Chapter 5


Cooperative acts, then, which are not in themselves advantageous to the one who performs them, can be counted on because of the sanction attached to them making it disadvantageous not to perform them; and given the general willingness of people to do what the society wants (since it is in their long-term interest to belong to it or they wouldn't have joined), then it will be the case that practically all the time the members of the society can expect that what is commanded will be obeyed.

But this, as I said, supposes that the members will have some way of knowing what statements of other members are actually laws of the society and what statements aren't; and that implies that there has to be a recognizable source for these statements.

Authority is the status in society which has the right to make laws, to see that they are kept, to impose sanctions on violations, and to decide disputes among members. The person or persons in that status are referred to as "the authority" or "the authorities."

Leadership is the ability to persuade others to do what one thinks is the best course of action for them.

Leadership is what exists in a community; authority in a society. A leader remains a leader only as long as he can persuade others to follow him; and so essentially he is giving advice, not orders. The authority has the right to be obeyed, because he is the spokesman for the society as such, telling people what cooperative acts are expected of them by the society.

Since every society is also a community (since the people necessarily share some interests--if nothing else, getting the common goal accomplished) and so have expectations of how others should conduct themselves, then it makes sense to have the leaders in the community also be the ones in authority. If not, then the leaders should be wise enough to realize that they have no business trying to persuade the members to disobey or to disrespect the people in authority.

A society that bases itself solely on leadership, however, is like a society that acts by consensus; it is extremely inefficient, and often can be unjust, because if there is more than one leader (as there frequently is), the members don't know which one to follow. The American Indians suffered from this; the chief in most tribes was just that: the most prestigious member, and his advice was undermined by others who wanted to take over. That lack of authority in the Indian society was perhaps as much as anything what led to their downfall; among other things, the Americans negotiating with the tribes didn't really know who to deal with.

I find it interesting that tyrants tend to give themselves the name "leader." Fidel Castro immediately comes to mind; but there is il duce Mussolini and der führer Hitler, as well as the "dukes" (duces, leaders) of the middle ages. Augustus was the really humble one; he called himself the imperator, "the one who gives orders" (the general)--which, of course, became "emperor" in our sense of the term as his successors spelled out what this implied. Of course, what all these people are trying to do is capitalize on the "community" aspect of society, presenting themselves as a friend of everyone and just primus inter pares.

But it goes without saying that leadership is not necessary for authority, but merely desirable. You have to obey the authority because he has a right to be obeyed; but it is obviously a lot easier to do so if he has convinced you that what he is telling you to do is what you would have done even if he hadn't commanded it.

At any rate, that is what authority is. Now since a society can't exist without laws and their sanctions, it follows that

Conclusion 11: Insofar as a society cannot exist without laws, it cannot exist without authority.

The reason that conclusion is worded as it is is that there is marriage, which, as I said, does not need sanctions or laws or authority. But I will discuss the reasons for this later.

In all other cases, the members must somehow agree among themselves on the form that this particular status will take, so that they can know what they have to obey and what they don't. We will see later the various possible forms of government of a society; but for now let me just say that there is no "objectively proper" form for any society, not even civil society.

But supposing that the members agree on what the status will look like and who is to be in it, what is the role attached to this status? As you can see from looking at the definition above, there are three basic functions: (1) that of deciding what the laws and their sanctions will be (the legislative function), (2) seeing to it that the laws are promulgated and enforced (the executive function), and (3) imposing the penalty in accordance with retributive justice and deciding disputes among the members (the judicial function). In the United States, of course, these three functions are separated into three as it were competing "branches" of government, using one to curb excesses of the other; but there is no necessity for this. In small societies, a single person can be chosen to perform all the functions--or they can be parceled out any way the people as a whole initially choose.

But let us discuss the functions briefly in turn.

If the authority is to make laws consistent with the society and the members, then it must know the following: (1) what the common goal of the society is, (2) what means are most effective in reaching it, (3) what specifically the common good of the society is (i.e. what rights the members have that must not be violated), (4) what measures must be taken to see to it that their rights are not violated, (5) the limits of the authority, and (6) what acts are in practice possible, given the actual members in the society and the realities of the situation the society is in.

I mentioned in the preceding section that a firm with employees in it is a society which has three coordinate common goals: (a) a profit for the entrepreneur, (b) a service to the consumer, and (c) providing work for the employees. Based on requirement (1) above, the entrepreneur (who is, of course, the authority in the firm) must recognize all three of these goals as coordinate and not give orders that turn the firm into simply a machine for making profit for himself. According to requirements (3) and (5), he has to realize that he can't make demands about the way the employees dress if this has nothing to do with their job performance or the service the firm is providing; and according to requirement (6) he has to realize that, for instance, if he pushes his workers too hard, he will get less productivity out of them than if he doesn't. And so on. I will talk specifically about firms like this later.

The point here is that the authority has to have a good deal of information, and not a little wisdom.

But there is no magic about the status of authority that gives you either the information to know the facts about the society's situation or the wisdom to be able to figure out what is the most prudent course of action for the society to take, and therefore what laws to issue for it.

There are two fallacies connected with this--at least with the wisdom end of it. Unfortunately, everyone thinks he is wise; but there are very few who really are. But just as there were myths dealing with economics, so there are Two Great Myths dealing with society.

