We are taught that “democratic” government began with the Greeks. It did not, it goes back, in various forms to the beginning of history. Israelite society always had a “democratic” streak, because the covenant with God was always conditioned on the peoples’ willingness to accept it voluntarily. The covenant was never imposed by force. The will of the people was expressed through a “council of elders,” an assembly of tribal leaders with precedents going back at least to the days of Abraham.
In Lehi’s day, it was known as the Am ha-Aretz, the “people of the land.” Meyer Sulzberger lists about a dozen other interchangeable names for this Israelite parliament, including “the voice of the people.” Mosiah 29 states that “You shall do all your business by the voice of the people.” V of the P was a term of art, meaning Parliament.
Mosiah 29 has astonishing parallels to the writings of Aristotle and Thucydides on the basics of popular government. These concepts did not originate with the Greeks, they just codified them. The Nephite “Reign of the Judges” was not a democracy, but rather a republic, just not the sort we are familiar with today.
The Israelite parliament had an upper and lower house, which suggests the “higher” and “lower” judges of Mosiah 29. Captain Moroni was appointed Chief Captain by “the chief judges” and “the voice of the people,” i.e. the upper and lower houses of the Nephite parliament. There are even a couple of references to voting by ballot, e.g. “they cast in their voices…and they were laid before the judges.”
Early critics of the Book of Mormon, e.g. Alexander Campbell, saw 19th Cen. “Jacksonian democracy” all over the B of M. And he was right, for the wrong reasons, because it was indeed a popular government. Professor Bushman, looking at our text with an American eye, didn’t see anything that suggested the rhetoric of the American Revolution. And he was right, indicating the Book of Mormon did not issue from a 19th Cen. setting. However, look at it from the perspective of Lehi, and things begin to come off the page. The text is loaded with political terms of art and actions.
I think it would be a bit of a stretch to call the reign of the judges a democracy. The franchise, if we can call it that, would have been severely limited to men with a great deal of wealth. Mormon is vague about how judges were selected. He says the voice of people but doesn't go into any great detail. We see sons taking over from their fathers, inheriting their fathers position. Most likely the abolition of the Nephite monarchy(which was never universally popular, there were always "king men") led to oligarchy. Not democracy.
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