Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Idioms, Wikipedia.
Related to authority: accountability


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 periodicals archive ?
In the final analysis, I frankly have to take issue with your characterization of the Port Authority as anything less than completely committed to the World Trade Center's rebuilding and renewal," Ringler stated.
Authority resides in a particular relationship, so it requires the consent of at least two parties.
6 million since 1992-93, according to the authority.
A fifth, often unrecognized and certainly informal but very real, authority in Baptist life is the charismatic authority of powerful individuals.
The act grants authority to close, evacuate or decontaminate any facility that may endanger the public.
TEI believes it is important that the reorganization of the IRS not be perceived as diminishing either the significance or the autonomy of the Competent Authority function.
Now God has blessed us Roman Catholics with fallible Church authority.
Although a taxpayer's subjective belief that there is substantial authority is not relevant, in this case it was relevant in determining whether a bona fide nontax purpose existed (which was the issue in determining whether Sec.
By the beginning of 1997, some 90 percent of IHSS consumers were receiving their services from IP's; agency contractors' share of services had decreased from a 1987 high of 16 percent to less than 4 percent; Public Authorities had been established in Alameda, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties; Santa Clara County had adopted a Public Authority ordinance; and Public Authorities were under consideration in Contra Costa, Los Angeles, and Sacramento Counties.
Kuttab discovered that the Authority was jamming his telecast with an interfering signal that covered the screen with a black rectangle.
East Bay State Building Authority state lease obligations 'A';
At the Building Trade Employees Association safety luncheon last week, officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey outlined its plan to make its medium- and high-risk construction sites more secure from possible terrorist intrusion or attack.

Full browser ?