Book of Mormon Anarchy

In 3 Nephi chapter 7 there is the very interesting account of the destruction of the Nephite government and the introduction of tribal-based anarchy. A quick summary: The chief judge is murdered by the secret combination (v. 1) and it causes a great contention in the land, causing virtually everyone to become wicked (v. 7); the government and its regulations are destroyed (v. 2, 6); the people separate (v. 2, 14) into exceedingly large tribes (v. 4) with appointed leaders or chiefs (v. 3) consisting of family, kindred and friends (v. 2, 4, 14); the tribes have their own separate laws (v. 11, 14) including laws on how to interact with other tribes (v. 14); the tribes have no wars among them (v.5) and are united, but not according to their laws (v. 11, 14); the secret combination forms a monarchy with king Jacob as the monarch (v. 9-10); the tribes are united in their hatred of the kingdom of Jacob (v. 11) ; king Jacob and his subjects escape to the north (v. 12-13); the tribes stone and cast out any prophets that come among them (v. 14); Nephi ministers with great power and authority to the tribes, making but few converts, who also witness of their conversion through signs and miracles (v. 15-22.)

One of the arguments against anarchy, made chiefly by statists, is that anarchy cannot exist without a totally moral people. They argue, essentially, that since the natural man is an enemy to God, people living in anarchy would murder, rape, steal and do other very wicked deeds without a government to check their wicked ways. Nevertheless, 3 Nephi chapter 7 flies in the face of that logic, showing that even wicked people living under anarchy had “in some degree…peace in the land” (v. 14.) Obviously, “some degree of peace” applied to a temporal sense, as spiritually, these people were completely devoid of the peace of Jesus.

People normally learn about anarchy from statists, who have a vested interest to vilify and smear anarchy, because anarchy is the natural enemy of statism. Thus, a statist will say that anarchy breeds violence and chaos. Yet the Book of Mormon account of anarchy, an admitted account of a wicked people that stoned prophets of God, is one of an ordered society that, although separated into tribes, were still united and had strict agreements (treaties) between the tribes.

Some believe that once a government is removed and the natural anarchic order is allowed to settle in, family ties are strengthened exceedingly and families naturally start to coalesce into clans. (See the articles that Mary Ruwart and Phillip E. Jacobson have written on this very subject.) This is based upon historical, non-Book of Mormon data. However, the ancient books of scripture used by the LDS add to the body of evidence for this belief. Both the Bible and Book of Mormon examples of anarchy are tribal-based, a tribe essentially being a clan, or a very large clan. Tribal or clan-based anarchy appears to be the natural order of anarchy.

Jacob and his followers were king-men, attempting to establish a monarchy so that they could rule over the souls of men. These were die-hard statists and it is telling that as soon as the government was dissolved, they grouped together and created their own little state, a kingdom with a monarch (Jacob, not Jesus) to rule over them.

Another interesting point to note is that Mormon explains that it was the dividing of the people and their separation into tribes that destroyed the government (v. 2.) On the surface this might not seem like enough to destroy a government, but when you live in a tribe of your family, kindred and friends and your tribe has laws, your allegiances become torn. As they say, blood is thicker than water. These people are your relatives. To which laws do you owe your allegiance, the government or your tribe, if there is a conflict between the two sets of regulations? As long as families are nuclear and small (a mother, a father and children,) the power and pull of a family will be small and the power and pull of government will be large, but when families group together in common biological or friendship links (blood brothers), the power of a tribal family becomes large. The allegiance to it also increases. This may be why organized crime Mafia clans, which have blood ties and their own laws, command greater allegiance from their members than the legal government around them does. So, if you take the entire country, the USA, for example, and suddenly have everyone placed into a family clan or family tribe, suddenly the government loses all power, as allegiance to the government goes down to zero and allegiance to family, clan and tribe becomes all important.

