How Democracies Die: A Cautionary Tale from the Book of Mormon

The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many  democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a “new normal” of Covid-19 restrictions.

  —The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) 2021 Report on the Global State of Democracy

The bi-annual Global State of Democracy report released this week did not bring good news for the world. Since 1995, the Stockholm-based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has coordinated the efforts of the world’s democratic nations to improve representative democracy and discourage authoritarianism throughout the world.

For a while, it looked like democracy was winning. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nations of the world moved en masse towards liberal democracy, with written constitutions, multi-party elections, and guarantees of fundamental rights. This movement was so pervasive that, in 1992, political philosopher  Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history.”  If the 20th century was an ideology tournament, he reasoned, liberal democracy beat fascism and communism and became inevitable.

But history had other ideas. And, by 2010, many of the new democracies were backsliding back into authoritarianism. But that’s not all. Some of the old and established democracies started backsliding too: Turkey, India, Brazil, and the United States.

This is one of the massively depressing conclusions of the 2021 report. For the first time ever, the United States is listed as a “backsliding democracy,” or a nation that has lurched towards authoritarianism and disregard for the principles of liberal democracy. The report pinpoints exactly the series of events that put the US over the line:

A historic turning point came in 2020–2021 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States. Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021.

The world, in other words, has been watching the way that America has been acting, and the many people in the world who have long considered the United States to be the cornerstone of global democracy are scared. We should be too.

Latter-day Saints should be especially concerned about what is happening to democracy in the current era because we have seen it all before. One of the main narrative arcs of our signature sacred text, the Book of Mormon, tells the story of an ancient democracy that destroyed itself when it ceased to respect “the voice of the people.”

According to the Book of Mormon, the post-monarchic society of Zarahemla called “the Reign of the Judges” persisted as a functioning democracy—a state with elections, peaceful transfers of power, and guarantees of basic rights—for around 75 years before descending into a Hobbesian hellscape in which power was transferred by assassination and robbery replaced the rule of law.

We can, I believe, pinpoint an exact moment in the Book of Mormon when the collapse of the Nephite Republic becomes inevitable. It occurs long before the collapse actually happens, in the 40th year of the Reign of the Judges, when the chief judge Pahoran dies and his three sons—Pahoran, Pacumeni, and Paanchi– contend for the judgeship:

It came to pass that Pahoran was appointed by the voice of the people to be chief judge and a governor over the people of Nephi. And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people. But behold, Paanchi, and that part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, was exceedingly wroth; therefore, he was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren.

And it came to pass as he was about to do this, behold, he was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people. Now when those people who were desirous that he should be their governor saw that he was condemned unto death, therefore they were angry, and behold, they sent forth one Kishkumen, even to the judgment-seat of Pahoran, and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat. (Helaman 1:6-9)

At the time, this probably seemed like only one of many challenges that the Nephite government endured. In the Book of Alma, the people fought two civil wars when groups of people disputed election results and tried to overrule the voice of the people by force. The whole “Reign of the Judges” thing was always difficult. The good-loser, Pacumeni became the next chief judge, and then Helaman and Nephi—righteous men both—held the judgment seat for a combined total of 30 years.

But the assassination of Pahoran had profound consequences. The band of people that organized the assassination—those who refused to accept the results of an election and acted independently to change them–became the Gadianton Robbers. And the Gadianton Robbers eventually destroyed the government. They tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Helaman (Hel. 2:3-10). They forced Nephi out of the judgment-seat and assassinated the next two successors (Hel. 6:15). And then they started murdering each other to gain power (Hel. 9:26-41).

But the most tragic thing that happened was that, as the quality of democracy declined, the people themselves became unable to govern themselves. By the time that Nephi resigns the chief judgeship (probably after losing an election, but that is a much longer argument that I will make elsewhere) he notes that the people have become ungovernable:

For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted. Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction. (Hel. 5:2-3)

It is important to note here that Nephi is speaking here as a politician who has (probably) just lost an election–but, unlike the faction he opposes, he chooses to “yield” to the voice of the people (Hel. 5:4). And he yields even though he believes the opposition to have been evil. This, it turns out, is the one thing that democracy requires. People have to accept the results of elections. The voice of the people has to be respected, or democracy can’t survive.

And this is precisely what happens in the Book of Mormon. Democracy does not survive. With one exception, Nephi is the last chief judge whose political career ended in a way other than assassination. The other judge, Lachoneus, reigns for 30 years under the title of “governor” and spends most of that time fighting with a Gadianton Robber organization with a military force equal to or greater than the Nephite state (3 Ne 3). The manner of his death is not recorded, but the assassination of his son and successor, also named Lachoneus, formally ends the Nephite nation (3 Ne 7:1-4).

