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Anarchy (word)

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Anarchy (word)

For other uses, see Anarchy (disambiguation).

Anarchy has more than one definition. Some use the term "anarchy" to refer to a society without a publicly enforced government.[1][2] When used in this sense, anarchy may[3] or may not[4] be intended to imply political disorder or lawlessness within a society. Many anarchists complain with Anselme Bellegarrigue that "[v]ulgar error has taken 'anarchy' to be synonymous with 'civil war.'"[5]

Most individuals who self-identify as anarchists use the term to imply a system of governance, mostly theoretical at a jurisdiction level. There are also other forms of anarchy that attempt to avoid the use of coercion, violence, force and authority, while still producing a productive and desirable society.[6][7]


The word "Anarchy" comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία, anarchia, from ἀν an, "not, without" + ἀρχός arkhos, "ruler", meaning "absence of a leader", "without rulers").[8]

Anarchy and political philosophy


Main article: Anarchism

Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be immoral,[9][10] or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations.[11][12][13][14][15][16] Proponents of anarchism (known as "anarchists") advocate stateless societies based on what sometimes is defined like non-hierarchical organizations,[11][17][18] and in another times is defined like voluntary associations.[19][20]

There are many types and traditions of anarchism, not all of which are mutually exclusive.[21] Anarchist schools of thought can differ fundamentally, supporting anything from extreme individualism to complete collectivism.[10] Strains of anarchism have been divided into the categories of social and individualist anarchism or similar dual classifications.[22][23] Anarchism is often considered to be a radical left-wing ideology,[24][25] and much of anarchist economics and anarchist legal philosophy reflect anti-statist interpretations of communism, collectivism, syndicalism or participatory economics. "To see this, of course, we must expound the moral outlook underlying anarchism. To do this we must first make an important distinction between two general options in anarchist theory [...] The two are what we may call, respectively, the socialist versus the free-market, or capitalist, versions."[26] Some individualist anarchists are also socialists or communists while some anarcho-communists are also individualists[27][28] or egoists.[29][30]

Anarchism as a social movement has regularly endured fluctuations in popularity. The central tendency of anarchism as a mass social movement has been represented by anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, with individualist anarchism being primarily a literary phenomenon[31] which nevertheless did have an impact on the bigger currents[32] and individualists also participated in large anarchist organizations.[33][34] Most anarchists oppose all forms of aggression, supporting self-defense or non-violence (anarcho-pacifism),[35][36] while others have supported the use of militant measures, including revolution and propaganda of the deed, on the path to an anarchist society.[37]

The term anarchism derives from the Greek ἄναρχος, anarchos, meaning "without rulers",[38][39] from the prefix ἀν- (an-, "without") + ἀρχή (archê, "sovereignty, realm, magistracy")[40] + -ισμός (-ismos, from the suffix -ιζειν, -izein "-izing"). There is some ambiguity with the use of the terms "libertarianism" and "libertarian" in writings about anarchism. Since the 1890s from France,[41] the term "libertarianism" has often been used as a synonym for anarchism[42] and was used almost exclusively in this sense until the 1950s in the United States;[43] its use as a synonym is still common outside the United States.[44] Accordingly, "libertarian socialism" is sometimes used as a synonym for socialist anarchism,[45][46] to distinguish it from "individualist libertarianism" (individualist anarchism). On the other hand, some use "libertarianism" to refer to individualistic free-market philosophy only, referring to free-market anarchism as "libertarian anarchism".[47][48]

Immanuel Kant on anarchy

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant treated "Anarchy" in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View as consisting of "Law and Freedom without Force". Thus, for Kant, anarchy falls short of being a true civil state because the law is only an "empty recommendation" if force is not included to make this law efficacious. For there to be such a state, force must be included while law and freedom are maintained, a state which Kant calls republic.[49][50]

As summary Kant named four kinds of government:

A. Law and freedom without force (anarchy).

B. Law and force without freedom (despotism). C. Force without freedom and law (barbarism).

D. Force with freedom and law (republic).

Anarchy and anthropology

Some anarchist anthropologists, such as David Graeber and Pierre Clastres, consider societies such as those of the Bushmen, Tiv and the Piaroa to be anarchies in the sense that they explicitly reject the idea of centralized political authority.[51]

