Authority is a bad word. As a culture, we are decidedly against it. The word conjures images of severe-faced, white-haired autocrats sitting behind tall desks, passing out harsh and irrational judgments. The authority stands above the masses, oblivious to their plight, using the power of his position to achieve his own selfish ends. In the stories of our cultural imagination, the authority serves only his own interest. Think Cinderella’s wicked step-mother. Cruel and unjust, she used her authority to oppress innocent Cinderella while giving every benefit and blessing to her own spoiled daughters. Authority oppresses and enslaves, so what we really need is a revolution.
But do we? It seems like we’ve had nothing but revolution for the past century or more, but we still can’t get rid of this idea of authority. The history of our world’s revolution teaches us that the revolutionaries weren’t opposed to authority as such, they just thought they should have it instead of the other guys. And yet the Lenins, the Pol Pots, and the Castros of the world are often far more cruel and unjust than the people they ousted from power. We don’t need new authorities; we need good authorities. In fact, what we need are people who understand that there is a subtle but significant difference between authority and power.