“If the representative of authority does not follow the requirements of honour, he undermines the authority of the state”

Historian Alexander Marey about the authority of the Orthodox Church, officials and scientists in Russia

“If the representative of authority does not follow the requirements of honour, he undermines the authority of the state” Photo: hse.ru

The concept of authority is often associated with the criminal world, while it is much broader. It can be attributed to the president of the state, to the Duma, to the Church, to scientists, parents and then to all people who live in society. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, historian Alexander Marey told about what authority is, how it has changed in a historical perspective, why it weakens and who always retains the authority.

“The authority of the state is not always reflected and not always got rationalized”

Mr Marey, how in your book Authority, or Submission Without Violence do you trace the change in the concept of authority depending on the era?

I wrote about how authority from personal quality becomes the marker of political formations, an attribute of the state. The key change was that people began to be invested with authority not because of their personal qualities but because of their professional position. That is, conditionally, I am an Associate Professor at the university. If we talk about authority as a personal quality, then this is what I earn among my students and colleagues through my work, knowledge, the art of teaching. But again, we do not know each other personally, you come to me and ask: “Tell me, what is authority? You know what authority is.” How do you know I know what authority is? To a certain extent, this assumption is due to my institutional position as an Associate Professor at the HSE School of Philosophy, the established institution. Similarly, they take comments from specialists from other major universities or, for example, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, when they may not know anything about a particular person personally, but his position, his status makes it possible to assume what he knows.

I'll give an example from another area, just to be clear. Imagine that you are walking down the street, you are stopped by a police officer, he asks you to show documents or go somewhere to be a witness. You, as a rule, obey. Why? Is it possible to say that you are led there by force? No. You were bludgeoned in the gut? No. You are politely requested. Even if you refuse, you are not likely to be arrested or even detained. There is no threat of force that fills your soul with fear, because of which you would show him these documents. Moreover, you do not know this person personally, and as soon as he leaves your field of vision, you will stop thinking about him. So this policeman doesn't exist as a person for you. However, you show him the documents and go to perform the duties of a witness. Why? Because this person represents the state, and the state is the source of authority by default. By default, because the authority of the state is not always reflected and not always rationalized. It is because it is.

Photo: wikipedia.org

“The authority of the Church is based on the words of Christ, and for believers, this authority is never doubted”

Today, it seems, the authority of the Orthodox Church is not as strong as during the previous centuries?

The Church has been here for a thousand years, and it will not disappear tomorrow or the day after. I do not believe that the authority of the Church is vanishing, and it is impossible to undermine it by the immoral behaviour of certain priests or something else like that. The authority of the Church as is, in itself, is based on another, on the words of Christ, and for believers, this authority is never diminished or doubted. For unbelievers, it does not exist. The condition of the existence of authority, in this case, is the acceptance of dogmas.

Something is definitely changing. But the authority of the Church remains. The only question is — in what cases. Of course, the authority of the Church in political matters is not what it used to be. But in the matters of the salvation of the soul, in priority issues for the Church, it still remains.

Photo: Dmitry Reznov
The authority of the Church as is, in itself, is based on another, on the words of Christ, and for believers this authority is never diminished or doubted. For unbelievers, it does not exist. The condition of the existence of authority in this case is the acceptance of dogmas

“Socially recognized knowledge — that’s the authority”

On the basis of what you have already said, could define the word authority?

I would say that authority is the power of socially recognized knowledge. In fact, when we say that someone has authority, we mean that people obey him because they recognize that he knows how to do this or that thing. For example, how to lead the community, to lead the state. That is, we recognize that he knows how to do something.

Does knowledge give authority?

Socially recognised knowledge is authority.

But people can't be experts in many fields. For example, how can a person who has not studied physics accept authority in this field? It turns out that only someone who understands physics can accept the right authority?

If we are talking about physics or chemistry, about the authority in a particular area, then, of course, those will recognize this authority who are able to recognize it. Or those whom it will be possible to convince in one way or another.

In the field of politics and public administration, there are also not very many specialists, how do ordinary people accept the authority of a particular leader?

It's not about who knows what. In order for you to believe and admit that I understand a topic, you do not need to understand this issue. You can say, ‘I don't understand it, but John Doe does. He wrote a book on the subject, let's ask him what it is and believe what he says.’ Then others also believe. About the same in politics. A striking example of such gaining of authority — auctoritas — can be, for example, Octavian Augustus.

In an interview with the website Rusofil, you said that at the beginning of our era in Rome, the Senate included family people who had a reputation, were professionals in their field. Do in our time the basic principles of the emergence of reputation and authority remain the same?

I wasn't talking about family people, but homeowners. Paterfamilias — a citizen of Rome, the head of household, a person who holds a wife, children, slaves and other movable and immovable property. The presence in the Senate of such people, the heads not so much of individual families as of gentes, was conditioned, if you will, by the recognition of their knowledge of how to manage a household or a family. But the recognition that came from other householders like themselves. It stayed and never went away. Although authority can be the basis of a fairly rigid hierarchical relationship, its origins always lie in egalitarian practices.

