Are you sure you’d like to live the United Order?

Mormon Heretic Culture, history, Mormon, obedience, righteousness, social justice 48 Comments

We had an interesting discussion on my Prayer and Politics post.  (Unfortunately, we talked more about politics than prayer.)  The discussion focused on economic policies.  Many people don’t like President Obama’s push to “redistribute wealth”.  I made the statement that

“the United Order was all about redistribution of wealth, so there would be no poor among us. Brigham went out of his way to lambast capitalism’s evils.”

Ken S replied that

It is a Celestial Law and Terrestrial or Telestial beings are not capable of living this law. It does not use dominion or compulsion. It is completely voluntary. Moreover, Socialism/Communism is counterfeit to the law of Consecration. They are of Lucifer. The fruits of these ideologies are evil.Please don’t compare them to a Celestial Law.

I did a post previously asking if you would recognize this church, because living in Utah in the 1860’s-1880’s was so different under the United Order. There was some coercion in helping ensure that there were no poor among the Utah saints.  There was pettiness.  Bored in Vernal recently posted that she would like to live the United Order, but I’m not sure most of us capitalists would enjoying living in a United Order, and I doubt that we would do any better than the early saints.  We don’t want to live equally; we’d rather be rewarded for our hard work.  I thought I’d review what I learned about the United Orders in Utah from the book Great Basin Kingdom.

These United Order enterprises were extremely effective in helping to create an efficient workforce, producing needed products, and keeping people employed.  It certainly was not the free market economy we’ve come to expect today.  Mormons were encouraged to be self-sufficient.  Brigham Young started many of these enterprises, but died in 1877.  John Taylor kept them going, and they were helpful.  Both Young and Taylor did not want to import anything if possible, which did create some hard feelings with non-Mormons.  Many of these anti-polygamy feelings and anti-polygamy legislation can be traced to non-Mormons wanting to break into the Mormon market, which was essentially a socialist-like monopoly.  There were price controls, and price discrimination between Mormons and non-Mormons.

There were some interesting dynamics with these United Orders.  There is an interesting story about a pair of pants.  From page 335,

Orderville had been founded in an atmosphere of dire poverty, and the common action which took place in the Order made it possible for members to eat and dress better than they had for years–better, in fact, than many residents in surrounding settlements where United Orders had not functioned successfully.  When the Utah Southern Railroad was completed to Milford, Utah, however, the rich mines at Silver Reef, not far from Orderville were exploited to the full.  Within five years, more than $10,000,000 worth of silver was extracted.  Orderville’s neighbors, profiting from this boom, suddenly found themselves able to buy imported clothing and other store commodities.  The Saints at Orderville became “old fashioned”….Orderville adolescents began to envy the young people in the communities….

A young man wanted a new set of pants, but the rules of Orderville said that all clothing must come from the same bolt of cloth.  (All were equal, and there was no inequality among them.)  His pants had no holes, and his request for new pants was denied.  His community raised sheep.  From page 336,

When the lambs’ tails were docked, the young brother surreptitiously gathered them and sheared off the wool which he stored in sacks.  When he was assigned to take a load of wool to Nephi, he secretly took the lambs’ tail wool with his load and exchanged it for a pair of store paints.  On his return, he wore his new pants to the next dance.  His entrance caused a sensation.  The story is that one young lady rushed to him, embraced and kissed him.  The president of the Order demanded an explanation, and when it was truthfully given, he said:  “According to your own story these pants belong to the Order.  You are requested to appear before the Board of Management tomorrow evening at half past eight, and to bring the store pants with you.”

At the meeting, the young brother was commended for his enterprise, but was reminded that all pants must be made of cloth from the same bolt.  However, to prove its good will, the Board of Management agree to have the store pants unseamed and used as a pattern for all pants made in the future, and further, the young man in question would get the first pair.

This story made me laugh, but I think illustrates well some of the problems we don’t think about in “utopian” societies.  As time went on these United Orders were dissolved in 1885 due to growing anti-polygamy prosecution.  From page 337,

With the disintegration of their collective institutions, after ten years of “cooperative living,” the older members began to reflect on the advantages of their previously enjoyed communal experience over the encroaching spirit of competitive individualism.  The chafing under restrictive regulation, the disagreements, the yearning for privacy were all forgotten, and their memories were sweet.  Almost every published reminiscence of life under the Order mentions it as the closes approximation to a well-ordered, supremely happy Christian life that was possible of achievement in human society.

While there will be no poor among us in a United Order, there will be no rich either.  Many people in these United Orders complained about people that didn’t work as hard being rewarded equally.  Here’s some questions to consider:

  • Is that how you want to live?
  • Do you agree with Ken that the United Order was completely voluntary?
  • Was coercion used to make sure everybody wore the same type of pants?
  • Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us?
  • Was Brigham Young’s experiment with United Order closer to socialism or (gasp) communism, than free-market capitalism?  (I’m not talking about Soviet communism, but rather communal living, and having true equality, or “no poor among us.”)

Comments

comments

Comments 48

    • Yes, that’s how I want to live. I’m sure.
    • I don’t think the UO as practiced in the early settlements of the Mormons was completely voluntary, I’m sure there was a lot of pressure to live this, even if the participants weren’t fully converted to the principle, and perhaps that is why there was so much trouble.
    • I think the pants story was unique only to Orderville.
    • I don’t think we will ever be able to achieve a completely equal society. But I would like to see Latter-day Saints making more of an effort. I think I could do it, and I’d like to get the chance to at least try.
    • Yes. (gasp)
  1. I’m not sure that the UO was entirely voluntary. Utah in the 1860-80s was an odd mix of democracy (by common consent, etc.) and a theocracy wherein Brigham Young was the mouthpiece of God. It may have been theoretically voluntary, but in practice it probably was enforced with cultural pressure or ecclesiastical discipline (not entirely unlike how people today are subtly pressured into conforming with LDS standards of behavior and lifestyles). This is just supposition on my part.

