I’m not sure why I’ve been fixated on this the last few days, how it entered my mind’s eye, but I can’t shake it until I get it out. I believe that Ezra Taft Benson, former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, and prophet of God, was an anarchist of the voluntaryist/libertarian sort, and that’s a good thing.
He spoke often about the need to defend and preserve the Constitution of the United States. Now, it is also my belief that constitutional government is a “pure manifestation of Socialism“. How do I reconcile the belief that Ezra Taft Benson was both an anarchist and a Constitutionalist? That’s easy, for the same reasons that I’m both an anarchist and a Constitutionalist.
One of the most popular essays of Ezra Taft Benson is his “The Proper Role of Government“. He begins this essay with these verses of LDS scripture on the proper role of government:
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life… We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. (D&C 134:1-2,5, emphasis added)
On the source of government power he writes:
The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government.
You see, it’s right there. Government cannot wield any power not first possessed by the people. Person A is not justified in using force to get Person B to pay for the services of health-care for Person A, nor is Person A justified in using force to get Person B to pay for the services of security for Person A. This is a basic principle, and the bedrock of voluntaryist anarchism. Because Person A is not justified in using force against Person B in this manner, Person A is not justified in giving this illegitimate power over Person B to a group of others he calls the “government”.
Not being forced to pay for someone else’s needs is an inherent and inalienable right of every person. If the government violates these rights, it has violated it’s “proper role”. The state violates this proper role in two ways, 1) it uses force to extract payment from non-consenting persons, and 2) it uses forces to protect it’s arbitrary territorial monopoly on the use of force. The state is unjustified in doing these. I have written on how the state violates the proper role of government here.
Voluntaryist anarchism is “the absence of the state”. If the state violates the proper role of government, and Ezra Taft Benson promotes that all government strictly adhere to it’s proper role, then it follows that Ezra Taft Benson is anti-state, and thus a proponent of voluntaryist anarchism. What about his support for the Constitution?
The only conclusions that I can make is that he either was unknowingly or unintentionally inconsistent with his views, or it was certain principles within the Constitution, that didn’t violate the proper role of government, that he supported. Roderick Long wrote a very good piece looking at the idea of the separation of powers and how they are fulfilled under anarchism here. That’s a good starting point in separating constitutional principles from the Constitution itself.
Consider also Ron Paul. He defends the Constitution, but can also be considered a voluntaryist. The US Federal Government has all but completely destroyed the idea of Constitutional restraint. It’s illegitimate powers are seemingly unlimited. Promoting the Constitution as a means of scaling down the Federal Government is a worthy endeavor, even for anarchists. Ezra Taft Benson spoke in favor of the Constitution at a time that the Federal Government was discovering all sorts of new powers. He was a necessary voice of warning for the American people.
Based on his beliefs that government must adhere to it’s proper role, and that the state does not, it follows then that Ezra Taft Benson was an anarchist and a voluntaryist libertarian (whether he knew it or not!).