One of my most prized worldly possessions is a complete set of the Journal of Discourses. I love these books. I love the way that they look. It probably has something to do with my fascination with law books, which they closely resemble. I also love the sermons. They are a wonderful mass of exhortation, speculation, advice, brow beating, and occasionally sublime testimony. They also have a wonderful ability to surprise you. A couple of Sundays ago, I pulled down a volume at random and started reading a sermon. (I do this from time to time.) While I was doing this, I came across the following attack by Brigham Young on New Testament religious communism. No joke:
- In the days of the Apostles it was written, “And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need. And they continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, &c.” This was all right in the Apostles, to show a certain principle that was hereafter to be acted upon. It does not require more than common enlightenment to discover that such an order of things, if persisted in, would result in poverty, hunger, nakedness and destitution. (JD 10:6)
Brigham is a favorite prophet of lefty Mormons, largely because of his economics. He seems so wonderfully collectivist and anti-market that the cockles of many a progressive heart get a nice little glow thinking about him. In part, I think that Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom is responsible for this. Arrington presented Brigham as a kind of proto-New Dealer. Indeed, I think that Arrington’s book was really just a scholarly version of a common Mormon apologetic trope, namely that we-discovered-by-revelation-before-the-world-knew. (See, e.g., Widstoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation) Only in Arrington’s case it was planned economics not the evils of caffine and demon liquor that the Mormons purportedly discovered early. The image of Brigham as anti-commercial, collectivist zealot was further cemented in the progressive Mormon imagination by Hugh Nibley, especially Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints.
The wonderful thing about Brigham, however, is his capacity to surprise you, and the tremendous difficulty of pinning him down or neatly pigeon holing him. Hence, in the midst of the railing against “trading with the enemy” and the need for more home manufacturing and the United Orders, you get wonderfully hard-headed little gems like the one above.