The Romans revered their city’s legendary founding and greatly admired those who had laid the foundations. They called their ancestors the maiores—literally, “the greater ones”—and carefully passed down their wisdom from one generation to the next. In the Eternal City, Arendt writes, “religion literally meant re-ligare, to be tied back, obligated.” Here, the weight of the past leaned heavily and welcomely on the present. The citizen who could bear up well under such weight had gravitas, and the one who strengthened and augmented (from the Latin augere) the city’s cherished foundations had auctoritas.

We love a Latin etymology as revealed truth.

If empirical truths are up for debate, then non-empirical truths are basically dead on arrival for most people. But relational authority can still create a little force field, a little stay against the storm; if someone holds fast to unseen principles, their conviction can radiate outward and maybe even pull another into its orbit.

I once told someone that I thought “respect” was something you developed for someone’s belief by knowing them, not by slicing up what they believe in isolation from their living it. I think this was in the context of Mormonism? Nothing objective, nothing about validity of syllogisms.

Virtue doesn’t reside in the sky, or the cloud, or any form of abstraction; it must be passed from one person to the next. By reinforcing and augmenting the foundations of civilization, we invite the next generation to become builders too. But a lack of authority deprives them of this role, tells them that civilization is already full (or maybe empty), and thus leaves young people with two terrible choices: despair or rebellion.

Hmm. Is authority all that can pass on an opportunity to build?