Political Authority in Sophocles' Antigone


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Antigone:  Political Authority


Political power results from the fear of force. The individual acts out of a fear of consequences of disobedience and in accordance with the desdire for self-preservation. Political Authority results from a belief in the moral correctness of the organization in question. The individual acts of a sense of obligation and acknowledges the right of the ruler, morally, to rule and the moral correctness of the laws are accepted. The laws are obeyed for their own sake.

            In Antigone, Sophocles suggests there is no basis for political authority: that Creon's citizens obey him out of fear of the consequences of disobedience. Ismene's obeys his edict is because she fears death. The soldier reports the attempted burial of Polyneices and brings the captured Antigone to Creon to "save his own sweet skin." The chorus believes no one would risk death out of political or moral or religious objectives. Antigone utterly rejects the authority of Creon: "these laws were not made in heaven," she says, and I do not have to obey the laws of human beings. She acts as she does because she does not respect authority and because she does not fear death. Haemon appeals to Creon on the basis of power - he suggests public opinion is against Creon and Creoin is at risk of losing his power as king. Only Creon and Tireseas ever acknowledge the issue of political authority. And with both, it is unclear whether authority can be the motivation, because in both situations, authority issues are tied to issues of power and personal gain. As the chorus comments - can one sublimate ones personal desires to the public good? If not then power is the only way to maintain public order.

            Socrates asks how can an organization, that by its very nature must act immorally (eg. Allow injustice) have moral authority? Since a political community must require its citizens to accept, unquestioningly, (at least at times) its basic assumptions and must demand obedience to its laws for the community to continue to survive and prosper, it must stifle individual humans in their pursuit of knowledge.

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Since Socrates, a just man, merely pursuing the path of knowledge and wisdom, must be executed to ensure political community's stability, the community need act unjustly to preserve itself and thereby can have no moral authority. Ultimately, the suggestion is, as in Antigone, that political authority does not exist. The implication is that political communities thereby, rule by powers of fear and force.


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