Once a significant portion of the Nephite population ceased to accept the results of elections, democracy became impossible, and collapse became inevitable. The Gadianton Robbers were not always a secret society dedicated to murdering and getting gain. They started off as a group of people who refused to accept the results of an election, and they persisted for years in their attempts to overturn the voice of the people. And they eventually got very good at overcoming the limits of electoral politics through secret maneuvers. And once elections ceased to matter, people stopped trying to govern themselves.

That, it turns out, is how democracies die.

Note: I expect that lots of people will disagree with this article, which is cool. Disagreeing about stuff is really important to a democracy. But if you want to disagree by making any version of the statement “we aren’t a democracy; we’re a republic,” please read this first. I at least want to get the opening moves out of the way before going down that rabbit hole.

Comments

  1. Some rich ideas contained herein, Michael, and conclusions that I mostly agree with. But the specific force of your argument draws upon a set of assumptions about the “Reign of the Judges” related in Mosiah 29 through Helaman 6, assumptions which you presumably will give support for in “a much longer argument that I will make elsewhere.” Suffice to say that I’m very interested to read that, since at present I really don’t see anything in the BoM text that I think would justify speaking of a “functioning democracy,” much less a “Nephite Republic.” Hope I won’t have to wait too long!

  2. Michael Austin says:

    Russell,

    So, the argument I am making here is part of a book chapter that I am currently writing, and it hinges on the way that I read Helaman 4:1-5:

    And it came to pass that in this same year, behold, Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram. For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted. Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction. And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days. (Hel. 5:1-4)

    This passage is almost always read as Nephi voluntarily resigning the judgment seat to become a missionary, much as Alma the Younger did (Alma 4:15-19). But I don’t think that the text supports that assumption at all. the narrator (presumably Mormon) says that Nephi “delivered up” the judgment seat, which could mean either that he resigned, or that he lost an election and conceded. And then he goes on to say that 1) their government was established by the voice of the people; 2) the people are more evil than good; and 3 that the people were stiffnecked and had become ungovernable. These all sound much more like excuses for losing than like reasons to resign. And then the narrator says that Alma “yielded up the judgment seat.” The verb “yield” almost always carries the impression of giving in to something.

    If this is the correct reading, it means that Nephi–the son of a chief judge, grandson of a military hero, and great-grandson of the founding chief judge in the country–loses an election and gives up power. If this is the case, it is remarkable. He is the definition of the political elite in Zarahemla, and he knows that the government that will replace him is corrupt. And yet he yields to the voice of the people. This would only be possible in some kind of republican or democratic government. People like Nephi don’t voluntarily yield power in other kinds of systems. And they don’t do it that often in functioning democracies, as we are learning to our peril in 2021.

  3. >But I don’t think that the text supports that assumption at all.

    Well, that’s obviously going to require futzing around with 19th-century American English usage and debates over divine-vs.-human levels of control over the language of the Smith’s “translated” text, but I guess I can see your reading as plausible. Though if you’re going to use Moroni’s editorial comment about the people being more evil than good as an example of post-election sour-grape language, and thus contextual support for your argument that Alma’s “yielding” reflected an electoral loss, then wouldn’t that mean you couldn’t use the same statement as contextual support for the idea of the Nephite people coming to disregard elections and becoming ungovernable, because you would have just categorized that statement as rhetorical editorializing, and not an actual observation?

    Also, note that contextual evidence of an electoral loss =/= a “functioning democracy” or a “republic.” Still looking forward to the book chapter, though!

  4. Michael Austin says:

    “wouldn’t that mean you couldn’t use the same statement as contextual support for the idea of the Nephite people coming to disregard elections and becoming ungovernable, because you would have just categorized that statement as rhetorical editorializing, and not an actual observation?”

    I am assuming that the narrative is correct. My point is that there would be no reason to make statements like that after saying that someone was the new chief judge if it weren’t the result of an election. If Nephi simply resigned, then verses 2-3 are explanations of something that does not require an explanation. They only make sense if they are explaining an electoral defeat.

    However, I am comfortable using the facts that 5 out of the next 6 chief judges were assassinated and that the state devolved into tribal chiefdoms as primary support for the assertion that the people were ungovernable.

  5. That’s an interesting reading of the BOM that I’ve never considered. I suppose if people like Senator Lee read it that way it would give them even more justification for their paternalism. “See what happened when a chosen person like Nephi lost an election and conceded?”

  6. I think we make a mistake when only looking at “the last straw”. Democracy amoung the Nephites was dealt a number of blows well before this, including the “kingmen” rebellion and subsequent conscription. To me, democracy died at that point, when it took force of arms to restore the previous government. When the people shifted into caring more about political/military/monetary “advantage” over caring for each other, that was the sign of their ending.

