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.
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.
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.