Are authority and power equal
Female authority - or how to oppose power
In Germany in particular, where we saw an anti-authoritarian movement in the 1960s, authority is not a popular word. Because: Isn't the ideal that you can do what you want? Doesn't freedom mean that you don't let anyone dictate anything to you? Isn't it independence that we strive for, freedom and autonomy that are only limited by the freedom, independence and autonomy of others?
In this logic, the terms power and authority are often equated. On the other hand, I would like to propose a distinction between violence, power and authority. All three of these are circumstances that cause people to do things that they would not initially do of their own accord and of their own accord. But violence, power, and authority do this in different ways. If violence is exercised, there is a coercion, for example through a terror regime, it is enforced by a few, for example with weapons, against the majority, or by the stronger through physical superiority against the weaker. Anyone who is forced to do something through violence is acting against their own will and is also aware of it.
In contrast to violence, power needs the consent of the majority, Hannah Arendt refers here, for example, to National Socialism, which only worked because it was supported by broad sections of the population, but there is also power in democracies because minorities are subject to the laws of the majority. There is also power in smaller groups such as initiatives or associations - group pressure and social exclusion, for example, are phenomena of power because they rely on the consent of the majority. Anyone who is compelled to do something by power does not necessarily act against their will - for example, there are good reasons to submit to a democratic majority decision, even if you personally disagree. To a certain extent, power relations ensure that one's own individual interests and preferences are placed below the interests and preferences of the general public, with or without my consent.
Authority, on the other hand, is a relationship between specific, concrete people, one of whom has knowledge or skills ahead of the other and is therefore recognized by the latter as an authority. So, unlike power, authority is not dependent on the opinion of a majority, for example I can ascribe someone authority that everyone else thinks is stupid. Unlike power, authority is always voluntary - I can withdraw authority from that person at any time. No one can have authority over me without my consent.
Hence my thesis: Authority is a strong, perhaps the only way to counter the abuse of power. Through relationships of authority we can create rules and regulations that give us orientation and strength, even if we do not agree with the opinion of the majority.
To see it that way is unusual at first. Our tradition of thought, which I consider a male tradition of thought, has made other suggestions for countering power. For example, it has the image of the lone-and-lonesome cowboy who breaks away from the world or opposes it as a hero, i.e. who contradicts the power of the majority by breaking away from it. Since one also realized at some point that this did not work in reality, or always at most for a few, one invented solidarity, an image in which the many individuals unite in their struggle against power, whereby the counter-term to power here is Equality became, so the principle according to which power should be undermined was that of the many, equal, individuals who fraternize.
Women, too, initially adopted this ideal of equality from masculine thinking. If not in women's groups, people often act as if we were all independent, free and equal - or at least we would like that to be so, even if reality usually teaches us otherwise. For example, it is often seen as a good sign in women's groups if everyone participates in the discussion. Why? What is the point of everyone having a say when some are much more familiar with the subject than others? What if some have been thinking about the problem for a long time and others are thinking about it for the first time today? This of course affects the level of the discussion: If everyone has a say, the quality of what is said ultimately drops to the level of the weakest.
In the meantime, however, more and more women are dissatisfied with these group structures and are looking for new forms. According to my observation, an alternative model has emerged in the last few years, the exact opposite of it, and I would call the phenomenon »guru groups«: So, so to speak, fan communities who gather around a particularly great woman and leader, attend classes or attend conferences en masse , and who derive their value system from the hardly questioned leadership personality, which means: Either you join the admiration for this leader, then you can belong to the group, or you don't join it and have to stay outside. Often this is justified with the reference to authority, with the fact that women should also exercise power. But even in this discussion no distinction is made between power and authority. The endeavor to help women to important offices and to get into key positions in society also belongs to this area.