A last thought: Before I learned anarchy from anarchists, I learned anarchy from state propaganda. I, like most, thought of anarchy as a great evil, to be avoided at all costs. I thought that any government was better than no government at all. Reading verse 5 of 3 Nephi chapter 7 seemed to solidify the propaganda. When Mormon used the phrase “all this iniquity,” I just figured he was talking about the anarchic, empowered tribal state, in other words, the destruction of the government. Now, though, I realize that tribes are not intrinsically evil. In fact, as LDS, we are placed into one of 12 tribes. So, Mormon was talking of different iniquities and not the ones that my state propaganda-ized mind was assigning, the iniquities of which he explains in this and the preceding chapter.

Next Anarchism/Anarchy article: Stateless in Somalia: How Clannish Anarchy Works

Previous Anarchism/Anarchy article: Biblical Anarchism

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist


  1. Your idea that the 3 Nephi situation with anarchy and peace makes anarchy viable is simply not true. First off, people were organized into ‘governments’ – sort of – as they were organized into tribes. Secondly, the peace they had was limited and uneasy, and eventually resulted in war (and destructions from God). You must have forgotten D&C 134 which states that God has ordained government and that government is good for man. We do need some kind of organization to help us and keep us in line. Nowhere in the scriptures will you find the Lord talking about anarchy as a good thing.

  2. I think maybe the problem you are having is with the definition of anarchy. Many people think of anarchy as being lawless and chaotic and of breeding confusion. This is why when you look at 3 Nephi 7 and see an ordered society, you don’t recognize it as tribal anarchy. Our minds are conditioned (by the State) to think, “How can it be anarchy if it is ordered?” The truth of the matter, though, is that anarchy is ordered society based upon free agency, cooperation and private, customary or traditional “laws.” (The song Tradition from The Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind.)

    The anarchy of these wicked, tribal anarchists did not result in war, but peace. Mormon even says that “in some degree they had peace in the land.” (See 3 Nephi 7: 14.) But they rejected the Lord and his prophets. Mormon also mentions several times that their laws were established according to the minds of their leaders. In other words, these wicked people rejected the law of Moses, choosing instead to make their own laws. Their tribal anarchy was not law of Moses-based, as was the tribal anarchy of the children of Israel that has been recorded in the books of Moses, the book of Joshua and the book of Judges in the Bible. The Lord didn’t rain destruction on them because of their anarchy, but because of their rejection of him, his law (the law of Moses) and his prophets. If living in tribal or clannish anarchy merits destruction of the Lord, then the children of Israel should have been destroyed outright, and Alma’s anarchic society, too.

    Click on the Anarchism/Anarchy category of this web blog to read more articles I’ve written about LDS anarchy (I’ve even addressed D&C 134) or click the Molinari Institute link at the right side of each page to learn more about general anarchy. Thanks for the visit.

  3. I’m just curious as to your take on the fact that 12th article of faith is in direct conflict with any version of anarchy……

  4. Joe: I’m sure LDS Anarchist will respond, by I also addressed that argument here (see the comments too).

  5. by = but

  6. joe, it is interesting that you bring up the same argument that TJ Thompson brought up last year, to which I responded. I think that RWW’s response was also a sufficient answer. And I would also add that the 12th AoF doesn’t say:

    We believe in being subject to tyrants, despots, dictators, mobs, and corrupt judges, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining all laws, whether just or unjust, wicked and corrupt.

    There are qualifiers found in other places of the scriptures that apply to AoF 12, which help us arrive at a correct interpretation.

