When does a power have authority?

Abstract: Power is a mechanism and authority its acceptable, freely consented form. The complexity of modern societies sees power move away from the base, and therefore lose authority. Rather than destroying collective power to the detriment of one’s own, the only way to escape submission is to increase one’s own authority, through personal re-hierarchization.

Power is a mechanism

Power implies intention. The origins of power are as varied as those of intentions: me, other human beings, our social institutions, but also my own various organs and instruments, animals, plants and even natural laws, the form of which can be said intentional since they could have been otherwise but they are so. It is actually a chain of intentions, all intertwined with each other. Each intention can only be explained with the help of the others, none in total autarky. An intention is fundamentally relational, as is power. There is no power without relation, without recognition by what enters into relation. Our power over matter is recognized by it, otherwise it falls into the void. This is the lot of all power, including absolute. Absolute power needs victims who submit to it.

The despot is nothing without the slaves, reason for the impossibility of applying a morality to power in itself. It is a mechanism, a two-way relationship, a cable that knows nothing of the information it carries. In a social hierarchy, citizens entrust the ruler with their desires and the power to realize them. In return, the ruler carries out a collective synthesis, defines general rules and encourages citizens to follow them. Morally neutral operation. Malfunctions come from truncated contents and unfulfilled contracts in the exchange. This is where moral judgments come in.

Power is not moral, authority is

Delegated power in an effective hierarchy increases average individual power. It extends the footprint of a more united community on the world. This is the argument used in the USA to maintain a radical income hierarchy between the average person and the ultra-rich. Average individual power is increased by the economic competence of the ultra-rich, money calling its little ones. The ethical argument of the exploitation of the poor by the rich fades in the face of the effectiveness of power.

Power has no soul, while authority does. Authority is a particular variation of power, always involving a relationship. This time, however, the participants do not expect a profit from the exchange, only recognition. Authority is sought in its followers, and followers recognize themselves in authority.

The Roots of Authority

Authority is the most primitive hierarchical mechanism there is, and still manifests itself in pure form in isolated tribes. The leader, in his speech and his decision, only expresses what everyone thinks, including the one who suffers from the decision and finds it fair. Only a stranger to custom is surprised. Authority is the symbol of the collective, of the similarity of individual worlds on relational questions. There is no need to transfer power, since the power of the leader takes a form exactly superimposed on that of the members. There is indeed a tribal hierarchy, but it is entirely integrated into people’s minds. Each reproduces in itself the collective power.

Such a simple system only works between few and very similar personal worlds, so that there is no great conceptual diversity to organize. Even today, the most isolated populations united in the same way of life are easy to govern with a short and simple hierarchy. In Iceland, for example, it was proposed to draw the president by lot from the population. The chosen Icelander would deliver a presidential speech which might seem original to a foreigner but would be highly consensual for her fellow citizens. The only points of contention concern affairs foreign to the island, for example the reception of immigrants, likely to modify the homogeneity of the community.

Difficult continuity in the multiplication of intentions

Precisely, any country of larger size and population must face this kind of controversial question, and many others. The diversity of ways of thinking splashes into a multitude of alternatives to manage them. They are contradictory and the individual mind cannot accommodate them all. They choose an affiliation. Identity is no longer collective but groupist. In this case, it is no longer capable of establishing a collective synthesis. The authority, in which the citizen is supposed to find herself, is moving away from her daily life. It is not strictly speaking foreign, rather extra-terrestrial, escaping the Earth as the individual sees it. The planet of authority no longer coincides with personal worlds, yet they must always obey it. Identification changes to submission.

The government of a country that has not taken this phenomenon into account still exercises power, but loses authority. Here we have the fundamental difference between the two: Power is an exchange between two opposing intentions, which in no way implies mutual satisfaction. It is only obligatory by the relationship, and disappears with it. Authority is a continuity of intention, a relationship faithful to an identity ideal, symbolized by the representative of authority. There is no need to submit to it, since we already have the master within us.

What inner authority do we have?

Getting rid of power is not easy. The termination of a relationship is only possible with the agreement of both parties. Intentions travel with disconcerting ease, especially with the development of virtual spaces. Just turning off your phone or closing a door isn’t enough to end a relationship. Power struggles are as pervasive as relationships, and it is rather the amplification of one conflict that seems to diminish others. The mind cannot process everything at once.

