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Earlier this year, Lawrence Vance gave a speech at the Mises Institute‘s 2011 Austrian Scholars Conference titled “Is Libertarianism Compatible With Religion?” Narrowing his question to Christianity specifically, Vance used select Biblical passages to conclude in the affirmative, asserting the following:
Not only is libertarianism compatible with the most strict, most biblically literal form of Christianity, it is demanded by it.
It is my intention in this article to demonstrate that if select passages from the Bible offer a stream of support for libertarianism (something with which I agree), then the additional scripture and teachings found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offer a tidal wave of supporting statements in comparison.
I won’t be addressing here the question that has been circulating in the media lately regarding whether Mormons are Christians. (All Mormons would say yes; most would say “duh…”) For this article, I will simply assume that the reader will concede that Mormons are Christians in that they worship Jesus Christ and consider Him their savior.
A brief description of Mormonism will prove helpful for those currently unfamiliar with its basic structure and tenets; understanding Mormonism’s support for libertarianism necessarily requires first understanding Mormonism. “Mormons” are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was officially organized in 1830. The nickname “Mormon” is derived from The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ which is a record of prophetic counsel and history considered as scripture; Mormons also believe in the authenticity and revelatory history of the Bible.
Just as Christians embrace the New Testament in addition to the Old Testament—the sacred text of the Jewish faith—Mormons embrace the Old and New Testament, as well as the Book of Mormon (a prophetic record of people which anciently inhabited the Americas), the Doctrine and Covenants (a prophetic record in modern times), and the Pearl of Great Price (a selection of writings of and revelations received through the Prophet Joseph Smith). Modern prophets and apostles lead the Church today and provide continuing revelation, just as in times of old. Thus, we believe in and adhere to further revelatory texts and instruction that provide additional context and guidance. These are replete with counsel and principles that harmonize very well with libertarianism.
These additional scriptures are in fact so permeated with principles common to the political philosophy of libertarianism that I decided to write a book to highlight them in greater detail. Latter-day Liberty: A Gospel Approach to Government and Politics is a lengthy response to the question asked in this article’s title. Like Mr. Vance, I answer in the affirmative—with a few figurative exclamation points added on to the end.
While the Bible does indeed contain scriptures that affirm the non-aggression principle or some related aspect of libertarianism, the other sacred texts and statements from leaders of the LDS Church have them in abundance. A few examples should suffice to demonstrate direct support of libertarianism; I offer far more examples, and expound in greater detail, in my book.
- Perhaps the best example comes from Joseph Smith, the first prophet in the restored Church. When asked by a visitor how he was able to govern so many people (then in Nauvoo, Illinois) so well, he replied: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”
- Doctrine and Covenants 134, a chapter in scripture prefaced as “A declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general,” contains several verses which uphold the explicit right to private property. For example: “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”
- David O. McKay, a prophet during the 1950s and 60s, once said that “A man may act as his conscience dictates so long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others.” Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have said it better.
- Captain Moroni, a military general leading the Lord’s chosen people around 100 B.C. as told in the Book of Mormon, wrote to the government he fought to defend that “I seek not for power, but to pull it down.” A prophet years later wrote of Moroni that “if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” This serves as a clear endorsement of his efforts to decentralize power and uphold individual liberty. Moroni further created a “Title of Liberty” to rally his people to freedom’s cause.
- During a righteous period of time as documented in the Book of Mormon, two previously warring civilizations lived in harmony. The fruits of this relationship, praised as a positive result of that righteousness, included free trade and open migration, with individuals enjoying great prosperity where continual destruction once existed.
- Towards the latter end of the Book of Mormon, the prophet who later compiled the record of scripture offers a stark warning to future readers. He documented how secretive groups of conspiring individuals brought down two separate and previously strong civilizations by infiltrating their respective governments and imposing their statist wills on the masses. We are counseled to “suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain” and commanded by God to “awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you.” Studious Mormons thus are sensitive observers and opposers of corruption and conspiracy— especially within government, since scripture also documents that such groups usurp political authority in an attempt to further their nefarious ends.
- In the Book of Moses, a war among God’s children during their pre-mortal existence is revealed. Satan’s initial plot is documented, wherein he “rebelled against [God], and sought to destroy the agency of man.” This agency, elsewhere stated by God to be a gift given to each of his children, is a close cousin of liberty. It is the ability to choose between opposites while possessing a knowledge of good and evil. The scriptures are replete with examples of God using persuasion alone to encourage his children to use their agency (voluntarily) to follow him and keep his commandments. “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh,” says one Book of Mormon scripture, “and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
- In the Book of Mormon, taxation is inseparably linked with slavery and bondage. One king was described as wicked for, among other reasons,imposing a single 20% income tax on his people, while another king is praised for his righteousness for levying no taxes whatsoever.
- There are clear examples in The Book of Mormon showing the Lord’s disapproval of preventive war. Upholding the Just War Theory (and non-aggression axiom), one ancient prophet rebuked his people for their desire to wage an offensive assault on their enemies. He said: “The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.”
Countless other examples exist (including one where the Prophet Joseph Smith advocated for nullification!). With the brief descriptions provided for the above examples, I have absolutely done them an injustice. I elaborate in far more detail, and offer hundreds of other scriptures and quotes, in my book.
Christianity is a message of peace and liberty. It is morally propagated only through persuasion. It demands that its adherents apply its principles not only in their private lives, but in the public sphere.
A modern day prophet once emphasized that those principles are inseparably infused with liberty. Joseph F. Smith declared: “The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of freedom; the gospel of the Son of God is the gospel of liberty.” Numerous scriptures and statements affirm this very point; as with Christianity in general, Mormonism’s basic tenets uphold the importance of individual liberty.
The rest of Vance’s article has equal application to Mormonism, including pondering why so many Mormons reject libertarianism. Despite the poor track record of Latter-day Saints to be defenders of individual liberty, the duty remains. As one Church leader declared: “Our most important need as defenders of liberty is to know what true liberty is, to teach it, to profess it, and to testify of it.”
My book — Latter-day Liberty: A Gospel Approach to Government and Politics — is one Mormon’s attempt to teach, profess, and testify of individual liberty, specifically within the context of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, its message is important for Christians in general, as well as atheists, agnostics, and anybody seeking to learn how they can persuade more of their Mormon colleagues and friends to adopt a libertarian framework. That others not of the Mormon faith can enjoy and value the book is evidenced by the fact that it has been endorsed by Ron Paul, Tom Woods, Doug French, Lawrence Reed, Michael Boldin, and others.
Is libertarianism compatible with Mormonism? The few offerings provided above, along with a long list of others, assert that it is.