Anarchy is a society without a government. It may also refer to a society or group of people that entirely rejects a set hierarchy.

In practical terms, anarchy can refer to the curtailment or abolition of traditional forms of government and institutions. It can also designate a nation or any inhabited place that has no system of government or central rule. Anarchy is primarily advocated by individual anarchists who propose replacing government with voluntary institutions. These institutions or free associations are generally modeled on nature since they can represent concepts such as community and economic self-reliance, interdependence, or individualism. Although anarchy is often negatively used as a synonym of chaos or societal collapse or anomie, this is not the meaning that anarchists attribute to anarchy, a society without hierarchies.


Anarchy comes from the Latin word anarchia, which came from the Greek word anarchos ("having no ruler"), with an- ("not" or "without") + archos ("ruler") literally meaning "without [a] ruler".[1] Anarchy was first used in English in 1539, meaning "an absence of government".[1]



Hunter-gatherers are considered to be living in an anarchistic society.

Peter Leeson examined a variety of institutions of private law enforcement developed in anarchic situations by eighteenth century pirates, preliterate tribesmen, and Californian prison gangs. These groups all adapted different methods of private law enforcement to meet their specific needs and the particulars of their anarchic situation.[2]

International relationsEdit

In international relations, anarchy is "the absence of any authority superior to nation-states and capable of arbitrating their disputes and enforcing international law".[3][4]

Political philosophyEdit


As a political philosophy, anarchism advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies,[5][6][7] although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations.[8] Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful.[6][9] While opposition to the state is central, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition.[10][11] Anarchism also entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of all human relations, including yet not limited to the state system.[12][13][14]

Immanuel KantEdit

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant treated anarchy in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View as consisting of "Law and Freedom without Force". 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 a republic. Kant identified four kinds of government:[15]

  1. Law and freedom without force (anarchy)
  2. Law and force without freedom (despotism)
  3. Force without freedom and law (barbarism)
  4. Force with freedom and law (republic)

Examples of state-collapse anarchyEdit

English Civil War (1642–1651)Edit

Mainland Europe experienced near-anarchy in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).

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."[16]

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".[17] Hobbes finds three basic causes of the conflict in this state of nature, namely 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 "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. Therefore, injustice is failure to perform in a covenant and all else is just.
  • 1656 – James Harrington (The Commonwealth of Oceana) uses anarchy 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 (1789–1799)Edit

Heads of aristocrats on spikes

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.[18]

In 1789, Armand, duc d'Aiguillon came before the National Assembly 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.[19]

Armand 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.[20]

Jamaica (1720)Edit

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

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", further arguing: "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?"[21]

Albania (1997)Edit

In 1997, Albania fell into a state of anarchy,[22] mainly due to the heavy losses of money caused by the collapse of pyramid firms. As a result of the societal collapse, heavily armed criminals roamed freely with near total impunity. There were often 3–4 gangs per city, especially in the south, where the police did not have sufficient resources to deal with gang-related crime.

Somalia (1991–2006)Edit

Map of Somalia showing the major self-declared states and areas of factional control in 2006

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 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; 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 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.[23]

