Fundamental Principles of a Representative Democracy

 The United States of America is a representative democracy, also called a democratic republic, which is a form of government in which the people elect officials to represent them. This is different than a pure democracy where all citizens are able to assemble and vote directly on government matters. Most, if not all, latter-day prophets have indicated that our Founding Fathers were inspired by God to establish our nation in such a way. For example, President Hinckley said:

“Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were brought forth under the inspiration of God to establish and maintain the freedom of the people of this nation” [1].

Although our nation has been established on the principles of democracy and representation, we must keep in mind that democracy and representation are not in themselves the end, but are the means to an end—which is to protect our rights and freedom. Our divinely inspired founding fathers, while establishing a representative democracy, knew that other principles were at play, and did their best to embed them into our government. These other principles are even more fundamental than democracy and representation, which means they ultimately trump them when in conflict. Unfortunately some of these fundamentals are often overlooked and even forgotten when government policy is discussed and implemented.

The Fundamental Principles of Government

The most basic and fundamental principles of government can be summarized as the following:

1.       The role of government is to protect rights, which are summarized as life, liberty and property.

2.       Government power is derived from the power of the governed.

(Note: I’ll further refer to these as Principle #1 and Principle #2)

Principle #1 is supported by latter-day scripture:

“We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” [2].

These rights–life, liberty (the free exercise of conscience), and property–are God-given as part of the plan of salvation [3], and therefore are often referred to as natural or inalienable rights.

Principle #2 is supported by latter-day prophets. President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“People are superior to the governments they form. Since God created people with certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are superior to the creature they created… Governments should have only limited powers… People who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude” [3].

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “The people are the source of governmental power. Along with many religious people, Latter-day Saints affirm that God gave the power to the people, and the people consented to a constitution that delegated certain powers to the government… The sovereign power is in the people” [4].

Principle #2 is also supported by the United States Constitution (“We the people…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America…”) and the Declaration of Independence (“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”).

Under Principle #2, President Benson also provided further insight as to how to determine what government can be given power to enforce:

“What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form?” [5]

To further clarify, we should ask the following when determining whether government can be given power for a specific program or policy:

“There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal? If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me” [5].

The only possible exception to Principle #2 is if God was directly guiding the government Himself, either personally or through an authorized servant. Examples of this exception are when Moses led the Children of Israel, when Nephi was established as king of the Nephites, and when Christ will reign after His second coming. However, even in the case where God is directing the government, it doesn’t seem reasonable that He would implement a law or policy in which the government would enforce something beyond what we as individuals would feel morally justified in enforcing upon each other. Therefore, the premise behind Principle #2 would still not be violated. Today in the United States, and anywhere else in the world, God Himself is not directing the government, so the power of any current government is derived from the people.

Principle #1 and Principle #2 are interrelated, and should be used together to support each other. With Principle #1 there may be situations where there seem to be a conflict of rights. How do we know the limits of each right, or under which circumstances one right trumps another? We resolve this by applying Principle #2 and deciding what would be morally justifiable for one individual to enforce over another if there was no organized government. I will illustrate this with a couple of examples.

Under the right of liberty, we have the right to practice a religion of our choice. What if someone’s religion required a child sacrifice? Are we justified having laws which prohibit this? If there was no organized government, people would be justified in using force to stop the sacrifice because it is a violation of the child’s right to life. The right of religion does not grant someone the right to do any religious ceremony that can exist, but it does grant someone the right to do any religious ceremony which does not infringe upon the rights (life, liberty, or property) of others. Because the people individually have the power to use force to stop this ceremony, it is therefore a protection of rights and they can delegate this power to government.

Another example is that under the right to individual liberty, we have a right to seek education. Does that mean we can have government force everyone to receive the equivalent of a high school education? If there was no organized government, most people would not feel justified in forcing their neighbor to have their child graduate from high school under threat of taking the child from their home or locking the parent up. Therefore, since individuals aren’t morally justified in doing so, they cannot delegate this power to government.

President Benson called Principle #1 and Principle #2 “basic, eternal principles” [3]. I’d like to emphasize this. They are not simply great concepts that we should seek to apply in government when convenient with many exceptions. They are “eternal principles”. For further support and a more detailed explanation of these two fundamental principles, refer to The Proper Role of Government by President Benson [5].

