Role and Limitations of Authority in Politics

Role of Authority:

In point of fact all studies of government or the state are really examinations of the nature and working of political authority. No system of rule could survive long without exercising some measure of authority. To rule through power alone involves such a great expenditure of coercive resources as to be unsustainable. There are recurrent debates about the role of authority and its value. Liberals and socialists tends to view authority as instrumental, believing that it arises ‘from below’ through the consent of the governed From this perspective, authority is rational, purposeful and limited.

This view reflects a preference for legal-rational authority and public account­ability. Conservatives, on the other hand, see authority as arising from natural necessity, being exercised ‘from above’ by virtue of the unequal distribution of experience, social position and wisdom. Those who exercise authority do so for the benefit of others, but this does not set clear limits or checks upon authority. It blurs the distinction between authority and authoritarianism.

The justifications for authority include, most basically, that it is essential for the maintenance of order and is the only means of escape from the barbarity and injustice of the ‘state of nature’: a society without political rule. Authority also establishes common norms and values that bind society together, and thereby gives individuals a social identity and sense of rootedness.

Critics of authority, including, particularly, libertarians and anarchists, point out that authority is by definition the enemy of freedom. It threatens reason and critical understanding by demanding unquestioning obedience. It is psychologically, and perhaps morally, corrupting in that it accustoms people to controlling or dominating others. In the long run, they lose the sense of ‘freedom’.

Limitations of Authority:

Under the umbrella of authority, a person accepts the communication or directives of his senior without any discussion, deliberation or reasoning, making his decision as his own decision. Authority, thus, is the highest stage of legitimate power. It is legal, objective, organisational, specific, and limited. It operates through established procedure, express rules, and definite manner. However, in itself it is not much effective. Authority is effective only when imbued with power, influence and leadership.

Influence fills in the gap between power, force and authority. Technology of making effective organisations keeps in mind that authorities have appropriate room for exercise of power, influence and leadership. They are purposely equipped with discretion, titles, sanctions, salary, privileges, immunities, and other paraphernalia.

Power as force has a limited role, and can be exercised only in exceptional cases, that too with high cost. Hence, influence comes to its rescue, but it is fluid, flexible, instable, uncertain and unspecific. Therefore, its liquidity has to be poured into organisational vessels. Authorities, in the organisation, then, can perform functions assigned to them. But the main task of acquiring legitimacy for all of them remains to be earned and acquired by politics. Even power and influence cannot be much effective without legitimacy.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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