor, and, like so many of the prophets of the Old Testament, condemns an entire society for allowing deep inequalities in its midst. If there are better liberal-Mormon proof texts in the Book of Mormon than Mosiah 4, I don’t know them.

Of course, this is no slam dunk. Politically conservative Saints can always point out that Benjamin does not say that the government should take care of the poor—and, in fact, he places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of wealthy individuals to “administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need.” If Benjamin wanted a social welfare program, he could have created one; he was, after all, the king.

This argument is like a chess game where both sides know the opening moves by heart and can go through them halfheartedly on the way to shouting a lot and tipping over the chess board. For centuries, Christians have played similar moves in their arguments about the ministry of Jesus Christ, who also had more than a few things to say about taking care of the poor, and who also did not ever directly say that this be done by the state.

These have always seemed to me to be the wrong kinds of questions to ask. We know next to nothing about Benjamin’s kingdom, including how (or whether) it had any structural way to take care of the poor. And even if we knew more, there is no possibility that we could meaningfully map our political situation onto that of an ancient tribal kingdom somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Ancient scriptures were never designed to instruct us in the proper means of government.

They were, though (among other things) designed to teach us the proper ends of government. Ancient prophets regularly described, under the name “the Kingdom of God,” what a good society should look like. If we are truly disciples of Christ, we should want to live in the kind of society that they described–which includes some structural way of caring for the poor and vulnerable. I have a hard time believing that anybody living in a democratic society could read the New Testament or the words of King Benjamin and come away believing that these texts completely divorce responsibility for the poor from the proper function of government.

But there’s more. Not only does King Benjamin require us to become a society that takes care of the poor. He invites us to imagine a society that doesn’t have any poor–one that is not inherently structured to favor those with great wealth, status, or political power. This actually a difficult kind of society to imagine, since every form of government we have experienced so far always does end up structured to favor the rich and the powerful. It is much easier to work on alleviating the symptoms of poverty than to imagine a society with out it, But this is exactly the kind of society that King Benjamin, like Jesus, asks us to believe in.

I do not mean to suggest that there is no room for disagreement about how to best accomplish the goals that Benjamin set forth. It is not self-evidently true to me that government redistribution programs are the best way to care for the poor, nor is it patently unthinkable that market-based solutions cannot do the job even better. Intelligent, moral, and non-crazy people can legitimately disagree about how best to accomplish the social vision that King Benjamin sets out in the fourth chapter of Mosiah.

But passages like these do take some political arguments off of the table. One argument in particular simply cannot survive a sincere belief in the Book of Mormon. Benjamin himself outlines this argument in Mosiah 4:17-19:

 17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
 19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

The claim that wealthy people deserve their wealth, while poor people are poor because of their own actions or innate characteristics, has no place in our religious or political discourse. Benjamin refutes it unequivocally, as did a long line of prophets from Isaiah to Jesus to Joseph Smith. We should view with great suspicion any policy or political movement that proceeds from such morally flawed assumptions.

One of the functions of prophets has always been to challenge us to imagine a different world than we have ever lived in. Isaiah, Jesus, and Joseph Smith all did this; they called that world both Zion and the Kingdom of God. King Benjamin does it too. Not only have these prophets invited us to imagine such a society; they have enjoined us to create it in a world where all of the models come from Babylon. This is not a task that we can defer to a millennial future. The responsibility to build Zion here and now inheres in the Restoration. The Kingdom of God is within us. And this is not irrelevant to the way that we participate in the political process.

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m having trouble with the reasoning in paragraph 5. Otherwise, am inclined to agree wholeheartedly.

  2. maustin66 says:

    Reasoning? Man, haven’t you heard? This is the Internet.

  3. For the past few years I’ve been asking friends some questions for which I’ve yet to receive satisfactory answers.

    1) At some point Enoch’s society decided to become a Zion society. We assume Enoch wasn’t a dictator — the decision to have all things in common was presumedly reached by mutual agreement. Was it 100 percent agreement on the first ballot? Were they all automatically of one heart/mind, or did some discussion take place? Do we really believe this sharing was all individual good will, or was there some kind of welfare system? Were there holdouts who left? Or did the holdouts accept the will of 99 percent, or 75 percent, or 51 percent?

