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This article assembles various explicit and concise definitions of anarchism (or philosophical anarchy) from reference works and theorists.


Only the political/philosophical definition of anarchism is given here.


  • "a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups"
  • the advocacy of anarchist principles: "one who rebels against any authority, established order, or ruling power"

American Heritage College Dictionary:[2]

  • "The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished"
  • "Rejection of all forms of coercive control and authority"

Encarta World English Dictionary:[3]

  • "doctrine rejecting government: an ideology that rejects the need for a system of government in society and proposes its abolition"
  • "resistance to all forms of authority or control"

Cambridge International Dictionary:[4]

  • "the political belief that there should be little or no formal or official organization to society but that people should work freely together"

Wordsmyth English Dictionary:[5]

  • "a theory that advocates the abolition of all forms of government as a necessary step towards achieving political and social liberty."

The Ism Book:[6]

  • [From Greek anarchos: lacking a leader.] *"Anarchism is inspired by the moral-political ideal of a society untouched by relations of power and domination among human beings. This ideal has most often expressed itself in a doctrine advocating the total absence of government as the only firm basis for individual liberty and societal progress..."

The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 2nd edition (edited by Gordon Marshall):

  • "An array of philosophical and political positions arguing that human societies function best without government or authority, and which suggest that the natural state of people is one of living together harmoniously and freely, without intervention." - many dictionaries' definitions of "anarchism"


Definitions only - extended descriptions not included. It is assumed, here, that definitions can be found close to the beginning of the article, although this is disputed. For the best understanding of the term, read the full article.


Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910, written by Peter Kropotkin:[7]

  • "ANARCHISM (from the Gr. , and , contrary to authority), the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being"


Encyclopedia Britannica:[8]

  • "cluster of doctrines and attitudes centered on the belief that government is both harmful and unnecessary"

MS Encarta Encyclopedia (UK version by Carl Levy):[9]

  • "political concept and social movement that advocates the abolition of any form of State, which is regarded as coercive, and its replacement with voluntary organization"

MS Encarta Encyclopedia (North American version):[10]

  • "political theory that is opposed to all forms of government"

The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005:

  • "Anarchism is the view that a society without the state, or government, is both possible and desirable."

Columbia Encyclopedia:[11]

  • "theory that equality and justice are to be sought through the abolition of the state and the substitution of free agreements between individuals"
  • "Since the Industrial Revolution, anarchists have also opposed the concentration of economic power in business corporations"

Catholic Encyclopedia:[12]

  • "Anarchy means an absence of law. Sociologically it is the modern theory which proposes to do away with all existing forms of government and to organize a society which will exercise all its functions without any controlling or directive authority"

The Ism Book (extended def):[13]

  • "Anarchism is inspired by the moral-political ideal of a society untouched by relations of power and domination among human beings. This ideal has most often expressed itself in a doctrine advocating the total absence of government as the only firm basis for individual liberty and societal progress -- a doctrine that some argue animates even Marxism (since Marx believed that eventually the state would wither away). Anarchism differs from political libertarianism in upholding a lack of government rather than limited government. There are several variants of anarchism, usually categorized by whether the variant is collectivistic (e.g., anarcho-syndicalism) or individualistic (e.g., anarcho-capitalism) in orientation. In popular usage, the term is often colored by the sometimes-violent anarchist political movement that was especially active in the years around 1900."


Edward Abbey:Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.[citation needed]Henry Appleton: "It simply means opposed to the arbitrary rule of self-elected usurpers outside the Individual." (The Boston Anarchists, 1886).

Emile Armand: "As the word "anarchy" etymologically signifies the negation of governmental authority, the absence of government, it follows that one indissoluble bond unites the anarchists. This is antagonism to all situations regulated by imposition, constraint, violence, governmental oppression, whether these are a product of all, a group, or of one person. In short, whoever denies that the intervention of government is for human relationships is an anarchist."

William Bailie: "Modern primarily a tendency - moral, social, and intellectual. As a tendency it questions the supremacy of the State, the infallibility of statute laws, and the divine right of all authority, spiritual or temporal. It is, in truth, a product of Authority, the progeny of the State, a direct consequences of the inadequacy of law and government to fulfill their assumed functions. In short, the Anarchist tendency is a necessity of progress, a protest against usurpation, privilege, and injustice." (The Anarchist Spirit, 1906)

Michael Bakunin - Anarchism is "stateless socialism."[14]

Alex Battig: "Anarchy is the true nature of all things. Monarchy, democracy, communism, all useless forms to control the human mind. But a mind cannot be controlled. It cannot be restrained. It has no boundaries. It has its will. Anarchy is the true nature of all things."

