Auctoritas refers to an individual’s personality and background. When an individual has a charismatic way of being, as well as what he says and does conveys values, others give him a certain moral authority .
His ethical credentials, his will and his knowledge make people around him spontaneously accept his ideas.
The auctoritas-potestas binomial
In Ancient Rome, representatives and public representatives must have the recognition of citizens. In principle, the patricians, senators and magistrates were those who possessed this capacity, since their evaluations were carried out from a position of power.
Both concepts are fundamental to understanding the idea of power in Roman civilization, more deeply in any community of citizens. Auctoritas is associated with the individual’s knowledge and ethical dimension, while potestas expresses the idea of strength. In other words, we obey someone’s orders when he has the coercive force of power, but when we obey an individual who has no power, our conduct has a different origin: the intellectual and moral authority of the one who gives an order or proposes something.
When we comply with a law, what we are obliged to do is potestas, that is, the coercive power of laws. On the other hand, when we decide to follow the teachings of a teacher, all imposition disappears and our action is based on respect for his knowledge.
For the ancient Romans, the analysis of human action does not have a philosophical dimension, but manifests itself in the vital reality of what it really is. In this general framework, life in society should be based on respect for traditions and compliance with laws. In this way, a community of individuals should be guided by some kind of guide or moral reference.
The figure of the philosopher , the educator and the jurist represents the man who has auctoritas, while the military and the governor are the personification of potestas. Naturally, they are not antagonistic concepts, since there are people who unite auctoritas ( knowledge ) and potestas (socially accepted power).
In Western culture the institution that symbolizes the auctoritas is the church
For centuries, the ultimate authority of a community was occupied by members of the clergy, as they already “knew” the authentic truth revealed by God. Consequently, his words had a dominant effect on the crowd.
The people, mostly illiterate, gave evident moral strength and knowledge of a higher order to the representatives of the church, that is, an auctoritas.