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Books, Journals, New Media
April 15, 1998

Authority: Authority: The Most Misunderstood Idea in America

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available

JAMA. 1998;279(15):1222-1223. doi:10.1001/jama.279.15.1222-JBK0415-3-1

This book addresses an important problem in modern society: the difficulty in defining and accepting reasonable authority. The authors differentiate authority from authoritarianism, though they incorrectly state that authority itself is devoid of power, as if power is necessarily to be condemned. Authority by definition implies power.

The authors argue that one of the failures of contemporary society is the inability to accept what they call generative authority, by which they mean a creative thrust in a relationship that enriches the other person, a concept that relates to mutual growth in a relationship. However, they describe generative authority in their own particular and idealized way. They argue that the decrease in authority is related to a decrease in authoritarianism, namely the arbitrary abuse of power, and that this decrease is associated with the breakdown of centralized power as had existed in royalty, religion, etc—hence, a general breakdown of values.