Alexander Berkman: "Anarchism means you should be free; that no one should enslave you, boss you, rob you, or impose upon you. It means you should be free to do the things you want to do; and that you should not be compelled to do what you do not want to do. (...) That is to say, that there should be no war, no violence used by one set of men against another, no monopoly and no poverty, no oppression, no taking advantage of your fellow-man. In short, Anarchism means a condition or society where all men and women are free, and where all enjoy equally the benefits of an ordered and sensible life."

Alexander Berkman: "...anarchism means voluntary co-operation instead of forced participation." ("Is anarchy possible?" from ABC of Anarchism 1927)

Alexander Berkman:"Certainly the worker has nothing to lose by a change from government and capitalism to a condition of no government, of anarchy."("Is anarchy possible?" from ABC of Anarchism 1927)

Alexander Berkman:"Terrorism is tempting with its tremendous possibilities. It offers a mechanical solution, as it were, in hopeless situations.

"... the principles of terrorism unavoidably rebound to the fatal injury of liberty and revolution. Absolute power corrupts and defeats its partisans no less than its opponents. A people that knows not liberty becomes accustomed to dictatorship: fighting despotism and counter-revolution, terrorism itself becomes their efficient school.

"Once on the road of terrorism, the State necessarily becomes estranged from the people." (The Bolshevik Myth in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas (Vol. 1) by Robert Graham, ed. (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2005) p. 312.)

Henry Bool: "Anarchism is the doctrine that government should be abolished." (Henry Bool’s Apology for His Jeffersonian Anarchism, 1901)

L. Susan Brown: "While the popular understanding of anarchism is of a violent, anti-State movement, anarchism is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition then a simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organisation." (The Politics of Individualism, p. 106)

Steven T. Byington: "Anarchism is a theory of political science and is opposed to government in the political sense."

Noam Chomsky: "...anarchism can be conceived as a kind of voluntary socialism, that is, as libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or communist anarchist, in the tradition of, say, Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin and others. They had in mind a highly organized form of society, but a society that was organized on the basis of organic units, organic communities. And generally, they meant by that the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization which might be national or even international in scope. And these decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return, and in which, in fact, they live." [15]

Voltairine de Cleyre: "Anarchism, to me, means not only the denial of authority, not only a new economy, but a revision of the principles of morality. It means the development of the individual as well as the assertion of the individual. It means self-responsibility, and not leader worship." (A speech in defense of Emma Goldman)

"Anarchists work towards a society of mutual aid and voluntary co-operation. We reject all government and economic repression." (mission statement for Freedom)[16]

Emma Goldman: "Anarchism: The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary." [17]

Emma Goldman:"Anarchy 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 restraints of government."

Emma Goldman:"John Burroughs has stated that experimental study of animals in captivity is absolutely useless. Their character, their habits, their appetites undergo a complete transformation when torn from their soil in field and forest. With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?"

Bill Christopher, jack Robinson, Philip Sansom and Peter Turner: "Anarchism is a philosophy of freedom. It is a body of revolutionary ideas which reconciles, as no other revolutionary concept does, the necessity for individual freedom woth the demands of society. It is a commune-ist philosophy which starts from the individual and works upwards, instead of starting from the State and working downwards. Social structure in an anarchist society would be carefully and consciusly kept to a minimum and would be strictly functional; where organisation is necessary, it would be maintained, but there would be no organisation for its own sake. This would help to prevent the hardening of organisations into instututions - the hard core of government." (published in Freedom in 1970, included in The State is Your Enemy)

Daniel Guerin: "Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man. Anarchism is only one of the streams of socialist thought, that stream whose main components are concern for liberty and haste to abolish the State." (Anarchism: A Matter of Words) [18]

Ammon Hennacy:"Oh, judge, your damn laws: the good people don't need them and the bad people don't follow them so what good are they?"

Joseph Labadie:"From my point of view the killing of another, except in defense of human life, is archistic, authoritarian, and therefore, no Anarchist can commit such deeds. It is the very opposite of what Anarchism stands for."

