Occasionally you'll see a bumper sticker that reads, QUESTION AUTHORITY. At one time in our nation's past, that would have qualified as good ol' Yankee skepticism. More and more, it looks like the feeder line to a bad joke that ends "...and you'll get your teeth knocked out."
Authority is one of the most abused words in the English language these days. Employed as a truncheon by the power-mad, feared as the unanswerable Ultimate Demand by the simple-minded, we have become a people that are terminally disinclined to question authority: its legitimacy, its application to our circumstances and its intrinsic value to us in leading productive and worthwhile lives. It is hard to see how replacing the whims of a king with the whims of an unaccountable governmental Leviathan is a marked improvement.
The social contract that ostensibly trades complete individual license for a more secure and predictable life through the agency of shared governance has been frayed to the point of disintegration. We no longer have an exchange of value through the social contract. We are required to display unlimited obeisance to whatever outrage that can be coated with the thin patina of pseudo-law. That which is not law is presented as lawful, that which is clearly shown to be law is ignored, with little or no consequences.
There are numerous theories regarding from where rights--that is to say, the object upon which authority works its will--and authority arise. Without surveying them here, every government on earth claims to represent the will of the people, and desires to protect their welfare. Every government lies. In reality and almost without exception, we are facing a global collection of criminal syndicates of varying toxicity. Government today has become what the Church was at the depth of its corruption: a place where the financially ambitious go to get ahead, where the power hungry go to mine for influence and the psychopathic go just for the fun of it.
We in America were blessed with a system that attempted to blunt the ability of this type of criminal mindset to flourish. Instead, we have allowed the chains binding down government to be removed, link by link. We are now faced with a nearly unconstrained monster that grows bolder, and more irrational, by the day. Is there nothing to be done?
First of all, realize real authority is earned, not taken by force. Establishment of Religion recognizes the worth of deferring to another of greater wisdom coupled with compassion in our shared humanity. There is nothing to be lost and much to be gained by imbibing what those of true authority offer.
But for those who insist on grasping for what is not theirs to hold, we must strike a different stance...and that is where QUESTION AUTHORITY comes in. Insist on knowing what lawful authority they claim and how they came to have it. Do not accept their facile summary of it; due diligence requires you to go to the original statutory language and see for yourself. Examine definitions closely; are the powers being employed reflected in their statutory permit? How have courts ruled in cases that involve the position being taken?
Understand your rights. Know how case law has evolved to balance competing interests between individuals and the collective. It's not an open and shut case. There have been some exemplary wins for individual rights, even as the general drift has been to state power.
Finally, examine your attitude toward authority of any kind. Within the framework Establishment of Religion suggests, healthy skepticism is usually called for today to guard against coercive encroachment. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water. When you come across information that claims authoritative status, evaluate for yourself if you find it to be so, even if only provisionally. If so, take it and use it to improve the quality of your life, the final test of any authority's utility.