Socialism and Satan’s Plan

Via GIPHY

It happened. Again. On Mormon Twitter, someone mentioned socialism, to which somebody responded that socialism was Satan’s plan. (There were a couple other responses I saw that hinted at the same thing, but didn’t explicitly say it. And maybe there were others who said something similar. It’s not like I looked for every response to the tweet.)

To which I reply: that’s not the stupidest assertion based on Mormon theology ever. But it may well be in the top ten.

Now full disclosure here: while I may not believe that capitalism is the economy of heaven, frankly, I’m largely a fan of its implementation here on earth. At the same time, though, I’ll admit to being a huge fan of a number of social safety net policies that certain groups of people have spent the last several decades trying to mischaracterize as socialism. So, y’know, I contain multitudes.

Anyway, that aside, I want to repeat that calling socialism Satan’s plan is, like, crazy stupid. Unless people base it on something gnostically apocryphal, I assume its derivation is from Moses 4:1-3:

And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down[.]

Via GIPHY

There are a couple problems here, though. The first is: we have no idea what Satan’s plan was. We know what its result would have been: that no soul would be lost. How was he going to do it? I think we usually jump to vs. 3’s assertion that Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” as evidence that he was somehow going to become a puppetmaster, forcing us to act in a way that would get us back to God’s presence.

But, as much as that’s a popular assumption, it’s not a necessary one. It’s equally possible that he was planning on lowering the standards of salvation to a point where heaven had a 100% admission rate. It’s even possible (HORROR!) that he didn’t actually have a fully-formed plan; maybe he was bidding for the job first, and, if he got it, he’d figure out what to do with it.

I mean, that leaves the question of what the scriptures mean when they list one of the three things he did wrong as seeking to destroy agency. And I don’t have a compelling answer (though it’s worth noting that the 1828 Webster’s dictionary seems to define “agency” more along the lines of the ability to act on the world than on the ability to choose). FWIW, though, if his plan was to lower standards for admission, rather than dictate how people acted, that would remove our ability to reject God and salvation, because no matter how poorly we acted, we’d still qualify for salvation.

That leads to a second problem with the assertion: even if Satan’s plan was to replace our wills with his, and to eliminate our ability to choose, I’m not clear what that has to do with socialism.

And yes, I’m familiar with ETB’s 1979 talk “A Witness and a Warning.”[fn1] And you know what? He’s not talking about socialism, he’s talking about communism. And he’s talking specifically about Soviet communism. And he’s not talking about Soviet communism as Satan’s plan from Moses: he’s talking about it as Satan’s counterfeit of true religion.

I mean, it’s really hard to say that socialism, communism, or Soviet communism somehow destroyed moral agency. The third, at least, tried to limit individuals’ ability to make certain choices. But even in the heyday of the USSR, there were internal dissenters. The same goes for Communist China and even oppressive North Korea. As far as I know, dissent has existed in every totalitarian state (and every non-totalitarian state). So it’s really, really hard to argue that any political system reflects that-interpretation-of-Satan’s-plan-that-says-he-wanted-to-eliminate-human-agency.

Again, that’s not to say that, as a Mormon, you need to be a devoted socialist. Frankly, there’s a lot about socialism that I’m skeptical of (unless, again, you define socialism as any type of social safety net program, in which case, (a) I’m a raging socialist, and (b) you suck at definitions).

But saying socialism = Satan’s Plan is, frankly, shorthand for I don’t think through things very carefully. If you’re not a fan of socialism, by all means, make substantive arguments against it (though please don’t bother in the comments to this post—that entirely misses the point of the post!). But let’s cut it out already with the stupid truisms.


[fn1] Okay, “familiar” might be a little bit of an overstatement. I mean, I was crazy young when he delivered it. But I did skim it today before drafting this post, so I’m familiar enough with it.

Comments

  1. maebridge80 says:

    Excellent post. Ever since my snarky response though, I have wondered if there is a reason some Mormons might imagine that workers owning the means of production is actually satanic. I can’t come up with one, and “Satan’s Plan” dude never responded. 🤷‍♀️

  2. Thanks, maebridge80! And it was a lovely snarky response!

  3. Let me throw this out there — I think that, with the limitations in what we know, socialism is a manifestation of Satan’s plan. Without defending the way it was originally presented (having not read the source of the tweet you reference), where I think in this article you run afoul of the very thing you are accusing others of (not thinking through things very carefully) is applying the socialism=Satan’s plan to the economic system as opposed to the underlying worldview and assumptions.

    Look, I am a zealous right-winger. But you will see me post defenses of Harry Reid when people say his membership ought to be revoked. I am not a Trump fan for a multitude of reasons. You will see me speak in praise of Hugh Nibley, who advocated economic socialism well to the left of anything Bernie Sanders advocates. As Thomas Griffith said, and which I agree with, the Lord has never put forth by definitive revelation the ideal top marginal tax rate. I have no problem with a Latter-day Saint that happens to be liberal (or conservative) whereas I have big problems with a liberal (or conservative) that just happens to be a Latter-Day Saint.

    But where socialism=Satan’s plan becomes a more apt comparison is the worldview of disassociating behaviors with consequences. Understanding there are things we don’t know, moral agency is constrained by both controlling people’s behavior and/or by destroying accountability for their actions. A command economy is inefficient, but not necessarily evil. But if the philosophy behind an economic system seeks to destroy accountability, then it becomes evil.

    Socialism’s worldview is one of equality, but as that worldview extends into a Harrison Bergeron sort of equality it becomes reflective of Satan’s plan. When it denies that differences in results and opportunities can be traced back to different aggregate decisions (fatherless homes, for example) then it denies accountability and becomes reflective of Satan’s plan. Disparate results between groups and classes are, in fact, often the result of disparate decisions in aggregate made by the members of those classes (for example that, in large part, explains the gender wage gap). That this is controversial is an indictment of the socialist worldview which seeks to destroy accountability — and it is that, not a particular tax rate or rate of social spending, that is Satan’s plan.

    In the Celestial Kingdom, we will NOT be living under a capitalistic society. So there is nothing divine about it — I happen to think it the most efficient, but it is not eternal so much as it is useful now. But while we will be living under a Zionist economic system (economically to the left of anything advocated by socialists now), it will be a system that does nothing the denigrate accountability. That is something our earthly socialist systems to no mimic.

  4. Geoff - Aus says:

    Some of ET comment could apply to Russia supporting Trump, whether or not there was collusion. Second: We must awaken to “a sense of [our] awful situation, because of this secret combination which [is] among [us]” (Ether 8:24). We must not tolerate accommodation with or appeasement toward the false system of Communism.
    It is good to point out that Socialism does not equal Communism, and that having social safety nets does not make socialism.
    Unfettered capitalism is at least as dangerous as socialism.
    In Australia we have just had a royal commision into banking, and superannuation. The banks have been ripping people off, charging fees for services not provided, and then trying not to pay them back. When corporations can get away with charging more they will.

