I understand the word "anarchy" to mean "without a political leader" rather than "no rules". Consequently, it would seem that "anarchy" has roots in "an-" and "hierarchy". Is this correct, and would someone provide more detail?

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    Have you checked etymonline? – Matt E. Эллен May 17 '12 at 12:51
  • @MattЭллен Didn't know it existed - thanks for the link – Gary Rowe May 17 '12 at 12:58
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    @MattЭллен: I agree that Etymonline is a good place to start, but I don't think that a listing there should be an automatic reason to vote to close a question here. Granted, this question is pretty narrow, but etymology can encompass much more than where a word comes from. Doug at Etymonline has an interesting note about the Greek calendar, but I'm sure much more could be said about the history of this word. Doug frequently updates his entries at Etymonline based on answers from this site. – Callithumpian May 17 '12 at 13:09
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    I agree. Their etymologies don't go back to Proto-Indo-European, for instance, which makes a lot of links clearer. Watkins' American Heritage Dictionary of PIE Roots is much more thorough, especially when used in conjunction with Buck's Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages. – John Lawler May 17 '12 at 13:34
  • @GaryRowe: Editing your question to include queries on the word's use through time and its alternate meanings may prevent this question from being closed. – Callithumpian May 17 '12 at 17:09

Medieval Latin anarchia, from Greek, from anarchos having no ruler, from an- + archos ruler First Known Use: 1539

From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anarchy

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  • +1 for the quote, but you might want to edit out the "arch-" part which has no bearing on the question – Gary Rowe May 17 '12 at 14:00
  • I think that's referring to the greek archo to rule or command. Like anarchy, oligarchy, matriarchy, and monarchy. The arch- prefix refers to a chief or the first in an order. – D. Patrick May 17 '12 at 17:14
  • What I mean is that merriam-webster provide the "more at arch-" link which goes here: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arch- and has nothing to do with the subject (it's about arches). – Gary Rowe May 17 '12 at 20:46
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    Roger. Yeah, that's pretty dumb. I thought it was referring to the arch- prefix in general. Odd. – D. Patrick May 17 '12 at 20:47

Technically, you are correct, but it is the implications that are important. If there is "rule by no-one", then there are, by definition, no rules, because there is no-one to make any rules. If I refuse to accept that anyone has a right to impose any rules on me, I am free to do what I like, and what I want.

As with other similar words, the precise meaning has been expanded to include the implications of the meaning, which is reasonable, as it them becomes a shortcut for "the results of an anarchic system".

Consider, as a similar case, the word "democracy", which technically means the rule of the people, but has been expanded to mean the election of rulers by all of the people. It is a different thing, but it is the outworking of a practical system of democracy*

*possibly. That is a discussion for somewhere else.

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  • +1 for the useful discussion. Completely off topic, I would take issue with the assertion that "rule by no-one" implies "no rules" since a co-operative group can arrive at a concensus of rules without a single party having control. But that is a discussion for somewhere else. – Gary Rowe May 17 '12 at 14:03
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    @GaryRowe Technically, that would be rule by consensus, I reckon. The differences are very subtle though. – Schroedingers Cat May 17 '12 at 17:32

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