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A Moral and Religious People
Making man moral in the classically liberal, integralist, and Latter-day Saint traditions.
This essay does not purport to represent the official stances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a member’s observation of the political theory deduced from his understanding of and interpretation of Latter-day Saint doctrine.
One of the most famous and often quoted statements from the American Founding comes from John Adams in a letter he wrote to the Massachusetts Militia on October 11th, 1798. Speaking of the new Constitution and the nation that he had helped found, he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Adams was not alone in his belief that some sort of morality was imperative to the continued viability of the American nation. James Madison similarly stated, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” For several of the leading founding fathers, a free society and morality were intimately connected.
These statements from Adams and other founding fathers have often been employed by legislators, commentators, and constituents as support for any number of socially conservative policies.
The logic of these arguments is not difficult: If our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people or if liberty cannot be secured without virtue in the people, then we must make the people moral and religious. Its simplicity and the appeal to the words of some of the founding fathers, give the argument quite a bit of persuasive power for the average listener. Yet the implications of Adams’ and other founders’ statements compared to the common social conservative interpretation are not as cut and dry as it may seem.
The need to examine the arguments for or against the power to legislatively make individuals moral has grown in recent years because of developments on the American Right. Beginning with the rise of Trump and the moral panic over drag queen story hour—which is held as emblematic of perceived cultural degeneracy arising from unchecked liberalism—the American Right has fractured into multiple camps.
Another group is those who, in the name of a return to Burkean or Hamiltonian conservatism, favor a new conservatism built on the wielding of governmental power in both the economic and private spheres of life and an emphasis on nationalism.
And yet another group, largely comprised of conservative Catholics, has revitalized Catholic integralist thought and argues for the weaponization of the administrative state in favor of “the common good.” For the last two groups, the concept of making individuals moral through legislative power is conceivable. Thus, a substantive analysis of the concept is in order.
This essay will examine the project of legislatively making humankind moral from three distinct perspectives: the classical liberal, Catholic Integralist, and Latter-day Saint traditions. Through this examination, this paper will show that while Latter-day Saint theology and Catholic Integralism both subscribe to a substantive conception of the Good or a telos, Latter-day Saint theology is much more aligned with classical liberalism’s view on making men moral through legislation.
Section I of this paper will examine classical liberalism, relying mainly on the thoughts of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Frederic Bastiat. Section I will first describe classical liberalism’s view of natural equality, natural rights, and natural law and then show how these concepts restrict the legitimate role of the State generally but especially limit the State’s ability to make men moral. Next, this section will outline and critique Thomas West’s alternative account of natural rights philosophy, which justifies a more robust approach to moral legislation. Finally, this section will examine two policy approaches to making individuals moral that are in harmony with natural equality, natural rights, and natural law.
Section II will describe Catholic Integralism, relying largely on various Catholic thinkers, including Thomas Aquinas, Adrian Vermeule, and Romanus Cessario. This section will discuss the Integralist view of the common good, its relationship to individual rights, and the role of the State. Then, it will show that Political Catholicism’s conception of the common good or humanity’s telos is the possession of God and that the State’s legitimacy depends on moving society towards that end. Thus, Political Catholicism requires a State capable of promoting moral order and stability with the latitude to make men moral by proscribing immoral behavior that classical liberalism would view as outside the realm of legitimate state action.
Finally, Section III will examine the Latter-day Saint theological perspective on making men moral. Relying on Latter-day Saint scriptures and the teachings of Latter-day prophets and apostles, this section will first outline the Latter-day Saint conception of the Good or telos of human existence and the necessary role that the free exercise of individual agency plays in individuals achieving the Good. Then, this section will show how the Latter-day Saint telos and the need for the free exercise of individual agency justifies a state much like that advocated for by classical liberalism: limited to securing the free exercise of agency and limited in its ability to make men moral beyond safeguarding the free exercise of agency. Thus, despite its substantive view of the Good, Latter-day Saint theology breaks with Political Catholicism and instead aligns with classical liberalism.
Section I - Classical Liberalism
Classical liberalism justifies a State limited in its ability to shape the morals of society. Classical liberalism thus depends on other tools beyond state coercion to create the “moral and religious people” contemplated by John Adams. This limited view on the state's legitimate powers to make men moral arises from classical liberalism’s first principles of natural equality, natural rights, and rightful force.
