For several years, I’ve been thinking about writing Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models, a book about anti-authoritarians and for them. Authoritarian is routinely defined as “favoring blind submission to authority.” In contrast, anti-authoritarians reject—for themselves and for others—an unquestioning obedience to authority, and they believe in challenging and resisting illegitimate authority.
One early indication that there was an interest in such a book was the large positive reaction to my 2012 article “Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill” (republished on several different websites, titled on some as “Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein?”). I continue to receive many emails from people feeling validated by it, stating that they believe their anti-authoritarianism—or their child’s—has resulted in mental illness diagnoses.
While none of my previous books have been specifically about authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, in retrospect, I realize that virtually all my publications have been geared for anti-authoritarian readers. In early 2017, the anti-authoritarian AK Press invited me to write a book for them, and I thought that the time was right for Resisting Illegitimate Authority.
Anti-authoritarians are a threat to authoritarians because anti-authoritarians don’t provide unquestioning obedience, but instead first assess the legitimacy of authorities—evaluating their knowledge, competence, honesty, integrity, and concern for those people who are trusting them. And if anti-authoritarians determine an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—whether the authority is their parent, teacher, doctor, or government.
Consequently, authoritarians attempt to marginalize anti-authoritarians, who have been scorned, shunned, financially punished, psychopathologized, criminalized, and assassinated. While U.S. society now honors a few deceased anti-authoritarians, these same figures were often marginalized in their own lifetime (for example, Thomas Paine). Today, anti-authoritarians continue to be under great pressure to comply with the status quo, making their survival difficult. For this reason, I thought it would be helpful to provide anti-authoritarians with strategies, tools, and models they could learn from.
My life work has been “depathologizing” noncompliance and rebellion; helping anti-authoritarians survive within authoritarian schools, workplaces, and other environments; assisting those who love anti-authoritarians to better understand them; and helping anti-authoritarians gain hope that while a wise struggle against illegitimate authorities may or may not be victorious, it can lead to a community of fellow anti-authoritarians.
Anti-authoritarians are a highly diverse group whose members include people from all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual preferences, and personalities; and they exist in all walks of life and come in all kinds of temperaments—some extroverted, some introverted, some funny, some serious, and so on. To illustrate this diversity, in Resisting Illegitimate Authority, I profile several famous anti-authoritarians with a lens focused at illuminating their essential anti-authoritarianism and an emphasis on what can be gleaned from their lives. I discuss anti-authoritarians who I have been drawn to because their lives have provided me with lessons about anti-authoritarian tragedy and triumph.
Part Two of Resisting Illegitimate Authority is called “The Assault on U.S. Anti-Authoritarians,” and it includes chapters on the “Criminalization of Anti-Authoritarians”; “Genocide of an Anti-Authoritarian People: Native Americans”; and “Schooling’s Assault on Young Anti-Authoritarians.” Also in Part Two is the chapter “Psychiatric Assault and Marginalization: Not Just Frances Farmer,” a section of which is attached as a pdf here for Mad in America readers.