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Just who is anti-authoritarian and who isn’t?  Like most topics, the devil is in the details, as the cleavages between the various sub groups of anarachists creates a great deal of tension within the movement as a whole.

“Some anarchists are upset by the idea of taking any authority seriously; however this does not upset anarchists who are familiar with Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876), one of the most famous anarchists in world history.

Bakunin wrote: “Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker. . . . But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure.”

While Bakunin rejects all imposed authority, he recognizes the legitimacy of the authoritative. Authoritative has a very different dictionary meaning than authoritarian. Authoritative means being accurate, true, reliable, valid, and thus trustworthy. However, some anarchists see a downside to giving an expert, even an authoritative one, any authority. Anarchist thinker William Godwin (1756–1836) believed it was a bad idea to place one’s confidence in the superior knowledge of others and to rely on them, as this can weaken our own capacity to think, reason, and make judgments, and thus disempower us.

Perhaps the most well-known modern American self-identified anarchist is Noam Chomsky. For Chomsky, every form of authority has to “prove that it’s justified—it has no prior justification.” Chomsky gives an example of justified authority: “When you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification.” However, for Chomsky, “Most of the time these authority structures have no moral justification . . . they are just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination.”

Anarchism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: “a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free associations of individual groups.” Among anarchists, there is no monolithic view of anarchism though there is generally agreement that the state is an illegitimate authority.

There are anti-authoritarians, however, who are not anti-state. Thomas Paine and Ralph Nader are two of the most celebrated and maligned anti-authoritarians in U.S. history. Paine was initially celebrated for refusing to comply with Great Britain and later maligned for refusing to comply with Christianity; and Nader was initially celebrated for refusing to be intimidated by General Motors and later maligned for refusing to be intimidated by the Democratic Party. But both Paine (who helped create and perhaps even coined the name “United States”) and Nader (responsible for the creation of life-saving governmental regulatory agencies) are not anarchists.”

It has to be rough for some segments of the Anarchist community since our society is so segmented and specialized.  Littered with authorities that are often very hard to verify if they are indeed, legitimate or not.

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