Philosophical justifications for anti-authoritarianism.

33 posts / 0 new
Last post
ACAB
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Jul 27 2011 19:57
Philosophical justifications for anti-authoritarianism.

I'm trying to find any books or essays (something!) where I can get an idea of what the philosophical justification/argument for anti-authoritarianism looks like. I've read several authors that present arguments where the justifications are mainly related to the psychological effects authoritarianism has on those subjected to it as well as those enforcing it (e.g., Erich Fromm), but I have yet to find any (strictly) philosophical arguments making authoritarianism not desirable or without foundation (based on a fallacy). Anyone care to help?

p.s.
I've read the works of some philosophical anarchists (Godwin, Proudhon) and while their arguments are fine, I'm kind of looking for something with a little more strength, I suppose. I haven't looked for answers amongst the Marxists because I don't know where to start, but I have no problem with anyone suggesting Marxist philosophers.

Picket's picture
Picket
Offline
Joined: 20-12-10
Jul 27 2011 20:13
ACAB wrote:
I have yet to find any (strictly) philosophical arguments making authoritarianism not desirable or without foundation (based on a fallacy).

What is a "(strictly) philosophical argument"?

Are you trying to achieve a coherent opinion or are you writing an essay for which you need answers now? There is a taste of panic in your post.

ACAB
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Jul 27 2011 21:36
Pikel wrote:
ACAB wrote:
I have yet to find any (strictly) philosophical arguments making authoritarianism not desirable or without foundation (based on a fallacy).

What is a "(strictly) philosophical argument"?

Are you trying to achieve a coherent opinion or are you writing an essay for which you need answers now? There is a taste of panic in your post.

Thanks for the reply. By "strictly philosophical", I guess I mean an argument in which authoritarianism is demonstrated to be not desirable or illogical by way of, say, deductive reasoning or logic, etc. An example of the method I'm referring to being Alan Carter's demonstration, using logic (and consequence laws among other things), that the Bolshevik state is incapable of bringing about anarchism/communism (State-Primacy Theory). I'm already pretty solid on my politics, but I'd like to reinforce them a little more.
Also, I don't mind if the answers come from the Continental or Analytical side.

http://glasgow.academia.edu/AlanCarter/Papers/324661/Anarchism_some_theoretical_foundations

As for your second question, the answer is "no"; I'm not writing a paper or anything. I've just looked around and haven't found much.

Picket's picture
Picket
Offline
Joined: 20-12-10
Jul 27 2011 22:30

OK, thanks for your clarification. I find it very strange that you are looking for philosophical texts to provide you with the argument you want! I am not familiar with the literature, nor am I a formal logician, as will become clear, so others can probably help you more than I can. But personally my argument would be something like:

1. It is desirable that all conscious entities lead fulfilling lives.

2. People only lead fulfilling lives when they, as individuals, exercise their creativity in ways which are of benefit to themselves and others

3. Authoritarianism, by its definition as submission to authority, is the inverse of individual creativity.

By 2 and 3, people do not lead fulfilling lives under authoritarianism, so by 1 it is undesirable.

This lacks formality but I think the logic is clear enough. The problems are the assumptions in 1 and 2, but they're always going to be problems. Neither logic nor philosophy can provide a sound footing for 1. Social sciences could perhaps provide a basis for 2.

In sum: My friends and I don't like being told what to do wink

ACAB
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Jul 27 2011 22:56
Pikel wrote:
I find it very strange that you are looking for philosophical texts to provide you with the argument you want!

[...]

1. It is desirable that all conscious entities lead fulfilling lives.

2. People only lead fulfilling lives when they, as individuals, exercise their creativity in ways which are of benefit to themselves and others

3. Authoritarianism, by its definition as submission to authority, is the inverse of individual creativity.

By 2 and 3, people do not lead fulfilling lives under authoritarianism, so by 1 it is undesirable.

This lacks formality but I think the logic is clear enough. The problems are the assumptions in 1 and 2, but they're always going to be problems. Neither logic nor philosophy can provide a sound footing for 1. Social sciences could perhaps provide a basis for 2.

In sum: My friends and I don't like being told what to do ;)

Yeah, I guess I'm just lazy like that. smile

Also, because arguments like the one you've formulated are what I usually encounter. In point 2 the appeal is directed at psychology, which, personally, I don't have a problem with, but I'd like to make sure that there is no way to formulate the argument without appealing to the psychological effects of authoritarianism in some manner before playing this card.

Thanks again for replying!