    What really stood out to me was the story of the claim that socialism/communism is “of Satan.” I disagree. They are ideas and ideals created by men. Which can, in turn be corrupted (again, usually by men, though I absolutely believe that Satan can influence them) to be used for personal or political gain. And even good systems can be corrupted. Socialism/Communism’s failure, in the eyes of so many commentators and pundits, is that it removes free will. Which is true. Capitalism (according to Adam Smith, who practically institutionalized the idea) works because it relies on men been self-interested, self-centered, and greedy. Neither are Christ-based. Calling one pure evil and one pure good just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    I think there is a tendency to suggest to throw everything we don’t like or that may not fit in comfortably to our standards (economic and otherwise) under the supposed auspice of the devil. It might make some people feel moral and justified, but in my opinion its often just a way to blame someone/thing else for our mortal and deeply human failings.

  2. Great post.
    1. Is that how you want to live? Only in hell.
    2. Do you agree with Ken that the United Order was completely voluntary? No. If you agree with me you’ll go to heaven, if not you’ll go to hell. Now, does anyone disagree?
    3. Was coercion used to make sure everybody wore the same type of pants? Of course not, the pants wearer could have chosen to leave. It doesn’t matter that his whole world was based on Orderville, he could leave at any time. If you choose to live in Orderville, you have to obey the rules. Seriously, where’s the coercion?
    4. Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us? Yes, because then we would all still be farmers and cattle ranchers, each content with what we have, never interested in making a better life for ourselves. There would of course be no problem with moochers, and I’m sure each would put in a fair day’s work. It’s a brilliant strategy!
    5. Was Brigham Young’s experiment with United Order closer to socialism or (gasp) communism, than free-market capitalism? No, because those are worldly laws, and the United Order was a celestial law as evidenced by the fact that a servant of God authorized it.

    And in the immortal words of George Orwell from Animal Farm

    There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS. After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters.

    In all seriousness, perhaps in the CK there would be no corruption so many of the problems with communal living would go away. But even so, for me, it would be the very definition of hell to not be rewarded commensurate with my work. Talk about halting progression!

  3. Re #2

    Which is true. Capitalism (according to Adam Smith, who practically institutionalized the idea) works because it relies on men been self-interested, self-centered, and greedy. Neither are Christ-based.

    I ran across this gem on my mission:

    Joseph Smith said that some people entirely denounce the principle of self-aggrandizement as wrong. ‘It is a correct principle,’ he said, ‘and may be indulged [in] upon only one rule or plan–and that is to elevate, benefit and bless others first. If you will elevate others, the very work itself will exalt you. Upon no other plan can a man justly and permanently aggrandize himself'” (qtd. in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., /They Knew the Prophet/ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 61)

    Seems to me self-interest, self-centeredness is a Christ-based attribute. The only difference is in what arbitrary means you use to achieve that self-interest.

  4. Great post.

    I don’t want to live in a United Order unless I can absolutely trust the governing body.

    I don’t see how that level of trust can be achieved in this life, so I’m against it.

    I like the idea we work for temporal rewards, and accept that not everything in life is fair, there are different circumstances, and we all just accept that…not try to rely on someone else to make it all fair for us.

  5. People have different needs and wants. I think everyone should have freedom and equal protection under the law. Everything else is up to the individual.

    The reason a united order doesn’t work now is that everyone is not actively involved in a trade or work. In a small community it is easier to do this. Everyone has a job, everyone contributes, everyone shares. The way it is now is that some people work, some people sit and do nothing. Everyone gets rewarded.

    Also, those who believe that the gov’t wants a united order so everything is lovely and fair is delusional. This is ALL about power and money for the extreme upper classes. Even your precious Obama. Gov’t should not be so involved in our daily lives.

  6. JMB275, #3: for me, it would be the very definition of hell to not be rewarded commensurate with my work. Talk about halting progression!
    Only if you consider your reward to be financial. For me the reward of living in a United Order would be the satisfaction of making the system work and seeing that because of my diligent efforts everyone in the community was well and truly cared for. That would be an amazing remuneration.

  7. I think I agree with BiV on this issue. I imagine living with my family, assuming we all work to our capacity and there are no freeloaders. Do I want one brother to be rich while another struggles? I don’t mind about the brother being rich, but the one struggling would bother me. If I were the rich brother, I hope I would give to my struggling brother to help him. Generalizing to a society where we all considered and treated each other as “brothers” and “sisters” is obvious. If we all did this in such a society, there would cease to be rich and poor. Instead, we would all become rich, as the Book of Mormon said about the Lehites after Christ’s visit to them.

    I do not believe such a society could be set up without direct Priesthood authorization and guidance. But if that were to happen and I were invited, I would quickly join.

  8. I for one would not like to live in the United Order for the following reasons.

    1) I think at the time period if first existed that there was some degree coercion weather conscience or not to the people living it. It wouldn’t be hard to resist, especially given the fact that the early saints moved across the Atlantic and came to a new country and make the move in harsh conditions to Salt Lake. What were they going to do at the point where they were asked to join the UO, Say no, and loose not only their new faith, but any friends they might have made in the process,

    2) I don’t think I would trust those in charge. Its’ a system that would be doomed for failure because of the possibility of abuse(i.e) spiritual, and emotional.

  9. I don’t know the history well enough to make any final judgment but from your description I wouldn’t want to live in it.

    We have to remember that the United Order is not the same thing as living the law of Consecration. The UO was an attempt at living this law. I think there are better ways of doing it. Maybe at that time it was a good way, probably not the best. We have to also remember that people in Russia look back with nostalgia under the days of communism even though we all know it wasn’t good and created a society that was fearful, etc. The book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45” would be a good example of how people can look at their situation and think it is good but it is truly horrendous.

    Was it coercion? I don’t think so. As long as you can leave whenever you want it’s not. This comes back to the principle of having localized laws vs laws at a national level. The more the laws/rules are put at the local level the more fair it becomes since you can move to areas that are more like minded. There is nothing wrong with the “shaming” concept. This is probably the best way to do things rather than coercion as practiced by government. Shaming could be used to keep people civilized rather than coercion. See the story of Cain and Abel and think of that concept. I know the story of Cain and Abel isn’t specific enough to draw definite conclusions but it seems that our God is much more liberal (in the classical sense) than most of us believe.

    “Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us?”
    -I question if even the UO achieved this. Didn’t Brigham have quite the wealth? How did he live compared to people in the UO? I don’t know the answers to these questions but it would be interesting to know.

