“My Husband is a Socialist”

Here is another post that does not fit in with the normal FPR post:

I am taking an independent reading on political economy with a member of the economics department at the institution where I am working on a doctorate in political science. The readings focus on theories of capitalism and socialism with a particular focus on socialist critiques of capitalism. While I am very much on the socialist side of the capitalist-socialist divide, I officially label myself as a liberal because of my joint commitment to individual liberty and economic justice. Yet, my belief that a redistribution of wealth is vital to ensuring liberty to all makes me in many ways fit within what many might call socialism.

I often refer to myself as a socialist when talking politics with my wife. I also refer to myself as a socialist around others both for shock value and to emphasize that I really am on the left and not just another “Democrat” (though I am one of those too).

I mention all this because a few years back my wife and I went to stake center for the stake portion of our temple recommend interviews. I was interviewed by a counselor in the stake presidency and my wife met at the same time with the stake president. The stake president is an active conservative Republican in Utah and a former speaker of the House of Representatives in the Utah State Legislature. He knew that I was Democrat and that I was in graduate school at the Univ. of Utah studying political science. He often stopped to exchange political small-talk when we ran into each other.

As we walked to the car, I asked how her interview went (we both passed). She said that politics had come up while discussing my schooling and then she said “I told him you are a socialist, just like my dad.” I was a bit stunned. While she was more or less right, about both her dad and I, neither of us would have presented it that way to the stake president (my father-in-law was a bishop in the stake at the time). This left me with an appreciation of my wife’s candor. I feel ashamed that my reaction to my wife’s comment was one of embarrassment and not pride.

The Canadian political philosopher Wil Kymlicka, states in his textbook on contemporary political philosophy, that most Marxists and Socialist today are in many ways more liberal egalitarians than they are Marxists. I tend to agree with him. Yet I feel that the socialist voice is an important one. Is it a label that I should try to revive and wear with pride? I will let you know what I discover over the next semester.

About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • http://thegrumpy.wordpress.com/ cew-smoke

    I hope you don’t mind me being so bold. I was wondering if you would answer a question from “one of the enemy”. In spite of what it may appear, I am not looking for a confrontation. Just an honest expression of your feelings on the matter.

    How does someone on the distribution of wealth side of things reconcile the human need or drive to be succesful? I’ve always thought the primary dilemma is this; what would be the incentive for someone who say works at a job requiring a dedicated 60+ hour week of tough work (such as a surgeon, or small business owner, or farmer) to allow the financial success they have achieved to be “redistributed” to say a person who works a much less demanding 40 hour week (perhaps a profession like a mall sales person, or a fry cook at McDonalds) both of which I have been btw?

    In a true socialist system, what are the tangible benefits of dedicating your life to a high stress, high demand job? Competition for success (or let us use “competition over limited resources” as an alternative) is what has driven every creature on the earth from the lowest microscopic animal all the way up to humans to survive and thrive. So, some form of incentive needs to be provided that ensures we continue to strive and push forward. Where is the source of that incentive when you have wealth redistribution?

    I would assume I could probably take whole classes on this topic, but I’m too lazy and was hoping for a more concise answer as opposed to a 1300 page textbook. LOL!

  • larryco_

    A socialist, you say? And a temple recommend-toking Mormon? How shocking! How unacceptable! Well..a..unless, of course, you believe in such things as the law of consecration, the united order, stewardship of property (the D&C version of “all things in common”) and admire such communities as the City of Enoch, the early old-world Christians, the 3-generations of post-34 a.d. new world christians, and the future New Jerusalem. Then, I guess it’s okay.

  • larryco_

    I believe the word I meant is “toting”. A toking Mormon is a whole different story.

  • Curtis

    Hey, another temple-recommend-holding mormon socialist comes out of the closet. Join the club! Thanks for your post. My wife tells everyone I’m a socialist too, but I don’t thing she’s ever told the Stake Pres.

  • ed42

    “Where is the source of that incentive when you have FORCED AT GUNPOINT wealth redistribution?”

    God’s system is wealth redistribution as prompted by the Holy Ghost. Socialism is wealth redistribution as prompted by the threat of violence.