Both ways, the striving for harmony, a great solidary "we" of women, who are all equal and help one another and stand by one another against the overwhelming power of patriarchy on the one hand, and the striving for power and influence within the framework of the existing society , Career attempts and the like are wrong in my opinion. I don't mean to say that harmony is a bad thing, and I don't mind if women strive for positions and careers, they should do that. A woman who wants to become rich or influential should go this path of power, a woman who does not like conflicts and seeks self-affirmation in cozy women's groups should seek appropriate company, and I don't mean either of these in a mocking way. I would support any woman on such a path. I am only against it if this behavior is sold as feminism. Both paths are honorable and practicable, but do not oppose the order of patriarchy, they are not suitable for promoting female freedom. Something else is needed for this.
Women's groups and initiatives that work according to the harmony model or the guru model, if I may put this in a nutshell, are often not very long-lasting. They usually break apart at some point, regardless of whether they strive for the ideal "we are all the same" or whether they raise a figure to a guru. In both cases, at some point a certain group dynamic arises, you no longer understand each other, the initial vigor is gone, conflicts break out, and that's it. In my opinion, one reason is this: Both group models are based on the logic of commonality, their basis is a common sense of well-being. When the feeling of well-being and thus the feeling of togetherness decreases - i.e. when the initial enthusiasm is gone or a difficult situation arises or external pressure - then there is danger for the group because the basis is gone.
A group that has exactly what happened, but which did not give up on this development, but instead dealt with it creatively, is the DIOTIMA group of women philosophers at the University of Verona. Dealing with this crisis has resulted in a theory of authority from which, I believe, political groups in Germany could also learn. Therefore I would like to briefly describe this development, it is also partially documented in our green DIOTIMA book.
The group was founded in 1983 as a discussion group of about 12 women interested in female philosophical research. At that time, at the beginning, DIOTIMA was, so to speak, a mixture of the two group structures described above. Luisa Muraro was already an authority in this group, she brought the most impulses, she wrote the best texts, she was admired by many. At the same time, it was clear to many that this authority rests on the recognition of the group that was looking for something appropriate. The theory at the time, to put it in a somewhat simplified way, was that DIOTIMA works on the basis that there are many women with common interests who are guided by an authority that shows them where to go.
It turned out that this model did not work. It worked in the early days as long as everyone's approval of Luisa Muraro's authority was spontaneously recognized. The recognition of their authority was unquestioned, and so the other women felt authorized to speak and thus to open up spaces for other women. During this early period, Luisa Muraro's authority made the group productive. But after a few years that changed. Some found this authority to be a hindrance to their own productivity. So there were soon some women who recognized Muraro’s authority for the DIOTIMA group, but not as binding for themselves. In short, they no longer recognized Muraro as their guru, and since they did so for the cohesion of the Viewed the group fundamentally, they distanced themselves. Some women, who saw Muraro as a power rather than an authority, went their own way and no longer orientated themselves to the standard that was valid in the group. This in turn gave rise to unease among those who remained: How can they do this, for example, how can they publish the results of the group discussions under their own name or how can they make them public within the group, etc. Spontaneously, the idea of solving these problems by setting up joint Solving rules, but it quickly became clear that this was not the way: because those who left would not obey the rules, and those who stayed did not need them.
When thinking about why they don't want common rules, a way out emerged: Giannina Longobardi describes him as follows: "I don't want any agreements with everyone because I don't feel obliged to all DIOTIMA women, but only to some". When asked to set up rules that should only apply to those who feel bound by DIOTIMA, Luisa Muraro replied: “I am more or less friends with all women here, but it is not true that I am bound by all of them. I am only bound to Chiara, because if I want to act here, I absolutely have to take her into account. Since my personal authority has fallen into crisis, it is only the obviousness of this attachment to Chiara that makes me a trustworthy person to you. This does not restore my old authority, but a new one arises from the fact that I am forced to pay attention to Chiara and that I accept this and show it openly. This knowledge about my dependence on female mediation creates symbolic order in the sense of a symbolic order of the mother: without setting up rules, by virtue of a mediating relationship between my desire and reality «.
