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The word "anarchy" is from the Greek, prefix an (or a), meaning "not," "the want of," "the absence of," or "the lack of", plus archos, meaning "a ruler," "director", "chief," "person in charge," or "authority".

The "A" is reported to stand for anarchy. So why is it capitalized?

Or, as Peter Kropotkin put it, anarchy comes from the Greek words meaning "contrary to authority". [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 284]

And, just to state the obvious, anarchy does not mean chaos nor do anarchists seek to create chaos or disorder. Instead, we wish to create a society based upon communitarian unity and voluntary co-operation. In other words, order from the bottom up, not disorder imposed from the top down by authorities.

However, in anarchist philosophies, anarchy means an "anarchist society", that is, a society where individuals are free from coercion. Anarchists do not believe, as Jean-Francois Revel wrote in Democracy against Itself, that "... anarchy leads to despotism ... despotism leads to anarchy ..." [1] – that may or may not be true of "anarchy" in the sense of disorder, but anarchists do not believe that it is true of "anarchy" in the sense of anarchism.

Anarchist theories have a fundamental critique of government, a vision of a society without government, and a proposed method of reaching such a society. The details of the political, economic, and social organization of an anarchist society vary among different branches of anarchist political thought, as do the proposed means to achieve a society organized along those lines. However, there are certain principles shared by all anarchists, most notably the basic principle of non-hierarchy (in an anarchist society there cannot be any kind of social hierarchy) and its derivatives, such as the principle of equal decision-making power (all people must have equal decision-making power in an anarchist society; if some have more power than others, then a hierarchy is formed).

Anarchy is the state of having no government. It is distinguished in political science from anarchism, the belief that anarchy, defined by them as the absence of major hierarchies such as class and the state, with power flowing from the bottom up, is the best possible system for humanity to live under. This causes confusion when self-declared anarchists protest against government cuts in public spending. Surely, as believers in the absense of the state, they'd be campaigning for government cuts in public spending. Another ideology exists, called 'anarcho-capitalism', however, some more left-leaning anarchists would consider this an oxymoron.

Many political philosophers consider anarchy the original "base state" of humanity. Some then go on to say that we are much better without it.[1] Others consider the natural state to be great but impossible to return to.[2]

Anarchy is also the word used to describe a state of chaos, lawlessness and disorder, frequently seemingly brought about by the lack of government. However it is important, or at least useful, to decide at any particular time which definition is being used. Otherwise all discussion and dialogue will descend into . . . . . . . anarchy. Anarchists are generally careful to note that, "No rulers does not mean no rules," as 'no ruler' is the origin of the word 'anarchy'. Subsequently, many people believe that anarchy is just the removal of the current government, and not absence of all law.

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Real examples[edit]

Real examples of this are Celtic Ireland up until Cromwell's invasion during the English Civil War, Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, and most hunter-gatherer societies. Some anarchists would refer to the Paris Commune as being anarchistic, at least until the Blanquists began to take over.

Many consider the failed state of Somalia to be a real life example of this, where the southern 2/3 have been in a civil war for the last decade. There is a technically recognized government; however, that government does not have any authority anywhere in the country. Some Somalis ended up supporting a totalitarian Islamic regime just to have a semblance of order. The United States, with its ally Ethiopia, kicked out that regime and everything's falling back into its previous state. However, most anarchists would not accept this as being 'anarchy', as there were still rulers and major hierarchies, such as class and rule by warlords, and many would also argue that it was brought about by imperialist wars by 'First World' nations. As anarchism is a generally internationalist movement, they would also doubt the idea that since Somalia has more than one ruler within its borders, this somehow makes it anarchist, as the national borders, in their opinions, are artificial and meaningless.

However, Somalia does have a customary law system which some self-identified anarchists (particularly so-called "anarcho-capitalists) see as an example of how a stateless society can function.

Contrast with mobocracy[edit]

Anarchy should not be confused with mobocracy, or ochlocracy as it's more technically termed. In mobocracy, there is at least some governing authority but the mob easily sways the government's decisions - effectively the weight of consensus or the assertions of strongly opinionated individuals can overrule any nominal leadership. In true anarchy, there is no governing authority whatsoever other than the people, though some forms of democracy (especially direct and decentralized) can be compatible with anarchy.

Contrast with chaos[edit]

Anarchy is compared to, or even described as equal to chaos or anomie. However, anarchy is defined by the lack of a ruler, and anomie by the lack of rules.

Use of the term in international relations[edit]

In international relations, anarchy is a term of art that refers to the state of the international system, since there is no authority that controls how states interact. (The few attempts at decreasing international anarchy, such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, have been spectacular failures due to certain nations having leaders that just don't care, and have an army to back themselves up - like the United States of Mid-North America.) The cornerstone of most neo-realist thought is that anarchy means that states will continue to war with each other forever. Constructivists, on the other hand, believe that anarchy is itself shaped by the norms that the states adopt.[3] It should be noted that in this case, anarchy most definitely does not mean a lack of heirarchy; the international system is distinctly heirarchic, with the US as the unipole/hyperpower. Anarchists would probably argue because the state of international relations is not what they mean by anarchy, but competing hierarchies and much chaos.

See also[edit]


  1. For an example of this, see Hobbes's Leviathan.
  2. For an example of this, see Rousseau's Social Contract
  3. This is best expressed as "Anarchy is what you make of it," by Wendt.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

World Wide Web links[edit]

See also: list of anarchist web resources

  • Anarchist FAQ — large site includes many questions and answers on anarchy and anarchism. (Site may have moved or been deleted)
  • Anarkismo - Anarchist News Forum
  • Libcom - Anarchist News and Forum
  • A-Infos - International Anarchist News Service
  • Riot-Folk! — resource for free anarchist music

Freenet links[edit]

Note: These freesite links cannot be viewed without prior set up. For explanation on how to set up a connection see ways to view a freesite.
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  • SSK Anarchy Freesite allowing everybody to publish new editions.
  • Anarchy Freesite allowing everybody to edit the current edition.
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