John Locke: Bad Rulers May Be Removed

One of the longest sections in John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, is section 222, in the final chapter: XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government.” In reading this, I sense his righteous anger at bad rulers. In the title of this post, it was hard to be as emphatic as he is. “Bad Rulers May Be Removed. Period.” might say it better.

I consider this sentiment to be something deeply ingrained into the human heart by evolution. Our cousins the chimpanzees feel it too, as you can see by following the link to the video shown above. I am in full agreement with John Locke in what he says in Section 222—not only with the substance of what he says, but also with the passion with which he says it:

§. 222. The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society. What I have said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor, who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly pre-engages the electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has by solicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised beforehand what to vote, and what to enact. Thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of election, what is it but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public security? for the people having reserved to themselves the choice of their representatives, as the fence to their properties, could do it for no other end, but that they might always be freely chosen, and so chosen, freely act, and advise, as the necessity of the commonwealth, and the public good should upon examination, and mature debate, be judged to require. This, those who give their votes before they hear the debate, and have weighed the reasons on all sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare such an assembly as this, and endeavour to set up the declared abettors of his own will, for the true representatives of the people, and the law-makers of the society, is certainly as great a breach of trust, and as perfect a declaration of a design to subvert the government, as is possible to be met with. To which, if one shall add rewards and punishments visibly employed to the same end, and all the arts of perverted law made use of to take off and destroy all that stand in the way of such a design, and will not comply and consent to betray the liberties of their country, it will be past doubt what is doing. What power they ought to have in the society, who thus employ it contrary to the trust went along with it in its first institution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he, who has once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer be trusted.

I should say that the principle that bad rulers can be removed is, I believe, satisfied relatively well by our periodic elections in the US: our elections have the power to sweep out the bulk of our rulers within a period of six years.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

How Mormon Scripture Declares the US Constitution to be the Work of God

There are many interesting features of Mormonism as a result of its having writings or “scripture” considered the “word of God” produced by Joseph Smith (the preeminent founder of Mormonism) in the first half of the 19th century in America. One is that Mormon beliefs are 100% consistent with all of the scientific principles generally known by 1844 when Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. (And indeed, it is my belief that if Joseph Smith had not been murdered, and had lived to see the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, Joseph would have incorporated evolution much more fully into Mormonism.)

Another interesting feature of Mormonism due to its origin in the first half of the 19th century in America is that the word of God according to Mormonism declares that the Constitution of the United States had a divine origin. The key passage is Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80, in which Joseph Smith reports God saying this:

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

In addition to this that Joseph Smith reported as being directly the word of God, Joseph Smith said, according to the journal of James Burgess (and similar things according to others):

… the time would come when the constitution and government would hang by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands but this people the latter-day saints will step forth and save it.

This is an idea that could easily be an important inspiration and motivation for many Mormon politicians; ideas that get into one’s head at an early age can be very powerful emotionally. I know this idea had an effect on me when I was a young Mormon.

Although not all the effects of this Mormon belief that the Constitution is divinely ordained and that the Constitution needs to be tended and defended are benign, on the whole I think it is quite helpful that a subgroup of the American population take the US Constitution so seriously.

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Don’t miss these guest posts on Mormonism by my brother Chris Kimball:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

The People Have the Right to Erect a New Government When the Previous Government Betrays the Trust It Has Been Given

One of the most remarkable things John Locke says in his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, in Chapter XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government,” sections 219 to 221, is that the people may erect their own government either when the previous government has descended into anarchy, or when it has betrayed the people’s trust. He argues that the people have an inherent right to

… a settled [government], and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it.

(Here I have translated the noun “legislative” as “government.”) Besides anarchy, the people, he says, have a right to erect a new government when the previous government betrays its trust:

The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

If the people have this right, it is appropriate to make it possible for the people to exercise this right in a relatively low cost way. Democracy is one of the simplest—and in practice the most effective known way of lowering the cost of the people to exercise their right to erect a new government when the old one descends into anarchy or betrays the trust given to it.

Democracy in the real world is far from perfect. But it has this treat virtue: if the vast majority of people hate the government, then the government falls. Otherwise it is not a true democracy.

Even democracies in form that are not true democracies because the elections are rigged, still have some benefit in paying homage to the principle that if a government is horrible, the people get to replace it. And having a tradition of elections in form has, I believe, a positive effect on the likelihood of possible futures in which makes elections take full force. For example, who should be the successor in a dictatorship or semidictatorship is not always clear. Sometimes that question of succession will end up being resolved an election even though the elections before that were sham elections.

Moreover, in our world of 2019, elections have become a time when the rest of the world is watching. That is valuable.

If an autocracy really is looking after the welfare of the people (as most claim but do not do), then John Locke’s principle does not require democracy. But if an autocracy really is looking after the welfare of the people better than anyone else or any other organization would, it should be able to win an election. So if an autocracy is actually legitimate, there would be no harm to having a democracy instead, with the erstwhile autocrats being converted into election victors. (I don’t think John Locke would have any truck with the notion that the people are not good judges of their own welfare.) This way of looking at things does, however, suggest that one should not diss autocrats who genuinely govern putting the people’s welfare first and with high competence, then at some point institute elections and win them fairly.

In relation to these powerful ideas, it is well worth reading John Locke’s own words:

219. There is one way more whereby such a government may be dissolved, and that is, when he who has the supreme executive power neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made can no longer be put in execution. This is demonstratively to reduce all to anarchy, and so effectually to dissolve the government: for laws not being made for themselves, but to be, by their execution, the bonds of the society, to keep every part of the body politic in its due place and function; when that totally ceases, the government visibly ceases, and the people become a confused multitude, without order or connexion. Where there is no longer the administration of justice, for the securing of men’s rights, nor any remaining power within the community to direct the force, or provide for the necessities of the public, there certainly is no government left. Where the laws cannot be executed, it is all one as if there were no laws; and a government without laws is, I suppose, a mystery in politics, unconceivable to human capacity, and inconsistent with human society.

§. 220. In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good: for the society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a settled legislative, and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it. But the state of mankind is not so miserable that they are not capable of using this remedy, till it be too late to look for any. To tell people they may provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, when by oppression, artifice, or being delivered over to a foreign power, their old one is gone, is only to tell them, they may expect relief when it is too late, and the evil is past cure. This is in effect no more than to bid them first be slaves, and then to take care of their liberty; and when their chains are on, tell them, they may act like freemen. This, if barely so, is rather mockery than relief; and men can never be secure from tyranny, if there be no means to escape it till they are perfectly under it: and therefore it is that they have not only a right to get out of it, but to prevent it.

§. 221. There is therefore, secondly, another way whereby governments are dissolved,and that is, when the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.

First, The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Chris Kimball: Grief in the Journey

I am pleased to have another guest post on religion from my brother Chris. (You can see other guest posts by Chris listed at the bottom of this post.) Below are Chris’s words. When he writes “Church,” it means the Mormon Church, but those who have been in other churches or faiths may have had similar experiences.

I read a short article in Psychology Today titled “Four Types of Grief Nobody Told You About” (And why it’s important that we call them grief). I turned to the article out of curiosity and thinking about recent and not-so-recent deaths that affected me. What I found was surprisingly applicable to people I know in faith crisis. I generally prefer the term “faith journey” but the kinds of grief Sarah Epstein (the author) talks about refer me to the crisis part of the journey. I found it validating to see these described and recognized as important.

 Here are the headers from the article, with my personal experience following. I fight the temptation to generalize, believing that these stories are best told in raw first person.

1. Loss of identity: A lost role or affiliation.

Being an active all-in Church member was an identity, a role, an affiliation. The loss of identity is hard.  “Grief” seems like a good word. It is not a public grief, not dependent on other people knowing or any kind of formal change in membership or even attendance. Grief is about my own feelings. Sitting in a pew on Sunday knowing I don’t belong, knowing I will not be participating when others are called, knowing I am not the person I grew up thinking I was.  

2. Loss of safety: The lost sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

The loss of safety may not be obvious to an outside observer, but I have often observed that one of the things the Church “offers” (scare quotes because I believe it is a false promise) is a feeling of safety and that can be lost. Keep the commandments at the temple recommend level—which gets you into “the house of the Lord”—and you’re good. Get your children sealed to you, on a mission, married in the temple, and you will be together forever. So goes the promise.

When I started questioning the promise, one result was to feel unsafe. I remember getting up from my knees (almost 25 years ago) with the words fear and trembling in my mind: “From now on you live in the world of working out salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

For me, growing up in a fully active multi-generation family with a grandfather who was an Apostle, the Church felt like home. Felt like family. I no longer feel that. I feel like an outsider. Like I'm wearing a disguise when I take up space in a pew on Sunday morning.

Even though the overall process is one of growth and independence, I grieve the loss of “safe" and "home" feelings, even if they never were fully justified.

3. Loss of autonomy: The lost ability to manage one’s own life and affairs.

I’m not sure about the loss of autonomy. The faith crisis happened to me. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t go looking for trouble. That out-of-control feeling might well fit this loss-of-autonomy category. It may also show up as a frustration when I hear “just don’t think about it” or “choose to be faithful” and know that is so not helpful. My annoyed reaction underscores an inability to take charge and make it right.

However, that all happened years ago and subsequent events—a cancer diagnosis—overwhelmed any Church-related loss of autonomy in my life. I cannot manage my life, but the highlight in my head is an invader trying to kill me, not the Church.

4. Loss of dreams or expectations: Dealing with hopes and dreams going unfulfilled.

This one really strikes home. I grew up in the Church. I expected to graduate from seminary. I did. I expected to go on a mission. I did. I expected to marry in the temple. I did. I expected to have normal sorts of callings and live much of my life inside the Church. I did . . . until age 40. I expected to hit an early retirement and spend most of the rest of my life in Church service. However, at around age 40, I realized with crystal clarity that I was stepping off the path. That my future was unknown except that it would not be what I grew up expecting. 

A lot of years have passed since I got up off my knees with an uncertain future, but it is not quite as simple as water under the bridge. My cousin and his wife—almost exactly my age—are mission president now in Japan Fukuoka. I think about what might have been. There are several ways it never would have worked (including my health), but “what might have been” doesn’t go easy. It is a loss and I hurt.

In the big picture I am happy and enjoying my second life. But the grief is there too. I have lost an identity, I have lost a sense of safety, I have lost control over my life, and I have lost dreams and expectations. I am better for naming and recognizing, but that doesn't make it all better.

 Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these other guest posts by Chris:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

John Locke on Monarchs (Or Presidents) Who Destroy a Constitution

Link to the Wikipedia article on “Louis XIV of France.”    Among other actions during his reign, Louis XIV presided over ethnic cleansing of the    Huguenots    (the Protestants in his realm) and centralized power in his own hands.

Link to the Wikipedia article on “Louis XIV of France.” Among other actions during his reign, Louis XIV presided over ethnic cleansing of the Huguenots (the Protestants in his realm) and centralized power in his own hands.

John Locke, in Chapter XIX of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of the Dissolution of Government,” lists four ways in which a monarch can subvert the constitution of a nation in a way that effectively undoes the government and so eliminates any obligation to obey the unconstitutional pretense of a government that replaces the legitimate government:

  • Ruling by decree instead of duly enacted legislation

  • Preventing the legislature from meeting or constraining free speech and free deliberation within the legislature

  • Stealing or fixing elections

  • Giving people to a foreign power

By “monarch” I am referring to the “single hereditary person” in John Locke’s description of a should-be-constitutional monarchy:

§. 213. This being usually brought about by such in the commonwealth who misuse the power they have; it is hard to consider it aright, and know at whose door to lay it, without knowing the form of government in which it happens. Let us suppose then the legislative placed in the concurrence of three distinct-persons.  

  1. A single hereditary person, having the constant, supreme, executive power, and with it the power of convoking and dissolving the other two within certain periods of time.  

  2. An assembly of hereditary nobility.  

  3. An assembly of representatives chosen, pro tempore, by the people. Such a form of government supposed, it is evident,  

However, the same principles apply to a president or any other top ruler in a nation.

Here are John Locke’s four no-nos for a monarch, president or other top ruler that are serious enough to dissolve any obligation of obedience to the remaining pretense of a government.

Ruling by decree instead of by duly enacted legislation.

§. 214. First, That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed: for that being in effect the legislative, whose rules and laws are put in execution, and required to be obeyed; when other laws are set up, and other rules pretended, and inforced, than what the legislative constituted by the society have enacted, it is plain that the legislative is changed. Whoever introduces new laws, not being thereunto authorized by the fundamental appointment of the society, or subverts the old, disowns and overturns the power by which they were made, and so sets up a new legislative.  

Preventing the legislature from meeting or constraining free speech and free deliberation within the legislature.

§. 215. Secondly, When the prince hinders the legislative from assembling in its due time, or from acting freely, pursuant to those ends for which it was constituted, the legislative is altered: for it is not a certain number of men, no, nor their meeting, unless they have also freedom of debating, and leisure of perfecting, what is for the good of the society, wherein the legislative consists: when these are taken away or altered, so as to deprive the society of the due exercise of their power, the legislative is truly altered; for it is not names that constitute governments, but the use and exercise of those powers that were intended to accompany them; so that he, who takes away the freedom, or hinders the acting of the legislative in its due seasons, in effect takes away the legislative, and puts an end to the government.  

Stealing or fixing elections.