  5. My goodness, what a blind spot you have, Jonathan. If accountability is the touchstone here, then capitalism fares no better than socialism. There’s this idea among conservatives that capitalism is a freestanding system of economic justice, but that’s a fantasy. The natural operation of capitalism gives wealthy people enormous advantages of leverage and power that far outweigh what they might deserve by any measure of justice. Thus–just like in Satan’s Plan!!!–capitalism puts the many under the thumbs of an unaccountable few.

    No, I’m not really serious about claiming that capitalism is Satan’s plan. It’s a silly claim, just as it’s silly to claim that socialism is uniquely of Satan. The best argument is probably that it’s all Satan’s, since we are living at the time of his greatness and glory in this fallen world. As I think Sam implies, inflating a few verses in the Pearl of Great Price to encompass a whole political philosophy is an abuse of Mormon theology. If you want to argue about economics, that’s great. Just use the proper tools, and leave this juvenile concept of “Satan’s plan” out of it.

  6. FAKE NEWS.

    You must be a psychopath to say that it’s really hard to say that socialism destroyed moral agency of it’s people.

    Mao killed 45million.
    Hitler killed 11million if which 6million we’re Jews.
    Lenin/Stalin up to 60million.
    All socialist.

    60,000,000+11,000,000+45,000,000=
    116,000,000 people that think you wrote a post without checking the internet.

    Murdering 116,000,000 people is a great way to limit people agency. What a horrible post written against all those murdered by the type of government the author wants to let pass unscathed. This person obviously learned nothing in Primary/Church and should go back to grade school to learn how to Google.

    I make no apologies for my direct and unapoligetic language because murder is murder and should never be swept under the rug.

  7. Loursat:

    I don’t see you are meeting my argument on the merits. In fact, you seem to concede the point I am making about the worldview under-girding socialism (and contrasting that with capitalism). “There’s this idea among conservatives that capitalism is a freestanding system of economic justice, but that’s a fantasy.” I agree that capitalism isn’t fully accountable, and that isn’t even the biggest failure (see Mosiah 4:16-17) of the system — there are good reasons we won’t be capitalists in the hereafter. But, as you say, this isn’t a statement about the utility of various economic positions and you acknowledge that the worldview behind capitalism is accountable in theory even when it isn’t in practice. To quote myself — applicable to you as to Sam — “where I think in [your post] you run afoul of the very thing you are accusing others of (not thinking through things very carefully) is applying the socialism=Satan’s plan to the economic system as opposed to the underlying worldview and assumptions.”

    “As I think Sam implies, inflating a few verses in the Pearl of Great Price to encompass a whole political philosophy is an abuse of Mormon theology.”

    These verses are not ambiguous, nor are they isolated. Satan sought and seeks to destroy agency. Christ sought and seeks to preserve agency. Both continue their work today. Therefore what seeks to destroy agency is of Satan and what seeks to preserve agency is of God. This is not an abuse of our theology — rather it is a cogent conclusion that necessarily follows from the three premises (which are undisputed in our theology). The only dispute is whether socialism increases or decreases agency — and it is clear what I believe — but if you want to argue that socialism is out there increasing our moral agency and accountability I am all ears.

  8. Socialism is an iteration of Satan’s plans. Ultimately connected back to it.

    Socialism assumes the distribution property, goods and labor belong to the people or society, which ultimately gets pushed back to the state.

    This necessarily crowds out the law of consecration, because in a modern European and American style socialist state, over generations (or rapidly if during times of dramatic upheaval) the private sphere is increasingly superceded to the growing public.

    You have less control over your property and your ability to produce wealth (ie your labor) than your parents did, and they less than their parents likely did. In other words the means of production do not belong to you, whether it’s the sweat of your brow or your property.

    Now, we can all introduce a variety of arguments why we shouldn’t allow our neighbor to exercise their property and labor rights. And there should be some limited restrictions in a society where people need to get along. That’s limited government.

    That being the case, ultimately it will get in the way of true consecration, and will ultimately be thrown down has prophesied.

    This doesn’t say that captalism always leads to the right outcome, but it does provide a higher respect to personal ownership of property and labor, which does not interfer with the law of consecration.

    President Marion Romney spoke rather eloquently on this topic, with the approval of the rest of the Brethren.

    Ultimately, anyone arguing this issue is much less of an authority both of the scriptures, on consecration, caring for the poor, and the proper role of government, than he is.

    So your assertions rank much lower. If American cold war or political bias is to be attributed to prior authorities on these matters, then it’s no less attributed to those here in this thread as well. And they have the added weight of being authorized by God to speak to the people and did so for several generations.

    We’re clearly not focusing on it now for a variety of reasons. Some night think it’s because they sheepishly realized they were wrong. More likely that realized they have more important things to attend before continuing to teach in the proper role of government in a society that has rejected those teachings, and very often violently so, under serious threat of a multitude of government/media/social pressures.

    It’s been taught and there for those who have ears to hear. If you don’t have those ears, just focus on living a virtuous life, love your neighbor, and hearkening to the words of the moden day prophets.

  9. Ron:

    A couple of concerns with your post.

    1) I don’t think Sam (or, for that matter, Loursat) are inclined to set off on any genocidal rampages anytime soon. While I acknowledge that the tendency of Socialism to nearly uniformly end in the gulag (or bread line or hyperinflation and starvation) is a distressing one, it isn’t fair to put that on the heads of those who advocate for it now (or label them as psychopaths).

    2) We get nowhere unless we meet people where they are. Mussolini was a murderous socialist who claimed to make the trains run on time (he didn’t, in fact — that was propaganda). That doesn’t mean that those who advocate for trains running on time are murderous psychopaths. Likewise, even if socialists share goals with murderous dictators, we can safely assume that those shared goals don’t extend to the murder-part. So until Sam comes out directly and tells me his goal is genocide, I will assume he is essentially non-murderous and treat him accordingly.

    3) While I agree with you that socialism ends with camps and genocide (I think history is too uniform to doubt that, and the reliance on the mercantile systems of Scandinavia doesn’t dissuade me from that), I also think that many people who now advocate for socialism do so with a conviction that this time will be different and if they see that it will not they will step off that bandwagon before we get that far down the road. I have seen that in my own engagements with various (former) socialists who recently began acknowledging the destructive nature of the philosophy and turned into more traditional small-d democrats favoring a stronger safety net. While the socialist track inevitably leads to the Killing Fields, there are a lot of stops on the way and people of good will can and will get off the socialist train.

    4) “FAKE NEWS” Huh? Not sure what you mean by this? I am not aware of the news — fake or otherwise — in this opinion presented by Sam. I disagree with Sam and I think he is wrong, but there is nothing “fake news” going on here.

  10. LOL where did this get linked so quickly???

  11. Personally I love the idea of Satan being arrogant enough to say that he could do it without actually having figured out the how. I’d heard both the “everyone would be forced to be obedient” and the “nothing would be a sin you can do anything and still be saved” theories taught in Sunday School classes over the years, so confusion on this is not new to me.

