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.
The word anarchy comes from the ancient Greek ? (anarchia) which combines ? (a), "without, not" and ? (arkhi), "ruler, authority". Thus, the term refers to the state of a society being without authorities or an authoritative governing body.
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 ("legitimation", etymologically fancifully from legem timere, i.e. "fearing the law"). For there to be such a state, force must be included while law and freedom are maintained, a state which Kant calls a republic.
Although most known societies are characterized by the presence of hierarchy or the state, anthropologists have studied many egalitarian stateless societies, including most nomadic hunter-gatherer societies and horticultural societies such as the Semai and the Piaroa. Many of these societies can be considered to be anarchic in the sense that they explicitly reject the idea of centralized political authority.
The egalitarianism typical of human hunter-gatherers is interesting when viewed in an evolutionary context. One of humanity's two closest primate relatives, the chimpanzee, is anything but egalitarian, forming hierarchies that are dominated by alpha males. So great is the contrast with human hunter-gatherers that it is widely argued by palaeoanthropologists that resistance to being dominated was a key factor driving the development of human consciousness, language, kinship and social organization.
In Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, anarchist anthropologistDavid Graeber attempts to outline areas of research that intellectuals might explore in creating a cohesive body of anarchistsocial theory. Graeber posits that anthropology is "particularly well positioned" as an academic discipline that can look at the gamut of human societies and organizations to study, analyze and catalog alternative social and economic structures around the world, and most importantly, present these alternatives to the world.
In Society Against the State, Pierre Clastres examines stateless societies where certain cultural practices and attitudes avert the development of hierarchy and the state. He dismisses the notion that the state is the natural outcome of the evolution of human societies.
In The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott studies Zomia, a vast stateless upland region on Southeast Asia. The hills of Zomia isolate it from the lowland states and create a refuge for people to escape to. Scott argues that the particular social and cultural characteristics of the hill people were adapted to escape capture by the lowland states and should not be viewed as relics of barbarism abandoned by civilization.
Peter Leeson examines 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.
Anarcho-primitivists base their critique of civilization partly on anthropological studies of nomadic hunter-gatherers, noting that the shift towards domestication has likely caused increases in disease, labor, inequality, warfare and psychological disorders. Authors such as John Zerzan have argued that negative stereotypes of primitive societies (e.g. that they are typically extremely violent or impoverished) are used to justify the values of modern industrial society and to move individuals further away from more natural and equitable conditions.
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.
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". 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 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 (1789-1799)
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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 and became known as Batko ("Father") to his admirers.
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". 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, namely the Razvedka and the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del (patterned after the Cheka and the GRU). However, later historians have dismissed these claims as fraudulent propaganda.
In 1997, Albania fell into a state of anarchy, 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.
Map of Somalia showing the major self-declared states and areas of factional control in 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).
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.
Lists of ungoverned communities
The entrance of Freetown Christiania, a Danish neighborhood autonomous from local government controls
Zomia, Southeast Asian highlands beyond control of governments
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.
^Benjamin Franks; Nathan Jun; Leonard Williams (2018). Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. Taylor & Francis. pp. 104-. ISBN978-1-317-40681-5. Anarchism can be defined in terms of a rejection of hierarchies, such as capitalism, racism or sexism, a social view of freedom in which access to material resources and liberty of others as prerequisites to personal freedom [...].
^"anarchy, n.". OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
^"ANARCHISM, a social philosophy that rejects authoritarian government and maintains that voluntary institutions are best suited to express man's natural social tendencies." George Woodcock. "Anarchism" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
^"Anarchism." The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2005. p. 14 "Anarchism is the view that a society without the state, or government, is both possible and desirable."
^Sheehan, Sean. Anarchism, London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2004. p. 85
^"as many anarchists have stressed, it is not government as such that they find objectionable, but the hierarchical forms of government associated with the nation state". Judith Suissa. Anarchism and Education: a Philosophical Perspective. Routledge. New York. 2006. p. 7
^"That is why Anarchy, when it works to destroy authority in all its aspects, when it demands the abrogation of laws and the abolition of the mechanism that serves to impose them, when it refuses all hierarchical organisation and preaches free agreement - at the same time strives to maintain and enlarge the precious kernel of social customs without which no human or animal society can exist." Peter Kropotkin. Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal
^Murray Bookchin (1982). The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Palo Alto, California: Cheshire Books. p. 3. "My use of the word hierarchy in the subtitle of this work is meant to be provocative. There is a strong theoretical need to contrast hierarchy with the more widespread use of the words class and State; careless use of these terms can produce a dangerous simplification of social reality. To use the words hierarchy, class, and State interchangeably, as many social theorists do, is insidious and obscurantist. This practice, in the name of a "classless" or "libertarian" society, could easily conceal the existence of hierarchical relationships and a hierarchical sensibility, both of which-even in the absence of economic exploitation or political coercion-would serve to perpetuate unfreedom."
^Paul McLaughlin (2007). Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. AshGate. p. 1. "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."
