Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian-Strategies, Tools, and Models

Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian-Strategies, Tools, and Models

by Bruce E. Levine
Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian-Strategies, Tools, and Models

Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian-Strategies, Tools, and Models

by Bruce E. Levine


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The capacity to comply with abusive authority is humanity’s fatal flaw. Fortunately, within the human family there are anti-authoritarians—people comfortable questioning the legitimacy of authority and challenging and resisting its illegitimate forms. However, as Resisting Illegitimate Authority reveals, authoritarians attempt to marginalize anti-authoritarians, who are scorned, shunned, financially punished, psychopathologized, criminalized, and even assassinated.

Profiling a diverse group of U.S. anti-authoritarians—including Thomas Paine, Ralph Nader, Malcolm X, and Lenny Bruce—in order to glean useful lessons from their lives, Resisting Illegitmate Authority is the first self-help manual for anti-authoritarians. Discussing anti-authoritarian approaches to depression, relationships, and parenting, it provides political, spiritual, philosophical, and psychological tools to help those suffering violence and marginalization in a society whose most ardent cheerleaders for “freedom” are often its most obedient and docile citizens.

Resisting Illegitimate Authority is about bigotry, but not bigotry directed at race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. It is about bigotry directed at rebellious personalities and temperaments.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781849353243
Publisher: AK Press
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 220
Sales rank: 296,159
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Bruce E. Levine is a regular contributor to CounterPunch, Truthout, Z Magazine, AlterNet, Salon, and the Huffington Post. He is a practicing clinical psychologist often at odds with the mainstream of his profession, and he is on the editorial advisory board of the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry and on the scientific advisory board of the National Center for Youth Law. A longtime activist in the mental health treatment reform movement, he is a member of the International Society for Ethical Psychology & Psychiatry. His books include Get Up, Stand Up; Surviving America's Depression Epidemic; and Commonsense Rebellion.

Read an Excerpt

In the 1950s and 1960s, the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany were still on the minds of many Americans, and the 1950 book The Authoritarian Personality, which psychopathologized authoritarian personalities, became popular. In the early 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram’s “obedience to authority” studies revealed a frightening obedience among Americans to illegitimate authority, and this became a cause for concern. I will detail these and other examinations of authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, as well as controversies surrounding the “authoritarian personality” and the “anti-authoritarian personality.”

By the 1980s, U.S. society had changed. In 1980, Americans elected as president former actor Ronald Reagan, who had previously acquired an authoritarian strongman reputation by putting down student revolts as governor of California. By the mid-1980s, the Democrats, wanting to appear as tough as the Republicans, strongly supported “anti-crime” legislation that has contributed to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world, caused in large part by hypocritical drug laws.

In my mental health profession during the 1980s, it was noncompliance rather than compliance that became increasingly pathologized. The American Psychiatric Association (APA), politically in step with U.S. society, revised its diagnostic manual, the then DSM-III (1980), to include “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD) for noncompliant kids who do not engage in criminal behaviors. The APA classifies ODD as one kind of “disruptive behavior disorder.” Disruptive behavior disorders are now the most common classification of children medicated with antipsychotics, a class of drugs that is today among the highest grossing ones in the United States. The U.S. antipsychotic drug explosion is largely the result of their use on non-psychotic vulnerable populations—especially foster children, the elderly in nursing homes, and inmates in prisons and jails—as a relatively inexpensive way to subdue and manage these groups.

Between 1978 and 1985, I was in graduate school and in training to become a clinical psychologist, and my embarrassment with the mental health profession increased throughout my schooling and internships. I struggled as to whether I should quit or continue so as to get my PhD “badge.” Ironically, this “stinkin badge,” which lacks legitimate authority for me, has provided me with credibility for the mainstream media which, for the most part, bases its assessment of authorities on their badges and not on their substance. And so in the twisted madhouse of U.S. society, this PhD badge has helped provide me with a platform to discuss illegitimate authority, including that of my mental health profession.