Democracy and Representation


Because we live in a representative democracy, many people argue that democracy or representation overrules the fundamental principles presented above. Many others may not even realize that there are more fundamental principles that democracy and representation stand upon. They argue that democracy means that if a majority votes in a particular way, it can be enforced no matter what. They may also argue that because we have government representatives, they have the power to force us to do whatever they see fit. I don’t know of any scripture or prophetic quote which supports the idea that democracy or representation trumps Principle #1 or Principle #2. In fact, the opposite is supported. President Benson said:

“I believe that God has endowed men with certain inalienable rights as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and that no legislature and no majority, however great, may morally limit or destroy these; that the sole function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, and anything more than this is usurpation and oppression” [5].

So how does democracy play in? Even under Principle #1 and Principle #2, there will be some gray area. One example is environmental laws. Let’s say I own a plot of land. If someone were to dump toxic waste directly on my land, clearly it would be a violation of my property rights. If they dumped toxic waste in an area right next to my land, and it diffused into my land and air, harming me, my family, or my plants, it would also be a violation of property rights. How many feet above the surface do I own? How many feet below the surface do I own? How much toxic waste would be harmful to me, and how far away is safe enough that it won’t diffuse onto my property in a harmful way? These aren’t black and white issues. There are many opinions on this. As our understanding of science progresses, people’s opinions will change over time.

Another example of where democracy comes into play is determining punishment for crime. Although punishment should be aimed at restoring what was damaged, the value of damage is not always black and white. For example, if a vehicle is stolen, the value of the car should be returned to the owner, but other damages should also be considered. In the case that the vehicle was needed for the owner’s employment, what penalty should be paid for loss of time and business? There are also additional costs, such as utilizing the police to track the criminal down, find evidence, etc. What should be the penalty to restore the police cost for a car theft be compared to other crimes such as shoplifting, kidnapping, and rape? Restoration of damages due to a crime is not clear, and opinions will vary from person to person.

Democracy never trumps fundamental Principle #1 and Principle #2. It comes into play after they have been considered for a specific issue and there is still no conclusive answer. It allows us to agree on a standard and avoid chaos.

How does representation play in? Representation comes in as a matter of efficiency. Everyone doesn’t have time to diligently study out every gray-area issue, debate it, and decide. Even if they did have time, there wouldn’t be reasonable time for everyone to vote on every issue and count it in an accurate way. In addition, some people would feel inadequate to vote on everything, especially if it is an area far beyond their expertise. Therefore, we delegate that power and responsibility to our representatives.

However, we cannot delegate to our representatives powers we don’t have in the first place. To draw a parallel, I cannot delegate to my neighbor the power to my seal my friends in the temple. I don’t have that power in the first place, so how can I delegate it? Similarly we can only give power to our representatives that we have in the first place (Principle #2), which means we can only give them the power to protect rights (Principle #1). All too often our representatives feel that they can implement government policies which extend beyond what an individual can justifiably force upon their neighbor. The scriptures warn us of such:

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” [6].

It is vital that we support and vote for representatives that understand the fundamental principles of government, especially those which are more fundamental than democracy and representation. Imagine how much better our rights would be protected if, when considering any issue at hand, our representatives first discussed Principle #1 and Principle #2.

It would be wonderful if our leaders first had to consider President Benson’s question:  “Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal?” For example, if the senate was considering whether the United States should subsidize a car company, they would ask each other, “Do we as individuals have a right to force our neighbor to give money to a specific car company, even if they won’t receive any goods or services in return?” Better yet, what if they had to sign their name to such a statement? So before the president could sign his name to a bill that socializes healthcare, he had to sign a statement saying, “I believe I personally can force my neighbor to receive a specific type of healthcare.” Our rights would surely be better protected, and our use of government force would certainly be founded upon Christian principles!

LDS Church Involvement with Politics


On occasion, the Church asks us to support specific political measures. For example, the First Presidency has recently told us to support measures which would ban homosexual marriages. Sometimes, from a certain perspective, it may seem to violate the fundamental principles. However, in these cases it is not a violation of the above principles. If God tells us (directly or through an authorized servant) to support a certain measure, then under principle #2, we the people do have the power to force such a measure upon our fellow men and, under principle #1, the purpose of the measure is to protect rights. Therefore we can delegate that power to government.


