A Critique of Anarchism

Written on November 9, 2010. Written by .

Many people dismiss anarchism as a terrible idea without giving it a fair chance. I think this is because there is some misunderstanding about the meaning of “anarchy”. Anarchy does not automatically entail chaos as the popular connotation suggests. It also does not mean that there is no law enforcement. An anarchy is a political system in which many smaller governing agencies take the place of a monolithic government. These government agencies compete for customers who pay them fees for the service of protection. The idea is that this competition will drive the agencies towards optimization just as competition in the marketplace promotes efficiency in business. In this article I will discuss why my analysis suggests that anarchy is nevertheless undesirable.

A good place to begin this discussion is with real world examples. Of course there are brief instances of anarchy after the abrupt overthrow of a regime, but we will ignore these because such transient states can be avoided with more careful implementation. There are also nations that look like anarchies because there governments are doing such a bad job, but these are not true anarchies because the government is suppressing the growth of new governing agencies. Perhaps the best long-term examples of anarchy in recent history are feudal systems. Feudal lords essentially ran local governments that protected the people in a region. Of course, feudal systems have a rather negative image because the citizens were usually oppressed to the point of serfdom. But modern anarchy would probably not closely resemble these feudal systems. Feudal lords were able to abuse their subjects because they held an effective monopoly on the service of government, despite the fact that an anarchy has many governing service providers by definition. The reason is that in the past, it was more difficult to move and protection depended on fixed resources like city walls. So citizens could not easily switch to a new service provider and competing providers could not easily get started. Thus, feudalism might better be thought of as a bunch of non-anarchic monolithic governments inside an anarchic territory.

In modern times, transportation is much easier and protection can be implemented with guns, which means that two or more agencies can easily service the same location. So feudalism is not necessarily a good example of what we might expect of a modern anarchy. Since we are out of real-world examples, we need to start thinking and developing arguments from thought experiments.

First, we need to be sure that the target is well-defined or there won’t be a well-defined answer to the question of what system is best. Here is the scenario: you get to be dictator for 10 years and during this time you can mold government and society in any way that a dictator realistically could. For example, you can run a propaganda campaign, but you can’t make everyone buy into it. At the end of the 10 years, your power will be permanently and totally removed. Given this situation, in what state should you leave the country in order to maximize the average expected subjective life quality of its citizens over the next 1000 years. We will define that state to be “the ideal government system”, and our objective is to identify that system.

For the purposes of this article, we will limit ourselves to comparing anarchy with the current democratic republic of the United States. However, the comparison will be done in the context of seeking the above-defined ideal government system. Below is a list of arguments sorted by which side they favor and how strongly they favor it.

Strongly Pro-Anarchy


Moderately Anti-Anarchy

Strongly Anti-Anarchy

In conclusion, I have acknowledged certain benefits of anarchy, but the negatives are the overwhelmingly overriding factors. Therefore, I don’t think anarchy can qualify as the ideal government system as defined above since it cannot beat the system currently implemented in the US.

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