The First Great Myth is that somehow the office itself bestows upon the person in it an extra wisdom that he did not have before.

Practically no one in our democratic age holds this any more; but you still find traces of it in places like Religious orders. Historically, it was a kind of conclusion from the theory of the divine right of kings. The argument went this way: Since society is necessary for human existence, then God, who created human existence, implanted in human nature the requirement of belonging to society. But since authority is necessary for society's existence, then God, who made human nature, also implanted the necessity to obey authority into each human being; and therefore, all authority gets its force from God. The fact that St. Paul says as much in Romans doesn't hurt this argument at all.

In fact, in a sense it is true; but it is true in the sense that everything ultimately comes from God; and so we have a moral obligation to obey authority, not because God said so, but because if we don't, then we're acting inconsistently with ourselves as members of the society, as I will say more at length later; and this, of course, involves eternal frustration--but not because God will spank us.

But the fallacy lies in assuming that, because God put the requirement of obeying authority in us, so that it is immoral not to obey, and because God "wills our greater good," then somehow the authority will be given the "grace" to assure that what he orders is for the good of each member who has to obey.

The reason why this is a fallacy is that it is (absent immoral or unjust laws) "better" to obey than disobey in that disobedience is immoral, and hence brings on the violator eternal frustration, even if he escapes the sanction imposed by the authority; and it's always better by any standards not to be frustrated than to be frustrated. But this says nothing at all about whether the command means that obeying it is the course of action in this life most likely to achieve the common goal or further the member's temporal interests. And you have to close your eyes completely to what societies do to hold this. God "wills our good" in the sense that he wants us to achieve (at least after death) the goals that we have set for ourselves (even if the goal is self-frustration); but that is a tautology; and he certainly, it seems to me, does not will our temporal good or there would not be such things as diseases and natural disasters that maim and kill people, and which no human agency could prevent. Furthermore, there is the manifest fact that authorities can, wittingly or unwittingly, issue laws that require members to do morally wrong things; and where is the "grace of office" preventing this? In our own society today, there are some organizations, such as hospitals, which require doctor members to perform abortions; and clearly, if you have followed me this far in this book, that means a requirement to commit murder. I say nothing of Germany's orders to its members dealing with the Jews.(1) In spite of the fact that the idea of the "wisdom of office" is not with us, a vestige of it still remains, and it would be well to warn against it in a formal conclusion:

Conclusion 12: No society except a family should regard itself as or be run as a family.

There are a couple of things wrong with regarding a society as a family. First of all, it overemphasizes and tries to inculcate an exaggerated sense of community and "togetherness," when each member in fact is primarily (and properly) interested in his own personal goals, and is merely willing to cooperate because he shares to some extent the common goal of the society itself. Members, if anyone, know the reality of the situation, and when the authority gets smarmy and tries to hold up the "team" as something greater which members ought to worship, they recognize the phoniness, and if anything the efforts are apt to be counterproductive. Far better be honest, and let team spirit develop of itself; it cannot be imposed by the authority--because it is something that belongs to the community, not the society.

Secondly, it is inevitable that if the society is regarded as a family, the authority regards himself as the father, and wants the members to think that "father knows best." In a family, the parents do by nature have authority over their children because they know things about behavior and conduct that children don't know, as we will see later. In that sense, in a family particularly of young children, father and mother do know best. But once the society is made up of adults, then the one in authority has no idea what is "best" for the members, because that is determined by each one, not discovered by anyone, and the authority has no business, therefore, treating the members like children. The members have to listen to him because otherwise the society won't function; they don't have to listen to him because he's a nice guy or because he's intelligent or because he's wise.

But secondly, there is the democratic fallacy:

The Second Great Myth is that somehow the mass of the people taken together have a wisdom that knows what the society should do.

Democracy may be a reasonable form of government; but if it is, it is not so on the grounds that the people as a whole know better what is good for the people as a whole than a single authority or a small group in authority would. In general, as ancient Athens, a complete democracy, showed so clearly, democracy is dumbocracy. The people know what they want, but they want contradictory things; and it doesn't bother them that one of their wants if fulfilled will destroy another; they want both and both completely.

In my own country at the moment it is clear from the election just concluded that the people (a) want government spending reduced drastically, (b) want their taxes cut drastically, (c) want the government to spend more rather than cut programs that affect them directly, and (d) want taxes increased on other people to pay for the programs. It is interesting that this is as true when I revise this as it was when I wrote it fourteen years ago.

There is no way you can make any kind of wisdom out of what the people have chosen; and the fact that the people in authority are at the mercy of the citizens every two years means that they will resort to demagoguery and kowtow to the political action committees. I do not see how people who can preserve the country can ever get into a position of authority so that they can accomplish the feat, or stay in office long enough to do it.

No, there is wisdom lurking there (it is to be hoped) within the people; but the people as a whole don't have it. Every politician in a democracy has to say they have it; but politicians who believe it are people you wouldn't want running the country, since they are apt to pass laws forbidding air travel on Christmas Eve to prevent Santa Claus from getting hit.

Then what is to be done? The authority can't rely, really, on his own information and wisdom, because he lacks a good deal of information, and he doesn't get any special wisdom simply by being appointed to the status of authority. But he can't take a poll and follow that, because that might show what the members want (at the moment), but it's not necessarily what is the best way to accomplish the common goal of the society (and it's not necessarily even morally right).

