By Whose Authority?

In my usual research, I reach out to various reference platforms; this subject of authority being no different. What was interesting in most of them was not the content of information available, but rather the lack thereof on the subject of authority. One we all know, Wikipedia, on its primary page on this subject, has a little less than 1600 words on this subject matter.  Why there’s literally three times as much information on ice cream in Wikipedia as there is on authority. In addition, the website IEP, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, has no separately listed entry for authority at all. Wow! considering the reality that human authority is pretty much responsible for the vast majority of human development – good and bad – since the beginning of our overly-conscious species.

This is fascinating; considering the existence of authority in our human societal structure is the most dominant, controlling element of human behavior. If I didn’t know better, and I don’t so I’ll go ahead and say it, one would think it’s almost conspiratorial the lack of revealing information on the nature of authority. This is something I will comment on in a later post.

I had stated in previous posts that I would be tackling this subject of authority. I’m not going to delve into this subject’s history. It’s well-documented indirectly; at least the results of it. Whatever authority’s caretaking qualities are, and they are illustriously-long indeed, there is a contradictory and shockingly-long laundry list of human suffering due to its predatory, natural inclination towards the corruption of the human intellect. And so why is there not a greater interest in defining authority for what it truly is, and not simply defined as how it reveals and implements itself?

Let me be very clear about my approach to this subject. I believe that the concept and practice of authority is a product of human reason that comes about through very practical rationale, However, I also believe that humanity is destined for a future in which authority will slowly fall away from its universal practice in all human activities, and ultimately become more myth than substance. As a writing quill was once useful, so too authority. Having said that….

In this post I want to speak to a characteristic of authority that few consider. Most recent philosophers, like Max Weber, define the types of authority in terms of its manifestations, and are only interested in the forms of authority that emerge from human action. In Weber’s, Politics as a Vocation, he delineates authority in its three forms:

  • Traditional
  • Charismatic
  • Legal

These descriptions are easy enough to understand without a lot of verbiage.

  1. Traditional simply refers to authority based upon time; if it’s been authoritative for a long time, there’s probably a good reason why it should continue as such.
  2. Charismatic refers to the rise of inspirational qualities that make a person or persons stand out beyond the norm; heroism, oratory, athletic, physical attraction, intelligence, etc.
  3. And legal simply refers to the standard that a positive law should be obeyed, in other words one subordinates their free will to the laws of the land.

This is all fine, but it doesn’t address the underlying ontology of authority.

There lies well beyond human understanding – at this moment – an actuality about authority, and it has nothing to do with anything human. Humanity did not invent authority; it only practices a derivation of it, and it’s a flawed one at that. Real authority lies in the universe; its naturally endowed and ordered forces that constitute the physical laws of the universe. Here, the term “law” simply refers to the way things are; like’em or not. If a particular, a thing, exists in this universe, it is fully a part of what is and is therefore defined by, constituted of, and governed by the laws of this universe. This state of being has nothing to do with anything human, especially free will on any level; whether we’re talking about a rock or the Rock.

The anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, has said it better than anyone else I have read:

“What is authority? Is it the inevitable power of the natural laws which manifest themselves in the necessary linking and succession of phenomena in the physical and social worlds? Indeed, against these laws revolt is not only forbidden – it is even impossible. We may misunderstand them or not know them at all, but we cannot disobey them; because they constitute the basis and the fundamental conditions of our existence; they envelop us, penetrate us, regulate all our movements, thoughts and acts; even when we believe that we disobey them, we only show their omnipotence.”[1]

Bakunin goes on to note the unique composition of this form of authority; it being internal in nature and lacking the necessary subordinative quality that we see in human authority. He addresses lacking subordination because Bakunin, as I, does not see the participation in what is as a form of subordination.  It would be like saying that one subordinates themselves to the equation 4×4=16; that we’d rather have 4×4 total some other number, or perhaps that we subordinate ourselves when we breath. Tell me, what or who are we subordinating ourselves to when we breath?

In fact, this leads me to Bakunin’s observation that slavery relates solely to human oppression, but that true and absolute liberty comes by way of alignment with a different authority; that being natural law.

