From Civic to Liberal Republicanism: John Locke and the Dutch

September 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:19 pm   Category: Calvinism,Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Politics

This is the 4th part in my series whereby I roughly follow Jerry Muller’s Thinking About Capitalism, in order to bring socio-economic and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s political taxonomy.  Here is the political spectrum that I have been working with:


Last post I discussed how Machiavelli, Hobbes and various religious thinkers contributed to the transvaluation of Civic Republican virtue into the modern “virtue” of self-interest.  This post will discuss the ways in which the 17th Century Dutch experience in general and – even though Muller strangely ignores him – John Locke in particular transformed the aristocratic Civic Republicanism into the middle-class Liberal Republicanism that would later form the very heart of the American constitution. (more…)

A Genealogy of Self-Interest: Machiavelli and Hobbes

This is the third post in my series where I appropriate Jerry Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” to bring socioeconomics and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s social-psychological account of political differences. Briefly, on the right is a very rough, graphical depiction of Haidt’s tripartite political taxonomy. On the left is my taxonomy which is (with huge caveats that I won’t elaborate upon here) the vertical mirror image of Haidt’s:


Paternalism = Theocratic Chiefdom (Traditional Segmentation)
Abs. = Absolute Monarchy
Const. = Constitutional Monarchy
Individualism = Libertarianism (Classical Liberalism)
Welf. = Welfare State Liberalism
Soc. = Socialism
Fraternalism = Anarchism (“Utopian” Communism)
Mult. = Multi-Cultural Humanism
Civ. = Civic Republicanism (Aristocratic Humanism)
Nat. = Nationalism

To be sure, no 2-dimensional political spectrum could ever include every nuance or exception to every rule.  As such, these circles and boundaries are suggestive, high-level generalizations intended to function as entry points and primers rather than the definitive, last word on any such position. (more…)

Greek/Christian Condemnations of Profit/Usury

September 12, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 4:29 pm   Category: Ethics,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

(This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to the relationship between Mormonism and capitalism.)

Last post I proposed to frame the history of capitalism around the tensions between self-interested exchange and reciprocal charity – two very different and mutually incompatible ways of organizing social relations.  This tension is best illustrated by a father who will not provide for his family unless somebody can answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”  To be sure, some classical liberals have sought to actually answer this question, but I think most of us think the very act of asking the question (let alone trying to answer it) is, at best, morally problematic.

The question that capitalism forces upon us is the extent to which we want to model social relations on familial reciprocity or on contractual exchange?  Which is the rule and which is the exception, and when is it the exception?  Muller’s second lecture, “The Greek and Christian Traditions,” is aimed at describing how medieval society insisted that we organize economic relations around household relations as both the Civic Republican and Christian traditions dictated. It is against this moral background that the modern advocacy of capitalism and the radical trans-valuation of morals that it entailed should be understood.  The questions which we Mormons ought to ask ourselves are: 1) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations presuppose the traditional condemnations of profit and usury? and 2) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations support the radical trans-valuation by which these condemnations were overthrown?  (more…)

Capitalism and the United Order – Pt. 1

September 8, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

This will be a new series of relatively short posts that will center around Jerry Z. Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” (follow the link for transcripts of the first 18 lectures).   In previous posts, I have strongly recommended his “The Mind and the Market“, and I wish to reiterate that recommendation.  While there is a lot of overlap between the lecture series and the book, I will stick to the former since 1) it breaks things down into manageable, 4,000 word chunks and 2) it doesn’t require anybody to go out and buy a book.  For these and other reasons, I strongly suggest that people read the lectures that I have linked above.

First, a little overview of what to expect.  Muller is an intellectual historian who has a clear but guarded preference for free-market capitalism.  He knows that capitalism is not perfect and is fraught with several dangers and moral costs, but thinks that its benefits justify those costs.  Like most liberals (I will insist upon the European sense of this term while reserving “socialist” for left-wing despisers of the free market), he has a tendency to draw strong connections and parallels between right and left-wing critics of free market liberalism.  While we should be on guard for this, his approach does provide a lot of historical context and continuity to various left-wing criticisms of capitalism.  Now, moving on…. (more…)

The Meaning and Morals of Marriage

August 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

Terrence Deacon’s classic work, The Symbolic Species, is a very interesting synthesis of 1) Peircean semiotics, 2) a socio-anthropological account of morals and 3) a very traditional understanding of marriage.  It is thus quite surprising to me that this confluence of symbols, morals and marriage within a text as widely cited as Deacon’s has gone almost entirely unnoticed within the LDS community.  Starkly put, if ever there was a naturalistic and historical argument to be made for the sanctity of marriage, this is it.

