Authority is a strange thing, the more one has the larger the sword of Damocles looms. Oft times those men with a ‘lean and hungry look’ as Cassius was so aptly described, consider the throne and not the concomitant blade hanging above their bare head. Granted in today’s society, most of those in authority have done everything they can to isolate themselves from the liabilities of authority, while maximizing the benefits. That aside, one of the few things anyone considers is the origin of authority. Where does it come from? How does it work? For such a foundational principle of Western society and political thought, it is never discussed. I doubt most can articulate anything past the usual tripe of ‘consent of the governed’ and ‘we the people.’
The modern leftist view of authority is that it resides within a person, expressed in Rousseau’s Origins of Inequality. Your standing as a person is determined within the confines of whichever cycle the political cancer is currently in, socialism, anarchy or communism. One would do well to pause and consider exactly what the implications are of authority manufactured by mob, colloquially known today as voters. I won’t elaborate much more on leftist political philosophy to keep this under several thousand words, but would refer readers to Max Weber and his idea of ‘charismatic authority’ for further enlightenment of how evil propagates. The right however, seems to woefully disinterested the nature of authority and from whence it comes. The orthodox view of authority on the right proclaims it originates with our Creator. The Romans had the concept of auctoritas, closely related to our idea of authorship. The Christian tradition in a similar way sees authority as originating from God through his ex nihilo creation of man and the universe. The concept of ownership and property stem from this understanding. Once one gets past the statement of ultimate authority residing with the Creator, the right branches into two different variations, that of liberalism and monarchy. Granted within those two umbrellas there are a plethora of flavors, but in terms of real differences on the grounds of first principles, it is an accurate description of the schism.
The liberal view, in the classical sense we are familiar with, is the political outgrowth of the Protestant interpretation of the Biblical proscription for corporate worship. It borrows heavily from the theological concept of universal priesthood, and neatly lays that framework onto the political landscape. One of the flaws in this anything-but-monarchy approach was the eager acceptance of the Protestant political philosopher turned heretical Socianist, John Locke. While he did a workmanlike job making the legal and moral case for equality under the law, his justification for universal equality within the polity fall short. His justification in The Reasonableness of Christianity hinges entirely on the principle of transference between the creation of man and the structure of a polity. His tabula rasa theory, widely adopted over time, is a flat refusal of the orthodox Christian view of original sin, and frankly, Christianity as a whole. Not that the entirety of classical liberalism is summed up by John Locke, but he certainly represents one of the giants within the era from which we derived our republic*. Certainly he is the most well-known and most cited of the pre-Revolution thinkers by conservatives alive today. This radical shift by Locke in not only theology, but political thought has far reaching implications. In my own opinion, the consequences of that shift were either not understood or lost in the political machinations of the day. While I have neither the time nor the inclination to write an entire critique of classical liberalism, the focus of this will be on exactly how authority is vested in a Lockean, dare I say American, polity.
American conservatives, liberals but to distinguish shades of the left I’ll use the word, live and die by the holy writ that voting is a sacred right. It is essential to freedom for one to be able to pick one’s ruler, and there is a direct correlation between suffrage and freedom. Let us ponder that for a moment. In a world where everyone is king, the nuclear family is a non-sequitur. Authority within a home exists wherein the parents are quite literally, the patriarch and matriarch of the little society they constitute. How then, is a parent to…parent? If one has no claim of authority except by consent of the governed, would it not be fundamentally unjust and night a crime against humanity to illegally detain and rule over those who do not consent? What is a father to do when his three kids elect the eldest as patriarch of the family? One may protest that a child of five does not have the capacity to vote, yet if the derivation of authority arises from sheer personhood, then one is left to either declare no one ‘truly human’ until a certain age or accept the legitimacy that children may indeed rule over their parents. Madness.
All manner of absurd results can be obtained by this ‘do as thou wilt’ approach, or as the semi-literate of today say ‘only God can judge me!’ An entire construct called the ‘social contract’ had to be invented to manufacture legitimacy of democratic governments through consent. We are expected to believe the US is ruled through ‘consent of the governed,’ yet the last time even a fraction of the population gave consent was in 1789. Certainly the emperor lost what few clothed he did have on when nearly half the country risked their lives to most definitely assure President Lincoln they revoked their consent to be governed. Individually the law takes a very dim view of citizens making the argument that a) consent does not require the party involved to even give it, and b) said consent can last at least two and a half centuries, up to and including heirs, assignees, and successors. Yet on a grand scale of peoples and countries I am expected to believe consent morphs into this ethereal idea with no tether to the legal definition. More madness.
To be more than fair to the idea, let us examine not just how it has been applied but in a perfect vacuum. The Ideal Form of classical liberalism, perfect in every way. For we all know, real conservatism hasn’t been tried yet, just like real socialism, anarchy and communism haven’t been. If man is not the Supreme Authority, then how does he have the right to consent? How then, does a nation founded on ‘Judeo-Christian principles’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights’ set man in that position? We are not the author of our own existence. No one reading this created their body ex nihilo. The knife through the heart of Locke and many others’ theories about government is the simple fact that man does not have the jurisdiction to manufacture Biblical authority through agreement, no matter the number. A million men consenting that George W. Bush is my wife’s husband does not give him authority over her as a husband. The covenant I made with him did, because I agreed to act as his fiduciary in that capacity while here on earth. Similarly, I find the argument that an institution of God derives its authority from people to be unpersuasive. Locke was correct in his premise that all authority stems from the Author, but seemed to forget that when it came to politics beyond platitudes. Authority is personal. Authority is given, not self-originating.
Think about what was written. It’s not easy to absorb and certainly not the bumper sticker philosophy that passes for political thought in many circles. I don’t care if you agree or disagree. However, I do hope you take the time to ponder why so many people pay lip service to ‘Judeo-Christian values’ on the political scene, and why some of the core principles seem to contradict with what they believe. Why is it that there is so little difference in the foundational principles between modern leftism and the classical liberalism upon which we were founded? Fair warning, start reading and you may not like the answers. This stuff matters because we are here, and here is accelerating at just about x² on the graph of insanity. Stay tuned for part II, guaranteed to be even more controversial.