Thursday, April 21, 2016

Words from the Wise

The other day I came across a quote I wanted to save to my Quote File (up around 75 pages now). I wanted to make sure it wasn’t one I’d already saved, so I searched the file for the author: Ezra Taft Benson. The quote was new, but I realized I had quite a number of quotes from him. Enough to maybe make up a post for today.
Ezra Taft Benson
photo from

I’ve frequently referred to Ezra Taft Benson’s hourlong speech “The Proper Role of Government,” and his "The Case for the Free Market." He had some strong political opinions, always aligned with our beloved Constitution as well as God’s law. But he is best known as the thirteenth President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from November 10, 1985 until his death May 30, 1994, nearing 95 years old.

A significant role he played—while he was also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church—was Secretary of Agriculture from 1953-1961, during the Eisenhower administration.

Shortly after World War II, he was sent to Europe to help with relief efforts and mission efforts. Most notable was time spent in Germany, to help people there who had been our enemies but now needed our help. Some of those were members of the LDS Church needing to reconnect to their worldwide brotherhood. But one of the other places he spent time was Sweden, where my grandfather was serving as president of a mission. So they traveled the country together, and also traveled together into Finland to start a mission there.

When it became likely that Elder Benson would become president and prophet—he was at that time President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and President Spencer W. Kimball was aging after a life of health struggles—some people worried about his political views, that they might alienate members who had different political views. It turned out not to be an issue. As a person—indeed, as a lover of his country, freedom, and the Constitution—he spoke with passion. But as Prophet, the larger concern was to do whatever work God wanted him to do. He emphasized reading the Book of Mormon and doing away with personal pride.

I consider him a great man. Politically, I appreciate the bold, strong words he used—based on principles. So, with that introduction, here are a few of his words worth rereading.

Starting at the foundation of the pyramid, let us first consider the origin of those freedoms we have come to know are human rights. There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. –“Proper Role of Government.”

The smear seems to be the most widely used and effective tool of the conspiracy to discredit and weaken any effective effort. The smear of any individual or evidence of effectiveness. If any of you who are affiliated with patriotic organizations...which are not extensively smeared, you can rest assured your opposition is largely ineffective.

The price of peace is righteousness. Men and nations may loudly proclaim, “Peace, peace,” but there shall be no peace until individuals nurture in their souls those principles of personal purity, integrity, and character which foster the development of peace. Peace cannot be imposed. It must come from the lives and hearts of men. There is no other way.—“Purposeful Living,” Listen, A Journal of Better Living, Jan.–Mar. 1955, 19.

At this bicentennial celebration we must, with sadness, say that we have not been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding Fathers. For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom have chipped away at every major clause of our Constitution until today we face a crisis of great dimensions."—TheConstitution: A Heavenly Banner, p 24.

There were souls who wished afterward that they had stood and fought with Washington and the founding fathers, but they waited too long—they passed up eternal glory. There has never been a greater time than now to stand up against entrenched evil.—“Not Commanded in All Things,” 1965.

I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. I seek opportunity to develop whatever talents God gave me—not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any earthly master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say, “This, with God's help, I have done.” All this is what it means to be an American. —Quoted in "An Enemy Hath Done This," p. 11.

I’d rather be dead than lose my liberty. I have no fear we’ll ever lose it because of invasion from the outside, but I do have fear that it may slip away from us because of our own indifference, our own negligence as citizens of this land. And so I plead with you this morning, that you take an active interest in matters pertaining to the future of this country.—“The LDS Church and Politics,” BYU Devotional, December 1, 1952.

Improve your community by active participation and service. Remember in your civic responsibility that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” [Edmund Burke, in George Seldes, comp., The Great Thoughts, New York: Ballantine Books, 1985, p. 60]. Do something meaningful in defense of your God-given freedom and liberty.—“To the Single Adult Brethren of the Church,” April 1988.

Socialism derives its philosophy from the founders of communism, Marx and Engels. Communism in practice is socialism. Its purpose is world socialism, which the communists seek to achieve by revolution, and which the socialists seek to achieve by evolution. Both communism and socialism have the same effect upon the individual—a loss of personal liberty….
Why is socialism incompatible with man’s liberty? Socialism cannot work except through an all-powerful state. The state has to be supreme in everything. When individuals begin to exert their God-given rights, the state has to suppress that freedom. So belief in God must be suppressed, and with that gone freedom of conscience and religion must also go. Those are the first of our liberties mentioned in the Bill of Rights.—“Socialism—a Philosophy Incompatible with Man’s Liberty,” a section in “A Vision of Hope for the Youth of America,” BYU Speech, April 12, 1977. [I attended this.]

Americans have always been committed to taking care of the poor, aged, and unemployed. We have done this on the basis of Judaic-Christian beliefs and humanitarian principles. It has been fundamental to our way of life that charity must be voluntary if it is to be charity. Compulsory benevolence is not charity. Today’s socialists—who call themselves egalitarians—are using the federal government to redistribute wealth in our society, not as a matter of voluntary charity, but as a so-called matter of right. One HEW [Health, Education and Welfare] official said recently, “In this country, welfare is no longer charity, it is a right. More and more Americans feel that their government owes them something” [U.S. News and World Report, April 21, 1975, p. 49]. President Grover Cleveland said—and we believe as a people—that though the people support the government the government should not support the people.—“Socialism Disguised under Welfare State Measures,” a section in “A Vision of Hope for the Youth of America,” BYU Speech, April 12, 1977.

Government can give you nothing but what it takes from somebody else. A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you’ve got, including your freedom.—[A version of part of this is attributed to Gerald R. Ford. I was unable to identify the source as Ezra Taft Benson, although he might have said it or quoted it. I found it on a Facebook meme attributed to him without a source. So maybe it doesn't belong in this collection, but, still, I like the words.]

In my hunt to identify the source for some of these quotes, I found this collection of around 40 pages:  “Ezra Taft Benson: Quotes on Freedom, America,Constitution, Liberty, Etc.” 

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