The term was coined by American paleoconservative writer Samuel T. Francis to describe what he perceived to be a problem in the Western world, arguing that governments were deliberately failing to enforce the law against violent gangs while targeting those who complain about the criminals; in other words, that the state was criminally negligent on a national scale. Of course, Fiction and even Real Life provide much more extreme examples.
Anarcho-Tyranny is not a "true" form of Anarchy, because the state or some form of leadership still exists and functions to some degree, and criminals and warlords might establish their own personal fiefdoms within it. Instead, it is more when the leadership allows or even enforces a state of lawlessness and other social ills in order to achieve some end.
In some instances, this is a temporary state of affairs, with an evil leader planning to use the chaos as an excuse to establish a more draconian system later on. Other times, though, the chaos is an end-in-itself, keeping the realm divided so that the leader can remain in power, or sometimes the leader actually likes the chaos.
Usually a variant of Dystopia Justifies the Means and/or Despotism Justifies the Means. Also compare To Create a Playground for Evil, which is similar but does not require a ruler, as well as Outlaw Town and Totalitarian Gangsterism, which are often side-effects. Compare The Lopsided Arm of the Law for how this can manifest in storytelling. Also see Resistance as Planned.
- Dragon Ball: Demon King Piccolo escapes from his prison and proceeds to Take Over the World after regaining his youth and sending his minions out to murder every fighter who might be able to oppose him. He decides to abolish all laws and encourages people to fight and kill each other while he remains in charge, enjoying the chaos he has unleashed.
- Batman: No Man's Land is an event where the United States decides to abandon Gotham City to its own devices following a combination of a biological weapon attack by terrorists and an earthquake that led to a breakout of inmates at Arkham Asylum, feeling that Gotham already suffered from a high crime rate and this was the last straw. Batman and the remnants of the Gotham Police Force struggles to reestablish order as Gotham is divided between crime lords who control the food supply as the city devolves into famine and poverty, until Lex Luthor of all people steps in to save it / take it over a year later and things get back to normal.
- Luthor: Even I couldn't buy this kind of publicity!
- Demolition Man: Dr. Cocteau initially unfroze supercriminal Simon Phoenix after he'd been brainwashed to kill Edgar Friendly, a resistance leader against his benevolent despotism. Once Phoenix wreaks havoc in the process, he decides this is great as it will instill further fear in his people and permit him to be even more totalitarian so he can shape them into a "utopia". He had explicitly enabled Phoenix to escape and didn't stop him from injuring people or killing them on the way to his target already. This soon bites him in the ass when Phoenix unfreezes more criminals, then has Cocteau killed.
- District 13: The French government has given up on trying to police the ghettos (banlieues) because of the massively surging crime rates, allowing gangs to run them while leaving the citizens living there in the crossfire. Eventually, they conspire to wipe out everybody living there with a neutron bomb.
- Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. both feature dystopian U.S. governments who have designated certain parts of the country (Manhattan in the original, Los Angeles in the sequel) as penal colonies and had them sectioned off, while the rest of the country is ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship.
- Hellraiser: Judgement: The angel Jophiel reveals that Heaven itself is engaged in a conspiracy to perpetuate evil on Earth in order to ensure devotion for God's order among the flock of humanity. Pinhead is not amused.
- In The Purge, a sinister group called the "New Founding Fathers" have taken over the United States and established an annual nationwide event where most crimes, up to and including first-degree mass murder, are legal for a 12-hour period while emergency services are illegal (or enjoying the purge), which began as a way to persecute the homeless and other vulnerable people and to maintain their grip on power by terrorizing everyone else. Naturally, The Founding Fathers and their allies are still protected by the law under the purge and are protected by armies of security personnel. In the third film, they allow Purgers to kill elected officials and nominees in order to publicly assassinate an opposing presidential candidate. This bites them in the ass when the resistance unleashes their decades-long plans to purge them legally. It then becomes a whole lot worse for the NFF in the fourth film when the "anarchist" part of the equation decides 12 hours once a year is not enough and destroy the entire government as step one of their "Forever Purge".
- Star Wars:
- The Clone Wars could be considered a form of Anarcho-Tyranny, as Palpatine has thrown the galaxy into a state of civil war and chaos while secretly being in control of the whole thing, using the war as an excuse to accumulate more power for himself in the name of "peace" even though in reality he could have ended it whenever he wanted.
