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Anarchist law

The expression Anarchist law refers to a concept about the law to use in anarchies, although some people define anarchies as communities without any law.

In the hypothesis of such systems, law -- it is said -- would have to exist in a way that it would be effective without the need for any authority, given that in this vision it is considered that an authority normally uses violence, emotional manipulation or propaganda to enforce the law in hierarchical societies.

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A contradiction in terms?

While many anarchist theorists would claim that anarchy and the law contradict each other, many others claim that

  • Anarchy means no rulers, not no rules,

in other words, that an anarchist society should have rules, but that these would exist only to the extent that they were considered just by the members of the society, and hence obeyed voluntarily and by the wish for self-respect and for respect for and from others.


Is it possible to have a society without any written nor unwritten rules at all? In practice, this seems unlikely. Possibly the best term to describe a society where the only rule is that of "stronger beats weaker" is

  • Law of the jungle,

which is one (controversial) interpretation of the attitude of successive US administrations to international law, for example in its opposition to the creation and functioning of the International criminal court.

Using this terminology, one question to classify anarchist points of view could be:

  • Should an anarchist society be "a society with rules, but no rulers", or rather "a society with no rules except for that of raw force, running according to the law of the jungle"?

Usenet law (netiquette)

In the Internet, the traditional heart of this society is the Usenet, whose main legal system is called netiquette. Although there is hierarchy in the naming system of the Usenet, the codes of behaviour are generally non-hierarchical. Some aspects of this law are similar to law in hierarchical societies, for example, people are expected not to "attack" others, but the meaning of the word "attack" differs. In fact, an existing noun has been converted into a verb in order to describe an attack by one person on others in a usenet group: attacking is referred to as flaming[?].

Non-hierarchical media law

The most well-known functioning non-hierarchical media network is probably "Indymedia", or Independent Media Centers (IMCs). Indymedia has a de facto set of laws, called the "draft unity criteria" and the "draft membership criteria", which new local groups of people wishing to start autonomous media collectives are encouraged to follow. Given the fluid and non-coercive nature of non-hierarchical societies, these laws (at the time of writing this Wikipedia article) are still "draft" versions, but in practice, most of the local collectives attempt to and more or less succeed in following these laws. Apart from polite and constructive discussion in openly archived mailing lists, in the tradition of the Usenet, the action most closely resembling coercion is the possibility to remove the HTML link to a local Indymedia site from the official list of all local sites, but without actually closing down the site or even attempting to close it down. Even this barely "coercive" enforcement mechanism is only carried out if the local collective requests it.

Internal non-hierarchical business law

Some contemporary businesses claim to function within the spirit of anarchism, for example where every employee takes turns in having

  • "coordinating" roles (such as working in a business department), as well as
  • "work" roles like editing books in a publishing company, as well as
  • "menial" roles like answering the phones and cleaning the toilet.

Empirical research and documentation on examples on anarchist legal systems within non-hierarchical businesses is a field of legal studies which is still very young and likely to develop rapidly in the future, as more and more anarchist businesses are created.

Anarchist software law (Copyleft)

If you are reading this wikipedia, then you are probably already aware that it is published under the GNU Free Documentation License, which is similar to, though not quite the same as, the GPL, the GNU Public License for publishing free software. Although the GPL is a legal document which coexists with hierarchical legal systems, some claim that it is one of the most concrete elements of anarchist law. However, this is a moot point in the absence of any demonstration that the terms of the licence could be enforced without such a legal system in place.

Anarchist law in international political action groups

One example of anarchist law of an international political action coalition (which says that it is not an "organisation"), is the set of "Organisational Principles" of the Peoples' Global Action. This includes rules to avoid hierarchy, for example,

4. ... No organisation or person represents the PGA, nor does the PGA represent any organisation or person.

so that while coordination and communication are encouraged, domination of one group over another is discouraged. There are rules for creating committees to organise international conferences, but these rules limit the power of these committees.

Decision-making in non-hierarchical societies

The laws for decision-making, including decisions about the de facto laws themselves, are still being vigorously debated among non-hierarchical societies. A common technique is formal consensus, including techniques for ensuring that decisions can be made within reasonable timelines and avoiding endless turning around in circles, but various forms of super-majority[?] voting or consensus minus one[?] are also used in some groups.

Some also say that consensus is a method for decision-making, not a principle, and that the best principle for decision-making in a human society should be that everyone can make a decision to the degree that he/she can expect to be affected by the decision. This principle is considered a fundamental value of the participatory economics model.

Related subjects: law -- anarchism

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