It would be hard to claim that we are NOT one of the most patriotic Church memberships in the country–if not THE most patriotic. Mormons love America. We love hot dogs and apple pie. We support our troops and hang flags from our homes and cars. We LOVE America and we love democracy. We fought the red scare, dismissed communism, and embraced democracy as the government that God wants on the earth–at least right now. But this raises some interesting questions regarding where we came from and whether our 19th century counterparts loved democracy as much as we do.
There seem to be at least two competing political traditions coming out of 19th century Mormonism. First, is a democratic theme. In the early days there is at least some precedence for the fact that the membership could get rid of leaders in a quasi-democratic, no-confidence vote. The most famous examples are of the reverse–Joseph Smith wanting to get rid of certain counselors, the membership not supporting him, and Joseph keeping the counselor on–most notably Sydney Rigdon. There were elections in Nauvoo and later in Utah. Although in both periods Church leaders had a significant advantage in the elections.
And that brings us to the other tradition. It is not so easily labeled, as is the democracy tradition, because it is more multi-faceted. But in many ways it seems to have been a much stronger tradition. This was a tradition with strong elements of theocracy and some elements of communism or communal-ism. It is largely the story of the United Order. While the United Order had many different permutations in the 19th Century, especially in the Utah period, it was certainly a Utopian-styled ideal. Many scholars have argued that it was very different from communism, however, such arguments rely heavily on painting the United Order with a monolithic brush. While I would not argue that the United Order looked overwhelmingly like communism, certainly some permutations, especially in places like Orderville, had strong resemblances to communistic ideas. And all were communalistic, which shares certain elements with communism. Either way, for the most part the varied United Orders in the early Church did not look like democracy.
Along with communalistic trends, there was an even stronger and more consistent undertone of theocracy. Here I don’t use theocracy in a strictly political science manner. Rather, I use theocracy to generally refer to the belief that the Prophet speaks for God and leads his people on the earth both religiously and secularly. Furthermore, during the millennium the Lord will reign personally upon the earth and THAT will be the perfect government.
The Church has a mixed history with democracy for many reasons–so why do we embrace it so enthusiastically now (and when I refer to members of the Church who enthusiastically embrace democracy, I put myself right at the top of the list)? Is democracy really the best form of government right now? What if Pres. Hinckley ran for president as a theocrat? While a wild scenario, certainly the majority of the membership of the Church would support him. And if the Church ever became an overwhelming majority in the U.S. wouldn’t most of us welcome a Nauvoo-styled government where the prophet leads the country through the voice of the Lord? Isn’t that ideal where some of our fervor for an outwardly religious president comes from?