Since no official attempts to my knowledge have been made to form fully fledged anarchical societies, at least not on any significant scale, I thought it would be interesting to present the above question.

What kind of laws (if any) would an anarchical society have? Would it have any kind of government and what would they do?

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    It's a bit broad as-is, but I think if you narrowed this down to what kind of laws would an anarchist society have, that could be a really good question – Machavity Jun 16 '17 at 16:04
  • Cheers for the advice; I've narrowed my question and glad you like it! – Charlie Jun 16 '17 at 16:09
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    "The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning." I'm not sure I've seen a definition of anarchy that allows for government. – user9389 Jun 16 '17 at 17:32
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    In an anarchical society...would the laws matter? – user1530 Jun 16 '17 at 18:45
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    You may be interested in The Machinery of Freedom (pdf) by David Friedman. It explores both actual (medieval Iceland) and hypothetical mechanisms of government which, if not anarchical, are perhaps closer to that than usual. – Wayne Conrad Jun 16 '17 at 21:05

As I understand it, there are two different components of anarchical thought which should be stressed:1

  • No central government
  • No restrictions on individual freedoms

There are some things that these do not imply:

  • A person should only act selfishly.
  • Chaos is encouraged, and should be the normal mode of life.
  • Any attempt at local, temporary order should be avoided.

While there are many different variations in anarchist thought, I think that proponents of almost all would agree that these are not what anarchism stands for. Those are the points I want to clear up first.

Anarchism stresses the ideas of individual liberty and freedom of expression. Having some well-defined order, a central authority, infringes upon that liberty. Any artificial law, though designed to be fair, will limit a person's individual development, and therefore is not compatible with anarchism. As Emma Goldman2 put it in Anarchism and Other Essays,

Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.

As proposed in this chapter, along the lines of Goldman's thinking, natural laws are the only laws that allow an individual to flourish:

Human life, like every other form of life, is a flow of creative energy that follows natural laws. True freedom means being free to develop organically by the laws of nature.

. . .

[C]ooperation, like everything else in nature, is spontaneous, not commanded by a central authority. Yet the result is not chaos. When individuals are totally free, they spontaneously create the forms of order that are best for them. So there is no conflict between the individual and the group; what is best for one is best for all.

Therefore, there is a difference between anarchy and chaos. Anarchy allows a person to act as they wish and see fit; chaos does not allow for such freedom. In a chaotic society, nobody is guaranteed social stability, and a person may loose control over their own life. The idea that individual freedom would allow for harmony and mutual societal benefit, by the way - which is tempting to interpret as everyone acting in their own self-interest - is quite reminiscent of Adam Smith's invisible hand, although I'm reluctant to make any close connections.

People might be quick to reinterpret this and say that anarchism is a doctrine of selfishness, where the strong quickly take advantage of disorder and seize power for themselves; therefore, laws are inevitable as the holders of power regulate society. Arguably, yes, that has happened in times when anarchism of some sort took over. Infamous examples include parts of the French Revolution (the Directory comes to mind) and the Somali Civil War (which saw the rise of power-hungry armed factions). In those cases, people with power did indeed take control, and true anarchy - if that was ever the goal, which it likely was not - never happened.3

The optimal system of enforcement in anarchism doesn't involve petty warlords. There was already a discussion of how anarchism views of the solution of disputes, in How are quarrels managed according to anarchism?. I think Sam I Am's answer there is key: an third-party arbiter of ephemeral, limited power would solve disputes, if possible. However, that arbiter could not be allowed to have control for any lasting period of time; that would constitute some sort of state - and is the closest thing to government you'd optimally have.

Let me add one more note on the idea of small-scale structure. Quoting from the same source as above,

Cooperation extends beyond the small group. Groups can relate to each other in the same way that individuals interact: naturally, freely, and spontaneously. When two groups can help each other, they will naturally form mutually helpful connections. On some occasions, those connections may become relatively permanent, so that the union of two or more groups forms a larger group. That larger group may then link up with other larger groups, if it seems natural and mutually beneficial to do so. But these conjoined groups do not create centralized organizations or administrative structures that become ends in themselves. Their connections are not permanently institutionalized or legally binding. They last as long as they are needed to get something done that needs to be done.