Other anthropologists, such as Marshall Sahlins and Richard Borshay Lee, have repudiated the idea of hunter-gatherer societies being a source of scarcity and brutalization; describing them as "affluent societies".[52]

The evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker writes:

Adjudication by an armed authority appears to be the most effective violence-reduction technique ever invented. Though we debate whether tweaks in criminal policy, such as executing murderers versus locking them up for life, can reduce violence by a few percentage points, there can be no debate on the massive effects of having a criminal justice system as opposed to living in anarchy. The shockingly high homicide rates of pre-state societies, with 10 to 60 percent of the men dying at the hands of other men, provide one kind of evidence. Another is the emergence of a violent culture of honor in just about any corner of the world that is beyond the reach of law. ..The generalization that anarchy in the sense of a lack of government leads to anarchy in the sense of violent chaos may seem banal, but it is often over-looked in today's still-romantic climate.[53]

Some Anarcho-primitivists believe that this concept is used to justify the values of modern industrial society and move individuals further from their natural habitat and natural needs.[54][55] John Zerzan has noted the existence of tribal societies with less violence than "advanced" societies.[56] Zerzan and Theodore Kaczynski have talked about other forms of violence against the individual in advanced societies, generally expressed by the term "social anomie", that result from the system of monopolized security.[57] These authors do not dismiss the fact that humanity is changing while adapting to its different social realities,[58] but consider the situation anomalous. The two results are (1) that we either disappear or (2) become something very different from what we have come to value in our nature. It has been suggested that this shift towards civilization, through domestication, has caused an increase in diseases, labor, and psychological disorders.[59][60][61] In contrast, Pierre Clastres maintains that violence in primitive societies is a natural way for each community to maintain its political independence, while dismissing the state as a natural outcome of the evolution of human societies.[62]

Examples of state-collapse anarchy

English Civil War

Main article: English Civil War

Anarchy was one of the issues at the Putney Debates of 1647:

Thomas Rainsborough: I shall now be a little more free and open with you than I was before. I wish we were all true-hearted, and that we did all carry ourselves with integrity. If I did mistrust you I would not use such asseverations. I think it doth go on mistrust, and things are thought too readily matters of reflection, that were never intended. For my part, as I think, you forgot something that was in my speech, and you do not only yourselves believe that some men believe that the government is never correct, but you hate all men that believe that. And, sir, to say because a man pleads that every man hath a voice by right of nature, that therefore it destroys by the same argument all property -- this is to forget the Law of God. That there’s a property, the Law of God says it; else why hath God made that law, Thou shalt not steal? I am a poor man, therefore I must be oppressed: if I have no interest in the kingdom, I must suffer by all their laws be they right or wrong. Nay thus: a gentleman lives in a country and hath three or four lordships, as some men have (God knows how they got them); and when a Parliament is called he must be a Parliament-man; and it may be he sees some poor men, they live near this man, he can crush them -- I have known an invasion to make sure he hath turned the poor men out of doors; and I would fain know whether the potency of rich men do not this, and so keep them under the greatest tyranny that was ever thought of in the world. And therefore I think that to that it is fully answered: God hath set down that thing as to propriety with this law of his, Thou shalt not steal. And for my part I am against any such thought, and, as for yourselves, I wish you would not make the world believe that we are for anarchy.
Oliver Cromwell: I know nothing but this, that they that are the most yielding have the greatest wisdom; but really, sir, this is not right as it should be. No man says that you have a mind to anarchy, but that the consequence of this rule tends to anarchy, must end in anarchy; for where is there any bound or limit set if you take away this limit , that men that have no interest but the interest of breathing shall have no voice in elections? Therefore I am confident on 't, we should not be so hot one with another.[63]

As people began to theorize about the English Civil War, "anarchy" came to be more sharply defined, albeit from differing political perspectives:

  • 1651 – Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) describes the natural condition of mankind as a war of all against all, where man lives a brutish existence. "For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the concord whereof dependeth on natural lust, have no government at all, and live at this day in that brutish manner."[64] Hobbes finds three basic causes of the conflict in this state of nature: competition, diffidence and glory, "The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation". His first law of nature is that "that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war". In the state of nature, "every man has a right to every thing, even to then go for one another's body" but the second law is that, in order to secure the advantages of peace, "that a man be willing, when others are so too… to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself". This is the beginning of contracts/covenants; performing of which is the third law of nature. "Injustice," therefore, is failure to perform in a covenant; all else is just.
  • 1656 – James Harrington (The Commonwealth of Oceana) uses the term to describe a situation where the people use force to impose a government on an economic base composed of either solitary land ownership (absolute monarchy), or land in the ownership of a few (mixed monarchy). He distinguishes it from commonwealth, the situation when both land ownership and governance shared by the population at large, seeing it as a temporary situation arising from an imbalance between the form of government and the form of property relations.

French Revolution

Thomas Carlyle, Scottish essayist of the Victorian era known foremost for his widely influential work of history, The French Revolution, wrote that the French Revolution was a war against both aristocracy and anarchy:

Meanwhile, we will hate Anarchy as Death, which it is; and the things worse than Anarchy shall be hated more! Surely Peace alone is fruitful. Anarchy is destruction: a burning up, say, of Shams and Insupportabilities; but which leaves Vacancy behind. Know this also, that out of a world of Unwise nothing but an Unwisdom can be made. Arrange it, Constitution-build it, sift it through Ballot-Boxes as thou wilt, it is and remains an Unwisdom,-- the new prey of new quacks and unclean things, the latter end of it slightly better than the beginning. Who can bring a wise thing out of men unwise? Not one. And so Vacancy and general Abolition having come for this France, what can Anarchy do more? Let there be Order, were it under the Soldier's Sword; let there be Peace, that the bounty of the Heavens be not spilt; that what of Wisdom they do send us bring fruit in its season!-- It remains to be seen how the quellers of Sansculottism were themselves quelled, and sacred right of Insurrection was blown away by gunpowder: wherewith this singular eventful History called French Revolution ends.[65]

Armand II, duke of Aiguillon came before the National Assembly in 1789 and shared his views on the anarchy:

I may be permitted here to express my personal opinion. I shall no doubt not be accused of not loving liberty, but I know that not all movements of peoples lead to liberty. But I know that great anarchy quickly leads to great exhaustion and that despotism, which is a kind of rest, has almost always been the necessary result of great anarchy. It is therefore much more important than we think to end the disorder under which we suffer. If we can achieve this only through the use of force by authorities, then it would be thoughtless to keep refraining from using such force.[66]

Armand II was later exiled because he was viewed as being opposed to the revolution's violent tactics.

Professor Chris Bossche commented on the role of anarchy in the revolution:

In The French Revolution, the narrative of increasing anarchy undermined the narrative in which the revolutionaries were striving to create a new social order by writing a constitution.[67]

Jamaica 1720

Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, wrote to John Robinson, the Bishop of London, in 1720:

"As to the Englishmen that came as mechanics hither, very young and have now acquired good estates in Sugar Plantations and Indigo& co., of course they know no better than what maxims they learn in the Country. To be now short & plain Your Lordship will see that they have no maxims of Church and State but what are absolutely anarchical."

In the letter Lawes goes on to complain that these "estated men now are like Jonah's gourd" and details the humble origins of the "creolians" largely lacking an education and flouting the rules of church and state. In particular, he cites their refusal to abide by the Deficiency Act, which required slave owners to procure from England one white person for every 40 enslaved Africans, thereby hoping to expand their own estates and inhibit further English/Irish immigration. Lawes describes the government as being "anarchical, but nearest to any form of Aristocracy". "Must the King's good subjects at home who are as capable to begin plantations, as their Fathers, and themselves were, be excluded from their Liberty of settling Plantations in this noble Island, for ever and the King and Nation at home be deprived of so much riches, to make a few upstart Gentlemen Princes?"[68]

