Where God is not reckoned, no lesser authority whatsoever can seem quite legitimate. It’s not just that lesser authorities derive their authority from the supreme authority of God (although they do), but that if there be no supreme authority then there can be no perspective upon things that is indubitably, certainly more competent to reckon truth than any other. And this means that the competitive advantage of competence to truth must be distributed among men more or less adventitiously, rendering any such authority as is anywhere to be found merely capricious, nowise founded upon objective intelligible reasons – which is to say, unjust.
Yet humans crave safety and stability and certainty. These can come only from authority; for no one of us is competent to arrive alone and reliably at authoritative conclusions. Everyone – even such giants as Aristotle or Aquinas – stands on what they take to be the shoulders of giants. But who then are the giants, who the true authorities? The question cannot be answered to anyone’s complete satisfaction unless it be given authoritatively!
The authority we all seek can be recognized as such only in view of something analogous to the Apostolic Succession, by which the knowledge of the past Golden Age is handed down – and known to be handed down – to us unworthy apprentices. Our own idiosyncratic judgements about where true authority lies are just as weak, as ill-informed and so ill-formed, as any others of our evaluations and recognitions of reality. We cannot trust ourselves to decide whom we ought well to trust.
But if we are to credit an ostensible authority, no matter how brightsome its historical pedigree, we must first deem it duly constituted – which is to say, founded upon and derived from the absolute authority of God. An usurper who cannot explain the justification of his usurpation in moral terms spoken first in the Heavens is not a true king. Who cannot understand how to adduce the Mandate of Heaven cannot enjoy it, certainly. He is then nothing more than a foul usurper, and thus a tyrant. His membership in a long unbroken succession of tyrants or usurpers does not suffice to heal this condition. The succession must derive ultimately from God, if it is to be universally credited as worthy, credible, so just – as, i.e., supervening upon and faithfully indicating something transcendent to itself – as, i.e., meaningful.
This is so even for authority respecting empirical matters, such as scientific authority. All such authority is founded upon the presupposition that there exists a truth about things that men can understand. Science presupposes the prior order and intelligibility of the cosmos – presupposes, i.e., that there is a cosmos in the first place, rather than a chaotic jumble of chance events. But to presuppose an intelligible order prior to the observations or interventions of any particular mind, which is therefore fitted to repay rational inquiry with knowledge – an order that is, i.e., a fit object of scientific inquiry in the first place – just is to presuppose Eternal Omniscience that is itself rational, ergo intelligible. “A priori order” is just a different way of referring to God.
No God, then no order. No order, then a fortiori no justice. No justice, then no just rule.
A general atheism, then – or even just a widespread ignorance of what can be properly indicated by “God” – spells social chaos. As we see.