Alma 10:17-23, LeGrand Baker, God and government

Alma 9:30-32 – LeGrand Baker, God and government

Alma 9:30-32 –
17 Now they knew not that Amulek could know of their designs. But it came to pass as they began to question him, he perceived their thoughts, and he said unto them: O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundations of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God.
18 Ye are laying plans to pervert the ways of the righteous, and to bring down the wrath of God upon your heads, even to the utter destruction of this people.
19 Yea, well did Mosiah say, who was our last king, when he was about to deliver up the kingdom, having no one to confer it upon, causing that this people should be governed by their own voices—yea, well did he say that if the time should come that the voice of this people should choose iniquity, that is, if the time should come that this people should fall into transgression, they would be ripe for destruction.
20 And now I say unto you that well doth the Lord judge of your iniquities; well doth he cry unto this people, by the voice of his angels: Repent ye, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
21 Yea, well doth he cry, by the voice of his angels that: I will come down among my people, with equity and justice in my hands.
22 Yea, and I say unto you that if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction; yet it would not be by flood, as were the people in the days of Noah, but it would be by famine, and by pestilence, and the sword.
23 But it is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared; now therefore, if ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand; but in his fierce anger he will come out against you; then ye shall be smitten by famine, and by pestilence, and by the sword; and the time is soon at hand except ye repent.

Alma’s warning to the Nephites about the need for good government rings as true to us today as it did to the people to whom Alma was talking.

There are only three fundamental forms of governmental systems. 1) Those that are described in Machiavelli’s The Prince, where the most powerful people assume the authorities of government and use power to retain power. 2) Those that are described by Rousseau, where a self-identified moral elite assume the authorities of government. 3) And those that are based on the principles of Deism, described in theory in the Declaration of Independence, and in function in the American Constitution. Let me point out the differences.

1) The coercive powers described in The Prince are the same whether the control is exercised by a king, tribal chiefs, medieval landowners, military dictators, or department chairmen. This is a very simple form of government. It rests on the theory that there are casts of people, and their status can easily be defined by whether they are or are not a part of the dominant aristocracy. Those who are, control politics, religion, and economy. They control politics because the law is what they say the law is. They control the economy because they own the real property, and often also the serfs or slaves who work the land. They control religion because religious doctrines, rituals, and festivals are a major means of keeping the masses in check. In these cultures the major gods support the king and validate his actions. Criminal law is established to reinforce and legalize both the religion and the power of the king. In ancient Rome, Persia, China and Japan the king or emperor was a god. In ancient Egypt, Greece, medieval Europe, and apostate Israel, the king was the ultimate representative of the god.

2) Rousseau rejected the idea of class based on land ownership, and devised a method of creating a different, but equally ridged class system. He argued that people are intelligent animals whose primary instincts, and motivations are avarice, greed, self preservation, and self aggrandizement. He said that because this is so, all governments tend to be tools by which the powerful can control and take advantage of the weak. He used the European dark ages as an primary example. He said, however, that not all people are like that. There is a small minority—a moral elite—who are capable of understanding and therefore of dispensing equanimity in society—that is, they would be if they had the powers of government at their disposal. He reasoned that it is the responsibility of this self-defined, self-appointed, elite to obtain political power by whatever revolutionary means are necessary, and then to use government to impose equity upon society. Marks’s Communism picks up on that idea and assumes the working class would constitute that moral elite. George Bernard Shaw saw it differently. He believed the moral elite would be the well educated property class of Britain (people who already had enough money and education that they didn’t have to worry about ways to get more). He organized the Fabian Society which is still the think tank of the British Labor Party. (When the Labor Party got power in England they nationalized railroads, coal mines, and other theretofore private businesses.) He implemented his program by establishing discussion groups at universities among students who were going to become teachers, writers of plays and novels, newspaper reporters, broadcasting, and other professions that had the power to change public opinion. Shaw also started private schools in England. One young woman who attended one of his schools was Eleanor Roosevelt. She returned to America, helped establish Fabian discussion groups at universities here, and married FDR who implemented many of Shaw’s ideas in the United States. Mrs Roosevelt also became very involved in the United Nations.

Rousseau-inspired governmental systems vary markedly in their applications of his principles. In Russia, China, and a few other places it has been rather complete. After World War II, European nations like France and Italy adopted it within their established political systems. In America, Shaw’s version of Rousseau’s philosophy was espoused by the Roosevelt’s Democratic party, but countered by the Republicans, so American movement toward implementing this philosophy has been slowed by political compromise.

