The first association people have with “authority” these days is negative. But–whether you like it or not–authority is omnipresent: in the family, school, court, church and nation in general. None of these structures could function without authority. Indeed, without authority these groups would not be structures but merely conglomerates of persons. Someone is “in charge” and “makes decisions”–so someone has “authority”.
According to Hungarian philosopher, historian and political theorist Thomas Molnar (1921-2010), authority is something that is originally part of human nature. We follow authority because it touches a “pre-existing consent of the heart.”
In his work, Authority and Its Enemies (1976), Molnar undertakes an in-depth analysis of authority and those ideologies that seek to abolish or destroy it.
The whole premise is based on the idea that no group of people can exist without authority. Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas and others all agree that people do not join together merely out of necessity, but that in the social nature of man the striving for something “higher” is inherent and fundamental. This higher “common good” can only be achieved through a social structure with an unfolding of authority.
What is fascinating here is that the enemies of authority (of which there are many) work with political tools to destroy structures in which human beings develop socially.
First and foremost is the family.
“Indeed, the brunt of the assault on authority is concentrated in the family, where the future adult and citizen is brought to the rational realization of a small replica of the common good, a model of the institutions that will be stages for all his subsequent acts of citizenship,” Molnar writes. The family is the school of authority where parents guide children into adulthood (cf. p. 96).
The basic assumption of the enemies of family and authority is that the child, unhindered by punishment and limits, will develop into something good and develop only the best side of his character.
“Man was born free, yet everywhere he lies in chains, Rousseau formulated, marking once and for all the anti-authoritarian stance. The only chance of transforming this civilization into a utopia would be, above all, to free the child, the still malleable being, to liberate it from constraints,” he writes further (cf. p. 97).
“The ideal in this view would be to limit the family to two mating partners and to the mother’s role as provider in the early period, after which the child goes to the communal (state) nursery and school” (cf. p. 97).
This nationalization of the child would transfer his obedience from his parents to the state, endowing the latter with power and control over the individual even in the later stages of development.
This nationalization of the child can only be counteracted in the family, where children can experience in a natural way the connection between authority and love, obedience and striving for the good, and–to borrow a pun from Gustav Siewerth–where daring and preservation are lived.
Nevertheless, Molnar also admits that the family needs the state.
“[This anti-authoritarian development is] neither the fault of the family nor that of the state (we cannot, of course, overlook the fault of the state, which at least bows to the will of the legislature when it enacts anti-family laws such as abortion), we can speak rather of the lack of cooperation of all the major links in the web of authority, a non-cooperation of such magnitude that one might say that a counter-authenticity has arisen in places where the author’s continuity was legitimately expected” (cf. pp. 98-99).
The family cannot survive and flourish without the structures of society and the state. But this link offers above all an opportunity: the family can intervene in the structures and thus transform the state towards a pro-family structure, as has already been successfully implemented in some countries in Europe such as Hungary. If the state, in return, pursues a supportive family policy, a synergy is created from the nucleus of society to the great overarching structures that make up a true nation.
Without any utopian self-sufficiency, Molnar was keen to aspire to this model and to propose it as a solution to the modern absence of authority.