  7. Looks like it wasn’t too long ago that someone posted on this site, so maybe the discussion is still alive. I find the premise of anarchy in the Book of Mormon very interesting because I have seen it as well, though in a different place. I most definitely do not like the situation in 3 Nephi 7. Tribal governance can be, and usually is, far more destructive of individual freedom than just about any system I know of. Just with personal experience, I know my in-laws would love to have more control over me, and the control they do have makes my life hellish enough. I am bothered by the fact that the “regulations of the government were destroyed” (v. 6) not just because of my statist education (which I have largely rejected), but because the writer of the Book of Mormon also sees this a a bad thing. It is done by the wickedness of a secret combination, and the regulations instituted by Mosiah were always seen as a positive thing. Also, one of the few good things a government can do is regulate “our interests as individuals and nations, between [person] and [person]” (D&C 134:6). Remeber that Anarchy means without rulers, not necessarily without rules (archons in the Christian library at Nag Hammadi are always bad, but they don’t necessarily reject regulations). The situation in 3 Nephi 7 is further described as a dog returning to his vomit (v. 8). It should also be noted that there is simply no evidence that the righteous Nephi is ever integrated into this tribal “anarchy.” In fact he seems to be very much outside of it (he must have had issues with their in-laws as well). Also, there are chiefs, or rulers (archons), so this could not be said to be a true anarchy. In short, the situation in 3 Nephi 7 is bad, which is why it has to be cleansed by destruction in chapter 8. Clearly doing away with government when people are simply not prepared and educated appropriately does not work itself out.

    There is another situation of what I feel is anarchy (again, without rulers, not necessarily without rules) that is positive in the Book of Mormon. Where, for instance, is the government in 4 Nephi? The law of Moses, the main source of governance listed prior to Christ’s visit, has been done away with, and there is simply no indication that anything beyond the teachings of Jesus has replaced that former system. Further evidence of a lack of government can be found after the people’s return to wickedness. Where is the Nephite government? I can’t find it. It is conspicuously absent since the Nephites were now in a situation where government was clearly needed. Those who called themselves Lamanites, who had begun their return to status worship and ranks before the Nephites, did set up a king, but there is no parallel on the Nephite side. In fact, a lack of government seems to be what separates the Nephites from Lamanites. Mormon is selected and looked to as a military leader, but he can’t enforce his commands. His religious authority gives him no status at all. Clearly true religion had been there primarily to keep the ordinances in line, as described in 3 Nephi 11, and again in the initial chapters of Moroni. Of course, right now I’m talking about the after things went bad. But the society ran smoothly for 400 years, and I believe it was without government. What was the difference? A big one, I think, is that “they had all things common among them” (4 Ne 1:3). They had dramatically altered their understanding of property, which led to a situation where no one had control over anyone else (so my in-laws and I could co-exist peacefully). They had been educated by Christ, which was apparently a shock to their systems, as we see at the end of 3 Nephi. I’m not claiming to fully understand how this worked, since all efforts at communalism that I’m aware of have failed (and tend to destroy the individual as well as other bad results). But they, as I mentioned before, existed for 400 years peacefully without any kind of government that I can see, or any kind of property as we understand it.

    Anyway, I’m not fundamentally disagreeing with LDS anarchist. I do agree that anarchy is misunderstood, and that a healthy anarchist society can be found in the Book of Mormon. LDS anarchist just found it in the wrong place. I hope this is a helpful addition to the conversation.

    Joseph Owen

  8. Joseph, it is good to see that there are other LDS who have noticed anarchy in the Book of Mormon. You may wish to read my other posts on Book of Mormon anarchy, as they cover some of the same ground you mention in your comment: The Anarchy of Alma, 300 + years of Nephite anarchy, The prophetic counsel against having kings (rulers). Also, you might want to look at my other anarchy articles found on the Complete List of Articles by LDS Anarchist, as they delve into what the other scriptures of the Standard Works say about anarchy.

    Thanks for the visit and comment.

  9. Thanks for the response. I did find the articles interesting, particularly the 300+ years of Nephite anarchy. That helped me understand better what you were trying to say with this essay. I would agree that 3 Nephi 7 is the lowest form of anarchy, and a dangerous one since tribal leaders could easily begin to enforce a “might makes right” agenda. It’s also unclear exactly how free individuals were under their “tribal leaders.”

    But I had completely overlooked Alma’s anarchy, so thanks for pointing that out. And it is interesting that so many Book of Mormon prophets speak against kings, but we never really learn about their alternate plans. Well, as the great Mormon said “I seek not for authority, but to pull it down!”


