What Is Authority?
Who is defiant? The one who does not follow the orders he is given? Or the one who continues to give me orders even after I warn him not to tell me what to do?
Who is a greater threat to peace? The one who openly considers replacing the government to better serve all people? Or the institution whose job description includes executing prisoners and fighting wars?
What is authority? Police are authorities, but only within the context of their function as agents of the state. They must follow the orders of superiors. When orders conflict, one must always obey the higher authority. The chief executive is an authority, but he/she is still bound by the laws of the legislature and the rulings of the judiciary. When orders conflict, one must always obey the higher authority. The government as a whole is an authority, but it is defined and organized in accordance with the constitution. When orders conflict, one must always obey the higher authority. Authority is relative.
The constitution is an authority – but according to whom? The consent of the governed? A plurality, a majority, or a supermajority of them? What gives my neighbors the right to tell me how to live my life? Even a majority of my neighbors? Even if their decision is unanimous?
Can anyone claim to be an authority? Can I suddenly claim to be king and declare all employees of the current government to be pretenders, traitors, or even delusional to believe they have any authority whatsoever? How could an average citizen decide between us who was right? Who gives the average citizen any authority to decide such a thing for themselves?
If a robber claims authority over me and orders me to deliver my goods, is it treason for me to refuse? If the robber happens to be armed and willing to use those arms, it might be prudent to obey – but does that make it right? Does might make right? What if the robber isn’t armed? What if an even more heavily armed robber is also expecting me to deliver my goods? Who do I deliver to first?
If there is a civil war with both sides claiming to be the rightful government, which side should I be loyal to? If the government is overthrown by another, should I remain loyal to the old government or immediately dump them for the new one? What should be done with those citizens switching their loyalties too late or too soon? How can it be wrong to oppose the government if you are going to replace it with a new government that will also be wrong to oppose?
These are the issues that get me into trouble more than any other. I used to work at a place where one manager would tell me one thing and another manager would tell me another. I would appeal to the authority of the uppermost management, but they were rarely around. They appealed to poorly written regulations that they interpreted one way and I interpreted another. I appealed to those who wrote the regulations. In any case I considered the company as a whole to have no authority on these matters anyways. I saw myself as a contractor hired to complete a job. If my final work displeased them in some way, they were of course free to discontinue my employment, but I understood that the details of how I accomplished the job were absolutely none of their business. They understood our relationship differently, believing that at their company they had the absolute right to dictate whatever procedural policies they chose and if I didn’t like it I could go elsewhere. Who was right?
It is obvious to me that authority only exists if we believe in it. If I give an order to arrest someone, nobody listens to me because nobody believes that I have the authority to make such an order. However, if the king were to give such an order, people would obey. If nobody listened to the king, he would be as impotent as I and technically no longer a king. It is not any difference on our part but only who others have chosen to listen to that makes us different. Authority is an illusion.
I’m not just trying to stir up trouble. I am literally unaware of any concept of authority other than the one I just laid out. No one has ever been able to explain it to me any better. It isn’t my fault if I was born without knowing and nobody has ever educated me. The burden of proof is on those making a claim. We are held innocent until proven guilty and I consider all men created equal until given reason to think otherwise. You telling me that you have the authority to declare your authority is not a reason. I could do the same (and have).
As far as I know, government is by definition a criminal enterprise. It is a thief by taxation and a murderer by execution. I know that if nobody pays taxes the government will not have the funds to keep us safe from even worse governments, but that doesn’t make it any less theft. I know that government is often necessary – but that makes it no less evil. This is not to say that I don’t support government. Just as the United States allied itself with the “evil empire” Soviet Union to defeat the NAZIs, I ally myself with the current government to defeat Islamic terrorists and common thugs. There is nothing wrong with paying your taxes or even serving as a government employee. We need more good people in government to keep it from becoming too bad. I support our soldiers. Anarchy doesn’t work. All I’m saying is that the reasons to support government are practical, not moral.
Of course, if the current government were ever to become more destructive than the criminal elements it holds in check, the practical thing would be to switch sides. This would certainly be considered treason, but in that situation doesn’t it make more sense to call the government employees traitors? If it is treason to fight with government traitors, isn’t it equally treasonous for a government to fight actual traitors? Treason is also relative.
So what am I to make of these verses?
“For the Lord’s sake, accept all authority – the king as head of state…You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters. Do whatever they tell you – not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are harsh.” – 1st Peter 2:13&18
“Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” – Romans 13:1&2
“Remind your people to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good.” – Titus 3:1
I have no idea how to even apply these. It isn’t that they are wrong or that I dislike the implications; I simply find them nonsensical. I don’t understand them. Submit to whose authority?
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.