Mormon Topos Amongst the Political Quadrants
by Christian Y. Cardall
I am no political scientist, but it seems to me that to a large extent politics consists of arguments about where policies should fall along a ‘control continuum’ ranging from paternalistic government compulsion to personal discretion, judgment, and responsibility. In a comment, Robert C. says it is hard to reconcile what he calls Ezra Taft Benson’s “libertarian” views with President Hinckley’s expressed willingness to legislate morality. But I think Robert’s dilemma is somewhat alleviated by conceptualizing two orthogonal axes of control continua, which off the top of my head I will call ‘economics’ (taxation, welfare, and so on) and ‘pleasures’ (sexuality, gambling, and so forth).
This results in four quadrants, to which I give the following impromptu labels:
- Republican: Personal responsibility over economics, government control of pleasures
- Democrat: Government control of economics, personal responsibility over pleasures
- Libertarian: Personal responsibility over both economics and pleasures
- Totalitarian: Government control over both economics and pleasures
Now, back to Robert’s dilemma: I think the 20th century Church has been consistently willing to endorse legislation along the ‘pleasures’ axis. In this, there is likely no distinction or inconsistency between Ezra Taft Benson and Gordon B. Hinckley. However, things get a little more messy along the economics axis.
In recent decades at least, the Church as a whole has been rather neutral along the economics axis, which, when combined with a preference for government control of pleasures, means that official Mormonism today straddles the line between the Totalitarian and Republican quadrants.
However, some past individual official voices (Heber J. Grant and Ezra Taft Benson come to mind) and most individual Church members seem to absorb ‘work ethic’ together with ‘pleasures’ under a rubric of ‘individual worthiness,’ and seem to prefer its ‘schizophrenic’ implementation in the Republican quadrant, rather than one of the ‘consistent’ Libertarian or Totalitarian quadrants. (Weird! My guess is that this is a legacy of Heber J. Grant’s underappreciated transformative and lasting imprint on the Church, which among other things included a combination of willingness to endorse Prohibition with his revulsion at ‘the dole.’)
Those less common Mormons for whom social justice is seen as a government imperative tend in practice to go Democrat rather than Totalitarian, probably both to be in a party that actually has some power, and also to avoid the despised ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ labels. (These are so despised that pseudonyms seem required. Cases in point: RoastedTomatoes of LDS Liberation Front and Watt Mahoun of MormAnarchy. I’m not sure where these guys fall, but if in addition to their social justice concerns they agree with the Church’s support of legislating the pleasures axis, their placement in the Totalitarian quadrant would make their title concepts of Liberation and Anarchy highly ironic!)