“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Thank you, The Princess Bride, for providing me with one of my favorite quotes of all time. One whose implications I both enjoy and do my best to live by. It’s nostalgic and pertinent as a title to this post. Wunderbar!

Recently, my fiancée was telling me about a Facebook flame war she witnessed where one person had posted something political, had an opposing comment, and then another man had responded with an obviously satirical rebuttal. The original commenter took an affront to this and began spewing more political “truths” to which the satirist responded again. And once again the original commenter came back, but this time, he labeled the satirist as politically ignorant and obligatorily racist (it was, after all, an Obama argument) and qualified his remarks by saying he was not a Republican as one might think, but he is instead “an anarchist.”

OMG ANARCHY! I just rolled my eyes and chuckled at the guy. I knew his type if not him personally. So often, people use words like “anarchist” or “anarchy” to describe their political ideals or way of thinking without ever truly understanding what the word means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary’s primary definition, “anarchy” is defined as: “absence of government; a state of lawlessness due to the absence or inefficiency of the supreme power; political disorder.” Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that people have the right to hold any belief system and political ideology they want as long as it doesn’t impede one someone else’s, but I do think that people who claim to be “anarchists” do not fully understand the implications of the truly lawless society they advocate. It would truly be every man and woman for him or herself. If people were to band together, even for survival, there would innately be some sort of hierarchy within their ranks, which is—*gasp*—a form of government because they would be setting rules for one another’s behavior, even if they were as simple as “don’t kill and eat me while I’m asleep.” True lawlessness is the complete absence of any ruling structure—understood, courteous, national, personal, or anything in between.

To attain actual anarchy would be akin to actually being able to set up a true Communist state—there is an implication in the definition which limits its practical application from ever occurring due to inherent unpredictable variation in human nature and behavior. In other words: it works on paper, but not in real life.

Most people who say they would like a state of anarchy to exist in the world have not really thought it through. Generally, people who throw around buzz words so brazenly are not concerned with the nuances of their definition vs. their popular use (hence why they’d be buzz words instead of accepted terminology). I think that such people as this Facebook “anarchist” would actually best be described as disestablishmentarians—those who wish for the current power structure to fail and be replaced by something more suitable to their political ideals. But I doubt that such self-proclaimed radicals as those who would so haphazardly dub themselves “anarchists” would take the time to understand the subtle uses of the words.

Moral of the story: look it up before spouting off.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. The problem with anarchism as a movement, is that it doesn't advocate a set ideal (such as Republicans are for less government or Dems for social improvement). In fact, it seems the movement itself, is very definitive of itself, in that it has no structure.

    The confusion is that being an anarchist doesn't necessarily mean that he/she wants TOTAL anarchy, but a certain level of anarchy. An example would be absolutely no government intervention outside of enforcing the very basics of the Social Contract.

    A true anarchist would understand that a lawless land would not only be disastrous, but highly unlikely, as humans are social by nature, which could only lead to organized social structure.

    Another common form of anarchism comes from the concept of the "current" government should be disassembled. The idea is that the government is now only in the "business" of keeping itself in business. The only reason it persists is for itself, not for the people. In other words, the only reason the government exists is because it has created laws to keep itself in existence. Once it would be gone, then a new, better government could be created.

    I think the key is that defining "anarchy" doesn't necessarily define "anarchism."

    However, seeing as that the person in question was from the interwebz, I would still bet on your assumption he has no idea what he was talking about.

  2. Anarchy only works in a society where everybody is enlightened. Therefore, any anarchist who is not actively in the business of enlightenment isn't really true to their ideals.

  3. @J.Ayers: That's what I mean, the concept that the current government should be disassembled is misunderstood as anarchism, yet really falls more into disestablishmentarianism. People use these words and don't understand the implications.

    and yes, Jane, I feel the same way. If a society were enlightened, then I would be perfectly fine with an anarchist and/or Communist state. In theory, they would work great because every person would be able to work for him or herself toward the betterment of whatever he or she thinks matters. Unfortunately, that will never happen and it becomes a buzz word that loses most if not all credibility.

  4. I agree. I think true anarchists are probably too busy to be getting into flame wars on Facebook 🙂 I wouldn't utilising a controlled social media network go against their morals anyway? 🙂

  5. "That's what I mean, the concept that the current government should be disassembled is misunderstood as anarchism, yet really falls more into disestablishmentarianism."

    Isn't it antiestablishmentarianism? I thought disestablishmentarianism was an issue regarding the state pulling away from church control/support.

    I thought antiestablismentarianism was the act of wanting a government to fail, or trying to take it down from the "inside" so a new government would rise. Anarchism actively tries to destruct the government (through often violent means) so a new one can be built.


  6. I thought the same thing, We Fly Spitfires. The thought of an "anarchist" using a website that sets parameters for whom you can interact with and how those interactions take place was pretty hilarious 🙂

  7. "I wouldn't utilising a controlled social media network go against their morals anyway?"

    LOL… "I'm the leader of the anarchist local chapter." "Oh really? When can I come to the next meeting." "Sure… Except, we never can seem to organize."

    *Price is Right fail music"

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