Authority's Flower of Freedom, Not Power
need to rediscover authority
Americans do not distinguish authority, which is something good, from authoritarianism, which is something bad. The idea of authoritarianism has been so fused with the of authority that, like massive must married to the Titanic's hull, they seem inseparable in our imagination. The failure to understand the difference between the two entities makes it hard for Americans to diagnose what troubles them. They have a vague but pervasive sense of disconnectedness - of things not working well - that makes them anxious. We habitually use such vague terms in describing our general unease. That is because authority is close to the core of the problem, and we do not talk about authority or examine its meaning.
Because we do not distinguish clearly between authority and authoritarianism, authority is confused with power when power is actually a function of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism, with its impulse of control everything about our lives, makes us fearful; authority does not. The stabilizing character of healthy authority is what has been missing. Its return is what will makes us more confident and less anxious in managing our lives.
Natural authority is a positive, dynamic force ordered to growth. Authority's essentially dynamic character is obvious from its root, shared with "author" and "augment," in the Latin augere: "to create, to enable, to make able to grow." Authority generates life. It is a living substance that frees the possibilities of other persons as, for example, in parents who "author" the growth of their children. Authority is a function of, and is not found outside of, human relationships, such as those of mothers and fathers with their children, teachers with students, and pastors with their flocks or even executives with their workers. There is a trinitarian character to authority-bearing relationships; the author, the agent of energy; the recipient of that creative energy, and what is authorized, the creation or achievement beyond both agent and recipient. The parents endow their children with the growth that makes them good parents to a further generation. The music teacher encourages the talented student to compose a symphony.
The dynamic of authority does not settle for or remain within the relevant relationship but unbalances and breaks it open so that something new comes into existence. Thus parents author their children out of their own love, committing, themselves to their growth into productive adulthood. In our own lives, for example, we may be able to relate what we have become to a teacher who opened us up as no other had done and whose relationship sustained our ongoing development. Such teachers had authority, we realize, for we grew positively out of our relationships with them. The triangulation is always there: somebody outside of us who helped us to achieve some good outside ourselves. If the balance among them is not preserved, or if any one element is disrupted or missing, then authority vanishes to be replaced by despotism, anarchy, or apathy. Not only is natural authority inherent in and provide the energy for all generative human activity, it also specifies the responsibilities and rights that flow from authorship, whether of children, a painting or a play, a sermon, a class or a crop. Every one of those needs nourishment and ongoing attention, the discipline of correction or refinement, the continuing pledge of the author's attention until they reach their own fullness. The violation of the authoring relationship - by the state, for example, in usurping the parental role in family life, by the deconstructionist academic in dismissing a writer's intentions or by a later hand in altering an art work - is experienced as a sacrilegious assault on the binding ties between the creator and the created. Such interference breaks the intimate spiritual connection that is the essence of generative authority. Nor can morality exist without authorship. Virtue depends on our ability to author for ourselves what we do in our daily lives and work. Virtue is the something new, the expanded good we bring to life. Being responsible requires that we acknowledge authorship of our actions and their consequences. Moral authority belongs to those who are willing to write their signature on their lives.
Authoritarianism authority's ghostly doppelgänger, is not dynamic but essentially static. It imposes a template of conformity on people to restrict and control their individual development. Its meaning is revealed in the growth it hinders because of its repressive and controlling tactics, which systematically reduce human freedom. The base of authoritarianism lies not in love but in power. Much of life is a derisive laugh, it delights in force, manipulation, humiliation, revenge and winning by any means and at all costs. Authoritarianism serves the purposes of the few who would dominate the many. To that end, authoritarianism promotes bureaucratic structures and casts an ever finer net of laws and regulations love the lives or ordinary people. Authoritarians diminish the sacredness of the history-tested institution of law by making laws and regulations ends in themselves.
