In my post â€œEcclesiastical and Government Authority,â€ I discussed the importance of priesthood authority in conducting the affairs of true religion. I drew on our familiarity with the importance of authority in ecclesiastical affairs to propose this possibility: in order to govern other men, a man must first have authority to do so. I asked the question, â€œWhere do men get the authority to rule other men?â€
Joseph Fielding Smith answers this question very clearly:
If the world be the Lordâ€™s he certainly has a right to govern it; for … man has no authority, except that which is delegated to him. He possesses a moral power to govern his actions, subject at all times to the law of God; but never is authorized to act independent of God; much less is he authorized to rule on the earth without the call and direction of the Lord; therefore, any rule or dominion over the earth, which is not given by the Lord, is surreptitiously obtained and never will be sanctioned by him.1 (emphasis added)
From this quote, the answer to our question is clear: the authority to rule other men must come from God. This is a fairly bold claim, and it invites us to re-examine many of our assumptions about government. In a later post, I hope to be able to justify this claim using both ancient and modern revelation, and respond to numerous practical and philosophical objections.
The first immediate objection to this idea is that it seems to contradict the founding principles of the United States of America, a nation which claims its authority from the consent of the people governed. However, although these ideas may seem to contradict, I will show how they do not. The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution based those documents partly on the philosophy of John Locke. Almost a century prior to the America Revolution, Locke wrote a book called Two Treatises on Government, in which he claimed that men are born into this world as equals. He wrote:
To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is … a state … of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creature of the same species and rank … should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.2
In other words, Locke believed that no man can claim sovereign dominion over other men without divine appointment. When he said that men are born “equal,” he is not referring to economic status, family name, or anything of that sort; he means that no man has any claim of dominion over other men merely by virtue of their birth. In fact, his words echo what Alma said to his people: “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another” (Mosiah 23:7).
John Locke also persuasively argued that no one presently living has the divine appointment necessary to claim dominion over other men, and thus refuted the long-standing idea of the divine right of kings. He subsequently presented his view of how government can form in the absence of divinely appointed rulers. In a later post, I will expand upon Locke’s views of government in this state of affairs; right now I will simply say that I find some of it to be quite palatable. For example, Locke believed that in this primal state of equality, men have certain rights or privileges that he may exercise without any special claim to divine authority. Because these privileges are God-given, only a man with special authority from God can deprive anyone of these privileges. It was upon this philosophical framework that the founders of our nation made their claim of independence from British rule. They also drew on Locke’s writings as they drafted the Constitution of the United States; and as the Lord said that the Constitution was written “according to just and holy principles,” (D&C 101:77) I believe it is valuable to learn just what these principles are.
In my next post I will examine some more of Locke’s political philosophy, and in what ways the men who founded our nation drew from those principles. I will assume that no one presently on the earth has a special divine commission to govern, and that the rights God granted us upon our entrance into this world can therefore never be properly rescinded by a mortal government. In a later post, I will also discuss periods of time when God has authorized men to rule on the earth, and my belief that such a time will come again.
1. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man (Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1936), p. 71.
2. John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, Lonang.com, accessed 26 Jun. 2008, http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/locke/.