Anarchy from the Russian Civil War

During the Russian Civil War - which initially started as a confrontation between the Communists and Monarchists - on the territory of today's Ukraine, a new force emerged, namely the Anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine led by Nestor Makhno. The Ukrainian Anarchist during the Russian Civil War (also called the "Black Army") organized the Free Territory of Ukraine, an anarchist society, committed to resisting state authority, whether capitalist or communist.[69][70] This project was cut short by the consolidation of Bolshevik power. Makhno was described by anarchist theorist Emma Goldman as "an extraordinary figure" leading a revolutionary peasants' movement.[71] During 1918, most of Ukraine was controlled by the forces of the Central Powers, which were unpopular among the people. In March 1918, the young anarchist Makhno's forces and allied anarchist and guerrilla groups won victories against German, Austrian, and Ukrainian nationalist (the army of Symon Petlura) forces, and units of the White Army, capturing a lot of German and Austro-Hungarian arms. These victories over much larger enemy forces established Makhno's reputation as a military tactician; he became known as Batko (‘Father’) to his admirers.[72]

At this point, the emphasis on military campaigns that Makhno had adopted in the previous year shifted to political concerns. The first Congress of the Confederation of Anarchists Groups, under the name of Nabat ("the Alarm Drum"), issued five main principles: rejection of all political parties, rejection of all forms of dictatorships (including the dictatorship of the proletariat, viewed by Makhnovists and many anarchists of the day as a term synonymous with the dictatorship of the Bolshevik communist party), negation of any concept of a central state, rejection of a so-called "transitional period" necessitating a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, and self-management of all workers through free local workers' councils (soviets). While the Bolsheviks argued that their concept of dictatorship of the proletariat meant precisely "rule by workers' councils", the Makhnovist platform opposed the "temporary" Bolshevik measure of "party dictatorship". The Nabat was by no means a puppet of Mahkno and his supporters, from time to time criticizing the Black Army and its conduct in the war.

In 1918, after recruiting large numbers of Ukrainian peasants, as well as numbers of Jews, anarchists, naletchki, and recruits arriving from other countries, Makhno formed the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, otherwise known as the Anarchist Black Army. At its formation, the Black Army consisted of about 15,000 armed troops, including infantry and cavalry (both regular and irregular) brigades; artillery detachments were incorporated into each regiment. From November 1918 to June 1919, using the Black Army to secure its hold on power, the Makhnovists attempted to create an anarchist society in Ukraine, administered at the local level by autonomous peasants' and workers' councils.

The agricultural part of these villages was composed of peasants, someone understood at the same time peasants and workers. They were founded first of all on equality and solidarity of his members. All, men and women, worked together with a perfect conscience that they should work on fields or that they should be used in housework... Working program was established in meetings where all participated. They knew then exactly what they had to make.

—Makhno, Russian Revolution in Ukraine

New relationships and values were generated by this new social paradigm, which led Makhnovists to formalize the policy of free communities as the highest form of social justice. Education was organized on Francisco Ferrer's principles, and the economy was based upon free exchange between rural and urban communities, from crop and cattle to manufactured products, according to the science proposed by Peter Kropotkin.

Makhno called the Bolsheviks dictators and opposed the "Cheka [secret police]... and similar compulsory authoritative and disciplinary institutions" and called for "[f]reedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like".[73] The Bolsheviks accused the Makhnovists of imposing a formal government over the area they controlled, and also said that Makhnovists used forced conscription, committed summary executions, and had two military and counter-intelligence forces: the Razvedka and the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del (patterned after the Cheka and the GRU).[74] However, later historians have dismissed these claims as fraudulent propaganda.[75]

The Bolsheviks claimed that it would be impossible for a small, agricultural society to organize into an anarchist society so quickly. However, Eastern Ukraine had a large amount of coal mines, and was one of the most industrialised parts of the Russian Empire.