    2) Why do we protest when the government (we, the people — a majority of our brothers and sisters) asks us to do what God has already commanded — requiring those of us with means to care for those among us without means. We are free to disobey either. Temporary jail may be the penalty for exercising agency to disobey man’s law. Eternal damnation is the penalty for disobeying God’s law (Matt. 25). Which is worse, jail or hell? We have no problem with other laws that agree with God’s commands (prohibitions on murder or stealing).

  4. Clark Goble says:

    I think we have to read Benjamin always with 4 Nephi in mind. It’s interesting that when the Book of Mormon could present us with the details of a practical utopia it doesn’t. (Unless it’s in the sealed plates)

    At the same time I think how we read Benjamin ought be informed with how we view grace. A common view of God’s grace is that he gives us for transformation. He gives us the resources to do but not the resources to have the consequences we might desire. To me, as I interpret this politically, it means we ought be making America the land of opportunity for all. I get far more uncomfortable when charity is about the end state rather than the means to achieve that state.

    Of course even if we agree on that (and clearly many, especially liberals, won’t) the question becomes what is enabling. Roads, rule of law, a stable market enabled by the state, basic education, etc are things we’d likely agree upon. Going beyond that gets more controversial. I do think those who move to a more Libertarian approach have grave difficulty reconciling it with Benjamin though.

  5. laserguy says:

    So should I read this post as an admission that the state should accept our religious teachings with respect to abortion and same sex marriage, or does the club of state only endorse religion when it falls in line with lgbt sjw idols?

  6. True Blue says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that an equitable society is the goal. One of the firstways to achieve this is to examine, with a view to removing, welfare (government handouts) to the wealthy and corporations. I am not in America, but in Australia many of the individuals who have income of more than $1m a year pay no tax, with the help of their accountants. They are able to find legal ways to reduce their taxable income to below the threshold. The same applies to international corporations.

  7. “Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—”

    I think the key in this verse, as far as your overall post is concerned, is the “my”: “my food”, “my substance.” We have a moral obligation to share what we have with others, but that moral obligation does not extend into our neighbor’s pantries. What we have to give is what we have to give. Consider verse 24:

    “And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.”

    And from verse 26: “I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath,”

    What we have to give is what we have to give. There is no virtue in giving away someone else’s money, and there is no moral obligation to do so. In other words, I am completely on board regarding my own personal responsibility to the poor, but I wholeheartedly reject the idea that I should compel others to do so. (persuade, yes; compel, no)

  8. Thank you for this! I like to hear interpretations of King Benjamin.
    Reading this made me think I would love to see King Benjamin’s sermon performed. I think listening to them done in a passionate way would be a really transformative experience. Very different than reading them silently at home.

  9. CSC: The problem is that there are so few people who have reached the level of Christlike love who will support the poor. For this small minority to lift the whole burden, it is truly backbreaking. The question becomes, then, if the small minority will not, or cannot, take the whole burden, then how many of the poor and insane on our streets die as a result? What level of punishment is enough for the homeless schizophrenic? Is not the state obligated to share the burden of this person’s care?

    We seem to find moral outrage when such a person finds a lifeboat and clings to it without ever managing to get out. I have been helping with a Catholic soup kitchen this past while. There are some desperate cases who come for a meal. The best solution, as Utah has found, is housing first. Get the poor off the streets and into a stable living environment, then give them the services necessary for them to get out of the lifeboat, or let them stay in it if they are unable to rise.

    Much better for us and them to get the mentally unabled, or even those people whose luck has run out, out of the street, warm and fed, and then figure out what to do. The resources of the state are necessary for this large problem. I am aware that the LDS Church in Salt Lake City is working with the state government on welfare problems. Even the Church does not want to bear the full burden.

    The majority can certainly coerce the minority in a democracy. It is part of the social contract. Even to helping the poor and infirm. Heaven knows how much it smarts when the “conservatives” take control and want to remove important guardian functions from the government. But we are in a democracy and, for much of society, the majority rules as long as it is not a protected right.

  10. maestrofdissent says:

    King Benjamin also emphasizes that he did not impose high taxes on his people and that this was just. Hard to have a socialist utopia without back breakingly high taxes.

    14 And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.

  11. Since the scripture says that the people in Enoch’s Zion were “of one heart and one mind,” I think we can conclude that they all willingly participated. Why would any unwilling givers have been dragged along as they were taken up into heaven?

