I often see as a criticism of anarchism that power has a natural occurrence. It's impossible to eliminate power. There will always be an authority.

However, I always thought that the total elimination of power is not the purpose of anarchists. I thought that only coercive power should be eliminated in the view of anarchists. It is very obvious that even among friends there are those who usually suggest something and those who accept or reject it, where we can say the first has greater power. In masses, those who can produce better arguments will be leaders and the others their followers. Leaders have greater power than followers. It is so obvious that this kind of power is inherent to humanity, because it arises from individual differences.

But all of this power that I described is not coercive. If a friend asks you to go hiking, you can refuse. You can always reject anything the leader says. But when the government says "You cannot use drugs, otherwise we'll imprison you", it is impossible to say "No". Government does not recognize "No". Therefore, it is coercive by definition.

So, do anarchists really want to eliminate all power, even leadership, which is implausible, or only eliminate juridical power?

  • Should we be asking which anarchists believe what? I doubt they all agree. Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 16:14
  • @DavidThornley, I mean anarchism is ideology of what.
    – rus9384
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 16:20
  • a lot of anarchists consider themselves anti-ideology don't they @rus9384
    – user34105
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 17:36
  • @user3293056, it's self-deception. Like the rule "No rules" is a rule, anti-ideology also is an ideology.
    – rus9384
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 18:56
  • Power and authority are different concepts. Authority can bring power but power does not bring authority - only force majeure. Authority is the right to make decisions which others are legally or morally obliged (not forced) to obey. You don't need to mention authority; your whole question centres on coercive power. You are right, of course, that anarchism does not reject power but only coercive power.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 20:39

4 Answers 4


The goal of anarchism

Anarchism envisages a post-state society of autonomous individuals and of voluntary, non-coercive social aggregates (such as communes and co-operatives).

There is scope for government in the sense of a co-ordinating body but this itself will be a voluntary, non-coercive social aggregate. A govermment can have a juridical function : to promulgate, administer, and to determine breaches of laws and to settle disputes about the interpretation of laws. But in the exercise of this function, no coercion is present or is permitted.

No force or coercion

An anarchist society cannot accommodate power in the sense of force or coercion.

Force : A has the power of force over B when A gets (or can get) B to do X regardless of B's volition (e.g. A controls or can control B by physical superiority - 'brute force')

Coercion : A has coercive power over B when A gets (or can get) B to do X by threat (e.g. A threatens to make B worse off relative to some baseline if B does not do X : lots of conditions have to be added such as that A must have certain motives, intentions and beliefs, else what appears to be a threat is not actually so, also B must believe that A's threat is credible and must do X because of A's threat and not because s/he was going to do X anyway, plus the 'worse off' must refer to a state of affairs that B considers not trivial but seriously detrimental to his or her interests)

Forms of power

However, I always thought that the total elimination of power is not the purpose of anarchists.

That's dead right.

To remove force and coercion is not to exclude power from society. Without force or coercion I can still exercise power over you by the use of persuasion or manipulation or by charisma or strength of personality. To suppose that such elements could all be removed from an anarchist society appears excessively optimistic. There is also the power of public opinion - the serpent in the anarchist garden as it has been called.


Alan Wertheimer, Coercion (Studies in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy), ISBN 10: 0691077592 / ISBN 13: 9780691077598 Published by Princeton Univ Press, 1988.

Robert Nozick, 'Coercion', White Morgenbesser (ed.), Philosophy, Science, and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel. St Martin's Press. pp. 440--72 (1969).

David E. Apter & James Joll ed., Anarchism Today (Studies in comparative politics), ISBN 10: 0333120418 / ISBN 13: 9780333120415 Published by Macmillan, 1971.

I am unable to reference the 'serpent' quote : apologies.

  • that's really more of a bibliography
    – user34654
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 18:47

One of the best approaches to this question is In Defense of Anarchism since it deals with 'legitimacy' (or not) of government and the difficulties of 100% agreement in every single decision (therefore coercion-free at all times). Since there will not be 100% agreement, some kind of coercion will always exist in a society with boundaries. I'm setting aside the off-grid, outlaw of old, since law now seems to stretch into the farthest corners of a given nation-state.

However, I believe the secondary question, 'coercion about what' is also very important. Vanilla vs. chocolate isn't too dire, but important decisions (except Brexit apparently!) usually require a supermajority of 66% or 75% on the given question. There will always be a 'tyranny of the majority' problem lurking somewhere, when people try to do things together.

Incidentally, for those that don't go right through Wolff's book, he was interested in electronic solutions to voting, well before internet access became widespread.

  • Majority of important questions are solved without voting. People solving these questions already have been voted by people and, therefore, their decisions are matching people intentions. The idea is as absurd as it sounds. But politics are not about voting - they are about discussion, those who reduce politics to voting are making a great mistake.
    – rus9384
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 12:24

No Gods No Masters anthology p382

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I don't think anarchists want to do away entirely with the judicial process, though at least some would want to do away with prisons. The idea seems to be more about returning its powers to a stateless people or working class.


I can identify three levels of sophistication among anarchists:

First are those who, like teenagers, reject all forms of authority or coercion; these would imagine a world where no one has authority over another.

A little more sophisticated would be anarchists who have lost faith in the government and even the constitution. Here the aim is to break down government to the point that a new regime is required. The form of government, in the new regime, may or may not feature in their plans.

Lastly would be those who realize that government grows organically from simple voluntary authority, and that any regime change will inevitably lead to a similar status quo. there aim is not to break down but to challenge.

So to answer the question for each: 1. All, 2. It depends, 3. No

  • Well, the thing is to create a society where people are not willing to obey others, and to create economics where it is possible not to obey and still have means to live (in current a policeman must obey otherwise [s]he just can him/herself be punished regardless of what the commands are). Indeed, such a society is non-universal as not all people are born with feeling of independence (but they don't want anarchy either, so let they stay where they want). So, it's unclear what do you mean by regime then.
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 7:24
  • @rus9384 'Regime' would be the government of the day, the institutions and people who have the authority and power to coerce. I.e. anarchists stand opposed to the regime.
    – christo183
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 7:50
  • And who will raise it? I have not seen any revolution of anarchisrs (neither successful non-revolutionary activity) to support this claim.
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 8:03
  • If anarchists were to raise a government? It would dissolve before it materializes. No, from inside an existing regime, anarchists will have an 'attitude' or 'intent' as described above. Maybe the third variety of anarchists have done something like raise awareness or sway public opinion on a particular issue.
    – christo183
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 8:21
  • Also, "or" questions cannot be answered in "yes/no" manner. So, under "no" I think you meant "only juridical one". Actually anarchists are quite rare to actually bring a revolution. Therefore they can only rely on other groups, like communists before 1917 year revolution in Russian Empire (which was a huge mistake because they after all were stabbed in their backs). This probably means revolution is not a way and only way is to affect the government (which unfortunately many anarchists claim to be unanarchic, maybe because majority belongs to the first group).
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 8:47

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