Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?
First, it is necessary to indicate what kind of authority anarchism challenges. While it is customary for some opponents of anarchism to assert that anarchists oppose all kinds of authority, the reality of the situation is more complex. While anarchists have, on occasion, stated their opposition to "all authority" a closer reading quickly shows that anarchists reject only one specific form of authority, what we tend to call hierarchy (see section H.4 for more details). This can be seen when Bakunin stated that "the principle of authority" was the "eminently theological, metaphysical and political idea that the masses, always incapable of governing themselves, must submit at all times to the benevolent yoke of a wisdom and a justice, which in one way or another, is imposed from above." [Marxism, Freedom and the State, p. 33]
Other forms of authority are more acceptable to anarchists, it depends whether the authority in question becomes a source of power over others or not. That is the key to understanding the anarchist position on authority -- if it is hierarchical authority, then anarchists are against it. . The reason is simple:
"[n]o one should be entrusted with power, inasmuch as anyone invested with authority must . . . became an oppressor and exploiter of society." [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 249]
This distinction between forms of authority is important. As Erich Fromm pointed out, "authority" is "a broad term with two entirely different meanings: it can be either 'rational' or 'irrational' authority. Rational authority is based on competence, and it helps the person who leans on it to grow. Irrational authority is based on power and serves to exploit the person subjected to it." [To Have or To Be, pp. 44-45] The same point was made by Bakunin over 100 years earlier when he indicated the difference between authority and "natural influence." For Bakunin, individual freedom "results...