Photo: kremlin.ru
We say not “Putin” but “the president of Russia” or “speaker of the Upper House” or “attorney general”. And in this case, everything is all right with authority because the state says with the mouth of this man, and we bow before it

“The collapse of the personal appearance of a number of deputies entails corrosion of the authority of the same Duma as an institution”

In the Soviet Union, the authorities for children were cosmonauts, scientists, in our time, children and adolescents choose bloggers, musicians, actors as authorities. Does this choice depend on the ideology of the state, on the education that children receive?

I think that the way the question is put is not quite legitimate. The mechanics in both of these cases are the same — before us, there is the classic case of personal authority associated with the achievements of success by a particular person in the professional field. Another question is, what professions often come to the attention of the state, which are declared the most ... prestigious, or something. But it is another question, it has nothing to do with authority. Well, one more thing to which I would draw attention: when talking about personal authority, one should not overestimate the power of rational argument, the choice of “authority” for yourself is often realized irrationally, emotionally.

I think many would agree that the president of Russia has great authority. But what authority do officials from the Duma, the Federation Council and other authorities have in the eyes of the people?

This is quite a difficult topic, it is associated with a complex of processes that can be designated by the word “corruption” in its original sense, as “corruption, decomposition, decay”. When we talk about the authority of the president and officials (the president is also an official in this regard), when we talk about the authority of civil servants of a certain rank, there are two modes of speaking about it, two discursive moduses.

There is a normative mode of speaking. It implies that we see not Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin or Valentina Matvienko, not Yury Chaika, not a specific person, but we see a uniform with insignia. That is, we do not see the person, we see the position. We say not “Putin” but “the president of Russia” or “speaker of the Upper House” or “attorney general”. And in this case, everything is all right with authority because the state says with the mouth of this man, and we bow before it.

Another mode is personal, personal speaking. We say: “our president is Putin.” But, first of all, it is not necessary. The president will be re-elected and there will be someone else. Or today our governor is Ivanov, but tomorrow Petrov will be appointed and today's statement will lose force. But as long as we personalize this whole arrangement, its consequence is corrosion, the deterioration of institutional authority. Because such change in the mode of speaking implies a change in the mode of authority.

If we say not “president of the Russian Federation” but “Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin”, then Vladimir Vladimirovich is good or bad. As soon as we begin to use the personal instead of the formal designation and substitute a person for a position, we assume the source of authority in this particular person.

Photo: duma.gov.ru
When we learn discrediting information about the deputy, about the official, we may disregard it. But if then information about another deputy, about the third and so on reaches our attention, at a certain moment the backlash starts

That is, going back to the beginning of our conversation, when you turn to an Associate Professor of the HSE or a leading researcher of the CFS — this is one thing. But when you say, “No, I'm not talking to an Associate Professor. I'm talking to Marey. There are a number of other professors, but they are not interesting to me,” you mean that not institutional aspect of authority is important to you, not what is delegated to the person by the institute, not the glow from above, but his own personal glow is more important to you. And here the aspects of ethics begin to play a role. And we begin to evaluate a person from an ethical standpoint: do we recognize him worthy enough to teach us life? What if we know about him some discrediting facts? As long as we talk about the position, about the uniform, it doesn’t bother us. But as soon as we start talking about a person, everything changes. The offset in the area of personal starts. As a result, the reverse reaction is activated.

Let’s go back in Rome for a moment. Initially, the authority of the Roman Senate of the Republican era was constituted not by the position of the Senate as an institution, but by the fact that it included 100, 200, 300 respected people, elders. 100, 200, 300 senators, each with authority. And the sum of personal authority gave the authority of the Senate. Then, over the years, in the age of Augustus and beyond, things change a bit. The Senate begins to form at the personal whim of the emperor. As a result, the Senator was invested with authority simply because he was a member of the assembly. That is, it is no longer his authority, but the authority of the assembly, the institution. But then, there is quite an understandable thing, and in the historical perspective quite quickly, the Senate terribly loses credibility in just a century and a half. This is because senators did not have personal authority any more. And, being deprived of reinforcements from below, the authority of the institute begins to fade.

When we learn discrediting information about the deputy, about the official, we may disregard it. But if then information about another deputy, about the third and so on reaches our attention, at a certain moment the backlash starts. And other, quite, for example, highly moral and personally pure people who are members of the Duma, in this case, become victims of the collapse of the authority of the institution, although they themselves are not guilty of anything.

It turns out that people in power should follow a high moral code of honour?

I wouldn't say such big words. But, yes, if the representative of the power do things discrediting personally him, thereby, he also undermines the authority of the power as a whole.

By Matvey Antropov