Since my goal is primarily to explicate rather than appropriate Deacon’s ideas, the quote-to-exposition ratio in this post will be quite high. Before getting to those quotes, however, let me first summarize Deacon’s account, if only to provide a roadmap for what is to come:

All and only humans have been able to combine 1) cooperative hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity.  The means by which this unstable combination is maintained is marriage.  Marriage is a uniquely human practice that is totally different in kind from the pair-bonding found in other species.  By way of analogy, pair-bonding is to associative thought as marriage is to symbolic thought: While the former are concerned with the regularities that an individual can predict to hold between two objects (smoke and fire), the latter involve a collective assignment of meaning or prescription of status upon both A) an object with respect to many other objects and B) those many objects with respect to it.

Thus, while pair-bonding can be understood as a negotiation of child-rearing responsibilities between the male and female (and them alone), marriage involves the collective ascription by an entire community of not only these roles and responsibilities but also those toward an entire social network that crosses kinship lines.  Stated differently, in the same way that a change in the symbolic meaning of one sign also changes the symbolic meaning of and between 20 other signs, so too a change in the moral/marriage status of one person also changes the moral status of and relations between 20 other people. Deacon’s theory, to summarize, is not merely that symbolic thought closely parallels marriage relations; rather, it is the much stronger claim that the latter was the evolutionary origin and cause of the former. (more…)

The Word of Wisdom as a Boycott of the Free Market

August 23, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:34 am   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

A Word of Wisdom … showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days… In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days… And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. (D&C 89)

Market demand is not the same as moral evaluation – and the production and consumption habits of the saints should conform to the latter rather than the former.

Up until the turn of the 19th century, the Chinese held a significant trade balance against the British.  Chinese tea had become extraordinarily popular within the British Isles, but the Chinese refused to trade anything other than silver for their tea.  The British, however, eventually solved their trade deficit with China by providing them with an even more addictive combination of American tobacco and Indian opium.  By 1804 the trade deficit had reverse direction in favor of the British as opium addiction spread widely (50% of men and 25% of women) throughout China.  This trade deficit along with the social effects of widespread addiction together led to a Chinese prohibition on the substance and, eventually, to the opium wars against the British (1839).

It is in this light, I suggest, that we ought to understand the importance of the Word of Wisdom (WoW). While we currently focus on the social effects of addictive stimulants, I would like to argue that the economic effects are at least as relevant.  The British addiction to tea had given the Chinese so much economic power over them that the only way in which the British could reverse this power relation was through an even more addictive stimulant.  Understood this way, the WoW can (and perhaps should) be understood as an economic boycott, and as such being much more pro-active in its moral intent than the passive “abstaining” from consuming various substances. (more…)

Common Consent, Consensus Formation and Habermas

August 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 11:57 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics

Is there anything that you would be more willing to purchase when your mother is not present?  What about your father?  What about your children? What about an attractive young adult with whom you’re on a second date?  Does this person’s presence effect how you treat a homeless person that asks you for change?  Does his/her presence effect which jokes or stories you are willing to tell?  Which moral values you are and are not willing to take a stand on?  I think the standard answer to most of these questions is: yes, of course.  It is perfectly normal and healthy to adapt one’s behavior to those who are present.  In this post I wish to approach the ways in which public acclamations of “common consent” in the form of sustaining our leaders differ from other forms of “consensus” and the means (both private and public) by which they are formed and maintained.

For starters, almost every type of community holds some type of “consensus” or “common consent” in high esteem.  It is in this sense that many consensus theories of truth (where “truth” is the “consensus” that is arrived at at the end of “inquiry” under “ideal” conditions) and many appeals to “common consent” within the church can often be quite bereft of content.  Jürgen Habermas, however, is a clear exception to this tendency in his defense of a participatory democracy in which the consensus reached at the end of “communicative action” ought to determine collective action.  While I do have serious reservations about his theory, it is certainly not empty and will thus serve as a convenient entry point to the discussion. (more…)

Bourdieu and the Bloggernacle: Autonomy and Apostasy

April 6, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:58 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Ethics,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox

“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”

“For, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get … praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”

This should be the final post in the series – at least for a while. Whereas the previous post was a Bourdieuian indictment of us who read, lurk and comment within the Bloggernacle, this post is more aimed at those of us who engage in the writing and publishing of posts within our little online community. To do this, I will provide a Bourdieuian account of the relationship and struggles between two fields of cultural production: the LDS church and the Bloggernacle. (All pages refer to Bourdieu’s The Field of Cultural Production, chapters of which can be found here and here.)


Capitalism and Consecration

March 12, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 12:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Money and getting gain,orthodox

Most Mormons in this country vote conservative and there is a good reason for the harmony between these two stances.  I’m not saying that these good reasons are the actual reasons why most Mormons vote the way they do.  I can’t help but agree with the many criticisms and suspicions from left-leaning Mormons bring against this strong correlation.  While I do not wish to reduce all the political differences between each side to economic issues, the case of private property makes for a very generalize-able example.

