Principle IV: Authority (Its Nature)

From Chapter II, “Principles”, L’Autorité, of Mes Idées Politique, by Charles Maurras. This principle will appear in three installments.

Nature of Authority

The idea that authority can be constructed from below would not have come into the head of our grandparents who were wise.

It is not made, in truth, from below nor from above.

Authority is born. In individuals, families, peoples, it is a gift which the will of men has very little to see.

The most vulgar observation is totally in accord here with the Catholic text omnis potestas a Deo [all power comes from God]. In one of the oldest “Letters to Françoise”, Mr. Marcel Prevost reminds his niece how, after having passed her baccalaureate, she knew she was obliged to show the secretary of the Faculty her notes, regardless of the rules of the University and the laws of the State. “You have a great gift, Françoise, it is authority,” observed Uncle Marcel sententiously. Did he believe so well what he observed. Did he follow through what he observed?

Authority, seized thus at its birth, is something simple and pure. Certain human types possess it, the others are devoid of it.

In leaving aside those who know only how to submit, the man of liberty, recognizable in the pride of a heart that nothing crushes, differs from the one who is characterized by dignity and inspires above all respect: the man of authority differs from the other two. His liberty imposes itself naturally on the liberty of others, his dignity is radiant, it leads and carries. It is neither respect nor admiration—inert feelings—it is an enthusiastic submissiveness which responds to him.

Far from being irrational, instinctive wishes move more quickly than conscious reason, and perceptive logic is not more lacking than the passions of a great love. The author of La Vita Nuova tells us that at his first sight of Beatrice his heart begins to beat in him impetuously, which Dante develops and explains in these terms:

The spirit of life that reside in the most secret vault of the heart begins to tremble with so much force that the movement is made to be felt again in my smallest veins and, trembling, it says these words: ‘Ecce deus fortiori me, qui veniens dominabitur me.’ Here is that God stronger than I, he is going to dominate me. Then, the animal spirit, which is hidden in its high vault where all sensitive spirits go to carry their perception, began to be greatly surprised and, addressing itself particularly to the spirits of the sight, says these words: ‘Apparuit jam beatitude nostra.’ Our bliss has appeared.

It is necessary to reread all that penetrating and poetic analysis which is of an age where the laziest sophisms from Germany and the Jews [Freud] had not imposed on the European West a ridiculous philosophy of the unconscious. What was unconscious, one brought it to consciousness. What eludes the first grasp of reason, a more subtle reason pulls out in the night.

This explanation of the strong premonitions of a loving heart, such as Dante gives us, can be applied to the instinctive transports of an obedient soul before the authority that he judges to suit him: a quick judgment grants him to conceive that it will be good for him to serve that force conceived as useful and beneficial, whose order presages protection, justice, or victory. There is a taste in it of the beginning of a mysterious good. By what sign is it known? That is the great difficulty. Certain military leaders make themselves obeyed by genius, others by bravery, others by a type of mystical faith. The exterior and brilliant gifts of a Condé can add the magic of the example to it, but some generals carried on litters have radiated the same prestige.

Henry Fouqier, who was part of the Thousand [who conquered Sicily as part of the unification of Italy], loved to tell that the aging Garibaldi inflamed his band by saying to them in a whisper, from the base of his carriage where rheumatism confined him, a simple: “Gentlemen, move ahead!” So many passions of hope and confidence sleep in the human soul! Little suffices a little in order to make them rise from it, but this nothing is indispensable and no convention, no arrangement, no artifice of will can take the place of the first natural gift.

Authority is of the same order as virtue or genius or beauty.

The most learned cogs have never replaced authority born

The French of the tenth century had settled down around the race which, for a hundred years or more, had always defended them effectively. Where did that race come from, from what heaven had it fallen on the country? Immigrant Saxons or native rural lords or even descendants of bourgeois Parisians, scholarship does not stop discussing it. They do not discuss the authority acquired little by little by their fortuitous power nor the benefit of their dynasty nor its constant happiness.

It expresses for centuries a power or protection and increase, it represents everything that the heart and spirit of men, isolated or reunited, wait for, hope for, and believe about a true authority.

True authority is naturally wise; an insane authority is not conceivable. The idea of authority does not mean, indeed, only the power and the great power exercised by a man or a group of men, but all the more, it confines the knowledge of the object on which this power is exercised and applied. The more the authority believes, the more this knowledge itself is developed. The more authority is perfect, the more it assumes the clarity and the exactitude of that knowledge, and the more it proportions itself in it.

Authority would not be an eternal political necessity if, at the same time as that guiding instinct which constitutes the bottom of the soul of the leaders, there did not exist in the soul of the subjects and the citizens an instinct of obedience, “spirit of following,” said Richelieu, who is the living expression of the greatest interest of the crowds: to be governed and well governed, in a good sense, with firmness.


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