Network World

Peeling the onion of authority

Authority: the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

Authority is build up over many layers of legitimacy laid down through history. The nature of these layers varies. Take for examples monarchies. Which are their layers? Clearly not formally democratic. Some of them are based on tradition. Others on historic coercion (read violence) exercised by the ancestors of the current kings and queens – basically winning battles against their adversaries for power. And others are more subtle. For example, a monarchy can construct layers based on “material democracy”, that is, not the one coming from formal democratic procedures e.g. voting, but by the consent of the people. These layers can come from very diverse sources which connect the monarch with “the people”. One of them may easily be the participation of the monarch in popular events. Don’t be fooled. This is not because he or she enjoys them, it is a rite to connect with you, to get your material consent, to be “near the people”, yet the monarchy remains an unelected institution which head position is inherited by blood.

If we want to build up a more democratic society, I believe we have to learn, together, to peel the onion of authority, otherwise we’ll be kept being fooled. Beneath the “popular king (or queen)” who seems so near “his (her)” people, there is an undemocratic legacy based on nastier things: violence, hierarchy and traditions that leave us out of actual power of decision and action. Peeling the onion of authority is uncovering these crude realities that support illegitimate authorities. And monarchy, all monarchies, is one of these illegitimate authorities.

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. – Albert Einstein