17 Sep

Leaders with management skills (but no virtues)

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/17/15

Philip Turner on viewing authority as mere conflict management

“[I]n the classical tradition, the very notion of authority carries with it two attendant ideas that underline the close links between authority and community health. One is that there is a common set of beliefs and a common way of life and the other is that there are people who have a particular set of virtues that allow them both to understand those beliefs and ways better than others and to protect and augment them in the midst of life’s chances and changes. . . . We have a crisis of authority because our society no longer has widely shared beliefs and forms of life to which common reference can be made. Beliefs and ways of life, save in respect to certain minimal attitudes and practices without which social life could not successfully be carried on, are considered matters of private rather than public business. Further, because our notions of equality constantly seek to exclude discussion of the personal qualities of excellence that makes one a fit person to govern, we increase the number of arguments over what ought to be done by those in authority and simultaneously narrow the range of personal qualities we believe make one fit to be entrusted with it. We seem less and less concerned that those we invest with authority embody a common ideal and more and more concerned that they succeed in the particular matters that touch our own interests.”

“[T]here has arisen another view of what having authority is and how it ought to be exercised. . . . The new authority rests not upon the presence of shared beliefs and practices but upon their absence. Within modern and postmodern cultures, this new way of having authority depends upon the very absence of shared beliefs and practices and it functions not to further what is common but to insure a social order within which people, who regard one another as strangers and potential enemies, can follow differing beliefs and ways of life without in the process doing unacceptable harm to one another. The peace it seeks to foster is the avoidance of conflict between contradictory aims rather than common though conflicted pursuit of shared goals.

“In short, the new authority is justified not by what is common but by irreconcilable differences in what people believe and the ways in which they choose to live their lives. The new authority therefore functions not by producing consensus within a common, but nonetheless dispute driven, tradition but by seeking to guarantee the rights of people who are strangers one to another — people whose lives are informed by different traditions. These guarantees are insured by creating buffer zones between people who are not civic friends or brothers and sisters in the Lord but adversaries with differing interests. These interests are protected (supposedly) by fair procedures which are designed not to augment common beliefs and ways of life but to insure that individuals are able to make their own choices about these matters. The new authority exists, in short, to see that the rights of individuals are protected and to lay down and enforce the fair procedures that are designed to guarantee their protection.”

“No longer is it necessary for those in authority to stand close to a common tradition or exhibit a range of virtues prized by all. What is necessary is to have the skills of a manager of conflict and the expertise of a technician. The job is to manage conflict in ways that allow people with various desires and ‘life plans’ to coexist. The job description of the new authority is best summed up in the words of pluralism and inclusivity. The new authority functions, at least in theory, to insure that a plurality of beliefs and practices, indeed a plurality of traditions, are allowed to coexist and that the devotees of these various ways of life are not excluded from participating in and benefiting from the goods of social life.”

—from Philip Turner, “Episcopal Authority in a Divided Church: On the Crisis of Anglican Identity” (Pro Ecclesia, Vol. VIII, No. 1 [Winter 1999])

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