What is Legitimacy?The first contention of anti-statism concerns the moral legitimacy of the state's alleged authority. What do I mean by legitimacy in this context? I mean the moral right to rule. I question the authority of the state, whether I am bound to obey simply because it is the state. Robert Paul Wolff expressed it thusly:
The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that there can be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual and the putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to make himself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state's claim to have authority over him. That is to say, he will deny that he has a duty to obey the laws of this state simply because they are the laws. In that sense, it would seem that anarchism is the only political doctrine consistent with the virtue of autonomy." - Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of AnarchismThis is essentially the same concept that 19th century American anarchists called "sovereignty of the individual" or "self-ownership." In Wolff's modern philosophical terminology, it is an issue of moral autonomy. It should be stressed that, in this context, "authority" should not be construed as expertise or council, but as dutiful acceptance of orders precisely because of who they were delivered by. A person may certainly act upon the words of experts, and take advantage of their greater experience or knowledge, without submitting to authority. So long as the decision to utilize (or not) that knowledge is ultimately left to the actor, that actor is self-owned.
One might submit to outright orders of authority figures without necessarily submitting to (moral) authority. If the reason for following orders is a utilitarian calculation, rather than following orders because the state says so, it is not submission to authority. In other words, to obey because you'll be harmed if you don't (or rewarded if you do) is not submission to moral authority; to obey because you were ordered is submission.
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