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I feel like one of the most important theoretical terms in classical anarchist theory is the concept of "justified hierarchy" that Bakunin talked about in "What is Authority?". One of the most outrageous sounding parts of anarchy for the newcomer who is down with abolishing the state and capitalism seems to often be talking about how anarchy would mean the abolition of all hierachy. One would then ask how that could possibly happen when there will always be some people who know more about things than other people and therefore have "authority" over them as an "authority" on the topic. And surely anyone who is interested in doing anything they don't know how to do - just to carry on with this example since it's what Bakunin talks about with the bootmaker and the apprentice - will listen to what an "authority" on a topic has to say.

I happen to think nevertheless that the concept of justified authority is a really weak one, and strays dangerously close to being yet another example of the inherent liberalism in classical anarchism. What sorts of criteria would we cash out for when authority is justified? Bakunin says that the apprentice may listen to the bootmaker on the topic of how to make boots, but will not allow the bootmaker to coerce/dominate them just because they know more about some particular topic. But in this example of being a craftsman - or any kind of profession - there are always going to be new ways of doing things and old timers who are stuck in how they think things should be done. One might argue that it's necessary for young, rebellious apprentices with a fresh insight to disobey the advice of their teachers if progress will ever be made in any field, craft or art or science or whatever.

This just makes me wonder whether or not post-left anarchy has an answer to the question of justified hierarchy, or what any of you think about how one could critique the idea of justified hierarchy.

by (610 points)
post-left anarchists answered questions of hierarchy in the following threads, just fyi:



(you get to guess who is which... :) )

I don't identify with the post-leftist label enough to answer the question, but maybe I can clarify the position of Bakunin. In "God and the State" (which the piece sometimes called "What is Authority?" is drawn from), he doesn't really present an argument for "justified hierarchy." He does make the well-known comments about "the authority of the bootmaker," which he does not reject. But the rest of the fragment (itself drawn a much larger, though still unfinished work) simply leaves no ground for even the limited authority of the bootmaker to have any other origin but Bakunin's own ignorance about the construction of boots. "God and the State opens with a discussion of the fundamental factors in human evolution, and it is arguably only by referring back to that material that the various claims in the fragment can be reconciled. You can see one reading of the material on my blog, and consult the more complete commentary that is linked in the post.

The most compelling reading of the passage seems to me to be that all external authority must be opposed as illegitimate, but it is not always possible to move from principled opposition to practical rejection, given our own limitations and specific circumstances.

regarding the bootmaker...

i imagine that all people who made (make?) boots do not make them in precisely the same way or with exactly the same methods or techniques, or with the same amount of thought and care, or with the same amount of experimentation for new ways of making them, or the same materials, or with the same attention to aspects like style, or look, or comfort, or durability or....

so i question using the word "authority" in that sense as well...

and i definitely don't view someone with more experience at something as "hierarchy", "justified" or otherwise.

when i've attempted to learn something new, i often take in a lot of advice from different people, read a few things, try a few things myself that no one told me, combine aspects into my own methods, watch other people (with varying amounts of experience) do it, etc.
"justified hierarchy" sounds a bit like noam chomsky's "legitimate authority".

both would appear to assume that there is some universal - or at least authoritative - way to gauge just what is "justified" or "legitimate". which raises huge questions around autonomy and conformance, at minimum.
yes, funky...

i'd say that words like "justified" or "legitimate" pertain directly to the concept of "authority". for me, rejecting authority includes rejecting the concepts of justification and legitimizing.

to add to ba@'s comment:

i have said elsewhere on this site (probably more than once) that i find the use of the term "authority" in describing someone with a particular set of skills (above and beyond the skills possessed by oneself) as problematic in an anarchist context. i would say exactly the same for "hierarchy" used in that way.

everyone has different capabilities, skills, strengths, desires, priorities, etc. that is one of the defining factors in my personal rejection of the concept of "equality". (as george carlin used to say in mocking political correctness: we are all differently abled). using terms like authority and hierarchy to describe the relative differences between unique individuals seems to me like a ball-and-chain binding one to that way of thinking about relationships. i choose not to.

i have no problem acknowledging that my neighbor has skills working with rocks (as a building material) far beyond my own. i have learned from him, as he has learned from me about various cob mixes. neither of us would consider that a hierarchical relationship, nor consider the other an authority. 

In the Philosophy of Misery, Proudhon cited someone else as saying something like "all people have equal intelligence in quantity but not in quality." I always liked this (and expand it to all sentient biengs, not just people). We are all meant to be considered as specialists or potential specialists in a very unique set of activities particular to a specific place, time and setting. We have to find our "thing," place, time and context, but there can be no authority outside of oneself on one's "thing." It is unique.

The master bootmaker might know how to make the boots she makes, but couldn't possibly know how an apprentice can make boots to the fullest expression of his individuality. From this perspective the two are equals. Simply a time lag between their respective flowerings. The master can only show and explain. There is no more hierarchy or authority in this relationship than between a book and its reader.
syrphant, are you identifying as a post-left anarchist now? or someone knowledgeable about postleft critiques?

again, i appreciate the enthusiasm, but perhaps make this a comment instead of an answer.
I have no idea what post-left means, but in the context of your comment I assume it is an insult. So to appear smart I'll say: "no, post-left is passé; I am more pre-neo-post-post-left." ;)

the title question is asking about post-left thinking. if you're not answering the title question, at least note that in your answer.

(your humor does do good, but it doesn't right all wrongs...)

aw, dot, that was my best answer yet. maybe the question should be edited to fit my answer. ;)
(i, for one, get your tongue-in-cheekness without the winky face, but since others don't, you go right ahead...)

edit: i mean, you go on... ;)

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