Friday, January 9, 2009

Authority and Doubt

Discussing the Governor Blagojevich imbroglio, Stanley Fish cites St. Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, and John Milton, but he might as well have mentioned Max Weber too:

Virtue is a fine thing and it would be better if those who govern us instantiated it. But virtue is, for most human beings, an occasional achievement – sometimes you are, sometimes you aren’t – and, moreover, there is no public test, no test everyone would agree to, for determining its presence.

The legitimacy of an appointment can be either a procedural or a moral matter. If it is a procedural matter, authority is conferred by the right credentials, and that’s that. If it is a moral matter – only the good can be truly authoritative (this was John Milton’s position) – authority is always precarious, and the structures of government and law are always in danger of being dissolved.
This question of authority and legitimacy rings in the headlines right now -- doesn't it always? -- and it is fundamentally what Doubt (the film, not necessarily the state of mind) is about: how the procedural and the moral relate and contend in the exercise of power.

Maybe Anthony Lane was watching a different movie?
We are meant to see this as a solemn parable of belief—of its capacity both to grow without rational evidence and to fester without cause.
OK, sure, there was a parable of belief festering there too, but it's less interesting and less central.

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