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EDUCATION/ Where have authority and vocation gone?

December Sun 04, 2011

David, The Death of Socrates  David, The Death of Socrates

A century ago, Weber asked himself "why do people obey?" Today the question is reversed: "why don’t people obey anymore?". Authority has gone. It has been worn out and, a little at a time, has been de-legitimized.

Authority based on tradition was probably the first to be eroded away. The authority of the eternal yesterday diminished rapidly when the new dethroned the inheritance, when that which arrived was revealed to be not only superior quantitatively, but also qualitatively more effective than what was there before. This process did not characterize only work techniques, but also the models of organization of politics and economics of the past that derived from those techniques, which have gradually been taken out of circulation by the new regulatory principles. Even today, when we speak about the crisis of authority, we tend to be speaking about the crisis of those expressing the skills, rules and behaviors of a universe that no longer exists.

The picture is different if one considers bureaucratic and legal authorities. In fact, these areas are still highly respected, but only where the organizations are functionally related to a real process of qualification, selection and control. Teachers working in professionally qualifying schools, where the prestige of the degree obtained is confirmed by an immediate entry into employment or accreditation from a recognized institution of higher learning, can count on a sufficient compliance with their rules and, thus, their authority. The opposite occurs, instead, where the prestige of the title is generic, or even low, and the functional link with the world of work is completely random or otherwise independent from the quality of the results achieved.

However, when one speaks of the crisis of authority one means something fundamentally different: the loss of credibility in itself, i.e. the ability to be influential and recognized in connection with a close bond that links the functions one performs to one’s own person. This does not happen everywhere, but only in those roles, some more or less important, which are accompanied by a vocational choice. Many authority figures are included in this sphere. For example, a priest is not just a "the expert at the divine worship," but also a person who, in a very specific way, is entirely devoted to a specific mission in the world. The same goes for those who are fathers and, more generally, for those who live their function in terms of a personal choice of vocation.



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