§. 216. Thirdly, When, by the arbitrary power of the prince, the electors, or ways of election are altered, without the consent, and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also the legislative is altered: for, if others than those whom the society hath authorized thereunto, do chuse, or in another way than what the society hath prescribed, those chosen are not the legislative appointed by the people.

Giving people to a foreign power.  

§. 217. Fourthly, The delivery also of the people into subjection of a foreign power, either by the prince, or by the legislative, is certainly a change of the legislative, and so a dissolution of the government: for the end why people entered into society being to be preserved one entire, free, independent society, to be governed by its own laws; this is lost, whenever they are given up into the power of another.  

John Locke then explains why the monarch or top ruler is usually to blame when these things happen, although the monarch or top ruler usually has accomplices (sometimes within the legislature):

§. 218. Why, in such a constitution as this, the dissolution of the government in these cases is to be imputed to the prince, is evident; because he having the force, treasure and offices of the state to employ, and often persuading himself, or being flattered by others, that as supreme magistrate he is uncapable of controul; he alone is in a condition to make great advances toward such changes, under pretence of lawful authority, and has it in his hands to terrify or suppress opposers, as factious, seditious, and enemies to the government: whereas no other part of the legislative, or people, is capable by themselves to attempt any alteration of the legislative, without open and visible rebellion, apt enough to be taken notice of, which, when it prevails, produces effects very little different from foreign conquest. Besides, the prince in such a form of government, having the power of dissolving the other parts of the legislative, and thereby rendering them private persons, they can never in opposition to him, or without his concurrence, alter the legislative by a law, his consent being necessary to give any of their decrees that sanction. But yet, so far as the other parts of the legislative any way contribute to any attempt upon the government, and do either promote, or not, what lies in them, hinder such designs, they are guilty, and partake in this, which is certainly the greatest crime men can be guilty of one towards another.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Charlotte Graham-McLay—New Zealand’s Next Milestone: A Budget Guided by Well-Being

I am proud that the Well-Being Measurement Initiative, headed by Dan Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Kristen Cooper and me, is involved in this New Zealand effort. In the summer of 2015, I spent three weeks at the New Zealand Treasury working on this effort. Data collection is slated to take place this summer.

I do not see guiding policy by well-being as inherently left-wing. It only becomes left-wing when important aspects of well-being that are especially important to those on the right are omitted from data collection. In our approach, we strive to include a wide range of aspects of well-being.

John Locke: The Obligation to Obey the Law Does Not Apply to Laws Promulgated by Invaders and Usurpers Who Do Not Have the Consent of the Governed

If one regards the Witenagemot as the legitimate 11th century body to decide who the King of England should be in cases of contested succession, then William the Conqueror was a usurper. But I’ll bet John Locke regarded many of the successors to William the Conqueror as legitimate rulers. How can that be? The key is that anyone who ascended to the throne from a power politics point of view as the successor to a usurper has the opportunity to make their case to the people to become a ruler by the consent of the governed. Back then, this was not always done by submitting to an election, but still involved trying to appeal to the people. For example, Queen Elizabeth I made many efforts to appeal to the people for support and willingness to be governed by her.

The way John Locke frames things in Chapter XIX of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of the Dissolution of Government” is that both invasion and usurpation return people to a state of nature in their obligations. Then they have the right to decide on whether they agree with a particular proposal for a new government with a new ruler:

§. 211. HE that will with any clearness speak of the dissolution of government, ought in the first place to distinguish between the dissolution of the society and the dissolution of the government. That which makes the community, and brings men out of the loose state of nature, into one politic society, is the agreement which every one has with the rest to incorporate, and act as one body, and so be one distinct commonwealth. The usual, and almost only way whereby this union is dissolved, is the inroad of foreign force making a conquest upon them: for in that case, (not being able to maintain and support themselves, as one entire and independent body) the union belonging to that body which consisted therein, must necessarily cease, and so every one return to the state he was in before, with a liberty to shift for himself, and provide for his own safety, as he thinks fit, in some other society. Whenever the society is dissolved, it is certain the government of that society cannot remain. Thus conquerors swords often cut up governments by the roots, and mangle societies to pieces, separating the subdued or scattered multitude from the protection of, and dependence on, that society, which ought to have preserved them from violence. The world is too well instructed in, and too forward to allow of, this way of dissolving of governments, to need any more to be said of it; and there wants not much argument to prove, that where the society is dissolved, the government cannot remain; that being as impossible, as for the frame of an house to subsist when the materials of it are scattered and dissipated by a whirlwind, or jumbled into a confused heap by an earthquake.  

§. 212. Besides this overturning from without, governments are dissolved from within, First, When the legislative is altered. Civil society being a state of peace, amongst those who are of it, from whom the state of war is excluded by the umpirage which they have provided in their legislative, for the ending all differences that may arise amongst any of them, it is in their legislative, that the members of a commonwealth are united, and combined together into one coherent living body. This is the soul that gives form, life, and unity, to the commonwealth: from hence the several members have their mutual influence, sympathy and connexion: and therefore, when the legislative is broken, or dissolved, dissolution and death follows: for the essence and unity of the society consisting in having one will, the legislative, when once established by the majority, has the declaring, and as it were keeping of that will. The constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act of society, whereby provision is made for the continuation of their union, under the direction of persons, and bonds of laws, made by persons authorized thereunto, by the consent and appointment of the people, without which no one man, or number of men, amongst them, can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to the rest. When any one or more, shall take upon them to make laws, whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey; by which means they come again to be out of subjection, and may constitute to themselves a new legislative, as they think best, being in full liberty to resist the force of those, who without authority would impose any thing upon them. Every one is at the disposure of his own will, when those who had, by the delegation of the society, the declaring of the public will, are excluded from it, and others usurp the place, who have no such authority or delegation.

The lack of obligation to obey laws promulgated by rulers who do not have the consent of the people is highly relevant in the situation in Venezuela, as of June 1, 2019: Nicolas Maduro, who has most of the army behind him, does not currently have the consent of the people in the sense of being able to win a free and fair election, which in addition to being an attractive principle in its own right, was the constitutionally established way of choosing a ruler. Many Venezuelans have therefore transferred their loyalty to Juan Guaidó, who has the consent of a large number of Venezuelans to be their ruler, as well as the diplomatic recognition from many other countries as a ruler chosen by a constitutional process, as least for an interim leading up to an election.

Having a dominant army at one’s command does not make one a legitimate ruler. The people must consent to one heading the government, or there is no legitimacy and no obligation to obey new laws.

To avoid anarchy, a good rule is that old laws, duly enacted by duly chosen rulers should still be obeyed while the struggle with invaders and usurpers is carried on. No one should feel they can commit murder unrelated to the struggle for freedom simply because a usurper is on the throne. And many crimes, such as rape, have no legitimate role in any struggle for freedom. It might be inconvenient that old, duly enacted laws may become somewhat outdated if the struggle for freedom continues on a long time before resolution. But even in those cases, leaning hard toward obeying old, duly-enacted laws is an important shield against anarchy.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Disregard for truth as a Sign of a Totalitarian Impulse

The headline: “MFA confirms offensive remarks from patrons, bans two members.”

Link to the tweet above. Link to a more recent Boston Globe article about the incident.

I responded to Melissa McDaniel’s tweet above with these tweets:

It is dangerous to our society when finding out and verifying the truth is denigrated. Racism and sexism are real. Proving that they reared their ugly head in a particular instance is a valuable service in fighting them.

Let me say that in relation to sexual harassment and sexual abuse, a good Bayesian assessment of whether it occurred in a given instance requires an understanding of how high the base rates are. But we don't want to create strong incentives (now quite weak) for false accusation.

The temptation to set aside or denigrate truth in service of a cause is an old one. Many religions, believing that people’s eternal souls or the fate of the world were at stake, have subordinated ordinary garden variety small-t truth to what they considered a grander Truth. But as I said in “What is a Partisan Nonpartisan Blog?” I am with my best friend Kim Leavitt in believing

We are in trouble if we let our devotion to Truth get in the way of our devotion to truth.

In particular, those who show a disregard for truth in their eagerness to get particular results betray a certain controlling—and in the extreme—totalitarian impulse. Or to take another perspective, one time that deception and lying is justified is in wartime. But by that analogy, lying to me is a sign that the liar is my enemy. I would much rather make a judgment myself, knowing the truth, than let someone else make that judgment for me. Any argument that I am not able to make that judgment puts me at a lower rank than those who can be trusted to know the truth. In some contexts, such as national security or grand jury testimony, I am OK with being at a lower rank. But in regard to, say, making a judgment about, say, Brett Kavanaugh, as I did in “On Guilt by Association,” or Donald Trump, I would not be OK with the antidemocratic approach of saying only others could be trusted to see the evidence.

Trust but Verify: Bayes Rule. Let me explain my remarks about a Bayesian approach. Bayes’ Rule says that the probability P( ) that someone is guilty of, say, sexual abuse, given being accused, is

P(guilty given accused) = P(guilty) P(accused when guilty) /

P(guilty) P(accused when guilty) + P(innocent) P(accused when innocent)

The fact that sexual abuse is common makes P(guilty) high for the accused and non-accused combined. This “base right” that so many people are, in fact, guilty of sexual abuse makes it more likely that any particular person who is accused is, in fact, guilty. But something that can drag down the probability that any particular person is guilty when accused is if the probably of being accused even when innocent—P(accused when innocent)—is high. Currently, I think the probability of being accused of sexual abuse when innocent is only of moderate magnitude. (It becomes higher in custody battles and political battles where there is more to gain from a false accusation.) And the base rate of being innocent when including both the accused and non-accused—P(innocent)—is high. So if the fraction of innocent people who are accused ever were to become high, that would totally change the equation.

We currently have a system that asks for enough verification that the incentives to falsely accuse are kept in check. But if we ever stopped asking for verification, the number of false accusations could skyrocket. One cannot generalize from a small number of false accusations now to a small number of accusations in a future world where we stopped asking for verification (leaving the accuser unavenged or unhappy if verification cannot be found).

Conclusion. To me, confirming is a noble thing. We need to know what is true and what is not. Anyone who can help us in that regard is doing a good thing. (I talked about some of the key exceptions in my discussion of blackmail in “The Government and the Mob.”) Wherever public policy relies on concealment or deception, we should always be looking for alternative ways of achieving the end (assuming the end is worthwhile) that do not require concealment or deception.’

In the arena of truth, I feel that scientists—both natural and social scientists—have an extra responsibility to serve the truth. It makes me angry to ever see a scientist subvert truth for the sake of other ends—whether those ends are furthering a career or furthering a cause. Trying to turn this principle on myself, I wrote in “What is a Partisan Nonpartisan Blog?

In a fractal recapitulation of the “team-loyalty versus unvarnished opinion on each issue” conflict, fidelity to the truth can sometimes hurt the overall thread of one’s argument on an issue. Here, fidelity to the truth has to come first. Let me list the legitimate excuses: (a) there is no duty to mention facts that seem to run against one’s argument that are actually unimportant and could easily be answered; (b) for clarity it is permissible to defer dealing with even important, widely-known facts until a commenter sets up the Q part of the Q&A; and (c) human language always deals in approximations, especially in short-form essays. But for a blogger who hopes to have the trust of readers, it is never OK to say something one knows to be false and misleading, even in the service of what one might think is a higher Truth.

I am also angry with anyone who says, in any context, that it isn’t important to verify the truth before rushing to judgment in any matter of consequence.

Related posts:

John Locke: How to Resist Tyrants without Causing Anarchy

In the first half of Chapter XVIII of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Tyranny,” John Locke describes how tyrants differ from lawful rulers. (See “John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant.”) In the second half of that chapter, he lays out an argument he must confront. What if his interlocutor said something like this:

§. 203. May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all polities, and, instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion. 

John Lock gives a subtle answer, laying out how to appropriately oppose a tyrant.

John Locke’s Rules for those Who Would Oppose Tyrants

1. Don’t escalate the use of force; don’t start by physically attacking the tyrant.

§. 204.  To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and man; and so no danger or confusion will follow, as is often suggested, for,  

§. 205. First, As, in some countries, the person of the prince by the law is sacred; and so, whatever he commands or does, his person is still free from all question or violence, not liable to force, or any judicial censure or condemnation. … unless he will, by actually putting himself into a state of war with his people, dissolve the government, and leave them to that defence which belongs to every one in the state of nature: for of such things who can tell what the end will be? and a neighbour kingdom has shewed the world an odd example. In all other cases the sacredness of the person exempts him from all inconveniences, whereby he is secure, whilst the government stands, from all violence and harm, whatsoever; than which there cannot be a wiser constitution: for the harm he can do in his own person not being likely to happen often, nor to extend itself far; nor being able by his single strength to subvert the laws, nor oppress the body of the people, should any prince have so much weakness, and ill-nature, as to be willing to do it, the inconveniency of some particular mischiefs, that may happen sometimes, when a heady prince comes to the throne, are well recompensed by the peace of the public, and security of the government, in the person of the chief magistrate, thus set out of the reach of danger: it being safer for the body, that some few private men should be sometimes in danger to suffer, than that the head of the republic should be easily, and upon slight occasions, exposed.

Any kind of immunity of a tyrant can seem galling, but John Locke points out that personal immunity typically typically does not, by itself, allow a tyrant to do a huge amount of harm.

2. Question, oppose and resist unjust, illegal acts, regardless of a tyrant’s endorsement of them, while continuing to respect and obey just and legal actions of the tyrant.

