King Mosiah, who followed his father’s example of servant leadership, was eventually convinced by his friend Alma that monarchy is a dangerous form of government. Alma had served as a priest under king Noah and was painfully aware of the suffering caused by a wicked king.
And so, near the end of his life, King Mosiah introduced a new form of government, with leaders, called judges, appointed “by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:25).
A political system in which the people choose their leaders may not be perfect, but at least it engages every citizen in the process, with some accountability for the outcome. And involving more people in a decision does make extreme or foolish outcomes somewhat less likely:
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people (Mosiah 29:26).
But what happens when a duly elected leader misbehaves? Mosiah’s plan included provisions for that scenario too:
If ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge.
If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people (Mosiah 29:28-29).
Under this system, no one is above the law. Junior leaders who act immorally have to answer to a more senior leader. And senior leaders who misbehave have to answer to a group of more junior leaders. Everyone is accountable for their actions. And ultimately, everyone answers to “the voice of the people.”
It’s a good system as long as the people collectively are moral. But if that morality erodes, if the collective voice of the people no longer chooses right, then the society will surely crumble. As King Mosiah warned:
If the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land (Mosiah 29:27).
John Adams issued a similar warning to the Massachusetts Militia on October 11, 1798, ten years after the ratification of the Constitution of the United States:
We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by…morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition,…Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other (Adams Papers on the National Archives website).
I have learned the following lessons from these passages:
- Checks and balances are important. It is dangerous for too much power to be concentrated in a single individual.
- Groups of lower leaders need the ability to hold higher leaders accountable for their actions.
- These types of decisions ultimately depend upon the collective morality of the people.
Today, I will remember that the freedoms I enjoy rely upon the checks and balances built into the government of my country. I will be grateful for those checks and balances. I will strive to vote wisely and to encourage my elected leaders to fulfill their responsibilities with the highest standard of integrity and morality.