Economist Alex Tabarrok claimed that Somalia in its stateless period provided a "unique test of the theory of anarchy", in some aspects near of that espoused by anarcho-capitalists such as David D. Friedman and Murray Rothbard.[24] Nonetheless, both anarchists and some anarcho-capitalists such as Walter Block argue that Somalia was not an anarchist society.[25][26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Anarchy". Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  2. ^ Leeson, Peter (2014). "Pirates, Prisoners, and Preliterates: Anarchic Context and the Private Enforcement of Law" (PDF). European Journal of Law and Economics. 37 (3): 365–379. doi:10.1007/s10657-013-9424-x. S2CID 41552010.
  3. ^ Lechner, Silviya (November 2017). "Anarchy in International Relations". International Studies Association. Oxford University Press: 1–26. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.79. ISBN 978-0-19-084662-6.
  4. ^ Eckstein, Arthur M.; et al. (8 September 2020). "Anarchy". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  5. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1910). "Anarchism". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  6. ^ a b Crowder, George (2005). "Anarchism". In Craig, Edward (ed.). The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. p. 14-15. ISBN 0-415-32495-5.
  7. ^ Sheehan, Sean (2003). Anarchism. London: Reaktion Books. p. 85. ISBN 1-86189-169-5.
  8. ^ Suissa, Judith (2006). Anarchism and Education: a Philosophical Perspective. Routledge. p. 7. ISBN 0-415-37194-5.
  9. ^ Mclaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 59. ISBN 978-0754661962.
  10. ^ Mclaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 28. ISBN 978-0754661962. Anarchists do reject the state, as we will see. But to claim that this central aspect of anarchism is definitive is to sell anarchism short.
  11. ^ Jun, Nathan (September 2009). "Anarchist Philosophy and Working Class Struggle: A Brief History and Commentary". WorkingUSA. 12 (3): 505–519. doi:10.1111/j.1743-4580.2009.00251.x. ISSN 1089-7011. One common misconception, which has been rehearsed repeatedly by the few Anglo-American philosophers who have bothered to broach the topic ... is that anarchism can be defined solely in terms of opposition to states and governments (p. 507)
  12. ^ McLaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. AshGate. p. 1. ISBN 9780754661962. Authority is defined in terms of the right to exercise social control (as explored in the "sociology of power") and the correlative duty to obey (as explored in the "philosophy of practical reason"). Anarchism is distinguished, philosophically, by its scepticism towards such moral relations – by its questioning of the claims made for such normative power – and, practically, by its challenge to those "authoritative" powers which cannot justify their claims and which are therefore deemed illegitimate or without moral foundation.
  13. ^ Woodcock, George (1962). Anarchism: A History Of Libertarian Ideas And Movements. World Publishing Company. p. 9. LCCN 62-12355. All anarchists deny authority; many of them fight against it.
  14. ^ Brown, L. Susan (2002). "Anarchism as a Political Philosophy of Existential Individualism: Implications for Feminism". The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism and Anarchism. Black Rose Books Ltd. Publishing. p. 106.
  15. ^ Louden, Robert B., ed. (2006). Kant: Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Cambridge University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-521-67165-1.
  16. ^ "The Putney Debates, The Forum at the Online Library of Liberty". Source: Sir William Clarke, Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647–9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction A.S.P. Woodhouse, foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951).
  17. ^ "Chapter XIII". Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  18. ^ Thomas Carlyle. The French Revolution.
  19. ^ "Duke d'Aiguillon". 2007-11-14. Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
  20. ^ "Revolution in Search of Authority". 2001-10-26. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
  21. ^ Jamaica: Description of the Principal Persons there (about 1720, Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor) in Caribbeana Vol. III (1911), edited by Vere Langford Oliver
  22. ^ Raic, D. (25 September 2002). Statehood and the Law of Self-Determination. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 69. ISBN 90-411-1890-X. An example of a situation which features aspects of anarchy rather than civil war is the case of Albania after the outbreak of chaos in 1997.
  23. ^ Le Sage, Andre (1 June 2005). "Stateless Justice in Somalia" (PDF). Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  24. ^ Tabarrok, Alex (21 April 2004). "Somalia and the theory of anarchy". Marginal Revolution. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  25. ^ Knight, Alex R., III (7 October 2009). "The Truth About Somalia And Anarchy". Center for a Stateless Society. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  26. ^ Block, Walter (Fall 1999). "Review Essay" (PDF). The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. 2 (3). Retrieved 28 January 2010. But if we define anarchy as places without governments, and we define governments as the agencies with a legal right to impose violence on their subjects, then whatever else occurred in Haiti, Sudan, and Somalia, it wasn't anarchy. For there were well-organized gangs (e.g., governments) in each of these places, demanding tribute, and fighting others who made similar impositions. Absence of government means absence of government, whether well established ones, or fly-by-nights.


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