Let us split these two requirements apart. As to information, we can say the following:

Conclusion 13: Every member has a moral obligation to supply the authority with information he has that is relevant to choices that the society is to make; and the authority has the obligation to open channels of communication from members and take their information into consideration.

A worker on the assembly line is admitting that he did what was morally wrong when he says to a coworker, "I could have told them that that wouldn't work." If he could have, why didn't he? "It wasn't my business." It certainly was his business. It would only not be his business if the people in authority could know all the relevant facts without being told by the people who are in a position to know them.

Thus, every society must encourage the flow of information from the members to the authority, and make it known that the authority can't make proper decisions about what the members should do unless the members inform him of the facts they know relating to the question under consideration.

In fact, the authority should actively solicit information from the members when considering something to be done, and not just keep the decision in a tight little group. It should do so making clear that what it is looking for is facts relevant to the issue, and that the members have an obligation to supply those facts and will be held accountable if it becomes obvious that they knew something and didn't report it.(2)

Of course, a lot of advice will be handed up in the name of "facts," and a great deal of irrelevant information will be gleaned by this method; but that sort of thing can be weeded out by the wise advisors of the authority. The point is that only if something like this is done will the authority know that it has all the information that exists in the society (since this information is not of itself centered in the authority, but spread out through all the members).

And this is not just a ploy to make the members feel that they have a stake in the society or are involved in its governance. In general, the members should not be deciding what the society should do; that is what the authority is for, and a society that speaks with many voices is silent. No, the point here is not that this fosters community spirit in the society (it does, but this is a side-effect), but that the authority needs the information in order to be able to make the correct decision.

But, secondly, the authority also needs wisdom. What should be done here?

Conclusion 14: The person in authority must seek out a small number of wise people to act as advisors, and defer to their judgment, not simply rely on his own wisdom. The final decision is to be the society's, not his own.

That is, because the authority has to make the final decision, it does not follow that this decision ultimately must be based on what he thinks is best. This is a variation on the First Great Myth. The wisdom of the society does not lie solely or even chiefly in him; and he is making the decisions of the society, not really decisions for the society. Hence, he may find that he must decide something different from what his own better judgment dictates, if his advisors think that his view is incorrect.

This does not mean, however, that the person in authority can escape responsibility for what he commands. Responsibility ("answerability") in a society, both on the part of the member and the part of the authority is different from what it is outside of the society, because what one does affects what others do, and so one becomes responsible for others' actions and sometimes is not responsible for one's own.

I will discuss the responsibility of the authority in some detail later, because it is much misunderstood; but I want to get through the other functions of authority before I do so. So let us press on to the executive function: to see to it that the laws, once issued, are carried out.

We tend to think of the "executive" as the "chief lawmaker" because in our form of government as George Washington applied it, the President proposes laws to Congress as well as having Congress make up the laws itself; and the President can also veto laws. But the function of the executive is really just to carry out the laws that are made. As I said, this is a function, not in itself a "branch" of authority, and can easily be vested in the person who makes the laws.

Essentially, the executive function is the policing or enforcement function of the authority; the way the authority sees to it that the members obey.

Conclusion 15: The authority is to do as little watching over the society as possible, consistent with seeing that the laws are obeyed "practically all" the time.

That is, it will be inevitable that some infractions will go unpunished, because you can't be everywhere; but that is all right, as long as the members as a whole are obeying, and the discipline is not so lax that members begin to see people getting away with shirking their duty and start copying them. The people, remember, are (a) self-determining, and so should be left to be so as much as possible, and (b) basically willing to obey, and so won't need too much supervision if the society is governed properly.

I talked about the effect of too little enforcement earlier when I was speaking of sanctions that don't work because they are not inevitable. To the extent that there are unenforced laws, the members of the society get the idea that it's all right to ignore the laws in general, and this will destroy the society. Enforcement must be strong enough to show that the authority is serious about having the people obey the laws.

There is one exception to this, however--at least in theory. It is sometimes the case that a law must be passed against some act just to show that the society does not endorse it. Even if the law is unenforceable, then, using the Double Effect, this may be done so that the society can express its disapproval of the act.

For instance, it would not in principle be morally wrong for the society to pass a law against, say, reading pornography even in the privacy of one's home, or engaging in anal sex even at home, or possessing marijuana, or various other acts that morally should be frowned upon, and which are deleterious to the people in society, even if no one's right is violated by them.

But since people have a right to be left alone to live their own lives except insofar as they are cooperating for the common goal of the society, these laws insofar as their enforcement would invade the privacy of the members (a) can't in practice be enforced to the extent necessary to ensure that they are obeyed "practically all the time," and (b) can't morally be enforced anyway, since they infringe upon the right not to be interfered with unless this is necessary for the common goal (remember, the "common good" is not some "benefit" to the society or the members collectively, but the rights of each of them; it is obviously contradictory to violate someone's right in the name of protecting the rights of the members).

