Authority Must Flow Down From On High

This brief essay proposes two conjoint and mutually implicate notions: Authority must come down from on high, or it is not authoritative in the first place; and, it must flow downward, from those to whom it has been granted, to their subsidiaries, or it is not effectual, or therefore in the last place actual.

The lowly do not confer authority upon the high, or legitimate it, or validate it (who knows he is lowly (as do all the right-minded) knows he has no power to do so). They rather *apprehend* it. And this apprehension is a recognition of inward characterological nobility. It is furthermore a recognition that the mantle of the Mandate of Heaven has fallen upon particular noble shoulders.

Societies all somehow or other formalize this recognition, and by agreeing together in it, publicly and jointly acknowledge the authority they severally have ascertained in certain of their members.

Excursus: the anonymous republican vote is a vestigial formalization of the public feudal bow. It is an explicit (albeit private) recognition of personal lowliness in respect to a superordinate, and a (very weak) promise of a jot of fealty.

So, the vote does not create authority, or choose it, but rather only reckons it. No one is even a candidate for office, who has not inherited some authority mysteriously from on high, so that all can feel it. They don’t call it charisma for nothing: charism, from the Greek kharis, ‘grace, beauty, kindness,’ from the PIE root *gher-, “to like, want.” Charisma is gratuitous allure.

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine. For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Matthew 7:28-29

But then, also, social authority that is not devolved to subsidiaries is not exercised at all. Authority is exerted by means of its devolution. A monarch who kept all authority for himself, and deputized no trusted ambassadors or agents, would be utterly powerless and without influence. He’d be just some guy sitting in a room, by himself.

So Jesus had Apostles, and so he granted to them his own authority.

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 16:19

Authority devolves from above, but must then in turn be devolved again if it is to be effectual – to be, i.e., actually authoritative. The virtue of authority must be enacted if it is to be actual, rather than only virtual. And enaction of authority over other persons always takes the form of devolving some authority to them. To order a subordinate to some purpose is to devolve authority upon him, to act as one’s agent toward one’s purposes.

And this devolution must be agreeable to the author’s subsidiaries. They must want to cooperate with him, because they think it right and good to do so, mutatis mutandis. Or else, they simply will not cooperate with him, and his authority will vanish. The Mandate of Heaven will depart from his throne room, and he will be left bereft, alone, and vulnerable to some usurpation or surpassion.

Consider Stalin. What if one day, all his lieutenants had awakened to the sudden stark realization that he was a bit of a fool, and a madman? What if, reporting for work, and reading their orders for the day, they had then simply said: “Nah; I think not. I’ll just go for a walk. Then, maybe, I’ll have a drink with my friends.” Stalin’s rule would have been over, at that moment.

This is more or less what happened at the fall of the USSR.

All it takes is a sufficiency of disillusioned lieutenants.

Thus authority is not simple control, but rather a delegation of control. It is furthermore a relation of mutuality between superordinate and subordinate. Each must grant the other something in order for the relation to subsist. So it is an exchange. The superordinate grants his authority to the subordinate; in accepting that authority, the subordinate grants to the superordinate an agreement with his authority. It is a conference. Both agree together that the superordinate has authority that he can grant to the subordinate.

If either side of this relation defects from it, the authority of the relation vanishes. The superordinate is then no longer superordinate *in respect to his former subordinate.* Each has fired the other; either of them may trigger this separation.

These considerations have important implications for the subsidiaritan feudal stack of sovereign corporations. They will be the subject of a subsequent post.

30 thoughts on “Authority Must Flow Down From On High

  1. Pingback: Authority Must Flow Down From On High | @the_arv

  2. There are two ways in which a central power can delegate its authority. One way is to choose people who are already local leaders; thus, in Scotland, the laird was usually a Justice of the Peace, a Poor Law Guardian, a Captain of the Militia and so on. The other is to appoint a salaried official, whose authority is wholly derived from his official position.

    In England, it was the Tudor monarchy that replaced the first system with the second, at a time when the territorial nobility were fatally weakened by the losses of the Wars of the Roses. Henry VIII could send St Thomas More to the scaffold, for More had no personal power base; Charles V could not send John of Saxony or the Margrave of Hesse or the other Protestant princes to the scaffold. Royal absolutism was established on the same basis by two great ecclesiastical statesmen, Richelieu and Mazerin.

    The choice is between a territorial aristocracy or a bureaucracy.

