The Authority Song

While I was having dinner tonight, I chatted with the bartender about a variety of matters, but especially about some of the enduring aspects of American culture. From time to time I have discussed my own family history, but despite complications, a healthy strain of anti-authority background remains pretty strong not only in the history of my family but also in my own life and its twists and turns. As if to underscore the point of the subject being on my mind, the radio played “The Authority Song” from John Mellencamp as I was driving home. It is instinctual for Americans, even above human beings in general, to be contrary to authority, but it is less instinctual to understand what this means.

If we wish to be blunt, every act of resistance to any authority anywhere is itself a simultaneous act in support of a rival authority. One cannot simply fight the power, for when one does so, one is fighting for some other power, whether or not one realizes it or admits it or not. When the apostles refused to stop preaching the Gospel message to hostile Jewish authorities in Acts 5:29, they memorably stated: “We obey God rather than men.” In stating this, they were being honest and profound in a way that is not often recognized. When authorities are in conflict, we must choose whom we obey, and face the consequences for rebellion against whichever authority we reject. If people are seldom as justified in disobeying authority as the apostles were in the book of Acts, it is not uncommon for there to be conflicts and rivalries between authorities. Some governments even institutionalize this conflict between different branches of government by establishing a separation of powers, to the point where it is common to see people celebrate one branch of government in a tactical aspect depending on whichever area one’s own allies and supporters are in power.

It is not always easy for people to understand what authority that they are supporting when they are acting against other authorities. When people fancy themselves to be anarchical people who are hostile to any sort of power, it is not always obvious to people engaged in acts of resistance against authorities like powerful corporate interests or the police or others what authority they are instead promoting. People who are engaged in such acts of violence and terrorism are usually squashed like bugs by the authorities that exist, so when a party or faction that seeks authority finds such people to be useful for a time, the people who are freed to engage in vandalism and violently destructive behavior often do not realize the short-term nature of their freedom to engage in such acts, for that which is permitted behavior against some authorities is not permitted as a permanent state of being. The example of Hitler’s brown shirts is instructive, for as soon as there was a change in power, the brown shirts whose anarchical violence had been beneficial in showing the weakness of the Weimer Republic were themselves brought to heel in the bloody “night of the long knives,” which is the fate of all like-minded disorderly people whose behavior threatens the imposition of the desired order of their supposed allies and friends.

If we are against tyrannical and abuse authorities, not because we are unruly people who do not live disciplined lives but because of our hostility to the abuse that comes from those who use authority in the wrong way, we instead ought to be honest about declaring our support for authorities that act in a proper way that seeks the well-being of those they rule over. To be hostile to evil governments is not to be hostile to authority in general. There cannot help but be some sort of authority in the universe we live in. Something must govern, something must rule. It need not have any particular sort of structure–a great many will do–but there will be something at the center of life, even if authority shrinks down to cities, neighborhoods, groups, or families. If we are honest and forthright about the nature of authorities that we would respect, provided that they meet a certain standard of acceptable conduct in their restrained use of authority, we are simultaneously openly and honestly expressing our hostility and resistance towards those authorities that are unwilling and/or unable to meet that standard. The more honest we are with ourselves and others about this, the less surprising the behavior of those in authority over us and those who want authority over us will be, and the better we will be able to recognize the connection between our resistance to what we view as intolerable evil and the longing that we have for good authority and good government, even if we may despair of ever finding it.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Authority Song

  1. Your reference to vandalism and violently destructive behavior brings to mind the BLM riots in the summer of 2020. That kind of behavior is still going on in the form of rampant crime, although not so much under the BLM banner anymore. However, I don’t think the authorities will allow this counterfeit freedom to last forever, especially as it “hits home” (e.g. the husband of the former Speaker of the House) more and more.

    • I agree with you that this sort of counterfeit freedom is only allowed to the extent that it is useful to those who allow it, and when that usefulness ends, so too does the license to do evil.

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