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Evey: All this riot and uproar, V... is this Anarchy? Is this the Land of Do-As-You-Please?

V: No. This is only the land of take-what-you-want. Anarchy means 'without leaders', not 'without order'. With anarchy comes an age of ordnung, of true order, which is to say voluntary order... this age of ordnung will begin when the mad and incoherent cycle of verwirrung that these bulletins reveal has run its course... This is not anarchy, Evey. This is chaos.

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 warlordism, 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, admittedly, has been bolstered by the idea that society's existence is contingent on that of top-down leadership, but also because of the “propaganda by the deed” violence some anarchists about a century ago perpetrated against the robber barons of the gilded age and various heads of state -- and innocent bystanders and other random individuals (one notorious bombing was of a French cafe on the grounds the people there were bourgeois). While not diminishing the terrorism that occurred, anarchists reject the notion of their belief meaning or necessarily resulting in violence. Anarchists advocate opposition to oppressors and their instruments, but in nearly all cases seek to peacefully produce a democratic and voluntary bottom-up order in their stead. There are in fact whole branches of anarchism, such as Christian anarchism and anarcho-pacifism, to whom violence is utterly unacceptable, sometimes to extreme lengths. Leo Tolstoy, the famed writer and a Christian anarchist in his later days, said one should not use violence even for self-defense.

Of course, there have been Anarchists throughout history who appear to have played this trope chillingly straight. Max Stirner stood for Egoist Anarchism – the belief that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want, period. However, like most Egoists, Stirner believed voluntary cooperation and avoiding chaos was in the self-interest of every human being, and thus a (sane) egoist would not want chaos. A French variation was Illegalism; that committing crimes was the only true expression of anarchy. And don't get started on the Russian Nihilists and Anarchists of the 19th century, many of whom were pacifists but more than a few of whom, including its effective author Bakunin, were willing to commit terrorism and murder in the name of combating repressive institutions, such as to bring down the absolute monarchy of Russia and other things seen as parts of the Bourgeois control. These ideologies reached their climax in the 1881 assassination of the Tsar, which got most of the perpetrators hanged and helped to undermine the Russian anarchist movement generally. On a similar note, Karl Marx also advocated for violent overthrow and ensuring that upon taking over it becomes hell on Earth, with Marx specifically comparing it to Robespierre's Reign of Terror, and has also advocated that the final stage of Communism mandates the state "fade away." Use of political violence to make change reached an ugly, bloody conclusion in the 1917 October Revolution of the Bolsheviks, the repression of all opposition (including the anarchists) during the subsequent civil war, and Stalin's purges in the 30s and 40s. In addition, Michel Foucault, never the most stable individual, also advocated for not allowing for any form of court systems, even people's courts under Communist regimes, and instead advocated for people killing each other on a mere whim via "popular justice" (in other words, outright lynching people at any moment) in a manner he compared to the September Massacres, and also made no secret that he not only expected them to simply gain power for the sake of power, and to harm everyone upon doing so, but saw zero problem with such a scenario. However, barring throwing rocks at police during a student uprising at Vincennes University in January 1969, he hasn't done much for that bit.

In the USA, “Anarchist” tends to call up images of Nietzsche wannabes, leftist radicals (though Anarchism and Marxist Communism have been miles away from each other since Marx and Bakunin were rivals in the First International[1]) and Bomb-Throwing Anarchists, while “Libertarian” tends to call up images of redneck Crazy Survivalists, Right Wing Militia Fanatics and Social Darwinist Corrupt Corporate Executives (and hippies who want marijuana legalized). Worldwide, “Libertarian” and similar terms gravitate to the same meanings as “Anarchist” does stateside, though of the socialist variety.

Predictably, anarchists have been historical targets of brutal persecution from both capitalist and socialist authoritarians, due to belief that both are wrong in their domineering ways. Note, however, that there are both capitalists and socialists who use the term “anarchist” for themselves, who disagree with each other just as much as any other factions of such do.

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.

Notes

  1. Though that being said, Marx and Bakunin had similar end-goals, with Marxism also advocating for the end of the state, which does fit into anarchy, and even Bakunin specifically envisioned as the result of his anarchist ideals that the world be reduced to rubble as well as explicitly appealing to the destructive spirit for "creative destruction", so they're essentially Not So Different, and both actually do intend to play this trope straight.