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Political Tuesday: LDS Political Thought: Lesson 6 (1948-49)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 10, 2012

Lesson 6 – Contemporary Domestic Problems

Elder G. Homer Durham

For Tuesday, April 26, 1949

Objective: To recognize the limitations of the State in the ability to solve problems. Note: State in this lesson refers to a nation.

The modern State is a national State. There are two aspects to modern political problems: (1) the relationships men bear to the national State in internal affairs, and (2) the relations between national States (international relations) and their effects on men. The two aspects are inseparable in that both relationships affect people. Thus, American internal policy may favor the family; but if the United States comes into conflict with another State, war may result, and the family be disrupted. Thus, adequate political theory must offer guidance to men in both areas. Internal (domestic) problems will be discussed first.

Government, Social, and Economic Life

In the development of society, most governments have been forced to recognize the existence of other social institutions: the family, the church, fraternal associations, guilds, unions, corporations, and so forth. Under the doctrine of limited, constitutional government, it has been an ideal that government was not the only but another institution, characterized, however, by law and the function of adjudicating between groups, citizens, and itself. More and more, however, the modern State has come to dominate the affairs of most of these other groups. For example, in most American states it is illegal to marry without medical certification. Such regulations have been self-imposed by the community on its members in the interests of the community. But if the state can impose medical certification, can it not prescribe that male red-heads under six feet in height can only marry female brunettes weighing at least 128 pounds? Where is the line to be drawn? This is where the ancient concept of constitutional-legal limitations, of “limited government,” comes in to guide the democratic process. Although the community is free to impose restrictions, it should also be conscious of its liberty to do so, and recognize the necessity of legal, orderly processes in approaching such problems. Only thus can the best welfare of the majority, as in the case of the pre-marital examination, be served and arbitrary mischief avoided. Even so, the task of government is always to strike the delicate balance between liberty, authority, and public welfare.

This demonstrates the importance of political theory in evaluating contemporary policies! For when government is limited and responsible there is a tendency for all other groups to emulate the government.

What is happening in the modern world is that men everywhere look to the State for security, for “salvation” from all of their enemies, domestic and foreign. Let us look at this attitude somewhat more closely. What do most of the people you know look toward to solve the housing problem? The liquor problem? (Utah, in its Department of Public Welfare, established an alcoholics board in 1947.) Public health? Wool and sugar prices? Strikes? Care of the aged? Unemployment? Can the State alone save a man from the effects of liquor, unemployment, old age, poor health? We should recognize that although the State can assist in solving these problems, and that it may provide the primary solution for many of them, the fact remains that there are certain fundamental limits to the scope of everything. For example, men, history shows, can and will resist the State. As discussed in earlier pages, we have seen that God recognizes the liberty or free agency of men and will “force no man to heaven.” So, a sound political doctrine, even if it deifies the State (as certain modern political doctrines do), should recognize that the State as State or the State even as “god,” has limitations! Any scientific observation known to man recognizes that any principle of science operates within limits. But some men, rejecting a rational God who respects men’s own personalities, and wanting to substitute therefor “a sure thing,” rush pell-mell into the arms of not only the State but other equally misleading panaceas. As one having some experience with a well-established State function, public education, I know that the State cannot of itself force education! It can provide the best of schools, classrooms, books, and teachers. Some who attend will use their “liberty” to gain educational advantages. Others will show little more than the effects of exposure to all the resources the State may mobilize, educationally, on the student’s behalf – including teachers who will collectively exhaust the tricks of the trade, known and unknown, to “reach” and stir up desire for self-action on the part of the student. Nearly all students can eventually be “reached” and motivated. But all state action does not typify the patience of a public school teacher.

The Communist-Socialist Attack

Notwithstanding these well-established facts of experience, certain political philosophies assume that materialism and environment wholly determine, rather than influence human behavior. Some therefore seek to establish the totalitarian State as the means of solving all human problems. Paraphrasing the scripture, they seem to say, “Cast thy burdens upon the State and it will sustain thee!” Usually their cause is advanced by the argument that until the State is all-powerful and can control and distribute all materials, mankind cannot really be free! This is like saying that people should never have come to Utah until the ditches were dug, the streets paved, the flowers planted, the lights turned on, and the tables set for ready-cooked feasts, piled high thereon! Some socialists, a few have recognized and are willing to abide by the scientific doctrine of limited government, but the communists accept the doctrine of the necessity of total State dictatorship as the way to man’s temporal salvation. In return, it is evident that the men in those systems find they have all too often received slavery under the guise of promises of well-being.

The Values of Constitutional Government

The values of constitutional government have already been well marked out in this series. In summary, they may be expressed as follows:

1. Liberty for the maturing individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – including his home and property.

2. Liberty of real association in groups, including religious as well as diverse political parties and various economic groups which share the responsibilities of governing men and each other.

3. Freedom, with tolerance to “proselyte,” whether it be a corporation selling soap; a union selling memberships; a religion, or various colleges competing for students – with corresponding liberty of each individual to choose for himself or reject them all. this freedom embraces those of speech, press, person, religion, political and social association. And as a result – we have:

4. Freedom to choose and retire officers of government without fear or restraint.

5. Freedom to inquire and discover, in human experience and the media of inspiration, constant means of improving ourselves, our community, and our government. Finally:

6. The rule of law results from all these, imposing restraints and responsibilities on the individual, all groups, and the government, and setting up orderly procedures (jury trial, elections, the right of assembly and petition, judicial determination in open court) whereby rights may be secured. Government thus limited by law may become constitutional government.

Thus, in a constitutional system, “governments have a right to enact such laws as … are best calculated to secure the public interest” (D. & C. 134:5). best calculated by whom? the people! And thus, constitutional or limited government, while never static nor confined to single objects, is always defined. And whatever is defined is under limitation and cannot be arbitrary without public notice. Thus human liberty is served. All this is guaranteed and made possible under constitutional government.

The Defense of Constitutional Government

The doctrine of human liberty and the necessity for organized human society combine and are reconciled in the concept of constitutional limitations. No constitution is static or rigid, nor is its meaning found in cant or form. The defense of constitutional government therefore lies (1) in the theoretical front, in men’s minds and beliefs; (2) in practical politics; and (3) in governmental administration. The theoretical front is listed first so that it can be kept foremost, and so, in turn, permeate and guide the minds of men in regard to practical politics and the administration of government. Men who are dominated by and confronted with the doctrines of human liberty are bound, at some point, to give more than lip service to the same. There is a germ of truth in the socialist-communist analysis which recognizes economic self-interest as a human motive. Many men too dimly understand the institutional forces which influence and condition human behavior. Yet the supreme doctrine of individual responsibility helps a man (1) get the best, and (2) resist the worst, in his environment. And although environment is of signal importance, no doctrine of”group will” has yet proved as successful as a group will based on individual freedom. it is as a group doctrine that individualism has its greatest significance, for no man stands alone. American, including latter-day Saint, utterance is filled with helps with which to defend, maintain, and (most important) live the principles of constitutional government.

Helps and Problems

1. President Joseph F. Smith’s views on war, peace, and other problems are found in Gospel Doctrine, chapter 13.

2. “‘Religion and Constitutional Liberty” is the title of Chapter 14, Discourses of Wilford Woodruff 91946).

3. President John Taylor said, “God expects us to … maintain the principle of human rights” (The Gospel Kingdom, page 307). why?

4. What is the political significance of the doctrine of free agency? (For a good discussion of free agency as a religious principle see The Discourses of Brigham Young, chapter 5).


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