Having once called Utah and the Mormon Church home, I found Gerald M. King's story "The Mormon Underground Fights Back" (Jan.) extremely perceptive and sensitive. I share Mr. King's optimistic vision for the future of liberty in the Mormon movement. A few years ago I did not have the wisdom (the courage?) to appreciate the concept of "free agency" or such spokesmen for liberty as Ezra Taft Benson, a man of enormous courage and integrity. Under its present leadership it is quite possible that the Mormon Church will overcome its passion for respectability and again emphasize the important principle that is its reason for being.
Beware the Fundamentalists
As an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism and objective reason, I was saddened and dismayed to read Gerald King's depiction of Mormonism. I do not take issue with the rights of either polygamists or Mormons to practice their religion without interference from federal and state governments or individuals; however, it is nothing short of an attack on man's mind and reason to suggest that Mormonism, especially fundamental Mormonism, is somehow associated with individualism, capitalism, and liberty.
I have worked and lived in Utah on three different occasions and find King's article inaccurate and misleading. Collectivism and mysticism are rampant throughout Mormon lore and culture. Anyone who believes otherwise should read No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie.
REASON magazine should not fall prey to the fundamental religionists' cry against statism and for a return to constitutional purity. Their ultimate goal is to replace both with mystic revelations and anarchy, not to promote a "free mind" or a "free market."
James C. Bishop
Holding the Line At One
I wish to cancel my subscription to REASON. Why? Because of your defense of polygamy in the January issue. If everything is defended because of religion, homosexuality and drugs are a shoe-in. God gave Adam one wife, Eve, and that is the ultimate precedent.
What I would like to know is how the men get their wives to believe the line, "I love you more than anything, so I'm marrying an additional wife"?
Devil May Care Attitude?
It is all very well to champion reproductive rights, as Karl Zinsmeister does in "Baby Haters International" (Viewpoint, Jan.), along with an emotion-laden picture of a charming baby with a sign "void where prohibited by law." This surely puts him on the side of the angels. If the picture had been of a starving African child, the word prohibited would have had another meaning: don't produce children who must endure such a fate. Starvation is only one of the many problems created by too many people, others being depletion of resources, pollution of water and air, inadequate facilities, too few jobs, crowding, traffic congestion, etc., etc. Under this circumstance, how can anyone claim that the decision about how many children to have is a private affair? If Zinsmeister values liberty, he will work with rather than against the groups seeking solutions to population problems. These problems cannot be ignored if future generations are to have decent living conditions.
Dorothy H. Bloom
Santa Monica, CA
The cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" was reinforced in January's Viewpoint with all the subtlety of a battering ram. The chilling stories related in "Baby Haters International," oddly enough, revived recent memories of a news story that related how "good" the French government is to parents. One may logically conclude that "good" or "bad" treatment by governments to parents are flip sides of the same coin…collectivist decisions on individual responsibilities.
A positive idea, that presents an alternative to "public" decisions on private parenting, would be parenting networks. These could be clearinghouses for parenting/voluntary child-care facilities, paid private babysitters, parenting tips, as well as a host of other contacts and information. These parenting networks would decrease dependence on government aid and control.
House Cleaning in South Africa
Frances Kendall's proposals for decentralization in South Africa ("South Africa's Only Hope?" Jan.) are surely a breath of fresh air. Local freedom along the lines of the Swiss cantons would permit those localities that opposed the government since it came to power in 1948 to get rid of apartheid regulations that they never wanted. In fact, some of this is happening now. One section of Johannesburg is a dense complex of high-rises where there are numerous vacancies. Landlords are renting to Coloureds and Indians, the government turns a blind eye to this violation of the Group Areas Act, and the earth does not collapse.
There is one thing, however, to keep in mind. Like many South Africans questing for a new constitutional structure, Kendall runs to the end before the beginning. Is it necessary to rebuild your house to sweep up the kitchen floor? Whether the South African government can or even knows how to go about creating cantonal structures is dubious.
What is certainly within the power of the government to do now is to get off the backs of the localities. In the new atmosphere generated by the remission of centralized power, free and cooperative interracial relations would immediately emerge. These relations would lead naturally to proper, free local government, to protect the interests of white and black in common. As a starter, the government should stop blocking the proposals for regional autonomy in Kwa Natal put forth by the Buthelezi Commission, which the people of Natal are ready to accept.
Department of Sociology
Can Humans Flourish Where Freedom Doesn't?
In "The Bishops vs. the Bourgeoise" (Viewpoint, Dec.), Douglas Rasmussen presents a rather amazing collection of distortions and inaccuracies concerning the Catholic bishops' pastoral letter on the economy. His essay is, to use his own words, "an offensive caricature."
Allow me to note two of the most egregious of his misconceptions. He writes, "The picture of human flourishing that the Catholic bishops portray is that of a hungry mouth being fed." This is simply inaccurate. I quote directly from the bishops' letter. "Poor people must be empowered to take charge of their own futures and become responsible for their own economic advancement.…We believe that an effective way to attack poverty is through programs that are small in scale, locally based, and oriented toward empowering the poor to become self-sufficient."
Indeed, the vision of human dignity that the bishops portray is that of a hungry person feeding himself. Human freedom is so important that it should not be limited to those with abundant resources. The poor, too, deserve freedom—freedom to control their own lives, freedom from hunger, freedom from homelessness, freedom from the degradation of poverty.
A second profound error is Rasmussen's contention that "the Catholic bishops advocate a political order in which the exercise of our judgments about…how to live our lives…is to be sacrificed on the altar of providing for the needs of others." Quite the contrary, the bishops suggest that our own dignity and freedom is actually enhanced when poverty and human misery is alleviated in the broader human family. We are not, as Rasmussen suggests, totally isolated autonomous individuals. We are social beings; we live and grow in community. To suggest otherwise is to live in a dream world of extreme individualism that is both short-sighted and dangerous.
Ronald T. Krietemeyer
United States Catholic Conference
Mr. Rasmussen replies: Mr. Krietemeyer ignores what is essential to the bishops' letter and concentrates instead on what is accidental. The issue is not whether the Catholic bishops think it is better that the poor feed themselves than that they be fed by others. Nor is the issue whether human flourishing is advanced by benevolence and charity. Rather, the issues are much deeper.
Do the bishops understand (1) that self-directedness is the central activity of human flourishing, which is, and indeed must be, present in all other activities that constitute the human good that is human flourishing; and (2) that human dignity is self-directed action in pursuit of one's own freely chosen goals? They clearly do not.
When Krietemeyer says "human freedom is so important that it should not be limited to those with abundant resources," he is saying that the resources of other people are to be used without their consent to provide the poor with "economic rights." What is amazing about Krietemeyer, as well as the bishops themselves, is their failure to admit that such a policy involves treating the lives of individual human beings as resources to be used by any person, group, or government who can claim need of them. Is it necessary to point out that wealth is something that is created by thought and labor and not found in nature like manna from heaven?
The bishops' proposals are contrary to human dignity and not something our nature as social beings requires. The truth is not that I have distorted the bishops' proposals. I have instead shown the nature of the moral vision upon which they are based.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".