I just put up an essay at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) that readers of this blog might find interesting. It’s a response to some of Hugh Nibley’s writings on Zion and commerce. Nibley was famously critical of the mercantile ethic, arguing that trade and capitalism were fundamentally hostile to the ideal of Zion. This essay takes a more optimistic view of commerce, drawing on the ideas eighteenth-century thinkers like Montesquieu, who saw in the rise of markets a fundamentally pro-social force with the potential to limit violence and conflict. I’ll let readers judge the ultimate merits of my mash-up between Joseph Smith and Adam Smith, but hopefully it’s worth taking a look at it. Along the way, I offer a critical reading of some nineteenth-century Zion building that may interest Mormon history nerds, particularly those enamored of Leonard Arrington’s work. Enjoy! Here’s the abstract and a link to the article:
Nathan B. Oman
William & Mary Law School
November 7, 2014
William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-289
This essay is a reflection on the relationship between religion and commerce in the Mormon tradition. Drawing on the social criticism of the prominent Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley, it asks if commercial activity is consistent with the good life in a just society, what Mormons call Zion. Nibley gave a largely negative answer to this question, and this essay argues that he was mistaken, attempting reconciliation between religious notions of a righteous society and the largely secular doux commerce tradition of the eighteenth century. While the relationship between religious ideas of Zion and Enlightenment defenses of the market is uneasy, I argue that each tradition has much to teach the other.