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  4. God’s Grandeur

    The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
    Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
    Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
    Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

    (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

  5. But then, also, social authority that is not devolved to subsidiaries is not exercised at all. Authority is exerted by means of its devolution. A monarch who kept all authority for himself, and deputized no trusted ambassadors or agents, would be utterly powerless and without influence. He’d be just some guy sitting in a room, by himself.

    No better illustration of these principles may be found than in the hierarchical order of the well ordered, well functioning Christian family. This is why it is so horrifying to see Christians contracepting/engaging in so called “family planning (to say nothing of divorce). Christians should have large families, wherein the delegation of a father’s authority to subsidiaries within the family structure is more necessary thus more natural. In the (successful) reboot families must become authentic families again.

    • In order for the reboot to be successful in the way you describe the economics have to work. The way things are now it is too expensive for most people to have large families and maintain a quality of life similar to the prior generation.

  6. Too simplistic. The best authority is the one not exercised. Conciliarity is better than top-down authority.

    • The post did not suggest that authority is the only character of human relations.

      Authority that is not exercised does not actually exist. It is a phantasm, only.

      Councils are composed of authoritative hierarchs. Conciliar decisions can have effect only insofar as they are authoritatively promulgated and enforced. Councils all have authoritative presidents. At Nicaea, the president who called the council was the Emperor.

    • I’m not sure conciliarity and top-down authority are really in conflict. American business and government culture lean very much toward committees making decisions, in which case the two are contradictory. However, that approach leads to weak decisions, particularly because executives seem to use it to exonerate themselves from responsibility for decisions rather than as a means to inform their leadership. A much better approach to conciliarity, in my opinion, is one that exists as consultation with a decision maker rather than a replacement. I think that’s what we see in Acts 15: “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe …. Then all the multitude kept silence …” I would say that we see all the apostles speaking, but one in particular speaking with a particular authority.

      • Exactly. Only an idiot would utterly disregard his counsellors. He would eventually find himself bereft of any, powerless and alone in his room, awaiting his doom. But a council without an authoritative president and executive is moot.

        The film Lone Survivor featured a superb example of the proper functioning of a council and its president. The members of the Seal team each speak up vehemently about what they think should be done; then they follow the decision of their commander without question or hesitation.

      • Kristor:

        He would eventually find himself bereft of any, powerless and alone in his room, awaiting his doom.

        Would that more people understood this simple yet profound principle! It works this way up and down the ranks. He who utterly disregards his legitimate and wise counsellors (at any level) dooms himself to the fate of Nebuchadnezzar to one extent or the other. The principle, I would argue, is more or less universal.

      • To utterly disregard the counsel of subsidiaries is effectually to refuse to delegate any authority to them. It is therefore the effectual repudiation of one’s own authority. Authority that is not delegated, and accepted, is mooted.

  7. Orthodoxy has long maintained that authority descends from above, rebellion rises from below.

    From the Latin, auctoritas, to set the pattern, the authority behind the Constantine concept of state was premised on man created “in the image of God” and Christ as the incarnate image made perfect. The role of the universal sovereign was to represent the universal authority. The purpose of government, sanctified by a Christian mandate, was the salvation of souls.

    Such authority is embedded in hierarchy, “sacred rule”, from the Greek hieros, “sacred”, and arkhein, “to lead/rule”.

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”‘ Matthew 28:18-20 Another biblical warrant came from St. Paul, ‘And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

    In Praise of the Emperor Constantine Eusebius sums this idea of authority nicely:

    TO-DAY is the festival of our great emperor: and we his children rejoice therein, feeling the inspiration of our sacred theme. He who presides over our solemnity is the Great Sovereign himself; he, I mean, who is truly great; of whom I affirm … His ministers are the heavenly hosts; his armies the supernal powers, angels, the companies of archangels, the chorus of holy spirits, draw from and reflect his radiance as from the fountains of everlasting light.

    The modern mindset of sovereignty (organized by popular mandates in an international smorgasbord of states) is much more earthly. It sees politics as the art of the possible, whose goal is satiating human desire, under the utilitarian principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” It lets go the sacred. What heads of government are interested in is temporal domination, the nihilistic “will to power.” The French Revolution shattered Christian culture; rather than reaching for unity, truth, beauty and goodness, instead we are saddled with fragmentation, lies, ugliness, and evil banalities.

    There was a time, not long ago, when things were looked upon differently. Authority held sway, at least was sought.

