An 18th c. photo of John Jay, anonymous shitpoaster.
Down below, Derek writes that “Authority and leadership are antithetical with anonymity.” Is this true? I don’t think so, but honestly, I don’t know, since Derek continuously refuses to well-define the term ‘authority.’
We’ll set aside, for now, the implicit second claim in this conjunction, given that my position on leadership was established two years ago.
Authority is a word that has a wide lexical range. I’ll try and define some of its most popular senses here, and explain why Derek is wrong in his sweeping declaration.
Authority in its barest form simply means authorship. It seems obvious that ‘Nick Adams, of Wye Mills, Maryland, is capable of authoring articles. It’s equally clear that ‘Boxer’ is just as capable, given that he’s been doing exactly that, here on this blog, at least as far back as 2017 (see photo above).
Derek will, of course, claim that this isn’t the sense in which he’s using the word. That’s fine. We can get as specific as we like.
Normative authority implies that there are certain ideal norms which govern right conduct. Since I occasionally cite the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution, it’s fair to assume that these are two norms that I accept. It seems that I can cite such norms independent of divulging my identity to any third party, and it also seems that I can accept those two norms without knowing who the original authors might have been. In the case of the New Testament, this is obviously true. I mean, I think Saul of Tarsus might have had something to do with that book, but I really don’t know, and can’t ever know. The text is prehistoric, and the identity of the author is lost to us forever.
Theoretical authority is the ability I have to discuss the definition of ‘authority’. I have a degree that says I’m qualified to do this. Over the course of my career, I’ve taught propositional logic and foundations of advanced mathematics. Those are philosophy and mathematics courses (and, as a fun little bit of trivia, despite being in two disciplines, over half of the content of those courses is identical). I wouldn’t ever be pulled to teach a biology course, or an English course, or a class in law or medicine, because I have no authority to teach such stuff, and I make it a point never to pretend to speak on my own authority about legal matters on this blog. Though I often discuss the law, I do so as a novice, who shouts from the cheap seats. If you want serious advice about such stuff, you have to go find someone with a master’s or doctorate in those disciplines, and ask him.
This is the only sense in which Derek’s point might be valid, since this sort of authority comes down from other scholars (specifically, the people on your thesis defense committees) and it’s something like the notion of apostolic succession. I’ve never heard of a graduate scholar who gets a degree under a throwaway pseudonym. Even so, it doesn’t seem like Derek uses this sense of the word when he bandies it about.
Political authority seems to be what Derek is talking about, in that political authority is not only the ability to prescribe right conduct, but to compel compliance, even in the unwilling.
Derek is obviously wrong about authority when he uses the word in this sense. Do you know the man who wrote the tax laws in your state? I don’t either. Try to evade your taxes, and see how much it matters. Much of the political authority wielded, not only in our society, but in every society, is nameless, faceless, and anonymous.
Political groups like the IRA and Viet Cong were almost completely anonymous, and yet they compelled obedience in the territories they influenced. They did so with violence, same as the I.R.S. does today.