authority doesn't work any more
Authority, long misidentified with authoritarianism, has been the innocent victim of the latter's default. It seemed natural for most of our great institutions - such as religion, law and government - to use hierarchy as their structural model. Over the centuries the goals of social institutions, businesses and the broad span of human endeavors have been ordered and facilitated by the presumption of some form of underlying hierarchy. Such hierarchies became the roosting places for authoritarianism. Their pyramidal configuration, placed one person with absolute power over all the others as a divine plan, obvious in the nature of things, was the accepted interpretation of reality for hundreds of years. If authoritarianism's grasp was so overwhelming, how has authority survived at all? Authority maintained itself as humans do in dehumanizing circumstances. As with faith and love in a totalitarian state, authority lived in the human relationships that flourished despite the shadows of the rigid social conventions that feel across them. Authority depends for its life on healthy people maintaining healthy relationships in their personal, work, and communal lives. It survives wherever people try to help each other grow. Who could doubt that life on earth was so arranged when the heavens themselves reaffirmed the truth of hierarchy each night? Ever social edifice and organism, including human personality, was thought to be drawn according to this cosmologically inspired and theologically endorsed blueprint. Everyone's destiny was frozen in place and was inescapable. So natural did the hierarchical ranking seem in, among other locales, Egypt, Sumer, and China, that when the monarch died his entire court was buried alive with him. The Council of Trent (1545-63) reinforced the idea of a divinely established hierarch: If anyone says that in the Catholic church there is not a hierarchy, instituted by divine ordination and consisting of bishops, priests and deacons, let him to anathema.
the Space/Information Age reshapes our perception of reality
In the Golden Age of hierarchy, information was perceived as power and was reserved to very few at the highest levels. It was sacred, an expression and source of power, reserved like the Holy of Holies, with access for the elect alone. Technological advances democratize information so that is is now instantly available to everyone within a country or an organization. It cannot be kept or controlled at the top. The top is no longer separate from the bottom.
of the post-hierarchical period
This period is characterized by authority's moving away from the center, accompanied by a purge of hierarchs and hierarchies. In many places, from board rooms to monasteries, central authority has been replaced with nonhierarchical and more diffuse schemes of management. Old hierarchs, such as Chrysler's Lee Iacocca, have gone out of style; such companies as General Motors have allowed outside directors to lead their reorganization. Knock on the convent door and you are more likely to find a "coordinator" than a mother superior. The seeming fulfillment of Yeats' poetic insight that "the center cannot hold" is exemplified in the common question, "Who's in charge here?" Americans express their discontent with leaders through their suspicion of public officials and their desire to vote on limiting their terms in office. Leaders, accustomed to the set lines of hierarchy and quick obedience to their directions, now cannot easily find their way in such a featureless and unfamiliar environment. Nor can they automatically lead others in such circumstances. In the murky twilight of these times, it is very difficult to identify effective leaders, that is, those persons who can distinguish between outmoded authoritarianism and natural authority. A symptom of the times is the lack of heroic or visionary leaders. That is, however, a common complaint of many ordinary Americans who, as a result, have withdrawn much of the faith they had invested in society's institutions. This post-hierarchical times is also marked by widespread experimentation with authority forms. This is essentially pragmatic, expensive and ambivalently received, and it was had mixed results. Thus the Roman Catholic church shifted away from hierarchy to collegiality in Vatican II (1962-65), by which the authority of individual bishops was recognized as theirs by right rather than as something delegated from the pope. The basic structure of the church was to be collegial rather than hierarchical. Pope John Paul II began to reverse the collegial structure almost immediately after his election in 1978 and has since worked to restore the model of authoritarian hierarchy. Before the board room purge of the 1990s, General Motors attempted unsuccessfully to implement broad psychologically based efforts to dismantle hierarchies in the 1980s. A library of books has been written on new decentralized management styles, which have been applied as well in other fields, including education and law enforcement. Even the Army, the original source of the command and control concept adopted by American big business as it emerged after the Civil War, encouraged delegating broad authority to field commanders during the 1991 Gulf War.
This era also witnesses the transformation of the purposes of institutional authority. Schools, for example, have faltered in carrying out their traditional task of teaching language, mathematics and history. Instead, they have tried to author noneducational goals. The basics have been replaced by two major curricular objectives: the achievement of "psychotherapeutic" goals, such as self-esteem, and political indoctrination, often based on Marxist principles, such as class warfare and the elimination of elites. The means and goals of generative authority - human growth through human relationships - have been monetized. There has been an effort to translate every value, including that of spirituality, into the vocabulary of capital markets. Bureaucracies, for example, monetize human experience in the widespread application of cost-benefit ratios to the allocation and delivery of various services, from law enforcement and health care through guidelines for urban investment and large-scale waster disposal. That tendency is reflected in the monetization of the law, through its academic reinterpretation and professional application according to purely economic principles. It is impossible to author justice when outcomes are decided on the basis of what is the least costly settlement, the most profitable outcome or who can hire the "best" and most expensive lawyers. Religious responses, including martyrdom, have been subjected to monetary analysis. Rational choice theorists, such as Richard Posner, apply monetary analysis to morality, human sexual behaviors and the disposition of the aged. As authority fragments, standards fade because they are cut off from their roots and pulled out of their nourishing soil. When moral principles are decapitated from their tradition, they lose authority. The result is that nothing can be called good or bad, virtue or sin.
