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Structural and interpretational authority

Structural and interpretational authority

There are two types of authority. One comes from a position in the structure and another as an authority to interpret discourse.

A judge is a typical representative of structural authority. He has a license to interpret disputes from his position. All licensed positions and all bureaucrats have authority solely based on personal positions within a specific structure. The position makes their voice authoritative.

On the contrary, some authorities acquire their authority through the authority of their followers. Sages, prophets, philosophers, and political leaders represent this second type of authority. Followers recognize some special knowledge or power that comes from within themselves and not from the structure. That such interpretational authorities also gain attributes of structural authority over time is good to know since it also gives a specific flavor to our story.

Brains as a comparison

To understand how each type of authority plays within known social structures, let us compare it to an entity that is the prime example of structural and interpretational authority: brains. On the most basic level, the brains consist of neurons and networks. This structure is peculiar and ordinary because no neuron would have interpretational authority. Even more: no group of neurons would have such authority. Neural networks constantly prevent one neuron or any particular group of neurons from becoming “the author of interpretation.” One should go even further: should brains be disconnected from the body, they would know nothing. So even brains, as a sum of all neurons, have no authority; they only gain authority as a part of a more comprehensive structure. They have structural authority.

It is well known that brains constantly rearrange connections between neurons. Links used more often get more robust, and those used less frequently weaken. They can sometimes disappear entirely but regain their power if needed, at least until their brains die.  That is why decentralized structures like brains or the internet or blockchain are so flexible but also so resistant. More than something is flexible, more it is resistant. That is a fundamental law of the antifragility (Taleb 2014). Where there is no commander, the attacking army has no specific target to eliminate; until the last couple of connected neurons is destroyed, nothing is yet destroyed.

Does democracy respect individuals?

Let us move back to human social entities. The most sustainable society would have maximal structural authority and minimal interpretational authority. Formal democracy looks like such a structure. In formal democracy, no individual would know anything, but for that reason, society maximizes knowledge and sustainability.

Does it?

It does not because society as a network resembles brains but cannot be reduced to a brain analogy. The main difference lies in the fact that brains have no agents. Agents are agents as much as they have interpretational authority. Individuals with pure structural authority are not (should not) act like agents but merely as emanations of their structural powers. The personality of a judge should not matter in formal democracy. Any judge should come to the same verdict in ideal formal democracy. Individuality spoils formal democracy. For that reason, formal democracy loves humanism and despises homonism (Drapal 2022).

Quantum uncertainty/duality

Let me resolve the situation with the uncertainty principle, one of the essential quantum mechanics principles. The more precise a quantum particle’s position is known, the less well its momentum is known – and vice versa. The more that we have formal democracy, the less we know (appreciate) individuals. More than we appreciate a society that rests on potent agents, and strong individuals, less democracy we have. Both extremes are, like in quantum mechanics, highly improbable, but what is even more critical, no actual situation can be precisely defined. What we know, though, is that the most evolutionary sustainable strategy (ESS) lies at the edge of the chaos (Kauffman 1993). The philosophy of homonism, in its opposition to humanism, seeks to define such a balance.

Human society needs strong individuals and needs strong interpretational authorities that are, at the same time, moral authorities. Such societies are most cohesive, internally vibrant, and strong, but only if they do not cross the peak and fall into chaos.



Drapal, Andrej. 2022. Homonism. Scholars’ Press.

Kauffman, Stuart A. 1993. The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution. 1st edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. 2014. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Reprint edition. New York: Random House Publishing Group.


  1. Steve Morris 11/11/2023 at 12:15 - Reply

    I’ve read a few of your articles now and I’m intrigued by your thought processes and some associations you make. Very thought invoking.

    I really like Taleb’s Subsidiarity model of:

    Socialism at Individual and Family Level
    Democracy at the Local (County City) Level
    Republic at State Level
    Libertarian at Federal/World Level.

    The farther one is removed from the Authority, the Greater the Uncertainty (Position, Velocity [Speed, Direction] ), explained by Hayek’s Knowledge Problem.

    Subsidiarity states that Power/Control must reside at the most Local Level that can be performed with Efficacy.

    This article makes me wonder if Producing Sages that can gain followers can take some influence away from the 2 Parties. Can we achieve Taleb’s model?

    • Andrej Drapal 19/11/2023 at 09:56 - Reply

      Dear Steve,
      Thank you for your comment. It makes the point – namely opens important questions.
      Personally I’m sure that the influence can be acheived and spread starting with 2 parties upwards. Bottom-up. All top-down influences fail; degrade, as Hayes and von Mises nicely explain.

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