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 Oct 30 '17 at 20:34

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.

  • Thank you for your answer. An anarchic system seems difficult to maintain. I will probably have some folow-up questions, after reading more about it :D – Taladris Feb 24 '16 at 3:56
  • @Taladris It's no more difficult to maintain than any other form of society. The difference is that individuals have more control over their own lives in an anarchist society than in a direct democracy. The perception here is understanding that 'maintenance' of a direct democracy comes in the form of systemic violence against people, in the form of enforcers (police, military, etc) that may or may not have violated the rights of others. – razorsyntax Nov 8 '17 at 17:40

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 Apr 22 '17 at 12:59
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    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 Apr 22 '17 at 13:01
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    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. – Sebastian Mach Oct 30 '17 at 10:38
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    @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. – Sebastian Mach Oct 30 '17 at 10:47
  • @SebastianMach I corrected it since I missed that in my proof read. – razorsyntax Oct 30 '17 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).

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