Hence, if there are such laws, they must not be enforced. But lack of enforcement of these laws has also the effect of undermining the authority with respect to all laws (because the members look at other laws also and wonder if they are on the books "just to make a statement"). Furthermore, it is almost inevitable that lower-level officials, seeing the laws on the books and not being blessed with the wisdom of being able to make very subtle distinctions, will enter on crusades to see that these laws, like the other laws of the society, are strictly enforced. We had a case here recently in Cincinnati where a homosexual couple was arrested for holding hands in public--and the held hands were in the lap of one of the people! An elderly lady wrote in to the paper remarking that the previous week she had been holding hands with her husband in a movie house, and was glad they escaped the watchful eye of the officer, who said he'd arrest heterosexuals he saw doing it too.

Since there are these effects from having such laws, then I would say that, though in theory they might be justified, in practice they engender such contempt for the law and the police in general that they cannot morally be made. Whatever good effect there is in "going on the record against morally wrong acts" can be achieved with an advertising campaign warning of the danger or wrongness of the acts; and this avoids the bad effects of having a law on the books which cannot be enforced without injustice.

As to methods of enforcement, the following can be said:

Conclusion 16: It is morally wrong for the police to interfere in the private lives of the members, unless there is prior evidence that the person is probably violating a law.

I will discuss the right to privacy later, when I take up the rights of the member. That right involves the fact that a person has a right that no one else even know about something he did or some aspect of himself, whether the knowledge can be used against him or not. But we don't need that here; it is enough that, since the members are self-determining and have their own lives to live, then this self-determination is not to be interfered with unless there is some socially necessary reason for doing so; and hence, there must be evidence that a violation is probably being committed (or contemplated) in order for it to be legitimate to invade a person's private affairs. This, of course, is why search warrants are required in civil society; but it applies to any society. A member's locker in an athletic club, for instance, must not be searched just because the authority wants to know what is in it. For that matter, children's mail must not be read by parents unless they have evidence that suggests that something untoward is going on in it.(3)


Conclusion 17: If, in the course of investigation for one violation, evidence is uncovered about another, there is nothing morally wrong with using this evidence.

If, for instance, the police have a warrant to search a place for a murder weapon, and in the search they discover a cache of drugs, they may then arrest the person for drug possession. The reason is that they happened upon the evidence, and this is what their job is: to keep their eyes open and enforce the law when they discover evidence of a violation. The fact that they discovered it in the course of a search for something different is irrelevant.

Conclusion 18: No member may morally be forced to testify against himself.

The reason is, first of all, that it is the authority's job to find out whether the members have violated the law, not the member's. Secondly, since a member will be unwilling to do himself damage, then requiring him to testify against himself (threatening him with punishment if he does not do so) will tend to make him lie, and his testimony unable to be relied on. Thirdly, since he will be tempted to lie, this incitement to do something immoral makes the authority also guilty of his immoral choice, whether it happens or not.

This is true of all societies, not just civil society. It is morally wrong for a teacher to force a student to confess infractions of the rules of the class, for instance.(4)

Conclusion 19: It is morally wrong to encourage the members of the society to act as spies on each other.

A member may morally report an infraction of the law to the authority so that the sanction can be imposed; but the members are not part of the police force; and it is not, therefore, their business to go looking for infractions. It is not necessary in a society that all infractions of the law be punished, but only enough of them so that the law retains its force, and that the people as a whole remain willing to obey and don't try to "beat the system." In general, if members happen upon violations of the law, they should be reported; but they should not act like police.(5)

Conclusion 20: It is morally wrong to tempt a member to disobey a law in order to catch him in the act.

This sort of thing is called entrapment, and is morally wrong because you can't assume that the violator would have violated the law if you hadn't held the temptation before him. Remember, people in the society don't necessarily have the common goal of the society uppermost on their list of priorities; they have their own lives to live. Anyway, if you, as the authority, present incentives for them to break the law, you are encouraging the thing you say you are trying to prevent; and that contradicts what the law is about.

The police's job is to see to it that the law retains its force and the people their collective willingness to obey, not that all infractions of the law receive the penalty. It may be that the practicalities of some laws' enforcement might necessitate "undercover agents" who don't appear to be police and could be approached by someone wanting to violate the law: for example, they could be dressed as prostitutes or drug dealers. But the point here is that they must not initiate the transaction by any provocative act.

My final remark on this topic is that (supposing the members not to be in rebellion against the authority) if a given set of laws can't be enforced without excessive zeal on the part of the police, then there is something wrong with the laws. I think, for instance, that the "drug war" in our country is a beautiful example of this. Doing drugs is definitely harmful to the people who do them, and to all those connected with them. But outlawing this practice just does not work; and furthermore, simply makes the drugs high priced and gives the dealers enormous profits.

The thing to do is (a) make all these things legal, (b) forbid all advertising of any of these substances (including tobacco and alcohol), and (c) engage in an advertising campaign honestly showing the harmful effects and attempting to counter the social attitude that it is "cool" or "grown up" to use these things. That has a chance of working, and is consistent with civil society's function, which does not include saving people from their own deliberate folly; the war against drugs treats people as children, and ultimately will fail. (The reason advertising should be forbidden, by the way, is that it states as an esthetic fact that these things are good for you, when in fact they aren't. Public telling of lies can be forbidden, because they violate the public's right to know the truth.)(6)

Now then, the judicial function of authority is twofold: (1) imposing the sanction, and (2) settling disputes among the members which they cannot settle themselves. Again, this is normally thought of in terms of civil society, but it occurs in any society; and this must be kept in mind.