    I support social safety net programs in part to deal with various societal/institutional/aggregate problems. Another reason is that while the Church does a lot of good with the time and money consecrated to it, it simply fails to engage systematically in other needed forms of support. This is especially true of long term issues such as long-term disability care. Thus to me, if I want to succor those in need of succor as I currently believe the Savior wants me to, I can’t do that by simply upping my fast offerings and other church contributions. I do hope that someday such care is institutionally organized rather than dependent on the abilities and willingness of local ward members, but I’m not holding my breath for it to be announced anytime soon.

  12. Jonathan,

    FAKE NEWS is to conflate the Lord’s imparative and goal of building Zion with socialism. There is no pure, clean, constructive, wholesome, lovely, socialism of good report. It is not something that just needs to be done better than in times past. Socialism is the tool to murder.

    116,000,000 murders must be such a big number that you or the author cannot contemplate the gravity of it. If you can contemplate all those destroyed lives and the family members of those Murdered along with all the scarred and broken family trees you would never defend anyone so calus.

    The authors post is unacceptable on any blog that supports or pretends to support Christian values in the least.

    It’s as bad and shameful as an alt-right article spouting racism and hatred.

  13. Happy Hubby says:

    Wow – these responses are amazing! As in crazy. There isn’t one type of socialism and there have been evil men (and women) in all types of governments. The real evil is when people are not able to have input into their governance.
    I had a good friend that went to work in Sweden for a few years. Something along the lines of this topic came up in Priesthood meeting. This brother had to “stop the show” and spent 20 minutes explaining what his experience of living there was. The Swedes LOVE the general way they are governed and look at countries like the US and just laugh at us. They consistently beat the crap out of the US and even the rest of the world in measures of happiness. Who cares if they have a big chunk of their paycheck sent to the government and in return they have a lot of services provided by the government. They have a huge peace of mind and a real sense of “we are all in this together” – even more than many do in the church. There are some people that would look at the US and the fact that we pay lots of taxes and get roads and basic education for nearly free. Does that make the US a socialist government? Before someone throws stones, they should go look where a socialistic government is working well and not judge them until then.
    And what is the most common trait that dictators in almost every form of government? They are men. Does that make all men evil?

  14. You must be a psychopath to say that it’s really hard to say that socialism destroyed moral agency of it’s people.

    Mao killed 45million.
    Hitler killed 11million if which 6million we’re Jews.
    Lenin/Stalin up to 60million.
    All socialist.

    ron, those murderous regimes had a lot of problems, but “too much collective ownership of the means of production” wasn’t responsible for the killing. Racism and hatred were the problems, not union dues, public housing projects or universal healthcare. Good grief.

    Socialism is the tool to murder.

    I’d be interested in hearing your views on gun control.

  15. They have a huge peace of mind and a real sense of “we are all in this together” – even more than many do in the church.

    Yep, and with that peace of mind and solidarity they go out and…drumroll, please…start companies, make money, plow some of that back into the common good, spend time with their families, enjoy their hobbies, start another company, make some more money and so on. It’s a real hellscape, as you can readily imagine.

  16. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I always chuckle when people equate capitalism with agency. A free market isn’t synonymous with freedom, and freedom isn’t the same thing as agency.

  17. Excellent post, Sam (with any luck, we’ll make a socialist of you yet). Too many good points–and too many idiotic statements–in the comments to fully engage, but let me throw fuel on the original post by pointing out that you’re far too kind to Benson’s ahistorical and manipulative “A Witness and a Warning.” In that sermon, he jingoistically associated God’s promises to the Nephites with the Monroe Doctrine, he falsely associated the idea of communism with the abolition of the family (read Acts 2 and then get back to me about that), he ridiculously linked the loss of America’s imperialistic control over the Panama Canal to the USSR’s domination of Eastern Europe, he leans heavily on an embarrassingly nationalistic First Presidency statement that all but explicitly said only patriotic (meaning “anti-communist”) Americans can be Mormons, and generally ranted like a pious, paranoid, proto-Tea Partier. When church leaders make statements–as Nelson and others have of late regarding the families of same-sex couples–that are obviously contrary to simple historical and sociological data, we call them out for it; those who rely Benson’s Cold War bugaboos to support assumptions about “Satan’s plan” deserve similar treatment.

  18. I yearn for a day when we all can disagree about something without calling it FAKE NEWS. In caps. You can disagree with something, even strongly so, without screaming FAKE NEWS. It’s not a helpful phrase and suggests that whoever is accused of FAKE NEWS is lying or deceitful. Should I respond by calling you “Lyin’ Jon?” Dude, find a better way to disagree.

  19. The idea that socialism is Satan’s plan come, in part, from an erroneous interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. Most people think he was saying “Hey, it would be really nice if we were one.” But he wasn’t. He was saying we are one as an immutable fact. We might try to live as though we weren’t one, which could cause us to say that social welfare programs are bad because we’re a**holes, but in that case, we’d be ignoring the proverbial lighthouse and breaking ourselves against the shores of our shared humanity. We should be in favor of social welfare programs because we are all separate manifestations of the same life force and so, to vote in favor of social welfare programs — to do ANYTHING that relieves the suffering of others — is to relieve our own suffering.

  20. While I agree with you that socialism ends with camps and genocide […] the reliance on the mercantile systems of Scandinavia doesn’t dissuade me from that […] While the socialist track inevitably leads to the Killing Fields, there are a lot of stops on the way and people of good will can and will get off the socialist train.

    I can’t believe I missed these gems in my first pass through the comments.

    At any rate, I’m curious why you are convinced that even the Scandinavian brand of socialism inevitably ends up in genocide; is it because you define “socialism” as “anything within six degrees of separation from genocide”? Once we get the definitions sorted, maybe you can explain to the people in the back like me how socialism is the salient feature of genocide; are you even willing to admit that perhaps other paths lead to genocide?

  21. Ron-

    Hitler was not a socialist. He was a fascist. On the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. Take a look at how he characterized the Soviets and you’ll see that he in fact hated the communists. He wrote about it at length in Mein Kampf.

    Every governmental system, whether far left, far right and everything in between, has allowed for the arbitrators of death and corruption at some time or another. What is for certain is that God will rule under none of them at the 2nd coming.

  22. Socialism is antithetical to the prosperity gospel, which I think is why it gets so much pushback amongst American Mormons. The idea that fatherless homes exist in a vacuum of individual choices, uninfluenced by capitalism, or that capitalism hasn’t also led to the deaths of millions of people (how many Americans can’t access basic healthcare? and have we forgotten slavery?) is untethered from reality.

  23. It always amazes me in these discussions that the freedoms discussed essentially boil down to freedom to own property and to do with it what I choose without interference from the state. This is not the only freedom with which we need to be concerned. There is a great freedom in knowing that if you or your family members are unwell and require professional health care it will be available free at the point of service. There are far more choices and opportunities open to a person who has to access education, available free at point of access for all children. And on it goes. In a fallen world of limited resources we all have to make compromises on our individual freedoms. Which freedoms we choose to prioritise, and for whom, we should carefully consider.

  24. Both “socialism=Satan’s plan” and “[socialism=Satan’s plan] is crazy stupid” are, I hope, hyperbole. That said, the latter is much closer to the truth than the former, in my opinion.