This also describes what it is about: the mediation between the desire of a woman and the reality, the given world that she finds around her. It's not about more power and influence for women, not about the fight against patriarchy, not about protesting against discrimination, etc. - or it may be all of that, and it is also important that we get involved, but it is is not the essential. It's about that we as women find a place in the world so that we feel at home and can tackle problems according to our own ideas. That we are not torn between our enthusiasm, our hopes and wishes on the one hand, and the impossibility of implementing them on the other. That we find someone who has an open ear for our wishes, who understands us, who helps us to implement them and shows us ways to achieve them, even if they may have to dampen our idealism a bit. Female authority has one role: it mediates between our desire and reality.
This is another reason why, unlike power, authority is not based on the approval of a whole group, but on the recognition of individuals. It's about my desires, my hopes, my wishes and ideals. I come into play with my uniqueness. Authority is only ever present in relationships between specific flesh-and-blood women.
The DIOTIMA group invented the term »vincolo duale«, the bond between two women that stabilizes authority. That is, it became clear that authority does not arise from the recognition of a group, from a guru status (that would be, to use Hannah Arendt, not authority, but power). Authority arises from attachment to a certain other woman. For DIOTIMA this meant that the existence of the group no longer depended on a collective agreement and with this knowledge alone many problems were solved. Gianna Longobardi writes: "The dual bond creates more lightness, it makes the bond more flexible, more inventive and more responsible, because when you relate to a woman, you are freed from the burden of having to get everyone else's approval." Relationships get closer in certain situations, in a certain context: they have something parting about them, only exist for a while and are tied to a purpose. These bonds must be activated at every place where action is taken, since there they create the mediation and thus the standard. "
This also means that authority is not only related to a specific person, but also to a specific context, to a specific content. This is another difference between power and authority. You don't "have" authority as a person, but rather it is negotiated over and over again. That is why one cannot demand it or invoke it, but one can only determine that authority is there or not. It cannot, so to speak, be frozen in titles or other external signs. One could also say that authority is not a thing, an object, but a quality of relationship, an adjective rather than a noun. To come back to the example of DIOTIMA: Luisa Muraro had her authority not because she was particularly clever and creative, but because Chiara - who in turn was valued by many others in the group - recognized Luisa's authority. And Luisa had to show this dependence on Chiara openly and behave accordingly in order to retain her authority. Luisa had to acknowledge that her authority only had a basis in her relationship with Chiara - Luisa was the authority for Chiara, and Chiara the authority for the others and was thus able to mediate between Luisa's desire to convince the women of the correctness of her theory , and the reality that looked like the women had gotten a little tired of Luisa's philosophy.
Incidentally, I was able to experience firsthand that this mediation works when I was invited to a DIOTIMA conference for the first time - a few years later than the discussions described here -, incidentally also by Chiara. Because Chiara had invited me, I was first accepted by the others, even though they didn't know me. It was their mediation that gave me access to the group. And if we take a closer look, many groups actually work that way. For example, I have great inhibitions about going anywhere I don't know anyone. I used to think that was a deficit: I was too shy or something. In the meantime I believe that I react quite appropriately - I lack the mediation, someone who mediates between my desire to get to know the group and the reality that the group doesn't care at all. This is nothing highly dramatic, but something very common. We just have to see it and acknowledge its meaning. That's also something I like about this concept of authority - once you understand it, you suddenly find authority everywhere. And becomes painfully aware when it is missing. For example, in this bad habit among people my age who have given up introducing newcomers. Perhaps you also know this situation: You go somewhere with someone and they meet people they know. They are already engrossed in conversation and you're pretty stupid by it. Meanwhile, in such situations, I sue the mediation, the lack of which makes the situation so uncomfortable for me: Don't you want to introduce me? And I make sure that I introduce people to each other.Exercising authority when it is needed starts with very small things.