  • http://inmedias.blogspot.com Russell Arben Fox

    “The Canadian political philosopher Wil Kymlicka states…that most Marxists and Socialists today are in many ways more liberal egalitarians than they are Marxists. I tend to agree with him. Yet I feel that the socialist voice is an important one. Is it a label that I should try to revive and wear with pride?”

    Yes, you should–but you should also recognize that Kymlicka’s observation, while certainly an accurate description of most self-described socialists, also has a normative agenda: Kymlicka wants to understand the best insights of the socialist critique of capitalism as capable of being absorbed into liberal egalitarianism, because he’s a liberal. Socialism, properly speaking, is not; it is communitarian, and while Kymlicka is more sympathetic to culture-and-community premised arguments than some other liberals, ultimately he insists that equality has to be measured in individualistic terms. (Check out Kymlicka’s arguments with Charles Taylor of G.A. Cohen on this point.) So, if you want to push socialism as a way of marking yourself in regards to, and announcing your support for, a slightly more left-leaning liberalism, go for it. But that’s not really the sort of socialism–broadly defined–that I think the prophets have called us to.

    cew-smoke: The only true socialist answer to your question is the conviction that, were the oppressive social power of capital removed from the equation (that is, eliminating monopolies, corporations, argibusinesses, large estates, etc.), then the sort of distinctions you see as central to the nature of work wouldn’t exist, at least not in their same form. The role of “incentive” would be very different in contexts where “limited resources” are not defined and distributed by way of property and inheritance rights, but rather through democratic decisions made with self-sustaining communities. (If you’re not willing to imagine the existence of such communities, then you’re left with the liberal egalitarian answer: the government should be allowed to redistribute whatever it can make a plausible case for so doing on the basis of the demands of “justice” or “fairness,” but following that the individual to keep all the remaining profits for him or herself.)

    Is this the sort of stuff you guys talk about here? I should read this blog more often.

  • Chris H.

    Thanks all for your comments.

    Cew-smoke:

    “In a true socialist system, what are the tangible benefits of dedicating your life to a high stress, high demand job?”

    Why do mothers or nursing home workers do what that do for little or no economic incentive? Surely such jobs are high stress and important, though they may not be high demand. My primary short response would be that we desire a variety of goods other than wealth. Such goods include security and a sense of self-worth that cannot be ensured by a “true capitalist” regime (I do not think there is true socialism, there is only better arguments for and against socialism). Check out Russell’s response above.

    Larryco and ed42: I did not draw on the gospel parallels with socialism to avoid clichés like that expressed by ed42. In response, all government action is backed up by coercive force. This is why John Locke saw no place for government in religion. I think that we should be willing to put our democratic energies towards eliminating poverty and promoting conditions of fairness. Have we not in some way consented to abide by programs and rules that we disagree with but which are democratically approved.

    Russell: Thanks for visiting us. As a Rawlsian, I tend to think that the only justifiable conception of socialism is a liberal one. As for the prophets, I tend to think that communitarianism or communalism were means to achieving certain principles of cooperation and equality. I think that it is these principles are better achieved and more democratically legitimate through a strong conception of liberal egalitarianism. In other words: Communitarian conceptions of Zion are great for guiding how we run our families, wards, and stakes; liberal egalitarian conceptions of Zion (my blend of Rawls and Nibley) represent the best public reasons for such principles in a democratic society. Political liberalism—Rexburg Style. I am pretty sure that I am all alone here.

    “Is this the sort of stuff you guys talk about here?”

    I try.

  • http://inmedias.blogspot.com Russell Arben Fox

    “Political liberalism—Rexburg Style.”

    Ah, but what does that mean? Is Rexburg, a city within Idaho within the United States of America, a liberal polity that just happens to house a lot of conservative, communally inclined citizens? Or is “Rexburg” the name for a certain moral and religious community that chooses, for prudential or historical reasons, to administer itself liberally? In other words, is “Political Liberalism-Rexburg Style” supposed to mean a communitarian liberalism, or a liberal communitarianism? While descriptively it is likely closer to the former, I think normatively one ought to hope it was the latter.

    Of course, in reality its neither; it’s just a bunch of Republicans. Though very nice ones, I’m sure.

