Principle of Authority as Coordinator

August 15, 2013

Blessing of the Wheat

This complementary interplay of authority and vital flux differs completely from modern conceptions of authority as being despotic and tyrannical. Leaders must lead based on perceptions of what society needs and where it wants to go. Those manifesting the vital flux have every right to defend themselves should they be forced to act in a contrary manner. Either social bodies have authority that is born of internal coordination of this sort, or order becomes impossible.

Rather than just wielding a firm hand, a ruler’s principal function is to be a coordinator of autonomous social groups, a chief of minor rulers. He must not suppress the vital flux of his people but encourage it. He should respect each inferior authority and intervene in their affairs but little. So it was that the medieval monarch, with his limited powers and delegation of authority, knew how to distill the best from the vital flux coming from below and in so doing became himself its most sublime manifestation.

Photo of a Corpus Christi procession in Belarus, March 2011 by SreeBot.

As historian Roland Mousnier confirms: “Normally the king does not interfere in his subjects’ affairs. He is content to watch over the observation of the good rules and customs that have become established. If public safety is at stake, he may intervene in the sphere of his subjects’ rights, but only temporarily.”(1)

“Authority is not a power which is imposed upon a community from the outside; it rests upon the will of the group, represents it, thinks and acts in its place. Through authority society moves toward its goal and strives for development and perfection,” writes Fr. Wilhelm Schwer, professor of Christian social theory. He later continues: “Saint Thomas regards authority as the animating and ordering intelligence, the vis regitiva which overcomes the resistance of the individual tendencies in the human being and directs his will toward the common good and coordinates it organically into the structure of the universe.”(2)

The Great Leap Forward, a campaign led by Mao Zedong from 1958 to 1961, which led to the Great Chinese Famine in which resulted in the death of millions of Chinese. Private farming was prohibited and backyard furnaces were established to produce steel however, the metal created was of poor quality and were rendered useless.

There are times when the harmonizing effort exercised by authority is so intense that the leader must take upon himself the role of a servant of those whom he directs. He must selflessly dedicate himself to serving the common good. It is not without reason that the Pope reserves for himself the august title Servus Servorum Dei—servant of the servants of God.


(1) Roland Mousnier, Society and State, vol. 1 of The Institutions of France under the Absolute Monarchy 1598-1789, trans. Brian Pearce (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 665.

(2) Wilhelm Schwer, Catholic Social Theory, trans. Bartholomew Landheer (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1940), 141.


John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 175-6.



Previous post:

Next post: