Moral Authority in Libertarianism

The seed of future libertarian success is moral authority. Here’s why:

A free people will choose their own path and not automatically trust anyone simply because they wave a flag or wear a uniform. Those impatient to make what they see are important changes – dare I say the standard model in most politics (but not mine) – will not wait until others are persuaded, but instead seek to use threats and force to bulldoze their vision over everyone else’s. Rather than persuasion, they use force. Rather than moral authority they exercise only formal authority.

Moral authority is arguably the opposite of formal authority, though they can co-exist in the same person at the same time, they can rarely be used simultaneously, because the application of formal authority often destroys moral authority.

Formal authority is bestowed by virtue of job role, rank, position, contract. Obedience to it is often expected by right – entitlement, even demanded, rather than given freely.

Moral authority, on the other hand, has no rank or position, or power to demand anything. Rather than based on rank or uniform moral authority is based on character, and trust – the kind of person you are in your very core. Because of this moral authority, when freely accepted by others, has far more power to move people and achieve goals than any amount of formal authority. Rather than demanding, it leads by example. Rather than sacrificing others, it sacrifices itself.

In his book “The 8th Habit” Stephen R. Covey explains the powerful difference between the two.

“When conscience governs vision, discipline and passion, leadership endures and changes the world for good. In other words, moral authority makes formal authority work. When conscience does not govern vision, discipline and passion, leadership does not endure, nor do the institutions created by that leadership endure. In other words, formal authority without moral authority fails.

“The words “for good” means that it “lifts” and also that it “lasts”. Hitler had vision, discipline and passion but was driven by ego. Lack of conscience was his downfall. Gandhi’s vision, discipline and passion were driven by conscience, and he became a servant to the cause and the people. Again, he had only moral authority, no formal authority, and he was the father and founder of the second largest country in the world.
“When vision, discipline and passion are governed by formal authority void of conscience or moral authority, it also changes the world, but not for good, rather for evil. Instead of lifting, it destroys; rather than lasting, it is eventually extinguished.”

(Stephen R. Covey, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, (Simon and Schuster, Australia, Sydney, 2004))

To put it another way, moral authority is built on conscience and respecting the rights of each individual, while formal authority is built on ego.

Libertarians cannot be egocentric and expect to gain the support of others voluntarily. This is why I campaign and encourage others to abandon the force model and instead to use persuasion, and develop the moral character that others can trust.

Ego will always lose, but not without destroying everything it claimed to be building in the process.

The world is changing, as Covey also discusses in his book, the old industrial age is dying, and the principle of “servant leadership” is growing. With that in mind the following from Robert K. Greenleaf serves as a warning, to the old authoritarian political parties who cling to the egocentric model:

“A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader. Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept the authority of existing institutions. Rather they will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants. To the extent that this principle prevails in the future, the only truly viable institutions will be those that are predominantly servant-led.” (Robert K. Greenleaf, “The Servant Leader,” Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate power and Greatness, 25th Anniversary ed. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2002), pp. 23-24.)

I urge libertarians to become those servant leaders. Success in any worthy goal is built not on ego, or prowess, or a sense of entitlement, but on conscience, honesty, integrity, vision, discipline, passion and personal responsibility.

Or as someone with far more authority than me put it:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Be the change. Be libertarian.