The first foundational concept that restrains a classical liberal State from making men moral is natural equality. This principle was most famously and arguably best explained by Thomas Jefferson when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This natural equality is not a claim that individuals are equal in their mental or physical faculties as it is “self-evident” that individuals are naturally unequal in their faculties. One need look no further than an NBA basketball court or a chess tournament where Magnus Carlson is competing to see that humans are not naturally equal in their athletic abilities or intellect. Nor is the classical claim of natural equality a statement that individuals are naturally entitled to an equality of outcomes or starting places as arguments for “equity” demand today.
Instead, the conception of natural equality Jefferson articulated in the Declaration of Independence is a claim of natural moral equality. Morally, all humans are naturally equal in their dignity and their possession of natural rights. Locke described this as being “creatures of the same species and rank . . . without subordination or subjection.” Individuals are equally entitled to be free to enjoy their “life, health, liberty, [and] possessions.”
But this concept goes beyond the belief that there are no natural rulers and subjects or that individuals’ natural rights should be respected. Natural equality also entails the belief that no individual was “made for another’s uses.” Individuals are not “raw material to be formed into social combinations” nor are they “sheep” needing shepherds over them. God may direct one’s life, but no one has been entrusted with that power. Instead, the classical liberal plea to those that would treat individuals as materials is that they remember that:
“This clay, this sand, and this manure which you so arbitrarily dispose of, are men! They are your equals! They are intelligent and free human beings like yourselves! As you have, they too have received from God the faculty to observe, to plan ahead, to think, and to judge for themselves!”
-Frédéric Bastiat, The Law
Natural equality thus entitles individuals to pursue their own values and enjoy their natural rights, free from the social planning of others, no matter how righteous, if they refrain from “destroy[ing] the equal rights” of others.
The second foundational concept is natural rights. Again, Jefferson is likely the source of the most famous articulation of this concept when he stated that individuals are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” For many Americans, even those who do not fully subscribe to classical liberalism, these words are fundamental scripture of the American creed.
Natural rights, as implied by the word natural, do not come from society or government, but are inherent to the individual from nature or God. As Jefferson stated, “We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings.” Bastiat agreed with Jefferson on the divine origin of natural rights and affirmed their primacy in relation to government when he eloquently stated that “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
But what exactly are natural rights? Jefferson’s articulation in the Declaration included the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Elsewhere, he included the right to use one’s faculties. Bastiat and Locke both added to life and liberty the right to own and control one’s property. These are the natural rights most commonly stated, but as Justice Washington remarked, natural rights are “difficult to enumerate” fully as they are zones of undifferentiated natural liberty—zones of “unobstructed action according to [one’s] will”—that each individual possesses in relation to one another. Individuals are free from the forceful subjugation and whim of others in these zones.
These natural rights or zones of natural liberty which each possesses are not without limit. According to classical liberals such as Locke, Bastiat, and Jefferson, the only limit of these natural rights is “the equal rights of others.” This limitation arises from the classical liberal conception of natural law. For classical liberalism, natural law operates negatively and holds that “[t]he violation of the natural right of mankind [is] a transgression of the law of nature.” Natural law does not go beyond condemning injuries or violations of the natural rights of others. Thus, according to classical liberalism’s conception of natural law, individuals have a “just authority to exercise full powers of acting, with relation to other individuals, in any manner not injurious to their rights.” This creates a presumption of liberty in all aspects of an individual’s life so far as the exercising of that natural liberty or natural rights does not infringe on the equal rights of others. A natural right is thus the presumed position, making their listing “tedious” and “difficult.”
There is one natural right that is universally recognized: the right to use physical force to protect one’s natural rights from the threat and use of intrusive physical force. As Bastiat explained, “Each of us has a natural right – from God – to defend his person, his liberty, and his property.” As Bastiat states, this right is rooted in the natural law and draws a scope of proper use of force, for “who will dare to say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers?” Jefferson concurred: “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another.” Thus, once a use of force becomes aggressive – not securing natural rights from external threats of force – it loses its natural law justification and is not rightful force.
