Ending Authority Has Never Been the Problem

David Fowler’s generally incisive piece on the current mess our institutions of “higher” learning are in repeats, unfortunately, a misconception that needs to be challenged.  Down in the article he states the following:

Relativism, by definition, must question anything that purports to be authoritative, and, of course, nothing can be authoritative if there is no source of authority. Consequently, today’s public universities and “elite” private colleges must therefore implicitly, if not explicitly, call into question all sources of authority.

Getting rid of authority has never been the goal of collegiate revolutionaries or anyone else on the left.  That was true in the 1960’s and 1970’s and it is still true today.  That faulty idea has been perpetuated in both liberal and conservative circles and has created problems for both.

Let’s start with the conservatives.  In the wake of the student uprisings of the 1960’s and the rebellion the Boomers instigated, conservatives in general and Christians in particular responded by attempts to “re-establish authority”. In Christian circles the main apostle of this idea was Bill Gothard, and his authoritarianism has created problems that dwarf his sexual misconduct.  Politically the most egregious responder to this was George W. Bush, who allowed a major expansion of government during his administration, which in turn facilitated its continuation under Barack Obama.

To say that campus rebels in the 1960’s and now are promoting freedom gets liberals off of the hook for what they are really doing, which needs to be seen through the lens of their reliance on statism to carry out their agenda.  Moreover anyone who suppresses speech in the name of freedom is duplicitous.

There are anti-authoritarian strands on both sides.  But both are now out of the mainstream of their respective political communities.

What we had fifty years ago and have now is not a rebellion against authority but trying to supplant one group of people in power with another.  Christians don’t like to think of things in this way, and for spiritual warfare that’s good, but when we enter the realm of politics, we must understand that the name of the game is for us to be in power and for them to be out of it.  Perhaps this is why the New Testament exhorts us not to fight with “flesh and blood”; it’s part of getting out of the power holder/power challenger dynamic that dominated the Middle East then and now and which has widely infected our own system.

In politics ideas are ultimately embodied in people, however imperfectly; replacing one group with another will ultimately replace one idea with another.  Chairman Mao said that revolution was the replacement of one class with another, and as a revolutionary he was no slouch.

The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can either play this game to win or, better for the Christian, find another one.

2 Replies to “Ending Authority Has Never Been the Problem”

  1. Definitely recommend the work of Howard S Schwartz here especially _Society Against Itself: PC and Organizational self-destruction_. Thesis=PC is attempt to replace authority rooted in objective engagement with world with a less mature, more fragile form of blind quasi-nurturing. Schwartz is organizational psychologist with examples of companies and colleges destroyed by shift in authority including Antioch College, liberal mainline, Ford, NASA challenger, etc. See also Christopher Lasch for similar psychoanalytic critique of American narcissism as attempt to impose feel-good approval and inclusion in a sad vacuum of dependence.

    1. I think this is a version of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” that used to be held up as the ideal in the PRC. It’s still a form of authority and there’s still a person or people who are at the centre of it. But when you have everyone keeping everyone else under control, it means that you can have very weak leadership at the centre and perpetuate it as long as all of the threats are internal. It’s when the threats become external when the whole edifice becomes dicey, and that’s why our response to organisations such as ISIS–to say nothing about Russia or China itself–is such a muddle.

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