In practice the philosophy is called Communism, Socialism, and several other names. In theory it looks good, but it is severely flawed. Its flaws cause it to evolve into Machiavelli-like system where the philosophy itself takes the role of religion. Its premise is that because people are corrupt and selfish by nature, they are not capable of making decisions that are not in their own self interest, so participatory government, where the masses make political decisions, must be as corrupt as the masses who participate in those decisions. Rousseau asserts that since neither an aristocracy nor a democracy can govern equitably, a self-identified and self-appointed moral elite must displace the old system and make governmental decisions for the masses. The flaw is that even though it pretends to establish a single cast economic system, it cannot do so. Rather, it creates a two-cast social, political, and economic system that is as oppressive as Machiavellian dictatorships. The underlying problem is that there is no such thing as wealth in the abstract. Wealth consists of a sequence of events—the first involves production, then distribution, then accessibility. For example, one can own a mountain full of gold ore, but it means nothing unless he can refine the gold, influence its value, and get it on the market. The same is true of a field of wheat. Unless it is harvested and marketed, it is no greater source of wealth than a field of weeds. In Rousseau’s egalitarian system, the same people who make political decisions also make decisions about what should be produced, how it should be marketed, and who has access to it. If their decisions are not correct, the wheat does not get planted; or if planted, not harvested; or if harvested, not marketed; or if marketed, to the wrong people for the wrong price. Criminal law is established to ensure the continuance of the system and to sustain the power of the individuals who control the state. The opportunities for corruption are enormous, and, as happened in the USSR, when it is pushed to its logical conclusion, the government that implements it is destined to implode.

3) The system based on the notions of Deism has its origins back as far as the Protestant Reformation with the ideas of John Calvin. Calvin’s rationale went like this: God is perfect; what he does is perfect; and God created men and women, some of whom will go to heaven but others will go to hell. That presents a logical dilemma: if some go to hell that means either God’s creation is not perfect or else that he created them to go to hell. Calvin’s conclusion was that God created some to go to heaven and others to go to hell. That philosophy is called predestination. His followers accepted it as truth but were frustrated by it. They asked, “If I live a good life and am destined to go to heaven, well and good; however, if I live the good life but am destined to go to hell, then I will miss out on all the fun things and my life will have been wasted. They wanted Calvin to tell them how they could tell if they were destined to go to heaven. He responded with this argument: If one is honest, industrious, lives frugally, teaches others his trade, and is generous to the poor, then one is the kind of person who will go to heaven. That is, if one wishes to be in good with God, one must be productive. I submit that if that doctrine were taught in any culture, at any time, and in any religion, there would only be one consequence: the people would get rich. And that is what happened. Calvin’s philosophy became the foundation of our free enterprise economic system. It was transported to England where it merged with British Common Law and the Parliamentary system.

That fusion of philosophies migrated to America with the British colonists. It matured in the colonies, until it became the established fact of American political and economic reality. The Americans were comfortable with it until after the French and Indian war, when the British Parliament began to pass laws that imposed political and economic change upon their American colonies. The Americans rebelled, but the rebels were not revolutionaries. They were constitutional conservatives who were determined to retain their rights as Englishmen even if they had to get out on the Empire to do it.

The colonists were Christians: the most widely read book in America was the Bible, and their formal and informal education included a study of both the old and New Testaments. Along with the evolution of their political and economic philosophy, there had also been an evolution in their religion—not in their organized religion, that remained the same—but in their fundamental thinking about the nature and personality of God. Their new religious philosophy was called Deism. Because Deism was not a formalized religion it never had a published creed. (The only nearly contemporary analysis of its principles was written by Tom Paine as a seething attack against Thomas Jefferson. Paine had a caustic personality and mis-defined Deism as atheism, then used his definition to try to show that Jefferson was an atheist.) The best way to discover what Deism really meant is to ignore Paine and read the papers of the Founding Fathers to see how they understood God and religion, and to observe their actions to learn the impact the philosophy had upon their lives. The fundamental premises of Deism are these: 1) There is a God in Heaven who is capable of thought and feeling. His existence and his personality are evinced by the nature of his creations, and the greatest all of those creations are men and women. The fact that people think and feel is sufficient evidence that God also can think and feel. God loves his creations and desires them to be the very best that they are capable of being. People are innately capable of being their best, but only when they lived in a society with a government that encourages individual human success. Since God wants people to have the advantages afforded by a free government, he also wants them to have a government under which they can be free. Therefore it is in God’s self interest to help humans create governments that will augment their individual success and happiness. Perhaps the very best living exponent of this philosophy was the greatest man of them all, George Washington.{1}