    The report on Democracy makes it seem like the US suddenly shifted toward authoritarianism in 2021, but the shift has been gathering for decades. So too had the shift come to the Nephites. Does that mean collapse is inevitable? I don’t believe so, though it’s probably unfounded optimism on my part.

    Unfortunately, we have only a very abridged version of events in the BoM, with enemies that have only simple motivations. Makes it easier to extrapolate what you want from it, but harder to see the complex individual actions involved. Personally, I think the growing corruption -within- the Nephite government (conveniently grouped as “the bad guys”) was its downfall; the assassinations and infighting only stand out actions in a very condensed history.

  7. I think Trump’s reprehensible behavior after the 2020 election is only one piece of the puzzle. We’ve been headed toward becoming an ungovernable people for a long time now. And, sadly, what’s at the root of the problem (IMO) are the very things the prophets have been warning us about for the last one hundred years or so.

    At the very end of the Nephite civilization–when Mormon laments the down fall of his people–he does *not* say, “O ye presidents and priests; ye judges and magistrates; ye police officers and social workers…”

    He says, “O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!”

    When all is lost Mormon zeroes in on the basic building blocks of society: marriage and family.

    That said, I believe the battle for good must be fought on many fronts. But if we lose the battle for the preservation of the church’s foundational teachings on marriage and family then all will be lost. As stated in the proclamation on the family:

    “…we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

  8. Jared Livesey says:

    One may surmise that the reason Nephi, and Mormon following his record, did not say the voice of the people came against Nephi and for Cezoram might be because the hypothesized election wasn’t credible, but was clearly fraudulent. On this reading, neither Nephi nor Mormon could say that Nephi lost the voice of the people without lying, because Nephi did not lose according to the voice of the people.

    Following this reading, we might understand that despite the obviously fraudulent nature of the results of the election, Nephi yielded the judgement seat to the usurper, for the reasons stated – the people could not be governed by law anymore except it were unto their destruction, meaning they would not peaceably accept the outcomes that their laws provided for (we can imagine the Nephites showing their rebellion against the laws by rioting and general lawbreaking with the tacit approval of the Nephite legal administrators, which approval would be demonstrated by lack of punishment), and their laws contradicted each other, such that the outcome of legal processes could not be predicted from the laws themselves – that’s what it means for laws to be corrupt.

    As the Lord said: blessed are the pacifistic, for they shall be called the children of God. And if any man shall sue you at law and take away your coat, let him have your cloak as well.

    Allow yourself to be defrauded in baseless lawsuits or legal actions, and do not fight against them, but yield. Thus did Nephi.

  9. Michael Austin says:

    Jared, this reading does not seem to be supported by the text. Mormon says, “they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good.” That is a pretty clear indicator that the non-good candidate got the most votes. More people choosing you is kind of what winning an election means.

  10. Jared Livesey says:

    It doesn’t say “they who chose Cezoram were more numerous than they who chose Nephi,” and no statement in the contested passage implies Nephi lost an election to Cezoram by the voice of the people. This is what I would expect if there was an election and the results were clearly fraudulent. Otherwise we’d see something unambiguous like “… and the voice of the people came against Nephi…” as we see in contests elsewhere in the Book of Mormon.

    After all, even if those who choose evil outnumber those who choose good generally, it does not imply that the results of any particular hypothesized election necessarily reflect those proportions – and particularly not if the results of the hypothesized election are fraudulent. And fraud is an effective way for non-good candidates to show more votes than good candidates.

  11. Michael Austin says:

    The text definitely implies an electoral loss, as long as you read FOR as “because,” which seems to me to be the best way to read it in this sentence:

    Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram.
    BECAUSE as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people,
    AND and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good,

    It is certainly not absolute proof. But there is no good way to make the full paragraph make sense unless we assume a legitimate electoral loss. I would welcome textual evidence of fraud, but I just don’t see it.

  12. Jack, just to be clear, is your argument (via the proclamation) is that the main problem causing America to fall apart and have its democracy so close to failing is that LGBT people and others are standing up for LGBT rights?

  13. Jared Livesey says:

    Well, if you are unwilling to admit that electoral fraud might be a possibility in this ambiguous account, that’s ok.

    The Book of Mormon is telling a story – in this, one might see how democracy is absolutely inadequate to preserve peace and civilization. Democracy is not an end in and of itself, but is merely a tool to accomplish a greater good, that good being peace and civilization, and if it doesn’t do that (as the Book of Mormon demonstrates is the case), there is really nothing to commend it to those who seek peace and civilization.

