The 20th century saw the point where those in authority no longer appeared to be in a natural position of leadership, despite its vast accumulation of power, and the result was a more personal exercise of force.
The sovereign position of authority begins as an immanent reflection of the social, but will become transcendent as a way to organize and determine the social. In other words, this position is a creation of the social group that takes on the appearance of being the creator of the social group. Those in authority are at the core of a completion of power to such a degree as to be a comprehensive organization of not only the social but reality as well. The development and completion of power has occurred over many centuries, from a personal exercise of one individual having power over another to a system of power that regulates all of human life. The sovereign position of authority is embedded in this system of power and goes beyond any personal motivation or interest. It is a machine that operates independently of human action or need. However, when the overall system is disrupted and its contradictions are amplified, the personal beginning of power is revealed and a reactionary stance to deny this disruption is enacted.
The 20th century, the epitome of the modern era, saw a great change in the use of authority and its position of infallibility. The actual institutions and signs of authority were still in place, but their initial relation to those who they oversaw had become marked by an infusion of personal emotion. The origins of this change started with a sense of the postmodern in terms of society, where the actual structure that shapes reality is called into question. Authority as an entity survives within the structure that grows for the purposes of society and government. This authority begins as an organizing principle that is immanent to reality, but will become transcendent and take on the appearance of being both natural and eternal. The postmodern would in turn critique and analyze the absolute aspect of this authority. There was also the slow torment of the Cold War agitation, which placed a severe amount of stress upon both rulers and ruled when they engaged in a long and prolonged struggle of ideology. Ideology becomes eroded when set against historical events. The lessons from the Holocaust and Hiroshima also marked how people looked at those who were placed in charge of both government and society, creating an immediate amount of distrust to blind loyalty. When it became possible that gigantic amounts of people could be killed in such a devastating manner, then it became less plausible for those in authority to take on a sense of moral leadership. There was an increased sense of life as inherently fragile under this authority. The prosperity of the 1950’s also was instrumental in creating a strong middle class, able to be mobile socially and to have the resources to speak out against authority at a later time, in fact breaking apart the stifling normality that was erected in that decade. This prosperity also allowed this middle class to look beyond quantity of life issues and toward quality of life issues, creating a new debate with authority figures. The background of authority itself can be seen in the social conformity in the 1950’s, where culture was homogenized in the upsurge of consumerism and placidity after WWII. By economic means, and the Cold War sensibility, there was the goal of insuring widespread security and therefore a need for the use of authority in a seemingly positive way.
A need for an image of a prospering society further strengthened the use of authority to continue order. Order was a goal of the overall practice of authority, and a tradition in the industrialized age. This type of authority had a paternalistic attitude, and was meant to guard the established and insured hierarchy. This use of authority was a gradual adaptation of the pastoralism that developed in the early Christian church, but was applied in a secular way where subjects needed to be directed as to how to live in the best possible way. This method assumed that those in authority were the ones who knew how to manage the population. It was all meant to function this way and so there was a need to trust in order and direct problem-solving, a belief in the law, and within any single institution the internal logic was applied to outside reality. The entire system was supposed to make sense, and authority figures were there to help make people safe. The transition began with the critical voices toward the 1950’s as a decade. This criticism occurred within the decade, against the produced image of conformity and prosperity through consumer actions. It later concentrated itself into the upsets and mass movements of the 1960’s where open protest and new social attitudes defied the status quo directly. As intellectual disagreement became physical, one could see the anachronism of authority figures and their appearance of holding on to the past. What was hidden under social convention was revealed as the brutal attitude toward suppressed people, and was exposed through such things as racial crimes in the segregated south and covert acts in international relations. There was an increased generation gap and a sense of unstable ground for everyone involved. The new attitude of authority was less calm, in which they were acting as pretenders to power. In desperation by those practicing the authority, there was at times a brutal reaction to the populace in general when there was protest of any kind. The growing mistrust on both sides was fueled by the increasing critique of the status quo and the fear of losing the position of power granted by authority. There was overall an unwillingness to listen to reason, and most importantly a personal type of hostility rather than formal power. The result was an indiscriminate exercise of force, a lack of focus in exercising granted duties within that power, and a belief in vilified subversion which would cancel out any discussion of issues. What was needed was an escape from the original internal logic that no longer meshed with the external reality and its structure.
The consequences of this change in the attitude of authority was that those in roles of power were inadvertently taking up the role assigned by critics. What has become common was the phenomena of “police brutality”, along with the strength of the anti-government movement as an extreme reaction to the desperate and futile measures of authority. The partisanship identity of good and evil coupled with ignorance had been steadily growing along with these new common occurrences. Prime examples of this new persona of authority were the 1968 Democratic convention and the resulting police riot, the acts of “Bull” Conner during the peaceful March On Birmingham, and the personal interactions depicted within the movies “Rebel Without a Cause” and“Easy Rider”. It is also worth noting the violent reaction of the National Guard at Kent State, the overall reactionary stance of the silent majority supporting Nixon, the case of the Hard Hat Riot and the Boston busing riots, as well as the parable lessons set by the movie “Billy Jack”. In all of these cases, one can see that those in power acted as if they were on the verge of losing that power, despite the fact that the impersonal system of power was fully functioning at that time. They subsequently reacted in a personal and reactionary manner.
Overall, it can be said that when the complete and seamless construction of power was directly attacked then its functioning degenerated toward the earlier forms of power. When the direct management of individuals and populations were rebuked, and alternatives to social life were initiated, then ideology was needed to exclude the possibility of an alternative from human minds. When ideology did not coincide with experienced reality, and people were able to notice this disparity, then authority had no choice but to rely on the proclamation of law supported by direct physical force. The modern era saw the comprehensive perfection of power in a ubiquitous way. When the internal contradictions of this system of power were realized, then there would be a reactionary move that was more primal. This use of force, no longer the practice of entities who were supposed to be authority figures, would have a negative effect on the safety of those who opposed authority. But it was now apparent that this use of force had no transcendent backing to it. Therefore, if this force was known to be a lashing out of those who had no stable foundation in a system of power, the initial steps toward a decentralized alternative where all would be empowered could begin. In this new scenario, everything could be reconfigured and there was no absolutely natural element that could never be altered. This would be the starting point of free agency. There will always be the interaction between the determination of structures and the freedom of individuals. Free agency can be defined in this context as freedom in a relationship to structures. Free agency is both the resistance to transcendent structures and an expression through immanent structures. When authority begins to falter in its execution, then one can begin a discussion as to how to exercise free agency and what specifically that would entail for humans.