    Again, not having read anything other than what you wrote it seems it was closer to socialism/communism which doesn’t sit right with me. I think you can live the law of consecration through the free market. The BOM and bible don’t go into enough detail to tell us what it really means when they do say everyone was equal. Does that mean that some people still had more than others because they need the boat to go to the lake every Saturday whereas others are happy with a pair of running shoes to go running or hiking on the weekends but don’t really want the expensive boat. Are they equal even though their “needs” are different? I don’t know. We need more details. That’s why I like the free market since everyone’s needs are more likely to be met and persuasion is used to help the poor vs coercion (e.g., theft and covetousness – aren’t those against the ten commandments?).

  10. “1 – Is that how you want to live?” Absolutely not.
    “2 – Do you agree with Ken that the United Order was completely voluntary?” There are 2 obvious exceptions to it being voluntary: 1) children born & raised in “the order” and 2) while people may have entered voluntarily, leaving gets complicated. How do you divvy out their allotment or do they have to leave with nothing in hand? If they are leaving, how will all parties agree to a fair recompense for the departing individual?
    “3 – Was coercion used to make sure everybody wore the same type of pants?” Yes, in that it wasn’t determined by group consensus and some opinions prevailed over others; there were differing opinions on whether new pants were warranted, and when he got the new pants anyway, the group quickly adopted the new model for pants because it was superior. If he had not broken the “rules” this innovation would not have happened. This actually points to one of the key problems with a united order: innovation is stifled when it is not rewarded through a free market. Status quo is favored by this model.
    “4 – Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us?” I don’t want this. And personally, I would rather take a vow of poverty and give all my goods to the poor than enter into a united order. I value detachment from material goods, but I don’t like a social system that seems ripe for corruption.
    “5 – Was Brigham Young’s experiment with United Order closer to socialism or (gasp) communism, than free-market capitalism? (I’m not talking about Soviet communism, but rather communal living, and having true equality, or “no poor among us.”)” Yes, there are some clear parallels IMO. It’s not democratic. Decisions are actually oligarchical in this model, just as they were in the soviet union. Some animals are more equal than other animals.

  11. Hi there!

    You should have also mentioned to Ken S that contrary to his assertion that no human on this planet has lived the United Order there are two scripturally documented cases. The first was the City of Enoch, which somehow managed to do it so perfectly that the people were all taken up to heaven – they managed to live in a way that ensured no poor among them – and I doubt that meant they were all millionaries. And the second time, lasting for around 200 years (!!!) were the people of Nephi after the visit of Christ. The Book of Mormon is super short in that period because for that long, there were no poor among them, no sin, etc. It was only when people began using wealth to indicate status and power that it all fell apart. In both cases these were real people who valued the brotherhood of mankind (meaning, all are equal children of God, equal in His eyes and equally deserving of compassion and love)and so they chose to act in accordance with those values. When we vote (a choice) to support access to health care, living wages, higher taxes to hep those who cannot help themselves for whatever reason (and do so in a truly non-judgmental way), provide meals to children who otherwise don’t have them, etc., etc., etc., then we ARE choosing to act in accordance with the same values that motivated the people of Enoch and the Nephites in that period of their history.

    I don’t know Ken S so I won’t even try to guess at this motives. But in my experience with people who use similar words/phrases/concepts to describe why they don’t support things like the items I listed above it’s because 1) they haven’t matured spiritually to the point that they actually DO and CAN see everyone (from the bank president and successful business owner to the homeless person on the street) as equally their brother or sister and equally deserving of their help and love; 2) aren’t ready to give up the fruit of their labor to people who haven’t been working that hard (but really, isn’t that one of the points of the parable of Christ where he hires people all day long at different intervals and then pays them all the same regardless of how long they’ve been laboring?); 3) have something (a little to a lot) of their self-worth vested in how others perceive them and so still need the trapping of success to feel successful; and/or 4) don’t understand that the scriptures and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are for US the LIVING – not some future set of perfected people. In fact, perfection comes as we perfect ourself through choosing righteously – it’s not a magic wand that changes our attitudes and perspectives.

    Anyway, that’s just my $0.02.

    Ciao!

  12. Well, callings and tithing are the ways we live the law of consecration nowadays, and based on that, I value the financial detachment of tithing, but based on callings (voluntary efforts by members when no pay is involved) I’ll take my chances with free market capitalism.

  13. I figure I live the law of consecration in my own family. Everything that is earned goes for the good of the family. Everyone’s needs are met. We never tell our kids “You can’t go to the doctor because you’ve already used your medical allotment.” Whether it is food or clothes or doctors or speech therapy or piano lessons we try to take care of everyone. Seems to work. Sometimes someone feels like someone else is a slacker, but mostly we feel like everyone is doing their part in the family based on their abilities.
    It is definitely interesting to consider living this in a bigger group. Too scary though.

  14. “We are organizing the people as near as possible according to the revelations given for the perfection of the Latter-day Saints. I hereby warn you not to let any doubts or any thing that you may hear arise in your minds in opposition to prevent us from organizing ourselves and become like unto a large army, a solid phalanx united against the foe, that they may see that we are determined, that victory shall be ours come life or death; therefore cast no reflections upon any person that does not do as we do, cast no reflections my brethren and sisters upon those who have entered into the covenant. Is there a Latter-day Saint here that is willing to deliver and offer up all they have and possess and let God govern and control and be dictated by the priesthood? Is there such a man or a woman that is willing to let God control all temporal affairs as He does spiritual . . .

    “. . . A great deal has been said and a great many views are entertained in relation to this United Order, and a good many questions are asked what of this and what of that and so on, but it is all folly. Let the hearts of the people become united together as the heart of one man and work against those who are working for self, and go to work now and produce all we want to eat, make our own clothing, and our money we can put away into the safe and in a short time we will have a fund with which we can take the advantage and buy the machinery that we need and everything else that we want, . . .

    “. . . We want means to day to build Temples and to bless the people. We want money to buy the world, the world is after money and that is about all they care about, and the time will soon come for us to redeem Zion. Which would you rather do redeem it by blood, or be dictated by the Lord, and buy it with your money? I would rather trust in God than in all the world.”