  10. A correction on my last quote – it was Moroni who said that, not Mormon.

  11. Joseph

    Can I get a scriptural reference on that last quote by Moroni?



  12. Alma Chapter 60 verse 11

  13. Joseph

    I am still a little confused.

    How do you get

    “I seek not for authority, but to pull it down!” out of the following scripture?

    “Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.”

    I am not trying to be contrary here, indeed I love the quote you are attributing to Moroni. I just can’t find it when I do a key phrase search in the scriptures. I realize that perhaps it is not an exact quote that you are providing and I am fine if you are paraphrasing instead of providing an exact quote (although quotation marks usually refer to an exact quote) but if you are paraphrasing the above scripture in Alma 60:11 it seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

    Can you elaborate on what you are saying?

  14. The scripture he was referring to was Alma 60: 36:

    Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country. And thus I close mine epistle.

  15. Awesome… thank you!

  16. Finally got a chance to check in again. Really sorry about the wrong verse given. I have no idea how that happened. Thanks LDAnarchist for correcting that. It’s been a long week!

  17. Another typo. Thanks LDS Anarchist for correcting my mistake (no idea who LDAnarchist might be). No more submitting to blogs until I can spell and cite the correct verses. Maybe next week.

  18. Joseph

    Thanks for the quote, that is a great scripture!

  19. Although I am fairly certain that I will not have hooked up to all the points made in this post and its responses, it seems that what has been overlooked, is that the ‘goodies’ [by any name] recognised the theocratic authority vested in their judges and prophets.

    The word ‘Anarchy’ is subject to many interpretations [although its basic currency is ‘without rule’ or ‘ruler(s)’]. However ‘anarchy,’ as do all words and terms, takes on whatever meaning and strength the person using the term has in his or her mind at the time.

    Thus is is requisite that the user of the term in, say, an essay, needsa to unpack the word or term as finitely as possible so that all who feel to address the subject in this or other threads will be singing from the same hymn sheet and, hopefully, in the same key.

    Very interesting.


  20. OK, LDS Anarchist: I read your articles and think I understand a little better what it is you are trying to advocate. I think we are in agreement that the day will come when world governments break down and we form into tribes or clans. I don’t know how long that period will last but several early Brethren described it in their writings. In addition, several LDS authors, including Anthony E. Larson, have written extensively how the events of 3rd Nephi chapter 7 will be replicated in our day. So yes, anarchy will come to pass before the return of the Lord, but once the Savior is here again, he will establish law and order – a theocracy will prevail.

  21. Theocracy will not prevail. Jesus will not sit on a throne and rule us. He already showed us His style of ministry. He will be out among the people healing and teaching. “…all the people [will do] what [is] right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

    @LDS Anarchist – Another thing to note in the example of anarchy above is that during this time of anarchy, Jesus visited these people. No time during his visit did he say, “You are living in anarchy. This is sinful. Change your ways.” In fact, it appears the people continued to live in the anarchy structure for around 150 years after Jesus visited them. It wasn’t until the Gadiantons surfaced again and led the people into wickedness and established a new government.

    Another point to note is that prior to the dissolution of their government, their government was actually based on judges providing arbitration of their laws. There is no real indication of a legislative, nor an executive branch. If God inspired the US constitution, why didn’t he inspire these people to do the same?

    One last point. The form of anarchy these people ascribed to sounds very much like the Tuaths in Ireland. The Tuaths were successful anarchists for 1000 years.

  22. turk, i looked up the tuaths. very neat comparison. while i personally haven’t moved onto full-on anarchy yet, i have moved from affiliating myself with a specific party to completely apolitical. i believe that the secret combinations referred to in scripture is government in any form

  23. Last week I dreamed about a giant dish filled with bacon and there is a
    little kid sitting in the midst of it, eating it.

  24. […] here for another blog post about how even “wicked” people can have peace under […]

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