Authority vs. Anarchy: Opposites? Two sides of the same coin?
Romans 13 reminds us to obey our governing (civic) authorities. Exodus 20 and Ephesians 6 remind us to obey our parental authorities. Certain people in the church are given spiritual authority over those they shepherd in their congregations. We’re all to obey the Lord as our ultimate authority. Thus, we’re all under authority. Simultaneously, we’re all in authority over someone, even if that someone is only our own self. After all, self control is exerting authority over one’s own self.
Anarchy is a revolt against God-given authority and authority structures. But what happens with that God-given authority structure is broken? Is anarchy the answer? We live in a fallen world, one in which sin has pervaded every heart and every situation. Our authority figures are weak or over-bearing. What do we do when the command to “obey the authorities” suddenly seems complicated or unwise? What happens when our authority figures go against Scripture?
The books below don’t offer answers, but they do raise lots of great questions, particularly for teens. Our teens will be voting soon (some for the first time this year). They are hurtling towards adulthood with jobs, marriage, and parenting just around the corner. How they handle authority (both those in authority over them and their own eventual authority over others) is important! Use the books below as jumping off points to talk about some of these big ideas. Some books show authority gone wrong, some show anarchy at work, and some simply offer thoughtful explorations of ambition, society structures, and other aspects of authority.
Note: Our Learning to Lead Book List is a GREAT companion book list to this one!
Authority vs Anarchy: A Book List
The Giver by Lois Lowry.
A powerful dystopian read for young teens. Read our thoughts. (Note that this link may include links to a podcast series we no longer have available. The primary review is in text on the website.)
Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Still a vital read. Some animals are more equal than others.
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.
A teen boy must grapple with the controlling Communist Romanian government in the 1980s. Historical fiction. Ages 15+. Read our review.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
A classic set during the French Revolution. Really—if it’s been a while since you read this, read it alongside your teens. A tremendously rewarding read.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare raises great questions about ambition and whether a leader can have too much authority. Macbeth raises similar questions.
Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar and Life of Alexander the Great.
All of Plutarch’s Lives offer food for thought regarding authority and civic duty, but these two historical figures are so well-known that they make interesting starting points. The versions online at Ambleside Online offer helpful notes and questions: Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.
Antigone by Sophocles.
The third in the Oedipus cycle, this short play pits religion and familial loyalty (burying the dead in honor of both gods and family) against civic loyalty (the command of the state).
The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton.
This may take a second read to start really digesting it, but Chesterton makes profound points about anarchy and its accompanying effects on human life, the intellect, and more. Ages 16 and up.
*Dragonfly Eyes by Cao Wenxuan, translated by Helen Wang.
A slowly-unfolding, beautiful picture of family love and loyalty during the stressful days of China’s Cultural Revolution. Ages 12 and up. Read our review.
*Berliners by Vesper Stamper.
The story of a family scarred by war, politics, and false ideology in postwar Germany. Ages 16 and up. Read our review.
*The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.
Young Kit Tyler faces the questions all adolescents face as she tries to balance obedience with following her beliefs. Set during the Salem Witch Trials. Ages 10 and up. Read our review.
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain.
Raises good questions of authority: does the position convey authority? Is it held in the person? What if obedience has dangerous results? Ages 10 and up.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
Anarchy as a case-study! This classic offers much food for thought, even though it isn’t a “fun” read. Read Janie’s thoughts here and Betsy’s thoughts here.
Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. It is, however, a compelling look at what life is like under regimes like North Korea’s. Ages 16 and up. Read our review.
**List updated September, 2023.
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