As to the first of these duties, it is up to the authority as judge (a) to discover whether the violation actually occurred or not, (b) to assess the circumstances of the violation and the violator so that the lightest punishment (within the range necessary for the members to know how serious the law is) consistent with preserving the threat as credible can be meted out.

There is no requirement in the nature of this function that the case be decided by a jury; in fact, it often happens that jury verdicts are another instance of "dumbocracy," and are travesties of retributive justice. The idea of trial by jury in English and American law is that members of one's own class are less likely to be prejudiced than members of a different one (which is why the jury is supposed to be "of one's peers" or equals). Insofar as this prejudice is not likely to happen, then it is obviously better to have a wise person be the judge than any number of randomly selected members of the society. Furthermore, juries, not understanding that the sole grounds for punishing the offender is the avoidance of sending a message that it is all right to commit the crime, are apt to be vindictive in assigning the punishment.

As to the second of the judicial duties of authority, settling disputes, it can happen in a society that two people both have a right to something, but their rights contradict each other. Since no right ever is superseded by another right, as I said in Chapter 3 of Section 1 of this part 6.1.3, then there is no way in commutative justice that the dispute can be justly resolved. But since the society can demand cooperative action from the members, then for the sake of resolution of the dispute, the authority can require that one of the members give up some or all of his rights to the other, deciding which of the two suffers the least damage in doing so.

Conclusion 21: It is morally legitimate for the authority to force a person to give up a right when this is the only way to settle disputes involving rights that contradict each other.

I mentioned in the preceding section while talking about property that this at present is not open to conflicts of rights between civil societies, because there is no overarching world society at the moment (the United Nations is a discussion group, not a true authority). Hence, the only form of justice that can at the moment be exercised between nations is commutative justice: the recognition and defense of rights. But in Israel, as I mentioned, both the Palestinians, who were dispossessed of their homes by Israelis of the preceding generation, and the Israelis of the present generation living in those homes, have rights to the property in question; and there is no way in commutative justice to settle this dispute. One or the other nation must give up its right to at least some of the property. But there is no way to impose this duty on any nation, since there is no world authority and no world society demanding international cooperative (as opposed to economic) activity.

These, then, are the three basic functions of authority in any society. There remain brief discussions on the authority's responsibility in the society, its rights, and the various forms the authority can take.

With respect to the responsibility of the person in authority, first of all remember that responsibility is not the same as the authority's duties, which in fact I spelled out above. Responsibility, as I said when dealing with morality and the choice in Chapter of Section 1 of the fifth part 5.1.5, is "answerability," meaning that you are responsible for what you can control by your choice.

First, then, since the authority issues commands which (unless they command something morally wrong or violate a right of the member) must, morally speaking, be obeyed by the member (even if they are stupid commands), then it follows that the authority is responsible for everything the members do in obedience to his commands. That is, he is responsible for actions of people other than himself, because it is his choice which controls what they do. Thus, in spite of the fact that the authority must sometimes defer to the judgment of his wise advisors, as we saw earlier, he is still the one who makes the choice of the society, and so he is the one responsible for what is done in carrying out his orders.

Secondly, the authority is responsible for the acts he could have prevented by passing a law against them. This also applies to acts not done that would have been done had they been commanded. Thus, if some act detrimental to the common goal of the society (or the common good of the members) is being done by some members, and the authority passes no law to put a stop to it (or doesn't enforce one which was passed) then he is responsible for the damage done. The members doing the act are also responsible; but this does not absolve the authority from responsibility. Insofar as a given act could have been prevented by either of two people's choice, then each is fully responsible for the act. This is called "joint responsibility." The point is that the responsibility is not divided half-and-half in this case, because it isn't the case that either could have prevented only half of the act; either could have prevented it altogether. Of course, it is the authority alone who is responsible for any harm that comes by the omission of an act that should have been commanded.(7)

Note that the authority is legally responsible for these actions and omissions even if he doesn't know they are happening; because, since he has the duty to see to it that the society works toward its common goal and protects the common good, he "ought" to know what is going on. This supposes that "the normal person" in authority could know of it (i.e. if it could only be known by excessive policing, then this absolves the authority from even legal responsibility). Of course, the authority is not morally responsible for what he did not in fact know.

The authority is also responsible for violations of the laws insofar as this is due to lax enforcement or too light sanctions. This should be obvious. But the authority is not responsible for what the members do in violating the laws if the sanctions are sufficient and the enforcement is reasonable.

As to the rights of the authority, the most obvious one is the right to make and enforce laws. That is what the authority's basic function is. This, of course, implies the right to be obeyed. I don't think these need spelling out; it obviously contradicts the relation the authority has toward the members if they refuse to obey him, since he can't do his job without their willingness to do so.

Secondly, the authority has the right to be respected. Insofar as he is despised by the members, then they will be inclined to disobey him. And in fact, the authority itself is the status of respect, because it controls part of the lives of the members. Hence, not to show the person in authority the respect due to his status is to subvert the relationship that actually obtains between the authority and the members. Thus, laws against "contempt of court" or "contempt of Congress" are legitimate.

Note that the respect due to the people in authority is not due because of their sterling human qualities, but simply because they are the people who hold that status. In that sense, it doesn't matter what they are as individuals; as long as they are in office, they have a right to the respect due to the office. Clearly, it is better, as I said, that the people in authority be leaders (and also people of probity and integrity), so that as persons they will evoke respect from the members. But even if they are puny as humans, they still must be respected by the members because of their status.

