It is conventional to say that Americans hate authority of all kinds. That is false. We hate the authority of God, or of a father or mother, or grandparents, or church leaders, or teachers. But we love government authority. We love to lick the boots of government officials, especially unelected ones, but politicians too.
What is particularly noteworthy is how this goes against the basic human desire to do what you want, whether or not other people like what you’re doing.
Now, of course, people break the law all the time. It isn’t the Law that they love and obey: it is the Government, the State. Indeed, they often go to the Government to obtain exemption from the Law. What I mean when I say we love government authority is that we acknowledge it as just and right and legitimate, even if the government breaks the law and violates the Constitution.
This is clearest with law professors. They despise the Constitution, and their standard theory is that the Law is what the Supreme Court says it is, regardless of reason or what is written down. That sounds silly, but it’s actually a fair description of what they say. They say that we can’t have everyone reading the Constitution themselves: we need an authority to give it meaning. This is similar to the Roman Catholic Church’s view of the Bible, especially in the pre-1960 days when they discouraged Catholics from reading the Bible themselves. Law professors say that to allow for the possibility that the Supreme is ever wrong is to create anarchy.
I came across a striking example of this way of thought in an Indiana Supreme Court case. Police tried to push their way into a middle-aged black man’s apartment. Everybody agreed that their attempt was illegal— without a search warrant, with no crime in progress, and against the resident’s will. He pushed back. So they tasered him and sent him to the hospital. And then they charged him with felony assault on a police officer. And the Indiana Supreme Court agreed that the man was a criminal.
Everybody I tell this to is outraged, except law professors. They mostly cheer on the Indiana Supreme Court, saying that we can’t allow people to resist illegal police actions, or we’ll have anarchy. They say the man should have let the police enter his house illegally, and then hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit, and in due time he would have gotten some kind of remedy from the court system. They love the power of the state, and hate free men.
And it isn’t just government authority. Most people love obeying their boss. They’d be lost if they had to work for themselves. They yearn for someone to tell them what to do with their time.
This is, I think, because people yearn for authority, but they hate God, their parents, their husbands, and other traditional sources of authority. They want an idealized authority, a really powerful one who lets them do most of the immoral things they want to do but gives some structure to their lives and protects them from harm. They want a slave master, but a relaxed one.
It is wrong, though, to encourage people in this love of government authority. The pressure theory goes both ways. If they love God less, they love the State more. But if they love the State more, they will love God less.
1 reply on “Authority”
I think radical individualism creates an opposite extreme, radical subservience. But obedience, even to the government, the courts, and your boss is facially good… while keeping in mind, “you can turn sinfully to things which are not themselves sinful” (approximation).
[Most people love obeying their boss. They’d be lost if they had to work for themselves. They yearn for someone to tell them what to do with their time.]
I don’t see the problem with this. Bob Dylan says “you gotta serve somebody.” I’ve been blessed by learning submission, and find that it is natural and healthy to fit into a hierarchy. –Sheep don’t do well as the captain of their own ship.
Of course, we shouldn’t serve our sin, which is what I find myself doing too frequently.