    —Brigham Young, “SABBATH MEETING. A synopsis of the minutes of the meeting held in the Meeting House, Provo City on Sunday, the 5th day of July 1874.” in The Provo Tri-Weekly Times (newspaper, Provo, Utah) for July 7, 1874 [I:246], page 3.

  15. Interesting responses everyone. I guess I’ll give my answers to the questions, and then I’ll respond to a few comments.

    1. I’m too selfish and Capitalistic to want to live the United Order or Consecration, but I hope to become less selfish.

    2. No, the United Order was not completely voluntary. While most of the early saints chose to live it, there were obvious exceptions, such as William Godbe. In 1868 Godbe and other Mormon merchants began criticizing the economic demands and policies of Brigham Young in Utah Magazine, a periodical that would eventually become The Salt Lake Tribune. Godbe and several other proponents were excommunicated from the church on October 25, 1869. Godbe wanted to reform the LDS Church and believed that political reform—namely breaking Young’s control over secular matters in the territory—could help spur religious reform. After his excommunication, he helped found the Godbeites.

    In order for the United Order to work, everyone needed to be a part of it. You can’t function effectively if half the ward gives everything, while the other half keeps there own goods. United Orders and Consecration function on the idea that all participate, not a select minority. I remind you that settlers had to deal with Indians, and a very inhospitable environment. The grasshopper invasions caused a famine that should have killed many more people than it did. It is precisely because of Brigham Young’s committment to redistribute the wealth (actually it was food) that the saints survived several winters. To opt out of these United Orders literally meant death–either starving to death, or by the Indians. It definitely was not as simple as opting in or out of the Order.

    3. Yes, coercion or duress was used to make sure everybody wore the same type of pants. An interesting footnote to this pants story was the fact that while they were apparently stylish, they actually wore out more quickly, so I’m not sure that they were of better quality than the sturdier Mormon pattern. Violating rules of the United Order led to ostracism.

    4. “Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us?” We do in theory, but in practice we all want to be rich.

    5. Yes Brigham Young’s experiment with United Order closer to socialism or (gasp) communism, than free-market capitalism. Many people on the Bloggernacle have quoted many things they don’t like about Brigham, but the fact of the matter is that he was a staunch advocate of the poor. I think it is probably his most overlooked quality. He really did try to have no poor among them, and was very happy to redistribute the wealth of the saints to reach this goal. The reality is by worldly standards, there were no rich among them–but the standard of living was more evenly distributed (i.e. they were all more poor than other US cities.) Much of the reason for the poorer standard of living was the desire not to trade with the gentiles; therefore the barter system was used in Utah instead of currency that was prevalent everywhere else in the US. But Utah’s poorest were better than the poorest in other cities.

  16. BiV (1), yes the pants episode was probably unique to Orderville, but I’m sure there were similar problems in other United Order communities. One of the biggest problems with the UO’s was the fact that lazy people received the same wages as the hard workers, and we would all find that irritating (unless we’re lazy!) I guess in a Celestial Society, there won’t be lazy people, but I have a hard time imagining a society on earth with no lazy people.

    C (2), I agree with you that neither Capitalism or Communism is inherently evil. Men make it good or evil.

    JMB (3), I don’t think the “pants wearer” was truly free to leave, unless he wanted to apostatize with the Silver Miners. Perhaps that is a convenient way to leave for some, but for those who are believers, I think it’s a pretty big leap to leave your religion; I think that’s the choice we’re talking about.

    Heber (4), you’re absolutely right. As I mentioned, William Godbe didn’t trust Brigham Young’s use of the pooled resources. I’m sure there were others that disagreed. Choosing to live in a United Order means submission to someone else’s choices. “Great Basin Kingdom” showed Brigham Young’s successes and failures. He encouraged men to help build the railroad, and then Union Pacific screwed the men out of wages. Brigham Young encouraged mining iron in Cedar City, but that proved to be a financial disaster. The sugar beet factory in Lehi could produce molasses, but never refined sugar. So there were plenty of things that Brigham can be criticized for.

    On the other hand, the telegraph was a great success. Salt Lake City was one of the first cities with electricity in the nation. Brigham helped tame the land for farming. The United Orders in general proved to keep the saints employed, and there were many public works projects that were a success. All in all, Brigham was a good leader, but you can’t say that every economic undertaking was successful, so I think some of the criticism of his handling of certain economic ventures is warranted.

  17. Olive, I share your skepticism of government, but I do think that some people are trying to solve the country’s ills. For example, I think Universal Health Care is a laudable goal, but there are too many special interests that make this goal difficult to attain.

    Vort, “assuming we all work to our capacity and there are no freeloaders” is a big assumption. THere are freeloaders in every society, which is what makes Consecration or the United Order so difficult.

    Dblock, your point about immigrants is an excellent one. Brigham was most concerned about helping these immigrants, and the United Orders helped these helpless people the most–of course at the expense of the “rich”. Every system is open to abuse, and the UO’s are no different. However, it appears to me that the UO’s were run rather altruistically and exceptionally well. As I mentioned in the article, what caused the United Orders to fail was the anti-polygamy legislation which disincorporated the church and prohibited it from owning property in excess of $50,000. Since so many church leaders went into hiding, there was nobody left to tend to the UO’s, so they died of neglect rather than any sort of abuse. The neglect was due to the government trying to shut the church down, so I think the case can be made that the US government was what really dismantled the UO’s.

    Hawkgrrrl, well stated! Mark, I can’t speak for Ken either–I hope he joins the conversation and speaks for himself. JKS, that’s an interesting analogy about living consecration in a family, but somehow that strikes me as much easier to do than what the pioneers did.