§. 206. Secondly, But this privilege, belonging only to the king’s person, hinders not, but they may be questioned, opposed, and resisted, who use unjust force, though they pretend a commission from him, which the law authorizes not; as is plain in the case of him that has the king’s writ to arrest a man, which is a full commission from the king; and yet he that has it cannot break open a man’s house to do it, nor execute this command of the king upon certain days, nor in certain places, though this commission have no such exception in it; but they are the limitations of the law, which if any one transgress, the king’s commission excuses him not: for the king’s authority being given him only by the law, he cannot impower any one to act against the law, or justify him, by his commission, in so doing; the commission, or command of any magistrate, where he has no authority, being as void and insignificant, as that of any private man; the difference between the one and the other being that the magistrate has some authority so far, and to such ends, and the private man has none at all: for it is not the commission, but the authority, that gives the right of acting; and against the laws there can be no authority. But, notwithstanding such resistance, the king’s person and authority are still both secured, and so no danger to governor or government.  

For those on a tyrant’s staff, one of the best ways to resist an unjust or illegal command of the tyrant is to do nothing. Whenever doing nothing can stop the tyrant in his tracks, this is a very attractive option.

3. Exhaust opportunities for appeal before taking up arms.

§. 207. Thirdly, Supposing a government wherein the person of the chief magistrate is not thus sacred; yet this doctrine of the lawfulness of resisting all unlawful exercises of his power, will not upon every slight occasion indanger him, or imbroil the government: for where the injured party may be relieved, and his damages repaired by appeal to the law, there can be no pretence for force, which is only to be used where a man is intercepted from appealing to the law: for nothing is to be accounted hostile force, but where it leaves not the remedy of such an appeal; and it is such force alone, that puts him that uses it into a state of war, and makes it lawful to resist him. A man with a sword in his hand demands my purse on the highway, when perhaps I have not twelve pence in my pocket: this man I may lawfully kill. To another I deliver 100l. to hold only whilst I alight, which he refuses to restore me, when I am got up again, but draws his sword to defend the possession of it by force, if I endeavour to retake it. The mischief this man does me is a hundred, or possibly a thousand times more than the other perhaps intended me (whom I killed before he really did me any;) and yet I might lawfully kill the one, and cannot so much as hurt the other lawfully. The reason whereof is plain; because the one using force, which threatened my life, I could not have time to appeal to the law to secure it: and when it was gone, it was too late to appeal. The law could not restore life to my dead carcass: the loss was irreparable; which to prevent, the law of nature gave me a right to destroy him, who had put himself into a state of war with me, and threatened my destruction. But in the other case, my life not being in danger, I may have the benefit of appealing to the law, and have reparation for my 100l. that way.  

A key test of how bad a tyrant is is whether the tyrant tries to interfere with an appeal of his decision to a court of law.

4. Enforce the law yourself before taking up arms in civil war.

§. 208. Fourthly, But if the unlawful acts done by the magistrate be maintained (by the power he has got,) and the remedy which is due by law be by the same power obstructed; yet the right of resisting, even in such manifest acts of tyranny, will not suddenly, or on slight occasions, disturb the government: for if it reach no farther than some private men’s cases, though they have a right to defend themselves, and to recover by force what by unlawful force is taken from them; yet the right to do so will not easily engage them in a contest, wherein they are sure to perish; it being as impossible for one, or a few oppressed men to disturb the government, where the body of the people do not think themselves concerned in it, as for a raving madman, or heady malcontent to overturn a well-settled state: the people being as little apt to follow the one, as the other.  

To distil this into a maxim: “Don’t be a rebel when you can be a vigilante instead.”

5. Take up arms in civil war only if the tyranny is systematic.

§. 209. But if either these illegal acts have extended to the majority of the people; or if the mischief and oppression has lighted only on some few, but in such cases, as the precedent, and consequences seem to threaten all; and they are persuaded in their consciences, that their laws, and with them their estates, liberties, and lives are in danger, and perhaps their religion too; how they will be hindered from resisting illegal force, used against them, I cannot tell. This is an inconvenience, I confess, that attends all governments whatsoever, when the governors have brought it to this pass, to be generally suspected of their people; the most dangerous state which they can possibly put themselves in; wherein they are the less to be pitied, because it is so easy to be avoided; it being as impossible for a governor, if he really means the good of his people, and the preservation of them, and their laws together, not to make them see and feel it, as it is for the father of a family, not to let his children see he loves, and takes care of them.  

§. 210. But if all the world shall observe pretences of one kind, and actions of another; arts used to elude the law, and the trust of prerogative (which is an arbitrary power in some things left in the prince’s hand to do good, not harm to the people) employed contrary to the end for which it was given: if the people shall find the ministers and subordinate magistrates chosen suitable to such ends, and favoured, or laid by, proportionably as they promote or oppose them: if they see several experiments made of arbitrary power, and that religion underhand favoured, (though publicly proclaimed against) which is readiest to introduce it; and the operators in it supported, as much as may be; and when that cannot be done, yet approved still, and liked the better: if a long train of actions shew the councils all tending that way; how can a man any more hinder himself from being persuaded in his own mind, which way things are going; or from casting about how to save himself, than he could from believing the captain of the ship he was in was carrying him, and the rest of his company to Algiers, when he found him always steering that course, though cross winds, leaks in his ship, and want of men and provisions did often force him to turn his course another way for some time, which he steadily returned to again, as soon as the wind, weather, and other circumstances would let him?

To me, a key sign of whether the tyranny is systematic is whether resisting often leads the tyrant to give in and do better, or whether resisting leads to an escalation on the part of the tyrant against those who are resisting. Escalation by a tyrant goes a long way toward making the tyranny systematic, which, if carried far enough, may justify taking up arms against the tyrant.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Who Leaves Mormonism?

Stephen Cranney’s BYU Studies article “Who Is Leaving the Church? Demographic Predictors of Ex–Latter-day Saint Status in the Pew Religious Landscape Survey” not only answers an interesting question, but also provides some basic lessons on interpreting statistics. In as close to a representative sample of the US population as any survey that provides the needed data, he compares 191 people who grew up Mormon who no longer self-identify as Mormons and 379 who grew up Mormon and still think of themselves as Mormons. (Let me say that I refuse to accommodate current Mormon Church President Russell Nelson’s disavowal of the nickname “Mormon.” An earlier Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley embraced the nickname “Mormon.”)

On overall numbers leaving, Stephen points out that it is roughly the same as the number of converts, so that growth of Mormonism in the US is largely from natural increase: births minus deaths. (Mormons still have relatively high fertility and are younger than population averages, so natural increase is substantial.)

Stephen asks the interesting question of what religious status ex-Mormons go to. The answer (with some sampling error in it) is:

  • 58% went to “no religion” or unaffiliated

  • 18% went to evangelical Protestant denominations

  • 8% went to Mainline Protestant denominations

  • 10% went to generic Christianity

  • That leaves about 6%, about equally split between becoming Buddhists, joining a Mormon splinter group or going to some other religion not listed above.

Stephen’s Table 2 in this article gives a logit for predictors of leaving Mormonism rather than staying, among this sample of individuals who all grew up in Mormonism. I favor the logit that includes all covariates at once: the rightmost column. Stephen makes no multiple hypothesis testing correction, but the hypotheses he is testing are natural enough that at least I am not worried about a lot of hidden hypotheses that are not reported.

In my own research with coauthors, I have found using a false-discovery-rate (FDR) threshold to be so convenient and practical that there isn’t much of an excuse for anyone to neglect making multiple-hypothesis-testing corrections any more. (I hope to do a blog post in the future on using the false discovery rate approach.) A false discovery rate of x% means that on average no more than x% of the claims made are likely to be false. The more claims made, the more total claims are likely to be false, but the percentage of claims that are false in expectation is below the threshold.

Doing the false-discovery-rate approach myself, I can see that in the rightmost column of Table 2, everything with *** is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 1.5%, everything with ** is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 3.75%, and everything with * is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 15%. (Mechanically, take the p-value for which the significance level reported in the table is a ceiling, multiply by the number of hypotheses tested—15—then divide by the number of claims made up to that point, including the current claim, when they are made starting from the lowest p-value and going up. One of the ***s is the first claim. The ** is the fourth claim. The * with the lowest p-value is the fifth claim. There are some caveats to this procedure, but it is generally quite accurate.)

Given that in this case am not worried about hidden hypotheses that were tested, found wanting and then put in a drawer, these significance levels are adequate.

Here are the results, from ones we are more sure of, to those we are less sure of, with some of Stephen’s interpretative comments.

FDR threshold of no more than 1.5%

Cohabiting and divorce are correlated with leaving Mormonism. Stephen is admirably cautious about interpreting this:

Because there is no information on when people left the Church, it is difficult to speculate about why ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be divorced more than those who remain in the Church. It is theoretically plausible that the trauma of undergoing a divorce led to a loss of faith, activity, and ultimately identification with the Church; it is also possible that a loss of faith led to intermarital strife with a member spouse; finally, it is possible that Latter-day Saint marriages tend to have lower divorce rates overall. Some incidental support exists for this last point in the fact that the Latter-day Saint sample here has a significantly lower chance of being in the divorced category than the general non–Latter-day Saint PRLS sample, whereas the ex–Latter-day Saint sample does not show a statistically significant difference with the general sample. This suggests that ex-members may simply lose whatever Latter-day Saint–specific protections against divorce that may exist.

Political liberalism is correlated with leaving Mormonism. Stephen is careful to put things in perspective:

Ex–Latter-day Saints do appear to be more liberal than those who stay (see tables 1 and 2). However, the political switch may be less of a switch from “conservative” to “liberal” than from “conservative” to “moderate.” Contrary to stereotypes about liberal ex–Latter-day Saints, many ex–Latter-day Saints (27 percent) still identify as politically conservative, with 39 percent identifying as political moderates, and only a minority (35 percent) identifying as politically liberal.

While on their face the political findings support the familiar narrative of liberal latter-day Saints leaving over social issues, the fact that only a minority of ex–Latter-day Saints identify as liberals and that hardly any of them switch to liberal Protestant denominations nuances this perspective. While social issues are undoubtedly salient for some people’s exodus from the Church, it is likely that this narrative receives a disproportion- ate amount of attention in informal and online discourse on this subject, and the size of the liberal Latter-day Saint exodus over social issues should not be exaggerated.

FDR threshold of no more than 3.75%

High education predicts a lower probability of leaving Mormonism. Again, Stephen is admirably cautious in interpreting this result:

In the summary statistics, ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be less educated, with lower income. While distinct, these findings conceptually support prior research that has shown that, unlike most religions, for Latter-day Saints education is positively associated with activity.4 However, when education is controlled for, income becomes insignificant, suggesting that those who stay in the Church are wealthier because they are more educated.

… there are a number of theoretically plausible stories for why ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be less educated and have lower incomes. It could be that there is a Latter-day Saint emphasis on education and occupational success that leads to higher incomes and more education, or it could be that people are more likely to stay in the Church if the lifestyle is working out for them socioeconomically.

FDR threshold of no more than 15%

Men are less likely to leave Mormonism. For most of those who grow up in Mormonism, gender can be taken as fairly exogenous. Given the controversies about how Mormonism treats women, one might have thought that women would be more likely to leave. Here is what Stephen says about that:

Related to the issue of leaving over social issues is the question of gender. For a religion with an all-male priesthood that treats the notion of gender seriously, it is worth investigating whether women are more likely to leave than men. In this sample, men are overrepresented among those who have left; these results comport with prior findings in the large American Religious Identification Survey that men tend to disproportionately leave the Church.2 This difference may be a Latter-day Saint– specific manifestation of the fact that in the United States men tend to be less religious than women.

Older people are more likely to have left Mormonism. Stephen tends to dismiss this finding because he focuses less than I do on the logit with everything in it. I think this is real, because a simple hazard model would suggest that if one is ever going to leave Mormonism, having more time pass makes that more likely to have happened already. (Even if some people return to Mormonism after having left, when starting with a group that are 100% Mormon in childhood, there is likely to be convergence—which is most likely to be monotonic—to a higher fraction non-Mormon.)

Those living in Utah are less likely to have left Mormonism. Stephen explains the interpretive issues:

Ex–Latter-day Saints also appear to be less likely to reside in Utah in the summary statistics (34 percent versus 26 percent, but this barely misses the cutoff for significance at p = .065), and the Utah effect is sporadically significant in the regression analysis, suggesting that, whether because they are more likely to leave when growing up outside of Utah or because they are more likely to move outside of Utah after they leave (or a combination of both), ex–Latter-day Saints are disproportionately found outside of Utah compared to Latter-day Saints who did not leave.

Being Hispanic is not associated with leaving Mormonism (in a sizeable enough way to be reliably detected in this size of sample), but being Black non-Hispanic or of a race other than White, Black or non-Black Hispanic is correlated with leaving Mormonism. Here is what Stephen writes about that:

Finally, the racial effects found here lend themselves to any number of interpretations, but perhaps the most reasonable is that being a racial minority in a predominantly white Church may cause its own stresses that make continued activity and identification with the Church less likely.

A bit of background here that Stephen doesn’t here is that the Mormon Church is thriving in Latin American countries and the Mormon Church has many congregations with church services conducted in Spanish in the US, so that Hispanics in the US may feel somewhat less like outsider minorities in the Mormon Church than their raw numbers (4%) suggest.