Spain 1936

In 1919, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), the Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, had grown to 1 million members, and encountered many fights with the police and the fascists in Spain. On July 18, 1936, General Franco led the army to launch their fight against the government, but instead of an easy victory they faced significant obstacles.[76] They were met with a big resistance from the people, and the rebels were supported by military and the police. With the government in shambles, the workers and peasants took over the government of Spain and joined together to create a revolutionary militia to fight the fascists. The workers and peasants were fighting to start a revolution, not to help save their government. Spain’s society was transposed by a social revolution. Every business was re-organized to have a company with no bosses; surprisingly profits increased by over half. While Stalin wanted to send arms but only on one condition: The party must be given government positions and the militias be “re-organized.” On May 2, 1937, the CNT issued a warning:

The guarantee of the revolution is the proletariat in arms. To attempt to disarm the people is to place oneself on the wrong side of the barricades. No councillor or police commissioner, no matter who he is, can order the disarming of the workers, who are fighting fascism with more self-sacrifice than all the politicians in the rear, whose incapacity and impotence everybody knows. Do not, on any account, allow yourselves to be disarmed![76]

On the next day after the warning was issued the CNT’s central exchange was attacked and the militias prepared to quit, in front of Barcelona. With this became a power struggle, and confusion which lead the workers to cease fire and lay down their weapons. The “re-organized” Republican Army tried one last attempt to gain control, with over 70,000 casualties, and many people fleeing to France, General Franco’s army entered Barcelona on January 26, 1939 to end the revolution.[76] For more information regarding anarchy in Spain please see Anarchism in Spain

Albania 1997

Main article: 1997 rebellion in Albania

Somalia 1991-2006

Main article: History of Somalia (1991-2006)

Following the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia and the ensuing collapse of the central government, residents reverted to local forms of conflict resolution; either secular, traditional or Islamic law, with a provision for appeal of all sentences. The legal structure in the country was thus divided along three lines: civil law, religious law and customary law (xeer).[77]

While Somalia's formal judicial system was largely destroyed after the fall of the Siad Barre regime, it was later gradually rebuilt and administered under different regional governments, such as the autonomous Puntland and Somaliland macro-regions. In the case of the Transitional National Government and its successor the Transitional Federal Government, new interim judicial structures were formed through various international conferences.

Despite some significant political differences between them, all of these administrations shared similar legal structures, much of which were predicated on the judicial systems of previous Somali administrations. These similarities in civil law included: a) a charter which affirms the primacy of Muslim shari'a or religious law, although in practice shari'a is applied mainly to matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and civil issues. The charter assured the independence of the judiciary, which in turn was protected by a judicial committee; b) a three-tier judicial system including a supreme court, a court of appeals, and courts of first instance (either divided between district and regional courts, or a single court per region); and c) the laws of the civilian government which were in effect prior to the military coup d'état that saw the Barre regime into power remain in forced until the laws are amended.[78]

Lists of ungoverned communities

Ungoverned communities

Anarchist communities

Anarchists have been involved in a wide variety of communities. While there are only a few instances of mass society "anarchies" that have come about from explicitly anarchist revolutions, there are also examples of intentional communities founded by anarchists.

Intentional communities
Mass societies
  • Free Territory (November 1918 – 1921)
  • Anarchist Catalonia (July 21, 1936 – May 1937)

See also


  1. Goodway, David. Anarchists Seed Beneath the Snow. Liverpool Press. 2006, p. 4
  2. MacDonald, Dwight & Wreszin, Michael. Interviews with Dwight Macdonald. University Press of Mississippi, 2003. p. 82
  3. Bufe, Charles. The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations. See Sharp Press, 1992. p. iv
  4. Gay, Kathlyn. Encyclopedia of Political Anarchy. ABC-CLIO / University of Michigan, 2006, p. 126
  5. Woodcock, George. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Broadview Press, 2004. (Uses the terms interchangeably, such as on page 10)
  6. Skirda, Alexandre. Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. AK Press 2002. p. 183.
  7. Fernandez, Frank. Cuban Anarchism. The History of a Movement. See Sharp Press, 2001, page 9.

External links

  • On the Steppes of Central Asia, by Matt Stone. Online version of book, hosted by
  • Cato Unbound focusing on Somali anarchy.
  • "Historical Examples of Anarchy without Chaos", a list of essays hosted by
  • ", online @n@rchive" Principles, propositions & discussions for Land and Freedom
  • Brandon's Anarchy Page, classic essays and modern discussions. Online since 1994.
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