Power v. Authority

Frequently, federal supremacists tell me that the Civil War “settled” the issue of state sovereignty.

Essentially, apologists for absolute federal power advancing this argument hold a “might makes right” point of view. From their perspective, the intent of the Constitution means nothing. The fact that Lincoln ultimately fielded superior military force makes his view, and that of subsequent federal supremacists, binding.

I find their reasoning absurd.

They basically argue that a man can insist the sky is green, and if I argue with him, he should then bludgeon me until I agree. Once I submit and concede the sky is indeed green in order to escape the relentless pounding, he can run around and claim that settles the color of the sky.

Absurd.

And morally bankrupt.

But from a practical standpoint, the federal supremacists stand correct. As long as the federal government can wield superior power, it can pretty much do as it pleases.

For instance, consider the federal “War on Drugs.” The federal government lacks the constitutional authority to prohibit marijuana. If you doubt me on this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to establish a federal prohibition on alcohol. Drug prohibition rightfully remains the purview of state governments. But despite the lack of constitutional authority, the federal government continues to enforce drug “laws.”

The federal government wields plenty of power.

But it lacks authority.

Consider the difference. Power flows simply from superior force. As long as I can dominate somebody physically, I have power over them. I can force them to do pretty much anything I please. They have absolutely no say in the matter.

They serve as my slave.

Might makes right.

On many levels, the federal government today operates on this basis.evil_king

It doesn’t have the authority to grope me at the airport.

But it has the power.

It doesn’t have the authority to spy on my without a warrant.

But it has the power.

It doesn’t have the authority to regulate the size of my toilet or dictate what kind of light bulb I screw into my fixtures.

But it has the power.

It doesn’t have the authority to bomb other countries without a congressional declaration of war.

It has the power.

But it lacks the authority.

Legitimate authority roots itself in much different soil. Authority implies consent.

Nobody has an inherent right to rule over you. Nobody possesses an innate superiority that entitles them to dictate your actions. You exist as a free moral agent. John Locke laid out this this fundamental concept in his Second Treatise on Civil Government.

To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another: there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

Thomas Jefferson put it more succinctly in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

It logically follows that in order for somebody to legitimately hold authority over you, you must willingly submit to it. To count as morally legitimate authority, the other person must not compel or force you to submit against your will. If you voluntarily submit, then that person or institution may exercise legitimate authority over you.

At its core, legitimate authority derives from contractual relationships. When you join an organization, take a job or enter into a business agreement, you delegate others authority. As long as the contract remains in force, the other person maintains the position of authority. But once that contractual relationship ends, whether on its own terms or through a breech, the authority dissolves.

Without your consent, another person can merely exercise raw power over you.

Federal supremacists rely on raw power. They lack legitimate authority.

They cling desperately to a morally bankrupt position.

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