I haven’t been posting much, and I plan on keeping this one short too.
In previous posts I have developed a four-fold taxonomy of moral discourse and I would like to basically apply this same taxonomy to the sources of our stewardships. From what source do we derive our shared ideas regarding the boundaries of our responsibilities and freedoms? Here are four non-exhaustive and non-exclusive options:
1.We inherit our stewardships from the past.
This one is generally associated with a Burkean kind of conservativism. This idea correlates to the inheritance of property, nobility, even parenthood. This source is alive and well within the church today as can be seen in our attempts to situate ourselves within a patriarchal priesthood by means of genealogical research. The parallels between this and the feudal inheritance of nobility should be pretty obvious. In this case, my authority is legitimized in terms of a rich traditions, ancestors and covenants of the past. Indeed, many people in the early church rejected Joseph Smith’s right to radically alter the traditions that they had inherited form the past, including those found within the Bible.
2. Our stewardships are dictated to us by authority figures.
This one is generally more associated with a continental royalism that eventually found expression in the form of Fascism, but also has many contemporary expressions as well. These freedoms and responsibilities are legitimized in terms of the person who assigned them. Assigning chores, hiring employees, choosing jurors, choosing successors, the power of attorney, and receiving callings within the church are all examples of this. It is tempting to think that this form involves an infinite regress, but this is not the case; “because X said so!” stops the regress in practice. In such cases, my stewardship is legitimized by the claim that I represent that higher authority, it being a form of delegation.
3. Our stewardships flow from our individual experience and competencies.
This one has a pretty interesting (and short) history. It flows from the idea of maker’s knowledge in that through the very act of mixing one’s labor with materials one comes to have both knowledge of and sovereignty over the product of my labor. This is famously found within Locke’s philosophy but Marx’s idea of exploitation relies upon it as well. Bentham and Paley’s utilitarianism definitely traces this conceptual thread as well. This source of stewardship is somewhat ambiguous within the Mormon tradition. On the one hand, we are completely free to live our lives how we see fit and we are also promised that the Lord will not command us in all things. On the other hand, we often see many of the more educated trying to exercise stewardship along the lines of their own competencies in the name of “rationality”, “efficiency” or some other modern value. Indeed, it seems almost axiomatic to our modern sensibilities that if we “do not know what we are talking about” then we ought to have no voice on the matter at all. Ultimately, this form of legitimation is an appeal to “nature” since it is through experience and expertise (the two words are VERY related) that I come to know and control that part of nature and its laws within my stewardship.
4. We have stewardship to the extent that it effects us.
This one is most associated with participatory democracy as found in Rousseau, Kant and collectivist thinking in the self-legislation of the group plays a major role. This is the idea that if it affects me, regardless of whether I’m qualified or not, I should have a say it. Many revolutionaries appeal to this in their claims to represent “the people” which is basically a more inclusive version of the second form. A bridge between this source of stewardship and the third can be found in John Stuart Mill’s modification of Bentham’s utilitarianism when the former claimed that we are free not just over that which we have personal knowledge or property, but to the extent that our actions effect others (each man were convinced that their own version would lead to the best consequences). The principle of common consent within the church definitely seems to be a rather limited expression of this form of legitimation. Other times, however, this right to withhold consent is expanded in the form of social activism whereby pressure is democratically brought against the current leadership and policies of the church.
Obviously these sources are mixed and matched within pretty much any culture worthy of the name. There is also the possibility that I may have missed some other source of stewardship.