I would like to talk about a few more misunderstandings and reservations that women often raise about authority. Often there is a desire to turn authority into a matter of reciprocity. According to the motto: one is authority in this regard, the other in that, so we are authorities for one another. Such a relationship is perfectly conceivable, between girlfriends perhaps, but it is rare, accidental, and such reciprocity is also not an ideal state to which we should strive. Authority is a form of relationship that derives its strength from inequality. Here, too, the picture of the mother-child relationship is helpful - after all, what use would it be if the mother knew just as little as the child? However, this has the consequence that authority necessarily harbors conflicts. The mother not only reflects and confirms the child, but also repeatedly denies him, wants something different, insists that the child brush his teeth, etc., which leads to conflicts. This also applies to relationships of authority among adults: A woman who only reflects and confirms me cannot be an authority for me, or that would not be of any use. Authority is only present when there are differences between the two women; one could also say that one of them "obeys" the other in a certain way.
An example of where authority is just not there when it is pretended to be sought is, in my view, the real boom of books on great women in history, women in science, women in politics, women in life Bible, the search for female deities, all that has been written in the last few decades. Mostly these are books about women who were the first of their gender to achieve a classic male position. It was usually important for the authors to show that women did the same thing as men even back then, when women were still banned or made difficult. That they were strong, ambitious, independent, famous, etc. But that means: This occupation usually had no consequences for our own lives. What made us happy was that even then women were doing things that we do today. The search for the so-called great women in history has largely become the self-affirmation of women today. We did not take their ideas and ideas as a challenge for ourselves, but only as a mirror in which we could sunbathe. There was no readiness for conflict, and that is an essential requirement for female authority.
If I want to develop a relationship of authority (and I can do that with women in history who can be related to through their writings), I can't go looking for women who share my opinion. Not looking for women who I find class and who I hang on to. Not someone to whom I feel a kinship or who confirms and encourages me and tells me how great I am and that I should have the courage to realize myself. I have to look for one that annoys me, that makes me throw my own opinions overboard, that questions me or perhaps doesn't even pay any attention to me. Who, if I want to realize myself as an artist, but can only make mediocre clay pots, tells me that I'm on the wrong track. When I complain that her books are so complicated to read, she tells me that female philosophy is not suitable for bedtime reading. The tough guy who tells me if I don't listen to her, then she can't help me either. These are just examples, of course. All of these sentences could also be spoken in power relations, and then they would be terrible. Only I can decide for myself whether such a woman is able to mediate between my desire and the world. All I mean by that is: A woman who only gives me confirmation and always nods benevolently, certainly cannot.
Unfortunately, the willingness to conflict among women is still not very pronounced and, above all, the concept of inequality on which authority is based is viewed with great skepticism by many women. It is not without reason that the Italian women’s approach has not caused a sensation in Germany as a theory of authority, but is traded under the keyword »Affidamento«, although this term does not play a major role in the DIOTIMA texts. Obviously one would rather avoid the word authority, so one takes an Italian word that nobody can translate and that is not so biased, and which also has the advantage that you can project anything into it.
The verb "affidare" means "to entrust" in German. What do I do when I trust someone else with something? For example, my daughter for the afternoon or my flowers while I go on vacation? I give up control of these things myself, I give the other person responsibility for this matter for a limited situation. And that person is willing and able to take on that responsibility. There is a great deal of commitment on both sides in entrusting them.
Authority has something to do with entrusting, with affidamento, only that it is not about anything third, but about myself. I entrust myself, my person, to someone else. Affidarsi, to confide in, does not mean, as in German, I tell someone a little bit about my ailments and problems, I confide my secrets, longings, lovesicknesses and so on to her - no, affidarsi means, I give myself into her hands , at least in a certain period of time, in a certain context. It is I who is at stake when it comes to authority, and correspondingly great is the trust and responsibility that are necessary for such a relationship.
