Ten Conservative Principles Endorsed By The Book Of Mormon

A shorter, edited version of this essay appeared in the July 2006 issue of Desert Saints.

 

A discussion of politics among Church members shows that there are often two kinds of people: those who wince at bringing controversial topics into a gospel forum, and those who roll their eyes because they look down on certain political doctrines as trite cultural assumptions. Such people, perhaps the majority of us, have failed to read the many details in the Book of Mormon that clearly refer to governing practices, some of which the Nephite prophets favor, others of which they warn us against.

There are only two basic political philosophies: conservative and liberal. Conservatives generally believe in limited government, tradition, and freedom preserved by personal responsibility. Liberals typically believe in using government programs to “fix” the world, experimental change, and a kind of tolerance that often ends up promoting immoral behavior.

The editorial comments of Mormon and the examples of Nephite leaders offer an abundant testimony that the Lord favors essentially conservative political principles.

While it would be wrong to use the scriptures to try to support a specific party or candidate, the Book of Mormon does speak clearly on this choice between basic opposites as it does so many other crucial things in life.

1. Governments should prepare weapons in peace time and declare the right to bear arms. Nephi tells us that as soon as Lehi died, his elder brothers started trouble with him (2 Nephi 5:1-4). Nephi then tells us that he took those family members who would follow him and went into the wilderness to establish a new community.

The rest of 2 Nephi 5 is a detailed description of that society, which Nephi tells us “lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). As one part of that program, Nephi “did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us” (2 Nephi 5:14).

Notice that the Lamanites weren’t attacking at the time. Nephi was stockpiling arms to prepare for (and possibly deter) any future conflict.

It’s also good to note that Nephi doesn’t seem to have been referring to a regular army here. This was a new, small community based on an extended family clan which was dealing with basic needs. It seems more likely that Nephi was preparing for an informal citizen’s militia, similar to the one implied by the Second Amendment.

2. Colonizing is good, and people should assimilate into more successful populations. When the Nephites move into the established population at Zarahemla (Omni 1), the native group becomes completely transformed by the new population. The Book of Mormon defies current conventional wisdom by showing us that this was a good thing.

Even though the Nephites were new to the land of Zarahemla, their dominance was recognized by their achievements with language (Omni 1:17), which the native population learned and from which they benefited (Omni 1:18). They then submitted to the Nephite’s superior government. This is reminiscent of the great British Empire, which is despised by many trendy intellectuals of our day.

A similar situation occurs in Mosiah 25:12-13, where another group of Mulekites disavows their old national identity in favor of a superior new one—Nephite. These immigrants also submit to the government of their new land, the Nephite king.

Alma 35 tells us that converted Zoramites were welcomed into the Nephite nation (v. 6-9), but the immigrants fought to defend their new country (v. 14). Indeed, the Nephites don’t appear to have ever turned anybody away, as long as they became, culturally and politically, Nephite.

3. Those whose beliefs are based on feelings of resentment and entitlement are wrong. Mosiah 10 is a great explanation of the growth of anti-Nephite sentiment among the Lamanites. Verses 12-13 in particular make it clear that they didn’t think they were so good, as much as they thought the Nephites were bad: “Believing that… they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; and again, that they were wronged in the land of their first inheritance” (emphasis added).

Their whole world view was a petty reaction to their perceptions of the Nephites, always casting themselves as victims of “the man.” Mormon often comments that angry Lamanites (Enos 1:20) and those Nephites who were culturally closer to the rest of the world (Alma 31:8-11) were the wrong ones by refusing to accept the mainstream Nephites’ ongoing invitation to participate in their way of life, just like many “victim” groups today.

4. Heavy taxes and vast government programs are wrong. Mosiah 11:6 says that evil King Noah taxed his people heavily (unlike good King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:14). Mosiah 11:8-13 details all the many needless public works projects he wasted that money on. For any tempted to see this as a good thing accidentally done by a bad leader, read the entire chapter to see that it is meant as a detailed list of the many wrong deeds of this odious leader.

5. Capital punishment is acceptable. In Alma 1, a vocal critic of the church named Nehor is executed by the civil government. Alma 62:9 also mentions government executions, and Alma 46:35 even says that execution is permissible for those who refuse to be patriotic and defend their freedom during a time of war (imagine that one being implemented today!). Keep in mind that these examples all come from a generation when the Nephites were very righteous and highly favored of God.

