Following Wikipedia,

[d]irect democracy (also known as pure democracy)[1] is a form of democracy in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly. (...) [D]irect democracy might entail passing executive decisions, the use of sortition, making laws, directly electing or dismissing officials, and conducting trials. Two leading forms of direct democracy are participatory democracy and deliberative democracy.

This differs from representative democracy where people elect their representatives for a certain amount of time and these representatives can do "whatever they see fit" (in the limitations defined by the law) for the benefit of their electors. Usual complaints about representative democracy is that representatives don't always follow the program they proposed before their election.

On the other hand, anarchy is defined by Wikipedia as

a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies with voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies,[1][2][3][4] but several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations.

These systems seem very similar to me. To be very schematical, in both systems, people sit down and discuss, and decide altogether on the way to conduct the society.

Hence my question: what are the differences in principles and practice between the two systems?

  • What full direct democracy or full anarchy has ever existed or lasted long enough to study? I can't think of one, so comparing the two becomes a theoretical exercise where it's all about how one views either.
    – FalseHooHa
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 20:34

5 Answers 5


In a direct democracy, there is a social consensus between all citizens that following majority decisions is mandatory, even for those people who voted against them. It's the duty of the whole society to enforce the will of the majority on the minority.

In an anarchy, however, taking part in community institution is voluntary. People don't have to follow any rules they don't agree with.

Example: The society discusses to raise taxes. You are against it, but the majority is for it. In a direct democracy, there will be a vote and when you lose the vote, you will have to pay the tax no matter if you want it or not. But in an anarchy, following any majority consensus is voluntary. You can just refuse to pay any tax you don't agree with.

The majority in an anarchistic society might of course decide to enforce their decisions on other by use of force, but the moment they start to take such measures they have just anarchistically decided to convert their society system from anarchy to direct democracy. Just like a direct democracy can decide to convert to a representative democracy by democratically deciding to delegate certain decisions to elected individuals and then to dictatorship by also delegating the decision what to delegate to whom.


These systems seem very similar to me.

Anarchy is the extreme form of democracy where everyone is a decision making.

While rarely admitted, democracy implies a form of "dictatorship" in that every one (pre-)commits to obeying the outcome of a democracy and accepting the decisions made by a democracy -> often called the tyranny of the majority.

In comparison, anarchy is democracy through and through.


In general, the two are NOT related.

A direct democracy is the collected will of some majority. If we're talking about government, then a direct democracy is the idea that a majority can force a minority to live by their laws and rules without their individual consent. It tends to ignore individuals rights for the sake of the majority. If a mob says it's okay to punish people for smoking a plant, even of the person harmed no one or violated no one else's rights, then those individuals will be punished regardless. The notion of the Rule of Law tends to trump individual rights in these types of societies.

Anarchy, on the other hand, is merely a condition in which no masters exist. It's NOT a form of government.

In principle, anarchy is simply any state in which actions are not directed through coercion. For example, you deciding to get out of bed this morning was an anarchic decision since it was not directed by any "authority" nor were you coerced into do it (unless you're in prison right now). If you decided to stop by your local Starbucks and get a coffee, you alone made that decision without masters (or government) telling you too.

Furthermore, any group of people consenting to associate without forcing others do so are in a state of anarchy.

Another way to understand anarchy is by understanding atheism. Atheism is the lack of belief in god. Thus, there don't exist any atheist religions. Atheism is antithetical to religion. Anarchy is the lack of masters. Thus, government is antithetical to anarchy, thus no anarchic "governments" have ever existed. There are, however, anarchic organizations and societies that have existed and currently exist without government. A few examples through history were the Amish, many wandering Jewish societies, Eastern European Gypsies, many Native American tribes, and more. They had their own rules, laws, and etc but had no government and many societies flourished for thousands of years in that state. You can consider many companies as existing in an anarchic state in that they have their own rules and hierarchy but you are completely free to associate or not associate with them. I add the caveat that as government and business begin to combine and associate they could feasibly stop existing as entities free from coercion.

