Mark Richardson commences a series on the traditional virtues—Roman, Germanic, and Christian. Based on his first installment, on auctoritas, he’s not going to overburden us with long disquisitions but rather will provide a succinct definition and explanation of each virtue. Thus auctoritas is defined as a spiritual authority, as “The sense of one’s social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria.” A commenter expands on this:
Auctoritas referred to a Roman’s political influence. In a highly competitive political atmosphere influence mattered as much as direct power and was highly sought after. Part of your influence came from your ability to reflect the best aspects of Romanness.This is interesting, but does it tell us anything distinctive about the Romans’ sense of virtue? After all, the same could be said about liberals, whose influence in liberal society comes from their ability to reflect what liberals perceive as the best aspects of liberalism.
Ken Hechtman writes:
I’m not sure it’s supposed to tell us anything distinctive about Rome in 27 BC. We learn the distinction between potestas and auctoritas and have done for 2000 years because it’s universal. Yes, of course, people who try to run liberal organizations and societies based on informal, understated and exemplary authority do better than people why try to do so based on black-letter-law power. But that’s the point. That is the take-away lesson. Auctoritas trumps potestas. Always has, always will.