Update May 20, 2019: A reader asks on Twitter “I'd be interested to know if your experience aligns with the paper.” My reply:

I left Mormonism. Positively correlated with that: I am politically moderate, male, older and have lived outside of Utah since age 24. Negatively correlated with leaving: I'm married (1st time), highly educated (with a PhD in Economics, which never challenges religion) & white.

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Don’t miss these guest posts on Mormonism by my brother Chris Kimball:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant

Chapter XVIII of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Tyranny,” discusses two marks of a tyrant: going beyond the law and working for their own (often unenlightened) self-interest rather than for the good of the people. John Locke says this several times in sections 199-202. I especially like this formulation:

… the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite.  

Drawing from sections 199-202, which you can see below, let me collect descriptors for a lawful ruler and a tyrant here:

Lawful Ruler(s):

  • making use of power for the good of those who are under it

  • commands and actions directed to the preservation of the properties of his people

  • the law as the rule

  • acknowledges himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of his people

  • bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom

  • glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws

  • makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government

  • uses power for the preservation of the properties of the people


  • exercise of power beyond right

  • making use of power for private separate advantage

  • his will the rule

  • commands and actions for the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.  

  • thinks his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites

  • makes all give way to his own will and appetite

  • uses power to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it

  • transgresses law to another’s harm

  • exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not

In section 202, John Locke argues that rulers bear a greater responsibility to obey the law and further the public good the more power they have. Great power does not absolve them of responsibility:

… the exceeding the bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

Below is the context for all of these points I have drawn out:

§. 199. AS usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.  

§. 200. If one can doubt this to be truth, or reason, because it comes from the obscure hand of a subject, I hope the authority of a king will make it pass with him. King James the First, in his speech to the parliament, 1603, tells them thus, “I will ever prefer the weal of the public, and of the whole commonwealth, in making of good laws and constitutions, to any particular and private ends of mine; thinking ever the wealth and weal of the commonwealth to be my greatest weal and worldly felicity; a point wherein a lawful king doth directly differ from a tyrant: for I do acknowledge that the special and greatest point of difference that is between a rightful king and an usurping tyrant, is this, that whereas the proud and ambitious tyrant doth think his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites, the righteous and just king doth by the contrary acknowledge himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of his people.” And again, in his speech to the parliament, 1609, he hath these words, “The king binds himself by a double oath, to the observation of the fundamental laws of his kingdom; tacitly, as by being a king, and so bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom; and expressly, by his oath at his coronation; so as every just king, in a settled kingdom, is bound to observe that paction to his people, by his laws, in framing his government agreeable thereunto, according to that paction which God made with Noah after the deluge. Hereafter, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease while the earth remaineth. And therefore a king governing in a settled kingdom, leaves to be a king, and degenerates into a tyrant, as soon as he leaves off to rule according to his laws.” And a little after, “Therefore all kings that are not tyrants, or perjured, will be glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws; and they that persuade them the contrary, are vipers, and pests both against them and the commonwealth.” Thus that learned king, who well understood the notion of things, makes the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite.  

§. 201. It is a mistake, to think this fault is proper only to monarchies: other forms of government are liable to it, as well as that: for wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many. Thus we read of the thirty tyrants at Athens, as well as one at Syracuse; and the intolerable dominion of the Decemviri at Rome was nothing better.  

§. 202. Wherever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and him whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another. This is acknowledged in subordinate magistrates. He that hath authority to seize my person in the street, may be opposed as a thief and a robber, if he endeavours to break into my house to execute a writ, notwithstanding that I know he has such a warrant, and such a legal authority, as will impower him to arrest me abroad. And why this should not hold in the highest, as well as in the most inferior magistrate, I would gladly be informed. Is it reasonable, that the eldest brother, because he has the greatest part of his father’s estate, should thereby have a right to take away any of his younger brothers’ portions? or that a rich man, who possessed a whole country, should from thence have a right to seize, when he pleased, the cottage and garden of his poor neighbour? The being rightfully possessed of great power and riches, exceedingly beyond the greatest part of the sons of Adam, is so far from being an excuse, much less a reason, for rapine and oppression, which the endamaging another without authority is, that it is a great aggravation of it: for the exceeding the bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Chris Kimball on `A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church'

Chris Kimball and his grandson

Chris Kimball and his grandson

When I wrote “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church” I had already arranged with my brother Chris that he would write a guest post as a response. I was reassured to know that any errors of fact or emphasis I made because of my increasing distance in time from being a Mormon would be corrected. Below is Chris’s response.

In my own defense vis a vis one of his themes, let me point out that I had previously written about some of the other important changes Russell Nelson has made in the Mormon Church besides those I mentioned in “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church.” See the links to other related posts at the bottom of this post.

A letter to my brother in response to “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church”

Dear Miles:

I read with interest “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church” two weeks ago. In the friendliest and most loving way (a standard opening for sharp disagreement), I have a couple of things to say.

Before diving in, let me say that this is a letter between brothers chock full of personal opinion and 50% confidence statements. Knowing you are going to publish it, but not caveating every other sentence to make this some kind of pronouncement or “truth” or careful lawyer’s brief. Just one brother talking to another. 

Now diving in, my first observation is that you increasingly write as an outsider to the Church. I think you would acknowledge that (and hopefully not take umbrage). On the flip side I am conscious of the fact that my most recent piece (generously referenced in your “Liberal Turn”) was so much an insider view that we both agreed it was unpublishable outside the Bloggernacle--the segment of the blogosphere focused on Mormon issues. 

“Outsider” means several things for my review. First, it means that you select and give attention to changes you notice, which is an interesting and revealing subset of the whole. Second, it means that your characterization of Church leaders seems more resume-based than listening based. Third, it means that your “liberal” label is an outside-looking-in label.

You highlight changes in the temple ceremony, calling an African-American General Authority, and reversing the 2015 policy on people in same-sex marriages and their children. No question these are newsworthy changes, and I have written extensively about the third so I can’t honestly downplay them. However, I will argue that they are somewhat less important than you make them out to be, and only three among many.

Less important in the following ways—

Changes in the temple ceremony occur from time to time. They are seldom talked about much, out of respect for the temple, strong secret/sacred bonds on certain parts of the ceremonies that make insiders cautious about discussing any parts, and a mystique that the ceremonies are “revealed truth” in ancient, unchanged, and unchangeable form (which is obviously not true in the strong sense, for anybody who pays attention, but is a valuable myth that many would like to preserve). In addition, the observant among us report particular instructions not to discuss these recent changes. But for all the quietness around the temple ceremony, it is relatively well known that changes do occur—and the Church said so in the context of these recent changes—and probably will continue.

With respect to the changes having to do with “sexist” language, my perspective is rather more cautious or measured than some of the excited reports in the Salt Lake Tribune. My perspective is that the changes I know about have been needed and talked about for forty years at least. They have been identified in focus group and survey results. Furthermore, the changes were only part of the work that seems needed. (All my opinion, of course.) The interesting questions to me are not “where did this come from?” but “why now?” and “why not finish the job?”

Calling an African-American General Authority is wonderful. But inevitable. From the first days after the 1978 inclusion of all men in priesthood roles and all men and women in temple activities without respect to race, there have been highly qualified African-American men available and holding responsible positions. As a practical matter (not theological or doctrinal) there is a very long “working up” ladder for high Church callings and I didn’t expect an African-American General Authority right away. However, 40+ years later the inclusion of the first African-American General Authority speaks to me of absolutely no affirmative action, no inclusive outreach, but simply business-as-usual. Notice that Elder Johnson joined the Church in 1986 at age 19. He is now 52, having spent his entire adult life in a  Church that fully recognized his value and worth. From what little I know he is highly qualified and well respected, but just like all the new General Authorities with a lifetime of experience and service in the Church. Remarkable in that select company only for his skin color. Again, the interesting questions to me are not “why Peter Johnson?” but “why now (and not sooner)?” and “why just one?”

Reversing the Exclusion Policy had to happen. It was a blot on the Church. I know very well there is a large constituency of Church members who maintain the Church never makes a mistake. However, in this case there is an unusually large contra group, who believe—without regard to the Church’s attitudes and practices regarding LGBTQ persons—that the Policy was a mistake. For myself, I believe the reversal was a 39-month exercise of internal consultation and consideration at the highest levels, from a baseline of recognizing the Policy as a mistake. What is interesting is not that the Policy was reversed, but that it was reversed relatively quickly and without doing the full job. The full job meaning to squarely address the civil marriage parity question (which I argue has only one acceptable workable outcome). For the third time, “why now?” and “why not more?”

Three among many in that the changes in the first 15 months of the Russell M. Nelson presidency are stunning in number and breadth. In addition to the three you focus on, we have seen:

·       New attention to the name of the Church. The naming conventions change from time to time, including change to the scripture that is often cited for the official name of the Church. But I thought this was reasonably settled in 1990. A 30-year type change.

·       A new Sunday School curriculum, a change to the system I have been familiar with since 1986. A  30-year or 35-year change.

·       A two-hour block for Church meetings. Although meeting schedule tinkering happens from time to time, this is the biggest change since 1980. A 40-year change.

·       A collapse of adult priesthood quorums into one at the local level. The last change of this magnitude was the 1986 elimination of Stake-level 70s quorums. Another 30-35 year change.

·       Adopting a ministering program in place of home teaching and visiting teaching. “Ward teaching” was the 1912 program. “Home teaching” was the 1963 version. A 50-year change.

·       Missionaries allowed to call home weekly and on special occasions. This may seem small, but it is extraordinarily meaningful for missionaries and families of missionaries. The mission programs change regularly, but I don’t remember a time when missionaries were free to contact family like they are today. A more than 60-year change.

·       Young men can now be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood as early as age 11, and the correlative change for young women means that 11 year-olds can now attend the temple for the first time. The prior 12-year-old schedule was set in 1908, and probably believed to be inviolable by most people alive today. A more than century change.

There are far-reaching consequences of these changes. Some are apparent already. Some will play out in the decades to come.

Why Now?

I think the most interesting question you raise is why now? I think your analysis of leadership change, policies that don’t work, and declining numbers, is reasonable but skewed by viewing through the lens of “liberalizing” practice. When I remove the “liberalizing” lens and ask myself about change more broadly, I conclude that it is all about President Nelson.

But I should explain.

There are traditional Mormons declaring that President Nelson is a visionary of a sort we haven’t seen since Joseph Smith, as though the heavens have opened and dropped revelation after revelation. Or maybe I should say “dreamer” as in “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2:17. And yes, I have heard “last days” talk. It won’t surprise you when I say this isn’t me. With all due respect to President Nelson, I look for more ordinary earth-bound explanations.

I grant that the numbers are not looking good. I assume this is a constant concern; it should be. The growth rate is down, the birth rate is down, there is reason to believe tithing receipts have declined (although there are no reliable numbers outside the Church, to my knowledge). For all that, my deepest concern would be changing numbers and attitudes in younger generations. As noted by Jana Reiss in her new book The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the Mormon Church, “Mormonism used to keep about three quarters of its adherents. Among young adults it is now retaining less than half.” With respect to same-sex marriage, an important tell-tale of attitudes by generation, Reiss shows that 58% of Mormons of our generation strongly agreed with the now-reversed policy, but only 40% of Mormon millennials strongly agreed. More telling (to my mind) former Mormons strongly disagreed with the policy in even higher numbers and with little generational difference.

I do believe President Dallin Oaks is an instrument of change himself. I know he is typecast by many as an ultra-conservative disciplinarian. But I see him as strongly inclined conservative but more importantly a deep thinker able to learn and change his mind and work effectively in a dynamic world. Persuadable, in other words.

Also, it should be noted that there are pressures from several years when former President Thomas Monson was either unwilling or unable to direct needed change, leading inevitably to an accumulation or backlog of changes and decisions and a likely spike in the number of significant changes with any new and decisive President.

All this I grant, but I still think the greatest reason for change is President Nelson himself. I think he is the key to the current dynamism in the Church. I see this in the following characteristics:

·       He is vigorous but at 94 years old it can’t last. He is in a hurry for good reason. While it may be a small additional impetus, I believe he looked up to Spencer W. Kimball who called him as an apostle in 1984, and recognizes the early years of SWK’s presidency as an example he would like to emulate, and the later years as a fear he is racing.

·       He is self-confident—he believes in himself in that he pays attention to and has confidence in the promptings and nudgings and visions and dreams, and he believes in himself in that he makes decisions.

·       I view him as a pragmatic problem solver before an ideologue. I suspect he is politically conservative, I am fairly confident his social policy views are conservative, and I hear from the pulpit conservative theology and doctrine (in a mid-20th century conservative sense). But I think he solves problems first. 

·       Most remarkably, especially for the leader of a large institution that has historically been slow to change and never apologize, he seems able and ready to experiment, to make a decision, watch it play out, and make another. If I were to choose one characteristic only, it would be this.

So why now? Because there is a need, it’s the right thing to do, and there is a man in place who is ready and able.

Love from your brother,


P.S. It occurs to me that you and I have discussed some of these changes with varying degrees of approval or dismay, and  I do have strong opinions about some of the changes. But this letter is really about the high rate of change and the reasons for that high rate of change. 