Associations are quite possible in anarchist societies, and may be needed for short-term stability in a variety of situations. However, they must not be allowed to become permanent, or to grow to have power over large numbers of people.

In summary, anarchy only recognizes a few key laws - if you really want to stretch things and call them "laws"; I'd rather call them principles

  1. People are free to follow the laws of nature and live as they see fit. Any limitations whatsoever are not in line with a pure anarchist approach.
  2. Conflict resolution should not just be based on whoever is strongest, but should be mutually beneficial to all parties.
  3. Association in groups is fine, so long as the groups are temporary and do not restrict individual freedoms.

1 The two are different things. It's possible to have a central authority to arbitrate disputes without necessarily having laws, and it's possible to have de facto laws by group agreement, without having a state to enforce them. I'm not aware of any major political philosophy that subscribes to just one - although Immanual Kant's barbarism (Perpetual Peace, Section 2; see also Kant’s Political Theory: Interpretations and Applications) comes close to fitting the latter case.
2 Goldman was a key figure in contemporary anarchist philosophy during the turn of the century; Anarchism and Other Essays was one of her earliest works.
3 You might be reminded of criticisms of communist societies, which in practice almost always featured a central figure of power backed by a strong set of supporters.

  • youtube.com/watch?v=NLjWJy5IXQU&t=0m14s – user16944 Sep 19 '17 at 5:50
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    "they must not be allowed to become permanent" By whom? Who prevents the association if it lasts for too long? In fact, what if people want to live in such association? #3 contradicts #1. – JAB Dec 1 '17 at 18:27
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    @JAB perhaps they just assume that people don't want to live in such associations – user253751 Jan 5 at 20:57

First of all, simply defining a society as anarchist does not say much. Anarchism by definition aims for the abolition of any form of central government. It does not imply the politico-economical framework the society will be based on. Thus, there are anarchist movements that cover the entire political spectrum (from communist anarchists to neo-liberal ones).

Different anarchist groups come up with various forms of rules and structures in to how they will organize the anarchist society, always keeping in mind their political background. Usually, you can notice absence of hierarchy, decentralization and absence of strict rule enforcement. On the other hand, decision making is moving towards smaller structures such as neighborhoods, workplace committees etc.

To clearly answer you question: Certainly not "No Laws", but the essence of the laws (or rules if you don't like the word) depends on the political background of the society and not on the fact that it is just an anarchist one.



anarchical society

No laws, buck-o. Anarchy implies a complete rejection of hierarchy. How would one apply a law across a spectrum of people if those people do not believe in nor obey hierarchies? Who would enforce such a 'law'? In order for laws to come into effect a common hierarchy must exist that supersedes and transcends the individual. In an anarchical system one can simply ignore what one does not agree with based upon principle.

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    @easymoden00b I don't think that fits mainstream definitions of anarchy. All I've seen allow for possession/ownership they just disallow it when it reaches the proportions of impeding others. Ex. owning a house is ok but owning hundreds of acres of farm land that impedes others ability to eat on their own is not. – JonK Jun 16 '17 at 18:12
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    @JonK how can you justify ownership of property in an anarchist setting? Under what authority does one justify that ownership? Jon, I believe it is you that doesn't fall into a mainstream definition of anarchy. I believe you're describing some sort of authoritarian regime that restricts land ownership based upon square footage or utilization capability? – easymoden00b Jun 16 '17 at 20:02
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    @easymoden00b HDE's answer does a great job explaining the core of mainstream anarchy beliefs, I'd read that to get an understanding of what it is. When I say owning hundreds of acres of land is not ok in anarchy I don't mean that it's illegal or that an authority will stop you, I mean that it goes against the morals and ideology of anarchism. Both these links contain good info on the difference between private property and possession in anarchy: anarchism.net/… and infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQSectionB3 – JonK Jun 16 '17 at 20:10
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    @JonK again, there is nothing stopping an individual from claiming "ownership" (ownership presupposes a dominance hierarchy..) of this land. Likewise, there is nothing stopping another individual from projecting his own "ownership" onto the land either. Who's subjective morality or interpretation of ideology holds up in this case from an objective perspective? Neither. They cannot make a objective decision because there is no objective truth whilst still both claiming to be anarchists. To claim an objective truth would impose a hierarchy of objectivity that is incompatible with anarchism – easymoden00b Jun 16 '17 at 20:52
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    @easymoden00b I've met many anarchists and I've never met one that rejected the notion of objective truth. They would all say some version of the fact that one of them might be right and the other wrong, but it's not really practical, possible, or desirable to set up a system that's able to tell the difference. So they can all claim objective truth and one of them may be right and may even be able to demonstrate that, but a perfectly valid demonstration of something's truth doesn't magically compel people to accept it as such. – David Schwartz Jun 17 '17 at 3:43