  18. I don’t believe that anyone has discussed the fact that consecration or the United Orders could really only decently work in small agrarian societies. Coordinating a large-scale economy with myriad products is simply to cumbersome and unresponsive to produce economic growth. The young man in the story had an innovation: “Hey, this tail wool is going to waste. I can do something with this.” Sure, he should have selflessly pointed this out to the leaders and had it contribute to the good of the order, but that wasn’t his place. The top down structure didn’t particularly favor innovation, rather the status quo. So regardless of the fact that he could perhaps do more good to society in other places, his role was a shepherd and that’s where he would always remain. It’s hard to see where marvels like air transportation, or satellites or the internet (all created to ferry apostles and their messages across the world, of course) would have come from under consecration. The fact is, they wouldn’t have. So,…

    * Is that how you want to live? No. I like having access the benefits of scientific and technological advances like health care and air conditioning, being free to pursue a vocation I enjoy and more fully take advantage of the vast stores of knowledge on this thing called the Internet. Untold good would have been thwarted under the Law of Consecration.
    * Do you agree with Ken that the United Order was completely voluntary? No. Soft pressures are pressures nonetheless. A non-adult didn’t really have free entry and exit, like the young man in question, nor do I think adults really did. Did the Order give you your “share” if and whenever you chose to leave, or would you have to leave with nothing? The latter makes for something less than voluntary.
    * Was coercion used to make sure everybody wore the same type of pants? In this case, yes. (And I hope that cut looked good on him.)
    * Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us? In principle yes, like so many things, but in actuality no, because the price we’d all pay for that is too steep.
    * Was Brigham Young’s experiment with United Order closer to socialism or (gasp) communism, than free-market capitalism? (I’m not talking about Soviet communism, but rather communal living, and having true equality, or “no poor among us.”) Duh. Let the Bensonites rail against it all they want, the Order contained no incentive for innovation and was a centrally-planned economy. Maybe “Godly” communism is fine while “godless” communism is a terrible mockery, but from a purely economic perspective they both had pretty much the same structure, goals and outcomes. It’s only really the ancillary stuff that went with Soviet-style communism that made it so objectionable.

    Of course, this Church only exists because of free-market capitalism in the form of religious pluralism (as well as the formation of the nation that allowed for it). Communism almost necessarily excludes religious diversity in order to function appropriately, and as a result must be godless, though pursuing Christlike goals. The communal Church just means everyone is on board with our particular religious philosophy instead of a secular one, thus having voluntarily given up the right to choose a different religious belief later. Either way, secular or religious communism are essentially identical in their pure forms (not that we’ve seen either one in real life) so the criticism is hypocritical.

    Communism (or consecration, whatever you want to call it) is the higher law because it’s Christian equality on the front end. Capitalism with social welfare is an imperfect second-best option to mitigate inequality on the back end, but interestingly enough, is a necessary step toward Church growth, economic growth, population growth and rapid technological progress, etc. Given that there’s certainly a disconnect between our ideal of equality and our ideals of having free choice, spreading the gospel and not dying prematurely from all manner of (now)-preventable causes, I’ll take the benefits of free choice with the imperative to redistribute the greater wealth.

  19. Reading people’s comments makes me think of the parallels between socialism and the free market. #12 said it well I just disagree with it being entirely coercive for people being born into it. They can still leave, although difficult as it is, they can still leave. That’s like saying the church is coercive since they are born into it through their families, people can still leave the church, yes it is difficult but they can still leave. I do agree it was coercive to have a centralized make up of the organization.

    I liked the way Stefan Molyneux says it when talking about capitalism versus statism:

    “[T]his idea that we need control over private capitalist organizations is so completely irrational that…this is why i started looking at family stuff. [Since] there’s just no way that anybody can look at a logical diagram and say the following, “We need control over social institutions and so let’s a create one social institution arm it to the…teeth, have it be able to steal at will and imprison the population and the population has zero control economically at least over this entity and so we need to create an entity that is completely involuntary and is all powerful and has complete control over the citizenship and we need to create this entity because there are social agencies that the citizens are afraid of not having control over.”

    ” [T]he huge difference between me dealing with some local grocery store is that if I don’t like that grocery store I don’t have to do [a] thing, I don’t have to get off the couch, I don’t have to take my finger out of my nose or my other hand off the remote let’s say. I don’t have to move a muscle or take a breath if I don’t like the grocery store down the road because I just won’t go there so an action going about my day everything that you do in a free market that is not involved in giving money or time or services to a particular organization is a complete vote against every other corporation in the world, right?

    “On the other hand, with the government, if you don’t agree with what the government does your [screwed]. If you don’t like what the government does what are you going to do? Well you have to go marching, you have to try to get into office, you have to spend a lot of money, you have to risk going to jail if you don’t want to pay your taxes. In other words, the government compels you to obey and the cost of disobedience is unbelievably high to the point most people, and I think reasonably so, won’t risk it.

    “The idea of creating a monopoly of violence in order to solve a multiplicity of voluntarism is completely mad….”

    To read the rest go to http://azdistrict1.blogspot.com/2010/06/regulation-and-state-part-1.html

  20. Re MH

    JMB (3), I don’t think the “pants wearer” was truly free to leave, unless he wanted to apostatize with the Silver Miners. Perhaps that is a convenient way to leave for some, but for those who are believers, I think it’s a pretty big leap to leave your religion; I think that’s the choice we’re talking about.

    Crap, I thought the sarcasm was dripping (especially coupled with my other comments). I’ll try harder next time!

  21. @SW Clark,

    Remember the law of Consecration and the United Order are different things. The UO is an attempt at living the LoC, but LoC can have many different forms and we don’t know what form is best (could it be the free market?).

    What is coercion? I wouldn’t consider coercion to be pressure from society. Coercion is having force used against you. Like when the government tells you do this or I’ll put you in jail or take your money (if you don’t let me take your money I’ll send you to jail) or I’ll kill you if you don’t do as I say. That is coercive, like the mafia or the government. But using pressure and shaming is not coercive, may not be nice but it’s not coercive.

    “Communism (or consecration, whatever you want to call it) is the higher law because it’s Christian equality on the front end. Capitalism with social welfare is an imperfect second-best option to mitigate inequality on the back end, but interestingly enough, is a necessary step toward Church growth, economic growth, population growth and rapid technological progress, etc.”

    -Once again the law of consecration and UO are not the same. Who says God isn’t for the free market in implementing the law of consecration? Communism is a use of force with death or jail being the end result if you disagree. The UO, from what I understand, you could still leave anytime you wanted or, if you disagreed, the punishment was not death or jail it was just expulsion from the UO. I don’t know the history well enough to know if when you leave they give you a small starter money but you could at least leave.

