C.G. Jung used the term archetype to describe the innate, universal, unconscious patterns and predispositions that order human psychological experience. Authority is among those archetypal patterns. Throughout history and across cultures, every human society has had some system of authority and communal life is usually organized around it. As individuals, we negotiate with authority daily. We obey authority, resist authority, seek authority and hold authority; we project it, carry it, idealize it, devalue it and search for ways of authoring our own lives.
The word authority first appeared in the English language in the early 13th century, to describe “the book or quotation that settles a question.” Curiously, this 13th century definition gathers many modern meanings of authority into the phrase “that which settles a question”. Authority is that which settles the big and small questions of our lives; it is whatever we trust and depend upon for what neuroscientist Richard Burton calls “the feeling of knowing.”
For much of the past two thousand years of western history, authority was not to be found inside the psyche. Although Jesus had announced that “the kingdom of heaven is within”, cultural consensus located authority in the heavenly Christian God and his exclusive representatives on earth, the hierarchy of the Church. It was not until the Renaissance and Reformation challenged the Church’s exclusive claim to theological and political authority that the idea of interior authority came more into being. That challenge was voiced in Luther’s impassioned words, “To go against my conscience is neither right nor safe.”
With mainstream cultural consensus continuing to locate authority outside the psyche, religion’s authority was slowly ceded to science. But now there was also a separate stream of developing awareness of authority as internal and psychological, which gained ground as 19th century Romantics turned inward to understand human experience, arguing that we can best discover what we need to do by listening to an inner voice. In the process, these philosophers discovered the unconscious and laid the foundation for depth psychology
Forms of Authority
In the 1920’s, the influential German sociologist Max Weber (1946) contributed a seminal work on the types of authority, distinguishing between traditional, rational-legal and charismatic forms of authority. Traditional or patriarchal authority derives from long-established customs, habits and social structures, resting on “piety for what actually, allegedly or presumably has always existed”. This is the “sacred and inviolable… authority of the father, the husband… the lord and prince.”
Rational-legal authority rests upon rationally established norms, regulations and laws. Scientific method, the modern state and the legal system are based on this form of authority.
Charismatic authority arises from belief in “the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” From a Jungian perspective, this form of authority arises from the projection of archetypal contents and thus it is experienced as numinous. Charismatic authority is often revolutionary, sweeping away the stagnant traditional order. But the beliefs of the followers must be continuously supported with evidence of the extraordinary, making this form of authority highly unstable. I believe that charismatic authority, with all its instability, opens the possibility for the withdrawal of projected authority and its discovery within the psyche. In charismatic authority, the archetype of authority is moving toward consciousness.
Unlike earlier historical eras in which one form of authority dominated, in the United States today we have a menu that includes the traditional authority of established religion and patriarchal figures, such as president, general, doctor or priest, as well as impersonal rational-legal structures such as law and scientific method. The mere existence of these multiple and potentially valid forms of authority relativizes all of them.
But most striking is the multiplicity of charismatic forms of authority. From evangelical and New Age religious leaders, to political pundits pontificating on the airwaves, to self-help gurus and celebrities promising secrets that will make us wealthy, healthy, loved and sane, we live in a Babel of competing authorities. If indeed charismatic authority is the movement of the archetype toward consciousness, what is trying to be born out of this cacophony?
Jungians would answer by positing a fourth form of authority: inner or psychological authority. Unlike the previous forms, this type of authority is found within the individual. It is the ability to value and validate our own thoughts, feelings, intuitions and perceptions, leading to self-trust, confidence and the ability to become the authors of our own lives. Inner authority is a quality that emerges in men and women during what Jung called individuation, the process of psychological differentiation from both social norms and collective psychology that leads toward a more conscious awareness of wholeness.
The development of inner authority occurs throughout the individuation process, which Jung described as the progressive integration of the persona (or social identity), the shadow (rejected, repressed aspects of the personality), the anima/us (the inner contra-sexual image) and the wise old man and woman. This integration occurs repeatedly and cyclically, more comparable to phases or seasons than to linear stages, and it leads toward a conscious relationship between the ego, or center of consciousness, and the Self, the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche.
Often imaged as the coniunctio or union of masculine and feminine principles, the Self contains all opposites and is the ultimate source of inner authority. But the processes through which inner authority develops take place during every phase of individuation. Inner authority increases as we differentiate from persona (social) roles and as we face and integrate aspects of the shadow. Just as men must differentiate from the feminine authority carried by the mother, wife, etc., women must integrate the masculine authority that has been excluded from consciousness and projected onto male figures or male-dominated institutions, such as father, husband, church, academia, etc.
We may also deepen our experience of value and validity by integrating aspects of inner authority that Jung imagined as the encounter with the Wise Old Woman and Wise Old Man. Here we find our own source of inner wisdom and learn to be in balanced relationship with it. The energy of Wise Old Woman is grounded in the earth, in embodied consciousness and in relatedness, while the energy of the Wise Old Man brings connection to authentic spirit, intellect and discernment.
Jung regarded the ultimate source of inner authority as the Self, often personified as the union of masculine and feminine figures. Developing access to the Self, through dreams, active imagination, body awareness, etc, enables us to become the authors of our own lives through a continuing dialogue between the ego and the Self. This is, indeed, the unblazed trail, the path toward an authentic, individual experience of inner validity, value, trustworthiness and agency.