Anarchy is the lack of recognized government and/or a general state of lawlessness is society. Individuals in society may take or give whatever they please, using whatever means deemed necessary.
This isn't actually a terribly natural state for humans - faced with anarchy they tend to improvise government out of whatever is to hand. Where there are well armed factions available to force their authority on people affairs tend towards warlordism, otherwise consensual groups are more likely to set up governments based on concepts like tribalism or autarchy. Society will tend to re-assert itself, but in forms without the complexity normally expected of modern government.
Anarchy will tend to arise in one of three cases:
- The absence of a controlling power centre: this can occur After The End, or between the fall of one government and the rise of the next or merely in the places where an extant power centre claims but does not exercise authority.
- The incompetence of a controlling power centre: "government" in some form does exist but is unable to enforce its will effectively within its territory. Normally the power centre should be just competent enough to prevent itself being replaced (which would then begin stabilisation away from anarchy) but remain unable to do anything useful. This is the theme of many dystopiae.
- The existence of multiple power centres with the ability to countermand and counteract one another - although there are plenty of people giving orders, the nett effect is that no-one is in charge. This is the normal state of affairs in civil wars or between opposing armies in an international war. It was also fairly close to "business as usual" in much of medieval Europe - there were plenty of laws, but frequently plenty of gaps and conflicts over jurisdiction and enforcement as well.
A related concept is the political ideology of anarchism - an extreme version of libertarianism it seeks the elimination of external authority in all aspects of human life. Most anarchists invisage the replacement of the status quo by some form of absolute democracy (or, ironically, some form of socialism), but anarchy is the more likely result.
Raam (city state in Dark Sun)
The world of Deus Ex.
Game and Story Use
- Anarchy provides almost limitless opportunities for heavily armed freebooters (like PCs) - without central authority there is plenty of space for enforcers for hire, but getting paid and hanging onto your money can be a problem.
- Another option is to start in an anarchy and have the PCs working with one or more power centres to create a government.