Thirdly, as I said, the authority has the right to be informed about what is relevant to laws to be issued, and also about violations of laws that members happen to have discovered (though not through spying on other members). If he does not have this information, he cannot do his job of making the proper laws or enforcing them.

Fourthly, the authority has the right to impose sanctions on those who violate the laws, and to alter and even commute the sentences to fit individual circumstances. This is simply the implied right to carry out the role of authority.

Finally, for the same reason, the authority has the right to force members to agree to his settlement of disputes between them when the dispute cannot be settled privately.

Of course, the rights have their limitations; none of the authority's rights extend beyond the common goal or the common good of the members. Authority may morally go beyond these limits in certain cases, but only in an advisory way, as one who is a leader in the community. But when the limits of the authority are exceeded, the members have no obligation to follow the suggestions of the person who (also) happens to be in authority; he is just a wise member of the community in this respect.

As to the forms of authority, there is not, as I mentioned, any form that is the most proper one by nature; each has its own advantages and defects.

First, there is what is called anarchy, which is no authority at all. The only society this works in, however, as I mentioned, is marriage, where the partners already explicitly love each other.

Second, there is monarchy, in which one person holds all of the authority. He may delegate some of his powers, but he is the one who has them, and can recall what he has delegated.

The advantages of monarchy are that it tends to be efficient, and with a good, wise monarch, to be humane and adaptable to the needs of the individual members. The monarch can temper the force of the laws with privileges when the common good or unusual circumstances warrant. The disadvantages of monarchy are primarily in finding a wise and good monarch who will remain good. Even Solomon, after all, had his problems, not to mention David. In subordinate societies under the basic control of civil society, this might not be too difficult; but when the monarch has all the authority of the whole nation, there is a strong tendency toward corruption, if for no other reason that some compromise with ideals is necessary to make society function, and this tends to deaden conscience--and the result is tyranny. Further, in a complex society of any size, the monarch himself cannot handle all the duties of authority and must delegate them; and then the authority in fact becomes bureaucracy, not monarchy. And the final difficulty is that of the removal of the monarch when he no longer functions for the benefit of the society and that of finding his successor. Strictly speaking, monarchy implies authority for life, with hereditary succession. This will almost certainly result in a disastrous government several generations after the good, wise monarch.

The difference between monarchy and dictatorship is not necessarily that the dictator is a tyrant (Francisco Franco seemed to have been benevolent, for instance), but that he has acquired the authority in an extra-legal manner. The advantages and disadvantages of dictatorship are the same as that for monarchy, except that, since the dictator usually has come into authority by force, the tendency toward corruption and tyranny is much greater.

Thirdly, a bureaucracy is usually a quasi-monarchical or quasi-oligarchical form of authority in which there is one person, or a small group of people, with the power to "set policy" or choose the broadest and most general goals of the society; the next lower level of authority takes these goals and sets "objectives," or sub-goals dealing with the general means of implementing them, and hands these down to the next lower level, which does the same thing down the line, until there are no more orders to be given, but only the tasks to be carried out.

The advantages of bureaucracy are that it tends to be an efficient way (and often the only way) to govern a complex society, because each level has its own defined powers and these are circumscribed by the goals set for it by the level higher up. It also is humane, because within the limits of their authority, the people at each level are let alone to choose the means they see fit to achieve the goals; and if communications up and down the bureaucracy are wide open, then it can work very well indeed. Since the policy is set by those on top, changes in policy can be implemented in very complex ways rather quickly, with each stage shifting to adapt to the new goals.

The disadvantages of bureaucracy are, first, that it can be an efficient tool for tyranny, because those on lower levels are not supposed to concern themselves with policy, but with merely carrying it out. But, as we will see, every member, whether he is in the chain of command or not, must refuse to do things which are morally wrong, and must resist letting the society as a whole do what is wrong. Secondly, even though in itself it is humane, in practice it can be just the opposite, insofar as the people on a given level are interested mainly in protecting their position. They then become "typical bureaucrats," who never do anything wrong, but who never adapt themselves to exceptional cases, and instead of freely choosing to implement the goals of the level above, simply follow orders and don't think for themselves. For this reason, thirdly, there is apt to be a difficulty in information flow, because those who are trying to protect themselves tend to block anything which might make them look bad to those above them. Instead of responsibility, blame gets tossed around and disappears in the quicksand of the levels of command. Finally, since each level does have some authority, it is apt to resent the fact that it can't determine the policy that is set for it; or conversely, when the person in the higher stage is one of those busybodies who has to see that his orders are carried out in the way he wants them done, then those at the lower level have authority in name only, and wind up being nothing but the slaves of those on the higher level.

Fourth, an oligarchy is a small group--some sort of committee--that holds the authority. Most firms of any size are bureaucratic oligarchies, with the board of trustees setting the policy, which the president then implements as a kind of subordinate bureaucratic monarch. Historically, there is a difference between aristocracy, or rule by the nobles (people chosen for their wisdom and virtue) and what was called oligarchy, which was rule by the rich.