John William Lloyd: "For, what is Anarchism? It is logical human liberty. It is the ideal of human life without a master." (Anarchist Socialism)

Errico Malatesta: "Anarchy is a word that comes from the Greek, and signifies, strictly speaking, "without government": the state of a people without any constituted authority." (Anarchy: a pamphlette)

"Anarchists generally make use if the word "State" to mean all the collection of institutions, political, legislative, judicial, military, financial, etc., by means of which management of their own affairs, the guidance of their personal conduct, and the care of ensuring their own safety are taken from the people and confided to certain individuals, and these, whether by usurpation or delegation, are invested with the right to make laws over and for all, and to constrain the public to respect them, making use of the collective force of the community to this end."

Errico Malatesta: "... violence is the whole essence of authoritarianism, just as the repudiation of violence is the whole essence of anarchism." --"Anarchism, Authoritarian Socialism and Communism" in What Is Anarchism?: An Introduction by Donald Rooum, ed. (London: Freedom Press, 1992, 1995) p. 59.

Peter Marshall: "Anarchism as a political philosophy seeks to dissolve all forms of authority and power, and if possible, wishes their complete abolition." (Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, p.47)

Johann Most: "Anarchism means first and foremost freedom from all government." - The Social Monster, 1890)

Saul Newman: "Anarchism is, fundamentally, an ethical critique of authority – almost an ethical duty to question and resist domination in all its forms." (From Bakunin to Lacan, p. 166)

George Nicholson: "There is something radically wrong, [the anarchist] declares, in a system of society that functions and maintains its existence by the impetus of violence and force. He sees nothing praiseworthy in political society which has recourse to periodic wars, or need of jails, gallows and bludgeons--and it is because he is aware that these brutal weapons are the instruments of every government and State that he works for their destruction. ...

"Unlike the politician, he does not regard dishonesty, brutality and avariciousness as natural characteristics of human nature, but as the inevitable consequences of coercion and frustration engendered by artificial law, he believes that these social evils are best eradicated not by greater penalties and further legislation, but by the free development of the latent forces of solidarity and sympathetic understanding which government and law so ruthlessly suppress.

"Freedom will be possible when people understand and desire it--for man can only rule where others subserviently obey. Where none obey, none has power to rule." --"The simplicity of anarchism" in What Is Anarchism?: An Introduction by Donald Rooum, ed. (London: Freedom Press, 1992, 1995) p. 40.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: "Anarchy, -- the absence of a master, of a sovereign." (What is Property, 1840) "ANARCHY, or the government of each man by himself --or as the English say, self-government..." (The Federal Principle, 1863) "The notion of anarchy...means that once industrial functions have taken over from political functions, then business transactions and exchange alone produce the social order." (The Federal Principle, 1863) "Anarchy is... a form of government or constitution in which public and private consciousness, formed through the development of science and law, is alone sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties..." (Correspondence, 1864)

Pierre Joseph Proudhon:"Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of government."

Vernon Richards: "Violence, contrary to popular belief, is not part of the anarchist philosophy. It has repeatedly been pointed out by anarchist thinkers that the revolution can neither be won, nor the anarchist society established and maintained, by armed violence. Recourse to violence then is an indication of weakness, not of strength, and the revolution with the greatest possibilities of a successful outcome will undoubtedly be the one in which there is no violence, or in which violence is reduced to a minimum, for such a revolution would indicate the near unanimity of the population in the objectives of the revolution. ...

"Violence as a means breeds violence; the cult of personalities as a means breeds dictators--big and small--and servile masses; government--even with the collaboration of socialists and anarchists--breeds more government. Surely then, freedom as a means breeds more freedom, possibly even the Free Society! To Those who say this condemns one to political sterility and the Ivory Tower our reply is that 'realism' and their 'circumstantialism' invariably lead to disaster. We believe there is something more real, more positive and more revolutionary to resisting war than in participation in it; that it is more civilised and more revolutionary to defend the right of a fascist to live than to support the Tribunals which have the legal power to shoot him; that it is more realistic to talk to the people from the gutter than from government benches; that in the long run it is more rewarding to influence minds by discussion than to mould them by coercion." --"Anarchism and violence" in What Is Anarchism?: An Introduction by Donald Rooum, ed. (London: Freedom Press, 1992, 1995) pp. 50-51.

Rudolf Rocker:"I am an anarchist not because I believe anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal."