I want to tell you an example. Last year one of my flatmates was faced with a difficult professional decision, because she was considering quitting and starting somewhere else. In the run-up to this decision, she asked all sorts of people for advice, including me. I dealt with the problem, set up criteria and standards, and then gave her advice. But I soon found that she wasn't looking for that advice at all. Because she really spoke to Hinz and Kunz about this problem, for example with people who happened to come into our apartment and whom she didn't know at all, with whom she had no relationship at all. She collected opinions from all kinds of people indiscriminately and did not really deal with any. She was unable or unwilling to develop a relationship of authority. She was only looking for reflection and confirmation.
You can of course do that and maybe such an approach is sometimes useful, but then there is no authority in the game. My reaction to this is that as a counselor I don't like to be abused in this way and that when I get into such a situation, I don't even bother too much, because the time is too good for me. The opposite side of this story, of course, is people who refuse to give advice. You ask them, and they also give their opinion, but with the comment: This is only my opinion, what you ultimately do, you have to decide for yourself. That means in plain language: I am not willing to take responsibility for my advice and for our relationship, but I want nothing to do with the consequences of my advice, I am not ready to exercise authority. Like a mother who would say, child, it's so warm outside, you'd better not put on your thick winter jacket. But of course it's your decision, if you have the flu afterwards, you don't have to complain to me.
Authoritative relationships presuppose commitment - from both sides. Or, as Andrea Günter writes in her new book: “Whether there is full female authority only becomes apparent in conflict situations. There is authority when we quarrel with a person and we still cannot avoid recognizing him for what he does or for us is and can be. There is authority when we disagree with what a person wants to do, and yet we acknowledge that this is exactly what they are doing or that our understanding of free female existence is called into question and thus, for us, the human horizon of female freedom or redraws. "
With that, Andrea has also addressed what female authority is about - namely, female freedom. For me, a woman has authority when she offers me a mediation between myself and the world that goes beyond what I already knew or what I have already done on my own. Authority doesn't validate me, it challenges me. It opens up new spaces and horizons for me to which I cannot advance on my own. Authority, and with that I come back to the initial question, makes people do things that they would not do of their own accord - but which are nonetheless for their own good. Brushing teeth, reading books, etc. That allows us to shape the world and leads to the creation of a feminine symbolic order that gives us an orientation framework. Female authority lets me outgrow myself, opens a loophole for me that leads me beyond the boundaries of the world as I have known it before, frees me from the constraints of majority opinion around me. I couldn't do it on my own, no matter how smart, strong and independent I was.
This does not mean that I should uncritically agree to the opinion or demands of a woman to whom I give authority. But it means that I give it a meaning. Diana Sartori once suggested to counter the categorical imperative of Kant - always act in such a way that the maxim of your actions could be a universally valid maxim at any time - a maternal imperative: Always act as you would act if I (your mother) were there . That is, the important thing about female authority is that you take into account the values and opinions of the other woman and include them in your own considerations, not that you act on them. That is why female authority does not stand in the way of my freedom, it actually enables it.
An example from my experience: For me, when it comes to philosophical thinking, Luisa Muraro is an authority, as is Andrea Günter and a few others. That does not mean that I agree with your theses on every point, I even disagree with some questions. But when I write an essay, I write it - to speak to Diana Sartori - as if Luisa and Andrea were reading it. I have that question in the back of my mind. And if I contradict you in this, it will be after careful consideration and an examination of your objections. This relationship of authority, which I entered into voluntarily, as far as my philosophical thinking is concerned, at the same time frees me: I no longer think about how to defend myself with my theses against objections from Marx or Hegel or the scientific capacities. For me they have lost this authority, they are no longer a standard for me, but I was only able to free myself from it by exchanging another standard, a different dependency, so to speak, for it.
I have just said that Diana Sartori opposed Kant's categorical imperative with a maternal imperative. The reference to the mother-child relationship is also such a difficult point. I said earlier that the model of equality and autonomy is a male tradition of thought, and I keep talking about female authority. Of course, I don't mean that one model applies to men and the other to women, but both apply to people in general. But it just happened that this philosophy of authority as I presented it to you was invented by women. And maybe that's not a coincidence.