The advantages of oligarchy are that there is less danger of a capricious use of authority than with a monarchy, since the oligarchs must reach a consensus before they can act. Oligarchy is therefore more conservative than monarchy, and tends toward greater stability in the society.

The disadvantages of oligarchy are first, that it is less efficient than monarchy; and if the number of oligarchs becomes large, it can freeze the society when immediate action is needed. Second, the need for consensus (or a majority agreement, at least) among the members can mean that the least wise action is taken, because it is the only one that the members can agree on. Third, there is a difficulty in finding the wise oligarchs, since there are more people needed to govern than with monarchy. Fourth, there is a stronger tendency even than with monarchy for the policy set to be the one that is most advantageous to the governors than to the governed--because the interest of the governors would be the thing on which the oligarchs would agree most often. Finally, there is the danger of factionalism if the number of oligarchs is large enough.

Fifth, a republic is a kind of oligarchy in which the oligarchs are chosen by the members of the society, either by all or by some smaller group (such as the men or the property owners). Usually the selection is not for life, and so the oligarchs can be removed by those who chose them, and so they are supposed to "represent" them or "be responsible to" them in some sense.

This form of authority gives the members an indirect control over the commands issued to them, and so has the advantage of tending to have more willing members (since they can change the oligarchs).

It has, however, a modified form of the special disadvantage of a democracy, that demagogues can be chosen to be the oligarchs. A demagogue is a person who can persuade masses of people, and so can sway them to his own ends. There is also a tendency toward what Mill called the "tyranny of the majority," since the oligarchs are chosen by the majority to represent the majority's interests; and insofar as those interests come into conflict with the rights of other members, a republic can be oppressive. Further, the majority's interests may or may not coincide with the common goal of the society, and so can lead it astray.

Finally, there is democracy, which is authority that is left in the hands of the members themselves, deciding to give orders to themselves by majority vote. In a republic, the people do not actually have the authority, but choose those who are to be in the status; in a democracy they actually have it.

The advantages, such as they are, of democracy are that the people tend to be willing to obey, because they are under the illusion that what the majority wants is best for the society, and they feel that they have helped make the laws.

But the disadvantages of democracy are legion. First, it is extremely inefficient, since the whole society must be involved in every piece of legislation and every judicial decision. Secondly, it takes up the time of the members, giving them little to spend pursuing their own goals, or even carrying out the commands they pass. Thirdly, since the people have no special wisdom, it can be extremely unjust, since there is no way in a pure democracy to curb the oppression of minorities by the majority. Fourthly, since the masses of members are easily swayed by demagogues who tell them what they want to hear and make contradictory promises, it tends to be at the mercy of these people, and to follow every wind of faddish thought; and, as Plato said, very easily degenerates into a tyrannical monarchy under the demagogue, who insinuates himself into absolute power.

Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of government, except in comparison with all the others. Churchill was a great statesman, but a bit of a benevolent demagogue himself. The mere fact that this silliness is remembered of him shows how easy it is to pull the will over people's eyes by a clever phrase.

If this list of forms of government is discouraging, this is no accident. Given the fallen nature of human beings I mentioned in Chapter 5 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.5, there is no system of government that is such that it is likely that the common good will be maintained and the common goal advanced. Utopians are always tinkering with the system, not recognizing that changing the system is only going to shift the difficulties to a different area. Human ingenuity in subverting systems which in themselves are benevolent is far too great to suppose that a system can be devised which is tyranny-proof.

What is to be done, then?

The answer is that the spirit of the people to be governed should determine the form of the government. Some people function well under a monarchy, some under an oligarchy, and others under a republic. I must say, however, that if the number of members is very large, very few communities are such that they can be governed democratically.

This is a book of philosophy, not politics, and having said what I just said, I am not going to try to spell it out. My own inclination is that a kind of bureaucratic republic seems to be the least dangerous form of civil society; but that may very well be because I live in one--which has plenty of very serious flaws, God knows.

But there is the question of how the form of the authority gets decided on. First, a definition:

The constitution of a society is the form the authority has in that society.

It may be a written document, as in the United States, or it may "just happen" or evolve, as in England.

At the formation of a society, since there is no "natural" constitution, as I said above, the members are free to choose their own constitution (which, in certain small societies such as clubs, are called the "bylaws"). But this freedom exists only at the formation of the society. Once the constitution is decided upon, the members have no right to change it, unless means for altering it are built into the constitution itself. Changing the constitution of a society (other than by constitutional means) is in fact destroying the society and replacing it with another.

The reason for this should be obvious: it is of the nature of authority to tell the members to do what is not to their short-term advantage to do, and to threaten punishment if they don't do it. But since people want to be free, then if "government is by consent of the governed," they will tend to want to replace the constitution as soon as laws are passed which make a significant number uncomfortable--and the result is anarchy. Many nations, including Argentina, suffer from this attitude. The people think that government is supposed to express their will; and they don't want to be forced to do anything that isn't their will (i.e. causes inconvenience); hence revolutions occur frequently and the government can't get the country out of its disastrous condition.

Hence, "governance is by consent of the governed" only at the beginning; and even there, most of this consent is tacit consent, because in most cases of the formation of a constitution, the people actually don't vote on it--and even if they do, it is only a majority of the people who want it, and the minority who voted against it are assumed to accept it, though not perfectly willingly.

