Political Concepts and Political Theories

By Gerald F. Gaus | Go to book overview
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own decisions about what we should do. This is the authority of the coordinator. Rather than being based on an inequality, this conception of authority arises out of our freedom and equality, and so our disagreements over how to conduct cooperative arrangements. Precisely because we conceive of ourselves as equally free, we require a coordinator to direct our actions to mutually beneficial outcomes.

Section 10.3 examined two accounts of authority associated with the liberal tradition: Friedman's coordinator, who directs our actions but provides no reasons to accept her pronouncements as correct, and the Lockean umpire, who seeks to umpire disputes about justice and moral rights. Although both models have played important roles in liberal political theory, I argued that the umpire model better accounts for the relation of liberal justice and liberal authority. Given the liberal position that equal liberty (and, typically, property) rights are fundamental to a legitimate state, these provide limits on what a justified authority may command. Moreover, because these ideal moral rights are abstract and vague, they need to be interpreted and expressed in legal justice (see Mill's points [1] and [2], Section 8.1). That, according to the Lockean umpire model, is the main task of political authority. As I argued, such a conception of authority combines aspects of being "in authority" with being "an authority" on justice.

Section 10.4 turned to the problematic place of political authority in socialist thought. On the one hand, socialism's strong egalitarian commitments lead it to be skeptical of the very idea of political authority. It seems that only when such authority is democratic, and so arises out of the equality of all citizens, can socialism embrace it. Moreover, given the close relation of democracy to socialist theories of liberty, equality, and justice, we observed that the ideal democratic state appears to hold out the possibility for a harmonious realization of all key socialist values. Yet, the rationalism of socialism also draws it to conceptions of authority that share much with the conservative views with which we began. Those who are experts on the social good, economic planning, or socialist theory seem to have claims to direct the activities of their less well-informed fellow citizens. Thus, we have the paradox of socialism: the political theory that in some ways seems most averse to authority was employed to justify some of the most authoritarian states in history.

See Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism ( New York: Harper and Row, 1970).
Richard B. Friedman, "On the Concept of Authority in Political Philosophy," in Richard E. Flathman, ed., Concepts in Social and Political Philosophy ( New York: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 142-143.


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Political Concepts and Political Theories


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