    A Mormon railing against socialism often (usually?) cites agency as the Godly principle that is violated. I’m inclined to think it is the other way around—that people who have already declared for capitalism (often the Randian objectivist form) find in “agency” a religious hook to make their argument.

    The problem with “agency” as a hook is that (as we all know, with a moment’s thought) agency as a “nature of humans in the scheme of things” descriptor means actor (full stop). Not actor without consequences. Not actor with commensurate consequences. Common sense and the wisdom of philosophy and scripture tells us otherwise. There are always consequences and they are almost never fair.

    But there is something in the complaints about socialism. It is not all crazy stupid. To my way of thinking, it goes to the problem of control. One of the (few) virtues of capitalism is that it scales. The “invisible hand” seems to work at all sizes (including international, which is causing serious feelings of dislocation in the 21st century). I continue to question whether socialism scales. I love the idea of common ownership, of labor controlling capital, of mutuality and according to need principles. But they seem to work best in smaller and/or cohesive ethno/social groups. At larger sizes and groups, the dangers of central control and racism (=isms in all forms) come to the fore. (I note the irony of a Mormon complaining about central control and racism.)

    I’m not sure there’s a solution in purer forms of socialism, and I think we stumble toward constrained capitalism or democratic socialism (and wonder whether the asymptotic forms are the same).

  25. Michael Austin says:

    I think that the standard “socialism is Satan’s plan” argument has two major problems: 1) it badly misunderstands socialism, and 2) it badly misunderstands Satan’s plan.

    “Socialism” is one of those huge concepts like “love” and “freedom” that means almost anything that anybody wants it to mean. The fact that it was associated with several of the 20th century’s most brutal dictatorships is certainly relevant to the discussion, but so does the fact that it is associated with some of the 20th and 21st century’s most successful, and free, democracies. Since both the Soviet Union and modern Norway can be described as “socialist,” it makes a lot of sense to understand the difference before using the word. A few points:

    **”Socialism” and “Communism” mean different things. Communism is a governing model that involves both economic and political structures. It involves one-party rule, state ownership of the means of production, and redistribution of wealth. On the last of these three things is involved in “socialism.”

    **Communist governments can be socialist. But so can any other form of government. Socialism means the redistribution of wealth or income after it has already been produced. It has nothing to do with the production of wealth. A country can be capitalist in its means of production and socialist in its means of distribution.

    **Socialism is not incompatible with capitalism. Capitalism means that the ownership of capital is in private hands. Socialism means that some portion of the income produced (whoever owns the capital) is redistributed through taxation. To place the two concepts in opposition is a category error.

    **Every country redistributes some of its wealth through taxation. Every country has always redistributed some of its wealth through taxation. This is what governments do. Even tribes and chiefdom and small bands of hunter-gatherers redistribute some wealth somehow. Socialism is not an either-or thing. It is scaleable. The question is not “Is country X ‘socialist.'” The question is, “How much income gets redistributed?”

    **Most democratic countries today redistribute 35-45% of income (not wealth) through taxation. The lowest countries (around 6-10%) are primarily what we would call “failed states” (Somalia, Afghanistan, etc.). Communist countries (China, Cuba) do not differ from liberal democracies. The United States is on the low end at 26%.

    **Along with socializing (redistributing) income, capitalist countries also socialize risk and negative externalities. An insurance-subsidized health care system, for example, drives the price of health care up and forces people who don’t have insurance to pay prices well above market value. Failing to regulate industrial emissions passes the costs of dirty air and water on to the general populace, who pay for it in lost wages, increased health care costs, and untimely deaths. Failing to regulate the banking industry socializes the risk of economic collapse. The idea that profits should be privatized while risk is socialized makes absolutely no sense from any standpoint at all, but it is where we are in the United States right now.

    **We currently socialize some things (K-12 education, roads, police and military protection, minimal retirement) but not others (health care). Deciding what to make part of the social fabric and what not to is why we have a government. If we were to increase from 26% redistribution to 31% redistribution of income in order to provide health care, this would be a rational and reasonable exercise of our free agency through the mechanism of self-government.

    Democracy means that people get to–and have to–make decisions. Living in an actual country means that people will pay some of their income in taxes and the government will provide some services as part of the social contract. Deciding what these services will be is why we have government. Being part of the decision is why we have a democracy. When we come together as citizens of a democracy to debate these things, we are exercising our political agency as it was intended to be exercised. Equating it to “Satan’s Plan”–the destruction of moral agency through some mechanism of making it impossible to disobey God–is just silly.

  26. Since the underlying principle of capitalism is self interest, and the greatest risk of socialism unrighteous dominion, it’s obvious that the problem isn’t the system but economics in general. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the economists.

  27. I continue to question whether socialism scales.

    I think that’s a fair question. There is this from Milton Friedman to consider, for example, which many European countries, especially in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis, are in the midst of doing:

    There is no doubt that free and open immigration is the right policy in a libertarian state, but in a welfare state it is a different story: the supply of immigrants will become infinite.

  28. I’m inclined to think that if you believe the “socialism=Satan’s plan argument,” there’s not really a way to make it apply only to socialism, as opposed to all governments and compulsory laws in general.

    The problem with “socialism” (usually meaning social safety nets) they say, is that it uses state power to restrict your choices, and that’s (somehow) the same as restricting your agency. And it doesn’t matter that the purpose of such programs is to do something that we all agree is good, because forcing people to do good is just so evil that it cancels is out.

    The problem is, all laws restrict our choices, whether they’re made and enforced in service of a capitalist system or something else. And even if our laws mostly just match basic morality, that doesn’t matter, according to the “socialism=Satan’s plan” logic, because forcing people to do good by enforcing laws that outlaw evil things takes away people’s ability to choose to do good.

    I mean, it’s a silly argument for lots of reasons, but if you are inclined to believe it, you’re either an anarchist or you don’t really believe it.

  29. Let’s see if I can’t respond to a few posts that were made while I slept.

    ethchr:
    “I support social safety net programs in part to deal with various societal/institutional/aggregate problems.”

    There is a difference between safety nets (even strong ones) and socialism.

    ron:

    ….I don’t think further engagement would be productive.

    Happy Hubby:

    “The Swedes LOVE the general way they are governed and look at countries like the US and just laugh at us.”

    The Nordic model is not socialism — listen to their leaders, who are pretty blunt about it. They have a capitalistic model with strong social nets and redistribution through high taxation (about 61%). We can have a discussion about the wisdom of that, but that is independent of the current dispute.

    But perhaps you don’t want to believe me? After all, I am clearly a silly right-winger. So what about the Danish Prime Minister. He said, “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,”

    “They consistently beat the crap out of the US and even the rest of the world in measures of happiness.”

    Yes, they do. But comparing the economic success and happiness of Swedes in Sweeden versus the economic success and happiness of Swedes in other countries, that difference largely goes away (in happiness) or more than goes away (Swedes in America are wealthier than Swedes in Sweeden). So the question becomes what is culture and what is the economic system.

    “Before someone throws stones, they should go look where a socialistic government is working well and not judge them until then.”

    Again, social safety nets are not socialist. Normally I hear this from the other side (‘we favor strong safety nets, but that doesn’t make us socialists!’) so it is odd that I am the one who needs to keep saying it. Capitalism with safety nets and welfare programs may or may not be wise, but socialism leads to the gulag. It has failed everyone who has tried it, everywhere people have had it imposed on them, everywhere it has been tried.

    Russell Arben Fox:

    Before going into a discussion with you, we ought to clarify shared assumptions. Do you believe in the priesthood authority and sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer, and revelator? There are two ways to respond to your post, and it depends on your answer to this question which is appropriate.

    Sch:

    “I yearn for a day when we all can disagree about something without calling it FAKE NEWS. In caps.”

    As do I. While I believe in the leftward slant of media (primarily in what they choose to cover and not cover — creating a worldview that many on the left get stuck in because they aren’t exposed to other ideas), that doesn’t mean that fake news is the equivalent of anything you don’t like. To decry what is clearly an opinion piece with the title of fake news (or FAKE NEWS) isn’t productive. Opinions can be right or wrong, defensible or indefensible, but they are neither news nor fake.

    “Should I respond by calling you “Lyin’ Jon?””

    Excuse me, I am pretty sure you meant lying ron, here. Don’t conflate us.

    The Dove:

    “We should be in favor of social welfare programs because we are all separate manifestations of the same life force and so, to vote in favor of social welfare programs — to do ANYTHING that relieves the suffering of others — is to relieve our own suffering.”

    This is very close to Hugh Nibley’s view. Where it runs afoul of reality, in my opinion, is by two things. On the one hand, here on Earth we have to deal with scarcity (which is not the condition in Heaven, to our understanding). And second, here on Earth, we have to deal with wicked leaders and evil in high places preying on covetousness and envy and laziness and a host of other human foibles.

    In short, I agree with your premise (we are called upon to do anything that relieves the suffering of others) but dispute your conclusion (that socialism is the way to relieve the suffering of others). In our fallen world socialism, despite its surface similarity to the economy of God, leads to barbarism and horror — adding to suffering, rather than taking away from it.

    Peterllc:

    “At any rate, I’m curious why you are convinced that even the Scandinavian brand of socialism inevitably ends up in genocide;”

    I’m not — I am convinced that the Nordic model is not socialist. Mostly because it is not socialist — it is capitalist with a strong safety net and an aggressive welfare state. But, as stated above, don’t take my word for it — listen to those practicing the Nordic model (who say it is not socialist), the Economist magazine (who have published articles about how it is not socialist), Forbes (same thing), and so forth. I find it very telling, however, that for a socialist like Bernie Sanders to find a socialist regime that doesn’t lead to famine and horror, he had to go to a group of countries that aren’t actually socialist. Pretty telling.

    “Once we get the definitions sorted, maybe you can explain to the people in the back like me how socialism is the salient feature of genocide; are you even willing to admit that perhaps other paths lead to genocide?”

    There are other paths to genocide — racial hatred being the second most common (behind socialism). All socialism leads to horror, but not all horror is created by socialism.

    The Claw:

    “Hitler was not a socialist. He was a fascist. On the complete opposite side of the political spectrum.”

    The red shirts and brown shirts were a street battle between nationalist socialists (the Nazis) who believed in socialism at the national level (Mussolini’s “Everything is the state, nothing is outside the state, nothing is allowed against the state”) and the international socialists (the communists) who believed in socialism around the world. The Fascist’s belief in national and ethnic supremacy is why it is considered right wing (unfairly, in my opinion) but to say a philosophy that espoused nationalized control of industry, the interest of the state above the individual, opposition to free market, opposition to international trade, and so forth is the opposite of socialism isn’t realistic.

    “Take a look at how he characterized the Soviets and you’ll see that he in fact hated the communists.”

    The international socialists (communists) was the largest impediment to his rise to power.

    Incidentally, that is the fear many who read history have with current conflicts in the street. Antifa fighting white nationalists is terrifying because this battle happened before between brown shirts and red shirts and whichever side (brown in Germany, red elsewhere) won ended up sending a couple people to death camps.

    Olea:

    “Socialism is antithetical to the prosperity gospel, which I think is why it gets so much pushback amongst American Mormons.”

    While I cannot speak to the opposition at large with socialism, I have no time for the prosperity Gospel. Yes, God often blesses us with riches. But He also blesses us with trials and He also tries us with riches. Living comfortably is a blessing from God, so long as we continue to look to Him, but that doesn’t not mean in any way that we can look at wealth or its absence as a sign of God’s favor. Some of the most righteous people in this world live in abject poverty — and, if we believe Alma, live far happier than many rich people who have turned from God.

    “The idea that fatherless homes exist in a vacuum of individual choices, uninfluenced by capitalism, or that capitalism hasn’t also led to the deaths of millions of people (how many Americans can’t access basic healthcare? and have we forgotten slavery?) is untethered from reality.”

    This response is untethered from history. Looking solely at black fatherlessness, it remained low and constant through slavery and through Jim Crow. It drastically increased when the war on poverty began, as people from the government literally went door to door telling blacks that they could get more government assistance if there wasn’t a father in the house.

    As to slavery, it was evil. To the extent that capitalism was responsible for it then or now, that is on capitalism.

    Hedgehog:

    “There is a great freedom in knowing that if you or your family members are unwell and require professional health care it will be available free at the point of service.”

    There is, especially in the Gospel sense (but in a more worldly sense as well) a big difference between a positive and a negative freedom. Freedom to is always higher placed that freedom from, and it should be.

    ChristianKimball:

    “The problem with “agency” as a hook is that (as we all know, with a moment’s thought) agency as a “nature of humans in the scheme of things” descriptor means actor (full stop). Not actor without consequences.”

    This is your linchpin, and if this premise is correct your conclusion is sound. I disagree with this premise, however. There is a difference between free agency (which we clumsily speak of in the Church and which is an agency that all God’s creation has — see D&C 93) and moral agency (which is unique to us as children of God). If Satan was attempting to elimination free agency (the thing that lets me scratch an itch when I want or which my cats use to decide where exactly to cough up a hairball), your argument is valid. But by my reading Satan is attempting to eliminate moral agency, which goes to accountability and consequence. If everyone gets back to God because our life in mortality is stripped of moral consequence, then moral agency is destroyed. What’s more, it is not clear that Satan (or God) has the capacity to eliminate free agency while it is at least conceivable to me that he could strip moral agency (to our detriment). The former doesn’t seem like it could lure a third part of Heaven with it, while I can see the allure of the latter.

    Anyhow, I have run out of time here. Sorry for the long-winded reply, but I thought the topic deserved a fair response.

