Legitimate Authority

The question of authority is one that history finds often answered by force where might makes right and any claim to it is actualized only by the ability to exercise and keep it.

Tied to the concept of human rights and responsibilities, authentic or legitimate authority, a rightful authority is not determined by the fact of who holds power by whatever means. A legitimate authority is one that holds power without transgressing the rights of those governed or failing to perform the duties proper to it. A legitimate authority is limited. Legitimate authority is bound by virtue to act with a fair and humane justice that is at all times limited by an enduring respect for human life and human dignity.

When and where this is violated, the fact of legitimacy and authority become separate questions.

The word legitimate comes from the Latin ‘legis’ which means law or principle. The law referenced here with respect to legitimate authority is not some circular, amorphous, legislative development that can be shaped to suit the ends of a usurper, but rather the immutable natural & moral law of objective truth.

That human beings are imperfect and that it is unreasonable and irrational to expect they will consistently agree on every important matter, it is fair to say we should expect divergent opinions on matters of state. The people will disagree. Leaders will disagree. While this happens, their duties and responsibilities are not suspended. They must still act accordingly, by reason, and in good conscience.

In the American experiment legitimate authority is derived, in part, from the consent of the governed. It is also derived from the recognition that human rights come from a Creator (endowed by our Creator) and not government which places that authority in service to those rights and a prior authority that is the author of objective truth and the natural and moral law. This is reflected in the U.S. Constitution where it sets out to form a more perfect Union rooted in justice, peace, the protection of our families and communities, and to protect our liberties by enumerating powers delegated to separate but equal branches of government and imposes limits on the powers delegated and checks and balances to prevent and limit opportunities for the abuse of power.

As a constitutional republic, the United States of America is a government established as a representative democracy bound by law as provided in the U.S. Constitution, and inferior laws derived from the powers it enumerates, with a democratic process of amendment requiring a supermajority and ratification by the states – a rather high bar intended to limit ill-considered and frequent amendment by majorities hostile toward the rights of fellow citizens in the minority.

The purpose and work of the center for the study and practice of Legitimate Authority is to plumb the depth of our understanding of the bounds of legitimate authority in models throughout human history, to refine and promote our understanding of an authentically American definition of legitimate authority as it is expressed through the Founding, Framing, and practical implementation of the Government of the United States. It is also to better understand and express the limits of that authority, particularly the points at which legitimacy may become a serious question and where certain acts of authority may tend to represent a departure from the original intent of the Founders and the Framers.