There are certainly societies less free and more oppressive than U.S. society, however, what makes it difficult for U.S. anti-authoritarians is that Americans are indoctrinated to believe that U.S. society celebrates anti-authoritarians. And so U.S. anti-authoritarians are less prepared for the reality of anti-authoritarian life than others who have not been so indoctrinated.

Anti-authoritarians 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, I will profile several famous anti-authoritarians with a lens aimed at illuminating their essential anti-authoritarianism and a focus on what can be gleaned from their lives. Obviously, I cannot include every famous anti-authoritarian public figure. I will instead talk about those whom I have been drawn to because their lives have taught me something about the essential conflict between anti-authoritarians and U.S. society, and they have provided me with lessons about anti-authoritarian survival, tragedy, and triumph.

Readers will sense that I have affection for many of these famous anti-authoritarians whom I profile, and that I am sympathetic to all of them, even the ones who have hurt themselves, others, and the cause of creating a more anti-authoritarian society. Sometimes the difference between anti-authoritarians having a constructive or destructive life is luck.

Resisting Illegitimate Authority is about valuing anti-authoritarians. 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. In this book, I will try my best to communicate my life’s work.

Earlier in Stanley Milgram’s life, he was personally affected by the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities, as family members who had survived concentration camps stayed temporarily in his home when he was a child. So when his research on Americans revealed an unexpectedly high rate of obedience to authority when subjects were commanded to commit cruel actions, this very much troubled Milgram. Moreover, prior to his publishing Obedience to Authority (1974), Milgram was shaken by the then recent U.S. atrocities that were committed by American soldiers in the Vietnam War, such as the My Lai massacre. Thus, it’s unsurprising that Milgram’s Epilogue to Obedience to Authority is not of the “feel-good” variety.

Milgram wrote: “The results as seen and felt in the laboratory, are to this author disturbing. They raise the possibility that human nature or—more specifically—the kind of character produced in American democratic society, cannot be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of malevolent authority. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.”

For Milgram, “the capacity for man to abandon his humanity” so as to comply with any and all authority is what he called humanity’s “fatal flaw,” which he concluded, “in the long run gives our species only a modest chance of survival.”

A small ray of hope is that within the human family there are anti-authoritarians—people comfortable questioning the legitimacy of authority and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. However, if these anti-authoritarians become completely marginalized, our species loses what Milgram called our “modest chance of survival.”

Table of Contents



1. Authorities—and My Path to Resisting Illegitimate Authority

2. The Compliant, the Noncompliant, and the Anti-Authoritarian

Defining Terms

The Percentage of Americans Who Resist Illegitimate Authority

The Authoritarian and Anti-Authoritarian “Personality” and Left-Right Politics


3. Great Contributions Do Not Prevent Marginalization

Thomas Paine, Ralph Nader, and Malcolm X

4. Criminalization of Anti-Authoritarians

Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and Edward Snowden

5.Genocide of an Anti-Authoritarian People: Native Americans

6. Psychiatric Assault and Marginalization: Not Just Frances Farmer

7. Schooling’s Assault on Young Anti-Authoritarians


8. Lessons from Anti-Authoritarians Who Have Hurt Themselves, Others, or the Cause

Self-Destructive Anti-Authoritarians: Phil Ochs, Lenny Bruce, and Ida Lupino

Violent Anti-Authoritarians: Alexander Berkman, Leon Czolgosz, and Ted Kaczynski

9. Political, Spiritual, Philosophical, and Psychological Lenses for Anti-Authoritarians



The God of Spinoza and Einstein

The Enneagram

10. Lessons from Anti-Authoritarians Who’ve Helped Themselves, Others, and the Cause

Counterculture Beacons: Henry David Thoreau and Scott Nearing

Two Strike Hitters: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Helen Keller

Modern Models: Jane Jacobs, Noam Chomsky, and George Carlin

11. We Don’t Need No Badges



Mutual Aid





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