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1. a public board or corporation exercising governmental authority in administering some enterprise
2. Law
a. a judicial decision, statute, or rule of law that establishes a principle; precedent
b. legal permission granted to a person to perform a specified act


the established political rule within a community or STATE when this rule also possesses a grounding in one or more possible forms of political legitimacy. See LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY.



in the broad sense of the word, the universally recognized informal influence of a person or organization in various spheres of social life (for example, education or science), based on knowledge, moral virtue, and experience (the authority of parents, doctors, and so forth). In the narrower meaning, it is one of the forms of exercising power. References are often made to the authority of the law or of certain rules or social norms; this means that the majority of the people among whom they operate accept their necessity.

Authority is expressed in the ability of the individual or group of individuals, the bearers of authority, to direct the actions or thoughts of another person or persons without resorting to force. The existence of authority is connected with man’s limited ability to evaluate rationally the many problems that arise because of the complexity of reality itself—hence, the necessity of accepting on faith the affirmations of the bearers of authority. This assumes the ability of the bearer of authority to substantiate his demands in principle.

In production, politics, and other spheres of social life, the activity of private individuals is largely determined by special bodies or officials who make decisions and control their execution. The right that they exercise and that their subordinates acknowledge constitutes authority; it is thus distinguished from other forms of exercising power, such as arbitrary rule.

The forms embodying authority and the spheres in which it operates depend on the historical level of society’s development and the ideological concepts that determine the sources and criteria for the legitimacy of the authority. In the tradition of the English philosopher Hobbes (1588–1679) and other utilitarians, the problem of authority emerges in the form of the dilemma of “freedom” versus “authority,” the latter term signifying only the authority of the supreme power, the “sovereign authority.” Hobbes saw in the “sovereign authority” the only means of saving society from anarchy, from the “war of all against all.” Anarchists, on the other hand, counterpose personal autonomy and the complete freedom of the individual from society against the notion of authority. The German sociologist M. Weber (1864–1920) proposed a typology under which authority may be based on rational arrangements—a formally defined system of rules concerning the means of gaining power and the limits of its use; traditions, in which case the legality of the system derives from the concept of it as something sacred and immutable; or so-called charisma, whereby authority involves personal devotion to the leader, who is endowed in the eyes of his followers with exceptional qualities of wisdom, heroism, or holiness. This sort of authority, according to Weber, is distinctive of prophets, apostles and political leaders. Tradition and charisma dominate in prebourgeois societies. Rational authority is established with the formation of the bourgeois society, although the other forms of authority do not disappear.

Analyzing the problem of authority, F. Engels called the views of anarchists and antiauthoritarians “antisocial”; he considered it “absurd . . . to depict the principle of authority as absolutely evil and the principle of autonomy as absolutely good” (“Ob avtoritete,” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 18, p. 304). Engels argued that authority is necessary for any social system. “. . . Certain authority, however it is established, and on the other hand, certain subordination, are obligatory for us under those material conditions in which there is production and exchange of commodities regardless of the type of social organization” (ibid.). Engels noted that industry, transportation, or any form of organization is inconceivable without authority, without a dominant will represented by either one person or a defined body. In this regard, Engels emphasized that authority should be limited to those spheres of social life where it is indispensable (ibid.). At the same time, Marx and Engels decisively opposed “excessive faith” and “superstitious worship” of authority and also the cult of the personality (Marx and Engels, ibid., vol. 37, p. 384, and vol. 34, p. 241).

V. I. Lenin noted the necessity of authority and of discipline during labor (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 203). Rejecting both the quasi-revolutionary attitude opposing all authority and the bureaucratic authority of bourgeois science and police-ridden politics, Lenin wrote that the working class needed authoritative leaders. The authority of such leaders, Lenin emphasized, should be based on their great knowledge and experience and their broad political and scientific outlook (see ibid., vol. 14, p. 226).


Engels, F. “Lafargu ot 30 dek. 1871.” (Letter.) K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 33, p. 309.
Engels, F. “Teoduru Kuno ot 24 ianv. 1872.” (Letter.) Ibid., p. 329.
Lenin, V. I. Ob avtoritete rukovoditelia: Sb. Moscow, 1963.
Weber, M. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Sozial und Wirtschaftsge-schichte. Tubingen, 1924.
Strohal, R. Autorität, ihr Wesen und ihre Funktion im Leben der Gemeinschaft. Freiburg-Vienna, 1955.
Friedrich, C. J., ed. Authority. Oxford, 1958.




the ability to subject others to one’s will, to govern them, and to dispose of their actions.

