Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Freedom of Obedience

There's an excellent series in the May issue of Traces on the question of obedience. The treatment of the problem reminds me of a text I read a few months ago from political philosopher Hannah Arendt, "What Was Authority?" (1959), where she discusses the scope of the crisis. First, she deals with the common misconception about obedience, that it is as equated with coercion.
Since authority always demands obedience, it is commonly mistaken for some form of power or violence. Yet authority precludes the use of external means of coercion; where force is used, authority itself has failed. Authority, on the other hand, is incompatible with persuasion, which presupposes equality and works through a process of argumentation. Where arguments are used, authority is left in abeyance.... Historically, we may say that the loss of authority is merely the final, though decisive, phase of a development which for centuries undermined primarily religion and tradition.
And why isn't persuasion sufficient? Arendt explains:
Authority, resting on a foundation in the past as its unshaken cornerstone, gave the world the permanence and durability which human beings need precisely because they are mortals--the most unstable and futile beings we know of. Its loss is tantamount to the loss of the groundwork of the world, which indeed since then has begun to shift, to change and transform itself with ever-increasing rapidity from one shape into another, as though we were living and struggling with a Protean universe where everything at any moment can become almost anything else.
This problem of obedience and authority is addressed in these Traces articles very well from the Christian perspective.

A Matter for Reasonable Men
by Davide Perillo

For obedience is very closely connected to reason. Even more: it is the primary factor that preserves it, enabling it to light up and to breathe. Just think about it. The first act of reason is to recognize reality, to bow before the data of the real; in a word, to obey. Without this start-up, reason only revs its engine, failing to engage its gears, and certainly doesn’t move forward. It will always remain a few yards short of the truth, which, said Saint Thomas, is adaequatio rei et intellectus, conforming the intellect to reality. Conforming, that is, obeying.

> The Family
by Stefano Andrini
Today, Leoni stresses, “it is difficult to find within families a position of reciprocal obedience between spouses. It seems to me that one of the gravest problems is the absence of a real recognition of the authority of the one toward the other, man or woman–authority, meaning, power to interfere in and influence my life; recognition that the good for me is not given by myself; that without reciprocal obedience there is no sharing, and thus one experiences a substantial solitude.”

> School
edited by Paolo Perego
There’s no obedience without freedom, nor without a goal; obedience is functional to an objective. If there’s no goal, if you’re not trying to get anywhere, obedience has no meaning. This is a primary aspect of the educative paralysis immobilizing our schools. By dint of preaching neutrality, theorizing the absence of absolute values, a teacher can’t then demand obedience. The “neutral school” isn’t capable of proposing a goal, educating, and at this point it also becomes impossible to exert compulsion, as we’ve all seen in recent episodes.

> Vocation
edited by Paola Bergamini
> Politcs edited by Alberto Savorana

Traces May 2007

No comments: