Sunday 19 August 2012

For moderns, authority implies committee


Praise the King of Heaven - or the supreme Soviet of Heaven?


It is astonishing how nearly all modern people automatically and moralistically believe that authority should be, must be, vested in a committee.

They think it right that all important decisions be made by a group of people (preferably voting).

If there is to be a Head of some institution, then they should be the head of a committee, elected by a committee, reporting to a committee ('accountable'), removeable by a committee.

Committees decide pretty much everything and everywhere, therefore - and where they do not, they stand behind and undermine personal authority.


This, naturally, subverts Christianity (I mean real Christianity) - since Christianity is about personal authority.

Yet if modern people were deciding how the universe ought to be run, they would have God as Chair of a committee, with all the tasks of the world done - not by individual angels - but by committees of them appointing project managers.

God would not be praised by choirs of angels, but congratulated by formal vote.


Indeed, moderns would prefer to have a god elected by his creatures.

And, in a sense, that is precisely what they do have: the modern world is dominated by an elected god.

God is a monarch, currently in exile; Satan is 'the people's choice' as democratically-elected dictator.


It will be one of the signs of societal repentance when we recognize that the Eastern Orthodox equation is quite simple and correct:

God is a monarch, ergo man should be ruled by a monarch; there are no committees reported in Heaven, there should be none on Earth.

Authority is personal or it is not authority, but instead its opposite.


(NOTE FOR PEDANTS: Valid Ecumenical councils were choirs, conducted by the Holy Ghost - certainly not committees.)


Wm Jas said...

In traditional Chinese religion, the Jade Emperor presides over a Celestial Bureaucracy.

A major theme of Philip Pullman's "Dark Materials" novels is the project of replacing the Kingdom of Heaven with a Republic of Heaven.

James Higham said...

God would not be praised by choirs of angels, but congratulated by formal vote.

Like it and then there was Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis' comment, was there not?

hegbert said...

Swaziland's said to be very nice this time of year.

dearieme said...

Committees make it possible to evade responsibility. Sometimes they are used for little else.

Mind you, the committee that produced the authorised version did a fine job - didn't you discuss that recently? Which means that the trick is to decide what categories of task committees are well suited to.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - the AV is the exception which proves the rule - because this was nothing like any committee in the modern world - much more like an ecumenical council with the Holy Ghost sitting in the Chair.

Plus, it was less of a translation and more of a editorial job using material from Tyndale, Coverdale etc.

Still, it was wonderfully well done - and this is just the kind of job which modern committees do so very very badly (even if they have geniuses of the calibre of Launcelot Andrewes involved).

B322 said...

I haven't gotten a since of whether or not you're advocating straight-up autocracy. A lot of reactionaries would balk at absolute personal rule but you're under no obligation to agree with them.

If we abolish committees, we also have to abolishing governing corporations since the latter depend on boards of directors. So, no neo-cameralism. No 17th Century Britain either, since that employed a parliament. Likewise, Czars are okay but not dumas. Etc.

Previously I've toyed with the idea of creating a vote-free confederation of monarchic city-states. That would kill committee rule, mob rule, etc., while also employing personal responsibility to its fullest, as long as their were clear separation of functions (policy areas) between the barons and the king. E.g., each level of hereditary ruler would have the exclusive right to levy a certain kind of tax, but each individual ruler would set rates in his own jurisdiction.

Maybe I will try to come up with something.

Bruce Charlton said...

@OdE - I think the penny may be dropping with respect to reactionary!

I cannot see any good reason for committees - it is possible, of course, that a specific committee might woprk for a particualr time and place - but it would (almost) never be the right things to set up except as a one off exception in perculiar circumstances - so it could/ should never be a constitutional requirement or norm.

Committees are weird and modern and unnatural and - in a word - evil.

That does not *of course* mean that personal rule is good; merely that it may be good.

WmJas - I never made it to the end of the Philip Pullman books - perhaps I could sense where they were going, plus of course they just kept getting worse and worse in their quality - which may be connected to that.

Jonathan C said...

I like this post very much, but I feel it's incomplete. I wish you'd said more about why.

One reason, as dearieme hints at, is that when you give one person full authority, he also has the responsibility, takes the blame if it goes wrong, and earns a reputation from its success or failure. A committee does none of these things; there are few consequences for doing a bad job.

Another reason, which you hint at only in the comments, is that one person with authority has the potential for greatness, whereas a committee can almost never achieve greatness.

These themes could be drawn out into many wise observations if I were smarter...

Bruce Charlton said...


You could try

Matias F. said...

I think it's more accurate to say that committee implies no authority. The demand of "radical democracy" in the 1960's and 70's was to remove all traditional authority of institutions such as state, justice, family and replace it with "participation" or expert rule.

Participation means that everybody has a voice in the decision, which means in practice that unanimity is massaged through manipulation and bullying. No authority is used, because everybody consents to the decision. Since Ockham and the nominalists, or at least Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes and the idea of sovereignty, authority implies arbitrariness or the power to make something right by will.

Voting as decision-making is based on the idea that everybody is the same, and there are no conflicts of interests, so eventually all would come to the same conclusion, so there's no arbitrariness to let the majority decide, no authority is supposedly used by the majority against the minority, but the decision is the will of all.

Expert rule is not authoritarian, because it is not arbitrary but "rational": the decision is determined by science, whatever that means. But consenting to reason is not the same as consenting to authority in the leftist mind.

GFC said...

Dr. Charlton,

Do you have any pointers to works that lay out the Orthodox conception of monarchy? Interested in reading on it for a project.

Thanks and God bless you,

Bruce Charlton said...

@GFC - you could look at these, and the links therein:

I got my understanding initially from reading widely in Fr Seraphim Rose.