Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy centered around the belief that government is unnecessary and restrictive—even harmful—and should be eliminated and replaced by self-managed, self-governed societies. The term anarchy is alternately used to describe both a society with no governing body or authorities and also the confusion and chaos that can arise in the absence of a ruling authority or power. Anarchist countries are also called stateless societies. People who support anarchy are typically called anarchists, while people who prefer to live under a government, whether they be liberal or conservative, democratic or communist, are known as statists.
To most westerners, the term "anarchy" invokes images of rioting, looting, chaos, and violence in the streets. However, political anarchy can also act as a force for good. Modern anarchist societies have used anarchy to either overthrow abusive governments, or at least prevent them from taking further advantage of their citizens. For example, anarchism played a crucial role in the Spanish Civil War and the workers' movement at the end of the 19th century.
Anarchism has existed for centuries. Some anthropologists consider prehistoric societies to be anarchists, given that they existed without formal hierarchies. The first traces of formal anarchism can be found in ancient Greece and China, where philosophers questioned the necessity of state and believed individuals should be able to live free from oppression and constraint.
French pioneer socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was arguably the first person to willingly identify himself as an anarchist. Beginning with What is Property? in 1840 and extending into the mid-1860s, Proudhon published essays and pamphlets which argued that a society's laws have nothing to do with authority and instead stem from the nature of society itself. Proudhon believed that authority would eventually dissolve, and a natural social order would emerge. Often seen as a reaction to capitalism, anarchism spread quickly during the period from 1870 to 1940, fueled by the rise of industrialization, modernism, and mass migration. Anarchism fell in prominence in the aftermath of the Second World War, but re-emerged in the 1960s.
As of early 2022, there are no true anarchist countries. Somalia was the most recent anarchist country, having lacked a true national government from 1991 to 2006, when the Transitional National Government was established. During this time, the territories of Somalia were split and ruled by competing faction leaders, and large areas of the country were administered as autonomous regions. Today, Somalia is a federal parliamentary republic with a President and Prime Minister.
While no entire countries are anarchies, there are several smaller-scale societies around the world that actively practice anarchism. The following list includes several anarchist societies and the years in which they were established:
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is the world's oldest currently active anarchist movement, started in 1958, that is still present today in 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka. This self-governance movement has a program that starts with an invitation from a village to discuss needs and make a plan of action. The program continues in stages to establish a village council, build schools and clinics, create economic opportunity, found a bank, and sponsor public meditations in which thousands of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims meditate together.
In 2022, no anarchist countries remained on Earth. The most recent anarchist country before that time was Somalia between 1991 and 2006.
Prehistoric societies around the world may have been the first anarchies because they did not have formal governments. Ancient Chinese and Greek also philosophers discussed rule without governments.