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these other guest posts by Chris:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

John Locke: Usurpation is a Kind of Domestic Conquest, with this Difference, that an Usurper Can Never Have Right on His Side

Chapter XVII of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Usurpation,” has a very simply point, expressed in the title above. By simple usurpation, John Locke means taking a role in a government one is not entitled to, without otherwise changing the form of the government. Increasing the power of that role beyond what that role is entitled to would be tyranny added to usurpation:

§. 197. AS conquest may be called a foreign usurpation, so usurpation is a kind of domestic conquest, with this difference, that an usurper can never have right on his side, it being no usurpation, but where one is got into the possession of what another has a right to. This, so far as it is usurpation, is a change only of persons, but not of the forms and rules of the government: for if the usurper extend his power beyond what of right belonged to the lawful princes, or governors of the commonwealth, it is tyranny added to usurpation.  

Even simple usurpation is a serious violation of the principle of consent. Indeed, John Locke repeatedly compares a violation of the method a state has for choosing its leaders as being akin to anarchy:

§. 198. In all lawful governments, the designation of the persons, who are to bear rule, is as natural and necessary a part as the form of the government itself, and is that which had its establishment originally from the people; the anarchy being much alike, to have no form of government at all; or to agree, that it shall be monarchical, but to appoint no way to design the person that shall have the power, and be the monarch. Hence all commonwealths, with the form of government established, have rules also of appointing those who are to have any share in the public authority, and settled methods of conveying the right to them: for the anarchy is much alike, to have no form of government at all: or to agree that it shall be monarchical, but to appoint no way to know or design the person that shall have the power, and be the monarch. Whoever gets into the exercise of any part of the power, by other ways than what the laws of the community have prescribed, hath no right to be obeyed, though the form of the commonwealth be still preserved; since he is not the person the laws have appointed, and consequently not the person the people have consented to. Nor can such an usurper, or any deriving from him, ever have a title, till the people are both at liberty to consent, and have actually consented to allow, and confirm in him the power he hath till then usurped.

I find John Locke’s comparison of usurpation to anarchy puzzling. Even in the Roman Empire, where usurpation occurred with stunning frequency, the situation was much better than anarchy. And if usurpation occurred only occasionally, the improvement over anarchy might be quite substantial, assuming those usurpations were not combined with tyranny. (It is possible that the word anarchy did not have quite the same connotations in John Locke’s day as it does now.)

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church

The dictum “Everything is relative” can sometimes steer people wrong, but seeing things in relative terms is one important perspective. Using “liberal” and “conservative” to mean socially liberal and socially conservative in the usual political sense, the Mormon Church remains quite socially conservative, but it has recently taken a liberal turn.

One of the most important recent changes is one that is not easily visible to non-Mormons and has probably been in the works for some time: a change in the language of the Mormon temple ceremonies to be more nearly gender-neutral.

Highly gender-asymmetric language had been a stone in the shoe of many Mormon women for a long time. Things are now improved. in order to appreciate the magnitude of this change, I highly recommend reading Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce’s Salt Lake Tribune article “LDS Church changes temple ceremony; faithful feminists will see revisions and additions as a ‘leap forward’”:

Another recent change is a continuing widening of the racial and ethnic diversity of Mormon Church leaders. Ideologically, Mormonism is universalistic, so this is an easy evolution, but it is one that could have positive effects over time. (Gender balance is another matter entirely. See “Will Women Ever Get the Mormon Priesthood?” There are a few women in relatively high leadership positions in the Mormon Church, but beyond being few in number, in all practical terms there is no question that every one of them ranks behind at least 15 male Mormon leaders—the 3 men in the First Presidency and the 12 men in the Quorum of the 12 Apostles—in power and influence.)

But perhaps the most remarkable recent change in the Mormon Church has been the downgrading of gay marriage what I described in a November, 2015 post as “The Mormon Church Decides to Treat Gay Marriage as Rebellion on a Par with Polygamy” to gay marriage being officially on a par with heterosexual premarital sex (which is a serious sin in Mormonism). From the article flagged below:

Previously, our Handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy. While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline," leaders wrote. "Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way."

Many of the headlines emphasize the repeal of a particular unjust part of the policy that existed for three and a half years: when gay marriage was treated as rebellion on a par with polygamy, the children of a gay marriage were treated as inherently suspect. That is now gone.

But there are many other consequences of downgrading gay marriage from high rebellion to a serious sin. In particular, it gives local Church leaders a lot of leeway (if they choose) to make married gay couples feel more welcome in a Mormon congregation.

One of the reasons this is a remarkable change is that it repeals a policy that is not even 4 years old. My brother Chris emphasizes this in his guest post “The No-Longer Policy: Where Do We Go From Here?” on By Common Consent shown below:

… the Policy’s reversal has challenged our collective ideas of “revelation” alongside the near infallibility halo our culture casts over our religious leaders. 

Chris elaborates on this view in the comments section, referencing my post “Flexible Dogmatism: The Mormon Position on Infallibility”:

With respect to revelation and correctness, I am bemused by arguments that speak of “flexible dogmatism” (a coinage I attribute to my brother and he attributes to a friend). Flexible dogmatism is the idea that the Church can renounce past policies and practices, even past doctrines and theologies, but it cannot renounce the rightness of past policies at the time they were in effect. Flexible dogmatism is a common practice in rationalizing the Church. I think it is sorely tested (I believe to the point of breaking) by 180-degree turns in just a few years.

How did the Mormon Church end up with a policy it wanted to back away from after just a few years? My post “The Mormon Church Decides to Treat Gay Marriage as Rebellion on a Par with Polygamy” gives one perspective. Here is Chris’s description of the dynamic in “The No-Longer Policy: Where Do We Go From Here?”:

The Exclusion Policy seemed like a response to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (decided June 26, 2015) which guaranteed the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples. The Obergefell decision could have been predicted 10 years earlier. Not the date or the case, but the ultimate outcome. The trend line was clear in a series of cases in the federal courts, and a series of decisions by state legislatures in the United States, and by changes to laws in other countries. Same-sex marriage was coming.

Notwithstanding the writing on the wall, the Church seemed ill-prepared for it.  It seemed to me (and this was a source of overwhelming frustration and anger to me personally) the Exclusion Policy as implemented was the worst choice, the most damaging, the least Christian, of all the Church’s reasonably conceivable options.

Then how and why did the policy of treating gay marriage as high rebellion that tainted even the children of a gay marriate get reversed? Here is Chris’s description of the how:

 I believe if the Church had internalized the virtual certainty of public disclosure, there would have been recognition that the Policy was a mistake before it was promulgated. As November 2015 happened, I believe there was almost immediate widespread recognition that the Policy was a mistake. I believe the recognition was early enough that we have just lived through 39 months of puzzlement about how to fix it.  I view now—President Nelson’s foray into assigning the “revelation” label was a trial balloon for the “shore it up” method of fixing a problem. Once that failed, pragmatic reality required the Church to immerse itself in nuanced and involved dialogue in order to seek consensus at the highest levels as well as some amount of membership support.  

Let me give three possible reasons why. The first is a change in personnel. The previous President, Thomas S. Monson, died on January 2, 2018. Russell Nelson has made major changes since then, see “New Mormon Prophet Russell Nelson Shakes Things Up and “Less is More in Mormon Church Meetings.” The degree of deference to the President of the Mormon Church is so great that it is often difficult for those outside the inner circles to know what the views of another apostle are until they ascend to the Presidency. This is actually true not just for Russell Nelson, whose views are finally being revealed, but especially true for the other 2 in the top 3 leaders in the organizational chart: Dallin Oaks (a former colleague of my Dad’s in the Brigham Young University Law School) who is currently both the #2 in the organization chart and the designated successor if Russell Nelson should die and the #3 in the organization chart, my Dad’s first cousin Henry B. Eyring. Both Dallin Oaks and Henry B. Eyring are very much good soldiers, who will fall in line with whatever policy has been decided on by those more senior then he is. In other words, the views of the entire First Presidency—the troika at the top of the Mormon Church—have been to an important extent hidden by their high levels of loyalty. There is some reason to hope that their views are reasonably liberal when those views are not trumped by loyalty, despite the fact that they have on many occasions publicly espoused extremely conservative views in lockstep with policy. I had not thought of Russell Nelson himself as particularly liberal, but I do think of Russell Nelson as being non-monarchical. Deliberating as a group of three, the combination of Russell Nelson, Dallin Oaks and Henry B. Eyring is plausibly quite a bit more liberal than Thomas S. Monson.

Further down in the line of succession, I don’t have a good sense of the views of 90-year-old M. Russell Ballard. But 78-year-old Jeffrey R. Holland (who attended the same congregation as my family when I was a teenager and he was the President of Brigham Young University) and 78-year-old Dieter F. Uchtdorf are likely to be relatively liberal. (Both of these apostles are higher in the line of succession than Henry B. Eyring.) I emphasize the ages not only as a predictor of vigor but also because other than being appointed an apostle at a young age, long life is the key to become President of the Mormon Church.

The second possible reason for the reversal is that many local leaders may have complained about having to implement the initial harsh policy. In the comments section of Chris’s post, you can find these reports:

  • cat: I concur. I know of more than a few Bishops and Stake Presidents who publicly announced that the Policy of Exclusion would not be enforced under their stewardship.

  • Christian Kimball: I too have heard of Bishops and Stake Presidents who worked to minimize the effects of the Exclusion Policy within their scope of influence.

My sense is that, in general, high Mormon Church leaders have a great deal of respect for the local Church leaders, whom they themselves have often personally chosen and appointed out of the set of almost all the adult male members of the Church in a given area.

The third possible reason for the reversal is that the Church has become worried about the slowdown in its growth rate. The article flagged at the top of this post reports that, in the US, the worldwide growth rate of the Mormon Church has slowed from 3 to 8 % per year from 1960 to 2000 to about 1.5% per year now, with the growth rate in the US only 3/4 of a percent per year now. Mormon Church leaders care deeply about the growth rate of the Church. They wouldn’t sacrifice key doctrinal tenets for the sake of growth, but they might be willing to soften their approach toward gay married couples.

Mormon Church leaders care deeply about the growth rate of the Church for many reasons. First, they see it as their job, given them by Jesus, who said to his disciples before ascending to heaven:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you …

Notice that this doesn’t just say “teach all nations” but baptize them. Mormon baptism makes one a member of the Mormon Church. So under a Mormon interpretation, this amounts to a command to convert people and bring them into the Mormon Church. In addition to a keen awareness of Jesus’ Great Commission, in its “the-Mormon-Church-is-the-only-true-church” interpretation, many Mormon Church leaders have a business background, in which growth is often a key goal. Finally, at a gut level, most Mormon leaders care about growth as do rank-and-file Mormons because for a long time the fast growth rate of the Mormon Church was seen by those in the Church as a validation of the Church’s claims to have been established by God. The article flagged just below gives a nice description of this mindset, which resonates with my own 40 years as a Mormon during those high-growth years, before I left Mormonism in 2000.

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 10.18.30 PM.png

Without any doctrinal change, there is much further that the Mormon Church could go to liberalize. The Mormon Church’s has historically been hard on gays, feminists and free-thinking intellectuals. In relation to gay marriage, Chris suggests that the Mormon Church could continue to consider gay marriages religiously invalid (as, indeed, it considers all marriages not done by the Mormon church in any case), but to be civilly valid, and sufficient to make sex within that marriage something other than a serious sin:

If two men marry, before God and country and friends and family, are they married in the Church’s eyes? Not the question “Will the Church perform the marriages?” Not the question “Will the Church encourage or recommend or celebrate the marriages?” But the very basic question “Does the Church respect the marriages?” In essence, is same-sex marriage a real marriage?

In relation to feminism, without any change in doctrine, and without given women the Mormon priesthood the Mormon Church’s leaders could direct that women be in all the key meetings for the governance of each individual congregation.

For free-thinking intellectuals, it would be a big step forward if Mormon Church leaders simply left them alone to say their piece. No doctrine requires that a particular person be excommunicated for what they have written or said. There is enormous discretion in decisions of whether or not to excommunicate a particular intellectual.

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Even a Just War Cannot Make It Right to Govern without the Consent of the Governed or to Dispossess Those in Conquered Territory

In the first two sections of Chapter XVI of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Conquest,” he makes the easy case that “An Unjust War Cannot Win Any True Right to Rule,” as I wrote about two weeks ago. In the remainder of Chapter XVI, John Locke makes the more complicated case that a just war cannot make it right to govern without the consent of the governed or to dispossess those in conquered territory.

This puts John Locke on the other side of the argument from Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi hopes to have his coalition prevail again so he can be the Prime Minister of Israel for the fifth time. If he gets a fifth term, he says he will apply Israeli sovereignty to big chunks of the West Bank, to bit a little Israeli settlements that are now there. Bibi’s justification is especially interesting. Felicia Schwartz reports this in her April 6, 2019 Wall Street Journal article “Netanyahu Says He Will Extend Israeli Sovereignty Over West Bank If Re-Elected”:

In recent weeks, Mr. Netanyahu has become more strident in speaking about lands seized in the 1967 war, saying territory taken in a defensive war need not be returned.

This makes it sound as if states own territory that is, in fact, land owned by people—people whose consent must be obtained to make governing them legitimate.

To be clear, John Locke recognizes the virtue of recognizing a status quo that keeps conflict down. But if conflict is unavoidable—as it is in a defensive war—and previous political arrangements fall apart in some region, or need to be deconstructed because they led to aggression, then it is reasonable for a government that is still intact or a political entrepreneur to seek the consent of those in the area where previous political arrangements have fallen apart. Thus, Israel could legitimately have tried to win the hearts and minds of those resident in the West Bank and Gaza to become part of Israel. Alternatively, it could have tried to encourage a political entrepreneur to organize the West Bank and Gaza in a way that would be nonthreatening to Israel. Letting all of those in the conquered territories is undesired by the government of Israel because it would change the political equilibrium too much with that many new citizens with different views. And getting a peaceful democratic government in place in the conquered territories seems difficult to the point of near impossibility.