  14. Michael Austin says:

    When I say “I just don’t see it,” what I mean is that I can’t find a textual warrant for drawing such an inference. It certainly isn’t refuted by the text. There is no reason to say that it couldn’t be the case. But there is also no reason to say that it was the case. So it is not that I am unwilling to admit that electoral fraud might be a possibility.” I do not see a warrant in the text for drawing such an inference, whereas I do see a strong–but not iron-clad–case for drawing another inference.

  15. Jared Livesey says:

    I see textual grounds for suspecting electoral fraud in a hypothesized Nephi / Cezoram election, as I explained, and if it is the case that 1. there was an election contest between Nephi and Cezoram (even though every other appointment to the position of chief judge seems to have been for life, so what changed?), and 2. that there was fraud in that particular election, one might draw a further conclusion, accepting your thesis that this hypothetical “election” was the turning point of Nephite democracy: electoral fraud kills democracies.

  16. Brian,

    The shredding of the family began long before the rise of LGBT civil concerns. Of the many factors involved in the destabilization of marriage and family fatherlessness ranks as the number one problem, IMO.

  17. Michael and Jared,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your exchange. My sense is that Nephi did pretty-much the same thing that Alma (the younger) did when he “delivered the judgment-seat unto Nephihah.”

    I think Nephi realizes that because the majority of the people are perverting the law he’s not going to be able to do much good as the chief judge–the highest representative of the law. So he “delivers” up that position to another man and sets out to preach the word–which in his mind is the only viable option to keeping the people from descending into destruction.

    That said–and I could be wrong–in order to make the argument that Nephi was voted out by the wicked we have to make the assumption that the public who voted him in turned on its heels during his tenure as chief judge. While that’s a distinct possibility–because of the Nephites’ general tendency to waffle between good and evil–I think the one making the argument might need to demonstrate how that plays out in this specific instance.

  18. Jared Livesey says:

    For reference, this might be helpful.

    Page numbers are references to The Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, PDF available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tYEA2I_v6uUs4XNs_P_npJiXskP8lJJW/view?usp=sharing

    Chief Judge – how the position was vacated – who transitioned into the position

    Alma 2 (appointed by the people p. 220) – abdicated (p. 232) – Nephihah, by consent of the voice of the people

    Nephihah – died – Pahoran, son of Nephihah (p. 366) (Pahoran then faced a referendum to remove him which failed by the voice of the people.) No record of his appointment happening by the voice of the people.

    Pahoran – died – Pahoran2, one of 3 of his sons who contended for the judgement seat, by the voice of the people (p. 407)

    Pahoran2 – assassinated – Pacumeni, his brother, appointed by the voice of the people, “and it was according to his right.” (p. 408)

    Pacumeni – killed – “no one to fill the judgement seat”, IE, Pacumeni had no sons and no living brothers who wanted the judgement seat, so Helaman2, son of Helaman, son of Alma2, was chosen by the voice of the people (p. 410).

    Helaman2 – died – Nephi, his eldest son (no mention of the voice of the people, p. 415).

    Nephi – abdicated – Cezoram (no mention of the voice of the people) (p. 417)

    Cezoram – assassinated – his son, appointed by the voice of the people (p. 423)

    Cezoram’s son – assassinated – no replacement mentioned (p. 423) until Seezoram (p. 433)

    Seezoram – assassinated by his brother who sought the judgement seat (p. 431) – no replacement mentioned until Lachoneus (p. 452).

    Lachoneus – his death is not mentioned – Lachoneus2, his son (no mention of the voice of the people, p. 466).

    Lachoneus2 – assassinated (p. 467) – thus ended the reign of the judges.

    The rule seems to have been this: the chief judge is initially chosen by the voice of the people. After that, his eldest son automatically inherits the judgement seat; if he had no sons, his brother shall be appointed with the consent of the people if he is willing to take the judgement seat; if he has no brother willing to do so, then a new chief judge shall be chosen by the voice of the people.

    Theoretically the people can remove a chief judge and seat a new one in his stead, or choose a son other than the eldest to be chief judge, through something resembling a referendum. These referendums appear to be major events, as also their ‘democratic’ legitimacy as reflected by the repeated phrase “the voice of the people,” neither of which are mentioned in the case of Nephi vacating the judgement seat and delivering it up to Cezoram. Another oddity in this case is that Cezoram’s son was appointed by the people.

    In today’s political parlance, Nephi was a reactionary (p. 426-427). He would be unlikely to rule contrary to the law. Since a referendum to remove a chief judge must involve him not ruling according to the law (p. 219), and since Nephi filled the judgement seat with justice and equity, keeping the commandments of God and walking in the ways of his father (p. 415), a referendum against him would not be for cause, and would constitute a rare and major event, and would require the voice of the people, but neither is mentioned. If the second ever attempt to peaceably remove a sitting chief judge, and the first successful attempt, had actually occurred it would have warranted explicit mention and would have caused a severe ruckus among the Nephites (see Pahoran). We have no textual evidence that any such thing occurred.

