Monday, March 08, 2010

Is anarchism just anti-authoritarianism?

In my previous post on Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy? I drew the conclusion that anarchism opposes any "artificially" concentrated power, i.e. power concentrated other than by the immediate, intentional will of the participants. But there's an alternative reading: that anarchism represents the much broader position of anti-authoritarianism.

We are fortunate that the brilliant Dr. Altemeyer has given us a detailed, precise and scientific description of authoritarianism, which I can briefly summarize as submission and obedience to another's will as an intrinsic good, it it good in and of itself. If obedience is an intrinsic good, then it is also unconditional: an authoritarian submissive will fail to obey only because of the imperfections and exigencies of the real world.

The FAQ quotes Bakunin saying that authority entails that "the masses... must submit at all times." The FAQ goes on to distinguish absolute from participatory power:
[I]n any group undertaking there is a need [to] make and stick by agreements... [but] there are two [fundamentally] different ways of co-ordinating individual activity within groups -- either by authoritarian means or by libertarian means. Proudhon, in relation to workplaces, makes the difference clear:
either the workman. . . will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he will participate. . . [and] have a voice in the council, in a word he will become an associate.
Proudhon is clearly distinguishing absolute authority from participatory decision making.

This reading, however, poses problems. First, it would make anarchism if not actually trivial then at least commonplace. There are admittedly a lot of real, hard-core authoritarians in the world, even in the West, but authoritarianism is still a minority philosophy. Even garden-variety capitalist democracy has many participatory features; under normal circumstances even low-wage workers are not chattel slaves. If most everyone were an anarchist (and even authoritarians have to at least give lip service to participation), then anarchism wouldn't mean very much; it would be the Mom and apple pie of the left.

More telling, though, is that this distinction is trivially easy to denote in common English. There's simply no reason to bring terms like "hierarchy" and "institution", which the article uses without explicit definition and with implications subtly or obviously different from ordinary usage (indeed the author seems to use "hierarchy" to label a laundry list of evils with little in common other than his or her dislike.) When someone uses complicated terminology to label a simple idea, you should smell a rhetorical rat.

The author gives us a garden-variety fallacy of differentiation:
Of course, it will be pointed out that in any collective undertaking there is a need for co-operation and co-ordination and this need to "subordinate" the individual to group activities is a form of authority. Therefore, it is claimed, a democratically managed group is just as "authoritarian" as one based on hierarchical authority. Anarchists are not impressed by such arguments. Yes, we reply, of course in any group undertaking there is a need make and stick by agreements but anarchists argue that to use the word "authority" to describe two fundamentally different ways of making decisions is playing with words. It obscures the fundamental difference between free association and hierarchical imposition and confuses co-operation with command (as we note in section H.4, Marxists are particularly fond of this fallacy). Simply put, there are two different ways of co-ordinating individual activity within groups -- either by authoritarian means or by libertarian means.
The fallacy of differentiation consists of concluding that because there is some difference between two things, the two things have nothing in common. "Free association" is participatory; "hierarchical imposition" is absolute, therefore there is nothing in common between the two.

The quoted passage is riddled with fallacies. First, the author puts the mirror fallacy of identification* in critics' mouths: democratic organization has something in common with "hierarchical authority", therefore they are both just as (i.e. identically) "authoritarian". Indeed, the cited section** does not assert that critics even make this argument, much less rebut it. Second, the author employs the fallacy fallacy: a counter-argument faulty on its merits does not support the original position. Third, the author blatantly switches horses in mid-stream, moving from "democratic association" to "free association".

*Two things have something in common, therefore they are identical
**Indeed that section is also rife with fallacy.

These collections of fallacies are common in persuasive rhetoric and propaganda. The tactic is to first to draw the reader's attention to some obvious absurdity or evil (e.g. absolute, unconditional authority), then to state one's admirable in opposition to the obvious absurdity. The twist then comes by subtly or obviously labeling anyone who disagrees with your own particular form of opposition as therefore supporting the obvious absurdity.

The more I read the FAQ, the more I'm convinced that anarchists are self-deluded bullshit artists with lack of intelligence, integrity, honesty and morals that would shame a Christian fundamentalist creationist.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.