The Basis of Authority

Each of the source readings for Weeks VIII and IX addresses in one way or another the question of authority. Depending on the context, authority can mean several things. It can be the grounds on which one person or group claims to exercise power over others. It can be the source to which people point or turn to resolve disagreement or conflict. The Latin terms, auctor and auctoritas, have the sense of origin, or first principle, and the two English derivatives, "author" and "authority", suggest the range of meaning.

Over that range of meaning, claims of authority are effective to the extent that they are recognized by those to whom they are directed. Disputes over authority itself are difficult to resolve precisely because it is not clear where the basis of resolution lies. They often come down to a matter of belief and of persuading others to share it. Such persuasion is a particularly subtle art. One must know one's audience, seek common ground with it, and then move it to one's own belief. The crucial steps may be, or even must be, persuasive rather than strictly logical.

Choosing one of the sources, discuss in a brief essay (750 words) how the author carries out that task of persuasion. What basis of authority is he trying to establish? What audience is he addressing? Where does he seek common ground? By what rhetorical strategies does he move to secure its assent to his belief? The essay should not analyze what the author says so much as the way he says it, that is, the organization and style of the argument. In short, what is the basis of the author's authority?

The essay is due by 3:00 PM Monday, 17 November, in your preceptor's box in the History Department Office, 129 Dickinson Hall.