January 4, 2018Play the Hand You're Dealt
January 3, 2018The Unintended Consequences of Drug Reimportation
January 3, 2018We should focus on building "unaffordable" housing
January 3, 2018The Best of Econlib: 2017 (cont.)
January 2, 2018Mea Culpa on Fourth Amendment Showdown
January 2, 2018An Ignorant Plot?
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John Turner, of GMU's Religious Studies Department, has produced one of the most fascinating historical works I've read in years. Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard University Press, 2012) is much more than a biography of the father of modern Utah. It's a fascinating case study in the history of religion - and the malleability of human conformity. Consider: If you wanted to found a new religion today, how would you even start? And once you did, how would you persuade your converts to embrace alien customs that outrage the mainstream society that surrounds them?
Turner's careful, detailed, and elegant book begins in the early years of the 19th-century. The poverty young Brigham Young endured is all the more striking when you realize that millions of European immigrants yearned to become his neighbors.
Turner provides a gripping tour of Brigham Young's early intellectual "shopping" in the bazaars of Protestant enthusiasm. But of course Young eventually meets Joseph Smith and becomes a loyal Mormon leader. Mainstream America's abuse of the early Mormons was no joke; they experienced the moral equivalence of exclusion and exile first hand.
After Smith's murder, as we all know, Young assumed command and led his people west to Utah in one of history's most notable "start your own country projects." This soon led to standard murder and robbery of the native population, though Turner convincingly argues that it could have been a lot worst. Mormon theology restrained Mormon brutality, but brutality there was:
Back east, Mormon polygamy fueled Americans' doubts about state's rights, better known as popular sovereignty:
Whatever you think about Young's divine inspiration, his poor grasp of economics was all-too-human. Apologists will whisper of the political externalities of immigration, but it's all jumbled together with textbook sophisms and misanthropy
Turner closes with some fascinating thoughts on leadership and political slack:
I read many books on obscure topics, but rarely cover-to-cover. But once I started Brigham Young, Pioneer Prophet, I had to hear the whole story. At root, this book isn't about Mormons. It's about humanity's capacity for weirdness - and the bedrock of normality on which the weirdest weirdness rests.