Picket's picture
Picket
Offline
Joined: 20-12-10
Jul 27 2011 23:59

The thing is, what is desirable will always boil down to what goes on in the heads of people, so I don't think you can avoid "psychology".

snipfool
Offline
Joined: 9-06-11
Jul 28 2011 02:02

Maybe the burden is on authoritarianism to justify itself? Though you'd need some philosophical method to decide where burden lies...

Maybe you could use Kant's concept of categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." To be in authority there must be some people to dominate, but if everyone was in authority there would be no one to dominate, so the idea immediately falls apart. This seems pretty simplistic and probably a bad application of the concept (if it's even a valid one) but I'm just trying to throw some ideas out.

Tojiah's picture
Tojiah
Offline
Joined: 2-10-06
Jul 28 2011 02:20
snipfool wrote:
Maybe the burden is on authoritarianism to justify itself? Though you'd need some philosophical method to decide where burden lies...

The only justification authority needs is force. The only counter-argument is revolution.

Arbeiten's picture
Arbeiten
Offline
Joined: 28-01-11
Jul 28 2011 09:45

I think logical positivism and analytical philosophy leave you up shit creek without a paddle when it comes to socio-political questions. There doesn't really seem to be a reason why we should even agree on your first point? Unless you have some strong verification for your first point (which I believe to be impossible in these debates), then the house of cards falls apart. I mean, I could be offering a bit of a cheap argument here and I am willing to be rebuffed, I stopped reading that sort of philosophy years ago and turned to the 'soft' social sciences (the sort of area of study that the right hate smile). Wasn't it A.J.Ayer who said philosophy should not say anything about the world that cannot be verified through science? These questions are notoriously hard to verify in any finite way (the very attempt to verify them, as far as I am concerned, is and ideological suture).

Plus analytical marxism is dull! smile, have you tried G A Cohen, he may help you out (if you want to go down this line).

xslavearcx's picture
xslavearcx
Offline
Joined: 21-10-10
Jul 29 2011 12:55

ACAB, are you at glasgow uni? If so, dudley knowles does a lot of stuff on political obligation and philosophical anarchism.

Arbeiten- i think AJ ayer was referring to natural sciences.

Arbeiten's picture
Arbeiten
Offline
Joined: 28-01-11
Jul 29 2011 13:03

yeah, I know he was, I think the point i was trying to make (or at least, this will be my point now!), is that analytical philosophy is strongly wedded to a mathematical 'hard science' epistemology, it is difficult to translate it into questions being dealt with here

xslavearcx's picture
xslavearcx
Offline
Joined: 21-10-10
Jul 29 2011 13:32

ha sorry, i shoulda been able to suss that out myself there!

ACAB
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Jul 30 2011 15:25
Arbeiten wrote:
I think logical positivism and analytical philosophy leave you up shit creek without a paddle when it comes to socio-political questions. There doesn't really seem to be a reason why we should even agree on your first point? Unless you have some strong verification for your first point (which I believe to be impossible in these debates), then the house of cards falls apart. I mean, I could be offering a bit of a cheap argument here and I am willing to be rebuffed, I stopped reading that sort of philosophy years ago and turned to the 'soft' social sciences (the sort of area of study that the right hate smile). Wasn't it A.J.Ayer who said philosophy should not say anything about the world that cannot be verified through science? These questions are notoriously hard to verify in any finite way (the very attempt to verify them, as far as I am concerned, is and ideological suture).

If I'm not mistaken A.J. Ayer denounced logical positivism later on in his life. Mainly because its verification method fails it's own test when it comes to meaningful statements(?). I read some essays a long time ago on the topic, but I can't remember if this is the correct critique of logical positivism; either way, I'm not a logical positivist. My interest in arguments against authoritarianism (and I kind of fucked up when I made the thread, given that I chose the negative, i.e., justifications for "anti-authoritarianism", when I could have chosen the positive, i.e., justifications for "egalitarianism") comes from my recent dealing with philosophy students. As I said, arguments that appeal to psychology work just fine, but I never like to put all my eggs in one basket.

Quote:
Plus analytical marxism is dull! smile, have you tried G A Cohen, he may help you out (if you want to go down this line).

I've looked at a tiny bit of Cohen's work and his love for Rawls makes me nauseous. I don't understand why Philosophers with (supposedly) radical political ideas love his shit so much. Robert Paul Wolff's critique, from within Rawls' ideals, was all right, but Cohen, who claims to do the same(?), loves him too much for my taste.

Quote:
ACAB, are you at glasgow uni? If so, dudley knowles does a lot of stuff on political obligation and philosophical anarchism

I'm in the U.S., but I'll look around and see if I can find any of his works.

Thanks for the replies.

