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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom and the role of government

How does one obtain freedom?  Too small a government, and anarchy is the result, a life without law. I watched a documentary recently about a doctor who participated in Doctors Without Borders. He lived in anarchic Somalia in the 90's during an enormous famine; when gangs and warlords ruled pockets of terrain with such weapons as they could obtain. They would demand any food and aid brought in by the international community to 'distribute' to the people themselves. Children under 5 had a 70% mortality at that time. Anarchy does not lend itself to personal freedom because there are too many who take advantage of the weak.

Dictatorship happens with too large a role of government, and one person or a group of people being above the laws set for the rest of society. When government is the sole entity deciding the activities within the country, there is still no personal freedom. Dictatorships control prices of commodities, access to justice, health care, jobs, sometimes even family decisions like marriage and children, etc. Think of Cuba or North Korea. Sure, they're communist countries, but one man calls the shots and takes whatever he wants and the people suffer. Not much personal freedom available in dictatorships, unless perhaps you have a moral dictator. I've not heard of one in modern times.

Where does the balance come, then? Somewhere between the two extremes is a kind of government allowing the most possible personal freedom, where laws are applied equally to each member of society and each member of society agrees to abide by the laws or suffer the consequences. A society where laws are given to aid and enhance freedoms within the society. This is best achieved  in democracy.  In a democracy, the people have the political power. They have the ability and responsibility to choose political leaders to lead the country collectively towards properity and peace. The United States of America was set up by our Founding Fathers such that a system of checks and balances would keep the government from preying on the people, and the different branches of government from taking over the others.

Our federal government today is not the same as it was then, because when the country was founded, the states had much more power than the federal government. The federal government has grown at the expense of state power and the power of the people. Note I'm not talking about rights for women and minorities here, just power in the federal government. The federal government did not charge taxes until this past century. The federal government has gained control over states by giving the states rules to keep if they want federal (taxpayer!) money, such as for Medicaid. The taxes are high enough, and the restrictions and regulations on private businesses (allowing personal prosperity) expensive enough that we are losing power as a people. We are limited financially by the policies of our government. We can still choose our leaders, but we must choose wisely.  We must choose leaders that will truly act in the best interest of the people, allowing for peace and prosperity to shine.

Throughout history, there are numerous examples of prosperous kingdoms and societies as well as the opposite.  For example, the ancient Israelites were governed first by prophets, then judges and kings. A great example of a lesser-known civilization in the ancient Americas that successfully transformed a monarchy to a democracy is found in the Book of Mormon. It is of one King Mosiah, who ruled benevolently.

Mosiah 6: 7 And king Mosiah did cause his people that they should till the earth. And he also, himself, did till the earth, that thereby he might not become burdensome to his people, that he might do according to that which his father had done is all things. And there was no contention among all his people for the space of three years.

Then, when the time came for Mosiah to give the kingdom to one of his sons, they did not want to rule. He instead, with the support of the people, instituted a form of democracy.

Mosiah 29: 11-17; 24-34; 38-39; 43
11 Therefore I will be your king the remainder of my days; nevertheless, let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God.
12 Now it is better than a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgements of God are always just, but the judgements of man are not always just.
13 Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people - I say unto you, if this could always be the case, then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.
14 And even I myself have labored with all the power and faculties which I have possessed, to teach you the commandments of God, and to establish peace throughout the land, that there should be no wars nor contentioin, nor stealing, nor plundering, nor murdering, nor any manner of iniquity;
15 And whosoever has committed iniquity, him have I punished according to the crime which he has committed, according to the law which has been given to us by our fathers.
16 Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
17 For behod, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!

24 And now behold I say unto you, it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.
25 Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.
26 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.
27 And 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.
28 And now if ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law shich has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge.
29 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.
30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
31 For behold I say unto you , the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.
32 And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.
33 And many more things did king Mosiah write unto them, unfolding unto them all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people, and also all the murmurings of the people to their king; and he explained it all unto them.
34 And he told them that these things ought not to be; but that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.

38 Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.
39 Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land, to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges, to judge them according to the law which had been given them; and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.

43 And now it came to pass that Alma (the first chief judge) did walk in the ways of the Lord, and he did keep his commandments, and he did judge righteous judgements; and there was continual peace through the land.

I glean so much from this chapter of Mosiah, and I recommend reading it in entirety. It makes me reflect back on the discussions among the Founding Fathers while they set up our union. It makes me think about the potential for peace and prosperity, given righteous leaders. And helps me realize the blessings of liberty. I think also about what this chapter hints about entitlements or those who negate their civic responsibilities to answer for themselves. Above all, I think about the potential in this country to elect good moral leaders, if each citizen would take seriously the responsibility they have to select good leaders.

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