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There are some anarchists who like to make noises against “all authority”, no matter what the source or situation. Many of these hail from a decidedly more socialist-anarchist background than I do, and at least a good number of them conflate anarchism with a sort of mindless, juvenile rebellion against anything they might perceive as a limitation on themselves. Daddy won’t let you borrow the car tonight? Oppression! Et cetera, et cetera.
One ridiculous example of such is that of “Alberto the Penguin”, blogging at anarchistnews.org on “University Life and Oppression: what can we do?“:
Several oppressive forces weigh down on the average college student. The first which is financial cripples him for long into his adult years as he struggle to pay off loans. Then they feel the chains cast on them in everyday life as up to four police departments patrol their small campus area. The sirens become a part of every thought process. Next the administration (and even some professors) push students toward a “real” world in which the only worth while thing we have going for us is a decent job and our last global hope is the formation of a World Economy. Finally, even the recreation of a student’s life is controlled by countless mafias hiding under banners of Greek letters. Hierarchies are built upon hierarchies.
This is why it becomes extremely necessary to organize vital attacks on propaganda institutions every college campus over. But how can we go about organizing? Can we work within the system, maybe form a club? No! For what we are doing the highest amount of secrecy is necessary. I (as I’m sure others are) am in this position and would like to know what is the best way to organize in such a situation? I hope others will take the advice given as well and organize in their own towns.
The obvious answer is quit going to university, dummy, but that message somehow won’t be heard. Having signed up for the university program and everything that goes with it, there’s little in the way of “oppression” this person is subject to thereby that I, as perhaps a different sort of anarchist, should fret about. What some anarchists oppose is all authority. What I and the (I would like to think) more sensible anarchists oppose is all unjust, illegitimate, coercive authority. There’s a big difference between those two sets, and I must admit to have little patience for those of the “against all authority” mindset if they fail to add this important qualification.
With the confession right up front that I’ve never really read Bakunin, I stumbled upon this a little while ago:
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; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. 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. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.
If I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because their authority is imposed on me by no one, neither by men nor by God. Otherwise I would repel them with horror, and bid the devil take their counsels, their directions, and their services, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and self-respect, for such scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, as they might give me.
I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.
– Mikhail Bakunin, What is Authority?
The same goes for “hierarchy” as well. Your mileage may vary.