Anarchy is a form of society without rulers. It is primarily advocated by anarchists who propose replacing the state with a stateless society based on voluntary free association. These institutions or free associations are generally modeled to represent concepts such as community and economic self-reliance, interdependence, or individualism. In simple terms anarchy means 'without rulers' or 'without authority'. As such, under anarchy there is no coercive rule by a single group or individual, rather instead by an individual upon themselves or by the people entirely.


As a concept, anarchy is commonly defined by what it excludes.[1] Etymologically, anarchy is derived from the Greek: αναρχία, romanizedanarchia; where "αν" ("an") means "without" and "αρχία" ("archia") means "ruler".[2] Therefore, anarchy is fundamentally defined by the absence of rulers.[3]

While anarchy specifically represents a society without rulers, it can more generally refer to a stateless society,[4] or a society without government.[5] Anarchy is thus defined in direct contrast to the State,[6] an institution that claims a monopoly on violence over a given territory.[7] Anarchists such as Errico Malatesta have also defined anarchy more precisely as a society without authority,[8] or hierarchy.[9]

Anarchy is also often defined synonymously as chaos or social disorder,[10] reflecting the state of nature as depicted by Thomas Hobbes.[11] By this definition, anarchy represents not only an absence of government but also an absence of governance. This connection of anarchy with chaos usually assumes that, without government, no means of governance exist and thus that disorder is an unavoidable outcome of anarchy.[12] Sociologist Francis Dupuis-Déri has described chaos as a "degenerate form of anarchy", in which there is an absence, not just of rulers, but of any kind of political organization.[13] He contrasts the "rule of all" under anarchy with the "rule of none" under chaos.[14]

Since its conception, anarchy has been used in both a positive and negative sense, respectively describing a free society without coercion or a state of chaos.[15]



See also: Acephalous society and Primitive communism

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.[16]

International relations

Main article: Anarchy (international relations)

In international relations, anarchy is "the absence of any authority superior to nation-states and capable of arbitrating their disputes and enforcing international law".[17][18]

Political philosophy


Main article: Anarchism

As a political philosophy, anarchism advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies,[19][20][21] although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations.[22] Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful.[20][23] While opposition to the state is central, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition.[24][25] Anarchism also entails opposing unnecessary authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of all human relations, including yet not limited to the state system.[26][27][28]

Immanuel Kant

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:[29]

  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)

See also


  1. ^ Bell 2020, p. 310.
  2. ^ Dupuis-Déri 2010, p. 13; Marshall 1993, p. 3.
  3. ^ Chartier & Van Schoelandt 2020, p. 1; Dupuis-Déri 2010, p. 13; Marshall 1993, pp. 19–20; McKay 2018, pp. 118–119.
  4. ^ Chartier & Van Schoelandt 2020, p. 1; Dupuis-Déri 2010, pp. 14–15.
  5. ^ Marshall 1993, p. 3; Morris 2020, p. 40; Sensen 2020, p. 99.
  6. ^ Amster 2018, p. 15; Bell 2020, p. 310; Boettke & Candela 2020, p. 226; Morris 2020, pp. 39–42; Sensen 2020, p. 99.
  7. ^ Bell 2020, p. 310; Boettke & Candela 2020, p. 226; Morris 2020, pp. 43–45.
  8. ^ Marshall 1993, p. 42; McLaughlin 2007, p. 12.
  9. ^ Amster 2018, p. 23.
  10. ^ Bell 2020, p. 309; Boettke & Candela 2020, p. 226; Chartier & Van Schoelandt 2020, p. 1.
  11. ^ Boettke & Candela 2020, p. 226; Morris 2020, pp. 39–40; Sensen 2020, p. 99.
  12. ^ Boettke & Candela 2020, p. 226.
  13. ^ Dupuis-Déri 2010, pp. 16–17.
  14. ^ Dupuis-Déri 2010, pp. 17–18.
  15. ^ Marshall 1993, p. 3.
  16. ^ 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-09-26. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Eckstein, Arthur M.; et al. (8 September 2020). "Anarchy". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  19. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1910). "Anarchism". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Sheehan, Sean (2003). Anarchism. London: Reaktion Books. p. 85. ISBN 1-86189-169-5.
  22. ^ Suissa, Judith (2006). Anarchism and Education: a Philosophical Perspective. Routledge. p. 7. ISBN 0-415-37194-5.
  23. ^ Mclaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 59. ISBN 978-0754661962.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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)
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Louden, Robert B., ed. (2006). Kant: Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Cambridge University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-521-67165-1.


Further reading