Each of these three foundational principles—natural equality, natural rights, and rightful force—is violated by the project of legislatively making men moral. That is not to say that there is no moral foundation to the positive law enacted by a classical liberal state. The purpose of the State in classical liberal thought is to act as the common agent of each individual in society and to exercise “dominating force” to secure the natural rights of each person. The classical liberal state, like the individuals who formed it, is morally restrained by the principles of rightful force to act only in cases of “legitimate defense,” to prevent and punish “such acts only as are [physically] injurious to others.” As Bastiat explained,
“Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force[?] . . . [T]his common force is to do what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each.”
-Frédéric Bastiat, The Law
Making men moral presupposes that some individuals were made for others’ use as it allows those who govern—whether it be a monarch, aristocracy, representatives, or the majority—to determine the ends, values, and goods that those in society choose. It does not respect that each individual is capable of reason and pursuing value and instead reduces others to a plaything or malleable clay. Social engineering, even righteous social engineering, deprives individuals of the equal dignity that arises from nature.
Making men moral also violates the concept of natural rights. As stated previously, natural rights encompass the range of natural liberty that each individual naturally possesses and consists of unobstructed action according to one’s own will, given that one does not violate the equal rights of others. Thus, natural law entitles individuals to free action in any area of life so long as they do not threaten the rights of others.
The vices that moral legislation tends to proscribe—blasphemy, fornication, failure to observe the Sabbath, sodomy, obscenity, or the use of contraception—do not violate the rights of others. There is no injury like the threat of or use of arbitrary intrusive force when an individual blasphemes, keeps his or her business open on the Sabbath, views consensually created obscenity, or engages in consensual sodomy. Thus, from a classical liberal perspective, it would be correct to conclude that there is a natural right to engage in these behaviors as they do not threaten or injure the rights of others. An individual may be correctly seen as injuring his or herself, but the classical liberal conception of natural law allows it. It is only injuries to others—threats to or violations of others’ rights—that are outside the boundaries of natural rights.
Finally, making men moral legislatively also violates the concept of rightful force. Again, classical liberalism holds that natural law dictates that individuals “have a natural right to defend their liberties by open force.” When the use of force goes beyond defending natural rights, the use of force stops being legitimate, “[f]or who will dare say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers?” Because the State “is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense,” it acts through force, and the same natural law restraints on the individual natural right to use force restrains the State. Thus, as Jefferson described, the proper sphere of State use of force “extend[s] to such acts only as are injurious to others.”
As explained previously, except for abortion and adultery, traditional vices such as blasphemy, fornication, failure to observe the Sabbath, obscenity, sodomy, and the use of contraceptives are not injurious to others. They do not threaten or violate the natural rights of others. Thus, the use of force to restrain those acts is not rightful force. Even if these acts are sins against oneself or injuring oneself, the law still has no lawful hold as “laws provide against injury from others, but not from ourselves.” As Jefferson stated, “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”
An Alternative View
While this account of natural rights philosophy and its implications for the State’s role in upholding morality is the most common, natural rights theory has been employed to justify the State proscribing immoral or sinful behavior that does not violate others’ rights. Professor Thomas West, in his book The Political Theory of the American Founding, provides such a reading.
West, like natural rights classical liberal theorists, argues that each individual is naturally equal and that each individual is endowed by God or by nature with natural rights. But where West breaks with classical liberalism is on the moral limitations on natural rights. As stated previously, classical liberalism holds that natural rights define zones of natural liberty where individuals are entitled to uninhibited action, with the natural law limiting this liberty only so far as one uses their natural rights to infringe on the equal rights of another. Natural law’s limitations on natural rights end there.
West, relying on statements from members of the Founding generation, takes a broader understanding of what limitations the natural law imposes on the exercise of natural rights. West’s view is that in natural rights theory, especially for many of the American Founding Fathers, the natural law is synonymous with the laws of God, meaning that when some members of the Founding generation stated that the natural law or moral laws do not permit or entitle one to do wrong, they are going beyond infringing on the equal rights of others and are including other Christian normative beliefs about the family, sexual relations, and matters of faith.