Rudolf Rocker:"People forgot that industry is not an end in itself, but should be only a means to insure to man his material subsistence and to make accessible to him the blessings of a higher intellectual culture. Where industry is everything and man is nothing begins the realm of a rushless economic despotism whose workings are no less disastrous than those of any political despotism. The two mutually augment one another, and they are fed from the same source." (pg. 10, Anarcho-Syndicalism, 1989 Edition, Pluto Press)

Donald Rooum: "Anarchism is opposed to states, armies, slavery, the wages system, the landlord system, prisons, monopoly capitalism, oligopoly capitalism, state capitalism, bureaucracy, meritrocracy, theocracy, oligarchy, governments, patriarchy, matriarchy, monarchy, oligarchy, protection rackets, intimidation by gangsters, and every other kind of coercive institution. In other words, anarchism opposes government in all it's forms." (What is Anarchism?, ISBN 0900384662)

Donald Rooum: "Anarchists are extreme libertarian socialists, "libertarian" meaning the demand for freedom from prohibition, and "socialist" meaning the demand for social equality. /../ Complete freedom implies equality, since if there are rich and poor, the poor cannot be permitted to take liberties with riches. Complete equality implies freedom, since those who suffer restrictions cannot be the equals of those who impose them." (What is Anarchism?, ISBN 0900384662)

Donald Rooum: "All anarchists believe in worker's control, in the sense of individuals deciding what work whey do, how they work, and who they work with. This follows logically from the anarchist belief that nobody should be subject to a boss." (What is Anarchism?, ISBN 0900384662)

Donald Rooum: "There are self-styled "anarcho-capitalists" (not to be confused with anarchists of any persuasion), who want the state abolished as a regulator of capitalism, and government handed over to capitalists." (What is Anarchism?, ISBN 0900384662)

Murray Rothbard: "I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual. Anarchists oppose the State because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights." (Society Without A State 1975)

Benjamin Tucker: "Anarchism [is] the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished."[19]

"Anarchism is for liberty, and neither for nor against anything else." (Liberty V March 10, 1888)

Charlotte Wilson: "... the genuine Anarchist looks with sheer horror upon every destruction, every mutilation of a human being, physical or moral. He loathes wars, executions and imprisonments, the grinding down of the worker's whole nature in a dreary round of toil, the sexual and economic slavery of women, the oppression of children, the crippling and poisoning of human nature by the preventable cruelty and injustice of man to man in every shape and form." --"Anarchism and homicidal outrage" in What Is Anarchism?: An Introduction by Donald Rooum, ed. (London: Freedom Press, 1992, 1995) p. 43.

George Woodcock: "a system of social thought aiming at fundamental changes in the structure of society, and particularly – for this is the common element that unites all its forms – at the replacement of the authoritarian state by some form of non-governmental cooperation by free individuals."

Victor Yarros: "Anarchism means no government, but it does not mean no laws and no coercion. This may seem paradoxical, but the paradox vanishes when the Anarchist definition of government is kept in view. Anarchists oppose government, not because they disbelieve in punishment of crime and resistance to aggression, but because they disbelieve in compulsory protection. Protection and taxation without consent is itself invasion; hence Anarchism favors a system of voluntary taxation and protection." (Our Revolution; Essays and Interpretations p.80)

John Zerzan: "Anarchism is the attempt to eradicate domination. This includes not only such obvious forms as the nation-state, with its routine use of violence and the force of law, and the corporation, with its institutionalized irresponsibility, but also such internalized forms as patriarchy, racism, homophobia. Also it is the attempt to expose the ways our philosophy, religion, economics, and other ideological constructions perform their primary function, which is to rationalize or naturalize --make seem natural-- the domination that pervades our way of life: the destruction of the natural world or of indigenous peoples, for example, comes not from the result of decisions actively made and actions pursued, but instead, so we convince ourselves, as a manifestation of Darwinian selection, or God's will, or economic exigency. Beyond that, Anarchism is the attempt to look even into those parts of our everyday lives we accept as givens, as part of the universe, to see how they, too, dominate us or facilitate our domination over others... Most fundamentally, I would see Anarchism as a synonym for anti-authoritarianism." (Running on Emptiness, p.67-68)


  • If man asks for many laws it is only because he is sure that his neighbor needs them; privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist, and thinks laws in his own case superfluous.
  • The anarchists put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organization of the state. But to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly-conquered power, hold down its capitalist adversaries, and carry out that economic revolution of society without which the whole victory must end in a new defeat and a mass slaughter of the workers similar to those after the Paris commune.
  • The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy. That State is the best governed which is governed the least.

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