Three Disproofs Of Authority

Three Disproofs of Authority

When discussing politics with non-anarchists, the subject of authority often comes up as an objection to accepting any ideas of liberty. Indeed, authority is that pesky stumbling block that we must overcome if ideas of liberty and freedom are to be successfully communicated and understood. Consider the following statements that often come up when discussing authority:

    We need to have authority otherwise there’d be chaos; thus we need a group that has authority.
    Authority is limited to those things the people allow through their consent.
    It allows people in government to set moral rules for society; otherwise there would be chaos!!!Whenever people vote they give authority to politicians to make certain decisions that we can’t do.

    And so on…

I think you get the point there. Of course, none of these items coherently describes what authority is or how it is supposed to work. Let us try out the dictionary definition of authority. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary comes close to the best definition of authority: Specifically, political authority is: “2 a: power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior b: freedom granted by one in authority: RIGHT.”

And what is a right? According to the same dictionary a right is “2 a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled,” which I think we can simplify as: the exercise of one’s own judgment. So, authority is the exercise of one’s own judgment to order people around. Authority is the right to rule.

We have just begun to unwrap the outer shells, but 3 central questions remain to be asked:

1) What circumstances can obligate someone to ignore his own judgment?

2) What criteria make a legitimate ‘government’ (voting, Constitution, etc.)?

3) Can legislation alter morality, i.e. change what behavior is good or bad?

What circumstances can obligate someone to ignore his own judgment?

People use their own judgment to make behavioral decisions. There is no such outside entity that can magically implant thoughts into your head without bypassing your judgment. That can often be a good thing because it is what allows us to determine right from wrong. Notice I did not say it worked perfectly. People can still do the wrong thing even at the command of another, but it still has to go through their own judgment filter. They have to decide it’s a good thing in order to do it.

Consider that people are giving you commands all the time. Who do you obey, and which commands? You are the one that ultimately decides. One example that often comes up in the area of authority influencing one’s decisions is the Milgram study of Obedience* Dr. Stanely Milgram’s experiment was essentially to see if a presumed authority figure could influence people to do something they normally would not do. He would have people come into a room while he (or a confederate) was wearing some official looking lab coat. The subjects were told that there was an older gentleman (a confederate) in another room and the authority figure tells the subject to ask questions to this man in the other room (a spelling question, for example). If he answers it incorrectly, the subject was to utilize a control panel in front of him/her that would zap the poor old guy in the next room with various amounts of electricity. The old man in the other room also has a heart condition supposedly but he keeps getting the answers wrong! The subjects are encouraged to zap him a few times when he gets the answers wrong and increase the intensity. The poor old guy wails and screams in pain and some of the subjects start to worry about the old guy, but the authority figure tells them to continue with the experiment and up the voltage. The shocking thing (no pun intended) is that most of the subjects keep going despite the fact that their zapping the poor guy causes them emotional discomfort. Some people did drop out after certain voltages were unleashed on the guy, but most continued to up the voltage at the command of the authority figure. So, what does this study tell us? Does it contradict what I said earlier about using our own judgments to make decisions? No, it does not. The subjects obeyed an authority figure when you would think they should stop, but they made the judgment to obey the authority figure rather than their other judgment that continuing with the experiment would cause undue harm to the man.

The principle here is not that perceived authority figures have magical powers of persuasion; but rather that anything which would be wrong when ordinary humans do it would be okay as long as it was done in the name of a supposed authority. One simply needs something to pass the buck on to in order to get away with it. Normally, people would not zap an old man with electricity just for answering questions wrong, but when an official looking guy in a lab coat coaxes you with all sorts of reasons, one finds it easier to decide that the act of shocking a man is better than just opting out from the study.

The supposed authority in the study wearing a lab coat is an example of authority being an abstraction. It doesn’t matter if one is being led by an abstraction as long as that abstraction promises to relieve one of the responsibilities for one’s wicked acts. At the time of the study, many Americans thought the Nazis of WW2 Germany were an example of how Germans must be predisposed to acts of evil. No, the horrifying conclusion is that the belief in authority can convince most normal people to make different judgments than what they normally would.

What criteria make a legitimate ‘government’?