    Nephi had no desire for power, and, like Pahoran, would only use it to preserve the rights and liberty of his people (p. 366), but he saw that it couldn’t be done (p. 417). We can imagine that perhaps Cezoram threatened to invoke a referendum – and Nephi, being tired of the job anyway, simply gave the judgement seat to him. Thus Cezoram wouldn’t have had the voice of the people, and his son would have had to have it.

  19. Jared Livesey says:

    Addendum – had Nephi lost a referendum and thus been unseated, the Gadianton judges would have accused him of seeking to reclaim the judgement seat when he prophesied of the murder of Seezoram, the chief judge, at the hands of his brother, Seantum – because that would have been the most natural and obvious motivation for Nephi to conspire to murder the chief judge – but they didn’t make that accusation (p. 432). Instead, they accused him of trying to convert them to his faith. By this we see that Nephi was known by men for his zealousness towards God; and it turns out he was the real thing (p. 434). It may be that the account of his abdication on p. 417 is as it appears: a straightforward statement of truth from one who forsook worldly power and authority in order to serve God and man, rather than the rhetorical accusatory sour grapes of a political elite who lost a (potentially fraudulent) referendum.

  20. Monterey Jack says:

    Wow Jared, that’s a very persuasive stance, thanks for the detailed breakdown. It never ceases to amaze me how eerily relevant the Book of Mormon truly is in 2021.

  21. Michael Austin says:

    Jared,

    This is impressive, and I do acknowledge that the argument that there actually was a referendum is much more tentative on my part than the argument that, if there was a referendum, Nephi lost it legitimately and not by fraud. But we are still not really crossing swords because you are arguing from what is NOT in the text (if this would have happened, A would have said B), and I am arguing from what is in the text: the fact that Mormon wrote that Nephi delivered the judgment seat to Cezoram and then immediately said 1) that “their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people,” and 2) that “they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good.” That line doesn’t make sense unless the “voice of the people” were somehow connected to the reason that Nephi delivered the judgment seat to Cezoram. .Helaan 5:1-2 does not even form a coherent paragraph, or a followable line of thought, if these events were unconnected.

    That is the verse that needs interpretation. I have no idea what actually happened in Nephite history, and we will never have access to anything but the text, so it is important that we look at what the text is describing.

    So I am ultimately not persuaded by the argument that “if X had happened, the text would say Y.” In the first place, that is not how textual criticism works. Absences in any text are difficult to read, and in a text like the Book of Mormon–which, under its own claims has multiple authors over hundreds of years looking at limited records–it is simply not possible to say that a silence means that something could not have happened. If Mormon was indeed compiling records 400 years later, with only Nephi’s own record to go on, and nothing to represent any other perspective, then there is pretty much no way he could have captured with any nuance what actually happened. Even Modern historians can’t capture much nuance on things that happened 400 years ago, even though printed records have existed for that long and different perspectives are plentiful.

    So, we have to deal with what the text actually says. Here, of course, I have the burden of proof, and I acknowledge that I can’t prove that the text is referring to something like a popular referendum. But I will argue that this is the most plausible way to read the following paragraph:

    And it came to pass that in this same year, behold, Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram. For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted. Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction. And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days. (Hel. 5:1-4)

    I certainly could be wrong, and your information above is very good and builds a plausible case for abdication. You certainly could be right. And there is no way to know for sure. But I don’t consider the Book of Mormon–nor does it consider itself–a complete enough record that the absence of evidence can be read as evidence of absence.

  22. Jared Livesey says:

    Michael,

    No worries. You see “for” as “because” where the circumstances are imposed upon Nephi who is coloring them to his rhetorical advantage, where to me the “for” sets off what follows as Nephi’s reasoning for abdication and reentering the ministry. Just as an unpopular US president can be almost entirely neutralized by a resolutely recalcitrant civil service, so also Nephi appears extremely limited in his ability to be of use to his people from the judgement seat, and makes the rational decision to preach the word of God, similar to Alma: “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just; yea, it had had more powful [sic] effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them; therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (p. 310).

    I appreciate your perspective, because it gave me an occasion to follow that narrative strand to see if it had the predictable results. Sometimes novel interpretations are useful for that reason – Orson Scott Card’s idea that the people of Zarahemla lied about their national origin in order to lay claim to the Nephite kingship was another interesting position to analyze, as was Brant Gardner’s idea that the “skin of blackness” wherewith the Lamanites were cursed was merely metaphorical and not literal.