For West, this justifies the State taking a more active role in promoting morals in society. While West largely confines this to non-coercive measures, West does not foreclose the State from enacting and enforcing coercive measures such as the criminalization of blasphemy, fines for couples who produce illegitimate children, homosexual sex, and prostitution. West largely downplays the actual danger of these sorts of measures by appealing to prudential limitations on such statutes. For example, he points to the very infrequent enforcement of sodomy laws in the early Republic as evidence of the non-inquisitorial nature of the Founders’ approach and as evidence of the law serving the role as a teacher of virtue rather than merely the securer of natural rights.
This view is not without its difficulties. First, it is unclear that in the minds of all the American Founding Fathers, the natural law and the laws of God were thought to be synonymous. Certainly, the natural law had a divine origin, but it is likely it was not thought to be coterminous with all the moral duties and obligations that Christian doctrine contained.
At the very least, in the minds of two of the titans of the founding era, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the natural law was not coterminous with all the laws of God. As stated previously, Thomas Jefferson called natural rights “rightful liberty.” Rightful meaning “unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” That would certainly include a right to engage in acts such as blasphemy, consensual homosexual relations, and voluntary prostitution as they are not injurious to others. More evidence of Jefferson’s skepticism towards the State enforcing moral law or laws of nature as God’s law is the preamble for the Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty, which states:
“Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments of burthens, or by civil incapaciations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either.”
James Madison shared Jefferson’s narrow view. Speaking of individuals’ natural liberty, specifically but not exclusively of conscience, Madison stated, “If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.” This dichotomy of offense against God rather than an offense against man charts well onto the classical liberal understanding of natural law’s limitation on natural rights, being that they may not be used to injure others. Moral wrongs such as blasphemy or consensual homosexual acts are difficult to construe as offenses against humankind as there is no injury. Thus, according to Madison’s classical liberal dichotomy, these offenses are those that individuals are accountable to God for, not men.
The Classical Liberal Approach to Making Men Moral
As classical liberalism precludes the State from trying to make men moral legislatively, classical liberalism must rely on other ways to create a moral society that Founding Fathers such as Adams, Madison, and Jefferson believed was necessary for a free society. Two primary non-coercive means of making men moral that classical liberalism advocates for are 1) the societal pressure of civil society’s norms and mores and 2) the state’s refusal to bail individuals out of the consequences of their own choices.
The first means are societal norms and mores enforced by civil society. Classical liberalism, as part of its natural rights conception, holds that individuals have the natural right to associate or not associate with individuals and groups as they please. No one has the right to demand that another associate with them nor to appeal to the State to force that association. The right to not associate is a powerful tool for inculcating moral values in society as it provides a non-coercive—in the sense of intrusive, physical force—means to create costs for what individuals or groups consider to be immoral, yet not injurious, behavior.
Two proponents of the power of social custom as a tool to inculcate values include John Locke and J.S. Mill. John Locke stated that custom was a greater power than nature and that the majority of humanity “govern themselves, chiefly, if not solely, by this Law of Fashion.” Locke added that the effect of the “law of fashion” or social custom was stronger than the laws of God or civil law as “no man escapes the censure and dislike, who offends against the fashion and opinion of the company he keeps, and would recommend himself to.”
While he saw it as potentially as dangerous as State coercion, Mill similarly believed that social pressure could have incredible power to shape individuals’ behavior. In On Liberty, Mill states:
“Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things which it ought not to meddle, it pratises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life.”
-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
While Mill believed that this private power of social pressure was so powerful that it may warrant governmental interference, that belief testifies to the power that social custom has on individuals’ behavior. Thus, according to classical liberalism, if the State performs its duty of securing natural rights, societal organizations such as the Church and other institutions can effectively leverage social pressure to make men moral without the threat of force.
The second means is a refusal by the State to save individuals from the consequences of their own choices. Evidence suggests that the proliferation of several activities within the natural rights of individuals—out-of-wedlock sexual relations in particular—has resulted in several socio-economic problems for individuals and society at large. When the State plays “the role of alleviator of bad consequences” and mitigates “the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility”, the behavior is incentivized.
Arguably, this is what is occurring through the welfare state in the United States. When the State requires individuals and communities to take responsibility for their actions or internalize the cost of their behavior, behavior changes. Thus, one way to address “immoral” behavior and make individuals moral is to restrict State function to rights protection and require individuals and communities to internalize the costs of irresponsible behavior. Once again, the incentive is not the threat of physical force, which is in harmony with classical liberalism’s underlying principles of natural equality, natural rights, and rightful force.