Whenever a statist explains to me how their ‘government’ is legitimate, they often bring up collectivist slogans like “consent of the governed!” and other such nonsense. First of all, the only consent that matters is *MY* consent, especially if my property, livelihood, freedom, etc. are on the line. I am an entity and can therefore say this, whereas “society” is not an entity and therefore there is no consent by “society” to do anything. Society is not sentient, and it doesn’t own me anyway (and therefore cannot consent for me).

Whenever somebody claims to be obeying authority they are following either one of the following types of rules. The first (and completely nutty IMO) is the unspecified rule. This goes something like: “I give permission to someone else to rule me in an unspecified way, i.e. ‘Whatever law you write, I give you permission to force me to obey.” The second rule, which is better than the first, but not by much, is specified rule: “You can force me to give you $50 a month.” The biggest problem with these rules and with authority is free will. This is important because your judgment can overrule anything.

Now, imagine you have ‘consented’ to be ruled. If at any time your judgment says that you should not obey your ruler, and your promise of obedience (in your judgment) does not outweigh that, the only sane action is to break your promise. Therefore, even if you consented to be oppressed, ‘taxed,’ etc. by some god-complex psychopath politician, that still cannot give you an obligation to forego your own judgment in favor of his, which is nice, since it is impossible to forego your own judgment in favor of anything. Also, if someone has the power to override your judgment, he doesn’t need your “consent.” That is the reason why politicians need to use flowery, collectivist language in order to get you to do something; they’re trying to convince you it is the right thing to do. Barring that it would be might makes right, which is the same as the former, but without all the effort to convince you.

Can legislation alter morality?

When trying to explain authority to me, the bumbling statist may rattle off something similar to this:

“If we have no guidelines (laws) concerning the use of deadly force, we can all kill each other and feel completely justified in doing it, and no one can really argue with a killer about whether or not the killing was justified, because all that matters is his or her own opinion.”

First, truth is objective, and exists outside of personal opinion. If there is no state “Department of Gerbil Study,” how can you possibly know anything about gerbils? Whatever anyone’s opinion about gerbils would be equally valid, right?

I have another question for you: Do you base your judgment of right and wrong on commands of politicians? Here is the glaring contradiction in any belief in “authority”: If you believe “A” is “authority” (whether “A” is a religion, state, etc.), then you used your own judgment to decide that. If, therefore, “A” says something that conflicts with your judgment, what happens? All of its supposedly legitimacy came from you judging it to be so. It cannot therefore overrule your judgment, since your judgment is the only reason you think it’s worth crap to begin with. It looks something like this:

“It’s good to obey the law,” which means . . .

“I think I should obey the commands of politicians,” which means. . .

“I judge it to be good to obey politicians,”

which means . . .

“I judge that I should follow the judgment of politicians,”

which means . . .

“I judge that my own judgment is less important than politicians’,” which means . . .

“I judge that my actions shouldn’t be based on my judgment,” which means . . .

“I judge that I should not judge.”

And thus we see the belief in authority in all its insanity.

But let us try another tact: Does a command being the “law” give you any obligation to obey, and is there any reason at all (other than self-preservation) to obey a “law”? Before you answer, note that threats backed by forced are often obeyed for self-preservation reasons. If a thief has a gun in your face, you may very well give him your stuff to avoid being shot. This does not constitute a moral obligation to obey him. You obey him not because it’s immoral to disobey; you do it because you like your head attached to your neck. So self-preservation is not what I’m asking about in this question.

Finally, notice how the State exempts itself from its own laws? You can’t rob your neighbors for your cash but somehow they can. They can wage war, but you cannot. People think can turn any bad behavior into a good one magically by scribling laws on paper.

To sum up: You have the right to rule you. I have the right to rule me. You do not have the right to rule me. Nor can you delegate that right (which you don’t have) to anyone else even if he calls himself “government.” Thus, authority cannot possibly exist. Any “government” based on a non-existent authority is just a delusion of the mind and the State is just another group of thugs operating a protection racket.

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4 comments so far

  1. […] No Government, answers three interesting questions and refutes authoritarianism in the process, in “Three Disproofs Of Authority”: Now, imagine you have ‘consented’ to be ruled. If at any time your judgment says that you […]

  2. David Z on

    I would put scare-quotes around “protection” in the last sentence.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. […] unfit to evaluate. The argument for authority can be reduced to the internally inconsistent “I judge that I should not judge,” and therefore must be false. Like the hydra of mythology, no matter how many times this lie […]

  4. […] No Government argues, the unspecified rule is nothing short of nonsense, and should be overriden by morality in all […]


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