When the nature of true authorship is obscured, increased social turbulence, marked by centrifugal forces fleeing from the fragmenting center, destabilizes society even more. That is observable in the commonplace reports of random violence and crime, such as shootings out of the now unbound night; the disintegration of whole communities; the increase in illnesses associated with lessened standards in personal behavior, including drug use and sexual activity. In the post-hierarchical period characterized by default at the center, bureaucracies swell along the continuum. For example, many mayors of American cities complain about the "micromanagement by federal and state government" of their authority over their budgets. Signs of work dissatisfaction multiply as people find that increased experimentation, expanding bureaucratic regulations and the transformation of their work's purpose during this post-hierarchical period make it more difficult for them to "author" what they do, that is, to bring their work product into being without interference of distortion. Widespread complaints arise that "work isn't fun any more." The period is also marked by a frustration dynamic: Instead of rediscovering genuine authority, many people reinvent authoritarianism instead. This is obvious in education institutions that jettison their standards and their traditional role of in loco parentis. The culminating sign of this ear is found in institutions that advertise their own loss of authority by their massive efforts to use the authority of the law as a surrogate for the authority they can no longer generate of themselves. The de authorization of the family Understanding, transmitting and supporting natural or healthy authority is the fundamental responsibility of the family. It is critical as well, to the success of democracy. The effective pursuit of happiness, and active rather than a passive occupation, is made possible through the human growth that takes place within an intact family. The entire country is strengthened if the basic unit of its culture, family life, is strengthened. Out of self-interest alone, Americans cannot afford to misread or misinterpret the relationship between the progressive collapse of family life and the deterioration of the common life of the republic.
What happens to a country happens first in its families. Along with the structures of other institutions, family structures have suffered damage and have been the subject of widespread experimentation in the current interim. Research confirms what ordinary people already observe: the fever spike of family problems during this period of marital disruption. The tale is told in melancholy fashion in small-town newspapers that print new marriages on one page and recent divorces on another. Nationwide statistics support the common sense impression that many marriages, begun in hopeful celebration in one listing, pass, often in less than a year, to the second sad display. Three of every five first marriages now end in divorce. During this post-hierarchical-authoritarian interlude, the diffusion and dilution of natural authority have issued into an unparalleled deterioration of the health of the family as a social institution. Families have lost their natural authority over their members and, as a result, a measure of their social and generative function. Like a generically damaged infant, the family is smaller in size, is less stable or healthy and can expect a shorter life span. Social analysts confirm the self-concern or narcissism that cripples natural authority by poisoning people's capacity to commit themselves to person or causes that do not gratify their own needs. As a result they cannot author new lives or foster future generations; when they do have children, they often congratulate themselves as if they were brave pioneers in a previously unexplored land. Unfamiliar with authority as a generative concept, such persons are found to be less willing to invest time, money and energy in family life and more likely to turn instead to investment in their own satisfaction through pursuing material things, bodily fitness and other strategies of self-enhancement.
authority in the family; recommendations
Real authority - the capacity to author their marriages and families successfully - lies within people themselves. Natural authority, as previously discussed, exists only in the through relationships between human beings. The living family, not the handbook or the flow chart, is therefore its ideal medium. Social policy legislation may support families trying to achieve authentic values, but it cannot create them. Parents should recognize the great value of even the smallest rituals as the reinforcers of health in family life. As the sacraments of ordinary life, rituals not only symbolize and express, for example, important truths about marriage and family but contain within themselves some of the latter's essence and true mystery. Neither a menu nor a nourishing diet describes the profound ritual of eating together through which a family symbolizes its unity and recapitulates its history by authoring, in the very moments of sharing the meal, a revised edition of their life together. It possesses the healthy tension and reward of a live performance in which, although it is unrehearsed, each member understands his or her evolving role. A lot of the work of a family is done around the dinner table. For a family's essential work is to be in relationship, member to member in almost infinite combinations that constantly transform themselves. In a healthy family it is also its play, its field of delight. The meal together is far more than a representation of a family. Sharing their daily bread, its members enter such moments together, living in that intimate veil of relationship that is changed by the presence of an outsider, or changes the outsider.
