My friends say some weird stuff. Not too long ago I had a conservative Mormon friend say that democracy was God’s plan but that socialism came from the Devil. We had an interesting discussion at the time. I think he missed the mark a little; both on the political and the Mormon doctrine side of things. While a crazy notion, it hits at the base of a major issue within the current American political landscape. Americans often do not know what they are talking about. So, even if you aren’t religious, this is a rather interesting issue.
In Mormon theology one of the major purposes of this life, and there are more than just one, is choice. In a scriptural reference attributed to the prophet Abraham that was sold into Egypt, God is quoted as saying: “And we will prove them herewith to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25) In other words, this life is a test of our obedience. For this life to be a good test we must have the freedom to choose between good and evil or moral agency. It would follow then that any form of government which supports that freedom could be seen as supporting God and God’s plan for us. Any form of government that takes that freedom away, could be seen as being in opposition to God or in support of Satan’s rebellion. So, a Mormon theological judgement on democracy is easy, it does support agency and therefore would be supportive of Gods plan for us. Communism hinders choice in that it sets up an anti-class ideology which does not allow for freedom of religion and can therefore be seen as suppressing moral agency, or satanic. Socialism however is a little more complicated especially in view of Mormon history and beliefs.
While Mormons are not currently practicing it, we believe in a theocratic form of Socialism called the United Order or Law of Consecration in which all things are held in common. This is documented in the book of Acts as something that was practiced by the Apostles right after the crucifixion of Christ. This is socialism.
In stating that he felt Socialism was the Devil’s version of government, I think that my friend was confused about the definition of socialism. As defined by Wikipedia: socialism is a social and economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy… Normally, socialism is associated with State ownership but that need not necessarily be the case. The United Order was practiced, unsuccessfully, in small Utah towns soon after the “Church” arrived in Utah. Basically, the United Order gave ownership of everything to the community or the church. Individuals were then given individual stewardships and accountablity. The problems which were encountered came not in the administration but rather in the pride and avarice of the members of the community. We humans naturally like to showcase our success and our individuality and we like to display it with our “stuff.” Attitudes at the time were not ready to give up individual ownership of cool stuff that they could show off. In a word, the problem was pride.
My friend didn’t understand that socialism is antonymic to Capitalism or a free market not to Democracy. Socialism controls economics and production not religious freedom or moral agency. You can have a socialistic democracy and in fact, that is very similar to what Mormons actually believe in. Democracy is very well founded in Mormon theology but then so is The United Order. Accordingly, while socialism does not specifically support God’s purposes in this life, it is not satanic either.
(Let me just interject here for some of my more radical conservative friends, President Obama does believe in bigger government and the regulation of trade and business but he does not believe in state ownership and control and therefore he is not a Socialist.)
World history however, has shown us that some capitalism is necessary in order for a country to prosper. Capitalism is the fastest way to grow the economy. It simply has no equal. However, we are in a changing global society in which capitalism needs to change in order to stay viable. Capitalism is running out of natural resources to pillage and plunder and therefore needs to become socially responsible in order to continue into the future. In fact there are several corporations that are trying to do so now and they are doing so successfully. Capitalism itself is now being seen as both good and evil and is in transition.
Realistically there is no such thing as true capitalism nor is there a society which practices pure socialism. They really just don’t exist. It seems to be a sliding scale. Some governments allow for more state ownership and control while others opt for less but there has to be some socialist type controls. What the best ratio is would seem to be dependent upon standards and desires of the society being governed. Within the United States, in rural America, in communities where the spirit of 1776 still vibrates and especially out west, we have a great revolutionary/pioneer heritage. Where the real cowboys roam and the Minute Men still march on holidays, Americans have a very strong inner belief, in self-dependence. The “Cowboy Way, or the American Way: as it were. This is the problem with socialism. Socialism is not evil, it just isn’t the Cowboy way. So while some control and regulation of industry is necessary and tolerated, there is a tendency in many areas of this country and especially in rural and western America to prefer less government. In rural America government intervention is seen as governmental intrusion.
Socialism isn’t evil, it is just counter-cultural to historic and/or rural America and especially to many of the sons and daughters of the Mormon pioneers.