Do we really need authority?

Policeman and a girl.

Is authority just something to tolerate, yet to flout if given the opportunity?

‘Of course not!’ you might respond.

But careful self-scrutiny is in order, since one’s thinking and actions may have been influenced in ways one does not realize.

To most of today’s generation, “authority” is a word with a distasteful ring; they feel that authority unduly restricts freedom of action that even the most conservative persons would like to have.

So we find this generation undermining authority in every conceivable way.

It may be in the form of extremely vocal and even violent dissent.

Or, it may be the silent, but nonetheless destructive, defiance of authority in areas that may go unobserved, among “just plain people” who make up the majority of today’s society.

Why a lack of respect for authority?

Just what is authority that it should provoke such increasingly hostile feelings toward it as are to be found on every side today? 

"One dictionary says that it is “power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior.” 

Those in authority, then, influence or command a person’s actions in a course on which one may or may not wish to go. 

As a result, the exercise of authority has come to be considered by many as contrary to freedom. 

In the sense of removal of authority, freedom has been cast by some as the ultimate goal toward which  people are striving.

What is causing this powerful movement to throw off the bonds of all authority?

There are a number of additional factors that may affect one’s view of authority.

For instance, there is the poor example set by adults who are in authority or supposed to be upholding it.

Civil servants such as the police, teachers and mailmen, parents and even the clergy ostensibly advocate law and order but often they do not want to end their own illegal actions.

This has led many persons to conclude that the law is to be obeyed only if it does not result in personal inconvenience or interfere with selfish interests.

So we find them evading taxes or customs duties in devious ways, breaking traffic laws when they think they can get away with it, stealing from their employers by “padding” expense accounts or by walking away with company property.

They participate in illegal strikes accompanied by name-calling and emotional demonstrating and often involving violence.

Adults also often use disparaging terms for law officers and elected officials and even these officials publicly denounce their political opponents in an uncomplimentary fashion, thus setting a poor example for youth.

If adults behave this way, is it not to be expected that youthful observers would have little regard for their demands to show respect.

Another factor that influences some in their view of authority is the fact that those in authority often abuse the power they have.

Public scandal makes us aware of the common practice of bribe taking by police and politicians.

Political leaders frequently mislead the public with statements that are later shown to be untrue, and a “credibility gap” results.

Getting a favorable judgment in a court of law is too often only for those who can afford a “good” lawyer, and through the efforts of these unscrupulous lawyers they may even “buy” exemption from punishment for crimes they do commit.

Seeing apathy or failure to act on the part of authorities contributes to a feeling of scorn for their double standards of meting out justice.

It is a matter of general knowledge that in many countries the underworld of crime is almost immune from criminal prosecution, even being called “untouchable” by the public.

This apathy encourages other persons to a lawless course.

In review, we can see that a number of things may affect one’s view of authority.

With such an unpleasant picture of the exercise of authority through the years, many persons use such things to rationalize the course they take in opposition to authority when they break laws or engage in various forms of dissent.

But should these things unbalance our view of authority and the purpose it serves? 

Why humans need authority?

We are governed by certain physical laws that restrict our actions or make us do things.

In some cases this is quite forcible.

For example, your body ‘influences’ or ‘commands’ you with undeniable authority to take in food.

If you want to stay alive, you must eat.

Your body must also rid itself of the wastes produced through its metabolism.

It gives one an authoritative command, as it were, to eliminate.

Consider your need for sleep, air and water.

Your body commands you, and eventually will force you, to obtain these things even though you may desire otherwise.

Do you feel that your freedom has been taken away from you because of these things?

Are you going to rebel and become violent with your body simply because it exercises a form of authority over you?

This would be absurd, would it not?

Those who try to violate these physical laws only harm themselves.

Yet the proper adherence to them is beneficial and can actually bring pleasure.

Who does not enjoy a good night’s sleep? . . . a delicious meal? . . . a cold glass of water on a hot day?

The same is true of laws outside our bodies and which we must obey.

The existence of stairways and elevators is a constant reminder of the power that gravity exerts over us.

Would you deny the authority of gravity by stepping out of a tenth-floor window instead of using the stairs?

Even though these laws are inflexible and continual in their effect, who can deny that they are really quite beneficial?

Gravity holds to the earth its atmosphere, oceans and other things so necessary to life.

If we recognize the laws of nature and work in harmony with them, we may find that they can be used for even greater benefit and pleasure.

For example, humans have recognized the authority of the law of gravity, studied it along with other applicable laws, and they have eventually developed the airplane.

This is not a rebellion against the authority of gravity any more than the existence of birds or flying insects would be considered such.

They are merely working in harmony with laws of nature, with benefit to those who recognize them.

Another area in which authority provides real benefit to us is found in the uniformity of the universe.

The human body illustrates this. Its organs, with rare exceptions, are always found in the same location, and all of the external body members are arranged symmetrically.

Imagine the chaos in the practice of medicine, and especially surgery, if a person’s appendix could not be counted upon to be in the same place as that of others!

Applying the principle of uniformity to life today, we find benefits and a clear need of some authority to determine standards.

There are weights, measures and monetary exchange to be decided, as well as the side of the road on which to drive.

It is obvious what would happen if each one were to do as he wished in these matters.

The exercise of authority, then, eliminates confusion and provides a measure of safety by setting up certain standards.

From our brief review of some laws of nature, we can see that the exercise of authority through them works to keep us alive and makes for orderly existence.

It does not inhibit freedom in the true sense when we recognize its direction and work in harmony with it.

Authority evidently actually contributes to our joy in living.

The arrangement of authority to guide humans is even more important because of the ability of humans to choose their own direction.

This freedom brings them a choice among alternatives, some of which may not be in the best interests of the one choosing or of others.

Therefore, a form of guidance would be necessary so that humans might live peacefully and equitably.

To illustrate, a man might wish to build his home in a certain beautiful spot, but would his choice infringe on the freedom of others?

The spot may have already been selected by someone else, or perhaps it would be a fine location to set aside as a community park for the benefit of everyone in the locality.

Clearly there must be a way of deciding what is best for all, since humans must exist alongside other humans.

Therefore it is clear there has to be some kind of authority to maintain a measure of order in society, without which chaos from anarchy would reign.