  • Chris H.

    “Political liberalism—Rexburg Style” really has nothing to do with Rexburg itself. Rather it is a referrence to my hopeless predicament as a liberal at a rather conservative school in a right-wing community. I hold that mormons could except political liberal theoretically according to Rawls’ idea of an overlapping concenus. Yet my experience leaves me little hope for an actual Mormon politics similar to what either of us envision.

    I would say that John Rawls himself (who I advocate) is very much a communitarian liberal. I have to go lecture. More later.

  • http://ldsliberationfront.net Serenity Valley

    Chris H.,

    Wow, it never even occured to me that my husband’s being a Socialist (or my being one, for that matter) might be of interest in temple recommend interviews. How ever did it come up?

    Was Hugh B. Brown our last Socialist GA?

  • Chris H.

    Serenity Valley,

    I think that it came up while discussing my schooling (in poli sci) and our future plans. My wife offered it as part of a larger discussion. I am pretty sure that it is not something he was digging for and likely fell under the category of “That was more that I needed to know.”

    I am sure that you and your husband are on a list generated by Salt Lake and the Stake Pres already knows. :)

    Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner were both very strong Canadian social democrats. While they would not have been consider Marxists, there form of social democrat thought is consistent with what I claim as socialism. Surely most Americans and Mormons would view the social credit movement in Alberta as socialism (Tanner, at least, was elected as part of the social credit party). It was a form of populist socialism, similar to British Fabian Socialism.

    What is up with LDS Liberation Front?

  • http://inmedias.blogspot.com Russell Arben Fox

    “It was a form of populist socialism…”

    Which really, is the best kind. Let’s hear it for the Red Tories!

  • ed42

    “Have we not in some way consented to abide by programs and rules that we disagree with but which are democratically approved.”

    No, Heck NO! Where and when did I sign this document? Democracy is the worse tyrant around because the “do-gooders” never tire in their efforts, they never stop to consider the evil that their actions inflict on others. Let me state this again: Socialism (the taking by force from one and giving to another) is Satan’s counterfeit plan. How can you possibly relate it to the God inspired plan of the united order?

  • LXXLuthor

    Much of this discussion was dialectically over my head. Couldn’t follow the jargon, but I guess fair’s fair. One simple minded question: Do any of the forms of socialism you speak of include literally taking everyone’s money away and redistributing it? It seems to me that the answer is probably no. So where is the crime in asking or even requiring the uber-wealthy to share a small and reasonable portion of their wealth, no matter how it is gotten, to assist their fellow citizens in need? They do not cease to be wealthy compared to those receiving. The main thing that changes is the disparity between the rich and poor. There is still lots of motivation to work hard to become wealthy because it is still comparatively possible.

    Ed42: Are you LDS? I don’t say that because I think that you can’t possibly be LDS because of the opinions you’ve stated, I’m being sincere. I’m curious about what you do with the teachings of the prophets that state that the democracy of the United States is a God inspired institution that was made possible through divine intervention? Everyone knows that it doesn’t stack up to Celestial governing but since that isn’t possible, what form of government would you have in the mean time?

  • Chris H.

    ed42: You and I are at an impasse. If you reject democracy, then we have no common ground to work with.

    “How can you possibly relate it to the God inspired plan of the united order?”

    I did not. I am pretty sure that you are not open to a reasoned response to that question anyways.

    LXXLuthor:
    “Do any of the forms of socialism you speak of include literally taking everyone’s money away and redistributing it?”

    The only form of socialism that claims to do that is the straw man of socialism depicted by the right-wing. Your description of socialism is exactly what I advocate, though it is probably also why I am more liberal than socialist (again, the distinction being minor in this case).

  • Chris H.

    LXXLuthor:

    As for not following the jargon: Now you know how I always feel in this community of Bible-dorks.

  • Gary

    It is not at all accurate to describe the Alberta Social Credit party as a socialist party. It started out as a populist party based on an economic theory that had some elements of socialism. By the 1950′s it was actually quite a conservative party, and remained that way until its ultimate demise in the early 70′s. Pres. Tanner was a cabinet minister in the Social Credit government in the 50′s but the policies of that government were definitely on right end of the political spectrum, and not the left.