An anarchist society would by definition be without formal government. Rather, to be workable, the population would require firm and homogeneous customs. Shaming, expulsion and/or guidance by the whole would be employed to consul the wayward. Violence would be nonexistent. I’d like to cite an example but know of none.

Somewhat approaching anarchist societies are the religious and/or communal groups of the nineteenth century. However, these were marked by a strong, often subtle leader with the power of shaming or expulsion to encourage peaceful cooperation. Much the same existed in the hippie/free spirit communes of the 60s. While rule free there was usually an enforcer in the background. As illustrated by Charles Manson, free will is often illusory.

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    Why do you claim that violence would be nonexistent? – A Bailey Jun 16 '17 at 17:22
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    @ABailey it's a utopia it doesn't need to make sense. 'shaming or expulsion' are acts of violence anyway. Furthermore to imply that expulsion can occur would imply the presence of an in grouping and out grouping formal hierarchy -- something that cannot exist in an anarchistic society. – easymoden00b Jun 16 '17 at 17:26
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    I've spoken to dozens of anarchists and I've never heard a single one claim that it would be a utopia. For one thing, not all people are capable of conforming their actions to rational or societal norms. Short of an organized system to control their bodies with technology, they will be violent. Anarchists would argue that an anarchic society will handle this very well but not perfectly. – David Schwartz Jun 17 '17 at 3:46
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    @DavidSchwartz I've spoken to dozens of communists and I've never heard a single one claim it would be a utopia.. I've spoken to dozens of fascists and i've never heard a single one claim it would be a utopia.... etc., etc., etc. Bringing about a system that rejects hierarchies is a contradiction. An 'Anarchist "society" ' cannot exist. It's utopic thinking based upon ideology. – easymoden00b Jun 19 '17 at 13:47
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    @easymoden00b Fine, just don't confuse what you think about anarchism with the claims of anarchists. It's just a bit too easy to refute any claim if you bake the refutation into the way you explain the claim. – David Schwartz Jun 19 '17 at 16:20

There are many versions of anarchism and depending on which one you have, you will have many different answers. People seem to forget that anarchism is an ideology with various different types and versions as well as plenty of different people who argue over what is considered 'real anarchism' (as with any ideology). Basically, it goes something like this:

Zapatismo was not Marxist-Leninist, but it was also Marxist-Leninist. It was not university Marxism, it was not the Marxism of concrete analysis, it was not the history of Mexico, it was not the fundamentalist and millenarian indigenous thought and it was not the indigenous resistance. It was a mixture of all of this, a cocktail which was mixed in the mountain and crystallized in the combat force of the EZLN… - Insurgent Marcos: The Political-Philosophical Formation of the Zapatista Subcommander by Nick Henck

There is a cooperative governed by a general assemmbly of workers with a new administrative council elected every 3 years. This version of libertarian thought from both the syndicalists and the Neozapatismo is known as a night-watchman state - a form of government that meets the minimum requirements for a government as defined by John Locke and some academic sources. The night-watchman state first defined by socialist libertarian Robert Nozick in his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia and was described by historian Charles Townshend as the dominate from of government of 19th century Britain rural areas:

Britain, however, with its strong tradition of minimal government — the 'night-watchman state' — vividly illustrated the speed of the shift [during World War I] from normalcy to drastic and all-embracing wartime powers like those contained in the Defence of the Realm Act.

