Article of the Week | BYU Studies

Article of the Week

"Kingship, Democracy, and the Message of the Book of Mormon"
June 19, 2017
Article of the Week
"Kingship, Democracy, and the Message of the Book of Mormon"
Gregory Steven Dundas

This daily feature is the introduction to a full article by Gregory Steven Dundas that was published in our newest issue, 56:2. To read the full text of this article, follow the link below.

Chapter 29 of the Book of Mosiah, in which the people of Zarahemla transform their government from a monarchy to a rule of judges, is a crucial—indeed, pivotal—chapter in the Book of Mormon. Modern readers of the book, particularly those of us raised in Western nations, are prone to react very positively to this story, viewing it as the creation of a free, democratic system, and we are inclined to read this account with something of the same thrill with which we observed the freedom-loving, democratic urges of peoples worldwide, most notably in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in more recent years during the so-called Arab Spring.

But this natural modern reaction is entirely out of place as a response to an ancient text. Most ancient peoples had a very different view of democracy, to the extent that they considered it at all. We usually think of democracy as the crowning creation of the ancient Greeks, but many Greeks did not admire it as a political system. Plato and Aristotle, among many others, saw it as a highly problematic form of governance. Indeed, we can speculate that if the ancient Greeks had possessed the Book of Mormon, many of them would have found its account of the Nephite decline clear evidence of the inferiority of democracy, or "popular rule," as a form of government. It can be argued that the change from king­ship to a weaker government of "judges" was a key contributor to the ultimate corruption and disintegration of the Nephite state.