In addition, as we study out the position the Church has asked us to take, we can often further discover how it is not a violation of the fundamental principles. This can be especially helpful for us to explain to those not of our faith why they too should support such a measure and how it is not a violation of fundamental principles.

For example, in the case of banning homosexual marriages, the Church has not told us to ban homosexuals from having ceremonies on their own and signing contracts amongst themselves (although we don’t encourage such actions, homosexuals are free to do them). What we have been told to advocate against is homosexuals forcing us to recognize that they are a union. With the way many of our laws are written and interpreted by courts today, liberty is violated because third parties have been forced to recognize homosexual unions instead of being free to decide what unions they will recognize on their own. Elder Oaks provided several examples of this:

“In New Mexico, the state’s Human Rights Commission held that a photographer who had declined on religious grounds to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony had engaged in impermissible conduct and must pay over $6,000 attorney’s fees to the same-sex couple. A state judge upheld the order to pay. In New Jersey, the United Methodist Church was investigated and penalized under state anti-discrimination law for denying same-sex couples access to a church-owned pavilion for their civil-union ceremonies.  A federal court refused to give relief from the state penalties. Professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin were fired or disciplined for expressing personal convictions that homosexual behavior is sinful. Candidates for masters’ degrees in counseling in Georgia and Michigan universities were penalized or dismissed from programs for their religious views about the wrongfulness of homosexual relations. A Los Angeles policeman claimed he was demoted after he spoke against the wrongfulness of homosexual conduct in the church where he is a lay pastor. The Catholic Church’s difficulties with adoption services and the Boy Scouts’ challenges in various locations are too well known to require further comment” [7].

Importance of Sticking to Fundamental Principles


Usually, when I disagree with someone on a specific government policy, I ultimately discover that they are proposing a violation of Principle #1, Principle #2, or both. As I’ve come to this realization, I’ve noticed that in the past, when I’ve argued in circles for endless hours about an issue, it would have been resolved much more quickly if we would have taken a step back and started at the basics. I recommend this when disagreeing with someone; take a step back and start with the fundamental principles. If you can’t even agree on those, there’s no point in going further into deeper discussions—first you should work on building their understanding of these. This is parallel to missionary work—if someone doesn’t understand the principles of faith in Christ, repentance, and the priesthood, you’ll have a tough time convincing them to live the Word of Wisdom or the law of tithing. So you stick with teaching them the basics until they gain testimony of those.

Another difficulty I’ve come across is that others with disagreements may eventually come to understand the fundamental principles as great ideas.  They agree that the principles should generally be followed, but they think I’m not being pragmatic because I’m so adamant about sticking to them. They may also express their frustration in talking to others with a similar political philosophy to mine because they are too focused on the fundamentals and not enough on the application of them.  Many times these frustrations come from Latter-day Saints, which is ironic because many people in general think that Latter-day Saints aren’t pragmatic. It’s argued that we as a people stick too much to principles, so applications such as the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, or Law of Tithing are just not practical to live by under today’s conditions. Once again, the key to resolving most of these issues is to go back to the basics.

Another concern to address is the argument that because someone doesn’t support government enforcing a certain action, the individual is discouraging people from performing that action. In other words, because someone doesn’t support government prohibiting a certain action, that individual encourages it. For example, I don’t believe in compulsory education laws, based on the fact that I don’t think it would be morally justifiable for me to lock up my neighbor or take away his children if he didn’t force them to go to school. Does that mean I don’t want his children to be educated, or that I want our country to be like a third world country with limited education available? No! Of course not! I don’t want government to force people to go to church or exercise regularly. Does that mean I want to live in a God-less society where everyone sits around all day being lazy? No.

There are better, more Christian approaches to encourage the good and discourage the bad rather than using force and coercion when it comes to actions that are wrong but don’t violate the rights of others. Instead of enforcing compulsory education laws, we can encourage everyone to be educated, be living examples of the benefits, and help provide (and encourage others to provide) for others that don’t have sufficient means to be educated. Instead of forcing hotels and restaurants to prohibit smoking, we can commit to only visit hotels and restaurants that willingly do so. Instead of implementing the unjustified use of force, if the majority of people don’t want smoking in certain establishments, they can agree to only support businesses that prohibit smoking. If they did so, the majority of businesses would willingly prohibit smoking anyway and no rights would be violated.