as agents of socialization
Parents should rediscover and reinstate without apology the stores, symbols and celebrations of the feasts of their distinctive religious traditions. These rites and symbols bear enormous positive authority. They recapitulate the ideals, customs and expectations of a family that, after all, has come from other families whose members share not only the same genetic traits but the same spiritual aspirations as well. Healthy authority delivers sense of identity through symbols that, like great art, music or literature, speak directly to the spiritual depths of human beings in ways that nothing else can. A diet of American culture, with its noisy emphasis on surfaces, starves people spiritually. Parents who wish to strengthen their authority should see their religious tradition as a fundamental and indispensable source of assistance. If you want to author adults, be an adult and make a renewed act of confidence in your good instincts and common sense. As noted, common sense may be understood as the sense of the healthy community, that is, what the majority of sensible people feel is the right that should be chosen and the wrong that should be rejected. The judgments of common sense are transmitted on everyday wavelengths: in neighborhood life, casual conversations and the ethos of communities bound by the same moral traditions. Such opinions are not easily swayed by what is "in the air," although at times they are drowned out by the white noise of the surrounding culture. Children need their parents to function at the adult level of development, to resist their constant manipulations and to frustrate their minor rebellions. Children cannot grow unless some healthy and constructive tension exists between them and their parents. As with the research on learning, neither absolute unrelieved tension nor complete realization promote learning. Some moderate tension is required for learning to take place effectively. Impose your values on your children. Parents author their children. Rather than retreat to a neutral corner to "let their children make up their minds for themselves," they must nourish them and educate them in the tradition into which they were born. That is not an authoritarian undertaking but the work of healthy authority that seeks to promote the physical, emotional and spiritual development of its subjects. It is never accomplished by indifference or by laissez-faire parenting, the ill-founded and dangerous idea that, left on their own, children will flower in these crucial areas totally from within themselves. The mass of research points to an ineluctable conclusion. Parenting, that is, the ongoing authoring of the young, is a complex process that demands the physical, emotional, and spiritual presence and attention of adults. Popular culture makes "the imposition of values" a prime danger and a social quasi-felony. Good parents have no choice if they wish to author their children in a healthy manner except to be authorities and models to them. They are not thereby necessarily authoritarian or fascistic. "Impose" may seem an unfortunate word, because it tingles with an aura of negative connotations, of forcing something unreasonable on others. In this contact, however, it refers to the active and positive work of authority in parents' handing over, at least as carefully as they would their physical assets and estates, their convictions and beliefs to the next generation.
Remember that the healthy family lets other families grow out of it. The healthy family, true to the essential character of dynamic authority, is a self-dissolving unit, that is, it yields itself up for the sake of the growth it generates, giving way to the families that grow out of it instead of trying to dominate them in imitation of some authoritarian monarchy. Thus life surrenders to death in a thousand ways in any good marriage and in every good family. Generative authority, that which is ordered not to self-maintenance but to the growth of the next generation, is exemplified in these gentle uncouplings, not accomplished without sacrifice, effected, for example, by grandparents when they encourage their married children to establish and give first place to their own family rituals instead of insisting that they continue to observe those of their families of origin. That does not mean children and grandchildren never exchange visits on lesser and greater occasions. It does suggest that a prime characteristic of generative authority is the way it respects and grants freedom for new life and new lives to grow on their own. Adults unselfconsciously teach a fundamental lesson about love's true nature when they know how to "let go" of their children. Authoritarian parents, on the contrary, bind their children and grandchildren to themselves, denying them freedom in their strenuous efforts to control their choices and destinies.
as a life calling
Sentimentalization is the ironic tribute that an authority-deprived public pays to its most potent and crucial institutions. Sentimentalization, like tear-filled retirement dinner, seems to discharge our duties toward its subjects. Otherwise we would need to take them more seriously and transform our attitudes toward them. Motherhood - half the franchise of authorship - and home - the site of the hard work of authoring a family - are prime subjects for this emotional fix in America. But sentiment is often a form of self-indulgence and fails to honor the sacrifice and dedication that marriage and family life demand of us. Making a home, as with authoring anything, is not a casual activity but a lifetime calling. It is Every man's and Every woman's Sistine Chapel ceiling, the great work that, at a great price, they were born to do. Authoring's pigments are not, however, somber and gray but, as with those of Michelangelo's recently restored masterpiece, colors filled with a light that does not fail. Making a home, the most creative challenge people face, demands burning off their generative energies so that other families and homes may flow out of it, strong enough to do history's hard work of realizing and enlarging humankind's possibilities.
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