Authority arose with the appearance of human society and, in one form or another, will always accompany its development. Authority is needed first of all to organize public production, which is unthinkable without subjugation of all its participants to a single will, as well as to regulate other human relations, connected with life and society. Before the appearance of classes and the state, authority had a social character: there was no administrative apparatus standing above society and no separate institutions of coercion. In the primitive clan society authority was exercised by all the members of the clan (tribe), who elected elders. With the appearance of classes and the state the consanguineous clan relations were destroyed, and the moral authority of the clan elders was replaced by the authority of public power, which separated itself from society and placed itself above it.

The term “authority” is used in various forms and aspects; there is parental authority, for example, and state authority, which in turn includes such concepts as supreme, constituent, legislative, executive, military, and judicial authority.


administrative authority

The individual, official, board, department, or agency established and authorized by a city, county, state, or political subdivision created by law to administer and enforce the provisions of a code.


throne indicative of religious power. [Folklore: Jobes, 307]
crook staff
carried as a symbol of office and authority. [Western Culture: Misc.]
bishop’s staff signifying his ruling power. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 21]
cross and ball
signifies that spiritual power is above temporal. [Heraldry: Jobes, 387]
headpiece worn as symbol of royal authority. [Western Culture: Misc.]
double bar cross
signifies archbishops, cardinals, and patriarchs. [Christian Iconog.: Jobes, 386]
attribute of Zeus, thus of authority. [Art: Hall, 109]
rods bundled about ax; emblem of magistrates, Fascists. [Rom. Hist.: Hall, 119; Ital. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 399]
small mallet used by judge or presiding officer to signal order. [Western Culture: Misc.]
in Christ child’s hands signifies power and dominion. [Christian Symbolism: de Bles, 25]
authoritative rules for playing cards and other games. [Misc.: Barnhart, 590]
symbolic of St. Peter’s spiritual authority. [Christian Symbolism: N.T.: Matthew 16:19]
Lord’s Anointed, the
Jewish or other king by divine right. [Judaism: O.T.: I Samuel 26:9]
ceremonial staff carried as a symbol of office and authority. [Western Culture: Misc.]
bishop’s headdress signifying his authority. [Christian Symbolism: EB VI]
cloud of light signifying might, divinely imparted. [Gk. Lit.: Iliad]
king of ancient Egypt, evoked by Shelley as an example of the perishability of power. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 749]
pectoral cross
worn by prelates on chain around neck. [Christian Iconog.: Child, 255; Jobes, 386]
color worn by persons of high rank. [Western Culture: Misc.]
wand or staff carried as a symbol of office and authority. [Western Culture: Misc.]
symbol of regal or imperial power and authority. [Western Culture: Misc.]
Stone of Scone
coronation stone where kings of Scotland were crowned. [Br. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 970]
seat of political or religious authority. [Western Folklore: Jobes, 1567]
triple cross
three upper arms; symbolizes authority of the pope. [Christian Iconog.: Jobes, 386]
References in classic literature ?
From Icelandic, Dutch, and old English authorities, there might be quoted other lists of uncertain whales, blessed with all manner of uncouth names.
On her entry into the breakfast-room, she was saluted with the customary remonstrance which her flighty disregard of all punctuality habitually provoked from the long-suffering household authorities.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
If I found out the nearest proper authorities, and offered myself to go for a soldier, or a sailor, I was such a little fellow that it was most likely they wouldn't take me in.
The Constables, and the Bow Street men from London - for, this happened in the days of the extinct red-waistcoated police - were about the house for a week or two, and did pretty much what I have heard and read of like authorities doing in other such cases.
But with reverence to these grave authorities, it seems unlikely that the assembled princes of Europe should have adjudged to Godfrey a coat armorial so much contrary to the general rule, if such rule had then existed; at any rate, it proves that metal upon metal, now accounted a solecism in heraldry, was admitted in other cases similar to that in the text.
These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.
This was the period of invention, in which there were no experts and no authorities.
By their voluntary association they recognized their allegiance to the government of Britain, and in process of time received whatever powers and authorities could be conferred upon them by a charter from their sovereign.
All the village and all who heard of it were amazed at the affair; I was aghast, Anselmo thunderstruck, her father full of grief, her relations indignant, the authorities all in a ferment, the officers of the Brotherhood in arms.
In the former case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure.
While this cry was at the loudest, the people were surprised by the well-known figure of Governor Bradstreet himself, a patriarch of nearly ninety, who appeared on the elevated steps of a door, and, with characteristic mildness, besought them to submit to the constituted authorities.

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