  • ed42

    I reject all political systems that use or promote violence (or the threat of violence, or fraud, or trespass, or taxes or whatever you want to call taking from a man in part or in full his life, liberty, or property) as a means to an end (usually some sort of ‘social justice’ or ‘equality’, or ‘for the children’).

    Of course violence is acceptable, but not required, as part of defense (either immediately or through forced restitution to make the victim whole).

    I’d like to see the quotes where “democracy” is inspired of God. The Constitution set up a constitutional republic (where-in our God given rights were meant to be protected), not a democracy. [And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. ]

    “So where is the crime in asking or even requiring the uber-wealthy to share a small and reasonable portion of their wealth” — Do you really NOT know the origins of the income tax? It was sold to the public as originally just 3%, on only the rich.

  • Roy W. Wright

    D&C 134:2: “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”

    Socialism is utterly incompatible with the truth and purposes of the Gospel.

  • http://inmedias.blogspot.com Russell Arben Fox

    “It is not at all accurate to describe the Alberta Social Credit party as a socialist party. It started out as a populist party based on an economic theory that had some elements of socialism. By the 1950’s it was actually quite a conservative party, and remained that way until its ultimate demise in the early 70’s.”

    True, but you appear to me to be drawing the wrong conclusion from that development. The Social Credit party–or Socreds–always were “conservative” in some important ways: they were a rural party, with agrarian and localist concerns, and always joined their socialist policies and proporals to traditional Christian social and moral values. (William Aberhart, the Albertan who led the Socreds to power in western Canada, was a Christian minister.) In this sense, the Socreds, all the way up through the 1950s when Eldon Tanner held positions in the party, was a good example of the Red Toryism I mentioned before: a culturally conservative movement that (quite accurately, in my view) saw in liberal captialist policies a threat to community values and the economic stability of families. While this sort of conservative/populist socialism probably lasted longer in Canada than anywhere else in the world, in reality many social democratic movements were fairly “conservative” up through the last half-century or so, which point “progress” and “secularism” became almost joined at the hip. (I’d like to think that Tanner’s example emphasizes that Mormonism is compatible with that older tradition of egalitarianism, but in today’s climate that’s not an easy point to make.)

  • LXXLuthor

    ed: And where is the crime again? That argument doesn’t convince me in any way that you are right. And did you really just equate taxes with violence, the threat of violence, fraud, and trespass?

    Roy: I don’t follow how you reached your conclusion there. You seem a lot more reasonable than ed here so I’m hoping you’ll elaborate. How does the current government not do those things? Does taxing people in some way reduce or compromise their ability to “right and control of property”?

  • Roy W. White

    If you think I’m more reasonable than ed, then I should probably be more clear. Taxation is inherently violent, and unless it’s done for a very small and specific set of reasons, it is no better than theft.

    Does taxing people in some way reduce or compromise their ability to “right and control of property”?

    Does removing people’s property by force in some way reduce or compromise their ability to “right and control of property”? Well yes, self-evidently so.

    Now, I’ve heard it argued many times that taxation and the violence necessary to accomplish it are means to a good end, but it astonishes me to see someone seriously claim that there is no threat of violence inherent in taxation, or that it doesn’t compromise property rights. I am literally, honestly astonished.

  • Roy W. White

    Here’s a quote that gets to the heart of where I’m coming from.

    “An important test I use in passing judgment upon an act of government is this: If it were up to me as an individual to punish my neighbor for violating a given law, would it offend my conscience to do so? Since my conscience will never permit me to physically punish my fellow man unless he has done something evil, or unless he has failed to do something which I have a moral right to require of him to do, I will never knowingly authorize my agent, the government to do this on my behalf. I realize that when I give my consent to the adoption of a law, I specifically instruct the police – the government – to take either the life, liberty, or property of anyone who disobeys that law. Furthermore, I tell them that if anyone resists the enforcement of the law, they are to use any means necessary – yes, even putting the lawbreaker to death or putting him in jail – to overcome such resistance…

    “I believe we Americans should use extreme care before lending our support to any proposed government program. We should fully recognize that government is no plaything… It is an instrument of force and unless our conscience is clear that we would not hesitate to put a man to death, put him in jail or forcibly deprive him of his property for failing to obey a given law, we should oppose it.” – Ezra Taft Benson

    It just so happens that this quote is from one of the prophets, but he didn’t say it in that capacity and I don’t intend it as an authoritative statement. But it does voice my position more eloquently than I could.

