The Inter-Action of Power and Authority – J.J. Vila-Chã

1. The Meaning of Authority

Authority comes from the Latin augeo, a word that means things such as to make grow and to increase. The idea of development and growth, therefore, is originally implied in the semantic of the word authority. As it is natural for growth to be defined by its beginning and end, derivatives of augeo have been specified in both the sense of “to produce, to bring forth” and of “to perfect, to accomplish”.[9] In this context, Gaston Fessard connects the noun auctor to the concept of growth and relates the word auctoritas – from which authoritydirectly derives – to the kind of growth and development that in and for itself accomplishes things deserving of being considered as model and example for others. Cicero even designates the man of action as auctor rerumand uses auctoritas to affirm the value of whatever has been realized and can be taken as an example of something important.[10] The various meanings of authority reveal the presence of a dynamism that produces, grows and perfects the ontological bond that unites beings in their diversity and plurality. Fessard captures the essence of authority when he writes that the word means “the power that generates the social bond”.[11] In the Fessardian sense, authority is not just the source of the social bond, but also the element that furthers its growth and brings about its ontological fulfillment.

In order to understand the meaning of authority we must learn to look at it as something that goes beyond the usual common sense of the legal power that constitutes the backbone and principle of unity of the State or any other institution incorporated under the rule of law. Rather, since authority is inseparable from growth and development, its exercise must be connected with the flourishing of the social being from which it depends. Even when concentrated in the hands of a prince, the uses of authority are inseparable from precise purposes and determined manners. Regardless of whoever has the capacity to exercise it, authority must always aim at the growth of the social body and the common good of its members.[12] If we look at the rule of law, for example, it becomes clear that the nature of law is permeated by the demand to serve authority, that is, to correspond to the power it is called to serve.

Strictly speaking, power always refers to a force, namely, to that force that independently of any right or reason, always affects others.[13] Power always grows in situations placed between the most brutal and the most ethereal. Hence the need, for example, to recognize the difference between the ascendant attained by the robber who, because of his exceptional vigor, cunning and brutality, becomes a successful gang leader, and that of the saint who, by his virtues and the radiance of his kindness, leads many to the achievement of ever greater good.[14] The point is that, regardless of its content being physical, psychic, intellectual or simply moral, power always constitutes a force associated with whoever is endowed with authority.[15]

[9] Cf. Gaston Fessard, Autorité et Bien Commun, 2. éd. augm. d’une postface (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1969), p. 12.

[10] Cf. Ibidem, p. 13.

[11] Ibidem, p. 13 : «la puissance génératrice du lien social, tendant de soi à croître jusqu’à son accomplissement.»

[12] Cf. Ibidem, p. 14.

[13] Cf. Ibidem, pp. 14-15.

[14] Cf. Ibidem, p. 15.

[15] Cf. Ibidem.