    Traditional Christian authority rests on parenthood. The fifth commandment, to honour father and mother, is the pivot between love of God and love of neighbour. As the father is the head of the household and a bishop is head of a diocese, so, too, there is to be an sovereign over the oecumene (the wider household, humanity). Catholic apocalyptic thinking continues to hold out the hope for a “Great Monarch”. The dream of such animated the politics of the middle ages and early renaissance. It lay at the heart of the divine right of kings in pre-1688 Anglicanism and further back in the symphonia of the pre-1453 Byzantines.

    At the root of the Christian faith is love through obedience to the Father above. One of the reasons Christendom formed so readily once Christianity was tolerated by the empire is that it dove-tailed so nicely with the Roman rule of the fathers, pater familias. It was a natural fit.

    One can make the argument that ultimately all lawlessness is rebellion against the father.

    ‘For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.’ 2 Thessalonian 2:7 Today most social forces are arraigned against the family. Take out the fathers, you take away the restraints. Then you are left with what we have today, lawlessness and rebellion.

    • Aye. I note that “author” stems from the Latin augere and PIE *aug-, “to increase.” Cf. “king,” a contraction of “kinning,” from the PIE *gene-, beget.

    • One can make the argument that ultimately all lawlessness is rebellion against the father.

      I have made that argument lots of times. At the end of the day lawlessnees is rebellion against THE Father.

      • To my puerile American ear, Romans 13:1 sounded awfully undemocratic. But it’s a straightforward corollary of omnipotence:

        Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

        The order of being reckons our votes – i.e., our prayers and petitions – but it is *not* a democracy.

        What I failed to understand at the time was that a government can fail to be authoritative, by losing the Mandate of Heaven. When that happens, the search for the true authority of government begins. We can tell it has happened when the government has begun to command us to sin.

  8. Pingback: Supragenous Authority & the Subsidiaritan Feudal Stack of Sovereignties – The Orthosphere

  9. Kristor:

    And this devolution must be agreeable to the author’s subsidiaries. They must want to cooperate with him, because they think it right and good to do so, mutatis mutandis. Or else, they simply will not cooperate with him, and his authority will vanish. The Mandate of Heaven will depart from his throne room, and he will be left bereft, alone, and vulnerable to some usurpation or surpassion.

    This is true in a certain way, and untrue in the way that most modern readers are likely to take it, since modern people think that ‘social construct’ implies an artifact designed or in theory designable by man. (How modern people are likely to take it isn’t your fault, of course).

    Talking about authority is like talking about the brain and nervous system: about natural organs always present in living societies. It is not at all like talking about a car, computer, castle, or other artifact.

    Authority is natural, not artificial.

    Regicide does not make the king cease to be king. He remains the king-who-was-murdered: thus we say that the king is dead, we don’t say “the dead is not king.” Under natural succession the kingship does not die, thus the kingdom does not die; the office holder passes kingship to his successor.

    However a king is not the ‘brain’ in the analogy: God is the ‘brain’, and all authority devolves from Him. Without God the society simply doesn’t exist at all: it is a rotting corpse covered by parasites, the activity of which might be mistaken for life in the society itself. You say this well in your more recent post: “A state that rejects ecclesial authority throws off the mantle of the Mandate of Heaven and forthrightly proclaims its utter profanity; it thereby guts its own secular authority. ”

    The king might be analogous to the heart though. It is arguable that regicide kills the previous society and constitutes and new, different society.

    Or perhaps simply a festering pile of parasites feeding on a corpse.

    • Certainly; amen. As I just said to Michael Paterson-Seymour:

      Mirabeau and Robespierre erred in taking the undeniably social *aspect* of property rights to mean that ownership is an original *creation* of society, conjured up ex nihilo, and therefore nowise founded in Natural Law or in historical fact. That would be to make of property a pure fiction. It is not; nothing could be further from the truth. Ownership is an ontological fact; the social agreement in virtue of which it is recognized and formalized, and which is indeed among its historical factors insofar as it is perdurantly reiterated, is an ex post apprehension of that fact; the social implementation of formalized ownership is as it were the final terminus ad quem of its factition.

      Likewise then for the king’s tenure of the royal office.

      To make this clear, we can say the same about marriage. That it is a social institution does not mean that it is either first or only a social institution. On the contrary: it is first an ontological fact, and only in virtue of that ontological facticity is it then derivately a social fact. A social fact that is not factual in virtue of a logically prior and subvenient ontological fact is a mere falsehood. The moral nominalists want us to believe that *all* institutions – including, now, the institution of sex – are mere falsehoods.

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