  • 1
    "there don't exist any atheist religions." the validity of that statement is highly dependent on your definition of "religion". To me, fundamental to any religion is that it is a believe system, aka faith based. Under that definition, atheism is nothing but a religion in no religion.
    – dannyf
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 12:59
  • 3
    whether "god" or "gods" play a role in a religion is secondary. so a godless religion (like buddhism) is perfectly fine in my book. this solves many problems in my view: as just no one can prove the existence of "god", no one can prove the non-existence of "god" either.
    – dannyf
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 13:01
  • 1
    I think "Atheism is the lack of god" is not correct. Atheism is the belief that there is no god, but it is not a word for the state of non-existence of a god.
    – phoobar
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 10:38
  • 1
    @dannyf: I think you are slightly aiming agnosticism. I am an agnostic atheist, meaning I don't believe there are any gods, but I accept that I don't know things I cannot know. I don't exclude the possibility of God's existence, but it's just one of billions over billions of possibilities of higher beings or lack thereof. Not an expert on Solipsim, but I think Solipsim is Agnosticism taken to a consequential extreme. I mean, think LSD: smelling colors, seing sounds, etc. ... Worm for you: wired.com/2014/09/absurd-creature-of-the-week-disco-worm is slightly disturbing.
    – phoobar
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 10:47
  • @SebastianMach I corrected it since I missed that in my proof read. Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 17:37

Democracy of any shape or form is not a socio-economic and political system; it is just a form government. For example, if we consider a the system as an organism, the government will be one of its organs; in this sense the system encompasses all organs, but it is not reducible to any one in particular. Thus, the government of a particular socio-economic system may be democratic, authoritarian, monarchical, etc., without significant change to the fundamental function of such system. This is why we observe democratic forms of government in ancient Greece (over the basis of slavery and other pre-capitalist relations) and the liberal democracy of modern time (post industrial revolution, capitalism, and the bourgeoisie); otherwise, one of these would have been an anachronism. Similarly, not every capitalist country is presently governed democratically; and fascism and populism seems to be on the rise in Europe and US...

Anarchists oppose the authority of the state to govern the people. But in a libertarian society, the the lack of such authority doesn’t equate to social entropy or disorder (in terms of which anarchism has been popularized). In the anarchist society order is established through mutual consent, agreement, etc. Thus, direct democracy and anarchism/libertarianism are not mutually exclusive. Democratic processes (i.e., discourse, discussion and the voting system) constitute the mechanisms to establish social/group consensus and consent for many schools of anarchism. Non-individualist anarchists (libertarian marxism, Proudhon’s industrial democracy, etc.) support direct democracy. individualist anarchism criticizes liberal/representative democracy because minorities are not well represented (irrespected of individual freedom).


What people seem to forget is that not all anarchist agree that direct democracy is good or desirable. Individualist anarchists are famous for criticizing democracy since it can ignore the rights of the minority. For every syndicalists and council communist who thinks democracy is a good idea, you have other libertarians and anarchists who see democracy as a form of control. The problem with the definition of anarchism that states ' self-governed societies with voluntary institutions' is that it doesn't specifically define to what extent a society is self-governed and at what point does voluntarily working together become coercion. Max Stirner is known by many as "name appears with familiar regularity in historically orientated surveys of anarchist thought as one of the earliest and best known exponents of individualist anarchism". He created a branch of anarchism called egoist anarchism that wanted to "abolish not only the state but also society as an institution responsible for its members". He also believed you should be able to take what you wanted if you had the power to take it, even if the democratic members of a society said otherwise:

"I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my 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; [...]. Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property" - Stirner, Max. The Ego and Its Own

There is also insurrectionary anarchism, a form of individualist anarchism that says any individual should be allowed to engage and violence against any system they don't like in a form of 'permanent class conflict', even if most people agree to be there voluntarily:

Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the State or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men's discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The Revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on 'institutions'. It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. If I leave the established, it is dead and passes into decay. Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed. - Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own

"the anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists, who in France were grouped around Sébastien Faure's Le Libertaire. From 1905 onwards, the Russian counterparts of these anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists become partisans of economic terrorism and illegal 'expropriations'." -""Anarchist-Communism" by Alain Pengam describing insurrectionist anarchists

As someone stated above, "In an anarchy, however, taking part in community institution is voluntary. People don't have to follow any rules they don't agree with." With a direct democracy, you have to make sure everyone, including individualist anarchists who see the only society that they should listen to is their own ego or personal morality, follows the rules the society agrees on & doesn't simply ignore what the group voted for. For example, an individualist anarchist might ignore a democratic vote for everyone to get a standard education as anarchist thinkers " such as William Godwin (Political Justice) and Max Stirner ("The False Principle of Our Education") attacked both state education and private education as another means by which the ruling class replicate their privileges" and Francisco Ferrer opposed established education. Thus, you have a bunch of people who will refuse to give their child a proper education and see any attempt to provide standardized testing to see what children have learned as 'tyranny' and in a voluntary anarchist society, you can't just make a person get a proper education without their consent, leading to a constant problem of hyper-individualistic people fighting against the will of the community.

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