  30. Brother Sky says:

    Great post, Sam. And the comments are, um, illuminating, I suppose I would say. Loursat’s point about it’s all Satan’s plan is an interesting notion. But here’s my two cents:

    Capitalism as it’s currently practiced certainly has nothing to do with Christ’s teachings. What we have in the US is, IMHO, some sort of crony capitalism, where there rhetoric of such terms as “free market” and “equal opportunity for all” and “competition leads to innovation and lower prices which benefits the consumer” obscure the fact that we live in what is essentially an oligarchy, where a decreasing number of people wield an increasing amount of economic (and political) power and also own a disproportionate percentage of capital and goods. That’s nothing like the kingdom of Heaven, at least the vision I have of it. And of course, it’s this rhetoric, as a few folks have pointed out, that gives rise to prejudice against anyone who isn’t seen as a full contributor, meaning we are making moral judgements about their economic circumstances and abilities, which both Christ and King Benjamin expressly forbid us from doing.

    And re socialism vs. capitalism being favored by God: Some good distinctions being made about socialism and how the Nordic countries do things That’s important. Also, however, if we take the caveats and worldly distortions out of capitalism and socialism, how can we say that the one system that is all about rewarding individual initiative and innovation and enriching that person is the system closest to what Christ would have? In a way, I suppose it makes sense. Mormonism teaches that Heaven is the place where you become an even more awesome version of yourself (perfected body, so no need for sit ups and cardio, perfected spirit, etc.) and you get lots of cool stuff (like, you know, lots of “blessings,” whatever they may be so capitalism, I suppose, seems eminently logical. IMHO, however, this is all wrong. If we do things here on earth for a heavenly reward and the hope of amassing a number of good will points from God that will then lead to awesome blessings that can increase (like financial investments) the more righteous we are, then we’ve really got to shift our thinking on how all this works. I don’t know that socialism is the answer, either, but any system that doesn’t vilify taking care of the poor or needy and is less about amassing large amounts of personal wealth is probably more likely to be favored by the heavenly powers that be.

    Thanks for a great post.

  31. “If you’re not a fan of socialism, by all means, make substantive arguments against it (though please don’t bother in the comments to this post—that entirely misses the point of the post!).”

    Nice try anyway, Sam. And we LOVE stupid truisms.

  32. Thanks for your response, Jonathan.

    I find it very telling, however, that for a socialist like Bernie Sanders to find a socialist regime that doesn’t lead to famine and horror, he had to go to a group of countries that aren’t actually socialist. Pretty telling.

    Bernie is a socialist but Sweden et al. are not? I have a feeling that we have some equivocation going on here.

    I mean, in what way is an electable American politician who calls for free college tuition, affordable housing, the protection of women’s rights and a living wage more socialist than a group of countries that actually have policies in place that result in free college tuition, affordable housing, the protection of women’s rights and a living wage?

    All socialism leads to horror

    I still have no idea why you believe this must be the case. What is it about socialism—however defined (which I believe still needs work; see above)—that inexorably leads to genocide?

  33. Jonathan, untreated ill health, lack of education both limit freedom to do a great many things one might otherwise choose to do.

  34. Dante's Shadow says:

    I know the topic is socialism and satan’s plan, but I want to touch on Satan’s assertion that “no soul would be lost”. My feeling is that this, and many other of satan’s assertions, is false. Whether through deliberate deception or an incomplete plan, it doesn’t matter if the plan wouldn’t have worked. As a loving father myself, I would find it difficult to believe the the Loving Father of all mankind would pass on a plan that really would allow all his children to be saved and become like Him. So, bottom line, I think satan’s plan was to take away agency, and his false claim was that it would work.

    Acknowledging that satan is the father of all lies, I try to take all his statements with some incredulity… such as when he claims “surely I will do this [save all mankind]”, or that those that fail to keep covenants are in his power. I don’t think so. Again, these are just my two bits

  35. I, too grow tired of hearing Socialism to Satan’s plan.

    “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man,”

    Satan sought to destroy agency. Agency and freedom are different from each other.

    Dallin H. Oaks explained:
    “First, because free agency is a God-given precondition to the purpose of mortal life, no person or organization can take away our free agency in mortality.”
    and
    “We have to accept some government limitations on freedom if we who live in communities are to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A condition of uninhibited individual freedom would allow the strong to oppress the weak. It would allow the eccentric desires of one person to restrict the freedom of many.”
    (https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/dallin-h-oaks_free-agency-freedom/)

    Along the spectrum of societal systems we can view communism on one end and, perhaps libertarianism on the other end of the spectrum. The question boils down to where on that spectrum lies the optimal system?

    When I look around the world, I would much rather live in a country that protects our shared resources such as water and the air we breathe. I also see that luck plays a huge role in my life and the lives of others. We often overlook the fact that poverty can have lifelong negative consequences on the physiological development of children.

    I would much rather live in a country that collects taxes (we all “chip” in) to be used to help educate, feed or house those who are less fortunate. Notably, our social welfare programs have lifted elderly people out of poverty.

    Of course, there will always be those that “abuse’ the system. We need to continually seek ways to thwart that abuse.

  36. Jonathan,

    Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reply. I think you’re profoundly in the wrong about a great deal, but I admire the diligence you show in identifying points of disagreement with so many of the claims in this thread.

    Do you believe in the priesthood authority…”

    To do what? To turn historically, politically, socio-economically, and conceptually flawed comments into accurate ones which are worthy of my agreement and support? No.

    …and sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer, and revelator?

    Yes. I believe Benson was president of the church with the institutional right and authority to proclaim prophecy and revelation. I also believe he was completely wrong about almost everything in this sermon. Is that a contradiction?

    In what way is an electable American politician [namely, Senator Sanders] who calls for free college tuition, affordable housing, the protection of women’s rights and a living wage more socialist than a group of countries [including, for example, Sweden] that actually have policies in place that result in free college tuition, affordable housing, the protection of women’s rights and a living wage?

    I think Peter raises the most interesting point in this whole thread, Jonathan. You have societies that do things that, when discussed in the American context, are regularly called “socialist,” but in their own contexts are almost never called “socialist.” And you have people–people who call themselves, and who are called by others, “socialists”–who call for the sorts of things which are labeled, in the American context, “socialist,” though they are not so labeled in the societies themselves. Finally, we have your assertion that “socialism” leads, always and inevitably, to chaos, tyranny, and the Gulag, even though none of those things have happened in the countries that do the things widely labeled in the U.S. as “socialism,” and which are called for by the people who call themselves, and who called by others, “socialist.” So there are multiple inconsistencies here, which would require some clarification of definitions. I hope you will provide such.

  37. Jonathan, contra RAF, I’d rather you not.

    Thanks, all, for the great comments! And, I guess, for the terrible ones. I’m out of pocket today, so I apologise if I don’t respond directly to you, or moderate people who deserve moderation.

    That stays, if you’re doing the FAKE NEWS thing, I’m going to delete your comments at some point. And if you’re making absurd comments about the inevitable path of socialism –> mass slaughter, will, that’s stupid. But not as stupid as calling Hitler a socialist.

    Anyway, the post doesn’t have anything to do with the merits or not of a particular economic system; it’s about poor scriptural exegesis. And also, I’ll likely delete stupid comments eventually. So don’t free the trolls.

