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By Jason M. Brown and Christopher J. Nielsen
People! No more governments.
Governments! No more prescriptive laws.
Laws! Protection, naturalness, and no more confusions or sophisms.
Such is the triple condition of social regeneration.
As we spoke to a Special Collections worker at the BYU Library, another worker—a clean cut
young man—overheard our conversation with the elderly woman who was helping us.
“Yes, he was the first Mormon convert in Mexico. He also happened to be an avowed anarchist.”
“What was his name?” butted in the young man, curious.
“Plotino Rhodakanaty,” one of us said.
“Hmm, I served my mission in Mexico, but I’ve never heard of him.” He shrugged and walked
The subject of this article holds a prominent position in Mormon, Mexican, and radical history;
yet he is virtually unknown to members of the Mormon community. Plotino Constantino
Rhodakanaty, a Greek immigrant to Mexico, who was a contemporary of Brigham Young and
John Taylor, became the first Mormon, the first ordained Elder, and the first branch president in
Mexico. Although he eventually left the church, Rhodakanaty is not immediately dismissible as a
“weak convert” or one unwilling to make sacrifices. If anything, Rhodakanaty was too dedicated
to what he saw as the Gospel and his impatience with Church leaders’ decision not to implement
formal United Order-style communitarian settlements in Mexico during that early period cost the
church a dedicated and passionate ally.
Rhodakanaty was also one of the first radical influences on the Mexican labor, agrarian and
anarchist-socialist movements. His pamphlet ‘Cartilla Socialista’ was one of the very first
socialist tracts in Mexico and outlined a vision for utopian socialist communities. Upon arrival in
Mexico, he immediately started a school for peasants and Indians, began the first socialist
organization in Mexico (La Social), organized the first workers congresses and was a passionate
advocate for women’s rights.
We hope to provide a brief introduction to this obscure yet important character in Mormon,
Mexican, and radical history. We are also interested in briefly exploring what it was about
Mormonism that attracted this young radical. We find Rhodakanaty an inspirational figure that
embodies the seeming paradoxes of attempting to reconcile religious and political ideas into not
only a holistic cosmology, but also a systematic critique of capitalism in ethico-spiritual terms
that seeks to provide meaningful and constructive resistance and alternatives to the injustices that
Early Life and Immigration to Mexico
Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty was born in Athens, Greece on October 14th 1828. His mother
was Austrian and his father Greek; both came from comfortable backgrounds. His father was a
doctor and writer, but died in combat in the successful Greek war of independence from the
Ottoman Empire. Rhodakanaty then moved to Vienna to live with his mother and her family
where he began his studies in Medicine. In 1848, the young student moved to Berlin to continue
his studies, but soon began to feed a deep love for philosophy. He was particularly fond of
Hegel, but read widely. While a student in Berlin, he became involved in politics and traveled to
Budapest to participate in an uprising in favor of Hungary’s independence, which was brutally
In 1850 Rhodakanaty traveled to Paris where he would stay until 1857, to meet personally one of
his favorite writers: French anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon. While in Paris, Rhodakanaty
continued his study of philosophy and apparently met several exiles from Mexico who told the
young idealist about then Mexican President Ignacio Comonfort’s intention to promote
colonization by giving land to foreigners willing to settle in Mexico. Excited by the possibility of
free land, Rhodakanaty readied himself to travel to Mexico by moving to Spain to learn Spanish.
However, in 1857 Comonfort was deposed in the La Reforma wars. Upon hearing the news
Rhodakanaty decided to stay in Spain and continue his study of Spanish and published his first
philosophical work entitled “De la Naturaleza.”1
Rhodakanaty’s Philosophical and Political Foundations
Many Mormons have the notion that trying to reconcile philosophy and the gospel is risky
business. But it is precisely because of Rhodakanaty’s robust philosophical learning that he came
to accept the teachings of the Mormon Church. When he encountered The Book of Mormon in
1875, he saw its teachings as a confirmation of the philosophy he had developed after many
years of intense study of metaphysics and social philosophy.
