A virtually ubiquitous trope, both in fiction and Real Life, is the misconception that anarchists have no beliefs, that anarchy is chaos. While anarchy and chaos are not mutually exclusive (chaos is anarchic, although it often devolves into despotism, but anarchy is not necessarily chaotic) such an un-mindset is properly called nihilism, the belief in nothing. However, the actual definition of Anarchism is the belief that rulership should not exist (as indicated in its Greek roots, an- [no] -arkhos [ruler]). There is much division on the extent and nature of rulership, and what it means. Regardless of this division, in fiction, Anarchists (of any stripe) are often accused of favoring a Hobbesian-style war of all against all.
This trope can be used as an anti-anarchist propaganda tool when played together with Chaos Is Evil. That's pretty much where it came from: those late 19th/early 20th century anarchists who did advocate and use violence generally did so because they didn't see any prospect of the existing system changing unless it was shaken out of its complacency. The mass media of the time had no interest in what the anarchists actually wanted (social change on a large scale), and were only interested in registering the outrage felt by much of civil society at the actions of the anarchists. And so, anarchism went from being a political philosophy like any other to a synonym for meaningless violence, because the people who associated anarchy with chaos were unable to understand why the anarchists were doing what they were doing.note
This trope is rare/more likely to be averted in Spanish works since a substantial minority of the population formed a highly regarded anarchist system during the Spanish Civil War. Some of them are still living and anarchist organizations are slightly more mainstream than in most countries. They are still a political minority, though.
In Real Life, this trope is usually averted. Many proponents of anarchy are actually quite high on the "idealistic" side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism; they genuinely believe that humans are good, and so a society with no form of higher authority or official rules will become utopia, as all people will be able to communicate with and understand each other as individuals and will choose to be good. Most other anarchists are more cynical, and believe that anarchy is desirable because Humans Are Flawed - giving them power, these anarchists contend, simply makes matters more chaotic, and will inevitably lead to power abuse. This was the position of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (the first person to declare himself an anarchist, incidentally), who penned the phrase "Anarchy Is Order." This is, by the way, the meaning of the circle A symbol you may have seen graffiti'd here and there (it's actually an "A" inside an "O"). More information, on social anarchism, can be found in our Useful Notes on anarchism.
In short, real-life anarchists tend to be about cooperation and mutual respect, and very much tend not to be about unleashing the natural savage instincts of humanity so that the weak will become fodder for the strong (supposedly in the belief that either they will be among the "strong", or that that'd still be better than the existing system, or that the sooner humanity goes extinct the better off it will be). A person who thinks like that will probably not become an anarchist in the first place (unless that person is a Misanthrope Supreme).
- There's a pizza commercial for one of those "already prepared ready-to-go" pizzas where a guy walks in and asks for a pepperoni pizza and the girl behind the counter turns around, grabs one, and hands it to him. He says something like "No ordering? No waiting? There's no rules!" and begins taking his clothes off. A voice in the background yells "Put your shirt back on!", which he does, still yelling excitedly, ''There's one rule!"
- Averted in Psycho-Pass: in Episode 19, Professor Saiga asks Kougami what the definition of anarchy is, and Kougami replies that it is a denial of governing and authority but is intrinsically different from confusion and disorder. He then reaches the logical conclusion that this means that Makishima cannot, by definition, be an anarchist because even though his desire to overthrow the Sibyl System is genuine, he is bent on causing violence and death wherever he goes and revels in it.
- As pointed out in the page quote, V for Vendetta is actually a subversion or inversion, pointing out that "mindless chaos" and "anarchy as a social system" are not, in fact, the same thing. Unfortunately, the peoples' reactions at the end of the comic (and those of many readers as well) demonstrate that not everyone realizes this.
- Averted outright with the DC Comics character Anarky, who is in many ways a Lighter and Softer version of the aforementioned V. In one storyline, he is horrified to the point of giving up his big master plan when he is presented with reasonable evidence that anarchy will lead to chaos and will ultimately resurrect the very governments he is trying to oppose.
- Carnage is described as an anarchist due to his love of chaos, but he's more of a psychopathic nihilist.
- The Invisibles is devoted to averting this trope.
- xXx: The antagonists are former Russian intelligence agents turned anarchist terrorists called Anarchy 99, (due to leaving their government's service in 1999 and advocating anarchy) who want to incite war between different countries by a False Flag Operation, creating chaos-For the Evulz, apparently.
- In The Dark Knight, the Joker clearly links chaos and anarchy together in his speech to Harvey Dent/Two-Face when he tells him, "Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos."
