Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

By definition anarchism advocates a stateless society, so I guess I can't be talking about an Anarchist State or Country so I will just use state of anarchy (with no negative connotation).

In any place that has been exposed and converted to an organised, hierarchical society, has there ever been a successful return or conversion to anarchy? By successful I mean a state of anarchy that persisted for at least a few generations and where the inhabitants were able to live decently in relative security. So this would exclude little 'social experiments' that didn't last.

In the absence of one or more successful anarchies, what are/were the most promising ones?

EDIT: As pointed out in the comments, any answer to this question may be subjective and depend on the interpretation of stateless.

I won't consider implicit agreements to be a form of government (like being nice to people hoping they'll be nice to you in return).

Obeying special people like elders and religious figures would be considered a form of government, unless there is no punishment for going against their opinions and they are merely looked up to as being worthy of attention.

Also I would like to point out that I am talking about a conscious educated decision to move towards an anarchist society. As such tribes who have arguably been in that state since the dawn of man or societies that have ended up in that state as a result of war or other breakdown of their society do not count.

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by Comintern, Tyler Durden, Kobunite, Mark C. Wallace, jwenting Jun 18 at 10:43

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
This depends more on your definition of "stateless" than anything. Do shared social mores in a given geographical region constitute a "state"? What about tribal societies where no formal governing authority exists but respect for the counsel of elders is the basis of communal decision making? Would you consider that an anarchy? Some social contract theorists would say that security is impossible without implicit agreements about conduct - how do you differentiate that from governance? –  Comintern Jun 18 at 2:47
    
Afghanistan? Most of Africa? Your question is kind of subjective. –  Tyler Durden Jun 18 at 3:12
    
and "successful"? Define the term... Define the size of the group as well. And the duration of the state of anarchy. –  jwenting Jun 18 at 10:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The "persisted for at least a few generations" and "conscious educated decision" requirements really nailed the coffin in this case. Especially that latter. It is not altogether uncommon to find organised states collapse; while the result might meet some definitions of anarchy, none of them really made a "conscious educated decision" to practice anarchism.

The most promising, closest thing I can think of is Makhnovia, but that only lasted three years. It did however seem to be a conscious choice to create something akin to anarchy.

If the requirement for "conscious educated decision" is removed, then I think a good example is the Kowloon Walled City. It was technically retained by China after the rest of the peninsula was leased to Britain; subsequently the authority of neither was in force in the region. So there was no formal rules or government in that region for decades.

By even less exacting standards, Medieval Iceland is often cited as an successful example of anarchy. That would seem to be a farcry from what you're asking for though: while decentralised, they had chieftains, laws, a judiciary and a legislature.

There's also examples where a state or empire collapses and local governance reverted back to tribes. However, generally speaking, even in tribes the people obeyed chieftains, elders or shamans. The primary difference between that and organised states is that their powers were not generally formalised, but rather depends upon their personal prestige. Disobedience was unpunished in the same sense that the state might drop charges against an accused for various reasons.

I'm excluding all the various intentional communities in this answer, because they typically remain subject to the laws and governing powers of the state they reside in. To my mind, they might have removed the hierarchy at the local level, but nevertheless remained part of the national hierarchy with the central government at the top. And also, because they tend to appear to me as a form of the ancient Greek/Roman direct democracy than truly a government-free society of implicit agreements.

If you think those qualify though, there are longer lasting examples such as the Stapleton Colony, the Twin Oaks Community, the Danish Christiana, or the Acorn Community Farm.

share|improve this answer
1  
which just goes to show: anarchy always leads to some strongman taking over and lording it over everyone else. –  jwenting Jun 18 at 13:28

While I wouldn't posit this as a successful example, the Mu'tazili in the 9th century makes for an interesting anarchist school of thought

Patricia Crone: Ninth Century Muslim Anarchists, published in Past and Present (No. 167, May 2000)

The Mu'tazilites offered a variety of arguments in favour of anarchism, but only one is quoted in full, that of the Mu'tazilite ascetics.It went as follows. Islam is different from other religions, for other religious communities have kings who enslave their subjects, but the Prophet was not a king, nor were his successors, and if an imam were to turn into a king, by ceasing to govern in accordance with the law, then the Muslims would be legally obliged to fight him and depose him (as the activists said). But civil war was indeed terrible; it split the community and led to more violation of the law without guaranteeing a better outcome (as the quietists said). Since imams kept turning into kings, the best solution was not to set them up in the first place. The Mu'tazilite ascetics did not deny that there might be a legitimate ruler in the future: they seem to have thought that he would have to be an 'Alid, or in other words a descendant of the Prophet.38 But in the absence of such a ruler it was better to have none.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.