Rhodakanaty drew on several thinkers, primarily Baruch Spinoza, Charles Fourier, Joseph
Proudhon, and Friedrich Schelling to develop a framework that he would eventually label
“Transcendental Philosophy.” The fundamental tenets of his thought concerned the essential
connection and potential harmony he thought existed between the human and natural worlds, the
accessibility of God, the fundamentally social nature of human beings, and the perfectibility of
individuals and societies.
Of all the philosophers that Rhodakanaty studied, Spinoza probably had the most profound
influence on him.2 From Spinoza, he retained the notion that nature is in a way coextensive with
God, which is not to say necessarily that they are the same thing, but that God does not exist
outside of nature; rather, both exist on the same plane and all of the attributes of nature follow
necessarily from the infinite attributes of God, both are part of a whole in which God is the
infinite creative force. In other words, there is a structural analogy between God and nature and,
since human beings are a part of nature, between humans and God. Furthermore—and here he
drew on Schelling as well as Spinoza—the human psyche is considered to be as real as the
objective world, as embedded in the latter. Therefore, Rhodakanaty thought that human beings
were capable of understanding the originary structure of harmony between God, nature, and
human individuals and societies. Social problems and imbalances could be resolved, then,
through an effort to understand this and then to reorganize societies in accordance with this
necessary and natural harmony.
Rhodakanaty counterposed his thought to the reigning positivist models of his day, which, given
the fact that positivism would become something of an official doctrine of the Porfirio Diaz
dictatorship—under which he would later live in Mexico—was a thoroughly political move.
Positivism, to simplify a bit, is essentially the theory that only that which is empirically
verifiable can be considered to be real or true. Rhodakanaty criticized this mode of thinking
because it could only account, in an a posteriori fashion, for isolated events perceivable through
individual sense experience.3 He saw this as a woefully limited approach since it could account
neither for the reality of the psyche, the existence of moral truths, nor the harmony and
connectedness of nature that he considered so fundamental. Furthermore, as Rhodakanaty saw it,
positivism was completely allied with both exploitative capitalism and oppressive government
since it, on the one hand, tended to justify capitalism’s ideology of ruthless individualistic
competition and, on the other, was often used to back hierarchical social engineering style
By no means was Rhodakanaty opposed to science or to the concept of progress that so
motivated much of the thought of his day. What he criticized in many 19th century philosophical,
political, and economic frameworks was the way in which the individual was largely seen as
both the motivating force and ultimate end of progress.4 Since the Enlightenment, thinkers had
come to see the individual as perfectible and, for the most part, questions of politics were
reduced to the issue of how to keep society structured in such a way as to keep other people from
infringing on an individual’s rights and impeding her development. Rhodakanaty agreed that
people were perfectible but went further to say that societies—far from being merely a necessary
evil—were also perfectible and, furthermore, were a condition of individual perfection. He saw
himself as diverging from Rousseau’s idea of the social contract, which essentially took society
as a mechanism for protecting individuals from other individuals.5 He agreed that living together
obviously implied a pact, but that this pact led to a higher, more harmonious state of existence,
without which progress would not be possible. For Rhodakanaty, there were no perfectible
individuals without perfectible societies.
In Rhodakanaty’s version of the social contract, there was no need for government to impose
order from above since people would not enter into it out of fear of each other but out of a
mutual desire for collective advancement. What’s more, he thought hierarchical governments
were usually the source of the problems that they were supposed to resolve. On this point,
Rhodakanaty was especially influenced by socialist philosopher Charles Fourier and anarchist
Pierre Joseph Proudhon.6 For these thinkers, many if not most social problems were the result of
political institutions that invariably become imbalanced as more powerful interests come to
dominate less powerful ones. The way out of this state of imbalance was simply to leave behind
the notion of top-down political organizations and begin to organize small, bottom-up social
groupings based on the principles of equality and interdependence. Larger organizations would
form in a mostly spontaneous fashion as collectives federated themselves with one another.
