In the current era of Trump, much of American society finds itself frustrated, angry, and traumatized by an authoritarian president whose leadership is being perceived increasingly as illegitimate. Oddly, a large reason for Trump’s success in getting elected in the first place as well as his continued seemingly inconceivable support is largely due to the illusion that he is anti-authoritarian and will shake things up and create change.
Trump, of course, is no anti-authoritarian. Rather, he is an authoritarian who resists power only when he doesn’t have it. Anti-authoritarians challenge and resist all forms of illegitimate authority. Bruce E. Levine, in his newly released book, Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian, tells us that the traits of an anti-authoritarian include a compulsion to speak out against cruelty and illegitimate authority no matter what the political cost, a willingness to sacrifice one’s own freedom for the cause of freedom, a compulsion for truth-telling, and a repulsion with hypocrisy. In his profiles of several U.S. anti-authoritarians, Levine details how, from Thomas Paine to Ralph Nader, many of them experienced great rejection, marginalization, and suffering for their views.
Trump so often lies, doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and has engaged in so many cruel and hypocritical acts that not only is there an anti-Trump resistance, but Trump may actually be the greatest contributor to this movement. Those anti-authoritarians who are already part of this resistance may find direction, comradery, and support in Levine’s profiles of anti-authoritarians who suffered before us, fighting so many of the same battles.
Levine makes clear that his book is not about Left versus Right or Democrats versus Republicans, but, rather, it is about challenging oppression, coercion, blind submission, and hypocrisy. Such a trove in a time when these factors are rampant is refreshing, indeed.
For quite some time, a powerful allegiance between politicians, Wall Street, and the military industrial complex along with clergy have often provided a means through which dissent in the United States has been silenced. In recent times, mental health professionals have become the new clergy. As Levine states, “By pathologizing and thus depoliticizing malaise, psychiatry helps maintain the status quo, meeting the needs of the ruling power structure” in the same way that police and clergy have controlled the population in times past.
Many who would likely oppose illegitimate authority are increasingly being drugged and outcast as mentally ill at a young age. A label of mental illness and the powerful tranquilizing drugs that tend to accompany these labels, now commonplace among American youth, are powerful means of delegitimizing dissent.
Doctors, along with politicians and military personnel, are historically among the most authoritarian of professionals. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and assuring that resistance and opposition be silenced. A perfect example of this can be seen in the recent expulsion of Peter C Gøtzsche, MD, an internationally respected founder of the Nordic Cochrane Center, a purported independent evaluator of medical research. Gøtzsche, because of his years of opposition and non-compliance, was voted out after his very vocal criticism of the corruption in pharmaceutical company funded research and the falsehoods being spread to the public. His stance not only threatened a lucrative and powerful partnership, he dared to actively challenge the status quo and break rules. Doctors, particularly psychiatrists and psychologists, have also been a central force in genocide, as defined by the United Nations, both during Nazi Germany as well as within the United States, especially with respect to Native Americans, past and present.
Levine notes: “Today, a potentially huge army of young anti-authoritarians are being depoliticized by mental illness diagnoses and by the attributions that their inattention, anxiety, depression, and disruptiveness are caused by defective biochemistry—and not by their alienation from a dehumanizing society and their resistance to illegitimate authorities.”
In addition, children are being indoctrinated through the school system to blindly obey and never think independently, lest one be labeled a troublemaker or worse. Levine describes how the educational system has directly contributed to our difficulty in assembling and effectively being able to fight back against an authoritarian regime.
A century ago, when only 6% of Americans graduated high school, Populists had power to form cooperatives and politically astute organized resistance, effectively challenging corporations and politicians. Now that 85% of Americans graduate high school, little organized resistance exists beyond symbolic marches that affect little to no change whatsoever. People who don’t eventually conform and submit are considered “behavioral problems” or “oppositional,” and few are willing to embrace such accusations, even as children.
As Paul Krugman notes in “Why it Can Happen Here,” the death of democracy is a very real possibility in America. And, our education and mental health systems are almost guaranteeing it, as the more we drug, diagnose, and indoctrinate our children, the less likely anybody will have the will, capacity, or awareness to resist authority.
In examining the history of those who have sacrificed much in the name of justice, Levine provides us all many warnings, while also imbibing hope. He highlights both the ways in which anti-authoritarians can basically ruin it for us all (i.e., The Ted Kaczynski/Unabomber) as well as providing examples of ways anti-authoritarians foster compassion and peaceful resistance while honing one’s rage into getting things done.
From Malcom X’s rebellion against the oppression of capitalism to Edward Snowden’s exposing how the U.S. government is spying on its people, anti-authoritarians have paved the way for many to have the advantages and civil rights that currently exist. Levine’s Resisting Illegitimate Authority is an anti-authoritarian handbook of sorts. We all need anti-authoritarians who will challenge and overcome illegitimate authority—without them, we will never be the Land of the Free and certainly not the Home of the Brave.