The western tradition of men’s thought (and in fact it was men, all these philosophers that I had to study at university), presupposes an image of man, according to which he is naturally free and autonomous, and the ideal world accordingly one where all these individuals organize themselves of their own accord and without coercion, starting from zero, so to speak. But is man like that at all? The image that Italian women contrast with that of the autonomous male-human being is that of the newborn child that we all once were: We are all born by a woman, that is, we do not plop down from somewhere as individuals on this earth suddenly realize that there are also other people and then have to laboriously invent rules, for example laws and contracts, so that we don't hit each other's heads. In reality we are born differently: we need - and have - a mediation between us and the world, between us and other people, right from the start. This mediation was first our mother (or someone else in her place), and these are later teachers, friends, role models. That means that authority is not something that we first have to invent, have to do, have to demand, but is actually the first thing we find when we see the light of day.
To come back to power and its abuse again: What exactly is the problem with power: Is it that it stands in the way of our freedom and autonomy (model 1)? or is it that it does not allow adequate mediation between us and the world (model 2)? I advocate model two, just as the problem of a "bad" mother is not that she restricts her child's autonomy, but rather that she does not teach the child how to find their way around the world and how to orientate themselves can. The mother-child relationship is the best proof that not all relationships based on inequality are relationships of power and domination. I don't mean to say that there is never power and violence in the mother-child relationship, of course there is. But they are not the essence of this relationship. Usually, in general, or at least often enough, the behavior of a mother - that is, the behavior that we have all felt on our own bodies in one way or another - provides a model for maternal, for feminine authority. A model that can become the starting point for philosophical reflection and the work on a new symbolic order, even if not all mothers have authority and many mothers also occasionally operate with power and violence, presumably also our own, about which we are concerned Should complain right. But besides power and violence there was and is in most cases something else, namely authority. And maybe it's no coincidence that it was female philosophers who first noticed this, but actually it doesn't matter. It is important that it is correct and that it has advanced our thinking in search of female freedom.
So if it is the case that every person's entry into the world is based on mediation, that the world and our place in it only open up to us when we find this mediation, then that could mean that it simply belongs to human nature heard of being dependent on others. Our freedom of choice would therefore not be to be dependent or independent, but rather to have a say in what we want to be dependent on and what not. Instead of striving for independence and autonomy, liberation movements or protest movements could therefore also ask which dependencies they want to replace with which others and why. In the case of women this would mean: I can only combat the dependence of women on husbands and / or fathers, as prevailed in the patriarchy, if I say what dependency I want to exchange them for. One answer that many women have given and practiced is that they have traded personal dependence on a husband or father for dependence on the employer and the capitalist market. It has now been shown that this is only partially satisfactory. Would it also be a way of exchanging them for dependence on other women? So would feminine authority be a way of opposing power?
What conclusions could one draw from this theory of authority specifically in the organization of groups and associations, how can this be implemented in practice? First of all, as I said, authority cannot be introduced, institutionalized, brought about, "made". One can only perceive them, but they arise completely by themselves - it just depends on making them conscious and visible and recognizing them.And it is important that those who have authority also make themselves aware of where they have been awarded it from, on which women they are in turn dependent, and also to acknowledge and express this publicly.
So my first suggestion is that one should not first consider which rules and committees, which hierarchical structures should be introduced, but that one should first make clear where there is already authority: Which women are judged to be particularly respected? What kind of authority relationships do I personally have with whom as an individual?
Only then can you consider whether you really need additional structures and rules and hierarchy levels. Because: Authority is never something irrevocable, it depends on the respective context and is always a matter of negotiation. As soon as it depends on it being formalized, it turns into power and is no longer helpful. By entering into commitments - voluntarily - my freedom arises. I cannot be forced to do this.
Lecture on January 29th, 2001 at «Lachesis», professional association for alternative practitioners
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