What is Anarchism?

Image by Claudio Schwarz.

Anarchism is not a lack of belief in authority; it is a lack of belief. The anarchist does not believe in belief. They do not deal with things that are not real, and things that are real do not require belief. The anarchist does not believe in rights: rights are imaginary empowerments that at best reflect a vague consensus of fairness.

There are rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, the Magna Carta and the E.U. Charter. None of these documents has any authority whatsoever for the anarchist. These are rights imposed upon the people by a select group of privileged elite. None of these founding documents has ever been put to a vote of the people they claim to govern. None of them are legitimate. You cannot believe in democracy and in the U.S. Constitution because they are incompatible. The anarchist believes in neither.

Your right to life will not stop a bullet the way a Kevlar vest does. What is a “right to life” that does not include a right for you to control your own bodily processes? What is a right to life next to the state’s right to conscript you and put you into battle or into jail? What does it mean to have an “inalienable human right” that can be suspended in an emergency? Have you ever watched what happens to people asserting their fundamental human rights to police officers making an arrest or soldiers under martial law?

One time in New Orleans I watched two undercover police officers beating a woman in the street. It was about 11 p.m., outside of a gay bar on Bourbon Street. I lived next door to the bar and went to check on the commotion. As I stood five feet away, one of the undercover cops looked at me, flashed a badge, and said “Get the fuck out of here.” The beat down continued. The woman’s wig came off and there was a man underneath, screaming. The cop looked at me again and said, “You want what he’s getting?” I could hear sirens approaching and I crept back into my courtyard and into my apartment.

What rights did I have as a citizen? The right to be beaten? Was I willing to be beaten to interfere in this arrest? In the hospital, would I have suddenly found my right to watch, my right to object, my right to film? I’ve been told by cops numerous times to put down the camera and I have never asserted a right to film. The day after the beat down I found a notice about an arrest the night before on Bourbon Street by two undercover police officers of a meth dealer dressed in drag. Who knows how much of that is true? The anarchist doesn’t ever believe the police. The anarchist doesn’t believe.


The anarchist doesn’t believe in property, doesn’t own property, doesn’t believe in ownership. They have things, they use things, they buy things, they sell things, but they don’t believe in anything except what is real in front of them now. The anarchist doesn’t believe he can own an object, own a person, own a pet. Somehow, other people can be made to believe that it is okay to own a person or a pet or a thing. Once you believe in belief, that can be used as a weapon against you because it’s not real, it’s just a story we tell each other in hopes that repeating the story will make it real. Once you believe in ownership, you open a mystical territory between that which is you and that which is not you, and you fill it with objects that are all marked and owned and belong to someone.

The anarchist sees ownership as a curse, an albatross, a weight that is carried thence forward, opening them up to maintenance and insurance and storage and theft. Property is the opposite of freedom; all assets have chains attached. The anarchist takes what they needs, uses what they want, pays what they have to, gives everything away. The anarchist is a person and everything beyond that person either is or isn’t — it has no meaning except what they choose to apply. There are no rights or responsibilities — no restrictions, only consequences.

The anarchist can still respect what you think your rights are, what you think is your property, without ever believing any of it. They steal if they choose or don’t steal because they respect your belief in your beliefs, or don’t steal because they don’t want to be punished, or don’t steal because it doesn’t feel right. The anarchist does not feel a need to codify relationships between people and property with rules and beliefs. They are what they are and every being seems to possess their own views on what is right or wrong.


Spend a day as an anarchist and wake up to everything new. The stars aren’t stars but lights in the sky. You breathe in and exhale no one’s air, dress with whatever clothes you have, and make breakfast. Is it right to eat eggs? To eat bacon? To drink milk? To eat granola? No, eating and drinking are theft in the world of rights. You have taken someone’s property and consumed it. You have participated in the raising of livestock and crop lands. Anything you eat is wrong.

As an anarchist, you recognize no rights, only preferences. You can prefer to not eat animals even if you don’t believe in their rights. The anarchist doesn’t separate creatures into those with rights and those without. Broccoli has as many rights for the anarchist as a dolphin or a Republican. If you eat, you take. If you breathe, you take. If you drink, you take. None of it was ever your property and what you do with it will never be right.

The anarchist sees plainly that no one has a right to water; they either have water or don’t. No one has a right to air: it’s of poor quality or good quality but it’s not yours. All the land is obviously everybody’s even though it’s all cut up and measured and labeled and sold. Once you begin believing in belief, there is no end of the fables you can stack up that somehow justify private ownership. Christopher Columbus found America and it took several hundred years to eliminate all the savages, import slaves, and fight the European colonists so that you could get title insurance to this piece of formerly unowned property. Who is crazier, the anarchist who believes none of that, or anyone that swallows that long narrative and closes their eyes to all the theft that made property rights possible?


Ownership, property, rights, beliefs, are all wheels in the head that form a fantasy overlay you impose upon a world where things are or are not. The anarchist walks through life without the need to own anything or anyone. They are alive to the moment and the blessings it brings: the air and the water and the wind in the trees. They do not have to believe in anything in order to successfully navigate the days of their life.

Steve O’Keefe is the author of several books, most recently Set the Page on Fire: Secrets of Successful Writers, from New World Library, based on over 250 interviews. He is the former editorial director for Loompanics Unlimited.