Whether it be through the policeman's truncheon or the bureaucrat's pen, authority rules us all. We live in a society with a clear and obvious political, economic and social hierarchy that could not exist without the willingness and ability on the part of those at the top to coerce, manipulate and control those who are not. The horrors that we see perpetuated every day, across the world, is both the consequence of this state of affairs and the means by which it is kept in place.

However, as unimaginably cruel as some of these horrors might be, taken individually, many of the people behind them are, in all likelihood, kind and decent human beings. Among the ranks of those who control this world are probably loving parents, loyal friends and other genuinely caring individuals who regrettably are part of a system that requires the use of coercion, manipulation and control to preserve their privileged position, a state of affairs so natural to them that they scarcely notice it. It's tempting to think of them as vaudevillian caricatures twirling their mustaches as they contemplate the vast misery that they cause, but the danger of this image is that it frames the problem as one of individual personalities who are unsuited for what is otherwise a sound institution.

The anarchist agues that it is the institutions themselves that are the source of the problem and that no matter how upstanding and moral those who control this world may be, the institutions that they comprise will never be moral instruments, nor will they ever possess moral legitimacy. This is because these institutions, whether they are governments, corporations or any other authoritarian system of control, requires the use of coercive measures both within themselves and upon those around them in order to enforce the hierarchy that defines them and preserve their own existence. This means that while the use of authority and coercion may be a pragmatic option, it can never be a moral one.

The basis for this conclusion is premised on a position of radical moral agnosticism, opposed to both objective moral systems that attempt to serve as an absolute reference point for human behavior and moral relativism which leaves behind no reference point at all. Moral opposition to authority itself comes from acknowledging that even if an absolute  reference point existed, there would still be no way to verify it as such. All of what we typically call knowledge is based not in absolute truth but in what essentially amounts to educated guesses that have varying degrees of practicality in everyday life, whether they are constructed from empirical observation or a priori reasoning. Save for empty tautologies and analytic statements, what we call “true” is, instead, “true enough for our purposes,” or, “true enough to get by in everyday life.” Because the human experience is necessarily subjective, as are all tools that we possess to understand or express its nature, we, as humans, can never know whether something is absolutely and indisputably true to any degree of philosophical satisfaction. This reasoning, of course, extends to moral truths as well.Therefore, while an absolute moral reference point outside the subjective human experience may exist, there's no way of knowing whether humanity has accessed it, or will ever be able to access it.

However, while we can never know whether there is an absolute objective moral reference point, this is not to say that there can be no standards for human behavior at all. While we may never know objectively what is and is not a moral choice, this does not mean that we can't know the conditions under which a moral choice, whatever that may constitute, may take place. We know that, for a choice to be moral, it must be made of one's own free will. Many people understand that those who had no choice in an immoral action have no culpability for that action. This is why many justice systems have insanity defenses – it's recognized that someone who committed a crime when they were not of sound mind is not morally culpable for their actions and therefore is not treated as if they are. Conversely, no one is praised for paying their taxes, even if those taxes go toward things that are ostensibly good – the taxpayer doesn't really have a choice in the matter.

What this means is that morality, whatever that might be, can only exist where there is freedom. A moral choice is exactly that: a choice, and a choice can only be moral if the option existed not to make it. Even if we don't know what, exactly, constitutes a moral choice, we know that one can only claim to be a moral person if one’s moral choices were made of one’s own free will. However, the more  people are compelled to do things against their will, the fewer opportunities there are to make individual moral actions. Therefore, authority, by its very nature, constrains morality, because the only way for it to maintain its own existence is to use methods that necessarily limit the freedom of others. It is impossible to compel others while maintaining that this same compulsion is a moral good.

Some might argue that while, yes, the ability to create moral actions may be constrained by authority’s presence, the ability to create immoral actions is similarly constrained. For example, under authority, one may be forbidden to murder, which is considered to be an immoral act by many standards. This idea does not satisfy, however. This is because we, as human beings, should aspire to a life of moral neutrality but of moral excellence, yet any morality that results not from free will but from an authority which demands it cannot rise above neutrality: moral actions require the option to not take them in order for the choice to be a moral one. So, yes, while immoral acts, whatever they might be, may be cut off under authority, it comes at the expense of our ability to make truly moral actions. A life under such authority may be a practical one, and authority can fulfill practical needs, but nonetheless it is never, itself, moral.

Therefore, anarchism is not just a political struggle but a moral one as well, where the anarchist fights for everyone's right to become fully realized moral beings in a free society united against those that would deny them their opportunities for self-actualization. If we care about the moral nature of both ourselves and those around us, if we wish to strive toward a society of moral excellence, then it is incumbent upon each of us to oppose and eventually dismantle all systems that take away our ability to make moral choices while avoiding the replication of these systems within ourselves.

For without coercion, authority has no meaning. Without authority, hierarchy cannot exist. Without hierarchy, the state, capital and all other systems of control cannot survive. Without these systems, virtue is the only master.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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