Authoritarianism

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Violence is the whole essence of authoritarianism, just as the repudiation of violence is the whole essence of anarchism. ~ Errico Malatesta.

Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority and thus usually opposed to individualism, liberalism, democracy, libertarianism and anarchism. Authoritarian governments are those in which political authority is concentrated in a small group, usually unelected by the people, who possess exclusive and arbitrary power. Authoritarianism need not be manifested in such extreme forms as totalitarianism, in that social and economic institutions can exist which are not under the government's control, but it is characterized by highly concentrated, and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers, using political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of an elite.

See also:
Fascism
Nazism
Totalitarianism

Quotes[edit]

The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians. ~ George Orwell
That the more authoritarian organizations survive and prevail goes generally unnoticed because people focus on the objectives of organizations, which are many and varied, rather than on their structures, which tend to be similar. ~ Robert Shea
However sugarcoated and ambiguous, every form of authoritarianism must start with a belief in some group's greater right to power, whether that right is justified by sex, race, class, religion or all four. ~ Gloria Steinem
  • Most traditional societies produce an authoritarian personality, but some produce an innovative one, which leads to change.
    • Bert N. Adams and Rosalind Ann Sydie in Sociological Theory (2001), p. 449
  • Hierarchic and authoritarian structures are not self-justifying. They have to have a justification. So if there is a relation of subordination and domination, maybe you can justify it, but there's a strong burden of proof on anybody who tries to justify it. Quite commonly, the justification can't be given. It's a relationship that is maintained by obedience, by force, by tradition, by one or another form of sometimes physical, sometimes intellectual or moral coercion. If so, it ought to be dismantled. People ought to become liberated and discover that they are under a form of oppression which is illegitimate, and move to dismantle it.
    What happens next? We don't really know. There are people who think they know the answer. I'm not one of them. My view is, we don't understand very much about human beings or human affairs, so anything that would be done has to be experimentally tried, but I think there are some leading ideas that make some good sense.
  • Violence is the whole essence of authoritarianism, just as the repudiation of violence is the whole essence of anarchism.
    • Errico Malatesta, "Anarchism, Authoritarian Socialism and Communism" in Fede (28 October 1923); also in What Is Anarchism? : An Introduction edited by Donald Rooum (1992, 1995) p. 59
  • Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadows about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.
  • In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence — legal or illegal — to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person.
    • Dean Russell, in "Who Is A Libertarian?" in The Freeman, Vol. 5 Issue 5 (May 1955) published by Foundation for Economic Education
  • That the more authoritarian organizations survive and prevail goes generally unnoticed because people focus on the objectives of organizations, which are many and varied, rather than on their structures, which tend to be similar. Whenever people see a problem, an opportunity or a threat, their first reaction — even before saying, "Pass a law'" — is, "Let's start an organization."
    But the more an organization succeeds and prospers, the more it is likely to be diverted from its original ideals, principles and purposes.
  • However sugarcoated and ambiguous, every form of authoritarianism must start with a belief in some group's greater right to power, whether that right is justified by sex, race, class, religion or all four. However far it may expand, the progression inevitably rests on unequal power and airtight roles within the family.
    • Gloria Steinem in "If Hilter Were Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On?" in M.S. magazine (October-November 1980); later in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)
  • We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian.
    • Lionel Trilling, notebook entry (1948), published in Partisan Review 50th Anniversary edition (1985), p. 510
  • Most fundamentally, I would see Anarchism as a synonym for anti-authoritarianism.
    • John Zerzan, in Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization (2008), p. 67

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