The Fragmentation of Authority
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The narrative about authority in modern social thought centers on the emergence of secular authority. The story takes various forms. In some versions a new, scientific, and materialist way of thinking replaces divinely sanctioned monarchy with a rational democracy. In others, religious authority remains powerful, but it is privatized and excluded from the discourse of government and politics, which is now rigorously neutral with respect to competing ideas about what is ultimately good. Still other accounts locate the origin of secular authority in religion itself, so that the “iron cage” of modern economic rationality is an unintended consequence of the disciplines that religion once successfully imposed on moral life. Or, as others argue, the collective identity created through religious rituals may simply have been given new form in a national identity sustained by a “civil religion.” These theories are by no means identical, but they share the idea that the transition from religious to secular authority marks the beginning of a new kind of autonomous, rational control over the conditions of social life.
KeywordsMoral Life Religious Authority Human Good Late Antiquity Civil Religion
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