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Jul 30 2011 18:44

It's interesting how much scorn the poor logical positivists of the Vienna Circle get in radical-leftist circles today, while in their times some of them and their fellow-travellers were considered radical marxists!

And yeah, the basic critique of their verificationism was that if we suppose "All statements that are not verifiable are meaningless" as the criterion of distinguishing meaningful and meaningless statements, then this criterion itself ends up being a meaningless statement. I think the first philosopher to raise this concern was Roman Ingarden, a phenomenologist.

Angelus Novus
Offline
Joined: 27-07-06
Jul 30 2011 21:59

Wittgenstein was also Pierro Sraffa's homeboy.

ACAB
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Jul 31 2011 20:17
jura wrote:
It's interesting how much scorn the poor logical positivists of the Vienna Circle get in radical-leftist circles today, while in their times some of them and their fellow-travellers were considered radical marxists!

And yeah, the basic critique of their verificationism was that if we suppose "All statements that are not verifiable are meaningless" as the criterion of distinguishing meaningful and meaningless statements, then this criterion itself ends up being a meaningless statement. I think the first philosopher to raise this concern was Roman Ingarden, a phenomenologist.

Hey, I ain't got beef against logical positivists. I'm just not one of them. wink
Who were these Marxist logical-positivists? I've never heard of them (I confess that the only work on logical positivism I've read is Ayer's, "Language, Truth and Logic", so I'm not familiar with any one else from the Vienna Circle).

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Jul 31 2011 21:30
ACAB wrote:
Who were these Marxist logical-positivists? I've never heard of them (I confess that the only work on logical positivism I've read is Ayer's, "Language, Truth and Logic", so I'm not familiar with any one else from the Vienna Circle).

Well, Ayer as a Brit was not really a part of the Vienna Circle (even though he was around in the 1930s), just like most of the British/American philosophers who took up parts of logical positivism's agenda after World War 2. Unfortunately, this process of transplanting LP from Europe entailed a silent (if not entirely conscious, perhaps) rewriting of their history.

The original Vienna Circle, as it existed in the 1920s/30s, was much more than just a club for debating issues in logic and philosophy of science. In a sense, it was an intellectual movement which envisaged both intellectual and social change. When you read their manifesto ("Vienna Circle. A Scientific World-View"), it's pretty clear that at least some of them saw their version of positivism as the new outlook suitable for a wide movement which would encompass socio-economic struggles, changes in education, urbanism, art etc. This has to do with a very specific "configuration" of Vienna at that time – a massive social democratic movement and social democrats in power undertaking some quite interesting projects, like building cheap but clean and modern housing for workers.

The history of Vienna in the 1920s, intellectual an social, is in itself fascinating (think psychoanalysis, phenomenology, austromarxism, logical positivism, Kafka, groundbreaking developments in architecture and art etc... oh yeah, and the Austrian economic school). Everyone knew everyone else. K. R. Popper (who was born in Vienna), for example, expresses his thanks in the terrible Poverty of Historicism to a certain Dr. Karl Hilferding. This was the son of Rudolf Hilferding, the famous Marxist economist who wrote on financial capital. (Karl and his parents were murdered by the Nazis during WW2.)

Getting back on topic, the logical postivists thought logic+empiricism was a genuine step forward compared to the mechanistic "dialectical materialism" of the 2nd (and 3rd) International (which it arguably was!).

As such, the Vienna Circle had a "left wing" and a "right wing". I don't think any of the members of the right wing were reactionaries; all of them would see themselves as progressives, the difference was in how close they felt their own work was to socio-economic issues. Probably the most outspoken proponent of the left wing was Otto Neurath. Apart from playing an important role in the debates on philosophy of science and writing on sociology (so its not entirely true that logical positivism had nothing to say on social theory), he also participated in debates on economic planning (arguing for "accounting in kind", IIRC) and founded the "Isotype" project, on which he famously collaborated with Gerd Arntz, a Dutch typographer with left communist (KAPD) sympathies (even if you've never heard of him, I'm pretty sure you'll recognize his work, it's sadly become a cliché recuperated by leftists of all colors). Neurath also took part in the Bavarian Soviet Republic (1919) and was briefly imprisoned after its defeat.

Other members of the Vienna Circle were probably less open (or enthusiastic) about their politics. Carnap, for sure, is usually listed as one of the "left wing" members. It's difficult to assess the others, as much of their personal correspondence is still unpublished and obviously they did not deal with politics after World War 2. However, I've heard from a quite reliable source who studied the Reichenbach-Carnap correspondence in an archive in the US, that he remained "quite radical" even after the war.