  22. Only if you consider your reward to be financial. For me the reward of living in a United Order would be the satisfaction of making the system work and seeing that because of my diligent efforts everyone in the community was well and truly cared for. That would be an amazing remuneration.

    In all seriousness, the problem with this line of thinking is that I have yet to see a well thought out example of how it would actually work without denying people the very freedom it is supposedly supposed to create.

    Money, is, without doubt, the greatest invention in the history of the world. Just try to think about a realistic scenario in which money does not exist – the problems are very numerous. We’d still be living in the stone age!

    BiV, this is just it though, you have articulated what your reward would be. The UO system, however, only maximizes the happiness of people with your set of goals. What about me? The system doesn’t maximize my happiness. What about the person who wants something different out of life? He/she cannot get it. He/she has no mechanism whereby they can actually improve their situation. As Hawkgrrrl pointed out the status quo is always favored until forced to change. That’s just fine if there is absolutely no coercion, but there ALWAYS is.

    To me, a reasonable model for living has to begin with maximizing individual liberty and placing in mechanisms that safeguard that liberty. This, by definition, would allow you to seek whatever maximizes your happiness, including giving away everything to the poor (a worthy goal indeed). The UO, however, is built upon maximizing the happiness of the group as a whole. It is easily seen that in such a system someone will feel cheated as he/she is unable to maximize their own happiness.

    I think there is a better solution to having no poor among us. Namely, I think we rely on, and encourage humility, and charity, and sacrifice to convince people to give to the poor. After all, is this not Christ’s way? To persuade through humility and long suffering?

  23. @Jon,

    I agree LoC could have many different forms, and would be interested to see what a free market form might look like.

    Different definitions of coercion exist, one of which can be force, but also pressure. “Do this or I’ll throw you out of my Church/Family/Commune” is not so different in my view.

    Again, pure communism need not use “force with death or jail” either for those who disagree. They could be similarly expelled. Of course, these days we view that type of cleansing as a violation of human rights and emigration is trickier on a large scale, but so would be large-scale consecration. The transaction costs of leaving become high or impractical at some point, as to be prohibitive (thus staying is not fully voluntary).

    Another issue hinted at here, though not yet discussed is an American view that charity (wealth redistribution) is only free when it’s private. I think there’s a countervailing position, especially in places like Europe where there is historically a different view of the state and its role. Citizens may consider the role of the state to include social welfare, and so whatever the state asks (requires) to fulfill that need in combating poverty is legitimate and not at odds with choice, especially when leaders are elected. (Presumably, this is the same attitude we have toward tithing: if the Church cited revelation raising the rate to 15% in order to meet its needs, would we consider it unjust?)

    Perhaps that’s a form of free market consecration? To each according to his abilities, from each according to the community needs?

  24. What is coercion? I wouldn’t consider coercion to be pressure from society. Coercion is having force used against you.

    I think you bring up some good points, but I think you’re splitting hairs here. There are definitions of coercion that include just pressure from intellectual, and moral force.

    Personally, I think it’s a tough line to walk when talking about coercion. Many former LDS consider the LDS church to be very coercive. I understand this line of thinking. Threatening someone with eternal salvation is a large amount of pressure.

    Numerous cults use social, moral, and intellectual coercion all the time to get people to do what they want. I condemn their mechanisms just as much as I condemn the mechanisms in communism.

    Incidentally, the fact that people use this very excuse (you can always leave since there is no physical force despite the amount of social coercion) is good reason for me to be VERY skeptical of groups altogether. This is always the excuse of those who are in full fellowship in the group!

  25. Another issue hinted at here, though not yet discussed is an American view that charity (wealth redistribution) is only free when it’s private. I think there’s a countervailing position, especially in places like Europe where there is historically a different view of the state and its role. Citizens may consider the role of the state to include social welfare, and so whatever the state asks (requires) to fulfill that need in combating poverty is legitimate and not at odds with choice, especially when leaders are elected.

    Yes, I’ve thought about this too, and it seems to be the direction we are going to head in America. The problem I see is in the statement “so whatever the state asks (requires) to fulfill that need in combating poverty is legitimate.” The cost function being optimized (how the poor are cared for, if at all) here is completely arbitrary, in this case, defined by the state (whose trustworthiness is most certainly suspect). Everyone is free to adopt that cost function as their own (in other words everyone is free agree that this is the best way to help the poor), but no one is free to change the cost function (no one is free to decide how they want to help the poor).

    In a free market system anyone can adopt/change any cost function they want as they define what maximizes their happiness. They can give 100% of their income to the poor, or none. They can provide healthcare, or not. They can provide food, shelter, clothing, or provide services for free.

    What we’re really discussing here is the role of the minority and majority. If we believe that the role of a governing society is to enforce the will of the majority, then the UO works fine. But if we rightfully (IMHO) believe that the role of a governing society is to protect the minority, then the UO fails spectacularly.

    Incidentally, a decent microcosm of the UO are some implementations of a Home Owner’s Association. We have one in my current neighborhood and I could go on for days about the spectacular failures thereof and its inability to accomplish the very goals it was designed to meet, the least of which is the fact that I have to petition them with drawings, and design plans just to plant a garden in my backyard!

  26. jmb – The HOA comparison is a very interesting one. I lived in huge one (as association of HOAs that made up a planned community, actually) for 12 years and served on two of the boards. While it had its benefits for the community, there were certainly many frustrating aspects, particularly when you had those who wanted to do things that would actually have been beneficial (or at very least benign to everyone else) but which were outlawed. Sure, moving out is possible, but not always easy.

    I think your complaint about how to optimize poverty mitigation is a very valid point, inherent in any human scheme be it publicly or privately run. Either needs or unmet or the program contains wasteful elements (and likely both). There’s also the question of the goals of LoC: Communism and United Orders (as seen in Orderville) was to make everyone equal. Are we only truly united when one man does not “possess that which is above another”? Or is poverty relative or absolute? If everyone could have a decent standard of living even if there are richer and poorer, would Christian goals be met?

    After all, we seem to think that in the afterlife it’s perfectly acceptable for some people to possess kingdoms and posterity (and whatever else is included in “increase”) greater than others because of their diligence, although everyone is assured some “floor” (given that the telestial kingdom is apparently better than anything on earth). Why would our principles in mortality be different?

