Interesting Observation: Nephi the Socialist

Stephen MarshMormon 16 Comments

Ever since reading Believing History, I’ve been looking at the Book of Mormon and relating what it says to what it is closest to.  Which is why it becomes pretty obvious that Nephi is closest to the socialists.

You can imagine what a shock that was to me when I was a libertarian marxist, it still affects me as a Republican.

But consider:

2 Nephi 28:13 “they rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing;”

What rhetoric is that closest to?

Modern socialism, definitely.

What other surprising observations have you had while reading the Book of Mormon?

Comments 16

  1. That hell is the fate of the wicked and is a real place of eternal torment and punishment (no three degrees of glory) and that the Godhead is a trinity in unity. Death of political dissidents is justified and there was machinery in the promised land. Those are a few that come to mind.

  2. Huh

    You have one of the strangest definitions of Socialism.

    Just because Socialism wraps itself in rhetoric and propaganda against the rich exploiting the poor does not mean that is all there is to Socailism.

    I define Socailism as simply the idea that government should forcibly take wealth from one person, theoretically a rich man. And give it to another person, theoretically a poor man. In other words, the government should be an agent of leveling and equalizing the amount of wealth members of society have.

    Just because you oppose the rich robbing the poor, does not mean you need to support the robbing of the rich by the government.

    When the government starts forcing the rich to “give” to the poor, it is no longer a gift. Which means the rich can not be blessed for sharing their wealth, the poor are taught to covet the goods of the rich, which brings them under condemnation (see the Tenth Commandment in Exodus 20), and then the rich begin coveting their own goods which brings them under condemnation too.

    So under Socailism, everyone ends up being encouraged to sin, and almost everyone ends up under condemnation.

    And that assumes that the Socailist government isn’t corrupt, and that the government officials don’t divert the money to specific projects and people in a manner that benefits their own interests. (Getting re-elected, or gaining wealth themselves).

    Strange as it may seem to you, I think that the government ought to stay as small as possible, and tax us all the least amount it can, and leave the care of the poor to voluntary organizations.

    The rich should share their wealth with the poor voluntarily. Thus both they and the poor can be blessed by God- or if the rich behave as described in 2 Nephi 28:13 they will be cursed by God.

  3. I believe your own Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested that taxation is the price we pay for civilisation.Cicero,one way of neatly sidestepping the issues that you raise might be for us choose to pay our taxes,and then the rich could choose not to covet their wealth.I don’t believe that my agency is thwarted by taxation,indeed I have at times voted to pay more taxes,realising as I do that voluntary agencies cannot possibly plan their budgets to cover the needs of all society based on voluntary contributions.I work in the voluntary sector,my husband in public housing.We both see plenty of abuse of the systems in which we operate,and choose to work for change and accountability whilst supporting the poor and the weak through both public and private sectors.I would rather a proportion of my taxes be wasted and live in a civil society.I’ve lived in a ‘socialist’ state all my life,and heard family stories of those who died without access to basic healthcare.Charity just can’t cover the ground,and we can choose to make part of our charitable giving paying our taxes.Fortunately,we have the added bonus then of it not being seen of men-just playing our part in civil society.Government is accountable,charities are not,and we get to choose our government.

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    Cicero — that was a starting point for discussion, not so much a definition. I was trying to be lighthearted about it.

    wayfarer — taxation pays for the infrastructure that makes wealth (beyond the ability to sit on a parcel of land) possible.

    Anyway, I was hoping for more like someone who had noticed the incredibly deep level of structure the Book of Mormon has, or that the judges were more like kings than elected executives of the sort we deal with (and operated without our balance of power) or that Captain Moroni, for all his brilliance, never figured out city gates.

    “Death of political dissidents” engaged in active treason is justified if they don’t repent, which is far different from how we would approach treason by dissidents, even today.

    I know Sunday is a slow day, especially Easter Sunday.

    Ah, which is the final point. Much of the Book of Mormon seems focused around the message of the resurrected Christ. From the fruit of the tree of life to Christ’s visit to the Americas to the promises at the end (in terms of the second coming of Christ that brings about the general resurrection), it is a strong theme of the Book of Mormon, and one important to this day.

  5. OK Stephen,sorry to dissappoint. Back to the OP.What’s with the lack of map making skills in BoM times-guys seemed to get places and not be able to get back within a relatively small geographical distance.

  6. As one interested in sustainability, I was surprised to read in Helaman 3 about unsustainable forestry practice by some Nephites.

    And as an building engineer, I was surprised (humbled really) to read about the buildings that collapsed at Christ’s death (3 Nephi 8:14)

  7. Go away for Easter dinner with the family and the whole thread of discussion changes by the time the table is cleared…

    Stephen and wayfarer, I really want to talk about city gates and why geography does or does not get described in detail in the BofM, but I’m going to resist until that post is ready to go on a blog of my own. Big hint: like a general would, Mormon thinks and writes about places and events with the eye of a tactician and strategist attuned to military capabilities of his society, not the eye of a geographer.

