Just prior to the mass destruction among the Nephites and Lamanites accompanying Christ’s death, the Nephite experiment at self-government, set up by King Mosiah 124 years earlier, completely collapsed. The last known Chief Judge was assassinated. By this time Nephite society was so polarized rather than try to maintain the government, they divided into tribal rule.
Perhaps this total collapse of the Nephite government is a harbinger of what can happen to our system? But I would suggest caution in making such a sweeping assumption.
As I stated earlier, the Nephite experiment lasted 124 tumultuous years – from Alma the Younger to the last Chief Judge. To put this into perspective, 124 years in US political history takes us from George Washington (1789) to Woodrow Wilson (1913).
It is well document that the Nephites struggled with the electoral process. Each recorded election so divided the people and eventually led to a war. The only peaceful transitions from one Chief Judge to another came through resignation — such as Alma to Nephihah and Nephi to Cezoram.
Our own political history also had similar challenging electoral events. Both elections between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson resulted in controversial decisions. John Quincy Adams was accused of stealing the election from Andrew Jackson.
But after these early tough transitions, our elections became more reliable. We even held a popular election during the Civil War. I doubt the Nephites could have accomplished that. Just ask Pahoran.
The Nephite political system more closely mirrored a European parliamentary model. They did not have regularly scheduled elections.Rather, judges seemed serve a lifetime term or until the people lost confidence in the government. Then again, there was the more frequent assassination that forced elections. The lack of consistent elections may be why the Nephites struggled with the electoral process.
So I feel we are on slippery ground when we try to draw too tight a comparison between Nephite and modern-day governments. That being said, there is still much we can learn from their experience.
The core of the Nephite political failures came when conflict became contention. We know that contention is of the devil. We must do all we can to eliminate contention. Conflict, on the other hand, is a natural occurrence. It results from each of use seeing the world differently.
Our government is built on the foundation of conflict. The Founding Fathers had serious conflicts with each other. Their conflicts were resolved through compromise. So they embedded the concept of conflict and compromise into the foundation of our government.
My guess is the Nephites failed to compromise. They saw the world as black and white. Without the ability to compromise, their conflicts created contention. Differences became warm disputes. Warm disputes evolved into war.
So, maybe the failure of the Nephite political system is a lesson for us to embrace conflict and to learn how to compromise. Perhaps the tried and true concept of compromise can help us in our current polarized political climate to elevate our dialog and increase or own civility.