6. Using the legal system to further a personal agenda is wrong. When the lawyers of Ammonihah attempt to discredit Alma and Amulek, Mormon makes their real motive very clear: “Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek” (Alma 11:20).

Imagine that. They weren’t concerned with discovering the truth, they were manipulating the system to forward their own interests, encouraging more lawsuits by agitating people. Which political philosophy—conservative or liberal—typically encourages using the courts as a shortcut to forcing resolutions to social strife? One thing is for sure: these wicked lawyers would oppose tort reform: they’d be out of business! Maybe they could get a job on the Supreme Court…

7. Good leaders preserve freedom, defend religion, and punish crime…and that’s all. One of the most overlooked treasures in the Book of Mormon is Alma 50:39, where we are given the oath of office Nephite leaders took during one of that people’s most spiritual periods: “to judge righteously, and to keep the peace and the freedom of the people, and to grant unto them their sacred privileges to worship the Lord their God, yea, to support and maintain the cause of God all his days, and to bring the wicked to justice according to his crime.”

That’s it. No social programs, no advocating for progressive causes.

King Benjamin, in Mosiah 2:11-14, cites these same things as proof that he has been a righteous king. Notice that he does not mention any social welfare program in his list, either.

8. Subverting tradition and the mainstream is wrong. Zion needs pure unity, but in too many places in history there have been vocal minorities dedicated to reflexive rebellion. The Nephites were no different.

In Alma 51:16, Mormon tells us that during a great war where a special interest group sought to obstruct the administration’s progress, Moroni’s “first care [was] to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction.” Notice that: poisoning your country’s attempts to preserve its institutions is not some alternative form of patriotism, it’s societal suicide.

Another example comes from 4 Nephi, where one of the features of the Nephite Zion is their total unity: “neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites; but they were in one” (4 Nephi 1:17). There were no hyphenated minorities; they achieved unity by all fully joining the Christian Nephite culture.

But the disintegration of that harmonious society is complete when a dissatisfied younger generation sabotages it (1:37). This new movement isn’t just marching to the beat of their own drum, they “willfully rebel against the gospel of Christ” and “teach their children that they should not believe” (1:38). As usual, Mormon makes crystal clear the constant characteristics of those who are wrong. These “rebels” would clearly fit right in with America’s youth-oriented counterculture.

No wonder Nephi quotes Isaiah’s prophecy that in the last days “shall every man turn to his own people” (2 Nephi 23:14), splintering into tribes instead of coming together into Zion.

9. Normal procedures can be changed during a war. In Alma 51:13, we read of a group of Nephites who hated their present administration and wanted it out of power. When they heard that the Lamanites were attacking, these men actually “were glad in their hearts” and refused to serve in the military. Good thing nothing like that is around today! (please note the sarcasm)

In Alma 51:19, when Moroni won a battle against these dissenters among the Nephite’s own population, “those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period.”

So the prisoners of war were left in a holding tank since conducting the war took precedence over any due process the prisoners might receive. Even the habeus corpus procedures for Nephite citizens, apparently, could be suspended.

Critics of Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act might want to read these verses before their next protest.

10. Good leaders must have private morality. Those who would defend unethical public leaders, saying that their private lives are not connected to their work, might take this as a warning. The Jaredite king Morianton “did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Ether 10:11).

One would have a hard time arguing that men who are cut off from the Lord’s presence because of their loose morals are fit to lead us, whatever their apparent competence in office. Moroni includes this detail of judgment for a reason; one of the themes of the book of Ether is that wicked leaders, in an inevitable cycle, bring sorrow to their nations.

This list is only the tip of the iceberg. It does not include, for example, the many references to righteous societies embracing wholesome living and strict religion, references which would alienate today’s so-called blue states.

It’s interesting to read the overview of the last days as given by Nephi after his great vision. He describes the church of the devil which scourges the righteous in our era as a political entity that is openly hostile to religion (1 Nephi 13:5), embraces sexual immorality (1 Nephi 13:7), and constitutes an international political entity (1 Nephi 14:13-15). John the Apostle, in his Book of Revelation, adds the detail that this civil Babylon will control a heavily-regulated global economy (Revelation 13:16-17).

