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28 April 2017

20 Principles: Authority is an Eternal Principle

Miss Mason started chapter three of Philosophy of Education right out with a pair of ideas that I found really challenging:

It is still true that 'Order is heaven's first law' and order is the outcome of authority.

Without this principle [authority], society would cease to cohere.
-Charlotte Mason 6:69

I don't think of myself as a rebellious person. My parents read my blog, and they're probably laughing right there, and I do admit that I am not someone that can just take your word for it. One of the early memories I have about gospel study, the first time that I remember thinking that scripture was really cool, was the day that Dad explained to me that I don't have to take his word, or the teacher's word, or anybody's word for it: I can go and read the scriptures myself and find out for myself, and I can search the scriptures for the answers to my specific questions, because the important stuff is all in there, and anybody that wants it can have it. So I am an questioning, independent person. But I don't think of myself as rebellious.


Charlotte Mason is a challenging teacher! I regularly feel rebellious about her statements when I first read them. Which is interesting all by itself; I can't think of another author that does that. But the really interesting thing is how often I think about it for a while and come around to her way of thinking. This principle is like that. My first reaction was a rebellious, "No it isn't!" But I kept mulling it over.

It is still true that 'Order is heaven's first law' and order is the outcome of authority.

I had to work backward to get to where she's at with this one. And I re-read 2 Nephi 2, where Lehi teaches about the eternal order, the nature of God, and of law. Miss Mason says that order is the outcome of authority. Here's what Lehi says:

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. ... And if ye say that there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin,. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery.
-2 Nephi 2:5,13

We need order and law; we need our things to continue to be ours, so we can plan, so we can prepare for tomorrow, meet our needs and those of our family. Law is important. But law presupposes that there is someone in charge. It presupposes authority. That is, order and law presuppose that someone has the right to command or to act. Realizing that was a turning point for me in understanding what she's getting at. Some of what she says here is actually familiar ideas; she says that anarchy actually isn't a thing, not really:

Practically there is no such thing as anarchy; what i so-called is a mere transference of authority, even if in the last resort the anarchist find authority in himself alone.
-Charlotte Mason 6:69

This is an idea I've run into before, in the course of studying government:

The video's section on anarchy is actually a really good expansion of what Miss Mason is saying, and it touches on some of the same things that Miss Mason says next:

There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised...
-Charlotte Mason 6:69, emphasis added

Re-watching the YouTube segment really clarified for me why it is that liberty cannot exist without authority. "Some amount of government is a necessary force in any civilized, orderly society." Lehi addresses this, too, when he say that without law there is neither righteousness nor sin. No law means that there's no crime, and no punishment for unjust actions. And you spend all  your time and energy trying, probably unsuccessfully, to protect your people and your property. Which is why God gave us governments: for the good and safety of society, and for the rights and protection of all people. Like so many principles, when you dig down into the core, authority is about Agency. And, if we try to escape authority, to create an anarchy, Miss Mason is right: society will cease to cohere, and we all suffer greatly. History tells us that revolutions nearly always end up more like the French Revolution than like the American Revolution; the people are usually less free than when they began.

I don't think it's any accident that the video places things on their power scale they way they do: total government on the one hand, no government on the other, with correct action being balanced in the center. You see this kind of tension between opposing principles all the time. I wrote about it with Grace and Works a few months ago, using the Psalms and Romans, but Lehi talks about it too, and ties this concept of opposites to our Agency:

... it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. ... And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever...
-2 Nephi 2:15, 26

All this wanders pretty far from Miss Mason's educational treatise that I'm working on, but before I could really look at what she says about authority and education, I really had to think hard about what she's saying about the nature of authority. In spite of my initial resistance, I think that she hit the nail on the head: authority is an eternal principle that is essential to both order, and also closely related to the exercise of Agency.

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