Humans Are Inclined to Submit to Authority: Oh Really?

I have been a libertarian for the past four years. Within the past 6-12 months, my views have altered from being minarchist to market anarchist/anarcho-capitalist in character. I realised to myself that if no one is permitted to initiate force against the person and/or property, then this naturally includes governments. In essence, I was logically applying and extending base libertarian principles.

As a market anarchist, I am occasionally subject to rebukes of such an ideology. One specific criticism seems rather peculiar at first, but becomes increasingly intriguing. The point made is this:

Human beings naturally seek to submit to authority and always desire someone to lead over them. Therefore anarchism is unworkable because of this fact.

Now, this viewpoint does seem a fascinating one. But ultimately, it is a position based upon false premises. In this piece, I'll examine why.

Firstly, let me ask, what IS human nature? I would believe human nature to be the traits, feelings, actions, thoughts, behaviour, etc. that define us. They are our fundamental and defining characteristics. Such aspects of human nature would include, by the definition I have provided, introspection and abstract reasoning. Of course, philosophers have been arguing for millennia as to whether human nature exists. However, let us for the sake of this piece assume that it does.

Fine, so we've defined what human nature is. Then how do we ascertain what traits are part of human nature or not? If one uses empirical and logical evidence, then it would be straightforward to determine and certify what human nature actually entails. Using this methodology, one can recognise that human beings generally possess an aversion to pain, or that human beings naturally seek happiness. Regarding the former, people in general attempt to avoid situations that would inflict pain. People in general don't like pain, since it is unpleasant, by definition. Pain exists as a physiological means of telling you that a part of your body is injured or experiencing a physiological abnormality. Injury or physiological abnormality impairs our ability to function physically and can be to the detriment of other areas in our lives. I'm no biologist, but I would deduce that such an aversion to pain is an evolutionary response and an evolutionary advantage. Regarding the latter point, it can be deduced that humans cannot function physically or emotionally whilst experiencing excessive pain. Because of this, we look for happiness, since it permits optimum human function.

So, can the aforementioned methodology be used to examine whether humans are prone to submit to authority? Well at present, practically all humans live under the control of a government. However, does such a state of affairs arise from our base nature? The Milgram experiment was a famous scientific experiment that attempted to ascertain whether humans are obedient to authority. The results denoted that people would even kill others if they experienced enough coercion. However, the conclusions of this study cannot wholly be attributed to human nature.

Government has only existed for the past several millennia. Since modern humans first evolved in Africa , circa 200,000 years ago, we had lived in hunter-gatherer societies like the Khoi San. Mitochondrial Eve didn't live under a government. If humans have only lived under the spectre of governments for a small period of our history, then how is submitting to governmental authority part of human nature?

If one looks at social species in the animal world, then there is little evident need to submit to authority. Granted, animals aren't sapient in general, nonetheless societal organisation amongst animals results from evolutionary need and not an innate desire to submit. If one examines chimpanzees, then yes, their social groups are led by an alpha-male. Still, this organisational structure arises from need, more so than a desire to be ruled over. As chimpanzees evolved, those groups with a strong male who controlled society would have prospered. Such groupings would have been more secure, had access to better food and be able to adapt to new situations and difficulties.

In reference to man's nature, is it rational to force people to submit to authority, if such an attribute is truly intrinsic? Humans aren't generally forced to eat food, since eating is part of our nature. Humans aren't forced to seek social interaction, since associating with others is an inherent distinction. Nature is clearly distinct from force, in this instance.

Corruption of the family and state schools

Stefan Molyneux is a Canadian libertarian writer and podcaster. Within his podcasts, he often speaks of the corruption of the family and how familial life leads to the corruption of children. According to Molyneux, children are compelled to adhere to their parents' wishes due to the evident disparity of power between parent and child. It is often the case that the parent's values may be false, illogical or irrational in nature. As a consequence of this, children may accept authority since they lack the means to be wholly independent of their parents.

Many people also accept the state due to government brainwashing and coercive state education. Government schools don't tell nor teach our children how to think, or reason, or properly make sense of the world around them. Schoolchildren are taught to value government and are never taught to question the statist status quo. Evidently, state education is a social construct and isn't a part of nature or material reality. Therefore, a widespread acceptance of the state cannot be attributed to human nature.

Using empirical means, we can see that some human societies don't possess an organised government or a 'monopoly on the legitimate exercise of force.' Some Khoi-San Bushmen in Southern Africa still live in hunter-gatherer societies. As a consequence, they don't use a central state to identify how they should be governed. In many hunter-gatherer communities, decisions are often collectively made without the need for a centralised bureaucracy. A number of tribes in New Guinea possess the same attributes.

Market anarchy presents itself as a feasible means of organising society, since it involves voluntary human associations and interactions. Without an inherent need to submit to others, people would voluntarily choose with whom to associate. Without an intrinsic necessity to submit to authority, people would value, protect and safeguard their statuses as sovereign individuals.

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Christopher Awuku lives in the UK and works in the voluntary/community sector.  He runs a market anarchist blog at