    It’s true you and I probably differ in our views of the completeness of the Book of Mormon account on the matters it engages with – I think Mormon’s giving us all relevant data surrounding these events.

  23. This part of the paragraph seems to imply that Nephi makes his own decision to yield up the judgment seat:

    “And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days.”

  24. The King of England tried to destroy America before it was born. Some decades later Jefferson Davis tried again with identical results. When I was a child the beatniks were busy destroying America with their foul language and incomprehensible poetry. Black jazz bands were destroying America but with strangely beautiful music. In grade school we were taught to hide under our little desks and not look at the flash when the Russians nuked us, which is rather like current wisdom for dealing with an F5 tornado: sit down against the nearest wall, put your head as far between your legs as far you can and kiss your sweet ass goodbye. Not long thereafter the Beatles were destroying America. To add insult to injury John Lennon married Yoko Ono while Japanese carmakers were destroying America by building better cars. Then of course the hippies began destroying America because they opposed the Vietnam War which was itself destroying America, and my gentile Goldwater parents were so appalled by their beads, long hair and free love that they sent their 17 year old son to BYU where he would be safe amongst those conservative Mormons. Little did they know that desperate California Mormons were sending their dope-smoking hippie kids to BYU where they refused to go on missions or attend class and who spent their days in various Helaman Halls smoking dope and listening to the Grateful Dead – and destroying America. I never had so much fun in my life. At that time the North Vietnamese were also trying to destroy America and they came damn close. Many of my BYU brothers were fresh off the battlefield and did crazy things like ride choppers thru Stover Hall and smoke dope and go stark raving mad. It wasn’t long before the Iranians called and began destroying America and Saddam H and Osama BL and the Taliban. Recently an actual Mormon decided to dress up like Captain Moroni, and, with other lunatics break into the US Capitol Building and try to reinstall a renegade former President who did his level absolute best to destroy America. Oh yes, The Rolling Stones: they also tried to destroy America. Mick Jagger almost did this by himself just by rotating his hips. How can I forget Jim & Tammy Fay Bakker! They tried to destroy America by mixing mascara with mendacity but like all the rest, came up short.

    America survives because it is irresistible. It is a magnet for dreams and brilliance and there is no replacement. It destroys & replaces itself every 20 years without any help at all.

  25. Geoff - Aus says:

    All this esoteric discussion of the BOM when America is a backsliding democracy, and 80% of members over 40 voted backslide their country knowingl the trump they voted for would not accept the result unless he won. And half of them still believe he won, and seek to underminebthe government that won.
    Why are you not discussing how to come back from this disaster?

  26. Geoff,

    First, America has been backsliding for a very long time now. And second, we have two great hurdles to overcome in order to prevent further backsliding:

    1. Americans do not agree on how their country’s problems should be prioritized.

    2. Americans do not agree on the solutions for their country’s problems.

    There are other hurdles–but without coming to some kind of an agreement on the first two we’ll continue to play an endless game of political tug of war.

  27. Jack, you missed one:
    3. Americans can’t generate solutions to their problems; the complexities are too great; assumptions too speculative, consequences can’t be anticipated; it’s a slippery slope and backsliding is the new normal.
    But this may be what is required for a reset. Life is not all about the ‘new’ and ‘improved’.

    Thanks Michael for an insightful view, perhaps history is coming to an end.

  28. Geoff - Aus says:

    Isn’t the point of all the discussion above that the goodies value democracy, and the baddies don’t care because they have other values.

    Jack, No America became a backsliding democracy because trump and his followers refused to accept the result of the election. One ongoing action.

    I suspect your first sentence is saying that you believe other Americans are not following you values, and that is the problem. I can imagine the taliban saying that too. Do you realise divorce rates a falling, that abortion rates are falling, but gay marriage is accepted.

    Some observations from outside

    Good government is to enable as many as possible to live as they choose and achieve their potential.
    Good government is NOT one group imposing their views on the rest.

    America is the most religious first world country
    America is the wealthiest country but also has most poverty
    America has greatest inequalty
    America has most division/hate

    Americas problem at present is, in my opinion, that the religious right are willing to destroy democracy by voting for a dictator who they thought might impose their views on the rest particularly on Abortion, gay marriage mainly. D &C 121.

    Until this group realise that healthy society is respectfull of other views than their own, and celebrates views not their own.

  29. Geoff,

    Let’s bring some perspective into this. Half of Americans would disagree with your take on our current sociopolitical issues. That amounts to a number of people that is at least six times as great as the entire population of Australia–that’s a lot of people. Now, before we springboard directly into Godwin’s Law–let’s remember that this thread has something to do with the majority of the Nephite populace turning toward evil–thereby causing the demise of their own government. That’s already on the table. Even so, before we start pointing fingers at tens of millions of folks–most of whom are decent–let’s make sure that we look at the Book of Mormon carefully enough to identify what the real hazards are.

