The Characteristics of Civil Authority

1. Every authority by which an entire state is ruled, in any form of government, has this quality, that it is supreme, that is, not dependent in its exercise upon any man as a superior, but operating according to its own judgment and discretion, so that its acts cannot be nullified by any man as a superior.

2. It follows then that the same supreme authority is anupeuqunos [anupeuthunos unaccountable], in other words, not bound so to render account to any human being, that, if that person did not approve the account, it would for that reason be liable to human penalties or constraint, proceeding as it were from a superior.

3. Connected with this is the fact that the same supreme authority is superior to human and civil laws as such, and thus not directly bound by them. For those laws are dependent upon the supreme authority in origin as well as in duration. Hence it is impossible for it to be bound by them, since it would otherwise be superior to itself. And yet, when the possessor of supreme authority has by a law enjoined certain obligations upon the citizens, and the matter applies to himself as well, it is proper, and helpful in lending authority to the law, for him to comply willingly with the same himself.

4. Lastly, the supreme authority has a special sanctity, so that not only is it wrong to resist its legitimate commands, but also the citizens must patiently bear with ifs severity, just as the peevishness of parents is borne by good children. And even when it has threatened the most cruel injuries, individuals will seek their safety in flight, or endure any amount of misfortune, rather than draw the sword against one who is indeed harsh, but still the father of his country.

5. Moreover, the supreme authority, especially in monarchies and aristocracies, is in some eases found to be absolute, in others limited. Absolute authority is said to belong to the monarch who can administer it according to his own judgment, not according to the norm of definite and permanent statutes, but as the present exigency seems to demand; and who thus provides for the safety of the state at his own discretion, according as its circumstances require.

6. But one man's judgment is not immune from error, and his will, especially in the midst of such liberty, is easily bent in the worse direction. Hence it has seemed wise to same nations to circumscribe the exercise of his authority by certain limits. And this was done when, upon conferring the throne, they bound the king to certain laws concerning the administration of the functions of government. And whenever matters came up affecting the general interest, and incapable of being decided in advance, it was their will that these things should not be undertaken, except with the foreknowledge and consent of the people, or after their representatives had been called together in an assembly, that less occasion might be given the king to turn away from the welfare of the kingdom.

7. Finally, in kingdoms we often meet with a distinction in the method of holding the royal power — a method which is not found to be uniform in all cases. For some kings are said to hold their kingdom as a patrimony, so that, at their caprice they can divide it, alienate and transfer it to anyone they please. This is particularly the case with those who have gained a kingdom for themselves by arms, and have acquired a people of their own. But the other kings, who have been chosen by the will of the people, although they have the highest right to exercise authority, are nevertheless unable to divide the kingdom at their pleasure, to alienate or transfer it. On the contrary, they are bound to follow the fundamental law, or established practice of the nation, in handing on the kingdom to their successors; and for this reason some compare them in a way with usufructuaries.

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