- The primary antagonist Bane, in The Dark Knight Rises. A subversion, actually. Anarchy's a tool to bring Gotham down, not something he himself believes in. Excepting perhaps the Kangaroo Court, he's clearly in charge of the city.
- Ricky's children in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby appear to hold this view, despite one of them admitting to not knowing what the word means. (And anyway, the worst thing they do is aim a garden hose through a neighbor's window and spray him in the face.)
- Intentionally averted in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where King Arthur comes across an anarcho-syndicalist commune of literal mud farmers. They are decidedly non-violent, particularly when compared to Arthur himself, but also extremely irritating, screaming "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" when Arthur grabs one of them in annoyance, yelling at him to shut up.
- Escape Velocity, in which the villain, a renegade Sociopathic Soldier, screams "Anarchy!" at the top of his lungs before killing people.
- Zigzagged in No God No Master, centering around the investigation of the 1919 Anarchist Bombings, which (as the name implies) were the work of Luigi Galleani and his anarchist followers. On the other hand, it makes very clear that other anarchists did not advocate these actions. In the end, it did nothing for the anarchists but get many thousands of them (violent or not) deported.
- Fight Club: Subverted. Project Mayhem has elements of the ideology within it, but is highly organized, with a purpose beyond simple havoc. It ultimately turns out they desire to bring down the capitalist system, a goal of most real anarchists. Tyler also appears to be anarcho-primivitist at one point, saying his vision is for a future where humans abandoned civilization and have returned to living as hunter-gatherers.
- The Man Who Was Thursday: The anarchist organization in the book takes this position. It's pointed out that there's a difference between the revolutionary who throws a bomb to kill a king, and the "anarchist" who throws a bomb to kill anybody. However, all of them turned out not to be anarchists in the end.
- As far back as the Book of Judges in The Bible, we have this quote: "In those days Israel had no king. Everyone did as he pleased."
- The Larry Niven story "Cloak of Anarchy" posits "anarchy parks" with just one rule: no violence (making them the anarcho-pacifist sort of anarchy). Any time a fight starts (or looks like it might start), floating robots stun all participants, who are then separated. They wake up a few hours later, and it's mentioned that the threat of losing part of your holiday is enough to keep most people in line. Then someone figures out how to make the robots break down, so "just one rule" (anarcho-pacifism) becomes "no rules", which pretty much fits the "chaos" definition. It's not pretty.
- The science fiction novella Anarchaos by Donald E. Westlake plays this trope utterly straight, as the title would imply. He posits a world entirely colonized by anarchists, which breaks down within a single generation into, well, chaos (in the story the world is named Anarchaos by the anarchists themselves, which seems unlikely). Overall it comes off as Westlake having a dislike of anarchism that he's trying to get out with an Author Tract, but despite that it's a good story.
- Averted or even inverted in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. Much of the plot revolves around Shevek (the main character) fleeing his anarchist people because they've become too unchaotic, with an unofficial government firmly in charge.
- Averted in Eric Frank Russell's short story "...And Then There Were None". In it, an anarchic-libertarian community of Gands (they derive their name from Mahatma Gandhi) is pretty orderly, and also utterly pacifistic-they employ passive resistance when the Earth military tries to coerce them.
- Also averted or inverted in The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
- In The Pride of Parahumans, Vesta was intended as a peaceful anarchy after independence, but things broke down as the life support infrastructure began to fail and homicide rates skyrocketed until the Protectors' Guilds restored order. Making it more like feudalism.
- Averted in S. Andrew Swann's Hostile Takeover (Swann) trilogy, set on Bakunin, a world of anarcho-socialists (although the hero is more of an anarcho-capitalist) under threat by the imperialistic Confederation.
- In The Witchlands, according to the supplementary material, the Republic of Arithuania became the Former Republic of Arithuania because its leaders allowed too much freedom, leading to anarchy and the country disintegrating.
- Broken Ring: Averted with the elves, though explicitly called anarchists. They have no government, with the only thing resembling it being elders who provide advice and guidance.
- Extremely prevalent in the Dean Koontz novel The Face. The antagonist apparently thinks that being an anarchist means not just "causing chaos", but "aimlessly causing acts of senseless cruelty", like kidnapping and starving his colleague, trying to assassinate the son of a famous actor, poisoning the neighbor's dogs, gaslighting a schizophrenic by telling him the government is spying on him, exacerbating his girlfriend's anorexia... and promoting moral relativism in an English college course.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation had the episode "Legacy" featuring the planet Turkana IV, which was the home of a failed Federation colony that had descended into civil war and then lawlessness of the kind generally associated with anarchy. This being Tasha Yar's home world, from which she'd escaped as a teenager, her sister Ishara Yar helped the crew of the Enterprise retrieve two Federation officers whose escape pod had crashed in the ruins of the colony. While things were no longer so chaotic as Tasha had previously described them, Ishara's explanation for this was that the failing government had adopted the two largest political factions known as the Alliance and the Coalition as its emergency police forces, which backfired spectacularly, leaving them fighting over power. From a certain point of view, their violent lives in these two factions' underground strongholds were a slight improvement over the utter lawlessness that prevailed in Tasha's time, when rape gangs roamed the ruins of the city preying on any victims they could find.