    That said, while I agree that morality cannot always be trusted in the hands of the majority, the Book of Mormon frames the problem in a way that suggests that an objective morality must be based in the teachings of the prophets. And so the first question(s) that we need to tackle is: what are those teachings? And how is society shaped by them? And then we can look at the following question with some kind of measuring rod: how are we–as a society–living up to those teachings?

    Now the left and the right will go at each other–blaming the other side for all of America’s ills. But my reading of the BoM suggests (to me) that there’s plenty of blame to go around. And, moreover, when I include the teachings of living prophets with those in scriptures I get a picture–and I know this is very subjective–of what the most important issues seem to be at present. And at the top of the list (IMO) is the family. If we don’t fix the problems in that part of the neighborhood first it’s not going to matter–over the long haul–what we do to ameliorate any of the other problems competing for the number one position.

  30. Geoff - Aus says:

    My understanding of what you are saying is that it was worth destroying US democracy (voting for trump who said he would not accept the result of the election unless he won), if there was a possibility abortion, and gay marriage could be made illegal? I can’t think of anything else that you might think reelecting trump would do to help families?

    Electing republicans (even if they succeeded in making abortion illegal) will not reduce the number of abortions. https://www.upworthy.com/a-massive-new-study-shows-how-to-reduce-abortions-and-its-not-more-regulation. There are other studies that show that abortions reduce by much more under democrats, because they favor sex education and affordable birth control as the way to reduce abortion. Supporting this solution for reducing abortions is that countries that accept abortion as necessary, have much lower rates of abortion than US. US is 19/ 1000 women between 15 and 44, Germany is 6, Austria 2. Germany and Austria have legal abortion, but also universal healthcare (where birth control is affordable) and sex education in schools. So the democrat solution if as successful as germany could reduce abortions in America from 1 million to 300,000, by empowering women v controling their options.

    Are you aware of the mexico city policy or global gag rule, where republican administrations cut off foreign aid to orginizations that provide family services in third world countries, if they mention abortion. This results in a 40% increase in abortions 30million more abortions and between 30,000 and 40,000 maternal deaths more in the third world than when there is a democrat administration.

    If these are the issues that drive good people like you to vote republican, would an education programme on abortion unite them in support of policies that would actually reduce abortion, or would they/you be unable to give up your simple solution that does not work? Abortion is not politicized in other first world countries, so ways to reduce it are implimented, without religion or ideology.

    Do you think making gay marriage illegal will stop gay people having relationships? So what is achieved?

    I am not sure how gay people being married hurts your marriage, and I expect the church to change its position in my lifetime. How to persuade people like you I do not know?

    So you are willing to destroy democracy to accomplish what?

  31. I admit that I’m a staunch social conservative (and a softer political conservative) but I haven’t addressed any of the issues you’re talking about here–not specifically. My number one concern vis-a-vis the modern family has to do with fatherlessness. If we were to pour our resources into fixing that one particular problem we’d see many improvements in lots of other areas. With more fathers in our homes we’d see less children in poverty, less unwanted pregnancy, less abortion, less drug abuse, less depression and suicide, less criminality, less illiteracy, and on and on. And on the flipside, if we continue to neglect fatherlessness these problems will only increase in magnitude–so much so that they’ll become unmanageable, IMO.

    That said, what troubles me most about American politics (at present) is that with all of the wrangling over prioritizing sociopolitical issues it’s the disintegration of the family–potentially the most dangerous problem of all–that is left on the backburner. IMO, no matter how virtuous other causes may be if we neglect this central building block of society then they (the other virtues) become little more than decoys.

    FYI, I’m not a huge Trump fan.

  32. eastofthemississippi says:

    p… best post ever, and right on the money says this boomer.

  33. What’s most concerning to me is how large a percentage of Latter-day Saints belong to the GOP (Gadianton’s Old Party). Not only are they not concerned about Trump’s attempt to overthrow democracy, but they are cheering him on and supporting those politicians who are trying to suppress the votes of minorities, who tend to lean Democratic. How any Book of Mormon–reading Latter-day Saint can be a Republican in this day and age is beyond me. I guess if your team wins, nothing else matters—not corruption, not the loss of democracy, not the overt racism and xenophobia, not the lack of serious policy, not the embrace of disinformation.

  34. Geoff - Aus says:

    Bert, Totally agree.