- The Empire is definitely an example. The Imperial Navy is fully capable of quashing any opponent in a head-on fight, but they are apparently content with letting organized crime groups like the Hutts run planets such as Tatooine. They're much more focused on fighting the Rebel Alliance because they actually threaten the Empire's power base instead of merely preying on some random citizens. Palpatine even has Prince Xizor, head of the most powerful crime syndicate, Black Sun, being a high member in his court, just under Darth Vader (while surely knowing full well his position), probably because he finds it useful. After Xizor's killed for trying to assassinate Luke however he lets Vader crack down, killing or imprisoning most of the group's leadership. However, this only slows them down briefly. After internal conflict, they reunite under Durga the Hutt and are still going strong after the Emperor's death, then even after the Empire falls, which in fact they'd preceded, starting long ago in the Old Republic era.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: This is the Foot Clan's plan for gaining recruits and taking control of New York City. They control an underground Wretched Hive which draws in young delinquents and others who feel disenfranchised by society. They can do anything they like there: smoke, drink, gamble, play video games, and anything else. Outside, they're the reason that a massive crime wave has gripped New York, making the city itself chaotic and unsafe. Shredder and Tatsu even treat the young people like a family, choosing to overlook small mistakes and character flaws and encourage the youngsters to do whatever they please — all for the purposes of making them loyal members of the Foot and throwing the city into as much chaos as possible.
- THX 1138 is an unusual example, as the oppressive dystopian city mostly suffers this because it is very obviously sliding into ruin. The tyrannical leaders aren't really that successful at repressing their citizens anymore and seem to just let their citizens run wild if it seems like too much trouble to repress them, such as letting criminals escape prison if the cost of recapturing them exceeds an arbitrary budget limit. Their robot police are so poorly-designed and rundown that they may as well not exist; as the hero is making his escape, he just shoves them over or walks around them as they suffer critical malfunctions. Society seems to mostly keep going through sheer inertia; the leadership makes little effort to actually maintain anything or enforce any semblance of true law.
- The Masque of the Red Death is a short story about a terrible plague that ravages a country ruled by the corrupt Prince Prospero, who responds by locking himself and his fellow aristocrats in a citadel and partying every day and night while the rest of the country suffers and dies — until, of course, the plague shows up at the party itself.
- Zig-Zagged in Nineteen Eighty-Four with Ingsoc's treatment of the proles, the lower class that make up the bulk of Western society. Unlike the middle class Outer Party, they don't experience the brainwashing and Culture Police (instead placated with Bread and Circuses like the lottery), resulting in high levels of crime in their communities. Ingsoc ignores them entirely because they're too stupid to be a threat without the educated middle class to lead them, and they don't desire a better world because they have no frame of reference for one.
- In Juliette, the libertine government of pre-Revolution France allows actual criminals to roam free unpunished, raping and killing as they please, while also imprisoning and oppressing law-abiding citizens.
- The preferred tyranny of the "Cultural Marxists" from Victoria. When manipulating the U.S. government, they make sure violent criminals go unpunished while people who stand up for them are smeared as bigots. They even end up recruiting said criminals into the army and letting them loose on rebel cities.
- Gotham: The show adapted the "No Man's Land" arc for season 5, with the U.S. government abandoning Gotham after the bridges are destroyed and the gangs take over. Jim Gordon and the GCPD remain on the island and do whatever they can to help and protect the citizens left behind. After many tribulations and all the various supervillains having been dethroned, the Army does eventually return to restore order except they are being manipulated by the League of Shadows, who are trying to use them to wipe out every person in Gotham.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: In "The Return of the Archons", the brainwashed inhabitants of the planet Beta III are usually perfectly peaceful and orderly citizens, but they have a regular event called "Festival" in which the entire population suddenly erupts in a twelve-hour outburst of sex and violence. It's not stated what function this serves their society, although the novelization suggests it may be a temporary outlet for their normally suppressed emotions and drives and/or a form of population control.
- Dungeons & Dragons: This is the default state of the Abyss, the Outer Plane of Chaotic Evil. Everything goes around murdering and torturing everything else, and through this, some cunning, powerful, and just plain lucky natives grow to become Demon Lords, who can rule over one (or more, if they're really good) of the Abyss' many layers. A Demon Lord's rule basically consists of "Obey me and direct your bloodthirst towards people I don't like, and I won't murder you horribly right this minute- no guarantees if you piss me off later. Other than that, do whatever; I don't care."
- In Shadowrun most governments have effectively ceded control to Megacorps and various organized crime groups. Outside of corporate extraterritorial control most cities are mildly radioactive slums patrolled by privatized police and street gangs.
- Batman: Arkham City: The eponymous city is a cordoned-off section of Gotham where all the criminals and asylum inmates are sent. There's pretty much no law enforcement presence there; the only stipulation is that the inhabitants cannot leave. However, this all turns out to be a pretext for the area's architect, Hugo Strange, to have "Protocol 10" implemented, where all the criminals are slaughtered en masse.
- Mortal Kombat: Shao Kahn rules the realm of Outworld in this style, being a Blood Knight warlord whose only real law is "Obey Shao Kahn'', and war between various violent native races like the Shokan, Tarkatan, and Centaurs is common as they fight for his favour. This contrasts with his predecessor Onaga (whom he murdered for the throne) who was equally evil but far more authoritarian and ruled an oppressive but orderly realm with an iron fist.
- Caveman2Cosmos, a Game Mod for Sid Meier's Civilization IV allows you to actively build "crime" buildings like mob fronts or pirate hideouts, which are distinct from the "unsanctioned" ones that spawn when crime reaches a certain level. These buildings generally tend to bring in money and extra experience for criminal-type units (which you can send to sabotage rival civilizations) at the cost of extra crime (duh), loss of stability, and occasionally unhealth or unhappiness, making their overall usefulness questionable.
- How Hell is run in Hazbin Hotel. Lucifer is theoretically in charge (because he can do horrible things to anyone who says otherwise) but the only laws canonically confirmed to exist are a ban on travel to the mortal realm and a trademark or copyright on the name of the "Lulu Land" amusement park. Drugs are sold from vending machines, civilian ownership of fully automatic weapons is widespread, genocidal turf wars among the demon lords are an annual thing, and there's nothing anyone can do about fraud and other bad business practices. The protagonist is Lucifer's daughter, technically princess of Hell, but nobody affords her any respect for it.
- In Homestuck, Her Imperious Condescension "revel[s] in anarchy" but actually sits atop a very rigid hierarchy, reveling mostly in ruling over a broken and bloody social order.
- In Kill Six Billion Demons, God-Emperor Incubus of the Seven has let his seventh of creation fall into this. Incubus is a Myopic Conqueror Satanic Archetype who embodies Ambition Is Evil, and thus lets his worlds collapse into brutal rule of the strongest by randomly granting powers to some of his subjects and letting them conquer to their hearts' content. It's implied he recruits those he finds worthy into his own army, though it's equally probable he just does it for fun. Either way, Incubus being a Demiurge means it is impossible for any of his pet warlords to ever get close to unseating him — if he even cares about his own safety anymore.
- In one song Dr. Horrible from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog mentions wanting "anarchy, that I run".
- In Harley Quinn late season one to early season two, Joker wanted anarcho-tyranny with himself in charge, while Harley specifically wanted To Create a Playground for Evil with no leader which made the Injustice League take over.
- The Powerpuff Girls (1998) has an episode where Spoiled Brat Princess Morbucks convinces her dad to buy the entire city and make her mayor, and her only command is to declare that "Crime is Legal", plunging the city into chaos purely to spite the Powerpuff Girls, who she threatens to throw in jail if they try and stop any criminals. It backfires on her, as the Girls take advantage of the lawlessness to steal all of Morbucks's fortune, and blackmail her into changing the law back so she gets her stuff back.
- In Samurai Jack, this seems to be the way that Aku (the demonic king of Earth) runs his evil empire. Instead of a totalitarian regime where everything is strictly monitored and controlled, Aku allows the whole world to be consumed by an endless state of lawlessness, violence, and warfare; in which all sorts of criminals, monsters, supervillains, and warlords run rampant, fighting with each other and terrorizing innocent people as they please. Aku himself, being an immortal, godlike demon sorcerer, is so far beyond anybody else on the planet in terms of raw power, that he could be an unstoppable domineering tyrant if he wanted to; but he really only intervenes personally if he feels like engaging in such cruelty for his own amusement, or to crush anyone trying to rebel against his reign of terror (especially his Arch-Enemy Jack, who's the only person capable of harming him).