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What is Anarchy? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of Anarchy
  • 0:33 Philosophers on Anarchy
  • 1:08 Types of Anarchy
  • 2:12 Examples of Anarchy in History
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn all about what anarchy is from a political, philosophical, and historical point of view. When you're done take the quiz and see what you learned.

Definition of Anarchy

As an American citizen, I have to respect the mayor and his council at the city level, as well as the police that enforce the laws. I also have to obey the state government's laws and police, and any national laws, treaties, and the FBI.

Anarchy is nothing like that. The word anarchy comes from the Greeks who combined 'an,' meaning not or without, and 'arkhos,' meaning ruler or leader. For them, anarchy was when no one had any authority over anyone else. There would be no laws, no police, nothing.

Philosophers and Anarchy

Starting in the 17th century, anarchy started to get the attention of philosophers. They talked about anarchy, what it was and what it meant. Thomas Hobbes thought of it as man's natural state, where every man had a right to everything he could take, including another person's life or body. In other words, total chaos. His idea is still a popular perception of anarchy to this day.

Immanuel Kant, another popular philosopher, believed that people living in an anarchist society could have laws, just with no one to enforce them. For him, it was possible to have people living together without total chaos all the time.

Types of Anarchy

In the last few centuries, several different groups have come together to form a local anarchic government. Some, like Freetown (1971-Present), Whiteway Colony (1898-Present), Trumbullplex (1993-Present), Life and Labor Commune (1921-1937), and Utopia, Ohio (1847-1875) and its imitators, were social experiments. In each case, a small local settlement was created with no leadership. Utopia, for instance, used labor slips in place of money. Freetown is part of Copenhagen that was settled by the homeless. Whiteway Colony and the Life and Labor Commune were settled by people following Leo Tolstoy's philosophies about government.

Others - like the Ukraine between 1918 and 1921; Catalonia, Spain between 1936 and 1939; and the Shinmin region of Korea between 1929 and 1939 - were entire areas that were only anarchies because the national governments they'd been a part of had been swept aside and they hadn't been a part of the new government because they were a different culture or lived in an isolated region.

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