Section II - Catholic Integralism
An alternative philosophical approach to the State and its ability to make men moral that has grown in popularity on the American Right is Catholic Integralism. Catholic Integralism, or Political Catholicism, is one of several antiliberal philosophical approaches that has gained adherents among antiliberal and postliberal Catholic thinkers both in Europe and the United States. Among Political Catholic thinkers, Harvard Administrative law professor Adrian Vermeule, Cistercian priest Peter Waldstein, Thomas Crean, and Alan Fimister have gained the most prominence.
Integralism or Political Catholicism posits that two authorities rule humanity: the State or the temporal power and the Church as the spiritual power. The State or the temporal power is informed by “the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”
While one may assume that this requires a perfect union of State and Church, Political Catholicism does not argue for theocracy. Instead, as Pope Gregory stated, the State is the “earthly kingdom” that provides a “service which subordinates itself to the heavenly kingdom.” The State handles the temporal matters arising from the fallen world's sinful nature so that the Church—the heavenly kingdom—can focus on sacred matters. As Menard and Su describe it, the spiritual and temporal powers relate to one another as the sun and moon==each presiding differently but, like the moon derives its light from reflecting the light of the sun, the State derives its authority from reflecting the ends of the Church. Thus, while not united with the Church, the State finds and fulfills its telos by “submitting itself to the spiritual power, which has care of the final end.”
Political Catholicism argues that the State accomplishes this by being ordered to the promotion of the common good. According to Political Catholics, the common good is not the aggregation of all the objectives or preferences that individuals wish to pursue. Nor is the Political Catholic common good merely the conditions necessary for individuals to pursue their reasonable—and even differing—objectives. Instead, Political Catholics view the common good as a substantive end for the community that is “shared but indivisible, one in number and not diminished by being shared.” While in works aimed at the general legal population, Political Catholics employ broad definitions of the common good, such as flourishing, Political Catholicism’s understanding of the common good goes deeper.
Political Catholicism draws on the classically inspired understanding of the common good as explained by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas in Summa Theologica states that “the last end of human life is bliss or happiness.” And, as “every law is ordained to the common good”, the State “must needs regard principally the relationship to happiness…the relationship to universal happiness.” However, this conception of happiness is not the “pursuit of happiness” as advocated for in the Declaration of Independence, as that notion of happiness is individualistic, both in that individuals may have different notions of happiness and can achieve it individually.
Instead, Aquinas’ happiness is universal, communal happiness that does not constitute “any created good.” For Aquinas and Political Catholics, happiness is a specific, substantive end: God, for “God alone constitutes man’s happiness.” Thus, for Political Catholics, the common good towards which the State is to direct society and which every law pursues is God and “the ultimate end of an assembled multitude to live virtuously, [and] through virtuous living to attain to the possession of God.” If the State is not creating a society of universal virtuous living to possess God, it is not ordered to the common good and illegitimate.
As Political Catholicism thus evaluates whether the State is producing greater participation of society in the divine good, curbing sin, and ordering society explicitly to God, the Integralist State may and must explicitly “legislate morality.” The Integralist State is empowered and expected to, despite its subjects having differing values, objectives, or conceptions of happiness, overrule their desires and employ coercive force to “break out of malign habits and to install beneficial habits that can eventually become internalized as virtues,” even if those malign habits do not harm someone else.
Thus, individuals are accountable to man—the State—for offenses against God just as they are for offenses against other men. Aquinas highlights blasphemy as an example of this, as he held that blasphemy was a punishable hindrance to the faith. Other acts held as offenses to God under Catholic doctrine, such as homosexual activity or the use of contraceptives, would also be acts for which individuals would be accountable to the State. If the State does not address these offenses against God, the common good or the greater participation of society in God is not advanced, and the State loses its legitimacy.