  12. “High taxes” is the issue. Is taxing a hedge fund manager making hundreds of millions at 14% too high? Mercy. We live here in relative luxury with good roads, enough to eat, protection, and education. It is claimed that we do not have enough government money to take care of the poor. How on earth do we have enough money, then, for the altruistic among us to lift the entire burden by themselves? Come on, not willing to pay taxes to support the disadvantaged? What do we call that? What would Jesus call it?

  13. Taxes in scriptural times =|= modern day taxes. When taxes are spoken of in scripture they are described as being used solely for the leaders personal gain or support. This is what King Benjamin explicitly condemns: taxes to support the leader rather than the leader working to support themself. This sort of tax is seen in King Noah’s luxuriant and unjustly high taxes for his own gain – the opposite of social supports or public goods. To interpret King Benjamin’s comment about “tax” in ancient times as a condemnation of what we call taxes seems wrong to me.

  14. Clark Goble says:

    It’s hard to equate an ancient economy where frankly most people were barely at subsistence to a modern western economy where even the poor are relatively wealthy. That’s not to say Benjamin’s sermons don’t apply. They most certainly do give us important principles we should follow that often we don’t. But we have to be careful thinking through how to apply them.

    The reality is that people on both the right and the left dismiss the poor. That’s either by not paying attention to their needs and concerns or by thinking that the government programs take care of the issue. I think this year shows the danger of that. After all, most of the poor don’t want welfare, they want jobs and to be participating. They don’t want to be neglected. Both sides do.

  15. CSC — Knowing, as RW points out, that there is not enough and to spare among those who voluntarily give, is there at least a moral obligation to support programs that make up the difference? Are we, as Christians, not obligated to use the tools (legislative framework) available, especially when we believe that system to be divinely inspired? And if there is no virtue in giving away someone else’s money, and no moral obligation to do so, why don’t we hear more Christians complaining about using “my money” for defense budgets, corporate tax breaks, or subsidies for industrial farming?

  16. Clark Goble says:

    Chad, that seems a bit vague. I do think libertarians are wrong when they think individual charity could be enough. It just isn’t. That said, figuring out what programs are just seems to be pretty difficult and where we most disagree. Thus we tend to just rail at two extremes (libertarianism or socialism) which few actually espouse and that both run into problems with scripture. (Recognizing both movements have a lot of variety in them – some more palatable than others).

  17. Fact: There has never been a libertarian government that actually worked. All the libertarian theory is a pie-in-the-sky thought experiment that has never worked in practicality—for obvious reasons, I might add.

    Another fact: There are and have been several socialist governments that work very well in practicality. Take Germany or Switzerland or the Scandinavian countries as examples. And in many ways, the citizens of these socialist countries consider themselves more free than we are. Yes, they pay more for it, but they think that freedom is worth it.

  18. Chad: Since the Constitution grants no power to the national government to spend tax money on care of the poor, Chad, your “divinely inspired” argument falls flat.

    KMH000: If taxes to support the leaders in their lavish lifestyle is a problem, you should consider two facts, (1) the cost of maintaining the President and his family and (2) the concentration of high income families in and around Washington, D.C. Both suggest that the problem of high taxes supporting the lifestyles of the politically well-connected is not a problem only of ancient kingdoms or modern-day third world dictatorships.

  19. Clark Goble says:

    Wally, depending upon what you mean by libertarian, the US was fairly libertarian from its founding until the rise of progressivism at the end of the 19th century. Admittedly there were egregious departures from libertarian ideals such as slavery and Jim Crow. However Scandinavia is hardly pure socialist (whatever that means) either.

    What’s interesting to me is in seeing where Scandinavia and Germany departed from their more socialist moves starting in the late 70’s. In particular Scandinavia has done a lot of things that’s quite closer to libertarian proposals.

    The other problem is that of course the US is a very diverse country whereas northern Europe was until recently extremely homogenous with a culture already tied to those close bonds. As such socialism works inherently better there than in many more diverse nations. Similarly the westward expansion in the US along with its immigrant makeup probably incentivized more libertarian moves from a practical standpoint.

    I’m not sure either tells us much about contemporary America. (Recognizing of course than one can discuss politics and ethics without being so US-centric)

  20. Mark B. The idea that a significant portion of US taxes goes to supporting our leaders is indefensible. But ok, you want to cut back on how much senators et al. make? Let’s. I’m with you.
    The bulk of taxes go elsewhere and I maintain that when King Benjamin references taxes he’s not referring to what we refer to as taxes in our current system.

