Ascending to Authority

“With Great Power comes Great Responsibility” – Stan Lee slightly misquoting FDR.

Power and responsibility go hand in hand. Peter Drucker calls it authority and responsibility (same thing) – and notes that one implies the other. In fact, he notes that the implication goes both ways. If one has authority he must also bear responsibility – and if one has responsibility he must also be given authority.

These two seem to fit together; they will never be too far from one another. It’s almost as if they want to be together – the have to be together.

The principle is understood by a great many corporations, organizations, and government entities. If you want to strip someone of authority, it is easier to first remove responsibility – the rest will follow. Or how about this, parents who want their kids to start taking responsibility for their actions, will often begin by giving them authority over the issues at hand.

It is understood by political movements as well. As we debate issues of individual freedom versus collectivism, of personal versus group rights, we find that we are always running into the issue of authority and responsibility.

Early collectivist movements (i.e. the communists) moved to seize authority. With this seizing of power, they defaulted into a state of responsibility for the affairs of men. On this point, they have by-and-large failed miserably, ultimately collapsing dramatically, as in the case of the Soviet Bloc.

The American collectivists (e.g., progressives) have taken a different, and I think far more effective tack. They have worked to expand government responsibility, only following with calls for authority after-the-fact.

For instance, our desire for everybody to have an education (perhaps even a college education) has led government to take on the responsibility of making sure such education is available to all. After taking this burden, they claimed a need (and perhaps rightly so) to have authority over the college loan and financing process in order to carry out their functional responsibility.

Or how about the recent health care debate? I heard quite a few liberal commentators say (I’m paraphrasing) “the government is already paying for the uninsured to have medical care, and this plan will help streamline that process and save money.” Or, to translate it, “the government has a responsibility to provide health care for all, therefore taking authority over the entire process is only natural.”

(The list could certainly go on.)

Now, on the one hand I would tend to agree. If the government has a responsibility for these issues, then they ought to have authority as well. But, I would disagree that the government has a responsibility here.

Remember, there is no such thing as the nameless, faceless government. In a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” – the government is the people. If the government has responsibility it means the people have responsibility. It means that my neighbor has a responsibility to ensure that my education and health care needs are met. It means that he is obligated to work, to produce the necessary economic good, to provide for my needs. If he bears this responsibility, then he should have authority over my life. If he does not, then neither should he have authority.

So to my freedom-loving friends out there, I say that there is no need to fight against government authority for fear of its potential to oppress. If we remove these responsibilities from the government, the authority will follow.

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