Anarchy is the lack of government - or more specifically, the lack of governmental enforcement of rules. Traditional political philosophers, such as Hobbes, generally believed that this would result in violent disorder, but this is not necessarily the case.

Government, if defined as an organization that systematically enforces a set of rules, are not necessary for order. Most things can be controlled by social systems other then a government--for example peer pressure, the family, and religion. The problem with starting an anarchy is that without strong organization large cities (and countries) will quickly fall apart. However, we have various examples of well-functioning anarchies. The !kung, along with other hunting and gathering groups, are recent examples of working anarchic systems. These societies tend to live in small groups of 20 or so individuals. They also have not stood up well in the face of large-scale governments trying to move into their territories. In recent memory, such societies have largely only survived in the harshest and most demanding of environments.

One of the main ideals of modern anarchy requires that no-one hurt anyone else. This includes any form of violence except possibly forced banishment in extreme cases -- if a person is uncontrollably violent, they can not be allowed to live in a system in which no-one else will raise a hand against them. Exactly what is meant by forbidding anyone to 'hurt' others changes from one view of anarchy to another, but murder and slavery are right out.

Generally, governmental power is based on the ability to enforce rules by incarceration or confiscation. If law-breakers were to put up any type of resistance a government could do nothing under an anarchic system. Therefore, as far as anarchists are concerned, governments are near useless (as far as law enforcement goes). Governments would not be able to enforce tax laws, so they would have to function either as non-profit organizations, surviving off of donations, or would have to functions as corporations, charging for the services they provide as utility companies do.

Military action against outsiders is usually considered okay under anarchist systems -- As long as enlistment in the army is voluntary. Only the hurting of members of your own society is un-anarchic. Weird.

I have serious doubt as to the plausibility of this idea.

Anarchy, as a philosophical concept, is an interesting abstract to argue. However ... there is an entire movement of people who are honestly searching for this sort of reality.

Outside of the argument of the beneficial/detrimental value of anarchy, there is this plausibility question. Can people really have no structure, no leaders? Sure ... I can buy that thre can be a lack of real government (hell ... look at many African nations, such as Somalia), but there is a real sociological finding that people naturally seek leaders.

Even looking at the anarchist movement, this is seen. For a movement to exist, there must be one or more motivators or leaders. It seems that even within those people most vehemently buying into anarchy, they cannot realize their ideals.
The purpose of this metanode is to link to specific, real-life examples where anarchy/libertarianism/chaordic systems/spontaneous order/your favorite synonym here have failed, and where they have succeeded1. An example doesn't have to be "complete" anarchy (whatever that means). Any step toward a flatter hierarchy; a more open and distributed strategy; or a lazier and more elegant way of doing things qualifies as a useful example.

Successes of Anarcholiberchaordecentralization

VISA International
Dee Hock's early experiment in an anarchistic style of management which he coined the term 'chaordic' to describe.





Organizations that Share Some Anarchist Principles
(whether they know it or not)

Miscellaneous Nodes

There are various versions of anarchism. One relatively popular idea is that government should be replaced by competing protective agencies which define and defend rights and enforce justice for their paying customers. There are various alleged reasons offered for why this arrangement is better than a governmental monopoly on legal retaliatory use of physical force. The actual reasons for why one would support this idea can be discovered by observing what the idea's implementation would mean in practice.

John and Bob are decent people who ordinarily agree on most issues. John has a sexual relationship with Bob's teenage daughter, which he defends on the grounds that she is capable of deciding on this matter on her own. Bob believes that John should be punished because he manipulated a child into acting in a self-destructive way. How are Bob and John to resolve this dispute?

In a governmental system, John and Bob would appeal to the courts, who would resolve the dispute according to law. In an anarchistic system, if John and Bob belong to the same protective agency, they would have to utilize that protective agency's equivalent of a court. The issue becomes interesting if Bob and John belong to different protective agencies.

