My thinking: Anarchists want to forbid the existence of the State.

However, in a society with no state, someone can achieve such a predominance over their peers that they can forbid anyone else from the use of violence, in effect founding a state. (This can happen for example because this person has forced everyone else under their rule with through violence).

If this is to be forbidden then there must be an organization with enough authority to enforce the lack of state. This organization would have to prevent anyone from violently forcing everyone else under their rule, so in effect, this organization would have to obtain the monopoly over the use of violence, and thus by definition it would be a state.

Anarchism, therefore, seems to me to be a self-refuting proposition, since only a state has enough authority to forbid the founding of a state.

Is anarchism a self-refuting proposition?

Possible weaknesses I can see in this:

  • By the same line of argumentation we can argue that there must be a world government instead of many independent national governments, and this proposition seems controversial;
  • What I'm saying here seems to boil down to proposing the necessity of the existence of a state from the definition of a state, and - as far as I'm aware - making propositions regarding real life from definitions of words is an error. Such an error was made, for example, in the famous Anselm's ontological argument.
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    "self-refuting" theory (not proposition) maybe is too much... But your argument supports the conclusion that Anarchism is practically unfeasible. Mar 14 at 10:27
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    @RodolfoAP By your argument each civilization is doomed to fail the moment it becomes successfull... this seems pretty pessimistic...
    – gaazkam
    Mar 14 at 11:16
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    The problem is anarchism comes in.many flavors, not all of them would fit with the definition you give. Proudhon for example would not argue for no state at all, but federation of communes (small community easily controlled by its citizens) organised in a federation. Not no government, but (very) small government, shared by all citizen equally. Bakounine, Kropotkine, etc, would have yet other views. As could be expected, no two anarchists have the same view of anarchism.
    – armand
    Mar 14 at 12:24
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    Also see plato.stanford.edu/entries/anarchism which defines anarchism primarily in terms of a rejection of "centralized, hierarchical power and authority", so that definition wouldn't seem to rule out something like a direct democratic government where everyone has equal say and power.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 14 at 17:46
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    There are a lot of assumptions made along the way to "self"-refutation: "someone can achieve such a predominance", "if this is to be forbidden then there must be an organization", "this organization would have to obtain the monopoly", etc. These "can", "must", "have to" come out of thin air, and anarchists are free to reject some or all of them. Self-refutation is supposed to work from the premise alone, not from the premise plus a list of assumptions one fancies to add. If that were allowed then everything would be "self-refuting".
    – Conifold
    Mar 15 at 9:58

I.e. what Conifold (and also Mauro) are saying is that you're bringing arguments that a certain form of anarchism is utopian, i.e. contrary to some "common sense" empirical evidence, which isn't exactly the same as it being self-refuting.

You're also ignoring the temporal aspect of the matter: if (admitting) it is ultimately infeasible, it could still be a useful descriptor for how some societies happen to (not) organize themselves for stretches of time, e.g. Somalia during their civil war and what not.

Also, regarding your last point's first bullet: inability to coalesce in a single state says something about the limits of common polity, but it doesn't mean the same group of people would not organize in e.g. several states/fiefdoms, which possibly achieve some (warring) stalemate for long stretches of time, and possibly even more permanent peaceful co-existing, without any individual not belonging to some larger state. I.e. you're making state an world-or-nothing proposition, which is obviously a false dichotomy from what we know of history thus far.

Also, according to the SEP page, in one of the senses:

Anarchism in political philosophy maintains that there is no legitimate political or governmental authority.

(Emphasis mine.) Which isn't incompatible with there being a state of fact (existence of states) contrary to this, as legitimacy is "in the eye of the beholder" to use an overworked phrase. As for the implications of that view...

Simmons explains that philosophical anarchists “do not take the illegitimacy of states to entail a strong moral imperative to oppose or eliminate states” (Simmons 2001: 104). Some anarchists remain obedient to ruling authorities; others revolt or resist in various ways. The question of action depends upon a theory of what sort of political obligation follows from our philosophical, moral, political, religious, and aesthetic commitments.


There is nothing self-refuting in the nature of anarchism. Take this summary of Robert Paul Wolff's position in In Defense of Anarchism (1970/76):

According to Wolff ... an autonomous person is one who reserves to himself the right to decide what is right and what is wrong, what he should do and what he should not do. He issues his own commands and obeys only himself. To have authority, though, is to have the right to issue binding commands. Thus, the autonomy of the individual and the authority of the state are mutually exclusive. There can be no such thing as a legitimate state. An autonomous person may comply with a command of the state, but he will do this because he independently judges the action commanded to be the right thing to do, and not merely because it was commanded. (Thomas A. Shipka, 'A Critique of Anarchism', Studies in Soviet Thought , Apr., 1984, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Apr., 1984), pp. 247-261:247.)

It is logically possible for a group or a society to recognise or regard themselves as autonomous persons as Wolff describes and for them to function in a co-operative and co-ordinated way without the command of authority. Your self-refutation of anarchism relies on your ascribing contingent characteristics to these persons, specifically that at least one of them 'can [and will: GT] achieve such a predominance over their peers that they can forbid anyone else from the use of violence, in effect founding a state'. But a group or a society need not contain any person who has the capacity or the inclination to act in this manner. You need more than contingent characteristics to make anarchism logically self-refuting.

How anarchism would work in practice is another question but it is not logically - conceptually - self-refuting as your question suggests.


Anarchism is not opposed to voluntary cooperation (see for instance Anarcho-syndicalism in Spanish Civil War-era Catalonia), but rather is against the coercive 'leviathan' of Hobbes.

Anthropologist Davud Graeber, uses the record of human arrival on Madagascar, and of the encounter between meso-American war-like imperialists and Native American tribes of the Mississipi region, to make the exact opposite case: his reckoning of the evidence is that in the absence of power & resource inequality the impoverished and exploited with their descendents, will create cultures strongly opposed to coercion and slavery, and based around free association and pursuasion. That the outcome of that dynamic has many times been romanticised as 'the state of nature' when it is actually an outcome of long eras of contention, where technological change hasn't driven inequality to persist.

Your post only makes an argument by your lack of imagination, bolstered by your not having done even a bare minimum to research the history of anarchism. You take the approach of people who say nihilism or postmodernism are 'self defeating' because they are just new metanarratives of not having metanarratives.

Consider how mutual-defence of trade networks by participants in them, is the driving force of the modern global order. That is, not (almost anyway) by coercion between major powers, but exclusion and sidelining of those who violate community norms from the benefits of participation, with mechanisms for dispute resolution by third parties.

Anarchism is fundamentally about the decentralisation and diffusion of power, the polar opposite to fascism in it's approach to governance - not, having no governance.

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