Are people fundamentally good (cf. Gen. 1:27; Psalms 82:6; 2 Ne. 2:25) or fundamentally evil (cf. Mosiah 3:19; Alma 42:9-14; Ether 3:2; D&C 29:40-44), and what effect does the answer to this question have on the prospects of a Mormon jurisprudence?
Naturally, this might be a false dichotomy, an inquiry with little real value. Still, it seems that, if such characterizations are possible, the answer could affect views of agency, justice, and law.
Latter-day Saint doctrine certainly breaks from much of the bleakness of Protestantism, dark Calvinism, and any other form of debilitating pre-determinationalism. Is the LDS approach to human nature, however, more positive than these worn-out worldviews? If it is, can it offer alternative or better constitutive principles for the genesis of jurisprudence and laws than have the former determinative principles?
The political and legal system of the United States is the beneficiary of political and legal institutions of England. These were built into the new Constitution of the United States, a document that was the first of its kind and that has offered guidance to many. The Constitution, interestingly, arises from premises based in the dark view of human nature. Thus, explains Madison in Federalist 10,
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.
This is indeed a keen observation on Madison’s part, but is it too negative and untrusting of human nature? Is this a premise informed by centuries of dark Protestantism? Do belief in the evil nature of man and such resulting observations turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Madison famously notes further in Federalist 51:
It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
This perspective is really disparaging on human nature. Still, proceeding from this negative view of human nature, the Founders created an ingenious way to channel such evil so as to check itself and to net it in a way, to harness it, that it works for the greater good. Reading the rest of Federalist 51 reveals some of this genius and reasoning. The question is merely whether the evil of human nature is really a necessary starting point for considerations of constitutional and common law. Does LDS doctrine offer an alternative?