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As authorities ( Latin superioritas were) in hierarchically organized communities since the late Middle Ages to the Modern those individuals or in institutions designated lawfully or even based on their own hubris ( usurping the) dominion exercised and the legal and de facto authority over the subjects had . The subjects owed obedience to their authorities .

Historically, a distinction is made between clerical and secular authorities. The former included the ecclesiastical and religious superiors, such as the Pope , the bishops and the abbots , but also evangelical superintendents . The pastor was also considered the superior authority for his community . Secular authorities were, for example, kings or princes , owners of manors , but also the councils in the cities. The power of the authorities expressed itself in particular in the jurisdiction and the power to issue laws and regulations, to demand taxes from the subjects , to grant privileges and to demand allegiance in war.

In the Middle Ages and in the early modern period , the relationship between the authorities and the subjects was generally understood as a personal bond into which one was usually born (e.g. in the case of hereditary subservience ) or - which was less common - voluntarily or involuntarily. Subjects could indeed come under the rule of a new authority in the event of changes in the power or ownership structure (for example due to armed conflicts, assignments of territory, new tenancies , succession regulations , the sale or pledging of properties, etc.). Characteristic of the subject status, however, is the fact that the subject can regularly neither choose his authorities nor has civil rights of participation that entitle him to influence their actions and decisions, even if they concern him personally.

For this reason, the term “ authority” no longer seems appropriate today when it is used in relation to republics or other constitutional states that are familiar with the separation of powers and whose political system is based on the principle of popular sovereignty , e.g. in relation to modern democratic constitutional states . Regardless of this, the term was initially used unquestioningly in the early republican regimes , which emerged in the course of the 19th century based on the French Revolution in Europe and America, in the sense of a general term for state power .

The unquestioning acceptance of social and political hierarchies and the unconditional submission to actually or supposedly higher persons or institutions ( " authorities ") is also called authorities thinking or Obrigkeits affiliation referred. Excessive trust in the actions and measures of the rulers (according to the motto “You will sort it out”) is called belief in authority . An authoritarian, undemocratic state that gives its citizens no or only very limited opportunities for political participation and often reacts to dissenting opinions or criticism with repression measures is also known in polemical diction as an authoritarian state .

See also


  • Lars Behrisch: Municipal authorities and social control . Bibliotheca Academica Verlag, Epfendorf 2005, ISBN 3-928471-54-6 (additional dissertation, Humboldt University 2002).
  • Jakob Kreutzer: Zwingli's doctrine of authority (canon law treatises; vol. 57). Schipperges, Amsterdam 1965 (reprint of the Stuttgart edition 1909).
  • Martin Luther : From worldly authorities (Calwer Luther edition; Vol. 4 / Siebenstern-Taschenbuch. 55). New edition Hänssler Verlag, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-7751-2439-X .
  • Gunther G. Wolf (Ed.): Luther and the authorities . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1972, ISBN 3-534-03394-9 (= ways of research ; 85).

Web links

Wiktionary: Authority  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations