David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Eugene Kennedy, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, co-author of Authority: The Most Misunderstood Idea in America.
DAVID GERGEN: Gene, a central theme of the book that you and your wife have written is that in the second half of this century many Americans rebelled against some of the social structures we had--against a family--against corporate leadership--against church leadership even because they felt it was too authoritarian. But in the process of throwing out some of those structures, you believe we have also gotten rid of something very precious. Can you tell us about it?
EUGENE KENNEDY, Co-Author, "Authority:" At the beginning of the century, at least people looked back toward it somewhat nostalgically. It seems as if everything was in its place; everybody knew where they belonged; people knew when they were supposed to be upstairs; and those who were downstairs took that as their lot. This whole well-organized way of life came apart in this century. You can almost date it from the funeral of Edward VII.
And if we look at it from the viewpoint of the funerals we have just seen concluded in England, we see that the last great royal family, which was the last symbol of authoritarian rule with everything in its place, has now come apart, itself. So the centuryís a playing out of a revolt against authoritarianism. Thrown out with this authoritarianism, however, is authority, which is a healthy, essential, dynamic without which there canít be any human, moral, or any life of aspiration at all.
DAVID GERGEN: What do you mean by authority? You say itís the most misunderstood idea in America. How do you define it?
EUGENE KENNEDY: Well, authority is not authoritarianism. One has to begin on a sort of negative way. But if we understand that it comes to grow, to create to make able to grow, augere, we get some sense that it is a positive, non-coercive characteristic that inheres only in human relationships. It only comes to life between a parent and a child, a teacher and his classroom, a pastor and his flock. It is the energy through which a person helps somebody else to grow somewhere beyond himself. In the obituaries, Sir Georg Solti--one of the great conductors of all time--he described what he tried to do. He said, "I wanted to help the musicians go beyond themselves." Thatís what an authority does. He authors, or she authors growth in another person.
DAVID GERGEN: And you think weíve lost a lot of that in family life and corporate life and in our schools.
EUGENE KENNEDY: Yes. I think that this whole idea, like the baby thrown out with the bath water--
DAVID GERGEN: Killing not only Mr. Hyde by Dr. Jekyll, I think.
EUGENE KENNEDY: Thatís correct. We have left the stage with no persona in it at all. And, therefore, weíve been in a period where there are no standards. People grapple and grow. Anything goes. That is the necessary consequence of losing sight of the fact that authority is that healthy aspect of human personality through which we help each to become more of who we really are. There are no tricks involved in this.
The study that has just been described the Journal of the--the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the crucial variable in the relationship between parent and children is not quality time or doing activities together, but a sense of connectedness. It was five times more crucial than time spent with the child, for example. Thatís a good definition of authoring. Now, that is the power that is not coercive as authoritarianism is but is healthy and positive. This is really what is at the root of all our confusion about how to govern, how to manage, how to make a marriage successful.
DAVID GERGEN: Many women today--if you talked about the family of the 50's--would say, yes, there was much that was good about that, but we donít want to go back to a family in which there was a hierarchical structure, in which there was a male-dominated structure in which the woman also felt her place was in the kitchen. How do you rebuild family life without going back to that hierarchy?
EUGENE KENNEDY: Well, I donít think it would be successful to go back to Victorian times. The answer to this is really to understand that authority does not put people in submission, one to the other. Authority is something that requires people to be in an equal exchanging kind of role. It is one of the most traditional ideas because it implies with love that really cares for the other, it cares for the child, cares for the student, is a concrete expression of our responsibility. Thatís central. And that will make the relationship, itself, more equal without trying by covenant marriages or by prenuptial agreements to make structures that are artificial essentially.
DAVID GERGEN: One of the metaphors that you used that struck me was that we ought to have authority relationships that are not top-down but are rather like the solar system.
EUGENE KENNEDY: Yes. Thereís a lot of speculation, as you know, these days of how things should be reorganized. And there are many models offered to replace the traditional hierarchical structure. The one that seems the soundest in this space age is the solar system, itself, because there is an energy source that gives life to all of the planets. But they all have their own orbits. They all have their own gifts of minerals and soils, as we are richly discovering every day. They are, in fact, able, therefore, to have some coordinate functions and relationships without one overcoming the other. And thatís how a family should be as well.
DAVID GERGEN: Let me talk to you a bit about moral authority because you write about this in your book. And thereís a sentence you have I just loved. You said, "Moral authority belongs to those who are willing to write their signature on their lives." Tell us about this.
EUGENE KENNEDY: Well, thereís a great deal of speculation underway right now about whether you can have a moral life. And a moral life is something that doesnít come really by following rules, by being a good boy in the eyes of somebody else; that too must come from within us. And that means we author the kind of actions that we, in fact, carry out every day; we author the work we do; we author our families; we author everything about us, even our play.
Thereís a character that we give to that, whether itís fair, whether itís honest, whether itís the truest expression of ourselves. Thatís who we write a signature every day on our lives. That is, in fact, what we might call an operational definition of being moral. And the moral character of it comes from our capacity to write that signature: Yes, I did this. It isnít fobbed off in the great presidential phrase, I accept responsibility for this. It is something that says I internally put my whole humanity into this in this way.
DAVID GERGEN: Final question. Who has moral authority in todayís world?
EUGENE KENNEDY: I think that Pope John Paul II has commanding moral authority in this world. I think that Mother Teresa surely had. I believe that in this country itís easy to find out actually. Itís the person that other people listen to when they say something. I think that surely Colin Powell has surely demonstrated that he had moral authority. I believe that many of our leaders during the Gulf War showed that they had moral authority. When somebody comes into a room and says something and everybody in the room turns and listens, that person has moral authority. Itís the way they described Jesus. He speaked as one having authority. Thatís still a good measure. But it has to be healthy, not coercive.
DAVID GERGEN: Eugene Kennedy, thank you and please give our best and thanks to your wife Sara Charles.
EUGENE KENNEDY: Thank you.