The Anarchy of Alma


One of the more remarkable accounts of scriptural anarchy is found in the Book of Mormon, among Alma and the people of the Lord. Mosiah 18 records the conversion of these people to the Lord and their subsequent escape from the persecutions of king Noah. Then the record leaves off their account to talk about other things. Later, in Mosiah 23 and 24 we are told what happened to them.

After traveling eight days, Alma and his people arrive at a nice piece of real estate and start working the land to sustain themselves, building edifices and doing other industrious things. Then, they decide that they want Alma to be their king. Just like the other prophets who came before him and who also had a people living in anarchy, desirous to establish a state government, Alma protests and explains why this is a bad idea.

But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king. Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king. But remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests; and I myself was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance; nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries, and did answer my prayers, and has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of his truth. Nevertheless, in this I do not glory, for I am unworthy to glory of myself. And now I say unto you, ye have been oppressed by king Noah, and have been in bondage to him and his priests, and have been brought into iniquity by them; therefore ye were bound with the bands of iniquity. And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you. And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments. (Mosiah 23: 7-13)

Alma’s speech is remarkable in several ways. First, he calls on the words of the Lord himself to prove his point: “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another.” Whether this is new Nephite scripture or old scripture written upon the plates of Brass and not had in our Old Testament, no one knows, but Alma appeals to it as authoritative and one of the scriptural proofs he uses to show why having a king is wrong.

Second, Alma states categorically that if it were possible to always have just men be kings, then the people should have kings. This concept would be repeated by king Mosiah later when explaining why the Nephite monarchy should be changed into a judicial government. But what other prophets have stated such a thing? This appears to be a new concept initiated by Alma and, since Alma and his people later came into contact with Mosiah, one that perhaps influenced Mosiah’s own opinion, since he apparently echoes Alma’s words here.

Third, this is the first instance of the Nephite concept of bondage and captivity being associated with a State, and liberty and freedom being associated with anarchy. This theme will permeate the rest of the book.

Fourth, the anarchic concept of not trusting those in authority is introduced. In the case of men who would be kings or rulers in governmental positions, the counsel is “trust no man to be a king over you.” There are no qualifiers to this statement. In the case of men who would be teachers or ministers of religion, the counsel is “trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister,” with one qualifying exception, “except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.” Nevertheless, the standing orders are to “trust no one.”

Fifth, Alma exhorts his people to “remember the iniquity of king Noah.” In other words, he directs them to look at the potential badness of the State, not its potential goodness. The emphasis is not that the State is a necessary evil, but that it is an evil we should avoid, if at all possible.

Sixth, Alma’s speech actually has the effect of causing the people to change their minds! Instead of insisting on a king, they realize the wisdom of Alma’s words and remain in anarchy. This never happened with Samuel’s people, nor with Nephi’s, nor with the brother of Jared’s, so these people were truly enlightened by the Lord.

Contrary to popular belief, the anarchy of Alma and the people of the Lord did not result in chaos and terror. It did not result in high crimes, contention and confusion. The only comment that Mormon makes of the anarchy of Alma is the following:

And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam. And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam. (Mosiah 23: 19-20)

Prosperity! Exceeding prosperity! That was the result of their anarchy. Oh, how the State propaganda machine must hate the Book of Mormon!…

Next Anarchism/Anarchy article: 300 + years of Nephite anarchy

Previous Anarchism/Anarchy article: Abraham Lincoln

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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7 Comments

  1. I actually read all of this last night! What a confirmation I had. Great insight. I also got a copy of The Mormon Worker in the mail yesterday. It was like Christmas had come early!

    Oh, forgive the 3 page rant comment I left on the other post. I have just had enough, but I realized that it’s never gonna stop so it might be best to let the whiners whine and the destroyers destroy.

  2. There’s no need to apologize. All comments are welcome. Besides, you spoke the truth. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Every time I read these verses I have the same understanding of them. We truly are commanded to not place our faith in the arm of flesh. God has given us agency that we should use it and to follow one blindly. (blindly and faith are different) An Argument I run in to often as I present for the Mormon worker is that “mormons can not be anarchist because we have a church hierarchy and church government” or That the prophet is a president or a king but as we are told in mosiah and in the doctrine of covenants “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another.” The Prophet himself tells us he just a member of the church as well. we are told that all callings in the church are equal and are just important as another its just where the lord desires us to use our talents. But the real thing is There is such a big difference between a prophet and a king. A king will try to force us to behave, and a president has no problem using force on us where a prophet never will. God wouldn’t allow him to do so.

    ps quantumsaint I hope the mormon worker wasn’t a disappointment were still working some bugs. Every edition is getting a little bit better at least I think.

    LDS anarchy. I’m really excited for you to submit articles in the future to the MW. Sorry about the submission length. We’ve found people pay attention and enjoy shorter articles. You got a lot stuff that you should submit. Thanks for doing this blog too.

  4. Thailer, if you find any article on this blog that you would like to publish in The Mormon Worker, let me know and I’ll prepare it according to the submission guidelines and submit it. Thanks for the visit.

  5. Cool, You totally should submit a lot of this stuff. I’m taking off to mexico on wednesday. Im going to be staying zapatista communities so I wont have much internet access till the fall. I really want to apart of the mormon worker. So make sure send us stuff.

    Also a fellow lds anarchist/mormon worker from england has started a new blog. Which ill be blogging on this summer. A lot of mormon worker will be blogging on it as well. you should check it out. http://www.ldscooperative.com/

  6. I’m almost with you, but all of these people were righteous and followed Alma (except he be a man of God) witch does account for some group organization.
    What if there were a few bad guys in the crowd? eventually they would need a little government to make laws to prevent the taking of life or property. What you are left with is a republic, not anarchy. Rule under the Law is as good as we can get in a telestial world, but can only be maintained by a moral people. Anarchy in an imperfect world is just as bad as Tyranny…the bad guys get big guns and take everything.

    I hope you will jump on the libertarian wagon for a while, until we achieve ultimate righteousness and then I’ll get off the wagon with you.

  7. elijah, please see my post Anarchy does not require perfect people, as it addresses the point you bring up. Thanks for the visit and comment.


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