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Anarchy is the condition of a society, entity, group of people, or a single person that rejects hierarchy. The word originally meant leaderlessness, but in 1840 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon adopted the term in his treatise What Is Property? to refer to a new political philosophy: anarchism, which advocates stateless societies based on voluntary associations. In practical terms, anarchy can refer to the curtailment or abolition of traditional forms of government and institutions. It can also designate a nation (or anywhere on earth that is inhabited) that has no system of government or central rule. Anarchy is primarily advocated by anarchists, individuals who propose replacing government with voluntary institutions.

Anarchism as a political philosophy advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. While anti-statism is central, anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of all human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system.

There are many types and traditions of anarchism, not all of which are mutually exclusive. Anarchist schools of thought can differ fundamentally, supporting anything from extreme individualism to complete collectivism. Strains of anarchism have been divided into the categories of social and individualist anarchism or similar dual classifications. Anarchism is often considered to be a radical left-wing ideology, and much of anarchist economics and anarchist legal philosophy reflect anti-statist interpretations of communism, collectivism, syndicalism or participatory economics. Some individualist anarchists are also socialists or communists while some anarcho-communists are also individualists or egoists.

Anarchism as a social movement has regularly endured fluctuations in popularity. The central tendency of anarchism as a mass social movement has been represented by anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, with individualist anarchism being primarily a literary phenomenon which nevertheless did influence the bigger currents and individualists also participated in large anarchist organizations. Some anarchists oppose all forms of aggression, supporting self-defense or non-violence (anarcho-pacifism), while others have supported the use of militant measures, including revolution and propaganda of the deed, on the path to an anarchist society.

Since the 1890s, the term libertarianism has been used as a synonym for anarchism and was used almost exclusively in this sense until the 1950s in the United States. At this time, classical liberals in the United States began to describe themselves as libertarians, and it has since become necessary to distinguish their individualist and capitalist philosophy from socialist anarchism. Thus, the former is often referred to as right-wing libertarianism, or simply right-libertarianism, whereas the latter is described by the terms libertarian socialism, socialist libertarianism, left-libertarianism, and left-anarchism. Right-libertarians are divided into minarchists and anarcho-capitalists or voluntarists. Outside the English-speaking world, libertarianism generally retains its association with left-wing anarchism.

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