Rhodakanaty thought such social organizations to be completely natural and in keeping with the
fundamental principle of harmony.
Plotino fully believed that a harmonious association between individuals, society, and nature was
not only natural but inspired of God. He believed that this state of collectivism and balance could
be attained in this world, and that it was the responsibility of human beings not to wait for it to
arrive from on high but to actively work toward bringing it about. As he put it, “it is up to us . . .
to bring heaven down into our souls, because the Kingdom of God can be found within the
Following Proudhon, Rhodakanaty advocated a “republic of work,” in which differences among
individuals would be harmonized as all, through work, actively contributed their particular skills
to the collective body.8 It is thus not hard to understand how he could see in Mormon doctrine,
particularly relating to the principles of the United Order, both a confirmation and a fulfillment
of the philosophical framework he had come to assemble.
Arrival in Mexico and Conversion to Mormonism
Upon receiving word that the La Reforma Wars had ended, in 1861 Rhodakanaty wasted no time
departing for Mexico and arrived in Veracruz via steamship in the same year. He immediately
headed for the capital, Mexico City. As soon as Rhodakanaty arrived, he began working out his
vision. He began by publishing an article entitled ‘La Cartilla Socialista’ which laid out Charles
Fourier’s program for agrarian socialism.9 La Cartilla was one of the first socialist tracts
published in Mexico and begins by asking:
What is the most elevated and reasonable goal that human intelligence can be devoted to?
The achievement of universal association, of individuals and peoples, in order to fulfill
the earthly purposes of humanity. 10
La Cartilla and his writings on Spinoza began to attract a loyal following of budding Mexican
radicals including student Francisco Zalacosta. In 1863 Rhodakanaty with others formed the
Socialist Student Group, later called La Social to spread a message of the abolition of the state,
cooperativism, universal brotherhood and equality. 11
Rhodakanaty then decided to focus his efforts on peasants in the countryside who he believed
already had communitarian and socialist tendencies despite their oppression and exploitation by
the wealthy land owners. To do this, Rhodakanaty moved to the Chalco region where he founded
a school called La Escuela del Rayo y del Socialismo [The School of Light and Socialism] where
he taught literacy, organizing skills, and Fourier-Proudhonian anarchist-socialism.12 Zalacosta
soon joined him and they taught together for over two years. In 1867 Rhodakanaty moved back
to Mexico City, feeling confident that Zalacosta, and former student Chávez López could
continue the school.
Back in Mexico City, Rhodakanaty continued his writing and organizing and began working for
an Evangelical Church teaching philosophy and Greek. In 1875 however, he stumbled across
sections of The Book of Mormon translated by recent Filipino convert Melitón Gonzalez Trejo
and rugged frontiersman Daniel W. Jones. According to Jones’s memoirs, Rhodakanaty wrote
various letters to him and translating partner Trejo stating emphatically that he had had a vision
in which he came to know that the book was the word of God.13 In one letter dated November
15, 1878 Rhodakanaty proclaims that he had come to know the “truth and purity of the Mormon
faith”14 through reading The Book of Mormon.
On December 15, 1878 Rhodakanaty, along with three other adherents to the new faith wrote a
letter to Salt Lake practically begging for missionaries to be sent to Mexico, where apparently
under Rhodakanaty’s guidance there were around 20 members of a discussion group calling
themselves Mormons.15 The letter introduces themselves as a group
that having been convoked to a private meeting in the home belonging to Dr. Plotino
Constantino Rhodakanaty, Managing promoter of the same Church, for the purpose of
organizing a small circle or congregation of religious and social persuasion in this capital
city, said gentleman read to us for such purpose a work entitled Choice Selections from
the Book of Mormon, translated into Spanish by the reverend Elder Meliton G. Trejo and
Daniel W. Jones, the mystical and highly transcendent meaning of which was later
elucidated to us by the same Doctor, who proved unto us and fully convinced us of the
evidence of the divine origin of such a precious book, and of the lofty mission that its
doctrine has to accomplish in the world, causing through its entirely providential and
divine influence a complete humanitarian palingenesis16 or transformation in the religious
as well as in the moral, social, and political orders.