An agency's ability to protect its clients and enforce its clients' perception of justice is necessary to the agency's continued existence (since agencies which cannot do that do not receive many customers). Bob's protective agency must bring John (whom it perceives to be guilty) to justice (if it wants to survive). John's protective agency must protect John (whom it perceives to be innocent) from the initialization of force on the part of Bob's protective agency (if it wants to survive).

It's possible that the two protective agencies have previously established a method for resolving these sorts of disputes, and that they appeal to that method now. That's analogous and identical in result to the application of law by a court, so it provides no advantages over the governmental solution of the problem.

But, if Bob's and John's protective agencies have no previously established method for resolving disputes (and if they fail to make one now), the only recourse left to them is physical force. Bob's protective agency must destroy John's protective agency (which is protecting a criminal) while John's protective agency must destroy Bob's protective agency (which is initializing the use of physical force against an innocent).

The only two ways of resolving disputes between men are:

  1. An appeal to some objective way of solving disputes such as law or an impartial judge.
  2. Brute physical force.

Anarchism introduces brute physical force as a viable method of resolving disputes. In a governmental society, if Bob were to physically assault John, Bob would be held accountable by the government and would be treated as a criminal. In an anarchy, there is no entity which holds protective agencies accountable, and so Bob's protective agency is free to act against John's without fear of retaliation. Further, since in an anarchy the acting entities wouldn't be merely John and Bob but John's and Bob's protective agencies which consist of many people, the use of physical force would entail more death and destruction than John and Bob's dispute ever could in a governmental society.

What makes government a necessity is the need of honest people to resolve honest disputes by means other than physical force. A government is properly an entity which holds a monopoly on the legal use of retaliatory force, thus forcing people to resolve their disputes via impartial, objective laws. The solution to the problem of a government which initiates the use of force against its citizens is not discarding government as such, but finding ways to limit its power. This is the function of documents such as the United States Constitution.

I've been searching the Internet for explanations of the fear that most of us feel toward anarchy.

Under anarchy, writes Steve Kangas, "market failures, monopolies, flukes in supply and demand and other external factors may lead to a far different result from mistreated tenants and employees simply moving elsewhere."

Well, he's right. But with governmental controls in place, mistreated tenants and employees may be able to move elsewhere even under these conditions. This seems like a good thing until you examine the costs. One cost is that of the initial enforcement of the controls. Another is the loss of "market education" or "the school of hard knocks." The unnatural aide provided by the government controls prevents the natural growth of behaviors that mitigate the problems caused by market failures, monopolies, flukes in supply and demand, and other external factors. As such unnatural aide appears more and more useful, it grows, consuming ever more of the resources provided by taxpayers, and thus it slowly destroys them. Were such controls kept out of existence, mistreated tenants and employees would discover, invent, and enhance ways to mitigate the problems rather than relying on the resources of other taxpayers to prevent those problems.

The arguments I have found against anarchy are all based in fear of stronger people. I recognize that stronger animals prey on weaker ones and this is because the highest value of the weaker ones is as food. But humans recognize each other as valuable because they are capable of producing more than they need and we tend to produce more when we are happy. For this reason, I reject the underlying assumption that strong people will prey on weak ones. Rather, I believe that strong people will provide valuable opportunities to weaker ones to improve their strength and ability in trading relationships in which both the stronger and the weaker benefit.

The beauty and terror of this argument is that to disagree is to admit a belief that humans are inherently evil - that it is natural for the strong to prey upon the weak - that the typical human is more valuable when unhappy than it is when happy. Can you argue against my faith in humans without that disgusting attitude toward your fellow man?

An argument has been made that without a government, people would hire private companies to protect them and when two private companies disagree on whether a client of one has perpetrated a crime against a client of the other, the two private companies have only brute force left as a recourse. However, if anarchy were removed and a government was used to solve this problem*, the problem remains unsolved in that one or the other of the alleged criminal and the alleged victim will be left unsatisfied, his only recourse being brute force, now against a government instead of a private protecting company.

* aswerfawf points out that the existence of war between states clearly shows that the argument I am rebutting is baseless; brute force is the final recourse regardless of the existence of a government.

