Authority in Transformation

AUTHORITY IN TRANSFORMATION

AUTHORITY IN TRANSFORMATION

We are witnessing a fundamental transformation of our authorities. The challenges confronting the world culminate in various crises; refugee flows, terror attacks, the crisis in the Euro area and Brexit. Consequently, doubts over the competences of our existing authorities arise. It remains to answer the question where the authority, and with that the responsibility, is located in our society. Control is an illusion that we know best from our personal lives. Politically, on the one hand we try to regain control by increasingly opting for popular votes, on the other hand, we see the desire for authority in rising nationalistic tendencies. How will these developments influence our understanding of authority?

This Convoco edition discusses connection between authority, power and responsibility, as well as representative and direct democracy. Guiding questions in this volume are: Is law increasingly losing authority? Is direct democracy the solution or will popular vote undermine our representative democracies? Can more authority be useful in overcoming international crises?

Theses

Those who have authority have responsibility—the more authority, the greater the responsibility.

Corinne M. Flick

The conferring of authority may be by election or by the assumption of an historical office according to the requirements of law. But there is no office without the responsibilities that define it, and to exercise power outside the limits set by those responsibilities is to act, as the law puts it, ultra vires—beyond the powers conferred. This view of government tells us that politics is not about power but about authority, and that authority comes when people are accountable, directly or indirectly, to others who have less power than themselves.

Roger Scruton

Today authority means less than ever that politicians merely decide and the citizens follow. In spite of this, the hope that referenda would lead to politics being more strongly focused on the interests of citizens quickly turns to illusion, when referenda are abused by governments for strategic purposes, as happens again and again at the moment. Plebiscites should have a clearly defined place in the constitutional system, and initiatives for referenda should come, first and foremost, from the people, not from governments.

Clemens Fuest

Democracy needs authority and it must radiate authority, but it is not allowed to be authoritarian. Its greatest threat today lies in its development into a “game without citizens,” in which there is no one to give democracy authority, and where citizens do not have a sense of authority.

Stefan Korioth

The law lives through its authority. This authority is not restricted to the law being obeyed by the citizen. Before it can be respected and obeyed by the citizen, the law must also be understood, explained, and its meaning recognized in each individual case. To do this both state and society must possess capacities—personal, financial, and intellectual—otherwise there is a danger of the law causing crippling anxiety or a risky escape into the unknown.

Wolfgang Schön

While the law should be understood as an imperative and a principle for all future cases, politics adapts to the needs and requirements of the day. This antagonism between law and politics is undermined when laws are formulated in such a way that an action operating against the proclaimed intention is possible; for in this way the law orients itself according to the requirements of politics and, with it, is in danger of losing its authority. At the same time it is thereby deprived of one of its most valuable characteristics, namely its ability to anticipate certain outcomes.

Christoph G. Paulus


Unconditional respect for the authority of the law is part of Germany’s national identity. It has grown up over centuries and has led to a wide variety of “entries in our collective dictionary.” The authority of the law has suffered. Under the conditions of globalization, European integration, and the overlapping of state powers, the core of the state under the rule of law, namely the containment of politics by law (Kant), has become ineffective.

Peter M. Huber


Rebuilding consensus on the validity and importance of the law and the principles of humanitarian action will be crucial. This is why ICRC considers its frontline engagement and negotiations with parties to conflicts with the objective of respecting the norms and opening humanitarian spaces the most important humanitarian contribution to rebuilding authority in society.

Peter Maurer

The digital transformation is in full swing. The changes affect not only the areas of “digital” law such as information law, IT law, data protection, or telecommunications law, but the law as a whole. For example in the case of the German Civil Code [BGB] traditional civil law too is being put to the test. In the background there lurks the question of what demands big data will make of constitutional law.

Thomas Hoeren

Is authority losing its relevance? Although it seems paradoxical, the contrary is the case. Changing social values, volatile economies and financial markets, and fast-paced technological progress can pose serious challenges to established organizations in all sectors. Dealing with these factors requires effective leadership. It requires authority, but in a more inclusive sense.

Stefan Oschmann

In the short term, there are many factors that determine a country’s economic development. One of these factors is psychology. Economic development frequently requires similar or complementary actions to be taken by many economic actors. Consequently trust in the actions of others, and with it trust in economic recovery or the stability of the economic climate, play a decisive role. In this situation the authority of the press comes into the frame.

Kai A. Konrad

In the past we have repeatedly seen phases of liberalization and phases during which the opening up of markets was once again rolled back. In response to the serious financial crisis which began in 2007/08 we have reacted by strengthening international cooperation, developing new institutions, and better regulation of the financial markets. This means that we are better equipped today than in the past to deal with current market challenges.

Claudia M. Buch

I love a good detective and my own ability to make a judgment is at the center of my self-esteem. I look out for original minds and people who convey their own experience with flair. Somewhere in this mixture lies my sense of authority. I enormously appreciate those who “know” more than me.

Richard Wentworth

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