  27. SW Clark: “we seem to think that in the afterlife it’s perfectly acceptable for some people to possess kingdoms and posterity (and whatever else is included in “increase”) greater than others because of their diligence, although everyone is assured some “floor”” It’s exactly this line of thought that makes a religious UO problematic IMO. There is opportunity for a meritocracy to emerge based on religious components, equating righteousness with specific social markers and then making income contingent on the same. Again, this is what happened in Soviet Communism: the most “communist” ones (the Politburo) had the most rights, the best material goods, the most advantages. A meritocracy inevitably emerges in any social order.

  28. Re: the Great Basin Kingdom’s purported “equality,” I don’t think this image can be looked at enough:

    http://www.cardcow.com/266163/brigham-youngs-amelia-palace-salt-lake-city-utah/

    In practice, “no rich, no poor” has always been at least partially a self-serving fib, which works for the benefit of the system’s administrators.

    I would add that if you measure poverty by standards of living, the overwhelming majority of the modern poor live materially better lives than the hardscrabble farmers coaxing a communal living out of the Virgin River desert.

    In an agricultural society where childhood diseases carry off children by the dozen, keeping the population stable, and where a finite supply of arable land is the main source of wealth, then assuming that you have something like a zeal-infusing religion to keep everyone motivated not to shirk, then maybe a communal United Order may well be the best way to keep people out of poverty.

    But in an age when some fool has gone and invented antibiotics so the kids no longer die like flies, and where our success in feeding a growing population depends on our ability to tap the less finite supply of potential human knowledge, then I think we have sufficient data for a firm conclusion: Economic freedom is literally the only workable way to go, even if we have to tolerate people getting rich. Ironically, I would bet that the difference between the actual standard of everyday living between Bill Gates or Warren Buffett and the rest of us, is less than the difference between Brigham Young and the average Orderville pioneer.

  29. @SW Clark,
    #25, point taken. I usually take coercion to mean force but I guess there can be other forms.

    #28,
    “Are we only truly united when one man does not “possess that which is above another”? Or is poverty relative or absolute? If everyone could have a decent standard of living even if there are richer and poorer, would Christian goals be met?”

    – I would think you would be able to own different amount of things and still have no poor among us. Take for example a boat. I’m not big into boating/water skiing/etc but my neighbor might be. Why should I own a boat just because he does? Why should I upkeep his boat just because he likes taking it out every weekend? I shouldn’t have to and likewise he shouldn’t have to pitch in for me to own a boat. If I want to live in a 2 bedroom house and my neighbor wants a five bedroom house why should I stop him? We’re both not poor it’s just our needs/wants are different. So, yes, I agree that our Christian goals would be met if even if our standards of living our different, even if all the wants of the people aren’t met, just their needs.

  30. For a United Order to work, two components would be absolutely essential:
    1) “No idlers among them” Everyone would have to be doing their honest best to contribute
    2) “Love his neighbor as himself” Who wouldn’t be moved to help out a less-fortunate neighbor in duress?
    If these two conditions were met, I’d join a UO in a heartbeat. Realistically, those two conditions are almost impossible to meet, so I’m not planning on moving to a commune anytime soon.

    One aspect that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that the United Order is built around PRIVATE ownership. It’s true that to join, a person donated all their property to the Church, but the bishop then deeded back to the contributor a portion, “according to their wants and needs, insofar as their needs are just” (D&C 82:17). The portion donated back, called a “stewardship” was that individual’s, and could not be reclaimed by the Church. If the individual chose to leave the UO, that stewardship left with them (Of course, anything beyond the “stewardship” could not be reclaimed by the individual). D&C 42:31-33

    I think the family analogy is a good one for describing how it could work.

    * Is that how you want to live? Yes. The benefits of love, friends, mutual help and protection, relationships, etc. make it my ideal
    * Do you agree with Ken that the United Order was completely voluntary? Yes, but like a family, it’s a serious commitment that one does enter or lave lightly
    * Was coercion used to make sure everybody wore the same type of pants? Am I coerced into sharing my paycheck? Perhaps, but I knew it was part of the deal going in.
    * Do we really want equality in our society, where there are no poor AND no rich among us? Absolutely. As long as everyone is pulling their weight to the best of their ability.
    * Was Brigham Young’s experiment with United Order closer to socialism or (gasp) communism, than free-market capitalism? (I’m not talking about Soviet communism, but rather communal living, and having true equality, or “no poor among us.”) Emphatically NO. As a “Bensonite” I must rail against the godless, statist monster called communism (Stalinist, Maoist, Marxist, Obamaist, or otherwise). Consecration ennobles a person. God, religion, agency and truth are major components. In Satan’s counterfeit, God is removed, agency is trampled, and information heavily censored.

  31. “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Good motto

    There are plenty of people who work hard in the US who cannot afford basic health care or housing in a safe neighborhood. Hard workers are more than people who wear a suit or a lab coat. Hard workers do manual labor, too. Hard workers are everywhere and it’s not just about schooling.

    I’m not opposed to people being rewarded for their work but at what cost to others? When executives have multiple houses, multiple vehicles, and the latest and best of everything from clothes to electronics but the maintenance workers in their offices eat ramen & a car repair on their old junker is out of reach, I don’t see that as morally right.

    And when it comes to the Mormon connection, it’s sickening to see all the ads for spendy things targeted at Mormon audiences and even more disheartening, but not surprising, that they evidently work.

    Where much is given, much is expected. I don’t see grotesque salaries coming down in any field any time soon. What I do hope for is more of those on the receiving end of said salaries donating more and more living sustainably. Dare to dream.

  32. #33 Ren
    *** “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Good motto ***

    It’s a good motto if someone’s extravagent lifestyle endangers the well-being of another. I’m not sure I see this as a common problem in US society. Do you?

  33. “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

    The error is in the sentiment that Person A living more simply will necessarily result in Person B having more resources to “simply live.” If a person decides to simplify his life by dispensing with his boat, there goes the livelihood of the boatbuilder.

