Where does the power of authority come from?
We can ask what is power?
And we can ask what is authority?
Let’s agree for now that power is the ability to effect a change.
And let’s go deeper into the notion of AUTHORITY…
Because this tremendously contemporaneous and relevant concept is impacting us as citizens of the world everyday.
And because Authority is not a discrete entity but is part of a dynamic exchange that includes other concepts as well as having tangible impact on the world and lives.
Considering the idea of ‘authority’ raises questions like, who claims authority over whom? By what legal entity is power handed to those with authority? What’s the reason for this exchange? And of course what are the resulting effects?
Let’s try and answer all of these questions at once by considering the conceptual pathway for how authority derives it’s justification.
Where is authority seen?
In family with parents, in countries with governments, in schools with teachers, on the streets with police, in practice with experts, in court with judges, in commerce with guilds, unions and associations, in our morals with religion, in organisations with leaders, in economics with banks, in science with acadaemia, in conquest with force etc.
So authority always has a territory that it acts upon, tangible or abstract; and it always has an agent to deliver the authority.
But where does it get it’s justification??
There’s a host of different ways authority expresses itself, and they’re all to do with making rules and so-called laws, so let’s find common factors by looking at the concepts that authorities use to justify their existence.
First comes the notion of ‘laws’ that we agree to adhere to. Here we find the agents to be police, courts, schools, etc.
These laws are traditionally based on morals and ideologies. Here we find political parties, cults and religions.
The ideologies and system of morals come forth from philosophies. Here we find individuals and movements.
Philosophies have an ontology and an epistemology, a theory about the nature of being and the knowledge with which this theory was developed. It’s like saying ‘what’s your outlook on life as a whole?’ – that’s ontology. And, ‘what’s your experience?’ – that’s like epistemology.
And as far as I can make out the last step on the path before it dwindles into the unknown, is ‘purpose’.
So what’s the purpose behind authority??
Let’s go back to the previous questions and see what answers come up…
Q. Who claims authority over whom?
A. It seems that almost every human being, (except for those most remote), is subject to all kinds of authority on almost every level.
Q. By what legal entity is power handed to those with authority?
A. The best answer I can come up with here is, consent.
Q. What’s the reason for this exchange?
A. Of course I know all the usual answers, like to maintain the roads and sewers, and keep the trains running… But I’ve yet to find a truly satisfying answer. Got any ideas?
Q. And of course what are the resulting effects?
A. Again, I don’t really know a coherent answer to this question. Except to say, that because authority is so pervasive in our history and culture, that everything we see happening in the world today is impacted by it.
And I don’t know if the conscious experience of daily life is much different now as it was 50 or a 100, or a thousand years ago… we all faces the same human dramas. But one thing is for sure… the scale of the issues have grown tremendously. There have never been any global issues facing humanity until recently.
And the faces of authority have always been there, promising to deal with our collective issues. I don’t know if we’re better off now than before, in health, longevity and quality of life? Yes, for many of us, yes. But none of the wider issues of war, poverty and injustice have ever been resolved they’ve only grown in size and scale.
And this doesn’t necessarily represent a failure of authority. The answer lives at a higher order than the problem presents itself at.
Trying to fix authority won’t work, because for all of it’s merits it’s not actually powerful enough, and can never be powerful enough.
And the reason why is because authority can never act directly. It can only act via an agent or proxy.
The true power behind authority comes from the agreement; the consent of those subordinate. When human beings step down and hand over their authority they become a subordinate people.They lose their individuality and their power to creatively effect change themselves recedes.
We give up power so others can do for us what we should be doing for ourselves and each other.
And this is why we can’t resolve any of humanities crises. Because humanity is and has compromised.
We no longer need a collective parent. We have grown under the wing of authority for millennia and soon we are to mature.
When we take our collective power in our own hands, then and only then, we will have enough strength to resolve these global issues.
And mind-blowingly strong we are.