One of the primary issues we all fought for in the pre-mortal world was agency. A large part of that was fighting for the freedom to make mistakes and progress. That’s the same fight we need to continue here.



Although we live in a representative democracy, there are fundamental principles that this form of government must be founded upon. These can be summarized as:

1.       The role of government is to protect rights, which are summarized as life, liberty and property.

2.       Government power is derived from the power of the governed.

It is our duty to understand these principles, educate others about them, and support representatives and government policies which follow them. This is how we will best protect our freedom and our rights.


1.       Keep Faith with America. President Gordon B. Hinckley. Commencement address given at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah on 6 May 1999. []

2.       Doctrine and Covenants 134:2 []

3.       The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner. President Ezra Taft Benson. Speech given at Brigham Young University on 16 September 1986. []

4.       The Divinely Inspired Constitution. Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Ensign. Feb 1992. []

5.       The Proper Role of Government. Ezra Taft Benson. God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties. Pg 281-303. []

6.       Doctrine and Covenants 121:39 []

7.       Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Speech given at Chapman University School of Law on 4 February 2011. []

About Johnny Hardy

Johnny Hardy is passionate about Christianity, science, and politics, and especially the areas that they overlap, which has caused some friends to call him "Johnny Liberty". He has a wonderful wife and so far is the father of one amazing son. He earned a PhD in engineering and currently works in the medical field.
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23 Responses to Fundamental Principles of a Representative Democracy

  1. Alan Chadwick says:

    Your article is written well except our form of government is not as you say it is. When I hear the word democracy, I want to flinch and jump back. I hate that word. The last time I pledged allegiance to the flag it was to a Republic and not a democracy. How about you? Have you not read what the Founding Fathers have said regarding democracies? I think you should clarify that our government was set up as a Constitutional Republic and not a democracy.

    What did Ben Franklin say to the woman that asked him what form of government they set up, who met him on the street as he walked out of Constitutional Hall that September day in 1787? “A Republic if you can keep it”. You and whomever reads this article ought to go read about that:

    • Johnny Hardy says:

      When referring to the establishment of the US, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “A direct democracy was impractical for a country of four million people and about a half million square miles. As a result, the delegates [of the Constitutional Convention] had to design the structure of a constitutional, representative democracy, what they called ‘A Republican Form of Government’” [reference #4 in my article]. In another talk, Elder Oaks referred to the US as a “democratic republic”, a “democratic nation”, and a “democratic government” [Some Responsibilities of Citizenship, July 3, 1994].

      In the US, the people practice democracy in voting for representatives, and the representatives further practice democracy among themselves by voting on policy. In court, the result of a lawsuit or criminal case is determined by democracy through the vote of the jury, which is made up of the people or their representatives. Our government is both a democracy and a republic. It can therefore be more accurately called a “representative democracy” or “democratic republic”, which both mean the same thing, just the words are reversed.

      Side note: when I wrote this article, I actually pondered for a while whether to put “democratic republic” or “representative democracy” in the title. I decided both were correct and chose the latter because I thought it sounded better.

  2. Alan Chadwick says:

    I honor and respect Elder Oaks and perhaps this is a play on words. I do understand both his and your intents. However or government was indeed set up as a Constitutional Republic and not a democracy. That is why we pledge allegiance to a republic. However, now the vipers in Congress have gone so far of the path of a true Republic and the people, who should have reined them in, do not understand the difference, we are now more of a democracy/socialist country which always ends up as communist or something similar. I think I will stick to what our Founding Fathers said what form of government they set up. Here are a few of their quotes regarding democracies:

    John Adams: Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

    Thomas Jefferson: A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.

    James Madison: Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.

    John Quincy Adams: The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.

    Thomas Jefferson: The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

    Benjamin Franklin (maybe): Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.

    James Madison: Democracy was the right of the people to choose their own tyrant.

  3. Ezra Taylor says:

    perhaps a definition of terms would be helpful? What did Elder Oaks mean when he used the word “Democracy”? Was he speaking as a Judge, an individual or an Apostle? Have men speaking as Apostles ever been wrong?

