an·​ar·​chy | \ ˈa-nər-kē How to pronounce anarchy (audio) , -ˌnär- How to pronounce anarchy (audio) \

Definition of anarchy

1a : absence of government
b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority the city's descent into anarchy
c : a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government
2a : absence or denial of any authority or established order anarchy prevailed in the ghetto
b : absence of order : disorder not manicured plots but a wild anarchy of nature— Israel Shenker

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Synonyms for anarchy


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The Multiple Meanings of Anarchy

Anarchy exemplifies how words may have similar yet distinctive meanings. The earliest recorded use of the word, from the early 16th century, meant simply “absence of government,” albeit with the implication of civil disorder. A similar but ameliorated meaning began to be employed in the 19th century in reference to a Utopian society that had no government. The establishment of these two senses of anarchy did not stop the word from being applied outside the realm of government with the broadened meaning ”a state of confusion or disorder.” The existence of definitions that are in semantic conflict does not imply that one (or more) of them is wrong; it simply shows that multisense words like anarchy mean different things in different contexts. Another example of a sense-shifting word relating to government is aristocracy. When first used in English, this word carried the sole meaning “government by the best individuals.” It may still be used in such a fashion, but more commonly, it is encountered in the extended sense “the aggregate of those believed to be superior.”

Examples of anarchy in a Sentence

Its immigration policies in the last five years have become the envy of those in the West who see in all but the most restrictive laws the specter of terrorism and social anarchy. — Caroline Moorehead, New York Review of Books, 16 Nov. 2006 Fueled by booze and the euphoria of having seen their school win a share of its first … title in 36 years, a mob of Beavers fans hurled itself at the cops, breaching both chains and creating anarchy. — Austin Murphy, Sports Illustrated, 27 Nov. 2000 But by the early 1800s, the mines began to play out, and the colonists challenged the Spanish throne for independence. The Silver Cities survived not only the bloody revolution of 1821 but also the ensuing century of anarchy and bloodshed. — David Baird, Continental, February 1999 The anarchy of the Internet may be daunting for the neophyte, but it differs little from the bibliographical chaos that is the result of five and a half centuries of the printing press. — Fred Lerner, The Story of Libraries, (1945) 1998 Anarchy reigned in the empire's remote provinces. When the teacher was absent, there was anarchy in the classroom.
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Recent Examples on the Web Tracy McCray invoked a city in the grips of anarchy. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Why Tucker Carlson Is Obsessed With Trash," 10 Jan. 2020 The Joker, an embodiment of pure anarchy, can be played light or heavy, scary or fun or all at once. New York Times, "‘Joker’ Review: Are You Kidding Me?," 3 Oct. 2019 Whether out of political convenience or a deep fear of chaos, Mr. Abdullah has repeatedly told his advisers that pushing too far could tilt the country into anarchy that people like him would not be able to control. Mujib Mashal, New York Times, "A Bitter Election Dispute Sends Afghanistan Back to the Brink," 12 Dec. 2019 The history of the world can be viewed as a sequence of periods of stronger authority on the one hand, and greater anarchy on the other. David Kaiser, Time, "The Fall of the Berlin Wall Seemed Like a Victory for Democracy. 30 Years Later, Both Sides Are Losing," 7 Nov. 2019 The authorities used the rebellion as a pretext to arrest innocent socialists all over Oklahoma and permanently destroy the socialist movement in the state by equating it with treason and violent anarchy. Trevor Paulhus, Smithsonian, "When the Socialist Revolution Came to Oklahoma—and Was Crushed," 19 Sep. 2019 Already blanketed in fake snow and food trucks, roller-skating and yuletide cheer, the pop-up Bayfront Holiday Village at downtown Bayfront Park is perfect for a night of anarchy. Phillip Valys,, "SantaCon’s tipsy Santas are stumbling to town in Fort Lauderdale and Miami," 6 Dec. 2019 This included false claims that King was a communist interested in government overthrow, violence and anarchy who cloaked himself in a veneer or Christianity and passive nonresistance. NBC News, "Civil rights leaders rebuke Zuckerberg's free speech address," 18 Oct. 2019 The memorial now includes messages of remembrance, in addition to iron front and anarchy symbols, among other scrawls. oregonlive, "Memorial for Portland activist now includes graffiti on Democratic headquarters," 14 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'anarchy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of anarchy

1539, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for anarchy

Medieval Latin anarchia, from Greek, from anarchos having no ruler, from an- + archos ruler — more at arch-

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Time Traveler for anarchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of anarchy was in 1539

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Statistics for anarchy

Last Updated

14 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Anarchy.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 18 January 2020.

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More Definitions for anarchy


How to pronounce anarchy (audio) How to pronounce anarchy (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of anarchy

: a situation of confusion and wild behavior in which the people in a country, group, organization, etc., are not controlled by rules or laws

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More from Merriam-Webster on anarchy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for anarchy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with anarchy

Spanish Central: Translation of anarchy

Nglish: Translation of anarchy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of anarchy for Arabic Speakers

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