Washington once confided to a friend that “an innate spirit of freedom” first taught him to recognize the principles and value of liberty. {2}

Washington was a devout Christian. That is evinced by his frequent letters to the Continental Congress requesting that they declare national fast and prayer days in behalf of his military success. When the army was approaching a battle, Washington would give general orders that his men pray for divine sustenance. At the conclusion of a successful battle Washington issued general orders that the men fast and pray in thanks to God. Consistent with his Deistic philosophy, Washington believed that because it was in God’s best interest to provide his children with a government in which they could be free to be the best they could possibly be, God would hold himself responsible for the Army’s military success. However, also consistent with Washington’s Deistic philosophy, he believed that it was he, not God, who was responsible for his own personal success and for the care of Mt. Vernon. Consequently, even though there is much evidence that Washington prayed for his country, there is little or no evidence that he prayed for Mt. Vernon.

In short, Deism was a Christian-based belief that God cares about the freedom of his children, and that for that reason he takes an active part in their political, and if necessary military, welfare.

In America, the generation of the Revolutionary War and the creation of the Constitution saw the birth of an entirely new political philosophy. It was founded on the economic principles of the Protestant work ethic, mingled with the system of British parliamentary system and common-law, sustained by the Christian belief that people have individual worth, and empowered by the Deistic understanding that God will intervene to make his children politically free. All of these ideas matured together, and flowered in the words of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

The best discussion of the Declaration’s philosophy is Garry Wills’ Inventing America. {3}

In his book, Wills carefully examines the philosophical background of Jefferson’s “all men are created equal.” He shows that Jefferson’s “equality” was fundamentally different from Rousseau’s egalitarian “equality,” and also different from John Locke’s “life, liberty, and property.” In the first place Jefferson and his contemporaries did not believe equality meant sameness, as is implied in Rousseau’s egalitarian ideals, and they did not believe that inherited property conveyed inherited rights to political power.

In his personal writings, Jefferson compared human society to a bucket of fresh milk. He observed that as time passes the cream in the milk will separate and rise to the top of the bucket, while the ordinary milk will settle to the bottom. Jefferson believed people are like that: those with natural talents will rise to the top, others will not. He believed government ought not to be used to artificially raise untalented people, or to artificially keep afloat the untalented children of talented people. He wrote that government should get out of the way, but let people seek their own levels—according to their individual abilities and inclinations—and according to their own definitions of “the pursuit of happiness.”

Jefferson wrote,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

With those words he lay the entire legal foundation for the legitimacy of participatory government.

Machiavelli’s system is based on the notion that people are not equal, Therefore, any rights the masses have are given to them by their government.

Rousseau’s system assumed people are, and should be required to remain, equal—and that equality means sameness. Also under that system, any rights the masses have are given them by their government.

Jefferson’s “equality” is nothing like either of those. Wills has shown that Jefferson ’s meaning of equality was the same as that taught by Scottish philosophers who believed that human equality is about our universal sense of right and wrong. The rationale for participatory government is this: If we share a sense of right and wrong, and if we are governed by people elected by the masses, then the representatives in government will have the same sense of right and wrong as the people who elected them. Such a government would make laws that are consistent with the universal conscience. That is, the government would make things that are morally wrong illegal, and use the laws to support things that are good. Under this system, any rights the masses have are given by to them God, and the function of government is to preserve those inalienable rights.

In Jefferson’s system, God made men free, and therefore there are only four fundamental purposes of government. They are: 1) to protect the people from international aggression (military and diplomatic power), 2) to protect them from their neighbors (police and some regulatory powers), 3) to make them freer than they would be if there were no government (good roads and an efficient political system), and 4) to leave the people alone and let them be the best they can be. In a word: to prevent external restraints on individual freedom and otherwise to keep out of the way.

In the context of his “all men are created equal,” Jefferson was not talking about “equality under the law,” neither was he talking about “equality of opportunity” (that’s a 20th century phrase that suggests egalitarianism. It is a handy political phrase—and like the very best of political catch-phrases it has no concrete meaning because the opportunity humans want are as variant as human interests.). and as such was not a part of Jefferson’s thinking. Wills convincingly shows that what Jefferson meant is that all people have an innate and equal sense of right and wrong – they all have the same built-in conscience—a universal standard of moral excellence—and on that idea rests the whole legal justification for the American political and economic system.