After the constitution has been formed, the people must obey the authority, unless it becomes a blatant tyranny, violating their rights to such an extent that the Double Effect would justify a revolution destroying the society itself. But in order for the five rules of the Double Effect to apply, the tyranny must be widespread and not able to be got rid of in any constitutional way, and there must be hope of success from the revolution, including a reasonable expectation that the constitution which will replace the one that is being destroyed will be better.

In any case,

Conclusion 22: A constitution is legitimate if there has not been from the beginning a rebellion against it on the part of a significant number of the members.

You can't please all of the people all of the time; and so there are bound to be one or two members who actively don't like this form of government and fight against it. Hence, even de facto governments which come into power by revolution or by usurpation are legitimate governments after a relatively short time, if it is seen that the people accept the government, in the sense that no significant attempt to overthrow the new regime has been occurring. Of course, the actual absence of armed conflict is not necessarily a sign of acceptance of the government by the people, if the new government is a police state which crushes the slightest hint of dissent--as seemed to be going on in Kuwait, after it was taken over by Iraq.



1. There is a variation of this in the Catholic Church. I mentioned in an earlier footnote that the Holy Spirit does prevent those in authority from teaching what is false with respect to faith and morals (at least, it prevents the bishops as a whole from doing so, though an individual bishop may be out of communion with the others and teach what is false); so in this sense, there is a "grace of office" here. But the only individual bishop it actually works on is the Pope. And even there (a) what the Holy Spirit does is negative, and he is not therefore guiding the Pope or the College of Bishops toward more and more profound understanding and teaching; and (b) this helping hand of the Holy Spirit only deals with what is necessary for the community to perform its function of preserving and teaching the facts about Jesus and what he said. Hence, as far as governance is concerned, the Pope and even the whole College of Bishops acting together may make egregious blunders. I personally think that one was made in Luther's case--probably because those in authority at the time had too exalted a notion of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. Luther had some good ideas that were, in fact, in the Church from the very beginning but which almost had been lost sight of; and the high-handed attitude of the people in authority at the time prevented the Church from learning what Luther had to say that was an improvement over how the Church understood the facts it was preserving, and prevented Luther from learning where his reform of the teaching went too far. That, as I say, is my own opinion.

Another peculiar aspect of this is the fact that, in a Religious order, when a person takes a vow of obedience to the least sign of the authority's will, he is deliberately offering his self-determination as a sacrifice to God; from which it follows that obedience even to stupid orders from above (and there are pretty darn stupid ones, as I can testify from my own experience) are in fact what is best for the person at that time, because all he is really interested in is the life of love and disinterest in himself, and not the life of self-fulfillment. But this is another case of the Christian paradox, and is not to be taken that the authority in the Religious orders does necessarily is what is temporally beneficial for the members of the order, and that he can rely on the fact that God will turn his stupidity into brilliance.

2. Of course, it does not follow that in the real world everything will be hunky-dory if this is done. I once noticed that a priest in a Benedictine monastery that I was visiting was omitting word "men" from the Nicene Creed at Mass. Since no individual priest or bishop has the right to tamper with the wording of the official statement of the Church's belief (and since this particular omission changed the meaning of what was being said) I, following my duty to let the authority know, wrote to the abbot to point this out. Once I had done that, the matter was out of my hands, no matter what the abbot did about it; and in that sense, I did not care what he did. But some time later, when I wanted to go back there and make a retreat, I discovered I was persona non grata because I didn't agree with the way they did things there.

3. The evidence here obviously need not be strong enough to stand in a court of law; if parents have any reason to believe that their children might well be doing something wrong in secret, then they have the obligation to ferret it out. In general, children's right to privacy is much less than that of adults, because (a) they don't realize the full implications of what they are doing, and (b) they need to be taught what to do, especially in moral matters.

4. Can the Catholic Church force members to name their sins to the priest in confession (as opposed to confessing something like, "I am a sinner")? Yes, if this is necessary for the priest to be able to set the conditions by which God erases the act as operative (i.e. if God in fact has said he will not erase the sin unless a representative of the Christian community as such knows of it and forgives it in the name of the community--always excepting cases where in practice this couldn't be done). I leave it to the Church to determine whether that condition is fulfilled; I think I can see a "loophole" in the way the pronouncement on the subject by the Council of Trent was worded; but I defer to those who know the subject better.

In any case, there are two differences between this and testifying against oneself. In the first place, there is no question of harm here, but just the opposite. In the second, the one hearing the confession is, as I said in discussing secrets in Chapter 5 of Section 2 of the fifth part 5.2.5, absolutely forbidden to act, once outside the confessional, in any way as if he had heard what the penitent said. So aside from the embarrassment of telling the priest what you did (and in circumstances, also, if you wish, that he doesn't even know who you are), there is no bad effect on the penitent at all.

5. In cases of great danger, such as that of terrorist attacks, asking citizens to report suspicious activity can be justified on the grounds that by keeping their eyes open they are not actually violating anyone's right, and the police and such have not the personnel to be able to be in enough places to stop an attack. But actual snooping by citizens (such as examining trash cans) should not be allowed.

6. Bringing social pressure to bear, while not easy, is possible, as is shown in the largely successful campaigns against smoking.

7. The authority is not the only one responsible for an omission when there is a member who knew that the law needed to be passed and did not tell the authority.