In doing so, the Integralist State is not inhibited by individual choices or preferences, as the common good—possession of God—exists independently and does not require individual consent. Thus, it can be rightly coerced by the Integralist State. The Political Catholic view that sacraments such as baptism remain as efficacious for infants and persons who are unconscious as they are for willing adults is evidence of this. To be fair, Aquinas does denounce baptisms against the will of the receiver in the Summa. Yet forced conversion still occurred during the Middle Ages and was more often condemned on prudential grounds, if at all.
Even though the Integralist State may and must engage in the proscribing of non-injurious conduct and overwhelm the preferences of its subjects to forward the common good, Political Catholics such as Vermeule argue that this is different from calling for “maximum oppression” or a return of the “Black Legend” of the Spanish Inquisition. To support his assertion that one need not fear the Integralist State, Vermeule calls on Aquinas’s statement in the Summa:
“[H]uman law rightly permits some vices, by not restraining them . . . Human law is framed for a community of men the majority of whom are not men of perfect virtue. And so human laws do not prohibit all the vices from which virtuous men abstain, but only the more grievous ones, from which it is possible for the greater part of the community to abstain; and especially those which do harm to others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained.”
-Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theoligica
This conception of human law would not be all that repugnant to classical liberals. Classical liberals share the belief that the states should restrain by law acts injurious to others or make the existence of society impossible.
However, Vermeule and other political Catholics make clear that Aquinas’ promise of restrained law is illusory. To dispel any possibility that one might conclude that Political Catholicism and classical liberalism share the view that the repression of vice should be limited to injury to others, Vermeule makes clear that according to Political Catholicism, liberty is always secondary to the common good or society’s movement towards God. Liberty is always at the mercy of what the ruler views as necessary to push society toward God. Deriding classical liberalism’s making of liberty into “an idol,” Vermeule explains this relationship between liberty and the common good:
“Which particular liberties are necessary to serve the common good is itself just another question of determination, subject to the constraints of the natural law and to the regnative prudence of rulers in giving specific content to general principles of the natural in local circumstances.”
Thus, while classical liberalism places the protection of natural rights as the purpose of the State and thus places the violation of natural liberties always outside the reach of the State, Political Catholicism places all liberties within the grasp of the State and subject to the whim or prudential calculations of the ruler. If the ruler views a particular liberty as detrimental to society possessing God, the ruler may and ought to restrict it. Catholic doctrine condemns blasphemy, homosexual acts, and contraceptive use. Therefore, in an Integralist society, there is no security in engaging in those activities, regardless of one’s deeply held views or proclivities. The lack of harm to one’s fellow citizen’s liberties is irrelevant, the harm to the society’s march towards the City of God is all that matters.
In practice, the Integralist State targets more than the behavior of sexual minorities. An excellent example of this is the legal kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. Mortara was born in the 1800s to Jewish parents living within the Papal States. Mortara’s parents employed a Catholic maid who, when it appeared that Mortara may die as an infant, secretly had Mortara baptized. When the Church learned of Mortara’s status as a baptized catholic, the Pope sent Papal guards to the Mortaras’ home and seized him from the custody of his parents to be raised as a Catholic.
While this episode is shocking to contemporary conceptions of religious liberty and classical liberal notions of individual rights, political Catholics such as Romanus Cessario defend the actions of the Pope on Integralist grounds today. As a baptized Catholic, Cessario argues, Mortara was entitled to a Catholic upbringing, and the Papal States, as the temporal power driving society towards the possession of God that only the Catholic Church can provide, had to uphold the common good and seize Mortara from his family.
Thus, while a Catholic Integralist State may not necessarily be the “Black Legend” of the Spanish Inquisition, the ruled must live under the constant threat that the ruler determines that more oppression of what it views as holding the community back from God is required. And given the indignant state that most Political Catholics are in towards the excesses of modern society’s views on sexuality, gender, and abortion, the chances of a restrained Integralist State are low.
Section III - Latter-day Saint Political Theory
The Latter-day Saint faith tradition is unique in that it bears similarities to both classical liberalism and Catholic Integralism’s underlying principles. But when it comes to the concept of legislatively making individuals moral, Latter-day Saint doctrine makes a strong break from Political Catholicism and aligns the political implications of its doctrine with classical liberalism.
