CU Boulder professor visits Metro, discusses the roles of authority


Posted Tue, Mar 12, 2013

Students intensely listen as Dr. Michael Huemer discuses the roles of authority. [Photo by Maureen Bayne]

MSU students listen intensely as Dr. Huemer discuses the roles of authority in politics and the military. [Photo by Maureen Bayne]

DENVER—In all aspects of life, authority dominates.
In Syria, a gruesome civil war has ignited an internal chaos beyond recognition. Tensions between Israel and Palestine linger like an unanswerable question. North Korea rebels against the world with the most destructive weapon of war ever known. The U.S. military has the power to execute American citizens suspected of terrorist affiliations, without due process.

All of these conflicts and issues portray an undeniable relation to authority, and how the constant desire to maintain, acquire and practice it shapes political and military action.
Dr. Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado in Boulder, came to Metropolitan State University of Denver on March 5 to discuss his new book, “The Problem of Political Authority.”

“Most people think that what the government is doing is permissible, if not, praiseworthy,” Huemer said. “The question is, what is the basis for political legitimacy?”Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 11.41.40 AM

The origins of how political power was established in the U.S. starts with a philosopher named John Locke, a man whose political theories helped shape the Declaration of Independence. Other than that, Locke is known for coining the phrase “social contract.”

“What that is, is a contract between the government and the people,” Huemer said. “The government is supposed to provide law and order and protect people’s rights. In return, the citizens are supposed to obey the laws the government makes, including paying a certain amount of taxes.”

So this contract binds citizen to government, as long as a person is a citizen, they are obligated to comply. According to a Gallup poll released in January, 77 percent of Americans think that politics in Washington D.C. is causing serious harm to the U.S. If more than two thirds of the population believes that the government isn’t working right, then why are the same people still running the place?

There are some psychological theories behind this, including the Milgram experiment, which was conducted by a Yale psychologist named Stanley Milgram.

“The psychologists wanted to find out how much people would obey an authority figure,” Huemer said. “There’s one person who gets strapped to a chair and then there’s another person who’s supposed to administer electric shocks to the person in the chair.”

Dr. Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado in Boulder, came to Metropolitan State University of Denver on March 5 to discuss his new book, “The Problem of Political Authority.”

Dr. Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado in Boulder discusses his new book, “The Problem of Political Authority.” [Photo by Maureen Bayne]

The shocker is supposed to teach the other person information and shock them if they give a wrong answer. Another person in the room, the authority figure, urges the teacher to administer shocks to the learner, even if they don’t want to. The results found that the teacher would inflict a massive amount of pain on the learner if an authority figure urged them to do it.
This experiment showed that people would follow authority, even if it meant hurting a stranger.

Resisting Authority
More than 70,000 people have died as a result of the Syrian civil war, and more to come. However, there are methods of resistance that are non-violent and that say that “if the law is wrong, then it’s perfectly justified to disobey it,” according to Huemer.

These methods are more commonly referred to as civil disobedience and were most famously used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists in the 60s. It was an extremely effective way to question authority, because they were adamant on the practice of passive resistance.

Resistance instances like the Civil Rights Movement still remain the basis on which more modern revolutions are designed. And legitimate change, instead of violence, is precisely what the wounded world needs.

And, as King said, “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”

About Maureen Bayne

Maureen Bayne grew up in the small town Aztec, New Mexico. Later, she moved to Bakersfield, CA, where she graduated from Bakersfield High School. After attending Colorado State University for two years, she moved to Berkeley, CA, where she studied art at Berkeley Community College. She is currently living in Westminster, CO and is seeking a degree in magazine journalism at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

View all posts by Maureen Bayne

3 Responses to “CU Boulder professor visits Metro, discusses the roles of authority”

  1. Davy Says:

    Good info used in the story. Great pictures as well.


  2. S.L. Alderton Says:

    Good use of quotes!


  3. Ashley Hattle Says:

    I loved this article! I am very interested in politics and the way things tick so this was a great read for me.


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