Now, which side of the American political spectrum—conservative or liberal—is more likely to get on board with that program?

 

 

Those who are riled up by this are welcome to comment, but please keep two things in mind: first, railing against policies you don’t like isn’t a rebuttal. My comments here are the result of honest textual analysis. If you wish to correct me, please make sure your position is grounded in the text of the Book of Mormon. Second, I’d actually like to hear from any liberals who could find so many clear references to their political principles in the text. Keep in mind that my references are all to federal, political issues; not personal virtue or community values.

Bottom line: a close reading of the Book of Mormon should persuade us to adopt conservative political principles.

 

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8 comments on “Ten Conservative Principles Endorsed By The Book Of Mormon

  1. Huston, great post. I have often thought about putting together a post like this, but you beat me to the punch! I believe liberals such as Harry Reid have an especially tough task defending higher taxes when the Book of Mormon, and indeed all of the scriptures, point out what a horrible evil taxes (and big govt) are in general.

    One thing you may want to consider, and I believe this is important in our current political environment, is a response to the issue of war in the BoM. Wars are decried in general in the BoM, and in fact all of the just wars are purely defensive wars. This makes wars such as Iraq difficult to defend from a BoM perspective (I still defend the Iraq war from many other perspectives, and believe the war is more justified every day). But it does create an interesting thought exercise for conservatives.

  2. Good point on Iraq. I haven’t read Warfare in the Book of Mormon, by Ricks and Hamblin, but I wonder what light it might shed on this topic. Of course, one could still disagree with the premises of or the ongoing pursuit of our actions in Iraq and still be a solid conservative (though I do also support this campaign).

    There is a scriptural precedent for preemptive strikes and invasions. After all, Jericho wasn’t in violation of any U.N. resolutions, nor was it engaged in shadowy sabre-rattling with hints at weapons of mass destruction. Joshua conquered Jericho without any objective provocation on their part. Of course, this doesn’t really offer specific support for Iraq–Joshua was a prophet acting directly under commandment from God. Whatever one may think of our civil leaders today, they’re not prophets.

    However, insofar as the BoM only condones defensive military action (and I agree with you as to that conclusion), there is a good case to be made that the Iraq invasion, even the current stage of indefinite occupation, is an essentially defensive activity.

    But I don’t know that there is an easy way to resolve whether or not Iraq is justified via the BoM. Ultimately, as you rightly point out, it just provides an interesting thought exercise.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Interesting post. I agree with several of your points. I consider myself a conservative, which you admittedly may have a hard time believing after reading my thoughts. But it is nonetheless true.

    Regarding number 2:
    I think the Nephite and Jaredite modes of colonization (which was partially followed in the American mode) is different than our general understanding of western imperialism, of which President Hinckley taught that there is a dark side, often neglected, in global empires. I am concerned you have neglected the proper role of property rights.

    The Nephites were fleeing for their survival. While similar to the plight of the pilgrims and puritans, for instance, who were literally fleeing England, this is much different than the general mode of western European colonization/invasion. It appears in the Book of Mormon that there was no attempt to invade or coerce the Mulekites to accept Nephite language and tradition, nor even an attempt to infringe on property rights. They were taught the language and culture, yes, but there is no indication that there was a popular Mulekite resistance to their interactions with the Nephites. This is much different than the violent tribal response encountered by European colonizing/invading forces.

    I also seriously doubt whether the British Empire was guided by the Lord in their imperial amibitions as the Nephites and Jaredites were guided by the Lord in their colonizing travels.

    Regarding number 5:
    This was a completely different historical context, one in which the law of Moses was used to govern. Would this same event be justified after the Savior came to the Nephites, for instance? I am not expressly disagreeing or disputing this particular point, as I am with the others, but I think it worth mentioning that the system of laws was quite different, and in those days, was revealed directly from God, and not by legislative, judicial, executive, or bureaucratic decision.

    Regarding number 8:
    I think there is a strong deficiency in this analysis, as no distinction is made between righteous and wicked (or false) traditions. Did not the Lamanites have a false tradition which Ammon and the other sons of Mosiah (and associated others) labored to remove, even shatter? If you read their tradition carefully, it is largely accurate. One could say that mere interpretive shades characterize its false nature, as it is presented in the Book of Mormon.