Of course, "radical" in the context of LP means "radical reformist" or "radical social democrat" with austromarxist leanings. From a (current) communist point of view, their politics were quite terrible, but I think they have to be taken in the context of the time and place. And they're a real improvement over the standard view of LP as this ivory-tower oblivious to social reality.

The question remains what would have developed out of the Vienna Circle had it remained in Vienna. Those who managed to save their lives had to move to the UK or the US; the Austrian social-democratic movement was destroyed; all the links were broken. After the war, the work of people like Carnap devolved – at least in my view – into purely esoteric investigations of language. You could say that the common view of LP (as apolitical) is adequate to the developments after 1945. But that's quite understandable given the circumstances. The Feds kept a detailed file on e.g. Carnap (which was made available relatively recently on the FBI site), there was the Cold War, complete disappointment with the USSR (which Neurath, for instance, personally visited), and the whole experience of emigration and losing friends and family in the Holocaust. All in all, a really sad story.

Tojiah's picture
Tojiah
Offline
Joined: 2-10-06
Jul 31 2011 22:23
jura wrote:
K. R. Popper (who was born in Vienna), for example, expresses his thanks in the terrible Poverty of Historicism

Why is it terrible?

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Aug 1 2011 08:31

I think Popper criticizes a strawman, heavily caricatured version of Marx.

paul r
Offline
Joined: 18-01-11
Aug 1 2011 10:51

To ACAB:

The "Sydney Libertarians" were one philosophically-minded group which developed an anti-authoritarian position in the 1950s and 60s. They were influenced by the philosophy of John Anderson who was the Challis Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University from 1927 to 1958. Anderson himself started out as a type of heterodox Marxist but ended up by the later 1940s as an arch-conservative.

Anderson and his general philosophical outlook were very influential with generations of his students, but there were those who disagreed with his conservative politics and as left-wing Andersonians split away from the Sydney University Freethought Society, which he dominated, to form the Sydney Libertarians in about 1950. Their anti-authoritarian ideas were also influenced by Max Nomad's notion of "permanent protest".

A selection of writings by Sydney Libertarians and some of their interlocutors can be found at:

http://www.marxists.org/history/australia/libertarians/index.htm

Among these articles can be found their anti-authoritarian position laid out, as well as their views on some of the current issues of the time. One article which gives "the Sydney (Libertarian) line" on classical anarchism is Georg Molnar's article in the first issue of their journal:

http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/molnar1.htm

ACAB
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Aug 1 2011 13:02
jura wrote:
I think Popper criticizes a strawman, heavily caricatured version of Marx.

I agree with this. I remember reading an essay of his in a book titled "Pocket Popper" (which was hardly pocket size), where he essentially equated Marxism with Stalinist states and proceeded to beat the crap out of that strawman.

By the way, thanks for the post, it was very informative.

Paul r,

Thanks very much, man! I'll look into that.

Arbeiten's picture
Arbeiten
Offline
Joined: 28-01-11
Aug 1 2011 13:56

hey jura, thanks for the Vienna school background! In my defence, I did say I wasn't well versed in logical positivism etc wink

I knew Popper used to be a Marxist, he says it at the beginning of Conjectures and Refutations, and I agree with you that he argues a heavily ideological strawman when debating Marx. But I think there is a large kernel of truth in some of it. I think it is better to say, pace what Popper actually said he was doing, that he was actually talking about Stalinists and a hodge podge of zealous Marxists rather than Karl Marx proper. But ya know, people have been debating marx for 150 years, it's not going to stop any time soon!

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Aug 1 2011 16:38

Arbeiten, yeah I agree with that. But even where Popper tries to deal directly with what Marx wrote, his criticism is based on misunderstandings – for example, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter on the labor theory of value.

CRUD's picture
CRUD
Offline
Joined: 11-04-10
Aug 2 2011 04:55

http://books.google.com/books?id=09e9iLvka7wC&pg=PA78&lpg=PA78&dq=Bakunin+and+his+philosophy&source=bl&ots=Vgd6UTh0Ti&sig=B4-QQ8cFxKEeOWQ9u1NADzQ_Znk&hl=en&ei=HIM3TqPbGvHSiALykeTmDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CEYQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=Bakunin%20and%20his%20philosophy&f=false

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Aug 2 2011 05:08

The full book is on library.nu. smile

door stop's picture
door stop
Offline
Joined: 31-05-11
Aug 2 2011 12:59

I'm sure you have got everything available by Bakunin, what he has written that you have read is available in the shops of course, and he was up to a lot in the Italian State, where his particular activity was among some socialists, such as Costa, Mazzini, Pisacane, Cattaneo, and in his intimate circle beyond this contingency of Il Popolo d'Italia here - and elsewhere he was an influence like Kropotkin, especially in the Spanish Revolution of FAI-CNT on the anti-authoritarian principle. What I have read is quite critical of him, to an extent, and this is because it makes no sense the way he gets dumped.

paul r
Offline
Joined: 18-01-11
Aug 3 2011 02:04

Hello ACAB

On looking through some of the Sydney Libertarian articles I sent you the links for, I see there are some serious mistakes in the copies posted on the marxists.org website -- probably due to scanning blips.

