… authority must derive its obligatory force from moral order, which in turn has God for its first source and final end.

Pope John XXIII, in Pacem in Terris

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Power, authority and human autonomy.

These are interesting notions which often meet at the same intersection.  We are, after all, living mostly in power structures.  Work, for example.  School. Under law.  Government as it “governs.” Even families can exist as power structures.

Ironically, so-called political “movements” of one sort or another, those who band together to plead one thing or another, are mostly mere reflections of existing power structures – especially those who preach “liberation.”

This is stunningly true in recent political movements like “women’s liberation” which morphs into a power structure which, like all power structures, demands conformity and ends up being, like all power structures, a few self-claiming “leaders” demanding conformity of others with the predictable result that those who differ are exiled, ruled out of “the liberation movement.”  No soup for you who dare to differ.  Who claim your own voice.  Autonomy.

Yes, in power structures those with independence are exiled most often, and the charismatic in the ranks is exiled most quickly.

You see, power structures do not welcome human autonomy.  It threatens the people at the top of the structure.  Sameness is best for the narrow who govern.

Funny thing, but those who seek power are often the weakest, those of less autonomy, the less secure, the less well-formed.

Thank heavens that is not always the case.  We do get leaders like President Eisenhower – a confident, self-contained, accomplished, humble, experienced autonomous person in his own right.

Yet we get people like Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama – whose biographies tell you they are less well developed, each coming from difficult backgrounds they seem not to have mastered and have left their significant marks.

Often those who seek authority, actually lack autonomy themselves.  You can tell them many ways but one is this: they do not share power.  They rule by fiat and live without friends.  They are their own, exclusive counsel. You might see a president who “governs” by executive order, exceeds his lawful authority, does little, works to the exclusion of his military leaders, or the Congress and this presents the question: Is he ready for authority?

As to the individual who exists within a power structure and its authority: note authority contains the word “author.”  Ask yourself are you, in the structure you find yourself, able to be the author of your own personhood within that structure? Or are you made an object only?  Can you claim your own autonomy? Creativity? Identity? Life?

And remember that power over you must show you a moral order, authority that has as its first and only source God.

Yes, one nation under God.  All that would govern us under God.  Anything less lacks authority and does not to destroy than to build.


Footnote – I have followed politics for a long time.  I remember seeing Ike Eisenhower motorcade through my city in an open Cadillac convertible when he first ran in 1952.  I lived and worked in Washington, in the Congress and as a lawyer in private practice.

I can tell you the most salient change for the worse that I have seen is this: I knew the Congress and politics before people who sought office sought celebrity – needed the office to “complete them” much like a movie star needs to be in the news, have their picture taken, receive public admiration.

Alas, we now have needy people where public servants once stood.