  38. “It’s even possible (HORROR!) that he didn’t actually have a fully-formed plan; maybe he was bidding for the job first, and, if he got it, he’d figure out what to do with it.”

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were talking about Donald Trump, not Satan. But what’s the difference?

    But, on a slightly different topic, let me throw this out for you to think about. Communism (not socialism) and capitalism are actually quite similar in many regards. They concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few, and they are both authoritarian systems. Capitalism doesn’t have to be authoritarian, but it almost always turns out that way in practice (for obvious reasons). Consequently, there are very few capitalist businesses, from tiny sole proprietorships to giant multinational corporations, that are not authoritarian institutions. In fact, almost all of you readers work for authoritarian organizations, or are perhaps authoritarian owners or managers of businesses. In that sense, capitalism is actually quite incompatible with our political system and social ideals.

  39. Sam: fascinating analysis, appreciate the criticism of poor scriptural exegesis and the point that socialism is rarely accurately defined. The comments section has been a fantastic microcosm of differing perspectives on what socialism means. If anyone wants to do some reading: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf.

    Jonathan, I do not agree that socialism has a basis in “deni[al] that differences in results and opportunities can be traced back to different aggregate decisions (fatherless homes, for example)”. Implied above, I prefer a Marxist definition of socialism, which is largely based in determination of ownership of the means of production. At best, a Marxist perspective requires some significant reaching to tie to the interpretation and intention you gave here.

    Further, Jon, I’m perplexed that you make such a distinction between US welfare systems/Nordic ones and socialism on the one hand (I’d agree with you there, as would Sam), while on the other saying that it’s the US welfare systems which created the fatherless homes, your only given example of denial of choice in socialism. You seem to imply that it is the US safety net which you think is born of this denial of choice and accountability and not actually socialism. This, and a means of production definition of socialism, severely weaken your argument that socialism itself is born of a denial of choice and therefore similar to Satan’s plan.

  40. I think those who champion capitalism as the purest form of allowing people to capture the fruits of their labors ought to be careful about where that leads them. When someone declares I created this and therefore it is mine and only mine, they run the risk of jumping right down the path of idolatry that the Lord warned us all about in His preface to the Doctrine & Covenants. What are the two great commandments? Love God and love your neighbor. Where do those efforts lead us? In D&C 1:7-19 the Lord calls us all out as walking in our own way in what is that very American concept of being a self made person who has no obligations to others around us. Emerson most rightly elucidated this thought in his essay “Self Reliance” which reflects the minds of Americans when Joseph gave voice to the Lord’s mind in 1831:

    Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

    The argument most Mormons pursue with regards to Socialism – as evidenced in this thread – are concerns about unjustly giving to others something they did not earn. That doing so would create a lazy society utterly dependent on the government and leading to the loss of control. To them, the very idea that we would provide a social net is antithetical to the concept of self reliance as taught in the scriptures and related by the Prophets.

    And yet, was it not King Benjamin who declared we are all unprofitable servants? Did he not declare that it is not for us to judge the poor who make a petition? Was he not echoing the words of the Savior who in his parable of the Unforgiving Servant declared in Matt 18-21-35? “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?”

    Be careful about declaring the strength of the arm of flesh and what it provides to you. As many have discovered, that flesh can quickly weaken and suddenly you are no longer capable of caring for yourself in spite of best laid plans and preparation. Suddenly you’ll be praying there is a strong social net to support you in that time of need. Providing this is not socialism. It is the Christian mandate.

  41. Mike Maxwell says:

    Socialism simply does not work. Just read your 20th century history. The planet tried it and the result was economic chaos and unprecedented genocide. That seems to meet the definition of “Satan’s Plan” in my book. (Mormons tried it in the 19th century and it was a train wreck, though no genocide) Conversely, capitalism has brought this world the greatest exit from extreme poverty on record. In 1960, when there was a still a question as to whether socialism or capitalism was a better system, 50% of God’s children lived in extreme poverty (equivalent of < $1 a day in 2018 US$). Today, that number is 9% and continuing to fall. https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty I believe God's plan is what works, not what is ideologically appealing.

  42. Kristine N says:

    “You have less control over your property and your ability to produce wealth (ie your labor) than your parents did, and they less than their parents likely did. In other words the means of production do not belong to you, whether it’s the sweat of your brow or your property.”

    Are you sure you’re talking about socialism/communism here? That sounds like a pretty accurate description of the erosion of labor rights under capitalism to me.

    As for agency, I’ve often wondered if we use our agency as a group to choose to implement a social safety net/socialism, is that not in keeping with agency? I prefer living under a more socialist country (Australia) where a chunk of my income gets redistributed to ensure that everyone has a decent minimum standard of living. If I’m in support of that, and use my agency to choose that, and most people around me agree with that choice and make it themselves, how does that choice abrogate our agency?

    Just an observation: when we moved to Adelaide from San Diego it was a year before I recognized homeless people on the street. Part of that, I’m sure, was that I didn’t really go to the places where lots of homeless people hang out, but a big part was that homeless people in Adelaide just look better cared for.

  43. nobody, really says:

    “The only problem with socialism is that the right people haven’t been in charge of it. Until now. It will work this time, for sure.”
    -Every socialist, ever

  44. nobody, really Hate to break it to you, but I know plenty of socialists who never said that and will never say that. Your absolutist attitude breaks down your boogey-man ‘argument.’ Which, actually, happens with almost all of these arguments railing on socialism. It’s quite pathetic.

    Mike Maxwell. Some of us do read history. Apparently we’re reading different histories or at least have different definitions of socialism. We aren’t ignoramuses here. I mean, ‘the planet’ tried. Wow.

  45. Love the post Sam. I know this is not the comment thread you wanted but I think it is the comment thread we all deserve :)

    As to the point of your post – I agree and would caution anyone who is sure they know the minds of God, Jesus, or Satan and applies that knowledge to politics – or economic theories. I catch myself doing it too and it is almost always speculative and baseless. And even if we do feel sure about what God or Jesus would do, we should be doubly cautious in using deity or scriptures to win policy arguments. If you can’t argue that something is bad without bringing Satan into it then you are doing something wrong.

  46. I’ll take one more stab at responding (I think the discussion, for the most part, has been productive) and will then bow out — it is pretty clear from his comment that the author does not find my comments useful.

    Peterllc:

    “I mean, in what way is an electable American politician who calls for free college tuition, affordable housing, the protection of women’s rights and a living wage more socialist than a group of countries that actually have policies in place that result in free college tuition, affordable housing, the protection of women’s rights and a living wage?”

    The bulk of what is advocated by government fiat (minimum wage, for example) by Bernie Sanders is achieved through negotiation between unions and employers in the Nordic model. But, in a larger context, Sanders advocates a system “where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire” (his words — this is straight Marxist socialism). This is distinct from capitalism and distinct from the Nordic model.

    “I still have no idea why you believe this must be the case. What is it about socialism—however defined (which I believe still needs work; see above)—that inexorably leads to genocide?”