    • Johnny Hardy says:

      The quote above where Elder Oaks called the US a “constitutional, representative democracy” is from the Ensign, so he was speaking as an Apostle. However, I think you’re going the wrong direction with asking what his role was. It is more important to consider when he was talking as opposed to the founding fathers. Meanings of words often evolve and change over time. To the founding fathers, “democracy” meant what we would call a “pure democracy”, or a “direct democracy” today. The word “democracy” today is often loosely used to mean what is more precisely called a “representative democracy”. Elder Oaks is not contradicting the founding fathers at all in his quote above, because he is in fact saying that the US is not a “direct democracy” but a “constitutional, representative democracy”. Please refer to the first two sentences of my article, for I do as well.

      Another example of words changing over time is the term “liberal”. In the early 1800s the founding fathers were called “liberals”, which back then meant a political philosophy of limited government and protection of life, liberty, property. However, today “liberal” generally refers to someone who supports government moving towards socialism, quite the opposite! So calling the founding fathers “liberals” in todays terms would be quite misleading (which is what some folks try to do), and thus “classic liberal” should be used instead to avoid confusion.

      Other apostles have referred to America as a “democracy” as well (used as it’s loose definition today). Elder Neil A. Maxwell, considered a expert linguist by many, wrote a New Era article entitled “The Lone Sentinels of Democracy”. He uses the word “democracy” over 25 times and the entire article is about encouraging Americans to wake up and get involved with their government. For example, he says, “It takes decades to prepare a nation for democracy, as was the case in America, but we could lose it or damage it in a matter of years, if not weeks, depending upon whom we select to lead us—at all levels.” Of course, by using “democracy”, he is loosely referring to a representative democracy.

      However, even calling America a representative democracy is an abbreviation itself, for it’s not purely a hybrid of a republic and direct democracy on their own. Democracy and representation are bound by the protection of inalienable rights (or at least were supposed to be when the founding fathers established it). I hope this is clear in my article. Thus, Elder Oaks hits the nail on the head by calling America a “constitutional, representative democracy”.

  4. Jimminy Cricket says:

    I don’t know why people are arguing over “democracy” vs. “republic”. To Johnny’s point, better educate yourselves, folks. A republic is a form of democracy. Look it up. It’s a form of democracy in which elected delegates or representatives produce laws as opposed to a direct democracy where every individual votes on every law proposed. So referring to our form of government as a democratic republic, or republican democracy, or representative democracy is absolutely correct and appropriate.

    To follow in Johnny’s footsteps, I’ll use an example. A square is a type of rectangle or four-sided, right-angled parallelogram. However, a rectangle is not necessarily a square. It is absolutely appropriate to call a square an equilateral rectangle.

    So quit bickering over semantics and debate the meat of the article.

    • John R says:

      From where are you “looking it up?” No source I could find says that a republic is a “form of democracy.” That is not correct……..

  5. John Shield says:

    I agree that the two principles espoused by Mr. Hardy are true principles, however I think we are putting the cart before the horse if we try and implement a government based on them before we have a people who are morally prepared to live by them.

    John Adams said the following:
    “We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” John Adams Oct. 11, 1798; Address to the military

    Trying to restrict the government’s operations to these two principles among a people as morally debauched as the Americans would be a catastrophic mistake and failure. The abuses of the system from members of all classes and parties would quickly lead to either dictatorship, oligarchy, or anarchy, depending on which factions prevailed.

    The author may argue that the expansion of the government has greatly enhanced the wickedness of the people. However, the wickedness of Americans is not a new thing, and predates the most significant expansions of the U.S. government.

    Joseph Smith said of his day:

    “I have not the least idea, if Christ should come to the earth and preach such rough things as He preached to the Jews, but that this generation would reject him for being so rough….” (T.P.C Joseph Smith, pg. 202).

    Joseph Smith equates the righteousness of his generation with that of the Savior’s, and Christ said that his generation was one of vipers (Matt 12:34).

    We have lost our liberties and lost the pureness of our original government, because we are a people too wicked to live up to that standard. In an effort to stem the injustices which have been perpetuated in the nation, government has gradually expanded its powers in an attempt to try and prevent perpetuation of gross injustices. Elder D. Todd Christofferson clearly outlines the process in his talk “Moral Discipline”:

    “As a consequence [of lost moral discipline], self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. …

    “Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.” -(D. Todd Christofferson, “Moral Discipline”, October 2009).