^Emma Goldman. "What it Really Stands for Anarchy" in Anarchism and Other Essays. "Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations."
^Benjamin Tucker. Individual Liberty. Individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker defined anarchism as opposition to authority, as follows: "They found that they must turn either to the right or to the left, - follow either the path of Authority or the path of Liberty. Marx went one way; Warren and Proudhon the other. Thus were born State Socialism and Anarchism ... Authority, takes many shapes, but, broadly speaking, her enemies divide themselves into three classes: first, those who abhor her both as a means and as an end of progress, opposing her openly, avowedly, sincerely, consistently, universally; second, those who profess to believe in her as a means of progress, but who accept her only so far as they think she will subserve their own selfish interests, denying her and her blessings to the rest of the world; third, those who distrust her as a means of progress, believing in her only as an end to be obtained by first trampling upon, violating, and outraging her. These three phases of opposition to Liberty are met in almost every sphere of thought and human activity. representatives of the first are seen in the Catholic Church and the Russian autocracy; of the second, in the Protestant Church and the Manchester school of politics and political economy; of the third, in the atheism of Gambetta and the socialism of Karl Marx."
^Anarchist historian George Woodcock report of Mikhail Bakunin's anti-authoritarianism and shows opposition to both state and non-state forms of authority as follows: "All anarchists deny authority; many of them fight against it." (p. 9) ... Bakunin did not convert the League's central committee to his full program, but he did persuade them to accept a remarkably radical recommendation to the Berne Congress of September 1868, demanding economic equality and implicitly attacking authority in both Church and State."
^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.
^Sylvan, Richard (1995). "Anarchism". In Goodwin, Robert E. and Pettit (eds.). A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy. Philip. Blackwell Publishing. p. 231.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
^Ostergaard, Geoffrey. "Anarchism". The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought. Blackwell Publishing. p. 14.
^Brooks, Frank H. (1994). The Individualist Anarchists: An Anthology of Liberty (1881-1908). Transaction Publishers. p. xi. ISBN1-56000-132-1. Usually considered to be an extreme left-wing ideology, anarchism has always included a significant strain of radical individualism, from the hyperrationalism of Godwin, to the egoism of Stirner, to the libertarians and anarcho-capitalists of today
^Joseph Kahn (2000). "Anarchism, the Creed That Won't Stay Dead; The Spread of World Capitalism Resurrects a Long-Dormant Movement". The New York Times (5 August).Colin Moynihan (2007). "Book Fair Unites Anarchists. In Spirit, Anyway". New York Times (16 April).
^Post-left anarcho-communist Bob Black after analysing insurrectionary anarcho-communist Luigi Galleani's view on anarcho-communism went as far as saying that "communism is the final fulfillment of individualism.... The apparent contradiction between individualism and communism rests on a misunderstanding of both.... Subjectivity is also objective: the individual really is subjective. It is nonsense to speak of 'emphatically prioritizing the social over the individual'.... You may as well speak of prioritizing the chicken over the egg. Anarchy is a 'method of individualization'. It aims to combine the greatest individual development with the greatest communal unity."Bob Black. Nightmares of Reason.
^"Modern Communists are more individualistic than Stirner. To them, not merely religion, morality, family and State are spooks, but property also is no more than a spook, in whose name the individual is enslaved - and how enslaved!...Communism thus creates a basis for the liberty and Eigenheit of the individual. I am a Communist because I am an Individualist. Fully as heartily the Communists concur with Stirner when he puts the word take in place of demand - that leads to the dissolution of property, to expropriation. Individualism and Communism go hand in hand." Max Baginski. "Stirner: The Ego and His Own" on Mother Earth. Vol. 2. No. 3 May 1907
^"This stance puts him squarely in the libertarian socialist tradition and, unsurprisingly, (Benjamin) Tucker referred to himself many times as a socialist and considered his philosophy to be "Anarchistic socialism." "An Anarchist FAQby Various Authors
^"Because revolution is the fire of our will and a need of our solitary minds; it is an obligation of the libertarian aristocracy. To create new ethical values. To create new aesthetic values. To communalize material wealth. To individualize spiritual wealth." Renzo Novatore. Toward the Creative Nothing
^Skirda, Alexandre. Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. AK Press, 2002, p. 191.
^Daniel Guérin. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. "At the end of the century in France, Sebastien Faure took up a word originated in 1858 by one Joseph Déjacque to make it the title of a journal, Le Libertaire. Today the terms 'anarchist' and 'libertarian' have become interchangeable."
^Perlin, Terry M. (1979). Contemporary Anarchism. Transaction Publishers. p. 40. ISBN0-87855-097-6.
^Erdal, D.; Whiten, A. (1994). "On human egalitarianism: an evolutionary product of Machiavellian status escalation?". Current Anthropology. 35 (2): 175-183. doi:10.1086/204255.
^Erdal, D. and A. Whiten 1996. Egalitarianism and Machiavellian intelligence in human evolution. In P. Mellars and K. Gibson (eds), Modelling the early human mind. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.
^"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).]