    Regarding number 9:
    The war on terror is a much different war than the wars the Nephites fought to defend their lands. The reason trials were not held was clear: there was not time for their trials at this period. The Lamanite armies were invading (had invaded) Nephite lands. This is a completely different historical situation (not to mention geopolitical context) than the one we face today, when we face no invading army, but instead, a vague, undefinable, even amorphous threat of “terrorism.”

    Pre-emptive war is categorically a failure in the Book of Mormon. Consider how the Nephites defeated the Gadianton robbers. They tried pre-emptive attack. It failed miserably, twice. In one instance, they had to gather themselves up and defend their lands to ultimately defeat them. Or alternately, they had to preach the Gospel. Pre-emptive war and subverting governments was the task of wicked Amalickiah and Zerahemnah, and even the Gadianton robbers, not the righteous Nephite leaders, such as Helaman, Alma, Moroni, and Mormon. Who is most subversive to global governments today in a manner that approaches Amalickiah and the Gadianton robbers?

    Consider another example: the people of Limhi were in bondage. They were successful in repelling an invasion, but failed miserably in an offensive attack in an attempt to deliver themselves from bondage. Three times they failed. The Nephites, when righteous, never engaged in pre-emptive attacks, or even subverting the Lamanite government. They defended their homes, their families, and their religion.

    Yes, they prepared militarily, (in that I agree with you) but they prepared to defend themselves, not to attack an enemy on their own soil.

  4. Mormon Paleo, thanks for some great feedback. I checked out your site and quickly enjoyed it, also. We certainly do have more in common than would appear obvious from our give and take here.

    Concerning colonization as survival vs. conquest, there are shades of gray to consider, as I think you would agree. Not every instance of migration is the same as every other. In the case of the Nephite-to-Mulekite movement, I think the most important thing to understand is that the Mulekites gladly subsumed their previous identity to that of the newcomers, based on the Nephite’s demonstrably superior culture.

    This certainly has implications for our view of things like the British Empire, which was far more benevolent than most histories tend to treat it. Actually, though, the balance of my analysis in that section, regarding loyalty and assimilation in general, might best be applied to current ethnic tensions in the American Southwest, i.e. the “reconquista”: http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_1_mexifornia.html.

    Certainly the British Empire was a product of inspiration! After all, without the Crown’s colonizing, there would have been no American colonies, then no Constitution, and, of course, no Restoration.

    Your comments on capital punishment read more like a devil’s advocate pushing for rigorous analysis, which I respect, rather than an actual disagreement, so I’ll not take much space responding. Suffice it to say, capital punishment is not strictly contrary to the New Testament’s moral code, and Brigham Young was certianly a proponent of the principle.

    Our disagreement on point #8 may be more one of semantics than substance. I use the word “tradition” as a catch-all for the essentially conservative, Judeo-Christian heritage of Western Civilization (and its counterpart among the Nephites). The target of my criticism there is obviously (I hope!) America’s decadent, reactionary counterculture. My feelings on the subject are largely voiced by Elder Oaks of the Twelve in this great talk: http://tinyurl.com/4kev5o.

    As for war, I think most of your insights were addressed in remarks made by another writer and me above in this comments section. In short, I don’t consider Iraq to be a litmus test for conservatives, via politics or the BoM, but there are some telling precedents. I suppose I could pull out the already-cliched bit about terrorists being like Gadianton Robbers, which is undeniably a more potent metaphor for the current state of affairs than the Amalickiahite wars in Alma. But still, your points here are all solid and I cannot categorically disagree with any of them.

    If nothing else, we could share a satisfied nod that no such analysis of the BoM as endorsing leftist ideals has yet been proffered! Cheers!

  5. Pingback: War on Terror in the Book of Mormon « Mormon Paleo Thought

  6. all fine and good? The Nephites failed. What if they had been liberal in their actions? Hard to get to excited about your post. Sorry

  7. Wut up, G?

    All of my examples come from periods in their thousand-year history when the Nephites were very righteous and favored of the Lord. In short, at these times they were very successful.

    However, at other times the Nephites were proud, rebellious, thoughtless, secular, materialistic, and decadent. So you see, sometimes they were liberal in their actions. Cheers!

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