- In Sons of Anarchy, the motorcycle club is actually very structured. They have a clear hierarchy of power and clearly defined branches of operations. They also have strict rules of operation which include not targeting women and children, protecting the town in which they operate, and looking out for underdogs who are brave enough to approach them. Anyone who disrespects the chain of command or breaks the rules of operation is subject to violent reprisals. The club itself tends to have chaotic results but their planning is shown to premeditated and ordered and all actions have to be brought to a club vote where majority rules. The founders believed not that there should be no rules, but rather that any group that was willing to leave the inherent protections offered by the government's system of rules was entitled to create and live under rules of their own creation.
- Black Mirror: Actually Subverted in "The Waldo Moment". The idea behind the neutral Waldo party is that it stands for nothing but a cynical "fuck everything" stance to political discourse, and that Waldo is merely a figurehead. In a parliament with no political authority, public vote alone determines law. As a result, the deepest darkest aspects of human nature quickly rise to the top and society quickly degrades into a barking mad, badly-run totalitarian society. All for a foul-mouthed cartoon bear.
- The narrator of the Sex Pistols' most famous hit, "Anarchy in the U.K.", appears to hold no political affiliations, and desires nothing more than a chance to channel his baseless anger into mindless violence.
I am an anarchistDon't know what I wantBut I know how to get itI wanna destroy passersbyIs this the M.P.L.A?Or is this the U.D.A.?Or is this the I.R.A.?I thought it was the U.K.!
- Anarchy Championship Wrestling is an army of talent and gifted artists working together to create art out of chaos and passion.
- Averted in Eclipse Phase. Posthuman Studios happens to be run by socially progressive transhumanist Anarchists, who put a lot of their politics into the setting, and so the politically anarchist sections of the Solar System (the outer system, mainly) are portrayed a lot more sympathetically than the fascist Jovian Republic or the Mega-Corp-dominated inner system.
- Elite features star systems with different government classifications, one of which is Anarchy. Anarchic systems tend to be the most infested with Space Pirates out of all of them. These systems can be very profitable to bounty hunters, as most ships will be wanted somewhere, and the Kill Warrant Scanner is built precisely to detect where. Elite: Dangerous makes it clear that 'Anarchist' factions are more like mobs, cartels, and pirates than actual anarchists.
- As hinted at in Call of Duty: Black Ops II and elaborated on in the short story Rightful King, ultimately Raul Menendez is an Anarchist in the traditional sense of the word; he's against both big government and big capitalism, with the motto of "less power, less problems". Ironically being a wealthy man himself he is part of the so called 1% that the 99% seeks to overthrow, a good deal of his plan being funded by drug money. If the man does want change, it's certainly not change we can believe in.
- Averted in Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall. The game is set in the Flux State — an anarchic future Berlin. Although the city has been divided into numerous Kieze that are local communes at best and many people live in SINless poverty with an uncertain future, there's no complete breakdown of law and order with gangs of criminals ruling the streets. The game takes time to explore several facets of anarchist philosophy, and Monica or an overly altruistic player may even be criticized by Lucky Strike for making everyone dependent on you and thus becoming a 'ruler' to your Kiez.
- Subverted in Fallout: New Vegas.
- Vault 21 was designed to have no authority figure, with the rules being that everything was decided through a gambling session. This Vault was actually one of the few that was opened up near-completely unscathed. Provided that having part of your home filled with concrete (because one guy was Born Lucky, beat everyone at Blackjack, bought the vault and didn't want people tunneling into it) doesn't really count as a major problem.
- For that matter, you could call this the Central Theme of the game. With the NCR, Caesar's Legion, and Mr. House all trying to bring their own flawed visions of order to the Mojave, the biggest choice in the game is whether you should give preference to any of them, or leave the Wasteland leaderless and hope for the best.
- Inverted and subverted in Tales of Vesperia — abandoning the Empire and joining or forming a guild are presented with all the trappings of anarchy (everyone lives according to their own laws, don't have to join a guild if they want to make their own one-man guild, don't have to appoint a leader, and the only "authority" had is presented as people following directions out of admiration or respect rather than because they are an authority figure. The Five "Master" Guilds are just be the five largest or most productive guilds and have no authority over other guilds, and even the Don doesn't seem to have any official authority- he's someone everyone respects and obeys out of that, but it's also stated that he's just another guild member if not one with a lot of supporters), but the Guilds are the Order to the Empire's Chaos. The guilds are also constantly presented as being in the right.
