Absolutist and relativist authority

Dispatches from the North has an excellent essay on the nature of authority.  The author argues that the real dichotomy is not between democracy and other types of government, but between authority that bases itself on human will and authority that bases itself on on something transcending human will.  Do read the whole thing, but I particularly liked this disussion of divine-right monarchy:

The inscrutability of God’s ways was another vital part of the system. After all, if humans knew exactly what God wanted, they could simply do it without His help, and would be justified in deposing any monarch considered unjust or tyrannical at a moment’s notice, thus stripping the monarchy of any real legitimacy or power. Paradoxically, it was an imperfect knowledge of God’s will which allowed that will to meaningfully manifest itself on the earth, and a partial inability to do away with things perceived as unfair which allowed fairness to triumph.

I hadn’t thought of it exactly that way before, but it’s a very good point.

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