  21. I really like this talk by Marion G. Romney called “Caring for the Poor and Needy”: (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1973/01/caring-for-the-poor-and-needy?lang=eng) I think the following excerpt is worth discussing:

    “In this modern world plagued with counterfeits for the Lord’s plan, we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency. Only by voluntarily giving out of an abundant love for our neighbors can we develop that charity characterized by Mormon as the ‘pure love of Christ’. This we must develop if we would obtain eternal life.”

    I don’t interpret this as meaning that the government should have nothing to do with social welfare, but it seems to me that President Romney is explaining that our personal righteousness in this area isn’t determined by how we vote but rather by what we willingly give. The phrase “Zion is the pure in heart” comes to mind.

    I’d suggest reading Pres. Romney’s talk in full before getting too involved in the paragraph I shared, as he does a pretty good job at thoroughly covering the topic. But I thought I’d throw it out there.

  22. Being usually too intimidated to engage in these forums, I really appreciate the dialogue as this subject is one on which I’ve engaged fellow Mormons for three decades.

    Clark – Figuring out which programs are “just” is our primary task as voters. We support leaders who will institute and manage programs that support our personal philosophy (religion). Granted, management is tough and there is plenty of waste, fraud and abuse, though not nearly as much is claimed as an excuse to abandon programs. But even then, wouldn’t the safe course — since we don’t really own our stuff, it’s God’s — be to ere on the side of too much (two coats) rather than too little? Why not allow that some small fraction of poor people may receive more than they need from public programs? Following Benjamin’s advice, shouldn’t we be seem more concerned about what enough rather than what is “just”?

    Wally – I apply “divinely inspired” not only to the document (Constitution) itself, but also to the system implemented to support the purposes espoused therein — including promoting our general welfare. In a land choice above all others, the divine system includes representatives who enact our collective free will by levying taxes to provide for the least among us. The system, flawed as any divine thing overseen by humans, also includes executive actions that provide rules for agencies to enact our collective free will.

    So, back to my original question (which I’ve posed to dozens of committed Mormon friends): Why protest laws/programs (that, by inference a majority of us supported) that ask/require us to do what God has already asked/commanded?

    The most common answer I get (the same usually given when asking the difference between consecration and socialism) is that man’s programs involve force, but God’s involve agency. But really we are free to obey or disobey either — with consequences. It just seems to me hell is worse than jail.

  23. Tyler – thanks the Romney quote, …”we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency.”

    I agree! but how about supplementing our obligations with support for governmental and public agencies?

  24. it's a series of tubes says:

    Another fact: There are and have been several socialist governments that work very well in practicality. Take Germany or Switzerland or the Scandinavian countries as examples. And in many ways, the citizens of these socialist countries consider themselves more free than we are. Yes, they pay more for it, but they think that freedom is worth it.

    An interesting corollary here: these governments have the option to allocate significant resources to socialist programs because they are the direct beneficiaries of the security provided by national defense spending by the USA. If these governments had to bear the full costs of securing their own national security, their allocation of remaining resources might be significantly different.

    To be clear: I’m not saying that any particular approach is the correct one. I’m merely pointing out that a direct comparison of northern European spending to US spending is not an apples to apples comparison, and that any arguments that fail to take into account the effects of the decades-long umbrella of relative security provided by the US military to countries around the world are, at best, incomplete.

  25. Chad – I think that makes sense.

  26. David Elliott says:

    In 1939, under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Church published “Priesthood and Church Welfare: A Study Course of the Quorums of the Melchizedek Priesthood for the Year 1939”. Here is an interesting excerpt from that manual:
    “Since all capitalistic systems are founded upon the institution of private property, inheritance and the profit motive, great inequalities of ownership and income inevitably result.
    “Among the more plausible suggestions offered to correct existing abuses without adversely affecting the productive system, is to continue the socialization of our service institutions through a system of progressive taxation based upon ability to pay, taking the bulk of industry profits to finance free education, free libraries, free public parks and recreation centers, unemployment insurance, old age benefits, sickness and accident insurance, and perhaps eventually free medical and hospital service.
    “The average family may not have much more money, if any, to spend under such a system than now. But then the meagre family income can be devoted entirely to the necessities of life, plus some of the comforts now enjoyed by the higher income classes.”

  27. Actually, the Book of Mormon does contain one government-mandated welfare program, described in Mosiah 21:17:

    “Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain.”

    The fascinating thing is that there is no comment on this practice whatsoever.

    I think this completely deflates the “forced charity is Satan’s plan” argument. This is clearly a case of using government power (“king Limhi commanded”) to force “every man” to give to those in need. Yet Limhi is consistently described as a righteous king, and there’s no indication that any of his contemporaries (Ammon, Alma the Elder, Mosiah, etc.) or Mormon had any problem with what he does here.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t do much for liberals either. It was a response to an extraordinary need, and there’s no indication it was ever repeated (even during other times of extraordinary need). While no one condemns it, no one endorses it either or suggests it’s a requirement for a righteous society. With all the changes Mosiah made during his reign, it’s hard to believe he couldn’t have institutionalized some sort of welfare state if he’d wanted to.

    My takeaway is that a variety of economic and political organizations can be acceptable to the Lord, at least at a minimal level. There are important pragmatic arguments to be had about what means will achieve the best results. But we need to get over the idea that government welfare is always evil. Our scriptures disagree.

  28. Clark Goble says:

    Not to belabor the point, but again if we’re looking at a US-centric debate the issue isn’t whether there will be government welfare spending but how much and what form it takes. Likewise the socialist debate about controlling the means of production is pretty much absent from the Book of Mormon and outside of a few narrow service monopolies, really isn’t in question in the US.

    The debate is thus how much and how to help the poor and not whether to help the poor.

  29. I had a roommate in Provo who cited King Benjamin when I came home from work and found him helping himself to my groceries. Said it was my duty to feed him, because he wasn’t going to get paid from his telemarketing job for another two days.

    When I was in the mission office, I just couldn’t believe the sheer number of phone calls coming in from people wanting us to pay their mortgage, buy groceries, pay the utilities, or fix their car. For some strange reason, they’d get really bent out of shape when I told them to talk to their own bishop. Then I was supposed to be proud of them for making the call.

    If you’re comfortable with the fast offering you pay, you should be off the hook. I’ve known people who quietly paid their 10% tithing, and 40%-50% of their income in fast offerings. I’ve also seen what kind of things are paid for with fast offerings, and I can’t think of a single time it wasn’t the perfect use of sacrificial funds. Finest example was rent/treatment costs for a heroin addiction halfway house. In my mind, that’s worth not eating and pretending I would have gone out for a very lavish fancy hotel brunch.

  30. “off the hook” — that’s not really a concept that exists in Zion.

  31. “It’s hard to equate an ancient economy where frankly most of the people were barely at subsistence to a modern western economy where even the poor are relatively wealthy.” Clark, I find this statement generally undefensible and in poor taste.

    Considering the mentally ill that are living on the street, etc., I’m sure there are plenty of families and individuals in “modern western economies” that are not “relatively wealthy..” Beside that Mormonism is rapidly becoming a global Church. And conditions in modern developing-country environments can be very dire. I spend a great deal of time in Africa, and I can assure you that the poor living in urban slums would be surprised to know they live in “relative wealth.” And soon half the members of the Church will be living in developing countries. Let’s not be cavalier about the conditions in western and developing countries,

  32. David Elliott, March 23, 2016 at 11:14 am.
    Interesting example of the Church supporting government taxation and welfare programs. I’m sure Pres. Benson would have dissented with that opinion–or would he?, given that that was during the last years of the Great Depression. I’ve had libertarian family members severely berate me for supporting Mitt Romney because in his view, Mitt supported “the evils of the dole” that Pres. Benson spoke out against. Ironically, these same family members who vehemently protested having to pay any taxes, gladly accepted lower in-state college tuition and other benefits compliments of the “confiscation” of taxation. I think we have to take a balanced and pragmatic view of what works and what doesn’t, instead of claiming “scriptural immunity” from having to pay taxes. For example, seems to me that Salt Lake City’s strategy of providing housing as a first priority has been successful and a better solution that jailing the chronically homeless or mentally ill.

  33. Clark Goble says:

    Roger, that’s a separate issue from what I was dealign with which was the general economy of pre-industrial societies. In those cases people were often very close to dying from starvation. It’s such an alien situation that we have a rather hard time even wrapping our mind around just how bad it was to live in most societies throughout human history. It’s also quite independent of the questions of our duty today. I can assure you that within the United States, even the worst off families (who we do have an important duty towards) simply have far, far more resources available to them than the typical inhabitant of 1st century Palestine.