Those who manage conflicts best are those who have a lot of authority, that is to say, an indisputable power inside their own mind. Just as collective authority is reinforced by spontaneous recognition by a crowd of individuals, personal authority is increased by its coherence with a varied crowd of concepts about the world. Spiritual authority can be religious, scientific, philosophical, materialistic, etc, its strength depends on its ability to unify the inner world of each of us. Those torn between different powers, hesitating to decide, are easy prey for their authoritarian counterparts, whatever the value of these peremptory ways of thinking.

Lots of confusion about authority

Getting rid of an authority is neither possible nor necessary. Why do we want to escape our own identity? We should never “criticize authority” but “criticize a power that we do not recognize as authority.” However, it is possible to change the balance of power within one’s own authority. It is even essential if we want to extend our grip on the world. After all, if things “escape our authority”, it is because our authority is not as collective as it seems.

Let us not equate the “refusal of authority” and the “refusal of government”. Government is a power to satisfy a collective desire and not my individual desire. I cannot refuse this power, except to completely isolate myself from society, which was possible but becomes a challenge, my species modifying every part of the planet and even its climate. On the other hand, I can refuse the authority of the government, that is to say, to identify myself with its power. I am not represented by it and as far as possible I will work for it to change. Please note that this does not mean planting bombs, destroying or stealing property, or any other violation of democratic rules. This is the confusion often present in the minds of protesters.

The slide from authority to totalitarian power

Denial of authority simply transforms acceptance of collective power into submission to that power. Not in destruction. Destruction leads to armed conflict between powers. What will come of it? An ever more totalitarian power, from whatever side it claims to be. No greater authority. A smaller one. In which fewer people will identify. Especially after a conflict. I am of course speaking of democratic powers, naturally constructed so that a majority of citizens can identify with them, and not of already totalitarian powers, lacking in authority. We must now keep in mind this essential difference between binding power and affiliating authority.

Is democracy incompatible with authority?

Democracy was criticized by Hannah Arendt in The Crisis of Culture (1954). For the philosopher, this regime of incessant dissension and contestation is incapable, by its own means, of producing authority. You have to add a hierarchy to it. Arendt is an elitist. A controversy (in french) arose over whether to classify her as a left-wing or a right-wing philosopher. Emmanuel Faye shows that she is obviously in favor of a hierarchical power, which would make her classify on the right, while the feminist critics of Faye would like to keep a socializing Arendt, concerned about the fate of everyone.

In truth it is the idea of classifying a character as Arendt that is stupid. Positioning people left or right is only possible when they focus on sketchy and radical ideas. It is perfectly consistent to be concerned with the living conditions of the least favored and to think of a hierarchy necessary to improve them. This is the case of Arendt, and we have seen in another article that an exhaustive thinker of political life is encouraged to be rigid from the center, that is to say to actively reject ideas that are tasteless or too radical, left and right, instead of hesitating in the middle.

Alone, egalitarian democracy crumbles

Arendt is right to criticize democracy because its rules seem unable to preserve it, to prevent its drift into anarchy. The philosopher predicted the fate of our contemporary democracies. Let us not forget that they were installed on top of regimes with much more solid institutions, without eradicating them. They are grafts on an existing, traditional and conservative authority, deeply inscribed in the minds of the citizens of the time. A few generations pass and this fund of authority is washed away by changes in the way of life. Not much remains of it today.

Modern democracy now stands on own rules, those of the incessant debate between supposedly equal positions. And it’s not standing up well. Its institutions are crumbling. Terms are getting shorter. No perspective policy is possible. The questioning is permanent. The facts themselves are disputed. Threads of alternate reality flourish, aggregating huge social networks. Citizens no longer live in the same world. All coordination becomes impossible.

The great democratic garden without guards

Without hierarchy, democracies are doomed to extinction. They look like a vast kindergarten, where everyone is screaming and running in all directions, where the slightest agreement lasts only a moment, all this under the watchful eye of a few discouraged leaders, hesitating to make decisions, for fear of the hysterical tears that await them. What surrounds the garden? Well-ordered battalions, ready to go to war without qualms, certainly having less freedom to think but endowed with much greater power as a collective because they are truly united, straightened up, endowed with a backbone that no longer exists in a democracy.

