Chesterton on Authority

“Some people have an instinctive itch of irritation against the word ‘authority.’ Either they suppose that authority is a pompous name for mere bullying, or else, at the best, they think that mere bullying is an excess of authority. Tyranny is the opposite of authority. For authority simply means right; and nothing is authoritative except what somebody has a right to do, and therefore is right in doing. It often happens in this imperfect world that he has the right to do it and not the power to do it. But he cannot have a shred of authority if he merely has the power to do it and not the right to do it…. To abuse authority is to attack authority. A policeman is no longer a policeman when he is bribed privately to arrest an innocent man; he is a private criminal. He is not exaggerating authority; he is reducing it to nothing.”

—From the essay, “True and False Comparisons”

This essay can be found in the newly released Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton Vol. 37, available here:

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4 Replies to “Chesterton on Authority”

  1. Sounds really brilliant but doesn’t address the real problem which is who is decidening what is one’s right and what is not. Unfortunately when one has enough power or followers one can determine what is right. I dare say that everyone reading this blog has at least a slightly different opinion of right.

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