    As for Africa, I think I was fairly clear I was talking about the west. There’s no doubt places that aren’t much better than things were in the west a few hundred years ago. Now there’s a fair question about how to deal with countries with poor governance where the people suffer. I don’t have any good answers there. As I was at pains to note I was dealing more with a UScentric question.

  34. ‘“off the hook” — that’s not really a concept that exists in Zion.’

    Exactly true. “Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God,” doesn’t leave a lot of room for self-interest, or even with being satisfied that one has done enough to satisfy his fair share.

  35. bingo, JKC — I really love that verse. Here’s a truncated meditation on it in this comment: https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/10/09/such-a-time-as-this-remarks-at-stanford-convocation/#comment-340202

    I also mused on it more specifically in this post: https://bycommonconsent.com/2013/07/09/covenants-is-the-lord-bound/

  36. I love these kind of posts. I used to write about this stuff. Well done. Carry on.

  37. “they are the direct beneficiaries of the security provided by national defense spending by the USA”

    The Cold War ended a long time ago, and just in case you haven’t seen the news lately, US “security” policy in the meantime is exacting a heavy toll on Europe and the remnants of its social welfare states.

  38. fernandezma says:

    As having lived in a socialist country (Venezuela) for quite a long time now I can tell you that socialist government plans can’t produce a Zion society. They’re conceptually flawed + they go directly against King Benjamin’s teachings. In all the discourse I only see strong references to individual actions and responsibilities toward the building of a common Zion society. Moreover, the only programs that have worked here in the direction of creating a more fair society are the ones that have no government support or guidance; such as collective mutual help programs within farming communities or barter markets. In the application of those programs one can see that the key component of success is the personal involvement and responsability of each participant; again re enforcing king Benjamin’s ideas.

  39. Social democracy, not socialism. The model is not Venezuela but Germany or the Scandinavian countries.

  40. it's a series of tubes says:

    The Cold War ended a long time ago, and just in case you haven’t seen the news lately, US “security” policy in the meantime is exacting a heavy toll on Europe and the remnants of its social welfare states

    Peter, are you asserting that, post ~1991, EU defense spending could have remained equal if US defense spending either (i) went to zero, or (ii) was applied to the interests of the US homeland only? If so, I don’t think that’s a defensible position or one that needs further engagement.

    As to the US being responsible for Islamofacism… interesting that in the last 30 years, the victims of Islamic terrorism are primarily other Muslims. I get it now. They hate the US so much that they’ll show us by killing their fellow believers. Makes sense.

  41. No, I’m asserting that whatever benefits the European social welfare states may have reaped from the nuclear umbrella during the Cold War (though let us not forget that European social welfare predated US interventionism)–21st century US security policy is hardly benefiting European welfare states. In fact, it is seriously undermining them thanks to the unprecedented wave of humanity now fleeing states that failed following US intervention.

  42. I always love reading your posts. However, on this one you lost me entirely at: “Mormon liberals love to quote…”

    It took exactly five words for me to lose interest in your message. “Liberal” can be a toxic descriptor today (as can it’s opposite.) Just the other day, a woman in my ward was talking about our need to love “others” including “liars, cheaters, liberals, idlers…” It is a lazy, super-charged, and, in our LDS society, very negative term. Couldn’t you be more careful?

  43. Clark Goble says:

    peterllc, I believe the current immigration crisis was trigger by the Syrian civil war which was in turn triggered by the Arab Spring. As I recall Obama was pushed reluctantly into more active action in Libya and then to a certain degree in Syria by his European allies. (American conservatives were pushing him to do more or at least have a more coherent grand strategy for the region) The infamous “red line” issue in Syria was the point Obama pulled back beyond offering some ineffective training and weapons for rebels in Syria. While one could argue there’s some relationship between Syria and Iraq, by and large this is a failure due to US/EU inaction allowing the civil war to spiral out of control. Blaming that on American interventionism given Obama’s reluctance to act seems odd. You can attack Obama’s tendency to encourage drone strikes, often with questionable intel. But again, I’m not sure you can blame the immigration crisis on him. It has far more to do with the EU having such an imperfect union and simply not knowing what to do.

    Now perhaps you can tie the rise of ISIS to Al Queda in Iraq given that some of the leadership is the same. However even if there were no ISIS the Syrian civil war would still have happened. If it happened while Sadaam was in power (we’re really getting into counterfactuals now) I’m not sure we could say it would have been better.

