Thursday, September 14, 2006

O'Donovan: authority and freedom

Where authority is, freedom is; and where authority is lost, freedom is lost. This holds good for all kinds of authority. Without adults who demand mature behaviour, the child is not free to grow up; without teachers to set standards of excellence, the scholar is not free to excel; without prophets to uphold ideals of virtue, society is not free to realize its common good. To be under authority is to be freer than to be independent.

- Oliver O'Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 132.

I find this very experience in reading O'Donovan (most of the time). As I submit to his authority - which is not 'a reason for acting in the absence of reasons' but 'an authority is someone I depend upon to show me the reasons for acting' (131) - I find myself liberated from various confusions (and intiated into new ones!).

I do apologise for not writing more about O'Donovan as I earlier promised. I've been slowly working through this text with a small group at college and really enjoying it. I'll try to include more in future.
As usual, ten points for the location above. Another ten for identifying the statued figure.
UPDATE: Further important quote in comments. Also, thanks to jm for pointing out that today is the 2515th anniversary of the dedication of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Entirely a coincidence...

20 comments:

drew said...

very interesting thought - especially about ways of reading.

without prophets to uphold ideals of virtue, society is not free to realize its common good.

This seems to go hand in hand with responsibility - authority implies in part a recognition of responsibility for something. Thus, applied to our environment, or the issue of reconciliation, things our federal government refuses to acknowledge responsibility for and thus...

Or in the gospel, God has shown the depths of his responsibility for us in Christ, and now we are responsibile to his authority, (and can be freed by submitting to it)... (hmmm, is this phrasing heretical?)

just thinking out loud - or on screen, as it were.

byron said...

O'Donovan would say that recognition is a symptom, rather than a foundation, of political authority.

However, responsibility and authority are indeed two sides of the same coin. Yet it is neither recognition (by subjects) nor acknowledgement (by government) of responsibility that confers authority. The government has received responsibility for the common good from the hand of God (not simply the voters), and so we are not at liberty to inore that authority on the basis of specific blindspots. We are neither at liberty to not exercise our obligation (not right) to free speech about such matters either: i.e. we must obey and speak.

Here's another quote:
As one swallow does not make a summer, so one bad law - even a handful - do not make a refusal of right. But consider the hardest case of all: when a section of society marked by some arbitrary characteristic is systematically exploited, not only as it happens to fall into one another category, as "unborn child," "tenant," "day labourer," or whatever, but perenially snf on sll fronts, chased by the law from pillar to post, so that wherever it turns it finds itself forbidden to exercise ordinary freedoms, prevented from ordinary social participation, hemmed into a fixed place to fulfil a fixed role. Can the slave-state or the apartheid-state command a real political authority? Not, to be sure, over the group it persecutes. Allowing them no right, it can lay on them no obligations. Those whom it treats as citizens by enacting justice for them, however, may owe it the ordinary duties of citizens, though they do not owe it cooperation in its policy of planned injustice.
- O'Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 145.

byron said...

"perenially snf on sll fronts" = "perenially and on all fronts"

When will Blogger allow us to edit our own comments? I really couldn't be bothered previewing every time!

John P. said...

is that edinburgh? cause it looks like it...

byron said...

John: nope, though right continent.

drew said...

Thanks Byron, that's helpful. I'm not always so good at joining the dots in my thought!

responsibility for the common good from the hand of God

Yes, I think that this is what I was actually trying (in vain) to get at - and that Government's try to avoid their responsibility through their PR - trying to create through their own word.

I think Blogger beta allows you to edit comments. But it's not without it's own problems...

jm said...

the Capitoline hill in Rome- the statue is Marcus Aurelius.

byron said...

Twenty points to Joel! Also known as Piazza del Campidoglio, this famous little area was designed by Michaelangelo and incorporates the only extant equestrian bronze from antiquity: of Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Trust a Latin teacher to get that one...

And Joel, for an extra five points, for whom were we waiting when I took that photo? :-)

jm said...

possibly dave and sare?

byron said...

Another five points! :-)
Hope you don't mind the link to your blog. I love it. I hadn't checked it for a while and it's really got some great stuff! And what a coincidence with the 2515th anniversary thing...

byron said...

Speaking of our responsibility to exercise our free speech critically, I just came across this great quote:

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, it is morally treasonable to the American public."
- President Theodore Roosevelt

byron said...

And speaking of apt yet still sadly relevant quotes from WWII leaders:

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."
-- Winston Churchill

michael jensen said...

Yes: is it just me, or should we be really OUTRAGED about the Guantanamo Bay thing?

Byron, I will be interested to hear you comment on Hauerwas when you read him. Sometimes you do sound like a bog-standard political liberal... :-)

One of Freedom said...

That is an entirely appropriate quote for me today. We were discussing the tragic events in Montreal yesterday as part of our class discussion and the whole notion of liberty came up. So many in NA society have this twisted idea that freedom is the product of an absence of authority, when really it is quite the opposite. But like the narrator of the Adamic myth we also have trouble understanding freedom in the context of loving limitations (to borrow from Ricoeur).

byron said...

Sometimes you do sound like a bog-standard political liberal... :-)
Do you mean blog-standard? ;-)

I certainly don't think that protecting the rights of the individual against the nasty state is the first and most important job of politics. However, I do think that GB is an outrage.

I too am looking forward to Hauerwas, though it should have arrived a week ago at the latest! :-(

byron said...

Frank, unfortunately those ideas are not limited to NA.

I've only just found out about the shootings in Montreal - very sad.

michael jensen said...

Well, our grad seminar is doing a course on 'Hauerwas and cultural criticism' this term.

Should be fun.

meanwhile, I have posted on O'Donavan vs Hauerwas at www.mpjensen.blogspot.com

[Byron, our master-linker, how do you do it? ]

byron said...

Here is MPJ's post. And here is a tutorial to some basic HTML so that you can link to anything you like.

michael jensen said...

Thanks
BYRON

byron said...

MPJ: welcome to a brave new world.

PS the above link is to an interesting site I just found called 'breathing earth'.