What is anarchism?


What is anarchism? and what is an anarchist? What is anarchy? These are vexed questions.

According to many dictionaries the term ‘anarchy’ is synonymous with chaos and disorder. Of course, this definition is disputed. In fact, there are no agreed upon definitions of the terms ‘anarchy’, ‘anarchism’ and ‘anarchist’. When it comes to the definitions of these terms, it’s anarchy!

Merriam-Webster, the consensus source of meaning within the dominant paradigm, defines anarchy as: a situation of confusion and wild behavior in which the people in a country, group, organization, etc., are not controlled by rules or laws; or, a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority. The implications made in these definitions are clear – any absence of authority, structure, or control most surely amounts to confusion, wild behavior, and disorder. In other words, human beings are incapable of controlling themselves, maintaining order, and living peacefully amongst one another. So we are to believe.

Indeed. But this is anarchy in the pejorative sense. So let’s repudiate the dominant paradigm’s dictionary propaganda and instead take to the streets with torches and pitchforks.


What is anarchism? and what is an anarchist? Let’s start with the easy answers.

What is anarchism? Anarchism is a socio-political ideology such as mutualism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-pacifism, anarcha-feminism, anarcho-primitivism, anarcho-hipsterism, agorism, or anarcho-statism.

What is an anarchist? An anarchist is someone like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (a French politician), Peter Kropotkin (a Russian academic), Leo Tolstoy (author of the novel War and Peace), Errico Malatesta (an Italian troublemaker), Stephan Kinsella (an American patent attorney), Neil Roberts (a New Zealand suicide bomber), or me (Not A Party’s candidate in the upcoming Mt. Roskill by-election).

Easy answers are easy.

But I suppose that a handy list of (some) anarchists is not really the answer you want. You probably want to know what it is that all anarchists on the list have in common in virtue of which they are anarchists. In other words, a list of necessary and sufficient conditions for when the term ‘anarchist’ applies. This is where it gets tricky tho. Extensional definitions are easy. Intensional definitions, not so much.

In fact, there is no list of necessary conditions for when the term ‘anarchist’ applies. There is nothing that all anarchists have in common. What now then?

Wild Wittgenstein appears!


Wittgenstein uses Familienähnlichkeit. It’s super effective!

Wittgenstein’s basic idea is that sometimes things which could be thought to be connected by one essential common feature may in fact be connected by a series of overlapping similarities, where no one feature is common to all. Such seems to be the case with anarchism and anarchists. They bear a family resemblance.

So here’s not a comprehensive checklist of anarchist attributes and agendas. If you sign up to some of these, you might be an anarchist. 🙂

1. No state

Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful …

2. No hierarchies

… or alternatively as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations.

3. Voluntary association

Proponents of anarchism, known as “anarchists”, advocate stateless societies or non-hierarchical voluntary associations.

Could these three be considered the three pillars of anarchism? See Wikipedia’s excellent outline of anarchism for more info. RationalWiki’s Anarchism is also a handy resource.

4. No rulers

Just a few words about the claim that ‘anarchy’ means “no rulers”. It doesn’t. For sure, the term ‘anarchy’ derives from the Greek ἄναρχος or anarchos, meaning “without rulers” (from ἀν- or an-, meaning “without”, and ἀρχός or archos meaning “ruler”). But to suppose that the meaning of a term is wholly determined by its etymology is to commit the root fallacy.

Christian anarchists are a clear counter-example to the claim that ‘anarchy’ means “no rulers”. Christian anarchists are opposed to worldly rulers, but on the spiritual plane they’re actually monarchists. Jesus himself is sometimes considered the first anarchist in the Christian anarchist tradition. Check out his charge sheet!

Insisting that true anarchists are strictly no rulers likely also excludes the Spanish anarchists (anarcho-communists). As Bryan Caplan explains in his essay The Anarcho-Statists of Spain

It barely took a month for Anarchists to set themselves up as the government of those parts of Aragon under their control, euphemistically dubbing themselves the “Regional Defense Council of Aragon.”

Not my flavour of anarcho-statism, I hasten to add.

Also, surely no self-respecting anarchist is opposed to self-rule.

5. Beards


6. The NAP

Considered by some to be a defining principle of libertarianism, the non-aggression principle (NAP) is revered by anarcho-capitalists. Aggression is bad, mmmkay? But it turns out that the all-important A in NAP, is defined in terms of a prior theory of property rights. So we can all love the NAP. We just need to plug in our preferred theory of property rights and we’re good to go.

7. Propaganda of the deed

Propaganda of the deed is for violent anarchists. (But we don’t want a bloody revolution.)

8. Civil disobedience

Civil disobedience is for peaceful law-breaking anarchists.

9. Non voting

Non-voting is for otherwise law-abiding non-violent anarchists. Like us, the Not A Party people.


Voting is not a victimless crime, voting is an act of violence.

10. DON’T VOTE 2017


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