“In his (humanity’s) relation to natural laws, but one liberty is possible to man – that of recognizing and applying them (natural laws) on an ever-extending scale of conformity with the object of collective and individual emancipation of humanization which he pursues.”[2]

Bakunin is merely making reason from observation. Everything that lifts humanity to its greatest potential for good comes by way of humanity’s alignment with the natural laws of its own existence. He, as do I, refutes any construct of society that proports human authority as ultimately anything other than a corruption of what is. Bakunin, as an anarchist, was but the innocent of his time. It was impossible for him to see past the realities of man’s struggle for some sense of universal freedom; humanity’s psychological evolution and hermeneutic, societal construct, and so he yearned deeply for, as most men and women do, the immediate results to his labors. Though he understood it well enough, true, absolute liberty is the final result of humanity having a full understanding and appreciation for natural law. He basically said it himself.

“The Liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatsoever, divine or human, collective or individual.”[3]

What’s interesting is that Bakunin was passionately anti-religious; an obvious atheist, who, to his own purposes, argued the literality of passages in the bible in order to claim the ferocious inequity of religion’s theological pursuits upon mankind. There’s an early paragraph in Bakunin’s essay, God and the State, that I find quite telling:

“God admitted that Satan was right; he recognized that the devil did not deceive Adam and Eve in promising them knowledge and liberty as a reward for the act of disobedience which he had induced them to commit; for, immediately they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, God himself said: “Behold, man is become as of the Gods, knowing both good and evil; prevent him, therefore, from eating of the fruit of eternal life, lest he become immortal like Ourselves.””[4]

What I find telling here is the fact that Bakunin is obviously arguing that humanity must embrace this “knowing both good and evil” if humanity is to achieve its own qualities of dignity and divinity. Yet, that same year of 1871, Bakunin argued that natural law is the only course for mankind’s eventual rise into the light of true liberty. It’s my simple argument that both courses are but one; the willingness to receive natural law as the Word of God. Bakunin rails against the realities of his time and the brutalities of history before him, and so he casts away the one practical, human scrap of salvific imagination – the Church – so as to portray himself as the anarchist and thus reap the sympathies and allegiance of the downtrodden masses. He knew all too well that natural law has nothing in common with anarchy.

So, what’s with this practice of human authority that is so prevalent in every aspect of society? Since homo sapiens is part of what is, then why is not human law simply natural law? What makes it different?

At times, they are the same. When human law draws its reasoned substance and practicality from the native stream of natural law, then we see the absolute, contiguous, and universally equitable expression of natural law. When human law chooses another source for the funding of its own Word, then we are best advised as to its temporal condition and inequitable reliance upon unrelenting human authority to ensures its foundationless perpetuation.

What this all really comes down to is something that Bakunin noted:

“The great misfortune is that a large number of natural laws, already established as such by science, remain unknown to the masses, thanks to the watchfulness of those tutelary governments that exist, as we know, only for the good of the people. There is another difficulty – namely, that the major portion of the natural laws connected with the development of human society, which are quite as necessary, invariable, fatal, as the laws that govern the physical world, have not been duly established and recognized by science itself.”[5]

He’s getting down to the floor of his argument; that much of natural law remains in the shadows of man’s mind, and until humanity can see the whole and true story of God’s Word (natural law), we will continue to “strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are no more”.[6]

I sense some sorrow for Bakunin. He was so close, as most of us, to the source of his liberty, and yet could not see through the light that dazzles and blinds the eye. Unfortunately, for humanity, that light is a virtuous, yet fictitious facsimile of what natural law really is, as well as the force that binds and emanates it. We have a long way to go before we comprehend the full measure and accounting of natural law.

You might have thought to yourself that I have failed to capitalize the historically-accurate, two-word phrase “Natural Law”. It’s a subject well-versed by prominent theologians and philosophers since the days of early Greek philosophy. I have purposely uncapitalized my two-word phrase in order to note a different course – the future course – of its meaning and its fountainhead: the existing universe. I’m not here to debate or cast doubt on God’s creative power. This is not my purpose, but I am here to encourage a new discussion on natural law.

As Bakunin was blind to the true reality of his own words, he was and is not alone in this blindness. Much of our time and resources are being frittered away on stale, unyielding, and impotent visions of Natural Law that are incessantly, and necessarily, more mirage than reality. It’s critical that humanity understands the actuality of its humble position in the order of the universe. Knowledge is fundamentally a purification, and more knowledge only more cathartic and salvific. God never intended for us to stay in the proverbial Garden of Eden. He loves us too much. After all, we are what is.

God Calls Us All Into His Service – Reese


[1] What is Authority, by Mikhail Bakunin.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] God and the State, by Mikhail Bukunin.

[5] What is Authority, by Mikhail Bukunin.

[6] The Tragedy of Macbeth; Act V, Scene 5; by William Shakespeare.

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