A similar system of small volunteer militias was attempted in the Wild West, which led to a society that, despite what Hollywood myth would tell you, was actually pretty peaceful and had people that had better relations with the natives than the rest of the United States. There was ownership of private property unlike the syndicalist and Neozapatismo societies, but it was kept on a small-scale and in a manner which still allowed for some degree of collective ownership (ie. fields where anyone could let their cattle roam, town property not for sale, etc.) in an interesting halfway between anarchocapitalism and distributism: an economic system where private property is own in a society through cooperatives & small (sometimes family owned) businesses.

  • Anarchocommunism: Similar to the above ideologies, anarchocommunists believe in having workers' councils to regulate the means of production. Unlike traditional Marxist socialism which saw the creation of communism by going from capitalism to the dictatorship of the proletariat (where the state is made into the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors. As Engels described it in a letter to German social thinker August Bebel "the proletariat needs the state, not in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist") to communism, anarchocommunists skip to the stateless society with direct control of the means of production. Laws are made by the workers' council and are enforced by volunteering members of said council.

  • Egoist anarchism/insurrectionist anarchism: This version of anarchism is closer to the traditional idea of the 'bomb-throwing anarchist' that the early 20th centuries anarchist terrorists and extremist groups have put into the public's mind. The doctrine of egoist anarchism in very individualistic and puts out the idea that small groups of individuals should do as they please and take as they want. Max Stirner, the creator of egoist anarchism, stated that this version of anarchism should aim to "abolish not only the state but also society as an institution responsible for its members". When it comes to property, a group of egoists would be allowed to take what they want when it comes to property ("Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property. [...] "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing".). Morality is whatever the group who takes what they want desires it to be.

"Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property. [...] "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing". -Anarchist Individualism as Life and Activity (1907)

Insurrectionist anarchism (and Illegalism) is a more extreme version of egoist anarchism that only recognizes "might" rather than "right". They believed in propaganda of the deed and using violence/criminal actions to get across their message and do as they pleased. They also believed that their actions require no moral basis and that other anarchists that form a nightwatchman state/ collective society. Groups like this don't really form much of a stable society and simply enforce rules as small scale criminals due to their individualist stance. The closest thing they have to a society is small nihilistic violent groups like the Yomango shoplifters, the individuals who followed criminal individualist anarchist Horst Fantazzini, and the terrorist group Conspiracy of the Fire Nuclei.


I wouldn't say it has laws, but it will have rules. The rules will be enforced informally by society according to local customs (like queuing in line), or by paid enforcers based on contracts. The rules will likely differ by region (about the size of a US state or large city). For an example of if a society will have the death penalty, you may check out The Machinery of Freedom


I would speculate that more people would like to eliminate the death penalty than those who want it, so it would not exist. I would also speculate that most people would not pay extra or put forth any extra effort to cage people who do drugs, so drugs would likely not be against the rules. All this is speculation. It's hard to predict the market for rules/laws. Only a market analysis with a statistically significant survey would come close to accurate in measuring which rules would likely exist or not.


Theoretically, an 'anarchist country' would have no laws. However, it does bear mentioning that 'anarchist country' is a misnomer... anarchists would not have a country, because a country, by definition has a government of some sort.

In any case, unless this was a very remote and sparsely populated region, an area with no government at all would fall apart quickly. No laws or police leaves the residents easy prey for crime and opportunism, and the residents would spend an inordinate amount of their own time providing the services and protection from crime that a government normally provides.

Yes, this does suggest that the very concept of anarchy as a goal, has not considered all of the consequences.

  • This doesn't explain the thousands of years of Zomia or the hundreds of years of Cospaia. Just because a government isn't providing protection doesn't preclude someone else from doing so. – Chloe Jun 29 '17 at 4:46

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