(not to be confused with the economic system autarky)
Currently somewhat theoretical, even as a principle, Autarchy is tentatively established as the term for a minarchist or strongly libertarian state in which the inhabitants adhere to strong, informal codes. Thus, you achieve a society with a strong rule of law which is enforced by mutual consent, rather than the power of the state.
Which is great, as long as you belong to and subscribe to the prevailing culture - if you fit in an autarchical state can be a nuturing, affirming environment. Arguably it has been the default form of human government for as long as we've been organising ourselves into groups and, under various names and disguises, has been the real aim of various utopian projects.
The problem arises if you happen not to fit in with those around you - there may be few, if any, laws in an autarchical state but custom becomes close to holy and if your neigbours don't like what you're doing, it's effectively illegal. It's also dangerous, because if you upset your neighbours sufficiently there is nothing stopping them from harming you. Since custom and tradition are normally founded in, or at least influenced by, the prevailing religion of a society autarchies can also tend towards theocracy, and if the religion in question turns toxic things can get very unpleasant indeed as any number of cult communities can show1. For natural rebels, misfits or members of minorities an autarchy can turn out to be a good place to leave … which may suit the majority just fine, but presupposes that there is somewhere else to go.
Autarchism is sometimes reagarded as the 'conservative' version of anarchism (which has historically come to be associated with socialism, communism and social liberalism for reasons that are often hard to follow) and both tend to feature heavily in libertarian thought both as eutopiae and as arguments for retaining some role for government, depending on the proponent.
Game and Story Use
- Actually a form of government that PCs will encounter on a regular basis - even if the area they are in is formally ruled in some other way - given that adventurers tend to be most at home in the wilder parts of their world. Also found in a smaller scale amongst "urban tribes" and gangs - there may be leaders, but they lead by the consent of the led in most cases.
- Will tend to create cohesive communities that are suspicious of outsiders (like PCs). Characters who can show that they have something in common with the locals may be better received though - a good way to bring some of the PCs backstory into life: if they come from a village like the one they are visiting (even if it speaks a different language and grows different crops) they are more likely to be able to find common ground with the inhabitants than a city dweller could.
- A good reason for a PC to take up travelling may be that he didn't fit in in a place like this.