history,  politics

Where does political authority come from?

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One of the books I’ve been reading recently is called Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. One of the things it points out very early is that the divine authority of kings in ancient times is not necessarily the same as the European concept of the divine right of kings.

In the later European concept the authority of God is bestowed upon the king for his whole life. The king is not accountable to anyone. In its extreme the will of the king could be taken to be the will of God.

In the ancient understanding the god could lend his authority to the king, with the king only benefiting from it as long as the king is seen to be obeying the will of the gods. If the king was seen to go his own direction, away from what people. Drought, disease or failure at war could be seen as signs that the gods were no longer happy with the king and he could be challenged. Those who could in any way speak for will of the king – whether within an institution like a temple or priesthood or independently as prophets – could become alternative power sources.

In both conceptions the authority of the king is seen as coming from a deity, but in vastly different ways. The idea that political authority comes from God has fallen out of favour now, but even accepting that a person against their authority from an election leaves lots of questions open. What type of authority does an election bestow on a politician?

Does the authority come because a politician is supported by the will of the majority of their constituency, or does it rest solely on having won the election? In other words, if a politician is elected without the popular vote, do they have any sort of obligation to care about what the majority of people want, or does the election grant them the moral authority to go forward with their own will?

If a person is elected are they elected to enact their party will or to act on the basis of their own conscience?

If American politicians are voted out because of a specific policy, do they have the moral authority to vote on that policy if a vote on it is called before they are removed from office (when they are ‘lame ducks’)? Does the authority granted by an election run out near the end of one’s term, as Mitch McConnell argued when refusing to let Barack Obama appoint a supreme court judge, or does it last right till the very end of the term as Mitch McConnell argues now that a politician he likes is in power?

If a politicians is found to have engaged in unethical means to get elected, does he still carry the authority of the office? I’m thinking not just about the United States but also about Alberta, where Jason Kennedy’s leadership campaign was…. how shall I put it? ….questionable?

The topic of political authority is vital these days. Trump is claiming impeachment is an “illegal, partisan attempted coup.” Is this true or not? The answer should not be based on whether one prefers Republican or Democratic policies. Americans need to think clearly about what Senators and Congress are elected to do, where they get their authority, what authority they have and what responsibilities they have.

Right and wrong in politics needs to be based on something more than party loyalty. People need to understand their own political ideals and clear understanding of those ideals.

In homeschooling or teaching related circles these days there is a lot of talk about “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) and “STEAM” (the same but with art added). While those things are important, I think we really need to remember the humanities too. We need to teach kids history, political theory and literature.

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