The first underlying doctrine is the Latter-day Saint conception of the purpose of life or the telos of humankind. Like Catholic Integralism, the Latter-day Saint conception of the telos could be summed up in the word happiness. In the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Lehi states that “men are, that they might have joy.” Additionally, the Book of Mormon refers to God’s plan for His children as the “Plan of Happiness” twice.
However, like Catholic Integralism, the conception of joy and happiness in Latter-day Saint doctrine has a deeper or higher meaning than simply subjective emotional pleasure. Instead, the happiness and joy spoken of in the Book of Mormon are tied to becoming like God or the Latter-day Saint concept called exaltation. Jesus Christ Himself states this in the Book of Mormon when He says,
“And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father.”
Exaltation is eternal life and is defined as the kind of life that God lives—partaking of His glory, attributes, and living in eternal families. Exaltation as the telos for Latter-day Saints is confirmed again by God Himself, who states that His telos, His “work and [His] glory” is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
This substantive end is much like that of Catholic Integralism, which posits that the highest end is God. However, the similarities between the Latter-day Saint telos and the Catholic Integralist telos end there. The key difference between these teloi is the role played by the Latter-day Saint conception of individual agency.
Individual agency is the ability “to act for [oneself]”, to be “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death.” This right to choose is “a divine gift,” “held by the Church to be [humankind’s] first right.” Thus, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, individuals are “free to act wickedly as another is to act righteously” as the “agency of man would not be worth the name if it did not grant liberty to the wicked to fill the cup of their iniquity, as well as liberty to the virtuous to round out the measure of their righteousness.”
The free exercise of individual agency is key to Latter-day Saints achieving exaltation. Exaltation requires an individual to possess a certain character and to merit eternal life through their faithfulness to Gospel principles, choosing to follow Jesus Christ. Coercing an individual to choose righteousness violates the Latter-day Saint conception of natural law, as righteousness is righteousness only if it is freely chosen. As President Lorenzo Snow stated:
“In things that pertain to celestial glory there can be no forced operations. We must do according as the spirit of the Lord operates upon our understanding and feelings. We cannot be crowded into matters, however great might be the blessing attending such procedure. We cannot be forced into living a celestial law; we must do this ourselves, of our own free will.”
For this reason, the Latter-day Saint doctrinal perspective is that without the free exercise of agency, “man cannot progress.” Latter-day Saint doctrine teaches that it was the violation of this natural law that caused Lucifer to become the Devil in the Latter-day Saint “War in Heaven.” In this war, Lucifer “sought to destroy the agency of man” and force men to do his will by “coerc[ing] us.” Coercion is thus seen as “direct opposition to free agency.” Christ, on the other hand, is viewed as having stood for freedom of choice.
Latter-day Saint doctrine, however, does not view agency as being without moral limits. Like classical liberalism’s view of natural law, Latter-day Saint doctrine holds that “Freedom of speech, freedom of action within boundaries that do not infringe upon the liberty of others are…divine gifts ‘essential to human dignity and human happiness.’”
Thus, for Latter-day Saints, individuals are entitled to uninhibited action within their own wills, subject to the limitations of others’ rights. This separates Latter-day Saint doctrine from that of Political Catholicism, as Political Catholicism only permits liberty when it aligns with the common good—moving society towards God. Instead, Latter-day Saints hold that it is within the lawful free exercise of their agency if they engage in any number of sinful acts—blasphemy, failure to observe the Sabbath, or even homosexual behavior—because they did not violate the rights of others. As they do not violate the rights of others, it is proper to state that it is within the rightful exercise of agency for an individual to engage in those sinful behaviors.
Much like classical liberalism, Latter-day Saint doctrine does hold that there is a moral use of physical force. For Latter-day Saint doctrine, rightful use of force is confined to protecting the free exercise of one’s agency, which is often made a synonym with one’s natural rights.
The Book of Mormon shows this principle in action as the Nephites are justified in using physical force to “defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.” Further, the Book of Mormon states that the righteous Nephites “were taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.”
Latter-day prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have reaffirmed this limited rightful use of force to defend one’s natural rights or free exercise of agency. President Ezra Taft Benson stated, “In a primitive state, there is no doubt that each man would be justified in using force, if necessary, to defend himself against physical harm, against theft of the fruits of his labor, and against enslavement of another.”