I apologise for referring you to any files which might be corrupted. In a couple of cases the typos/scanning blips are significant enough to affect the sense of what's being said. However, if you're interested I can fill you in on their arguments, some of which directly address your initial request for uncovering the fallacies involved in authoritarian arguments.

paul r
Offline
Joined: 18-01-11
Aug 4 2011 01:32

paul r
Offline
Joined: 18-01-11
Oct 1 2011 12:41

Chomsky provides the basis for what looks like a good argument against authoritarianism:

In a 1995 interview, Chomsky claims that “the essence of anarchism” is “the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority”. This claim presupposes that what defines authority is the presumption that it has the right to command, govern, manage, control, coerce, or whatever the case may be regarding the institution claiming authority for itself and its actions. Concomitantly, one assumes, there is also the presumption that those subject to authority have the duty to conform, and obey. In the interview, Chomsky was asked what attracted him to anarchism as a young man. From his answer, it seems that one of the things Chomsky found attractive in anarchism was the attitude or belief that it “makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them” and that “unless a justification for them can be given, [then] they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled”, in order “to increase the scope of human freedom”.

Among the “structures of authority, hierarchy and domination” Chomsky thinks should be challenged are “political power, ownership and management, relations among men and women, [and among] parents and children, [and] our control over the fate of future generations” – which he sees as “the basic moral imperative behind the environmental movement” – “and much else.” The comprehensiveness of this approach naturally “means a challenge to the huge institutions of coercion and control: the state, the unaccountable private tyrannies that control most of the domestic and international economy, and so on”. Importantly, he adds that “[b]eyond such generalities, we begin to look at cases, which is where the question of human interest and concern arise.”

Quotes from: Noam Chomsky, “Marxism, Anarchism, and Alternative Futures” in Language and Politics, expanded 2nd ed., C.P. Otero (ed.), AK Press, Oakland, CA, 2004, p. 775.

yourmum
Offline
Joined: 9-03-10
Oct 1 2011 23:35

well i can offer an critic of the wolf-nature of man which is the traditional justification of authority by for http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hobbes for example. its a philosphical justification of a state thats been around a long time (homo homini lupus). the thought is you need authority (namely the state) to keep humanity from letting their destructive nature run free and wage war on each other, bellum omnium contra omnes... the critic goes like this: if mankind (and womenkind of course, chilli wink really is destructive for humanity then it is not to be seen why destructive behaviour isnt looked upon as good and the one stopping it as bad. it is neither to be seen why you would try to stop mankind from doing said ruining stuff if that is their fullfilling when everone wants it, why would they give up their naturals rights to destroy each other for the sake of their own prosperity if waging war against each other individually is what is their nature, what they really want. that is the contradiction inside the social contract theory of liberals. stupid stuff but theres a lot of people arguing like "well if anyone did what he wanted, where would we be now?" thats just this thought of the social contract and evil human nature that needs to be restricted.

batswill
Offline
Joined: 8-07-11
Oct 2 2011 04:40
yourmum wrote:
well i can offer an critic of the wolf-nature of man which is the traditional justification of authority by for http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hobbes for example. its a philosphical justification of a state thats been around a long time (homo homini lupus). the thought is you need authority (namely the state) to keep humanity from letting their destructive nature run free and wage war on each other, bellum omnium contra omnes... the critic goes like this: if mankind (and womenkind of course, chilli wink really is destructive for humanity then it is not to be seen why destructive behaviour isnt looked upon as good and the one stopping it as bad. it is neither to be seen why you would try to stop mankind from doing said ruining stuff if that is their fullfilling when everone wants it, why would they give up their naturals rights to destroy each other for the sake of their own prosperity if waging war against each other individually is what is their nature, what they really want. that is the contradiction inside the social contract theory of liberals. stupid stuff but theres a lot of people arguing like "well if anyone did what he wanted, where would we be now?" thats just this thought of the social contract and evil human nature that needs to be restricted.

This is good and to speak latin is enviable...Hobbes was of a canine nature, his mere philosophical leg-cocking sent tremors of rage through my nature. I abhor his approach!
Whereas Stirner left the individual free of any contextual social contract, thus annulling the concept of righteous liberal reform and the endless cycles of recuperation.