Anarcho-Tyranny? Nope

I was going to post a long comment on this post, but I felt that it really merited its own blog entry. Particularly if I was going to do all that writing. My thesis is that this idea of “anarcho-tyranny” represents a false definition of anarchy and a false definition of tyranny. I comment on this because I’d like to connect this critique with my own thinking on Covenantal Anarchy.

The definition of “anarcho-tyranny”, according to Samuel Francis, is essentially this:

“we refuse to control real criminals (that’s the anarchy) so we control the innocent (that’s the tyranny).”

A more extended definition is as follows:

What we have in this country today, then, is both anarchy (the failure of the state to enforce the laws) and, at the same time, tyranny—the enforcement of laws by the state for oppressive purposes; the criminalization of the law-abiding and innocent through exorbitant taxation, bureaucratic regulation, the invasion of privacy, and the engineering of social institutions, such as the family and local schools; the imposition of thought control through “sensitivity training” and multiculturalist curricula, “hate crime” laws, gun-control laws that punish or disarm otherwise law-abiding citizens but have no impact on violent criminals who get guns illegally, and a vast labyrinth of other measures. In a word, anarcho-tyranny.

A Fundamental Contradiction

First of all, it seems to be the case that you can’t actually have anarchy and tyranny at the same time, by definition. If there is tyranny, then some laws are being enforced somewhere, right? I suppose anarcho-tyranny could be intended as a paradox – that’s the only way I think it has any hope to be meaningful, so I’ll assume that for now.


Utah Phillips quotes a friend of his defining an anarchist as “anyone who doesn’t need a cop to tell him what to do.” His definition is centered on the anarchist himself, rather than on a complaint about the government not sufficiently enforcing particular laws. It seems that Samuel Francis is defining anarchy as the state failing to do what he thinks it should be doing. I think this is an insufficient definition. Failing to enforce a few particular laws is not anarchy, it is lenience. Maybe negligence. But anarchy is different. Anarchy is a state of lacking coercive authority, or the decision not to acknowledge the justification of coercive authority.

Francis’ definition also leaves no room whatsoever for resisting unjust laws. It is possible for a law-enforcement official to make a moral decision not to enforce an unjust law. It is also possible for a civilian to make the moral decision to break an unjust law. Is this anarchy? I don’t think so. This is moral autonomy.

Finally, the definition seems inconsistent and hypocritical. Francis appears to be choosing the laws that he likes, and faulting the government for not enforcing those, while complaining that the government is enforcing laws that he doesn’t like, for example: laws which establish public schools and gun control laws. There is also the fact that there are 2.25 million incarcerated people, more than any other country in the world, who would argue with the idea that we’re not ‘controlling the real criminals’. I’d say we’re doing way too much “controlling”, grinding lives to pieces in a self-perpetuating system of injustice, poverty, and violence.

So on the one hand, he wants the government to intervene, and on the other hand, he doesn’t want the government to intervene. Essentially, he wants intervention in some lives, but not in his or those like him.


I really don’t understand the cry of tyranny here. First of all, conservatives like Mr. Francis have been in power in this country for most of my lifetime. The Democratic Congress we have now is frankly anemic, so at this point it might as well still be a Republican Congress. Our president seems to be able to do whatever he wants without reference to any legal restrictions – but that isn’t what Francis is talking about. He’s talking about schools and…multiculturalist curricula? Are hate crime laws really tyranny?

Its my understanding that Francis is coming from a paleo-conservative point of view here, which seems in this case to have similarities with Libertarianism. I understand that he’s waving the usual conservative rallying flags of “they’re gong to take your guns!” and “they want to give special privileges to minorities!” I just think that his definition robs both tyranny and anarchy of their real descriptive power, reducing them to “not enforcing laws I like” and “enforcing laws I resent.”

Covenantal Anarchy Again

I still think that rules are for when people fail at Christianity, and I still think that Jesus was killed in part because of rules, and I still think that Christ calls us to peacefully resist the powers of domination in the world. Here I’ve left paleo-conservative categories as represented by Samuel Francis entirely behind.

The kind of anarchy I support is moral autonomy exercised in light of the scriptural injunctions against violence and its imperatives to radical love. I add the Covenantal descriptor because I do think there is supposed to be an order to our life together, but I don’t agree that the order is composed primarily of rules we’re supposed to follow. A Covenant is a relationship defined by mutual obligation, and that’s where I think we should be. Not waiting for the government to give us our guns back or put more people in jail. If we’re part of the Reign of Heaven then we’re not part of that system anymore.

We need to do a much better job of being who we are.

3 thoughts on “Anarcho-Tyranny? Nope

  1. Alright, this is a nice meaty post.There’s nothing here I disagree with. I think you’ve done a nice job of exposing the categories in operation here. I myself thought the idea of anarcho-tyranny was a bit self-contradictory.


  2. Good stuff–and on the same day as a theology exam too.Nice response to Francis.Curious: how does a covenantal anarchy deal with ‘failures of Christianity’? Seems like a covenantal anarchy would work great as long as people abided by the covenant. So would socialism, communism, pure anarchy, theocracy and democracy. But what happens when people fail, or start taking advantage of one another? or is this just a form of government for the eschaton? 🙂


  3. @ HeatherPart of the situation is that this is an idea that I am in the midst of developing. I definitely think it has to do with the eschaton, but I also want to develop the idea more for the here-and-now. I also need to add the adjective “Communitarian” and work that out for the economic side of the idea. But anyway.Pure anarchy precludes a covenant, and socialism, communism, theocracy and democracy are still founded on the threat and the use of coercive force to maintain themselves. That’s a lot of what I reject with what I call “anarchy” – the idea that the use of coercive force is justified (especially for Christians), except maybe in the most extreme case of a rabid-dog equivalent situation. Basically, what I’m working is another way of saying “kingdom of God” that is more descriptive using categories that we recognize from modern political thought.Now, for breaking the covenant – there is then the option of repentance and forgiveness, especially over the long term. Ideally the covenantal group would also define itself as “those who hold to this covenant”, so if someone for some reason is just constantly violating the covenant, they’re put out of the community for the time being. This is modeled after any group that functions on a consensus model.It also has to do with the use of authority – whether the use of authority is restrictive, or controlling behavior, or if it is enabling, or making behavior possible. But that’s yet another distinction that I’ve worked out in conversation but not on the blog yet.


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