Leading with Authority, part 2: A Key Distinction Regarding the Locus of Authority (Because who wants another Hitler?)

Yes, I used the word locus. Me, 1 – The World, 0.

This is part 2 in a series on what true authority really looks like, or, how it behaves.

After reading Charlotte Mason’s writings on this matter, I was both convinced and convicted.

  • I became convinced that how we treat a student is more important than what we teach a student. For those cynics in the crowd, don’t run off into the weeds with that statement. I’m not talking about teaching falsehood or garbage.
    • What I am saying is that how we relate to these young Persons is paramount if we want them to love learning, let alone love our schools. Of that, I am convinced. 
  • I am also convicted. After reading Charlotte Mason, I am staggered by the thought of how often I resort to autocracy with my own children, rather than functioning faithfully within the office of authority God has bestowed upon me as a father.
    • That distinction between authority and autocracy should be clearer by the end of this series. 

So what I want to do is begin with a key distinction regarding the locus of authority–that is, where is authority actually located. From there I will move to what autocracy is and how it behaves and finish up with how authority behaves.

All along, though, we must bear in mind that this conversation has woven through it the principle of docility, which speaks to someone being easy to handle or one easily taught

  • Neuroscience has shown that babies are born wanting to know. That is to say, they’re hardwired for knowledge. They instinctively react to different situations and people, all with the aim of connecting. Synapses are forming left and right based on how they’re learning to relate and draw connections. 

In other words, kids have a natural curiosity–which is what drives us all so crazy at times. It’s what leads them to shove crayons into the DVD player and ask 1,000 questions per hour and walk up to you, their loving mother, and proceed to smack you across your face…just to see what you’ll do!

But Charlotte Mason’s aim was to represent authority in a God-honoring fashion so that this docility was cultivated and cared for and grew up with the child, noting that when authority is violated, children shut down, as well as resent and bemoan the educational process.

So first up, a distinction regarding the locus of authority.

Where is authority vested?

There were centuries in which authority was believed to be vested in a person. Mason writes about “the divine right” of kings and of parents back in the day–whose view of God as some arbitrary, autocratic Being ultimately shaped their own forms of governing.

  • This is the kind of thinking that led to the absolute rule of Czars in Russia; as well as the likes of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini. Kim Jong-un would fit the description as well.Adolf-Hitler-tijdens-een-speech
  • Some of you were raised under what felt like an autocratic regime depending on your age.

But, Mason, writes…

“…we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it [authority] is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorized; and that he who is authorized is under authority.” (School Education, 1989. 11-12)

  • So, authority is vested in the office. The office of parent, for example. The office of teacher. The office of administrator. The office of President of the United States.

Accordingly, when someone asserts himself in an independent fashion or governs upon the impulse of his own will, that person, according to Mason, “Ceases to be authoritative and authorized, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic.”

We have a prime, modern illustration of this. Those who know me well know that I am one of the least politically charged people east of the Mississippi. What I’m about to say, then, only serves the agenda of illustrating the larger principle.  

Policies and party politics aside, at the very core, why is it that some people on every side of the political spectrum take issue with Donald Trump?

It’s not just that he’s a womanizer. It’s that from his Twitter feed to his taped conversations, people know deep down that he is not acting as one under authority. It’s why personalities on CNN AND Fox News comment that he’s acting in unpresidential fashion.

There is great authority and honor in the office of President of the United States. But when anyone, man or woman, abuses that office and operates from the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorized.

Let’s shift focus from the Donald to me. This is exactly what happens when I get tired and worn down by having four kids, ages 7, 6, 4, and 2 in my house, and I shift from governing as one governed to absolute, arbitrary rule. It sounds like, “No! You can’t do that!” “You’re going to get spanked!” “One more time and I’m throwing the toy in the trash after I burn it in front of your eyes!” 

               No training. No discipling. No teaching. Thus, no authority. Only autocracy.

Authority rests, not in a person, but in the office. The question for us to ponder is whether we are behaving as authorized persons or as our own lesser versions of tyrannical autocrats whose names are emboldened in History texts.

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “Leading with Authority, part 2: A Key Distinction Regarding the Locus of Authority (Because who wants another Hitler?)

  1. Pingback: Leading With Authority, part 3: How to Be an Autocrat | Anxious to Impart

  2. Pingback: Leading with Authority, part 4: True Authority | Anxious to Impart

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