Even still, using an earlier definition of anarchy, neither of the proposed companies could exist as part of the anarchy because their choice to turn to brute force when they disagree on the definition of a crime turns them into de facto governments. So the two clients, in order to exist in an anarchy, would have to become customers of companies that, under the same conditions, in which the two companies disagree as to the alleged criminal nature of the act, would not turn to brute force, but which would instead use other means to resolve the issue, including waiting an indefinite amount of time for clients and society to help them form an agreement where they currently disagree. This uses the slightly specialized definition of anarchy in which coercion is never used.
One of the difficulties involved in discussing anarchy is whether or not everyone is actually thinking about the same thing. Social, political, and economic interests are all involved, yet anarchists and authoritarians alike rarely have all these things in mind.

Some people are primarily concerned with the oppression by government, seeing mistreatment of citizens and bureaucratic inefficiency as primary sources of discontent. These anarchists tend to believe that people are inherently able to get along, much in the same way Karl Marx believed that the working class, regardless of nationality, could unite and form a Communist utopia. For a while, this seemed to work quite well, just as an anarchic revolution might at first seem to succeed. In any revolution, the people involved are willing to surrender certain luxuries to ensure their success, as efficient consumption of resources is a necessary part of winning a war.

Unfortunately, once the revolution is complete and the old power system overthrown, problems quickly arise. In the middle of a heated conflict, people are willing to believe that they must be content with what little they have, since they acknowledge that there is little to go around. Once peace is restored, there is more to go around, and people are not so so willing to give up their own luxuries. Everyone believes they are entitled to a share of the spoils (be it food, wealth, or land), and conflict immediately ensues. If left to their own devices, the conflicting parties will simply fight it out until one side is either subdued or killed. Human nature, however, dislikes conflict within its own group, be it an anarchic commune or otherwise. Almost immediately, a new power system takes place to quell these conflicts, and people learn to respect this power system, whether or not it is actually able to control them physically, because it helps everyone to survive.

As the group grows larger, which it inevitably will in prosperous times, the power system must also grow to accommodate it. It evolves a hierarchy, and becomes more and more like a government. Because it keeps people from killing each other, future generations will tend to respect it, and its influence may exceed its actual power. As it grows larger and more impersonal, the government develops inefficiencies and its subject may suffer because of it, but it is rarely overthrown because people generally prefer security to risking everything for a better quality of life. There is a saying, that every government is only two meals away from a revolution, and this is largely true. Revolutions tend only to occur when people truly believe their ability to survive is being threatened.

This tendency for people to obey the existing power is seen by some people as a weakness, like a shepherd-flock relationship. In our modern world, most of our basic needs are cared for, so we look to principles as our main concern. Those who value free will on principle may believe anarchy is the best way to preserve it, thinking that the government's only purpose is to oppress the governed for the benefit of the elite. The flaw in this reasoning is a neglect for the human element: people would not organize themselves into governed societies if there were no inherent value to them.

Natural selection speaks for itself in this matter: people survive and reproduce in greater numbers when they form organized societies. The survival of the society as a coherent group becomes synonymous with individual survival as long as the society provides for the individuals. Therefore, those who are willing to limit their personal freedom survive, and those who aggressively seek their own means of survival outside of the norm set by the society/government are condemned as criminals.

This is where anarchists and authoritarians both seem to have a blind spot. Both sides argue on the basis of principle, with little regard for the reality of the situation. Both sides tend to believe that they understand human nature completely, and that everyone will go along with their plan if it is given a chance. I don't pretend that I have exactly defined human nature in the above paragraphs, but it should be clear that neither free-for-all anarchy nor iron-fisted government can be perfect, and that a truly stable society must be based on realism over idealism.

An"arch*y (#), n. [Gr. : cf. F. anarchie. See Anarch.]


Absence of government; the state of society where there is no law or supreme power; a state of lawlessness; political confusion.

Spread anarchy and terror all around. Cowper.


Hence, confusion or disorder, in general.

There being then . . . an anarchy, as I may term it, in authors and their rekoning of years. Fuller.


© Webster 1913.

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