One of the Best Definitions of Authority Ever

One of the Best Definitions of Authority Ever
“Through authority society moves toward its goal”

All too often, authority is seen as a kind of tyranny where the will of one person is imposed upon others. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The following definition of authority is refreshing and accurate.

“Authority is not a power which is imposed upon a community from the outside; it rests upon the will of the group, represents it, thinks and acts in its place. Through authority society moves toward its goal and strives for development and perfection,” writes Fr. Wilhelm Schwer, professor of Christian social theory. He later continues: “Saint Thomas regards authority as the animating and ordering intelligence, the vis regitiva which overcomes the resistance of the individual tendencies in the human being and directs his will toward the common good and coordinates it organically into the structure of the universe.”[1]

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Take a great symphony orchestra. The musicians display an overwhelming passion for music. However, it is the conductor that must have an intuitive yet rational notion of that which he is directing. He must wield his baton with an understanding of both the abilities of the orchestra members and the nature of their instruments. His role is to interpret their good aspirations, order their good impulses, and eliminate bad habits so that a great symphony might be played. In this way, the conductor exercises authority respectful of the general will of the musicians.

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[1] Schwer, Catholic Social Theory, trans. Bartholomew Landheer (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1940) 141.

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