Hierarchies and Anarchism

Should anarchism be against all hierarchy or against unjustified hierarchy?

Sometimes in Anarchist discourse there will be a minor debate between defining Anarchism as “Against all Hierarchy” vs “Against unjustified Hierarchy”. It seems to me a more effective idea to focus on definitions of hierarchy as opposed to defining justified/unjustified. As when we cede ground that some hierarchies are justified, it leads to circling around this or that special case and becomes a messy debate between the Authoritarian and Libertarian axis of the left.

A hierarchy is definitely anything where one person as coercive (violently enforceable, either through direct or indirect force) control over another; where one person can jeopardize important needs of an individual at will to the end of getting that individual to do what is desired. For example, a boss who can choose to fire you at any point if you don’t perform a given task has coercive control because (currently) without that job your immediate needs of food, medicine, clothing, and shelter (what I will now refer to as requisites) are in danger. We might call this a Coercive-Hierarchy.

An important point to consider here is then the situation of a parent to a child. A parent has direct physical control over children, if a child starts to run into traffic a parent might physically restrain the child (pick them up). The difference here seems to be that the parent ought not to deprive a child of requisites regardless of behavior. As in, no matter how many times a child tries to run into traffic, the parent never uses this as basis to deny food. When this is not done (child abuse) the community steps in to ensure the proper care of the child, effectively meaning (ideally) a parent cannot enforce their control over their child to the point of deprivation of requisites.

I don’t think many of us would consider the above example a situation of Coercive-Hierarchy. I’ll contend here that unless a hierarchy possesses coercive power in respect to requisites it’s not a hierarchy, only influence (because it may persuade one to do or not do something without being able to directly enforce the thing being done with a consequence to requisites if one doesn’t do it). Influence, when great enough, can result in a Coercive-Hierarchy, yet in and of itself is not necessarily one. For example, I can influence my friends to attend a vegan restaurant rather than a non-vegan restaurant and this is not a hierarchy because I do not have coercive power over their requisites (they are freely and legitimately able to go somewhere else, bring outside food or something else).

Another possible classification of Hierarchy is an Esteem-Hierarchy and a Mastery-Hierarchy. An Esteem-Hierarchy being a hierarchy where one is seen as superior or having power over others by virtue of their esteem or position, as in the case of the rich and famous being seen as “above” others, celebrities having more power. In our current society an Esteem-Hierarchy often does allow coercive control as one is able to, through capital, connections and influence, threaten others requisites. For example, if I am the CEO of Megacorp42 and I hear of efforts to unionize, I will use my capital to hire scabs and strike-breakers to coercively end the strike and blacklist the unionizers (directly threatening the unionizers by depriving them of the necessary resources to obtain requisites).

A Mastery-Hierarchy is a hierarchy whereby deference or service is given to one (or a group) who has obtained mastery of something. A Mastery-Hierarchy is a hierarchy if and only if the master has the ability to deny or control the requisites of the student(s). For example, if I am a Master Blacksmith and a student of mine depends upon the continued apprenticeship in order to sustain their requisites, I have coercive control over the student and it, therefore, constitutes a hierarchy.

A Mastery-Hierarchy and Esteem-Hierarchy is necessarily called into question when requisites become a given of a culture. If, referring to the Blacksmith example, the master cannot deny the student requisites under any circumstances (because requisites are provided by the larger community irrespective of apprenticeship) then necessarily it is not longer a hierarchy, it becomes a Mastery-Influency. Wherein the Master influences the student without possessing coercive control. Likewise an Esteem-Hierarchy can become a Esteem-Influency. In an Esteem-Influency one might be influenced by the esteemed fashion tastes of a particular individual without having their requisites even potentially threatened. What distinguishes an Esteem-Influency from a Mastery-Influency is somewhat gray, but primarily rests upon the way in which an individual interacts with the Influency. Where Esteem can lead to admiration and emulation, Mastery falls upon lines of education and apprenticeship.One might argue this distinction is essentially changing the words of justified/unjustified into hierarchy/influency. Yet I think that holding this change distinguishes the terms enough that Coercive control over requisites is never justified, as in the case of a socialist state. Thereby ending a potential contention around if a socialist state is justified.