    As Elder Christofferson affirms our current government is encroaching on our liberties today, because its actions are “the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society.” We should not be happy about the loss of our liberties. However, trying to restore liberties to a people who are not morally prepared to live with the attendant duties, is the wrong way of fixing the problem. It will only lead to further chaos.

    Instead, we should be trying to restore basic morality to the people. We should be focusing on missionary work, home teaching, rescuing, and keeping our own lives in harmony with the gospel. As Mormon taught in Alma 31:5, “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.”

    In the end, our nation will not be saved by political measures, but it will be saved insomuch as the Priesthood has preached the virtue of the Word of God.

    It may be argued by the author that preaching the two principles is preaching the word of God. I would respond that the proper principles of national governance pale in comparison with the the foundational principles and ordinances of the gospel. The Lord said, “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost. ” (D&C 19:31).

    To summarize:

    1. We have lost the pureness of our government, because of wickedness.
    2. To restore the original government without restoring morality is putting the cart before the horse. If such liberties were to be restored before morality, the result would be catastrophic.
    3. The only way of restoring liberty is through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not political education.

    • John, you make some very good points. I agree. We need to work on restoring basic morality in society. In fact, related to your reply is one of my favorite quotes: “Moral Anarchy is the seedbed of Tyranny.” –Rousas J. Rushdooney, as quoted by the late, great, R. W. (Bob) Lee.

    • Johnny Hardy says:

      John, while I agree that we must teach morality through spreading the gospel, I disagree that we should stay out of politics. Your summary point number 2 contradicts almost everything the latter-day prophets have said about the constitution and our government.

      For example, President Benson said: “To every Latter-day Saint, we have a tremendous obligation to be good citizens, to uphold the Constitution of this land, to adhere to its basic concepts, to do all in our power to protect the freedoms and the liberties and the basic rights which are associated with citizenship. The Lord has said even in our day, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we have an obligation. He has not only spoken about the Constitution being inspired, he has said that if we are to be good Latter-day Saints, we also have to take an interest in this country in which we live and we are to see to it that good men are upheld and sustained in public office. (TETB 615-16; from an address given at Short Hills, NJ, 15 Jan 1961)

      Your summary point #3 contradicts itself. Political education is a fundamental part of the gospel. This has also been taught by many prophets. For example, President Hinckley said: “We are involved in an intense battle. It is a battle between right and wrong, between truth and error, between the design of the Almighty on the one hand and that of Lucifer on the other. For that reason, we desperately need moral men and women who stand on principle, to be involved in the political process. Otherwise, we abdicate power to those whose designs are almost entirely selfish.” [Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stand a little Taller,”pg. 15, July 2001]

      Brian Mecham has compiled a large library of quotes from modern prophets online:

      I suggest you study them because many of these quotes contradict your points above and, and I don’t think any support them. In Elder Christofferson’s talk that you quote, he wasn’t supporting the loss of our liberties, he was merely pointing out that this has happened.

      To stay out of politics would be catastrophic for our religion. If government continues socialize more programs, we’ll reach a point where we can’t afford to pay tithing due to tax burden. Property rights have already been degraded to a point that the Church already has much opposition to building new temples and chapels, if they degrade too much further we won’t have as much space to put an expanding membership. If laws which force us to cater to homosexual unions expand further, we will have to shut down our adoption centers and temples all together.

      Missionary work and strengthening members should be a higher priority, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend any time in politics. Protecting our freedom of religion is dependent on political involvement.

  6. Alan Chadwick says:

    Perhaps I can say a few things to summarize all that has been said without being shot of off the horse and rather than turning all of this into an argument let’s agree upon a few things:

    1. Our liberties which we fought for in the pre-earth life have been and are being taken away.

    2. We need to all prepare for the future. Preparation is needed in so many ways, and yet it seems, most in the church have not or do not seem to have woken up to all the warning voices from the brethren, both past and present . (And yes, there are many great and good things yet to happen too). But that does not change the fact that the rank and file of the church cannot see the gorilla sitting in the room!

    3. We need to actively be engaged both for the Church and for the restoration of our government to be restored to those constitutional rights as bestowed upon us by our Creator through the Founding Fathers.