Participatory democracy could be described as follows: When the head no longer decides the direction to take and a crowd of feet participates, the point of arrival is a matter of chance, or at best a “wisdom of feet”. The head was put in place by evolution to improve the decision of the collective of organs. Save it! But let us keep it concerned about the fate of the feet, that they do not remain on thorny and dry ground.

Populism is a crush

Do not threaten the unity of the social body. Gather, not divide. This is a political screed exhausted by wear and tear, from having failed. And yet the pragmatists come back to it, because it is unavoidable. Whether she overflows with soothing or angry pamphlets, the tribune must thicken them with authority, that is to say with identity determinants in which a majority of voters will recognize themselves.

The populist form of discourse therefore seems inevitable in democracy. Why does this speech appear simultaneously mendacious? Because like democratic representation, discourse crushes the hierarchy of problems. Between the desire of the base and the rules of a global economy lie countless independent and hierarchical systems. The most false idea that the base can have is that of a row of doors that you just have to knock on. Only a few people have the authority. Mass management is not horizontal but vertical. Otherwise there would be huge queues outside the doors. Or the doors would be removed.

An unexpected elitism at the base

As we move up the management ladder, we see other parts of the base included. Very quickly additional disadvantaged groups, foreigners, are involved. To improve the fate of locals, it is necessary to exploit others elsewhere. If I am concerned with human misery, should I compartmentalize my concern? Lies accumulate in democratic discourse because contradictory management paradigms are chewed into it, remorselessly mixed together, and ultimately flavored to please the masses. Fast food for uneducated minds convinced otherwise because they are flooded with information, each more stimulating than the next. Populism only thrives on bad education, and especially the absence of hierarchical regulation.

We saw in the large dedicated article that the base does not derive any benefit from hierarchical functioning because the levels are imperceptible and too full. Impossible to determine oneself individually within such a mass. Hierarchy involves personal evaluation, and in the absence of it illusions thrive. Natural positivism is the only force that situates us, which leads to this paradoxical observation, to this unexpected elitism: in the mass everyone is above average…

Against crushing: re-prioritizing yourself

Coming out of the lie means re-hierarchizing oneself within the collective. Is a power considered binding? Change it from the inside, by integrating its hierarchy, by extending your knowledge of external determinants, without threatening the unity of the collective. It is not a question of becoming populist with one’s own desires, choosing a “government of instincts”, but of building within oneself an authority which will recognize them, an interior and personal hierarchy perfectly integrated with that which collective life imposes on us.

Personal success is more a matter of integration than of personal knowledge. This is the essential conclusion of this article: our internal authority is strengthened by the coherence of our knowledge more than by its number. There are very strong individual authorities in the countryside as well as in the cities, in the slums as in the palaces, at all levels of society. Collectivizing this personal authority, externalizing it, means extending our knowledge while maintaining its coherence. Building new levels of complexity within ourself, not just reading and memorizing.

The Authority of Knowledge Producers

Accessing information today poses no particular difficulty. I also don’t need any talent to classify it as admissible or not, in relation to the existing authority that I possess. I declare some interpretations false, others true. Everything is fine. I can even label facts that way. No need for artificial intelligence to retouch images, my natural intelligence does it. It doesn’t matter if my inner world becomes a little mythical, there are always people to share it, or provide me with the right facts. But in doing so, I am not stepping outside of my existing authority. I’m not increasing it. Sharing it is not increasing it. A like does not make you smarter.

Increasing my authority is a process of complexity. Either I undertake the patient learning of structuring information in each discipline myself, or more quickly I delegate to those who have done it and collectively. The whole is smarter than its parts. It is the voice of the whole that I seek in its representatives, not the lonely parts. My personal authority is reinforced by this delegation, if I have made the right choice, or threatened, if I take the wrong horse. Delegation also concerns this choice: I ask the best to nominate the best of them. This is the role of consensus. It doesn’t matter that the lonesome people put on a brilliant show. I do not want to appropriate the authority of the spectators but of the producers.

And now disconnect!

Increase your inner authority and not cloister yourself there. We are unequal in intelligence and speed in this task. The self-organization of the world indicates to us a place in the hierarchy. But it is our personal self-organization that moves us there. Let’s make no mistake: when we are connected to networks, it is the organization of the world that classifies us. Personal organization occurs when we are disconnected.


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