Barring being able to get a democratic government in place in the conquered territories that leaves Israel safe, good arguments can be made that Israel is justified in keeping a security presence when the government of a nearby territory repeatedly attacks. Finally, if residents of the West Bank, feeling 100% confident of their property rights, with no coercion whatsoever, chose to voluntarily sell land to Israeli settlers, the government of Israel would then need to seek the consent of those Israeli landowners if it wanted to govern that territory.

But in all cases, it is the consent of the governed that gives the right to rule, not conquering—even if that conquering is in a just war. Conquering a territory is more like the situation in a constitutional monarchy in which the king asks someone to attempt to form a government. The government must still be voted in: in that system the nomination by the king of someone to try to get together a majority coalition does not give one the right to rule; actually getting together the majority coalition gives one the right to rule.

Leaders who started a war of aggression can be punished severely, and underlings can be punished for war crimes and other rights violations. But those in the conquered territories who voted against conducting the war of aggression or were not allowed any say about the decision, and did as little as possible to further the war, and committed no rights violations, retain their full rights. (Here there is an important and difficult question about exactly how much attempted coercion one is expected to endure to avoid aiding an unjust war or committing rights violations of a certain gravity.)

John Locke’s argument that even a just war cannot make it right to govern without the consent of the governed or to dispossess those in conquered territory is very difficult to wade through, but its relevance to Israel’s situation makes it worth the trouble. Try to keep slogging through.

John Locke’s Argument

Let’s imagine a just war—say a defensive war. John Locke begins by saying that the leader of a victorious country in a just war still has to seek the consent of those in the conquering army and the rest of the people in the victorious country.

§. 177. But supposing victory favours the right side, let us consider a conqueror in a lawful war, and see what power he gets, and over whom.  First, It is plain he gets no power by his conquest over those that conquered with him.They that fought on his side cannot suffer by the conquest, but must at least be as much freemen as they were before. And most commonly they serve upon terms, and on condition to share with their leader, and enjoy a part of the spoil, and other advantages that attend the conquering sword; or at least have a part of the subdued country bestowed upon them. And the conquering people are not, I hope, to be slaves by conquest, and wear their laurels only to shew they are sacrifices to their leader’s triumph. They, that found absolute monarchy upon the title of the sword, make their heroes, who are the founders of such monarchies, arrant Drawcansirs, and forget they had any officers and soldiers that fought on their side in the battles they won, or assisted them in the subduing, or shared in possessing, the countries they mastered. We are told by some, that the English monarchy is founded in the Norman conquest, and that our princes have thereby a title to absolute dominion: which if it were true, (as by the history it appears otherwise) and that William had a right to make war on this island: yet his dominion by conquest could reach no farther than to the Saxons and Britons, that were then inhabitants of this country. The Normans that came with him, and helped to conquer, and all descended from them, are freemen, and no subjects by conquest; let that give what dominion it will. And if I, or any body else, shall claim freedom, as derived from them, it will be very hard to prove the contrary: and it is plain, the law, that has made no distinction between the one and the other, intends not there should be any difference in their freedom or privileges.  

If there is enough intermarriage between the people of the victorious, conquering country and those in the conquered country, soon, this principle alone goes a long way to make clear that conquest does not give one the right to be a dictator.

John Locke then goes on to talk about punishing the leaders of those that started the war of aggression, who are now conquered. His ideas on punishment do not match modern ideas, but the basic idea that the leaders of a country that begins an unjust war can be punished is sound:

§. 178. But supposing, which seldom happens, that the conquerors and conquered never incorporate into one people, under the same laws and freedom; let us see next what power a lawful conqueror has over the subdued: and that I say is purely despotical. He has an absolute power over the lives of those who by an unjust war have forfeited them; but not over the lives or fortunes of those who engaged not in the war, nor over the possessions even of those who were actually engaged in it.  

Those beneath the leaders have a duty to resist the unjust war and any other rights violations. How far that duty goes is a difficult question, but enthusiastically helping leaders leading an unjust war is not fulfilling that duty:

§. 179. Secondly, I say then the conqueror gets no power but only over those who have actually assisted, concurred, or consented to that unjust force that is used against him: for the people having given to their governors no power to do an unjust thing, such as is to make an unjust war, (for they never had such a power in themselves) they ought not to be charged as guilty of the violence and injustice that is committed in an unjust war, any farther than they actually abet it: no more than they are to be thought guilty of any violence or oppression their governors should use upon the people themselves, or any part of their fellow-subjects, they having impowered them no more to the one than to the other. Conquerors, it is true, seldom trouble themselves to make the distinction, but they willingly permit the confusion of war to sweep all together: but yet this alters not the right; for the conqueror’s power over the lives of the conquered, being only because they have used force to do, or maintain an injustice, he can have that power only over those who have concurred in that force; all the rest are innocent; and he has no more title over the people of that country, who have done him no injury, and so have made no forfeiture of their lives, than he has over any other, who, without any injuries or provocations, have lived upon fair terms with him.  

The appropriateness of punishing the leaders of the country that started the unjust war does not mean one can punish their families. If the families were enriched by ill-gotten gains, surely it is OK to take those away and use those riches to make restitution to those who were harmed. And making restitution for war damage from the possessions of a leader will almost unavoidably hurt the family of the leader. But much of this restitution will be to those who were part of the now conquered country that began a war of aggression. And John Locke argues that the damage done to the now victorious country and its citizens is unlikely to be enough to justify large-scale dispossession of large numbers of people as reparations. John Locke emphasizes how much land is likely to be worth compared to the value of the damages from a war. I would emphasize the human capital an individual has—which if the innocent son of a leader rather than the leader, cannot justly be taken away.

§. 180. Thirdly, The power a conqueror gets, over those he overcomes in a just war, is perfectly despotical: he has an absolute power over the lives of those, who by putting themselves in a state of war, have forfeited them; but he has not thereby a right and title to their possessions. This I doubt not, but at first sight will seem a strange doctrine, it being so quite contrary to the practice of the world; there being nothing more familiar in speaking of the dominion of countries, than to say such an one conquered it: as if the conquest, without any more ado, conveyed a right of possession. But when we consider, that the practice of the strong and powerful, how universal soever it may be, is seldom the rule of right, however it be one part of the subjection of the conquered, not to argue against the conditions cut out to them by the conquering sword.  

§. 181. Though in all war there be usually a complication of force and damage, and the aggressor seldom fails to harm the estate, when he uses force against the persons of those he makes war upon, yet it is the use of force only that puts a man into the state of war: for whether by force he begins the injury, or else having quietly, and by fraud, done the injury, he refuses to make reparation, and by force maintains it, (which is the same thing, as at first to have done it by force) it is the unjust use of force, that makes the war: for he that breaks open my house, and violently turns me out of doors; or having peaceably got in, by force keeps me out, does in effect the same thing; supposing we are in such a state, that we have no common judge on earth, whom I may appeal to, and to whom we are both obliged to submit: for of such I am now speaking. It is the unjust use of force then, that puts a man into the state of war with another; and thereby he that is guilty of it makes a forfeiture of his life: for quitting reason, which is the rule given between man and man, and using force, the way of beasts, he becomes liable to be destroyed by him he uses force against, as any savage ravenous beast, that is dangerous to his being.  

§. 182. But because the miscarriages of the father are no faults of the children, and they may be rational and peaceable, notwithstanding the brutishness and injustice of the father; the father, by his miscarriages and violence, can forfeit but his own life, but involves not his children in his guilt or destruction. His goods, which nature, that willeth the preservation of all mankind as much as is possible, hath made to belong to the children to keep them from perishing, do still continue to belong to his children: for supposing them not to have joined in the war, either through infancy, absence, or choice, they have done nothing to forfeit them: nor has the conqueror any right to take them away, by the bare title of having subdued him that by force attempted his destruction; though perhaps he may have some right to them, to repair the damages he has sustained by the war, and the defence of his own right; which how far it reaches to the possessions of the conquered, we shall see by-and-by. So that he that by conquest has a right over a man’s person to destroy him if he pleases, has not thereby a right over his estate to possess and enjoy it: for it is the brutal force the aggressor has used, that gives his adversary a right to take away his life, and destroy him if he pleases, as a noxious creature; but it is damage sustained that alone gives him title to another man’s goods: for though I may kill a thief that sets on me in the highway, yet I may not (which seems less) take away his money, and let him go: this would be robbery on my side. His force, and the state of war he put himself in, made him forfeit his life, but gave me no title to his goods. The right then of conquest extends only to the lives of those who joined in the war, not to their estates, but only in order to make reparation for the damages received, and the charges of the war, and that too with reservation of the right of the innocent wife and children.  

§. 183. Let the conqueror have as much justice on his side, as could be supposed, he has no right to seize more than the vanquished could forfeit: his life is at the victor’s mercy; and his service and goods he may appropriate, to make himself reparation; but he cannot take the goods of his wife and children; they too had a title to the goods he enjoyed, and their shares in the estate he possessed: for example, I in the state of nature (and all commonwealths are in the state of nature one with another) have injured another man, and refusing to give satisfaction, it comes to a state of war, wherein my defending by force what I had gotten unjustly, makes me the aggressor. I am conquered: my life, it is true, as forfeit, is at mercy, but not my wife’s and children’s. They made not war, nor assisted in it. I could not forfeit their lives; they were not mine to forfeit. My wife had a share in my estate; that neither could I forfeit. And my children also, being born of me, had a right to be maintained out of my labour or substance. Here then is the case: the conqueror has a title to reparation for damages received, and the children have a title to their father’s estate for their subsistence: for as to the wife’s share, whether her own labour or compact, gave her a title to it, it is plain, her husband could not forfeit what was her’s. What must be done in the case? I answer; the fundamental law of nature being, that all, as much as may be, should be preserved, it follows, that if there be not enough fully to satisfy both, viz. for the conqueror’s losses, and children’s maintenance, he that hath, and to spare, must remit something of his full satisfaction, and give way to the pressing and preferable title of those who are in danger to perish without it.  

§. 184. But supposing the charge and damages of the war are to be made up to the conqueror, to the utmost farthing; and that the children of the vanquished, spoiled of all their father’s goods, are to be left to starve and perish: yet the satisfying of what shall, on this score, be due to the conqueror, will scarce give him a title to any country he should conquer: for the damages of war can scarce amount to the value of any considerable tract of land, in any part of the world, where all the land is possessed, and none lies waste. And if I have not taken away the conqueror’s land, which, being vanquished, it is impossible I should; scarce any other spoil I have done him can amount to the value of mine, supposing it equally cultivated, and of an extent any way coming near what I had over-run of his. The destruction of a year’s product or two (for it seldom reaches four or five) is the utmost spoil that usually can be done: for as to money, and such riches and treasure taken away, these are none of nature’s goods, they have but a fantastical imaginary value: nature has put no such upon them: they are of no more account by her standard, than the wampompeke of the Americans to an European prince, or the silver money of Europe would have been formerly to an American. And five years product is not worth the perpetual inheritance of land, where all is possessed, and none remains waste, to be taken up by him that is disseized; which will be easily granted, if one do but take away the imaginary value of money, the disproportion being more than between five and five hundred; though, at the same time, half a year’s product is more worth than the inheritance, where there being more land than the inhabitants possess and make use of, any one has liberty to make use of the waste: but there conquerors take little care to possess themselves of the lands of the vanquished. No damage therefore, that men in the state of nature (as all princes and governments are in reference to one another) suffer from one another, can give a conqueror power to dispossess the posterity of the vanquished, and turn them out of that inheritance, which ought to be the possession of them and their descendants to all generations. The conqueror indeed will be apt to think himself master: and it is the very condition of the subdued not to be able to dispute their right. But if that be all, it gives no other title than what bare force gives to the stronger over the weaker: and, by this reason, he that is strongest will have a right to whatever he pleases to seize on. 

In Section 185, John Locke makes a nice summary of his argument up to that point:

§. 185. Over those then that joined with him in the war, and over those of the subdued country that opposed him not, and the posterity even of those that did, the conqueror, even in a just war, hath, by his conquest, no right of dominion: they are free from any subjection to him, and if their former government be dissolved, they are at liberty to begin and erect another to themselves. 

Some conquerors try to claim they have received the consent of the conquered when that supposed consent is made under coercion:

§. 186. The conqueror, it is true, usually by the force he has over them, compels them, with a sword at their breasts, to stoop to his conditions, and submit to such a government as he pleases to afford them; but the enquiry is, what right he has to do so? If it be said, they submit by their own consent, then this allows their own consent to be necessary to give the conqueror a title to rule over them. It remains only to be considered, whether promises extorted by force, without right, can be thought consent, and how far they bind. To which I shall say, they bind not at all; because whatsoever another gets from me by force, I still retain the right of, and he is obliged presently to restore. He that forces my horse from me, ought presently to restore him, and I have still a right to retake him. By the same reason, he that forced a promise from me, ought presently to restore it, i. e. quit me of the obligation of it; or I may resume it myself, i. e. chuse whether I will perform it: for the law of nature laying an obligation on me only by the rules she prescribes, cannot oblige me by the violation of her rules: such is the extorting any thing from me by force. Nor does it all alter the case to say, I gave my promise, no more than it excuses the force, and passes the right, when I put my hand in my pocket, and deliver my purse myself to a thief, who demands it with a pistol at my breast.  

