Without Authority, There Is No Freedom

Dr. Ben Carson offers some badly needed wisdom when he speaks about the vandalism, looting, and other forms of anti-social behavior that seem to be escalating in the United States. The remedy to the problem, he states, lies within the family. Unfortunately, “it is almost politically incorrect to talk about family values,” he told Fox News on July 15. He cites the fact that so many young people grow up in today’s society without a father figure, someone to teach them to think of the welfare of others.

Dr. Carson should be taken seriously. The concept of the family, given the influence of the LGBTQ movement and other organizations that demean the nuclear family, has become nebulous and undefinable. On the Black Lives Matter website, we read that its members “foster a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).”

Political correctness is both a major cause of the current problem as well as a preventative for its solution. It is arbitrary, inconsistent, ideological, and heartless. In his book From Dawn to Decadence, scholar Jacques Barzun has remarked that “the working of ‘political correctness’ in universities and the speech police that punishes persons and corporations for words on certain topics quaintly called ‘sensitive’ are manifestations of the permanent spirit of the inquisition.” There is no forgiveness for those who violate the canons of political correctness.

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I would like to elaborate on Dr. Carson’s point. Study after study indicates the importance of the father in teaching his child respect for authority. Saint Thomas Aquinas makes a very important point when he states that the respect that one has for the rule follows naturally from respect that one has for the one who gave it (ex reverentia praecipientis procedere debet reverentia praecepti).

A father is an authority, but a loving authority who has inspired trust in his children. We are speaking here, of course, of the way a father ought to be. When he teaches his son the fundamentals of baseball, he will say, “Hold the bat firmly with your right hand about your left hand, maintain the proper distance between your feet, and always keep your eye on the ball.” His son accepts his authority with trust because he knows it was given with love. The father-son relationship teaches respect for legitimate authority. The child will be prepared to distinguish authority which frees from authoritarianism which enslaves. He will develop a close bond with his father because he knows that his father’s words are more trustworthy than those of public opinion.

Authority that is detached from personality is cold and abstract. It has a diminished power to inspire. In the context of a loving family, however, it seems normal and natural. Children are not born virtuous. As a pundit once said, “A child will learn his moral values from his mother’s knee or at some other joint.”

Authority is freeing. Consider the authority of the dictionary, for example, which allows people to communicate intelligibly to one another. If I use the word “hello” instead of “help,” I cannot summon help when I am in distress. If, in a bold expression of freedom, I always use “no” instead of “yes,” people will soon come to distrust me and will exclude me from their social circle. In obeying the authority of the dictionary, I am free to engage in meaningful conversations.

The fact that legitimate, loving authority is freeing is something that children must learn. And the most natural and logical place to learn this lesson is in the family, which John Paul II often referred to as the first school of learning.

Aquinas maintained that it is a lesser sin to reject the law than it is to reject the person representing the law. Because respect for the law flows from respect for the person representing the law, rejecting the person disrespects both the person as well as the law.

Parenthood carries with it awesome responsibilities. Defects in the character of mom or dad hinder their ability to convince their children about the differences between right and wrong and to live by what is right. Children understand intuitively that the reliability of an authority is deeply connected with his moral character. Studies have also shown that juvenile delinquency rises in direct proportion to the decline of moral values among parents.

Aristotle was making the same point when he said that a speaker should first render his audience benevolent. Kindness begets kindness. We must establish a warm human relationship with others before we can expect that anyone will take us seriously. A classroom teacher must establish trust first before he has a chance to get his point across. His message, ultimately, may not be accepted. But that is not the point. He must be trusted before he can expect a faithful hearing, and I suppose, that is all a teacher wants from his students.

On a theological level, we find an important message in the statement, “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Christ’s authority is never abstracted from His personality. Therefore, He becomes a model of trustworthiness. His words are inscribed in His being as well as in His love. Respecting the legitimate authority of the father makes for an easy transition to accepting the authority of God. The family, consisting of mother, father, and children, remains un-improvable and irreplaceable. Contempt for all authority reduces a person to being a cosmic orphan.

Photo credit: Renata Sedmakova/shutterstock.com


  • Donald DeMarco

    Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus of Saint Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the Saint Austin Review and the author, most recently, of Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding.

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