On what grounds have conservatives defended authority?

Conservatives have seen authority as a very important concept. Authority is the right to exercise power other others.

Conservatives have seen authority as a very important concept. Authority is the right to exercise power other others.

One reason why conservatives defend authority is because it is a guarantee of public order. Authority constrains natural human instincts, which include greed and selfishness. This reflects a negative view of human nature which holds that humans are morally imperfect. This viewpoint led Thomas Hobbes to argue that the primary human urge is for ‘power after power’. Authority is the only way of maintaining order, particularly when backed up by a tough justice system, because it acts as a deterrent. This explains the conservative idea of strong government, which can be seen in the Thatcher governments of the 1980s, and is seen as the only effective way in which public order can be guaranteed.

Authority has also been defended because of human imperfection. Authority is seen as being able to create security and stability, which is very important to humans because they like to know ‘where they stand’. People fear isolation and insecurity so knowing their place in society prevents anomie and rootedlessness. Furthermore, authority provides support and guidance for individuals. Because humans are intellectually imperfect and the world is too difficult a thing to understand fully, people don’t know what’s good for them. Therefore, they crave guidance, which forms naturally ‘from above’, similar to a parent-child relationship.

Authority is also seen as being natural. Conservatives believe in a natural hierarchy, which pre-democratic conservatives like Burke referred to as a ‘natural aristocracy’. Inequalities in wealth and social status lead to inequalities in social responsibilities, where the well-off must take care of the less well-off. Thus, there are natural ‘leaders’ and natural ‘followers’. This is most clearly seen in the paternalistic One Nation conservatism, which advocates the idea of ‘Noblesse Oblige’.

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