These foundational principles justify a State that is not dissimilar to that of the classical liberal State. The Latter-day Saint State would be bound by the same conception of rightful force as individuals—using physical force to secure their natural rights from external threats of force—as “[individuals] cannot delegate a power [to the State] that they themselves do not have.”
The laws that Latter-day Saint doctrine justifies are thus restricted to protecting the free exercise of agency and natural rights. The State “secure[s] to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” and punishes crime “according to its criminality.” Modern Latter-day Saint scripture identifies “murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace” as crimes that are justly punished by the State as each of them presents threats of intrusive force against one’s free exercise of agency and their natural rights. The Book of Mormon concurs, stating that the State is justified in enacting coercive laws that punish murder, robbery, theft, and adultery. Again, each of these, including adultery and lying, entails natural rights violations. These Latter-day scriptures define the limits of legislatively making individuals moral.
Sinful behavior such as blasphemy and preaching atheism, however, is explicitly protected activities as “there [should be] no law against a man’s belief” as the law “should never suppress the freedom of the soul.” President Brigham Young reasserted that the rightful use of force, including State force, was precluded from punishing sinful acts that were not injurious to others when he stated:
Had we the power, would we hold the wicked down and whip them? No; for, except in self-defense, it is our duty to plead with them and offer them terms of life and salvation – to give them all the opportunity God has designed them to have.
Thus, no specific religious society or code of ethics can be fostered such that the individual rights of citizens are denied. As a result, making individuals moral legislatively is outside the proper bounds of Latter-day Saint doctrine. Instead, the State creates the condition of “maximum freedom for men and women to act according to their individual choices.”
Latter-day Saint doctrine holds that freedom of action only becomes “license” and proscribable when it violates the rights of others, thus limiting society’s ability to make individuals moral to the same means advocated by classical liberalism. Therefore, when immoral acts do not violate the rights of others, Latter-day Saints must rely on “plead[ing] with [others] and offer[ing] them terms of life and salvation,” relying on “the virtue of the word of God.”
While Catholic Integralists and natural rights theorists like Thomas West would require more from the State and view such efforts as weak or insufficient, Latter-day Saint doctrine holds that “the preaching of the word ha[s] a great tendency to lead the people to do that which [is] just – yea it [has] had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else.”
In Latter-day Saint doctrine, the Church and the Word play special roles in the preservation of morality by advocating boldly for moral behavior. This is similar to the classical liberal approach of relying on societal pressure and norms to enforce standards against sinful, yet not rights-violating, behavior. The Church is to enforce through non-physically coercive means the moral standards God has established through Church discipline and the preaching of repentance. The need for the Church to be free to proselyte and discipline its members is held as part of the Church’s sacred religious freedom, which it actively advocates for worldwide.
Thus, despite its substantive telos for humankind—exaltation—Latter-day Saint doctrine’s foundational principles align it politically with classical liberalism such that it does not support the project of making men moral legislatively and instead advocates for a society where all are free to “choose liberty and eternal life” or “to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.”
America’s Right Wing is in a state of flux. The perceived excesses of progressivism have revitalized a hunger for the transcendent, the true, and the beautiful. The rhetoric of the Right is transitioning from an emphasis on liberty and limited government to emphasizing duty, virtue, and power. The culture wars have created a reactionary Right willing to use the power of the State to accomplish these new ends. A resurgent Political Catholicism is at the very heart of these changes and sets itself apart in its bold advocacy for “legislating morality” and reorienting American politics toward the common good.
In this time of change, Latter-day Saints cannot afford to be neutral. Latter-day prophets have stated that Latter-day Saints “have a major responsibility to do all in [their] power to see that freedom is preserved and safeguarded.” As such, Latter-day Saints who are on the Right cannot afford to simply go along with their Catholic and Evangelical allies. Despite shared concerns about the state of the culture and a belief in a substantive telos of existence, Latter-day Saint theology demands that Latter-day Saints stand apart and reject efforts to legislatively make individuals moral. In doing so, Latter-day Saints can be the classical liberal leaven in the loaf of the American Right and uphold natural equality and natural rights.
Jacob Hibbard is a Juris Doctorate candidate at Brigham Young University Law School, and Senior Editor of BYU Law Review. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Brigham Young University. @hibbardj