    “There are plenty of people who work hard in the US who cannot afford basic health care or housing in a safe neighborhood.” And therefore what? Say the chiseling cheapskate managing partner of my firm decides he can live with half a million instead of a million. So he bills half as many hours, and spends the time instead with his family (or his mistress, or whatever.) How does that provide anyone with greater access to health care?

    “Living simply” is not enough. What you need, is for people who (for whatever reason) have greater earning capacity, to continue working as hard for others as they now do for themselves. Otherwise, everybody’s worse off. The office maintenance workers don’t even get their Ramen and junkers, if the businessman doesn’t build his business big enough to need an office for them to maintain. If that guy stayed back in Panguitch slopping the hogs, they’d be left to make money in whatever other way they could — and assuming that people don’t work for others for low wages, when they could make more money on their own, that would be less.

    That said, I’m still grotesquely underpaid compared to the big guys, and I resent the crap out of it.

  34. #34 Vort — Generally agree, except in the rare cases where the rich and the non-rich are bidding against each other for the same items. That usually doesn’t happen — the rich’s consumption of Prada, where the vast majority of the price is in the conspicuous-consumption value of the label and not the materials, so the prices for handbags at Wal-Mart aren’t affected at all by upper-class demand.

    However, I think we saw something ugly over the past decade: The non-rich who wanted to buy houses simply to live in, found themselves outbid for property by rich [long string of expletives deleted] who settled on houses as instruments for speculative investment. I’ve decided to believe in a Calvinist-style hell just so I can have a place to imagine those [another long string of expletives deleted] roasting there.

  35. I honestly believe that this is one of the best discussions about consecration/uo that I have ever had. the devil is in the details, and I really agree with hawkgrrrl and jmb’s most recent posts. I even enjoyed the bensonite comment, but he seems to misunderstand the non-soviet style communism that I was aiming for. nonetheless I thought the comment was brilliant.

  36. Can someone please explain to me what a “Bensonite,” is? I’ve never heard of it so I don’t understand how it applies in this conversation.

  37. apostle (and later pres) ezra taft benson was sec of agriculture in the eisenhower administration. he was also a member of the john birch society, a virulently anti-communist group. (i suspect that pres benson was a big fan of joe mccarthy’s anti communism crusade.) pres benson gave many fiery speeches in general conference denouncing communism, and many mormons look to him as a good example of anti-communism.

  38. Thank goodness that the Millenium is likely to still be some time away and we don’t have to worry about stuff like this. I think I’ll go plant a couple of cherry trees now and watch them grow, with my own cash from this capitalist system.

  39. FYI a number of communal endeavors are out there. Bottom line is that there is a size limit, somewhere between 100 and 200 persons, where the system starts to break down and you get free riders.

  40. #41 — Interesting that 100-200 people is about the size of the average ward.

    I’ve read that this is about the upper limit for a community where its members can really know and care about each other.

  41. An Amish or Mennonite city may have a thousand people in it, but they are organized into congregations of less than a hundred. It helps the day-to-day problems be resolved easier.

    In my mind, the A/M communities are the modern day version of the United Order.It works quite well once everyone agrees on community standards (which colors of sofas are allowed, etc.) If a family decides they don’t like the community rules, they move to another community with rules they do like.

  42. mh,

    Good post, but don’t get me started on Obama again.

    Mark,

    I did not say the LofC could not be praciced on earth; rather, I said It is a Celestial Law. Your comments about the City of Enoch and the Nephites support my comments as these groups were able live a Celeatial Law. This is why they were taken up to Heaven.

    Second comment about Socialism/Communism being of Lucifer is from a prophet of God. If it is good enough for him, it is good enough for me.

    Thomas

    Always enjoy your comments

  43.  I believe that Brigham Young had his reasons for not wanting to import goods from other areas, but that is not necessarily how the order would need to be set up today.
    I think that selling goods outside the order in retail outlets and purchasing goods with the buying power of the order would be a significant help in building and growing the order or system of orders.
    Just as a well run corporation provide great benefits to both the employees and its owners united orders founded on correct principles will also provide well for those with the faith and desire to live the principle.
    In every economic system in play today a few reap most of the rewards. In the capitalist system many more share in the rewards than other systems but still only a few are at the top and they eventually pick the winners and losers.
    I see the United Order as a system founded on capitalism and correct principles with all of the its benefits but eliminating the inequalities. As long as the group can overcome the natural greed of man, no one will ever take over the system and live well at the expense of others on one hand and no one would need to live in poverty.
    I an sure I would really like to live in a United Order set up this way.

  44. After reading the original posts and all the comments, I’d like to say:

    1. I like to think of the Law of Consecration more of “Pre-distribution” rather than “re-distribution” of wealth. It’s not about taking the wealth of John and giving it to Paul. It’s about John helping Paul (out of compassion) to get set up with the means to provide well for himself. It’s actually the means of production that are “redistributed” if you must, not particularly the fruits of production. Brigham called on the affluent Saints to use their wealth to set up cooperatives to produce locally-needed products, AND, to provide work for all the Saints. Source: Great Basin Kingdom

    2. We today have mixed together the different terms “Capitalism” and “Free Enterprise”. They are NOT the same thing, though we today use them as synonyms. Capitalism is ONE WAY to organize Capital and Labor in a Free Enterprise system. There are other ways. The early Saints, for example, organized in cooperatives, where there is no Capitalist who owns the operation and reaps all the benefits of the labor of those he employs. In Elder Melvin J. Ballard’s 1919 General Conference talk, he mentioned Capitalism for the first time in any Conference talk ever. He said, “Sometimes it has been charged that the Church rather favors capitalism. I have never discovered it.” He was NOT saying the Church doesn’t favor Free Enterprise, it obviously did. He was saying the Church doesn’t favor capitalism where those with the Capital hire those without it to do their work.

    3. Brigham made specific efforts to “spread the wealth” by encouraging as many members as could to invest in the Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institute (ZCMI), and instructed all the Bishops to discourage the wealthy from buying lots of shares, but to use their wealth instead to set up cooperatives for the benefit of all. He was trying to get the wealthy to follow the counsel in Jacob 2:17-19, where the Lord tells us that wealth is to be sought only to bless the lives of others, not so we can have bigger houses, nicer cars, and go on funner vacations than our poorer brothers and sisters.

    4. …. I’d better stop at three. 🙂

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