The letter goes on to state that the Mormon Church is the legitimate successor of the primitive
church, and that the adherents anxiously await receiving the priesthood. The letter concludes,
Will you please, our most worthy Brethren, accede to our just and humble request,
through which the entire universe will receive one more proof that our Holy Religion is
true because it does not reject the pleading of its fervent proselytes, imparting thus the
charity in the grace that it grants to its servants in the faith.
The letter is signed by Dr. Plotino C. Rhodakanaty “As Managing Promoter of the Church”
followed by three others.17
After a brief correspondence with Rhodakanaty, John Taylor—in hiding from federal Marshals
because he was practicing Polygamy—sent a delegation of missionaries who arrived in Vera
Cruz on November 14, 1879. Seasoned missionaries who spoke Spanish, James Z. Stewart and
Meliton G. Trejo were called and accompanied by the newly ordained LDS Apostle Moses
Thatcher to oversee and dedicate Mexico for the preaching of the Gospel. By the 16th of
November, the group had met Rhodakanaty and his Mormon comrades and gained a favorable
impression of the group particularly Rhodakanaty, of whom Thatcher wrote in his journal,
“Doctor Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty was glad to see us, and we immediately had a good
impression of his frankness and intelligence.”18 After four days of intense discussion and
exchange, Rhodakanaty and Silviano Arteaga were baptized and confirmed. Four days later,
Rhodakanaty and three others were ordained Elders and Rhodakanaty was set apart as the Branch
In 1880, Rhodakanaty helped translate the pamphlet A Voice of Warning written by Parley P.
Pratt.20 However, Rhodakanaty soon lost patience with Mormon leaders when it became clear
that they would not seek to implement United Order-style agrarian communities in Mexico.
Rhodakanaty wanted to begin the work of transforming society and this meant creating utopian
socialist communities. Despite an offer by a prominent Mexican government official close to
Moses Thatcher, the Church leadership rejected the proposal for free land for a Mormon colony
in Sonora.21 Had the Church decided to accept, we might be telling a very different story.
However, on August 28th of the same year, just nine months after his baptism, Rhodakanaty’s
resignation as Branch President was read in sacrament meeting, and Arteaga took his place.22
After his resignation from the Church, Rhodakanaty continued his attempts to implement his
utopian socialist vision with precious little success. One reason was that the politics of Mexico
became increasingly stifling for radicals like Rhodakanaty who received word of his long time
student and colleague Francisco Zalacosta had been assassinated by federal troops. Rhodakanaty
had an aversion for violence and a naïve hope that the wealthy would voluntarily transition to the
new society he hoped to create. For this reason, the leadership of Mexican radicalism
increasingly passed into the hands of younger more volatile men such as former student Chávez
According to Mexican Mission President Heleman Pratt, in 1886 he visited Rhodakanaty with
several other members of the church to see if they could reconcile with him. The outcome of this
encounter is unknown; however, it appears that Rhodakanaty maintained his position of
alienation because he returned to Europe shortly thereafter.23
Rhodakanaty’s Attraction to Mormonism
Although Rhodakanaty’s official tenure in the church lasted only nine months (as far as we
know); he was calling himself a Mormon, reading the Book of Mormon and teaching from it as
early as 1875. What was it that drew this avowed socialist-anarchist to proclaim that the Mormon
Church was “true and pure?”
Most importantly, Rhodakanaty put Christ at the center of his Spinozan pantheist philosophy.
