I didn’t know Hugh Nibley personally, and I don’t fancy myself much of a Nibley scholar. But if there’s one thing I know about Nibley, it’s that he had some pretty strong thoughts on the “rhetoric of wealth.” This comes from page 48 in my copy of Approaching Zion:
First, of course, the work ethic, which is being so strenuously advocated in our day. This is one of those neat magician’s tricks in which all our attention is focused on one hand while the other hand does the manipulating. Implicit in the work ethic are the ideas (1) that because one must work to acquire wealth, work equals wealth, and (2) that that is the whole equation. With these go the corollaries that anyone who has wealth must have earned it by hard work and is, therefore, beyond criticism; that anyone who doesn’t have it deserves to suffer — thus penalizing any who do not work for money; and (since you have a right to all you earn) that the only real work is for one’s self; and, finally, that any limit set to the amount of wealth an individual may acquire is a satanic device to deprive men of their free agency — thus making mockery of the Council of Heaven. These editorial syllogisms we have heard a thousand times, but you will not find them in the scriptures. Even the cornerstone of virtue, “He that is idle shall not eat the bread . . . of the laborer” (D&C 42:42), hailed as the franchise of unbridled capitalism, is rather a rebuke to that system which has allowed idlers to live in luxury and laborers in want throughout the whole course of history. The whole emphasis in the holy writ is not on whether one works or not, but what one works for: “The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Nephi 26:31).
Maybe that’s why all those BYU students have gone so apostate in their political thinking. Reading too much Nibley.
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