    One could argue though that with Putin taking a far more aggressive stance (especially towards the nordic countries) that NATA is as important as it was in the cold war. That’s debatable of course. (Clearly Trump disagrees) However I’m not sure having the US as a defense against Russian interventionism hurts these nations. The fact it allows them to allocate resources to the welfare state rather than military is a big deal. Although Obama’s recently been pushing NATO countries to get defense spending back up to 2% GDP. And some countries (again often in the north) are rattled enough to be increasing it on their own. Although in the case of Sweden this is just a move from about 1% to 1.5% thus far although there are signs it may go as high as 5%. But again, that’s not the US’ fault but Russia’s.

  44. Clark Goble says:

    sch, I think his point was to draw the significance of the term “liberal” and all the connotations that conveys. In other words the stereotypical two main intellectual groups tend deal with these passages in particular ways. I’m not sure a better term to use. One could use “left” although that’s come to apply more to the farther left that’s typical in Europe but not as common in the US. So the folks at Crooked Timber will embrace the term “left” for themselves and often use “liberal” disparagingly towards ‘moderate’ Democrats of the Obama/Clinton variety. i.e. those more positive towards markets. The terminology is quite interesting. The moderate conservative of the Reagan variety are then interestingly disparaged as neo-liberals.

  45. I once went to a “mountain man” kind of meet in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where there were quite a few people of all ages. Being late Summer we were quickly invaded by a huge hoard of mosquitoes eating us alive. Some people knowing the area thought to bring mosquito repellent, the rest of us were OOL. Somehow I got in the middle of things and announced that all mosquito repellent was henceforth community property. I went around and gathered it up without any protest and put it in a central location where we hosed down anybody who needed it. See what you do when you are desperate? I think something like the Irish Potato Famine could have been handled differently by the British.

  46. More to the point though, I wonder what is meant by the so called “4th Mission of the Church” namely caring for the poor and needy. I am not sure if that is the right expression or what the Church is getting at. I ask because we may be talking about it at our 5th Sunday meeting in May. Does it mean we just take care of the poor (in the Church) or find them jobs (which we kind of do already)? Or does it go beyond us to the world at large and provide economic opportunity and enterprenurship? Or should we concentrate on members in or all people in the third world? Where do we go with this?

  47. Clark, the largest group of asylum applicants in my country of residence is from Afghanistan, then Syria and Iraq. The conditions in these countries that have prompted millions to get up and move are hardly the result of a feckless EU foreign policy “simply not knowing what to do.” Obviously these conditions cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the US either; I’d be fine with the UK and France taking some credit for the chaos too. But this is not a problem of the EU’s making, whose institutions do not allow for ambitious interventions abroad as a bloc.

  48. Clark Goble says:

    Feckless EU policy was referring to how the EU deals with asylum seekers and the lack of an unified program. So a poor dysfunctional nation like Greek is supposed to process all these people. It’s just an other example of how the EU system doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s a comedy of errors that makes everything worse than it should be. Add in a sense of self-identity clearly unable or unwilling to make judgments about practical capacity and “simply not knowing what to do” seems an apt description.

    With dealing with the broader violence in the middle east I think “not knowing what to do” is the usual status quo. Bush’s Iraq escapades undoubtedly made things worse, but it’s not as if things were going swimmingly before then. As I said in Libya and the like the EU pushed for action but wasn’t able to follow up in a fashion that did much beyond replicate Iraq to varying degrees in these other nations. One could easily argue Syria is, per capita, far worse off than Iraq. Again, because no one really knew how to deal with the situation.

  49. I found this post very thought provoking. My main thought is that King Benjamin does not seem to really sway left or right. At least by modern day political standards. I see him as someone who is solely on the Lord’s side. When you have the spirit of God, you can’t be so black and white about things. Yes, some things are either right or wrong, but social justice is not so simple. The poor cannot be abandoned, immigrants cannot all be forced to leave, etc. Such extremes don’t fall in line with the teachings of the gospel. God is never forceful. A major difference between Jesus’ plan and Satan’s plan was agency. I think of socialism in much the same way. So King Benjamin was certainly not a socialist. He was very far from it because he wasn’t forcing the people to give to the poor. He was advocating for people to give of their wealth, but in a way that preserved the freedom of his people. Such a distinction is the difference between right and wrong.

  50. I wish King Benjamin was running for president. We need such a leader.