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A Kind Word for the Man

by John Wilson

Up with Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings, by Victor Lee Austin (T&T Clark, 192 pp., $29.95)

Authority is a curiously neglected subject. Round up a gaggle of grad students, and they can discourse about power and hegemony into the wee hours. And as you are nodding off, they are getting their second wind, launching into the mystifications of sovereignty, citing Carl Schmitt and Derrida. But authority? What is that, exactly? For their next seminar, they should read Victor Lee Austin’s Up with Authority.

Austin is theologian-in-residence at Saint Thomas (Episcopal) Church on Fifth Avenue in New York. His book is as pleasingly idiosyncratic as his title. (How many congregations support a theologian-in-residence?) It is not a work of theology, strictly speaking, or philosophy, or political theory, or psychology, or sociology, though it touches on all of these, grounded in the conviction that legitimate authority “comes from God and no thing, no being, no realm is outside his dominion.” It is not a polemic against what theologian R. R. Reno, commending Austin’s book, calls the “antinomian sensibility” of the “postmodern era,” in which authority is regarded as “something to be grimly endured — or simply overthrown.”

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