I have no doubt that, in practice, many right-wing Mormons do indeed vote Republican because they are against the redistribution of wealth.  I have no doubt that there is some selfishness at play here.  I’m also convinced that many right-wing Mormons are against it because they honestly believe that a free market wherein the individual rights to private property are strongly enforced are either better for society overall, or simply the morally right social arrangement.  None of these reasons account for the harmony that I see between conservatism and Mormonism.

The reason why Mormons ought to be against the compensation of property by the state for the sake of redistribution is because that property belongs to the Lord and His kingdom to which we have consecrated it.  Right-wing Mormons want to limit the secular state as much as possible since that state is not the sovereign in which they have placed their faith.  It is the church and not the state that Mormons think ought to redistribute property.  In other words, right-wing Mormons ought not to privilege their individual rights, but those of the Lord and His kingdom over the state.

While this is clearly a criticism of some left-wing claims, I think this also functions as a badly needed criticism of many right-wing claims from within the church membership.  To the extent that they presuppose and endorse the individualism of capitalism and classical liberalism they also depart from the collectivism of Mormonism to that same extent.  Of course the individualism of capitalism, while not ideal, is still much more harmonious with the voluntary collectivism of the church than the compulsory collectivism of the state ever could be, practically speaking.


Drawing a bright line between consecration and the united order

March 15, 2009    By: Jacob J @ 5:48 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Scriptures

The Setup

In the temple, we covenant to obey the law of consecration, but I have observed that there is some disagreement about what is entailed in obedience to the law of consecration. In the early days of the church, the saints established the United Order to implement the law of consecration as it had been revealed to that point. Members voluntarily consecrated (deeded over) their property to the Church and in return received a stewardship over property to meet their needs. The United Order lasted a relatively short period of time and the Church hasn’t asked people to deed over all their property for well over one hundred years. (more…)

The Commandment To Spread The Wealth

October 17, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 8:37 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

Mormons really have no business sneering at the ideals of socialism.

What is socialism? We get this from the wiki:

Socialism refers to an economic theory of social organization advocating social or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society where one’s labor is the only important, individual factor of production. …

Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism by nature concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital, and creates an unequal society. All socialists advocate the creation of an egalitarian society, in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly, although there is considerable disagreement among socialists over how, and to what extent this could be achieved.


Why keeping the commandments will lead to prospering in the land

October 23, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 3:45 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Personal Revelation,Theology

A while back I posted on the oft repeated promise in the Book of Mormon “Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land”. I have always taken this to be a self-evident truth in Mormonism but it turns out that lots of people in the church just don’t believe it. Well, they may sorta believe it but apparently many want to water it down and make it only applicable to societies and not to individuals. Or perhaps they misread the word “prosper” and think the only thing it could possibly be referring to is worldly riches (ignoring other ways we can prosper in the land like by having good physical and mental health, true friends, loving relationships, etc.) I think the promise is very literal and applies to individuals today. In this post I’ll explain the two ways I think the promise plays out. (more…)

On brother Nibley and taking potshots at “the rich”

October 3, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 2:08 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

One of the popular sports among many Mormons is taking potshots at “the rich”. Hugh Nibley seems to have really gotten the ball rolling on this sport (perhaps unintentionally?) with some of his excellent essays found in the book Approaching Zion. Using many of Nibley’s arguments, some Mormons seem to immensely enjoy lobbing theological grenades at the ever-nebulous and faceless group, the rich. We have been discussing this very topic in the comments over at my recent post about the camel and the eye of the needle teachings in the New Testament.

The problem is that nobody seems to be willing to define the term rich. What makes one officially rich? Is it net worth? Is it annual income?

Are you among those who actually believe that being poor (please define poor too, btw) is morally and spiritually superior to being rich?

I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a Nibley hangover lately and it is things like this that have given it to me. It was fun to ride a high horse and look down on “the rich” for a while after reading his stuff but falling off that high horse seems to have given me a Nibley headache or something…

[Associated song: ABC – How To Be A Millionaire]

The camel and needle thing — I do not think that means what you think it means either

September 20, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 11:22 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Scriptures,Theology

Before the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20 there is the tale of the rich young man who approaches Jesus in Matthew 19:

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.


My Beef with a Year Supply of Food

August 4, 2006    By: Jacob J @ 12:03 am   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

For the most part I am a huge fan of the Church’s counsel regarding finances, preparedness, and self-reliance. I love the counsel to stay out of debt and live within our means, and I need a steady diet of it. (From what I can tell you do too.) However, I find myself somewhat at odds with the counsel to keep a year’s supply of food. (more…)

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