    So, let me get back on this thread’s topic. To me, the overarching political theme of the entire BofM is that “moral integrity (or the lack thereof) trumps system”. The Nephites and Lamanites try pretty much everything at one time or another. When the people and/or their rulers have integrity, any system works pretty well. When the integrity breaks down, any of the systems break, too. When, following Christ’s visit, the people become truly righteous, the records don’t even bother to describe the political system. The system became unimportant.

    We have to be careful about being distracted into partisan stereotypes so we don’t notice the actual degree of integrity being practiced by our leaders and institutions. I came to Washington 35 or so years ago to help make this country a better place according to my understanding of God’s will (and a particular revelation in the RLDS’ version of the D&C). I certainly sought God’s guidance in that decision, and I’ve been blessed in those opportunities He’s given me to serve.

    Those opportunities have come to me in the private sector, in academia, and in both state and federal government, as well as my church. Although I have my own personal political philosophy which hardens into bias over time, I must honestly report that I have not observed a great deal of difference in the overall range or average morality of stewardship among sectors or parties. The very same individuals often move from sector to sector and back again at various points in their careers. Unfortunately, even too many of the clergy on both “left” and “right” show signs of corruption.

    I think that we, like the Nephi writing in the early chapters of Helaman, could be surprised at how rapidly complete corruption could overtake our society. Wealth right now is flowing from poor to rich, no matter what rhetoric flows on every political side. We need to pay serious attention and not believe that by changing political approaches the problems are going to improve if people throughout our societies do not change their values more toward those of Jesus Christ.

    We may not have Gadiantons yet, but what we’ve got will do until the real thing comes along.

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    “moral integrity (or the lack thereof) trumps system” — good point

    Interesting just how fast things sometimes move in the Book of Mormon vis a vis “how rapidly complete corruption could overtake our society.”

  9. As long as we’re talking about definitions:

    so·cial·ism noun
    1. a. A social system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are owned collectively and political power is exercised by the whole community. — The American Heritage Dictionary

    re·dis·tri·bu·tion noun
    2. An economic theory or policy that advocates reducing inequalities in the distribution of wealth. — The American Heritage Dictionary

  10. “Strange as it may seem to you, I think that the government ought to stay as small as possible, and tax us all the least amount it can, and leave the care of the poor to voluntary organizations.”

    The sad thing about this is that when the care of the poor is left to voluntary organizations, very little care is actually given. I understand the ideology behind small government and minimal taxing, but that solution just relies on one group of people to do exactly what you’re not trusting the other group to do, and to simply do it out of the goodness of their hearts. I would suggest (and I think this is one of the biggest political lessons I see in the Book of Mormon) that if the people don’t change, governmental change will not have any lasting impact. When the people were righteous, they naturally took care of each other (no poor, no ‘ites’ among them, etc.). When the people changed, the government reflected that change.

  11. In order to be a “Socialist” don’t you have to believe in a lot of government regulations over individuals? At least that’s what I have always thought. Wasn’t it Nephi who didn’t want to be king?

  12. It was either Nephi or King Benjamin who also stated that having a king would be just fine if it were a righteous king. In other words Firetag nailed it. The issue is not the distribution of wealth, rather the righteousness of the people.

  13. J.Ro:

    I fail to see the connection you’re making. If people don’t give voluntarily to the poor through the private sector, they don’t give voluntarily to care for the poor through the public sector. So they give INVOLUNTARILY until they learn to beat the system, or the money doesn’t go to the poor in the first place.

    Politicians aren’t raising and spending hundreds of millions, nor are lobbyists (including many “public interest” lobbyists) offering those dollars out of simple altruism. They are doing it for wealth or power, and that is a very bad sign.

    Corruption flows to the sources of money and power. Government charity lasts only as long as people don’t figure out that they can keep control of the government and only appear to give the charity. I still argue that the character to resist corruption is what is supremely important in determining the welfare of the poor.

    The argument that “people who wish to help the poor can choose government as an efficient or necessary means to do so” is a very different argument than “people do not wish to help the poor and so must be compelled to do so by those nobler or wiser”. The second argument has some very nasty side-effects, even for Sons of the Morning.

  14. Some observations, while recognizing that your original post was meant humorously:

    — If you’re looking for socialism in Book of Mormon times (Nephi was talking about our day), you’re better off going to 4 Nephi (v. 3: “And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.”), which of course is paralleled in Acts 4:32 (“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”) In fact, the issue of inequity of wealth comes up in many places in the Book of Mormon, and usually (though not always) in a negative connotation.

    — On the other hand there is no indication that I can find (in the BofM) where a central government collects taxes and redistributes them to other members of society. Almost always, when taxes are collected in the Book of Mormon, they are to support the rulers — and usually the greater the rate of taxation, the more wicked the rulers (cf. King Benjamin vs. King Noah and his priests).

    — wayfarer: “guys seemed to get places and not be able to get back within a relatively small geographical distance.” Ever been to Central America? I spent my mission down there (Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama), and trust me, there are areas where you’d get lost or find yourself going in circles within 5 to 10 miles without a high quality map and a compass. ..bruce..

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