For him, socialism had its origins in Christianity and in its ideal form religion was nothing more
than “organized charity.” Rhodakanaty was critical of doctrines in both Catholicism and
Protestantism that justified the rule of the few over the many by threatening predestination on the
one hand or purgatory on the other. Many religions affirmed faith to be enough, but for
Rhodakanaty, true Christianity must affirm moral action, just as the familiar refrain “faith
without works is dead.” For Rhodakanaty, the only legitimate form of Christianity was the
primitive church and he noted that the structure of that church was egalitarian, about which he
states “the first Christians [were] in essence totally democratic.” For Rhodakanaty the Gospel is
a plan of social redemption rooted in the values of equality, solidarity, charity, justice, liberty
and brotherly love. A society governed by these values could only be implemented by a pure
form of Christianity which did not depend on raw force or coercion.24
In Mormonism, Rhodakanaty found a church claiming to resemble this primitive church in
structure and ideals; though as Rhodakanaty surely found out, it was not as democratic as he
might have hoped. Early Mormon communities were also practicing a form of agrarian
socialism, especially during the Cooperative period which lasted roughly between 1850 and
Brigham Young’s death in 1877.25 Rhodakanaty had no doubt heard of the communal property,
the joint stock companies, the non-competitive values, an emphasis on self-reliance, and the
industrious nature of Mormon communities.
The excerpts of The Book of Mormon which Rhodakanaty read most likely described the fate of
indigenous peoples of North America, who were believed to be the direct ancestors of the
Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. Rhodakanaty had a deep interest in indigenous peoples and
wanted to build the New Jerusalem and “see the great Tenochtitlan transfigured in union with the
Conclusions and Future Study
Although Rhodakanaty did not become a lasting faithful member of the Mormon community in
Mexico, his philosophical sophistication, broad influence in Mexican radical politics and
dedication to building a new society modeled on Christian social ethics should lead us to ponder
the insights and connections he provides concerning two worlds that are seldom connected:
Mormonism and Anarchism. We hope to elucidate some of these insights through a series of
future articles in which we will provide more detailed reflections of Rhodakanaty’s biography,
philosophy, and theology.
1 Raymundo Gómez González and Sergio Pagaza Castillo 1997. El Águila Mormón o el Anarquista
Cristiano: Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty Primer Miembro de la Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los
Últimos Días en México Museo de Historia del Mormonismo en México, México p. 10-14; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty,
Obras p. 7-19; John M. Hart 1978. Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class 1860-1931 University of Texas
Press, Austin, p. 19-42.
2 See Carlos Illades 2002. Rhodakanaty y la formación del pensamiento socialista en México, Universidad
Autónoma Metropolitana, Spain, Chs. 2-3.
3 Ibid., p. 28.
4 Ibid., p. 43-44.
5 Ibid., p. 64.
6 Ibid., p. 50-51, 60-61.
7 Ibid., p. 39.
8 Ibid., 68.
9 González and Castillo, El Águila Mormón, p. 14; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Obras, p. 75.
10 Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Obras, p. 75.
11 Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Obras, p. 12, Hart, Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, p. 23.
12 Hart, Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, p. 20.
13 Letters referenced in Illades, Rhodakanaty y la formación del pensamiento socialista en México, p. 98.
14 Ibid., p. 99.
15 Ibid., p. 99; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Obras p. 14.
16 The word means re-birth or regeneration, and refers to Rhodakanaty’s belief that only Primitive
Christianity could redeem the world from suffering and oppression.
17 The letter is included in a full English translation in F. Lamond Tullis 1982. “Early Mormon Explorations
and Missionary Activities in Mexico” BYU Studies Vol. 22, d.
18 Journal entry cited in Illades, Rhodakanaty y la formación del pensamiento socialista en México, p. 102.
19 Ibid., p. 103.
20 Ibid., p. 104.
21 F. Lamond Tullis 1987. Mormons in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture University of Utah
Press, Salt Lake City, p. 38.
22 Illades, Rhodakanaty y la formación del pensamiento socialista en México, p. 107.
23 Ibid., p. 107.
24 González and Castillo, El Águila Mormón, p.19-25.
25 Leonard J Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox and Dean L May 1976. Building the City of God: Community and
Cooperation Among the Mormons, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah.
26 Illades, Rhodakanaty y la formación del pensamiento socialista en México, p. 96.