    Almost none of the actions of American government today meet the criterion of justice given above, and the more we drift (or are pushed) toward socialism, the smaller that set of actions becomes.

  • http://shrinkurl.us/fares Antibush

    Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? Is killing thousands of innocent civilians okay when you are doing a little government makeover?
    Are we safer today than we were before?
    The more people that the government puts in jails, the safer we are told to think we are. The real terrorists are wherever they are, but they aren’t living in a country with bars on the windows. We are.

  • Idetrorce

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  • Chris H.

    Thanks?!

  • AntonioB

    Near the beginning of the comments here I was so happy and impressed to see that other people shared my views on socialism etc. (I’ve always been LDS and when I was younger I stumbled upon socialism, fell in love with it, and then became heart broken when I read a year later how the church hated socialism(which was what I got out of the comments about it in the Gospel Doctrine book.)This caused so much turmoil inside me, because I loved the ideas of sharing and distributing and not competing and all that great stuff, and I couldn´t understand why the church would hate it like that. I have a defenition here of socialism that I kind of like: Communism is the abolition of power of people over people. This means abolishing “oppression,” whether the oppression be of nations by nations, classes by classes, women by men or any other division in society. Communism is based on mutual cooperation, peace and justice instead of oppression.

    Long-run goals of communism include the abolition of classes and organized society without governments or borders. Communists believe that as in certain tribal societies in the past and living still today, it is possible for humans to organize themselves without war, crime, starvation and homelessness. When there are social problems, communists blame those problems on how society is organized. They seek to organize society to bring out the best in people, however flawed the species may be.
    Except in tribal societies, no communist leader* has ever claimed that a society has achieved communism yet. That means the industrial societies of our time have either lived in capitalism or socialism.

    It all just makes me want to study and learn to find out what it takes to set up a society superior to capitalism (which I’ve come to loathe.)

  • AntonioB

    I just re-read my response and noticed that it looks like I fell away from the church or something…I LOVE the church and hold the truth above everything, and if it were clear that Heavenly Father actually didn’t want his children to cooperate etc. then I’d leave communism bhind long before I’d leave my testimony. I just wanted to clear things up.

    Man I’m so glad there are other socialisty Mormons out there, when I first found out about Hugh B. Brown and his cool quote about Mormons being able to be socialist etc, it made my day.
    ¡Me encanta el socialismo, y espero q no tenga q dejarlo!! ¡Ayudadme a hallar la verdad!!

  • Chris H.

    AntonioB,

    Being a Mormon egalitarian (whether a communinist, socialist, or liberal) is very lonely. Many Mormons are more capitalist than they are LDS.

    I tend to reject radical utopian communism in favor of a liberal form of social democracy. Of course, to most uninformed observers that makes me a radical socialist.

  • Trevor M

    It seemeth me that the scientific arguments against socialism hold great power from a secular standpoint, which include all the things mentioned above, incentive for labor, distastefulness of willful wealth redistribution, etc., as well as the difficulty of providing all the goods that people want without market forces guiding it.

    However, it also makes a lot of sense that religion gives us just enough crazy hope to believe that men can work together and make life better and sacrifice for the good of the whole. While I don’t view socialism as viable due to the many sociological difficulties attached to it, it seems silly to try and limit a man’s (or Woman’s) belief in human cooperation to rise higher in the world. We need this sort of forward-thinking, hope/faith-centered world-view to inspire us as we labor around other imperfect beings.

  • Chris H.

    I think that the secular social scientific argument is very much divided on socialism (at least the european style of socialism that I like). My socialism is more based in my secular political philosophy than it is in my religious beliefs, though I do not think that my religion denies it.

    My views have advanced since I wrote this post over a year ago (though I am still more or less a socialist as I define it here and elsewhere). All being said, my form of socialism is not Marxist but more a form of liberalism.

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