    Jack, I had to look up what a social conservative is/believes. Having read that, I suspect you have a specific social conservative solution to problems. So you would not be interested in reducing abortions in America from a million to 300,000, your solution is to make it illegal, even if it doesn’t reduce the number of abortions?

    Your particular interest is single parent families. Americas rate is about 50% higher than the rest of the first world and I would be interested to hear what the social conservative solution is?

    You say you don’t think the democrats will address it. They will, and may even reduce the number of single parents, but you will not recognize it because it appears social conservatives are more concerned with how things are done, and less concerned with the result. If universal healthcare is introduced it will provide affordable birth control which will reduce unwanted pregnancies and so abortions, and single parents.

    The democrat solution will be to do what works elsewhere. Most single mothers did not choose to be single mothers, but because they were unable to access birth control, or their partner leaving, they are in this position, which usually equates to poverty. These are the ones who could not get an abortion.

    So make abortion illegal, and the consequence will be more single parent families.

    So democrats will reduce abortion, and the number of single parent families. If they can get their legislation passed.

    I thought that finding solutions for problems, could unite the country behind the solution, but having read about social conservatives it appears that would not work? Might this be a large part of why america is so divided?

  35. As I’ve been thinking about this, it appears to me that the phrase “for the laws had become corrupted” comes as part of the explanation for the handing over of power, and not as a consequence of the handing over of power (though I assume that continued).
    Now I don’t know who is the author here (Nephi, Helaman, Mormon), but whoever it is might be linking corrupt laws to “the voice of the people”. It got me thinking what might cause that. Is the author blaming the loss of the election on corrupt laws that gave more voice to the people? Should the US ever get rid of the Electoral College I guarantee a bunch of people will complain “My candidate would have won if only the laws hadn’t become corrupted by going with popular vote”. Could the same be here? I’m wondering what laws could have been corrupted that also gave the voice to the people. Because the author isn’t saying that corrupt laws removed the voice from the people. So it might be the opposite.
    Could the Cezoram-Nephi election have been the first election after a law was changed that gave more voice to the people? And if so, how could the author have viewed that as a corruption?
    Some thoughts are:
    Getting rid of Philosopher King Electors and going with popular vote
    Letting non-decedents-of-Lehi vote
    Letting non-land-owning citizens vote
    Letting non-veterans vote
    Letting women vote

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. It sounds like the law corrupting happened before Cezoram was elected.

  36. I love that you’re looking to the Book of Mormon here. (such a rare thing IMO) It’s funny to me that the same principle (i.e., that not honoring the voice of the people can destroy a civilization) can now be applied by *each* side against the *other* side: you and others can assert that those who question the legitimacy of the 2020 election are endangering the future of our democracy, while simultaneously others who see abundant evidence of election tampering and fraud at all levels of the 2020 election can see this same principle as *also* a warning sign about an existential threat our civilization now faces.

    A third person could perhaps also look and see the pattern of a nation turned *against itself* in irresistible accusations and violence (i.e., as found at the end of both the Nephite and the Jaredite civilizations) as warning enough. (The Cultural Revolution in the Book of Mormon? Wow–there’s a topic to explore…) Either way, if you believe the Book of Mormon, two prior civilizations on this continent experienced violent, abrupt ends when they turned from the Lord. And if the Book of Mormon were to warn of anything, it could be a warning to us American gentiles not to repeat it all. Given how prophetic that book seems to be, it might be a warning worth heeding. Especially when we’re at each other’s throats.

  37. Alan Calan Bo Balan says:

    In my humble opinion, not accepting results of elections is simply a symptom of widespread wickedness within the USA.

    In the BOM, they government completely collapsed due primarily to wickedness.

    in 2016 the left did not accept the results of the election to the point where they concocted the Steele Dossier (which was completely fabricated) to undermine the Trump presidency. I.e. wickedness.

    In 2020 the right did not accept the results of the election due to accusations of voter fraud without meaningful/robust evidence. I.e. wickedness.

    Today the USA is in the process of tearing itself apart with the radical left (Post-modernist Neo-Marxists, who hold an ideology which is IMO pure wickedness, and those duped by such) and those on radical right who have recently become obsessed with populism.

    There appears to be an enormous silent majority somewhere in the middle watching this train-wreck slowly happen that will eventually be forced to pick a side.

    The primary culprit in all of this is that we as a nation (and a world) have forgotten God therefore God has forgotten us. We are left to ourselves as the spirit of the Lord is withdrawing and it will be every bit as ugly (if not worse) as the times before the flood or before Christ came again in the Americas.

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  2. […] of electoral fraud,” capped off by the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol.This report worries By Common Consent blogger Michael Austin — even more so when viewed through the prism of Latter-day Saint scripture.“Latter-day Saints […]

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