Salon, “How do people like Chomsky, Snowden and Malcolm X become anti-authoritarians?”

Lyndon Johnson famously proclaimed his requirements for an appointee: “I want him to kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses.” Johnson and his ass-kissers were authoritarians.

Authoritarian is routinely defined as “favoring blind submission to authority.” Authoritarians with power demand unquestioning obedience from those with lower rank, and authoritarian subordinates comply with all demands of authorities.

In contrast, anti-authoritarians reject—for themselves and for others—an unquestioning obedience to authority, and they challenge and resist illegitimate authorities. Anti-authoritarians—including some well-known anarchists—don’t necessarily reject all authority.

Anti-authoritarian anarchist Noam Chomsky offers this example of a justified authority: an adult who stops a five-year old from running out in a street and getting hit by a car. However, Chomsky adds that authorities often have no moral justification but are “just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination”—and are illegitimate authorities to be resisted.

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