    I suppose if I knew the answer I could craft a solution and win a Nobel prize. My guess is that socialism, by reversing the typical ownership of capital through government fiat ultimately consolidates power in the hands of a government which inevitably encourages tyranny. Add to that a habit of advocating for socialism through class envy, which demands that new offenses be found indefinitely in order to maintain power, and it just seems to follow.

    But I have to admit what I do not know — and I don’t know why it happens. Just that historically it has 100% of the time. It seems foolish to ignore that.

    Russell Arben Fox:

    “Yes. I believe Benson was president of the church with the institutional right and authority to proclaim prophecy and revelation. I also believe he was completely wrong about almost everything in this sermon. Is that a contradiction?”

    It is not a contradiction — we believe in fallible prophets. But you have a high burden to clear if you want to hold that position. You criticized his citation of the Monroe Doctrine — you do realize it wasn’t just him (and he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time of this talk), but it was also President Joseph Fielding Smith who declared that to be prompted by God. Countless leaders have also said that the Constitution was similarly inspired.

    Your criticisms, then, need to be very well-founded before you should discount the words of a prophet. You say “he falsely associated the idea of communism with the abolition of the family” but that doesn’t square with Engels, who said “the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike, whether they are legitimate or not” — expressly advocating the dissolution of the family as the basic societal building block. So your dismissal of his statement contradicts the philosophical backbone of the ideology — not to mention the historical reality of what communism actually did.

    You also state that “he leans heavily on an embarrassingly nationalistic First Presidency statement that all but explicitly said only patriotic (meaning “anti-communist”) Americans can be Mormons” but you don’t address the merits of his contention. The First Presidency statement, “Since Communism, established, would destroy our American Constitutional government, to support Communism is treasonable to our free institutions, and no patriotic American citizen may become either a Communist or supporter of Communism,” is a published statement from the First Presidency and should not be idly dismissed. Where is the logic of that statement deficient?

    Long story short, if you accept President Benson was inspired at the time he said this (and note that he was not the President of the Church when he gave this talk — this, to me, is your strongest argument), then you have a high, heavy burden to show he is wrong. He is a prisoner of his age, true. But so are you. The difference being that God picked him instead of you. That isn’t a minor difference.

    “So there are multiple inconsistencies here, which would require some clarification of definitions. I hope you will provide such.”

    But…

    Sam Brunson:

    “Jonathan, contra RAF, I’d rather you not.”

    In deference to the author, I’ll respect his request.

    “And if you’re making absurd comments about the inevitable path of socialism –> mass slaughter, will, that’s stupid. But not as stupid as calling Hitler a socialist.”

    Easy to call someone a troll, or call them stupid. That being said, I have tried to both respectfully and intelligently argue a contrary position — to dismiss that as stupid (without responding to the criticism) strikes me as unfair and unserious. But, this is your house and I will respect your rules.

    KLN:

    “You seem to imply that it is the US safety net which you think is born of this denial of choice and accountability and not actually socialism. ”

    In deference to the author’s request, I won’t go more in depth into that one. I think I addressed your criticism above, however. I largely share your definitions but see the problem is the underlying assumptions and worldview — don’t overread into a particular example that I used.

    Alain:

    Seriously, read Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley. He is a staunch, literalist believer. Many of your critiques are more fully developed in that book. You aren’t altogether wrong, and we won’t be capitalists in the hereafter.

    “Suddenly you’ll be praying there is a strong social net to support you in that time of need. Providing this is not socialism.”

    I agree that it is not socialism.

    With that, I will bow out. Thanks to those who engaged respectfully.

  47. I remember in Seminary the Seminary teacher walking the line between communism and the law of consecration, and talked about how in the law of consecration that everyone’s needs would be provided for, and then anyone who made surplus would get to keep the surplus. To me the closest we’re going to get to that is going to be a progressive tax which can supply basic needs to everyone. Which if you propose that as a plan in America, 46% of the country shouts you down as being a tyrannical socialist who is trying to tread on their freedoms.
    I get that we’re not going to hit 100% law of consecration in mortality, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use it as a guiding star.

  48. Saying stuff is a version of Satan’s Plan is the Mormon version of comparing stuff to Hitler. It’s a little bit worse, though, because it really is possible for human beings to be like Hitler. But no human government has the power to remove or destroy moral agency, even if they wanted to. To suggest that they can gives way too much power to human institutions. God and Satan were arguing about how moral choices were structured within the constraints that exist. Government is one of the forces that creates the constraints within which we operate. I may really hate the fact that 30% of my income is withheld to pay for roads and schools and health care. But the fact that it is has no bearing on whether or not I have the ability to make moral choices and accept the consequences. The ability to make moral choices exists at exactly the same level in any kind of society and under any type of government. If it didn’t, it would mean that Satan won the war.

  49. Jonathan, perhaps you don’t know about the behind the scenes responses from the first presidency to Elder Benson’s political statements in conference? Look for them in Harold B Lee and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Gregory Prince). You will find that there was significant pushback. Also, once he was the president, such comments disappeared. Your arguments and discussion about prophetic statements, etc. are empty in the face of history.

  50. Johnathan, it’s unfortunate that you intend to bow out, as you did not address my larger point that a Marxist definition of socialism is difficult to tie to the worldview and attitude that you claim it springs from.

  51. Thanks, Sam, for the lovely post. So much twitch-worthy stuff in that comparison. I’d like to offer a couple parallel presentism that I hope will displace that one.

    I want to understand the origins of political storytelling in Ancient Rome: namely, was Zeus on team NATO or the Warsaw Pact?

    Also, what was competition like among ancient Olympians–was it more like Manchester United or Real Madrid?

    Also, when I think about the pressures involved in tectonic abduction, should I think about the conflicts I see on Twitter or Snapchat?

    Which one was the bigger driver of the agricultural revolution–high-fructose corn syrup or genetically modified organisms?

    It is almost as if telling our ur-narratives with a vocabulary that rests on conflicts a couple generations old is presentist and not exactly optimal.

    It is almost as if the people who most loudly insist on a hard binary divide between socialism and capitalism are either Karl Marx himself or capitalists who have not read Marx. Curious bedfellows!

  52. Ben Peters says:

    Thanks, Sam, for the lovely post. So much twitch-worthy in the comparison between socialism and capitalism in the ur-narrative of the Mormon faith. May I humbly offer a few equivalent questions for comparison? Perhaps these could displace such discussions?

    Was Zeus on team Nato or team Warsaw Pact?
    Were ancient Olympians fans of Real Madrid or Manchester United?
    Is tectonic abduction more like Twitter or Snapchat conflicts?
    Was the agricultural revolution driven more by GMOs or high-fructose corn syrup?

    It is almost as if a vocabulary based on conflicts a couple generations old may not do much to mature our narratives of self-understanding as a faith…

    It is almost as if those who most loudly insist on the opposition between capitalism and socialism are Karl Marx and all those capitalists who have not seriously read any Marx…. curious bedfellows!

  53. Most entertaining comment section for BCC ever.

    But what happened to Ron? Somebody tell Ron to come back …

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