In contrast, in Rousseau’s thinking, there is no standard of right and wrong, therefore any government that might be elected by the masses would share their inability to distinguish the common good from the common evil—therefore the need of a dictatorship of the moral elite. However, in Jefferson’s system, because there is a universal conscience, the people in a government elected by the masses would share their innate sense of personal (therefore universal) right and wrong. In Rousseau’s system, participatory government must necessarily be corrupt because people are selfish; but in Jefferson’s system participatory government must necessarily be in the best interest of everyone, because the people who run the government share the common values of the overwhelming majority of the citizens. Criminal law is necessary, but it only applies to those who act contrary to those commonly held values.

There are also other fundamental differences between the two philosophies. Both use the word “freedom,” but with entirely different meanings. In Rousseau’ philosophy, the purpose of the government is to grant freedom to the people. That is, freedom is a gift of government, and the extent of the freedom is as it is defined by the government.

In Jefferson’s system, freedom means one can do whatever he wishes as long as he does not impinge on the freedom of other people. A free enterprise economic system is the necessary consequence of a free political system—or else, a free political system is the necessary consequence of a free enterprise economic system – it’s a chicken or egg kind of proposition. In this system wealth is still defined by production and distribution, but people are free to invent better products and create more efficient ways of distribution, and as long as they are free to do that, they and the consumers are in a mutual win-win situation.

Enter modern capitalism: The Founding Fathers left matters of personal affairs to state and local governments, but did not envision the time when businesses would actually get bigger than the states. The railroad was the first to do that, so the federal government invented a bureaucracy to cope with interstate transportation. Eventually egalitarians used similar bureaucracies to further invade state and local governments’ prerogatives, like the environmental protection agency for example. All one has to do is define a problem as being bigger than any state government and one has also created the rationale for creating a federal bureaucracy to handle the problem.

Now there are businesses that are bigger and richer than states and nations, like Standard Oil, and Microsoft, so the UN and other ultra-governmental organizations are using the same rationale to establish extra-governmental world wide bureaucracies to control them.

Consequently, there is now developing a 4th political philosophy competing with the three I have just described. In theory, it looks like a kind of combination of all the other three, and its object is the establishment of a one-world government with a one-world economy. In the meantime, Jefferson’s system has not been doing badly: free and democratic governments are being established all over the world at an amazing rate – more than 100 in the last 100 years, and seems to be winning over the old Rousseau-like egalitarian systems like in Russia and China. But now there has entered a new self-defined moral elite competing with both the ideas of Jeffersonian participatory government, and the old Rousseauian egalitarianism. This is the power of the people who control the international conglomerates. Their object is to establish world peace—not a millennial reign, but a modern version of a militarily enforced Pax Romana.

– – – – – – – – – –

In the Book of Mormon, the Nephites also lived under a participatory government. It’s form was different from ours, but it also was a reflection of the moral standards of the people. It is apparent that the founders of their government believe, as did the founders of ours, that God would defend them in their liberty as long as they exercised their freedom in righteousness. The principal is universal. God wishes his children to be free to be the very best that they can possibly be.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

God will sustain a government for as long as it permits the righteous to worship under the umbrella of the freedom it provides. But when the majority of people turn from God, and use the powers of government to persecute the righteous—to limit freedom rather than augment it—the government and its people are in bad trouble. God cannot continue to support such a government, just as he cannot support individuals unless they obeyed the laws upon which blessings are predicated.

That was Alma’s warning to his people, and it is equally applicable to the nations of our world today.


{1} I’ve published a couple of articles about Washington with co-authors. They are: Frank W. Fox and LeGrand L. Baker,”Wise Men Raised Up,” Ensign. June 1976, 27-32. And: Matthew F. Hilton and LeGrand Baker, “George Washington, a Man of Unfailing Personal Integrity,” Sons of the American Revolution Magazine, Winter, 1987, 16-18.

{2} Washington to Bryan Fairfax, 24 August 1774, in G. W. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (printed by the U.S. Government from 1931-1944 in commemoration of Washington’s 200th birthday), 3: 240.

{3} Garry Wills, Inventing America, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (New York, Vintage Books, 1979).

This entry was posted in Alma. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply