Mormonism and the State of Nature

guest Government, Mormon, plan of salvation, politics 4 Comments

Today’s post is by Andrew C.  As a registered Democrat and a political junkie, it’s difficult for me not to notice politics at church. I’m often surprised by the positions and policies that people often take for granted, without much independent thought of their own.

Of course, I find that I tend to be reflexively liberal too if discussing a topic I haven’t given much thought to.

Why is that? Why do we tend to gravitate to one party, or one ideology, or the other?

Most political philosophers begin their treatises exploring the state of nature – that is, the condition of mankind before the creation of the state. This natural state justifies the creation of the state – either to primarily ensure equity and fairness (see Rawls, for instance) in the liberal vision or to primarily protect property and rights from people who are by nature greedy and devious (see Nozick, for example) in the more conservative viewpoint.

Mormonism is not lacking for “state of nature” theories. The Apostle Paul made mention of man’s natural carnal state, an idea well-supported by latter day scripture .

However, latter day scripture also confirms that, while we are fallen beings, we are truly “children of the most high”, created in the image of God with the potential to become like God.

When you think of our natural state in a Gospel context, do you tend to think in terms that Paul would recognize, or terms that Joseph Smith emphasized? And does your fall-back idea of man’s natural state color your political view? That is, if you tend to think in Pauline terms, do you tend to agree that the state exists to primarily protect our property and persons and if you think of man in more Smithian terms, do you see the state as a means of assisting in achieving equality and potential-fulfillment?

(N.B. Students of philosophy: Please forgive my unschooled references to philosophical concepts. Feel free to clarify or add upon my interpretations in the comments.)

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Comments 4

  1. I think of all human beings as fundamentally good. In my mind, the “natural man” is not “natural”, but a corruption of basically good humans.

    That being said, I am not sure that my view on this drives my politics. I am now a registered democrat and Obama supporter, but for most of my life I was a registered independent who voted mostly for the GOP. My views on human nature are largely the same as they always have been, although my political leanings have changed.

  2. You could use both Pauline and Smithian views to justify either political philosophy.

    I tend to see us as fallen beings with basically good desires. But I recognize that there are a lot of valid answers to this question. It’s yet another contradiction that we’re called upon to wrestle with, and, assuming we give it a good go, be transformed by. Perhaps the question is only answerable subjectively in the end. The answer I gave, for example, is how I see myself.

  3. I find that either way of viewing mortal nature matters little to me in determining my political views. Rather the determining aspect for me is my view of government.

    I believe that government is intrinsically evil, and a product of man’s fallen state. Necessary perhaps, because man is fallen, but still evil. And good fruit doesn’t come from an evil tree.

    If men were not fallen there would be no need for government- and any involvement of government soon corrupts whatever it touches. (The main reason I am not so fond of faith based initiatives is not because I worry about the churches influencing government, but because I worry the government will corrupt the churches.)

    Thus when I was younger and had a more idealistic view of man (what you call Smithian) I opposed liberal policies on the grounds that enlisting the government in the perfection of the man is sort of like taking poison as medicine. I supported conservative libertarianism as a slow, but far less dangerous method of achieving good results.

    As I grown older, and become more cynical about human nature, my original view has only hardened. Many of the experiences I have had with the baser nature of man has been connected with a form of government. Mainly this has led me to become a grumpy (as opposed to happy) conservative who is rather impatient and no longer bothers to try and appeal to liberals, as they are all apparently blind to the way most of the problems they want the government to fix are either created by current government policies, or are already being addressed by the government in a way that just makes things worse.

    I’m still pretty libertarian, but I understand straight up conservative positions far more than I used to.

  4. “Students of philosophy: Please forgive my unschooled references to philosophical concepts.”

    Heck, I almost cried seeing somebody else making a reference to Rawls on the bloggernacle.

    I do not have much time, but I tend to think that our idea of a state of nature would be closer to Rousseau. Of course, I prefer Rousseau over Hobbes or Locke. In terms of social contract theory, I think that the idea of a council in heaven is closest to Rawls’ idea of an original position behind a veil of ignorance. More of a mind exercise than a prehistoric gathering of people in savage nature.

    I think that we have a much more positive view of human nature, yet many of my students are closer to Augustine with his pessimistic view of human nature.

    Anyways, thanks for the post.

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