Readers of The Book of Mormon are familiar with a dangerous style of political leadership that, especially in the first century B.C., repeatedly challenged the freedom of the people. The society at the time was governed by judges, popularly chosen. It had only recently evolved from a monarchical system with hereditary kings.
Some preferred to return to monarchy, with themselves as monarch, aided by their cronies. Others, a bit more subtle, preferred a strongman government, with themselves as strongman, again aided by their cronies. There were always ready cronies, who believed in promised shares of power from those who flattered them.
Ancient though the model was—and there were plenty of similar models, in Rome of the Caesars and elsewhere—it is not alien to modern times. Caudillos, dictators, ayatollahs, the names vary, but the program is much the same. A strongman who governs of, by, and for himself and his chums. With few exceptions, it has been the model of government in Latin America since independence from Spain, with perhaps only Chile graduating out of it so far. (There were hopes in the 1990s for Argentina until the Peronists took over again. Perhaps new President Mauricio Macri will be different. So he promises and so many hope.)
Consider the following passages from The Book of Mormon, and see whether they sound uncomfortably familiar. Is this not akin to a model today being offered—at its logical core—by some presidential contenders, Democrat and Republican?
And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people. . . And he labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people, insomuch that he did lead away many hearts. . . And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech. . . (Jacob 7:2-4)
And it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of Alma in the judgment-seat, there was a man [Nehor] brought before him to be judged, a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength. And he had gone about among the people, . . . declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people. And it came to pass . . . that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money. And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart . . . And it came to pass as he was going, to preach to those who believed on his word, he met a man . . . and he began to contend with him sharply, . . . but the man withstood him, admonishing him . . . and [Nehor] drew his sword and began to smite him. (Alma 1:2,3,5-7,9)
And it came to pass . . . there began to be a contention among the people; for a certain man, being called Amlici, he being a very cunning man, yea, a wise man as to the wisdom of the world . . . Now this Amlici had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be a king over the people. . . . And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another. . . . Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor. And it came to pass that they gathered themselves together, and did consecrate Amlici to be their king. Now when Amlici was made king over them he commanded them that they should take up arms against their brethren. . . (Alma 2:1,2,5,8-10)
And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that . . . every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime. . . . And he did rise up in great swelling words before Alma, . . . accusing them of leading away the people after the silly traditions of their fathers, for the sake of glutting on the labors of the people. (Alma 30:17, 31)
And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king . . . And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people. . . . he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people . . . to destroy the foundation of liberty . . . (Alma 46:4,5,10)
Common demagoguery, flattery, playing upon the fears and passions of the people, supporters attracted by the promise of power, opponents met with anger and violence, vague action plans, simplistic solutions to persistent problems . . . it is all there. And it is all here. Then as now, freedom and civilized society were in jeopardy—and preserved only by the united action of those who knew the responsibility rested upon them and could not be defaulted to another.