    • John Shield says:

      Summary points are supposed to tie up an argument and make clear what is being said. Ironically, my summary points were misleading. I apologize for not being more clear. Please, allow me to try and state my position more clearly. I wrote that all in one go, and I got a little too carried away with my sweeping, inaccurate generalizations.

      I think that the most effective way of restoring the original, constitutional government is through the preaching of the gospel, because it both reforms morality and eventually teaches the principles of government.

      I do believe that we must be engaged in the political process. I do believe we must try and limit the growth and expansion of government. I do believe we should try and educate people about the losses of liberty, and we should defend our liberty through the political process.

      However, I don’t think that it is wise to try and restore the original constraints and principles of government before we have a more moral people. I think that if we rapidly took away ALL the laws, taxes, and practices that are attempting to restrain greed, corruption, and the other deeds of an amoral people, we would not end up with more liberty. Instead we would lose it all, because it would lead to either anarchy, oligarchy, or dictatorship. I think the abuses of the system by devious parties and players would become so severe that either the people would turn away from liberty, or liberty would be taken from them.

      I think it is more wise to be like the workers of the vineyard in Jacob 5:52–60. We should get rid of those expansions of government power which are most egregious, and then replace them with systems in line with our constitutional principles. But we should do so at a slow, steady pace. To remove too many of the bad branches too quickly, would kill the tree. Instead we must remove bad branches as the strength of the root, the morality of the people grows. Obviously, the improvement of government wasn’t the subject of Zenos’ address, but the principle of not pulling up the tares for fear of killing the wheat is a true one, and is applicable here.

      • Johnny Hardy says:

        Thanks for clarifying. I think we are on the same page. I also agree that we shouldn’t restore all overnight or there would be chaos. However, we do need to stop the current growth of socialism and reverse the course. To do this, we need to teach correct principles of government along with other aspects of the Gospel, to both latter-day saints and the world.

  7. Wes says:

    First off, I really enjoyed this article. Thank you. But I must clarify that the United States is indeed a constitutional republic and not a representative democracy. Imagine the United States’ government as a pie; a representative democracy is only a piece of that pie. A representative democracy is very simple; the United States’ form of government is much more complex.

    I do agree with your comment that when the founding fathers spoke about “democracies” they were referring to “pure democracies.” But this does not mean representative democracies were unheard of. James Madison spoke of both pure democracies and representative democracies in Federal No. 10. He advocated representative democracies. However, a representative democracy was not enough. This is why we have a constitutional republic.

    The United States is a grouping of Constitutional Republics unified under a Federal system. While the United States as a whole may have facets of a Representative Democracy (direct elections, individual liberties, govt. “of the people,” etc.) the foundation of that system is a union of smaller republics under a common set of laws (which does not necessarily need to exist in a Representative Democracy), in this case Federal law based on the US Constitution. Under this definition, first coined by John Adams, individual liberties are restricted within the law at both the state and national level. It would be thus more accurate to say that Representative Democracies exist in the US below the state level and within individual bodies of the Federal system (such as at the county level or within the Congress).

    In either form of democracy, rather it be pure or representative, a majority of the people can vote to “change” rights. In the United States of America we have unalienable rights that were given to us by God himself. In either kind of democracy the government “gives” rights. In a constitutional republic it “protects” rights.

  8. Darren says:

    Thank you for this article. Some great basics there. My own feeling is that there are only ultimately two forms of government – a republic and an oligarchy. Democracy will lead to anarchy or tyranny and so is a temporary stage of government. I think it’s important to point out that, unlike an oligarchy or democracy, a republic is founded on the rule of law. Indeed, that to me is its very definition.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think there has been some good discussion and very interesting discussion over the meaning of the word democracy. One thing that I’ve noticed in today’s popular media, is that democracy is used very frequently and always in a good and positive manner. Such as, “we are fighting this war to make the world safe for democracy, ” a Wilsonian theme, but is used in today’s media to justify our current military actions. One other theme that is very prominent in today’s media is that the people’s voice is what matter’s most. In other words, if the majority of the people want something, it must be good and any opposition is bad, even when what the people want violates constitutional principles and violates the two principles that were the focus of Brother Hardy’s article.

    I believe that there is a deliberate effort in today’s media to muddy the waters when it comes to understanding the proper role of government. First and foremost any reference to the Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Father’s is either ignored or maligned. The will of the people is put above all. I’ve even heard that view on supposedly conservative news media outlets.

