Where Does Authority Come From?

A Piece about Civilization and Our Basic Need to Evolve

Where does authority come from?

Legally, authority is shaped by the people, the people who vote, the people who are being voted for, the people who enforce laws, and the people who break laws. Authority is power. Authority is defined as “The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.”

I think that before I really thought about authority, it seemed like authority was a person who could rule over you or others. But is authority really held by a person? I think authority is built out of fear: the fear of repercussion and consequence, the fear of judgement, the fear of failure, and the fear of the authority’s power.

We design laws to keep people in check. What’s stopping people from breaking them? The fear of jail as a consequence is what’s keeping people from breaking laws. We’ve practiced this for years. In 1189, the first case of tarring and feathering was reported. Richard I or England issued his navy the right and the authority to, “boyling pitch poured upon his head, and feathers or downe strawed upon the same whereby he may be known…”. In 1792-50 B.C.E, Hammurabi stated, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Put enough fear into the people by showing them the consequences. You shoot a man in the hand, you in turn get shot in the hand. Authority is rooted in fear and always has been.

Authority comes from the long-instilled belief and outlook that if you break the law you get punished, and rightfully so; I think that on paper it looks good, but people with power have used fear and authority negatively and divisively. There are people who believe they’re more entitled and if they are allowed too much power they could use it as a bargaining chip, getting others to do what they desire and finding themselves above the law, or even finding loopholes in the laws. If we are to trust people with power, we better be trusting the right people.

All this in mind, these are the negatives of democracy and authority. Authority is actually vital to a functioning society. It’s important to have people living in peace and authority is there to help make sure that happens. Authority actually protects the people in most circumstances. Sometimes you have instances were authority is challenged, like the recent woman’s marches where over a million people went out and demonstrated for woman’s rights due to the recent election of the new president and his authority to change the laws that currently favor woman’s rights. Voicing our opinion is a human right and it was exercised during these marches. As both John Lock and Thomas Jefferson referenced, it is important that the people challenge authority, revolt and rebel against it when it does not fulfill its major purpose, to protect the rights of the people. You can also see an example of people challenging authority with the LGBT rights protest in Washington. People thought that the government wasn’t fully protecting the rights of LGBT people.

The question is, when does authority get out of control and how do we stop it? When does authority cross the line of human and justifiable rights and how do we approach that? There are plenty of instances where we have passed the line of humane. 1814-1824, White settlers forced their way into sacred Indian territory. May 28, 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, granting unsettled land west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Indian lands. Some tribes went peacefully, but many fought relocation. In 1838-39 the Cherokee tribe was forcibly and violently kicked out of their land. Four thousand Cherokees died on the forced leaving, better known as the Trail of Tears. For years before they were removed, the Indians were harassed by the settles. Their cattle were slaughtered and stolen and their land violated, they were threatened fraudulently. How do we justify that? How do we authorize the killing and removal of native people from their rightful home? Why did nobody try and stop it? Because it was beneficial to the White settlers. They twisted authority and power to suit exactly what they wanted when they wanted it. I believe that is when authority should have been challenged and hopefully, in our current day in age we would stand up for our inalienable rights and those of each other. Authority should be challenged when it doesn’t work for the greater good, when it is facing issues that are affecting the population and making decisions without taking consideration the majority sentiment. The hard part about challenging authority is knowing how to get influential people to understand and prioritize what you are fighting for. Influential people may be better equipped to challenge authority successfully and socially. Currently we have protest and freedom of speech to raise awareness of the lack of effective leadership. The problem is we can’t force the government to take action; we can only hope they can open their eyes to the faults of our system and hope they will care enough to work with us to fix these faults. We have to hope that the original beliefs of Thomas Jefferson as stated in the Declaration of Independence are still the morals we operate on: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future safety.” This states that the people have the right, more so the duty to rebel and revolt against our government when they are not fulfilling their purpose, which is to protect the American citizens and their rights. John Locke, the social philosopher, wrote the document which inspired many ideals in the Declaration of Independence, "The Second Treatise of Government." Locke proposed ideas like, “Secondly, these laws also ought to be designed for no other end… but the good of the people…”

People fight authority because they need/want change that the government isn’t offering.

In summary, authority has been a natural occurrence across all organic kingdoms and is rooted in, based on, the need for social order. Without authority, we would live in a world of chaos and violence, and no boundaries upon which to evolve to civility. 

Clare Woodford
Clare Woodford

Hello! Writing is my passion and i'm currently trying to further that into a career, thank you to anyone who reads any piece. Cheers! 

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Where Does Authority Come From?