26 September 2003

A preview of this evening's lecture

For at least the past two centuries authority has had something of an unsavoury reputation. To be sure, there are and always have been those who would abuse authority for their own diabolical purposes. But, far from being an argument against authority as such, its abuse ought to alert us to the reality of properly exercised authority in virtually every facet of life. Those who believe it possible to dispense with authority altogether, and replace it with some form of egalitarian mutuality, in which no one would have authority over anyone else, can do so only by misunderstanding the nature of authority and its full complexity and at the risk of social chaos.

Indeed there are three tendencies present in the modern and post-modern misconceptions of authority: (1) There is a propensity among many observers to reduce authority to the mere empirical exercise of an undifferentiated power. Here authority is seen as so much ideological window dressing on a brutal reality of self-interested domination of some over others. (2) Many people tend to assume that autonomy in some form is the opposite of authority. This assumption often accompanies a Kantian predilection to view as progressive a continual advancement of autonomy at the expense of authority, the very existence of which is deemed a sign of immaturity in the person and the human species. (3) Finally, there is a tendency, even among those acknowledging the propriety of authority, to assume that it takes the same form in whichever communal or institutional context it appears. My own remarks this evening will attempt to address each of these misconceptions in turn.

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