§. 187. From all which it follows that the government of a conqueror, imposed by force on the subdued, against whom he had no right of war, or who joined not in the war against him, where he had right, has no obligation upon them.  

John Locke returns to the innocence of children in the conquered country. Even though that country was conquered in a just war, innocent children have not forfeited any of their rights:

§. 188. But let us suppose, that all the men of that community, being all members of the same body politic, may be taken to have joined in that unjust war wherein they are subdued, and so their lives are at the mercy of the conqueror.  

§. 189. I say, this concerns not their children who are in their minority: for since a father hath not, in himself, a power over the life or liberty of his child, no act of his can possibly forfeit it. So that the children, whatever may have happened to the fathers, are freemen, and the absolute power of the conqueror reaches no farther than the persons of the men that were subdued by him, and dies with them: and should he govern them as slaves, subjected to his absolute arbitrary power, he has no such right of dominion over their children. He can have no power over them but by their own consent, whatever he may drive them to say or do, and he has no lawful authority, whilst force, and not choice, compels them to submission.  

What are the rights of those innocent children? First, each individuall has the right to be free. Second, John Locke has a complicated argument that they have a right to their ancestral land that cannot be altered by the laws of a government they collectively do not assent to.

§. 190. Every man is born with a double right: First, a right of freedom to his person, which no other man has a power over, but the free disposal of it lies in himself. Secondly, right, before any other man, to inherit with his brethren his father’s goods.  

§. 191. By the first of these, a man is naturally free from subjection to any government, though he be born in a place under its jurisdiction; but if he disclaim the lawful government of the country he was born in, he must also quit the right that belonged to him by the laws of it, and the possessions there descending to him from his ancestors, if it were a government made by their consent. 

§. 192. By the second, the inhabitants of any country, who are descended, and derive a title to their estates from those who are subdued, and had a government forced upon them against their free consents, retain a right to the possession of their ancestors, though they consent not freely to the government, whose hard conditions were by force imposed on the possessors of that country: for the first conqueror never having had a title to the land of that country, the people who are the descendants of, or claim under those who were forced to submit to the yoke of a government by constraint, have always a right to shake it off, and free themselves from the usurpation or tyranny which the sword hath brought in upon them, till their rulers put them under such a frame of government, as they willingly and of choice consent to. Who doubts but the Grecian christians, descendants of the ancient possessors of that country, may justly cast off the Turkish yoke, which they have so long groaned under, whenever they have an opportunity to do it? For no government can have a right to obedience from a people who have not freely consented to it; which they can never be supposed to do, till either they are put in a full state of liberty to chuse their government and governors, or at least till they have such standing laws, to which they have by themselves or their representatives given their free consent, and also till they are allowed their due property, which is so to be proprietors of what they have, that nobody can take away any part of it without their own consent, without which, men under any government are not in the state of freemen, but are direct slaves under the force of law.  

Even if the leader of a conquering country did own a conquered country lock, stock and barrel—which John Locke has been disputing—to create good incentives, he or she would need to bestow some property of some sort. That property then becomes subject to natural law. In particular, one of the most basic principles of natural law is that one must keep one’s promises when these are made freely. And the kind of leader we are talking about has so much power, that we know the promises are made freely:

§. 193. But granting that the conqueror in a just war has a right to the estates, as well as power over the persons, of the conquered; which, it is plain, he hath not: nothing of absolute power will follow from hence, in the continuance of the government; because the descendants of these being all freemen, if he grants them estates and possessions to inhabit his country, (without which it would be worth nothing) whatsoever he grants them, they have, so far as it is granted, property in. The nature whereof is, that without a man’s own consent it cannot be taken from him.  

§. 194. Their persons are free by a native right, and their properties, be they more or less, are their own, and at their own disposal, and not at his; or else it is no property.Supposing the conqueror gives to one man a thousand acres, to him and his heirs for ever; to another he lets a thousand acres for his life, under the rent of 50l. or 500l. per ann. has not the one of these a right to his thousand acres for ever, and the other, during his life, paying the said rent? and hath not the tenant for life a property in all that he gets over and above his rent, by his labour and industry during the said term, supposing it be double the rent? Can any one say, the king, or conqueror, after his grant, may by his power of conqueror take away all, or part of the land from the heirs of one, or from the other during his life, he paying the rent? or can he take away from either the goods or money they have got upon the said land, at his pleasure? If he can, then all free and voluntary contracts cease, and are void in the world; there needs nothing to dissolve them at any time, but power enough: and the grants and promises of men in power are but mockery and collusion: for can there be any thing more ridiculous than to say, I give you and yours this for ever, and that in the surest and most solemn way of conveyance can be devised; and yet it is to be understood, that I have right, if I please, to take it away from you again to-morrow?  

§. 195. I will not dispute now whether princes are exempt from the laws of their country; but this I am sure, they owe subjection to the laws of God and nature, Nobody, no power, can exempt them from the obligations of that eternal law. Those are so great, and so strong, in the case of promises, that omnipotency itself can be tied by them. Grants, promises, and oaths, are bonds that hold the Almighty: whatever some flatterers say to princes of the world, who altogether, with all their people joined to them, are, in comparison of the great God, but as a drop of the bucket, or a dust on the balance, inconsiderable, nothing!  

John Locke’s argument is a complex one, so it good that he makes a finally summary:

§. 196. The short of the case in conquest is this: the conqueror, if he have a just cause, has a despotical right over the persons of all, that actually aided, and concurred in the war against him, and a right to make up his damage and cost out of their labour and estates, so he injure not the right of any other. Over the rest of the people, if there were any that consented not to the war, and over the children of the captives themselves, or the possessions of either, he has no power; and so can have, by virtue of conquest, no lawful title himself to dominion over them, or derive it to his posterity; but is an aggressor, if he attempts upon their properties, and thereby puts himself in a state of war against them, and has no better a right of principality, he, nor any of his successors, than Hingar, or Hubba, the Danes, had here in England; or Spartacus, had he conquered Italy, would have had; which is to have their yoke cast off, as soon as God shall give those under their subjection courage and opportunity to do it. Thus, notwithstanding whatever title the kings of Assyria had over Judah by the sword, God assisted Hezekiah to throw off the dominion of that conquering empire. “And the Lord was with Hezekiah, and he prospered; wherefore he went forth, and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not,” 2 Kings xviii. 7. Whence it is plain, that shaking off a power, which force, and not right, hath set over any one, though it hath the name of rebellion, yet is no offence before God, but is that which he allows and countenances, though even promises and covenants, when obtained by force, have intervened: for it is very probable, to any one that reads the story of Ahaz and Hezekiah attentively, that the Assyrians subdued Ahaz, and deposed him, and made Hezekiah king in his father’s life-time; and that Hezekiah by agreement had done him homage, and paid him tribute all this time.

1689, when the Second Treatise was published, is a long time ago. But in their application, the arguments are literally as current as yesterday’s news. I have read a lot about the situation in Israel and its conquered territories in my 58 years. I can say that John Locke’s arguments offers a fresher and deeper take on that situation than almost all the commentators I have read.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Teens are Too Suspicious for Anything But the Truth about Drugs to Work

Link to the article above

Link to the article above

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a very promising proto-campaign against teen smoking that took advantage of teenagers’ desire to show their independence of the norms of adult society. The ads highlighted how tobacco executives lie and deceive, so that not smoking is a way to stick it to the Man. Why would you want to smoke when evil liars are trying to get you to?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s story, the campaign never got off the ground because it was deemed too offensive to tobacco executives. But this story showcases the importance of telling teens something they will actually believe when you are trying to get them to do something. Teenagers are wired to be alert to the possibility that their interests might diverge from the interests of the adults who are trying to get them to do or not do something. This makes it difficult to get teens to do something by giving them a slanted account of how the world works. That slanted account won’t ring true and will be discounted.

Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and illegal drugs, like almost everything, have both pluses and minuses. Most teens won’t believe you if you say drugs only have minuses. And if you exaggerate the harms, then one or two cases of friends taking drugs without apparent harm can falsify your portrayal.

David Scheff, in the essay shown above, gives these measured things to say about legal and illegal drugs (all eight quotations are from his essay shown above, “Teens Need the Truth About Drugs”):

  1. Nine out of 10 people who become addicted tried drugs before the age of 18

  2. About 17% of teenagers who smoke [marijuana] develop substance-use disorders, according to two Cambridge University studies. 

  3. … most adolescents who drink won’t become alcoholics, but according to research by the National Academy of Medicine, 15% will.

  4. Teenagers with blood-alcohol content of .08% are 17 times more likely to die in a car crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

  5. … brains are changing more in youth and adolescence than they ever will again and that drug use at their age can hurt that development. Drugs really do change the brain, which is a big reason that people take them. But while some changes are temporary, others can be permanent. 

  6. Using drugs to cope with difficult experiences in school or relationships can set a dangerous pattern for adulthood.

  7. Those with a family history of addiction are more likely to use drugs and become addicted themselves. … Those with untreated mental illness, learning disorders or behavioral disorders are also at an elevated risk, as are those who’ve experienced traumas such as physical or sexual abuse, bullying, poverty, family discord or loss of a loved one.

  8. … the more you stress mice, flies or monkeys, the more they choose drugs, even over food and sex. A comprehensive 2008 report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences confirmed that humans use drugs to alleviate stress, too, and that there is a correlation between stress and drug use among teens.

Whether adults like it or not, teens are likely to make their own decisions. And they are not that easy to successfully deceive into believing drugs are worse than drugs actually are. The truth often rings truer than falsehood. So telling teens the truth about drugs without exaggeration is a reasonable strategy.

Don’t miss these other posts about drug use:

John Locke: An Unjust War Cannot Win Any True Right to Rule

Link to the Wikipedia article “Gallic Wars”

Link to the Wikipedia article “Gallic Wars”

Later on in Chapter XVI of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Conquest,” John Locke makes the more complicated case that a just war cannot win any true right to rule. I’ll blog about that in a couple of weeks. The case that an unjust war cannot win any true right to rule is easier; John Locke accomplishes it in two eloquent paragraphs:

§. 175. THOUGH governments can originally have no other rise than that before mentioned, nor polities be founded on any thing but the consent of the people; yet such have been the disorders ambition has filled the world with, that in the noise of war, which makes so great a part of the history of mankind, this consent is little taken notice of: and therefore many have mistaken the force of arms for the consent of the people, and reckon conquest as one of the originals of government. But conquest is as far from setting up any government, as demolishing an house is from building a new one in the place. Indeed, it often makes way for a new frame of a commonwealth, by destroying the former; but, without the consent of the people, can never erect a new one.

§. 176. That the aggressor, who puts himself into the state of war with another, and unjustly invades another man’s right, can, by such an unjust war, never come to have a right over the conquered, will be easily agreed by all men, who will not think, that robbers and pirates have a right of empire over whomsoever they have force enough to master; or that men are bound by promises, which unlawful force extorts from them. Should a robber break into my house, and with a dagger at my throat make me seal deeds to convey my estate to him, would this give him any title? Just such a title, by his sword, has an unjust conqueror, who forces me into submission. The injury and the crime is equal, whether committed by the wearer of a crown, or some petty villain. The title of the offender, and the number of his followers, make no difference in the offence, unless it be to aggravate it. The only difference is, great robbers punish little ones, to keep them in their obedience; but the great ones are rewarded with laurels and triumphs, because they are too big for the weak hands of justice in this world, and have the power in their own possession, which should punish offenders. What is my remedy against a robber, that so broke into my house? Appeal to the law for justice. But perhaps justice is denied, or I am crippled and cannot stir, robbed and have not the means to do it. If God has taken away all means of seeking remedy, there is nothing left but patience. But my son, when able, may seek the relief of the law, which I am denied: he or his son may renew his appeal, till he recover his right. But the conquered, or their children, have no court, no arbitrator on earth to appeal to. Then they may appeal, as Jephtha did, to heaven, and repeat their appeal till they have recovered the native right of their ancestors, which was, to have such a legislative over them, as the majority should approve, and freely acquiesce in. If it be objected, This would cause endless trouble; I answer, no more than justice does, where she lies open to all that appeal to her. He that troubles his neighbour without a cause, is punished for it by the justice of the court he appeals to: and he that appeals to heaven must be sure he has right on his side; and a right too that is worth the trouble and cost of the appeal, as he will answer at a tribunal that cannot be deceived, and will be sure to retribute to every one according to the mischiefs he hath created to his fellow-subjects; that is, any part of mankind; from whence it is plain, that he that conquers in an unjust war, can thereby have no title to the subjection and obedience of the conquered.

At bottom, John Locke is arguing that might does not make right. Might may secure submission for a time. But it always leaves open the possibility of justified rebellion, whenever a good opportunity arises. And since that right of rebellion against unjust power is a perpetual right of rebellion, it is likely that after enough generations a good opportunity will arise, if originally unjust power does not legitimize itself by obtaining the consent of the governed.