- The Data Angels of Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri have all the trappings of an anarchist society, and while the decentralised society isn't constantly fighting itself, it does take a hefty penalty to Police so if things start going wrong, it's much harder to keep the people in control.
- The period if you hold a revolution or your government falls in Civilization is called Anarchy. All civilization activity comes to a halt - no tax collection, no scientific research, no trade income, and (in most cases) no building. All cities go to civil unrest, and it's generally a good way to open yourself up to being conquered.
- Averted by the Ma-non in Xenoblade Chronicles X, who are a truly anarchist society, with no ruling body or centralized decision-making process whatsoever. They have just come to the collective realization that actions which benefit the whole ultimately advance themselves too, and highly value equivalent exchange in their dealings. There are a handful of Ma-Non who exploit their own system to get ahead, but they're also aware that every race has a few bad eggs.
Ma-non: So, he asked us to "Take Me to Your Leader", right? Which was kind of hard considering we don't really have a leader? Even those three you spoke to when you first met us, they aren't our representatives or anything? They just happened to be the ones outside the ship at the time, you know?
- S.S.D.D (which may or may not be an example of Writer on Board in regards to anarchism):
- The part of the timeline set in the future features (among other super-governments) the Anarchist Collective, which sort of goes back and forth. Officially, there are only two laws, "do not profit at the expense of another anarchist" (which can be interpreted to cover anything from scams to murder), and "there are no other laws". The officials in charge are referred to as "Advisers" who don't put out laws so much as "suggestions"; you can technically break them without any sort of official penalty, but since the only difference between local police, angry crowd and lynch mob is how organized they are... the Collective does have a rather intimidating military, not to mention a secret weapon, though. They still come off as A Lighter Shade of Grey compared to the other prominent factions, largely because things like freedom of speech are Serious Business to them. There's also a reference to "true anarchists" who live in the wasteland between cities, taking potshots at passing vehicles.
- Meanwhile, in the present-day timeline we have Norman. He might be an Axe-Crazy pyromaniac and Mad Bomber with an acute case of Comedic Sociopathy and an aversion to anything resembling work, but he still shows occasional signs of Hidden Depths, and anarchism clearly means a lot more to him than an excuse to set fire to things.
- Big Head Press has featured several comic series. These depict fantasy civilizations Past, present and future largely using an anarcho-capitalist system. Scott Bieser is the writer for these series, and appears to partially advocate those systems. But they are all too silly to be taken seriously. So it is hardly a manifesto.
- This is one of the main pro-democracy arguments on Twitch Plays Pokémon.
- Surprisingly subverted in the Yogscast miniseries Cornerstone. In Week 6, the group collectively decided they'd go without a mayor and leave the usual teams of people to do as they wanted for that session. They did surprisingly well, with Hat Films expanding the base significantly, Sips and Sjin building a basic farm, Duncan Jones, Kim Richards and Hannah Rutherford all harvesting rubber to make jetpacks and Strippin and Benji working on Railcraft.
- When Anarky appeared in Beware the Batman, the nuanced, sophisticated, complex philosophy of the comic book character was discarded in favor of a particularly fatuous version of Anarchy Is Chaos.
- Played with in The Legend of Korra. The villain Zaheer believes in a philosophy that is like anarchism. He sees that people will never be truly free until all governments have been brought down. When confronted with the fact that this would lead to chaos, he is okay with that since he sees the natural order as disorder. He goes back and forth between having a good point about what bad leaders (like the thoroughly horrible Earth Queen, the incompetent President Raiko, and Fire Lord Ozai and his predecessors) have caused and basically saying "yes, it would be total chaos, and that would rock!" In the end, while not one tear was shed when he airbended the oxygen away from the Earth Queen, suffocating her to death, the extensive riots and looting that grip Ba Sing Se immediately after her assassination prove that, yes, eliminating a leader like that will indeed plunge a kingdom into chaos. The subsequent Book shows a brutal dictator acting to repair the damage caused, making Zaheer feel incredibly guilty about what he'd done.
- In Adventure Time, the brief moment when the goblins don't have a King turns into this.
- In Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Star's teacher Skullnick lets Star in charge of a school field trip. Being tired of her teacher's rules, she removes them all. Skullnick warns that "no rules leads to anarchy," and that anarchy does indeed lead into chaos as Star's classmates get into dangerous situations from messing around.