    I believe that there is a deliberate effort to keep the people from understanding the fundamental principles of government. This is done by falsely promoting the virtues of democracy and allows the people to think that if the majority of people want something, no matter how evil, it must be OK. This could be in the form of taxation, government environmental regulation, unconstitutional wars for our protection, etc… In this way our Constitution is being destroyed and in its place the seeds of tyranny are being sown.

  10. Abraham Young says:

    The word democracy is a slippery slope. I don’t think it means what you think it means. The Founders always felt it was a negative form of government, there are quotes as long as my arm to that effect. Modern usage has softened its meaning, but still, I must agree with Alan, we are a republic, not a democracy, and we should be distinguishing between the two, not muddying the definition as has been so often done.

  11. Representiative Democracy and a Republic are not the same says:

    When we look at the terms Democracy and a Republic, you must look at their meaning of GOVERNMENT.

    “The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a Democracy is: Rule by Omnipotent Majority. In a Democracy, The Individual, and any group of Individuals composing any Minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of The Majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.

    This is true whether it be a Direct Democracy, or a Representative Democracy.”

    See above for an understanding.

  12. I thought democracy meant one person one vote, and that it implies some sort of equality between each person. How can it be that in America corporations dominate the democratic process with their vast campaign donations, their huge lobbying expenditure and even their being recognised as PERSONS legally. There may be a right to property, but can it be an unfettered right? Property is created by the state as an institution- in the garden of Eden Adam and Eve owned nothing- so there is nothing fundamental about owning property.

    • Jonathan,

      Once Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden they needed to sustain life. Raising a garden or raising flocks in order to provide food and clothing creates things and thus property rights.

      The proper role of government is to protect freedom. Freedom, to our Founding Fathers, consisted of the power or ability to enjoy one’s life, liberty and property. Of these, property rights occupied a paramount status. Indeed, property rights were the kingpin or foundation stone upon which all other elements of freedom rest. The importance of property rights are reflected in the words and writings of the framers and other great men before, during, and after the founding era. Consider the words of three such great men:

      The great and chief end therefore, of men’s unity into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property (John Locke, The True End of Civil Government, 1690)

      The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is no force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist (John Adams, Works)

      The three great rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes his life living. To give him his liberty but take form him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave (Justice George Sutherland of the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1921)

      Property and its importance in western culture as a positive force is also reflected in our language, expressions, and in words and their meaning. For instance, compare the following words pairs and their meaning: proper to property; good to goods; weal to wealth. Or how about the English play on words, “he is a good man who is a man of goods,” or the saying that to be born “of goodly parents” meant that the family was wealthy enough to hire tutors for “learning.”

    • Johnny Hardy says:


      Property is not “created by the state”–property is an inherent right as part of the plan of salvation, and the state is created to help protect it. An excellent talk by President Ezra Taft Benson entitled “Freedom and Free Enterprise” specifically addresses your concern about property rights quite a bit. []

      Here’s some key quotes:

      “Life, liberty and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty and property existed beforehand that caused man to make laws in the first place…

      “The right to property is again based on a scriptural precept. It recognizes that the earth belongs to the Lord, that He created it for man’s blessing and benefit. Thus man’s desire to own property, his own home and goods, his own business is desirable and good. Utopian and communitarian schemes which eliminate property rights are not only unworkable, they deny to man his inherent desire to improve his station. They are therefore contrary to the pursuit of happiness. With no property rights, man’s incentive would be diminished to satisfying only his barest necessities such as food and clothing…

      “A free market society recognizes private property as sacred because the individual is entitled to ownership of goods and property which he has earned; he is sovereign so far as human law is concerned over his own goods. He may retain possession of his goods; he may pass his wealth on to his family or to charitable causes. For one cannot give what one does not own. James Madison recognized that property consisted not only of man’s external goods, his land, merchandise and money, but more sacredly he had title to his thoughts, opinions, and conscience. The civil government’s obligation then is to safeguard this right and to frame laws which secure to every man the free exercise of his conscience and the right and control of his property. No liberty is possible except a man is protected in his title to his legal holdings and property and can be indemnified by the law for its loss or destruction. Remove this right and man is reduced to serfdom.”

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