John Locke shows his stripes as an early economist in saying that a good opportunity is needed to make a rebellion justified, because a rebellion even against unjust power must meet a cost-benefit test:

… he that appeals to heaven must be sure he has right on his side; and a right too that is worth the trouble and cost of the appeal, as he will answer at a tribunal that cannot be deceived, and will be sure to retribute to every one according to the mischiefs he hath created to his fellow-subjects;

A type of rebellion that easily meets the benefit-cost test is rebellion in one’s own heart. It may sometimes be appropriate to give tyrants outward obedience for pragmatic reasons. But no one needs to give a tyrant their heart.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

On Despotism

Being under someone else’s power is the result of some kind of lack on one’s own part. This is the gist of Chapter XV of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government: “Of Paternal, Political, and Despotical Power, considered together.”

Parental Power. Being under parental power results from the disabilities inherent in childhood. Looking to the other end of the age spectrum, parental power can be compared to the medical or financial power of attorney those people often give others in their old age. Knowing, or suspecting, that they will become unable to make good decisions for themselves, many people voluntary sign documents in advance saying that another can make decisions for them if they are not in a position to make a good decision for themselves.

The situation for children differs when children are young enough, there is no earlier time at which they were more competent to make good decisions. So it is not possible to get a fully informed, well-considered assent from children in advance to a document giving parents leave to make decisions for their children. Because of this practical difficulty, we treat children—or at least young children—as if they had signed such a power of attorney over to their parent. Nevertheless, just as in the case of an explicit power of attorney for someone older who can no longer make good decisions for themself, the power parents have vis a vis their child should be considered a power to be used for the benefit of the child. And it is a power to be used by the parent only to the extend that a child is, indeed, unable to make good decisions for herhimself.

Political Power. Being under the power of a ruler or magistrate or judge results first from the disability almost all human beings have in being an impartial judge in their own case. As a defendant, most of us are likely understate the magnitude of our transgression and the appropriate penalty. (A few might overstate it.) As a victim, most of us are likely to overstate the magnitude of the perpetrator’s transgression and the appropriate penalty. To get an impartial judgment, defendants and victims must submit to third-party judgment.

Our willingness to so submit has a lot to do with the overwhelming force that can come from joining in a compact to deal with another disability: the inability most of us have to enforce the law of nature on our own. We join in society so that law can be enforced, because for most of us, however much we fear the law being enforced against us, we have even more to fear from others violating our rights in the absence of enforceable law.

Despotical Power. Being under the power of a despot results from the fact that one sometimes lose wars—whether international wars or civil wars—or have a strong enough expectation of losing a war that we give in before engaging in a war.

John Locke emphasizes too much the case of losing a war in which the other side has justice and right on its side. Losing a war in which on has justice and right on one’s side can just as easily put one under despotic power.

A key element of being under despotic power is that, ethically, after losing a war in which one had right on one’s side, one remains in the state of nature and in a state of war with the despot. Contrary to some of what John Locke says, those under despotic rule can sometimes have a semblance of property, but that semblance of property is, in effect, a matter of foreign affairs—a treaty that can be broken. It is all a matter of what the despot can get away with without serious reprisal.

Conclusion. The bottom line is that the justice of power should not be taken for granted. Any kind of power over another person needs to be justified, and that justification will often involve strong limitations on that power. Power is needed in society because of human weakness. But power should not take advantage of human weakness. John Locke’s words in his chapter “Of Paternal, Political, and Despotical Power, considered together” reinforce this message:

§. 169. Though I have had occasion to speak of these separately before, yet the great mistakes of late about government having, as I suppose, arisen from confounding these distinct powers one with another, it may not, perhaps, be amiss to consider them here together.  

§. 170. First, then, Paternal or parental power is nothing but that which parents have over their children, to govern them for the children’s good, till they come to the use of reason, or a state of knowledge, wherein they may be supposed capable to understand that rule, whether it be the law of nature, or the municipal law of their country, they are to govern themselves by: capable, I say, to know it, as well as several others, who live as freemen under that law. The affection and tenderness which God hath planted in the breast of parents towards their children, makes it evident, that this is not intended to be a severe arbitrary government, but only for the help, instruction, and preservation of their offspring. But happen it as it will, there is, as I have proved, no reason why it should be thought to extend to life and death, at any time, over their children, more than over any body else; neither can there be any pretence why this parental power should keep the child, when grown to a man, in subjection to the will of his parents, any farther than having received life and education from his parents, obliges him to respect, honour, gratitude, assistance and support, all his life, to both father and mother. And thus, ’tis true, the paternal is a natural government, but not at all extending itself to the ends and jurisdictions of that which is political. The power of the father doth not reach at all to the property of the child, which is only in his own disposing.  

§. 171. Secondly, Political power is that power, which every man having in the state of nature, has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors, whom the society hath set over itself, with this express or tacit trust, that it shall be employed for their good, and the preservation of their property: now this power, which every man has in the state of nature, and which he parts with to the society in all such cases where the society can secure him, is to use such means, for the preserving of his own property, as he thinks good, and nature allows him; and to punish the breach of the law of nature in others, so as (according to the best of his reason) may most conduce to the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind. So that the end and measure of this power, when in every man’s hands in the state of nature, being the preservation of all of his society, that is, all mankind in general, it can have no other end or measure, when in the hands of the magistrate, but to preserve the members of that society in their lives, liberties, and possessions; and so cannot be an absolute, arbitrary power over their lives and fortunes, which are as much as possible to be preserved; but a power to make laws, and annex such penalties to them, as may tend to the preservation of the whole, by cutting off those parts, and those only, which are so corrupt, that they threaten the sound and healthy, without which no severity is lawful. And this power has its original only from compact and agreement, and the mutual consent of those who make up the community.  

§. 172. Thirdly, Despotical power is an absolute, arbitrary power one man has over another, to take away his life whenever he pleases. This is a power, which neither nature gives, for it has made no such distinction between one man and another; nor compact can convey: for man not having such an arbitrary power over his own life, cannot give another man such a power over it; but it is the effect only of forfeiture, which the aggressor makes of his own life, when he puts himself into the state of war with another: for having quitted reason, which God hath given to be the rule betwixt man and man, and the common bond whereby human kind is united into one fellowship and society; and having renounced the way of peace which that teaches, and made use of the force of war, to compass his unjust ends upon another, where he has no right; and so revolting from his own kind to that of beasts, by making force, which is theirs, to be his rule of right, he renders himself liable to be destroyed by the injured person, and the rest of mankind that will join with him in the execution of justice, as any other wild beast, or noxious brute, with whom mankind can have neither society nor security.  [Another copy corrected by Mr. Locke, has it thus, Noxious brute that is destructive to their being.] And thus captives, taken in a just and lawful war, and such only, are subject to a despotical power, which, as it arises not from compact, so neither is it capable of any, but is the state of war continued: for what compact can be made with a man that is not master of his own life? what condition can he perform? and if he be once allowed to be master of his own life, the despotical, arbitrary power of his master ceases. He that is master of himself, and his own life, has a right too to the means of preserving it; so that as soon as compact enters, slavery ceases, and he so far quits his absolute power, and puts an end to the state of war, who enters into conditions with his captive.  

§. 173. Nature gives the first of these, viz. paternal power to parents for the benefit of their children during their minority, to supply their want of ability, and understanding how to manage their property. (By property I must be understood here, as in other places, to mean that property which men have in their persons as well as goods.) Voluntary agreement gives the second, viz. political power to governors for the benefit of their subjects, to secure them in the possession and use of their properties. And forfeiture gives the third, despotical power to lords for their own benefit, over those who are stripped of all property.  

§. 174. He that shall consider the distinct rise and extent, and the different ends of these several powers, will plainly see, that paternal power comes as far short of that of the magistrate, as despotical exceeds it; and that absolute dominion, however placed, is so far from being one kind of civil society, that it is as inconsistent with it, as slavery is with property. Paternal power is only where minority makes the child incapable to manage his property; political, where men have property in their own disposal; and despotical, over such as have no property at all.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Against Narcissism

I have been consistent in speaking of the past as the “bad old days” rather than the “good old days.” Overall, things are much better now than they used to be. (In my first three months of blogging, I posted “Things are Getting Better: 3 Videos.”) But it would be quite surprising if there weren’t a few dimensions of our national life getting worse. One negative trend is the rise in obesity, that I talk about in my diet and health posts every Tuesday. Another negative trend is the rise in midlife “deaths of despair” by non-Hispanic Whites who never attended college that Anne Case and Angus Deaton have documented. A third negative trend is the decline in a sense of “noblesse oblige.”

Noblesse oblige can be summed up in the this line from Luke 12:48 in the New Testament: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” It is no use pretending that some people don’t have much more than others. Our natural tendency to think on a logarithmic scale makes it hard to comprehend just how much more it is to have $10 billion vs $1 billion, how much more it is to have $1 billion than $100 million, and how much more it is to have $100 million than $10 million. (The best way I know to get a greater comprehension of this is to read Richistan, by Robert Frank.) There are two basic approaches to such inequality at the top. One is to bring those at the top down; the other is to inculcate in those at the top a sense of responsibility to make the world better. Because it is hard to bring those at the top all the way down without bad consequences, these approaches are not mutually exclusive. We may need both. (You can see my approach to doing both at the same time without too big an expansion of the government in “How and Why to Expand the Nonprofit Sector as a Partial Alternative to Government: A Reader’s Guide.”)

In the Democratic Party, Franklin Delano Roosevelt set a good example of noblesse oblige. In the Republican Party, George H. W. Bush set a good example of noblesse oblige. Here is Ross Douthat on George H. W. Bush, writing soon after George H. W. Bush’s death on November 30, 2018:

The nostalgia flowing since the passing of George H.W. Bush has many wellsprings: admiration for the World War II generation and its dying breed of warrior-politicians, the usual belated media affection for moderate Republicans, the contrast between the elder Bush’s foreign policy successes and the failures of his son, and the contrast between any honorable politician and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

But two of the more critical takes on Bush nostalgia got closer to the heart of what was being mourned, in distant hindsight, with his death. Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart described the elder Bush as the last president deemed “legitimate” by both of our country’s warring tribes — before the age of presidential sex scandals, plurality-winning and popular-vote-losing chief executives, and white resentment of the first black president. Also in The Atlantic, Franklin Foer described “the subtext” of Bush nostalgia as a “fondness for a bygone institution known as the Establishment … sent off to the world with a sense of noblesse oblige.

There are many ways in which the younger generations now are better than the older generations in society. In particular, on the whole they have less of the intertwined racism and nativism that continue to bedevil our society. And the idea of social action for the sake of social betterment is still there. But the idea that it takes a lot of good people doing good things with skill to keep things from getting worse seems less visible in our culture. This is, in part, the idea that there is a role for an elite. Ross writes this about a strategic wrong turn of the elite in America:

So it’s possible to imagine adaptation rather than surrender as a different WASP strategy across the 1960s and 1970s. In such a world the establishment would have still admitted more blacks, Jews, Catholics and Hispanics (and more women) to its ranks … but it would have done so as a self-consciously elite-crafting strategy, rather than under the pseudo-democratic auspices of the SAT and the high school resume and the dubious ideal of “merit.” … The goal would have been to keep piety and discipline embedded in the culture of a place like Harvard, rather than the mix of performative self-righteousness and raw ambition that replaced them.

Most psychological traits and conditions have a continuous spectrum. And culture can shift the mean of the distribution of people on that spectrum. While our current era has shifted people away from other disfunctions, it encourages people to flirt with narcissism. What is narcissism? Here is what the current version of the Wikipedia article for “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” says:

The DSM-5 indicates that persons with NPD usually display some or all of the following symptoms, typically without the commensurate qualities or accomplishments:[6][9]

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people

  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.

  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions

  4. Needing continual admiration from others

  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others

  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain

  7. Unwilling to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people

  8. Intensely envious of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them

  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

Note that the standards for a formal diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder shift over time: “The DSM-5 indicates that the traits manifested by the person must substantially differ from cultural norms, in order to qualify as symptoms of NPD.” That is, even if you are indeed narcissistic, you will only be diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder if you are more a lot more narcissistic than average. The worse the average is, the more people will be narcissistic without being tagged as having narcissistic personality disorder. It is worth being concerned about the undesirable narcissistic tendencies people at the median level of narcissism in our society have. And of course, at least half of everyone is above median in narcissism.

To me, some notion of noblesse oblige seems helpful in fighting the narcissism within us. The message of noblesse oblige is this:

If you think you are special, that means you have a duty to serve and take care of other people more. It doesn’t mean that other people should do more for you! If you do genuinely good things, you can legitimately expect that 10% of the time when you do good things, someone will make some expression of thanks. But that is the main entitlement you can expect—not more. In particular, nothing entitles you to step on other people to get ahead. The only thing that can justify breaking rules is either helping other people directly or setting an example that will help other people along the lines of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

If you do try to do something that will make a big difference to society, you should expect a rocky road. And, with rare exceptions, you will not succeed without a lot of patience and fortitude and courage. Leaving aside whatever he may have accomplished supernaturally, Jesus got his message across only by dying on the cross. Doing good isn’t easy! And if you aren’t doing good, you don’t deserve admiration from others.

Finally, some aspects of narcissism are simply bad strategy. A pompous and arrogant demeanor is unlikely to get you ahead in life. Being envious of others can easily get in the way of alliances that could make your career. If you are exploitative and get caught, it can destroy your career even if you have been successful by conventional standards up to that point.

Few of us are entirely free of aspects of narcissism that are damaging to us and to those around us. I hope that we can not only fight the narcissism within ourselves, but that we can be able to talk about our efforts to fight our own narcissism, so that we don’t have to fight this fight alone.

Don’t miss these other posts that have a similar message: