I’m sure most people remember how free they felt the day the left home and lived on their own. At first it might have seemed a bit scary because you had to pay bills and survive independently of your parents but after a while you felt a new sense of freedom in your own life. You may not have realized this but what you did is that you have freed yourself from the paternal power of your parents.
The paternal power that your parents had was well established since you were born because they had to take care of you. While they were taking care of you you were dependent on them and this gave your parents a sense of power over your being. This is why your parents believe they have a right to control what you do with your life while they are taking care of you and the expression ‘under my house…blah…blah…blah’ exist.
The one thing that many political philosophers such as John Locke were dealing with at the time was the paternal power of the state. Monarchs were not magistrates who executed the law but seen as parents who assumed they had control over you in the same way a parent does over a child. The king was responsible for your welfare and survival which turned each citizen into a personal ward of the king. This established the same relationship you had with your parents when you lived with them between the king and society.
Society was really ruled by two powers which were the paternal power of the monarchs and the legal power of the state. These two powers existed simultaneously as the king was the personal authority of your person which is why you had to bow to him. Laws were created by the state/monarch that really resembled rules parents established for the relationship between them and their children. In the same way parents demand to be honored by their children the king demanded to be honored by the citizens which is why it was illegal to speak against the king.
This relationship between the citizen and the state was a deadly sin in the name freedom and equality because it established that a person was subservient to another by birth right. This is why ‘all men were created equal’ took on a special meaning because it said that no person was under the authority of another. This is the basis of freedom because is a person is not under the authority of another thus being equal in rank then no person has the right to tell the other how to live or what to do.
What many political philosophers did was to separate these two powers into separate spheres of legal and paternal authority.
When this was done it destroyed the monarch’s power and by doing so it established that the only authority a person had was the law. This set each person free of the paternal power that the state had and societies, especially in America, started to feel like the first days you moved away from home. In the same way you were free of the authority of your parents the people were free of the authority of the king.
Once the law became the only authority each person had in a society then it became natural for each person to ask who establishes these laws and how can we all claim to be equal in authority if some people get to establish the laws by which other people get to live by.
This is where the constitution comes into play. The constitution is nothing but a set of statutes except that it is a higher law than any law people in power can create. Its authority places those in power on equal footing as people not in power since each one has to obey the same constitution. It’s the first time in history that we had a law above the people in power which maintained the equal authority or equality of every member society since each member was equally subservient to the same constitution.
The supreme authority was not in the arbitrary will of the people in power but the text of a document that had more power than anyone. This is why the constitution has the power to limit the government because its authority is above them and their powers are derived from that document. The people in power do not make the supreme law of the land but are subject to the supreme law of the land just like every other person is. This makes the constitution master of all and the people and the government holding an equal position of second to its authority. The constitution’s authority makes everyone equal in rank with one another.
Today, the paternal power of the state is still alive because people in power almost see themselves as caretakers of our person. This is because the social memory of the divine right of kings still exists within us but the weapon against it is the constitution and the authority of the supreme law. It is the same weapon that was used during the American Revolution which was what Thomas Paine said in Common Sense ‘the law is king’. This establishes that it is the law and more specifically the supreme law that exists within the text of the constitution that is the only authority that exists for every member of society.
The law is king but it is not laws created by our legislatures but the constitution because all other laws created by any legislature is simply one person’s authority over another and this is not a state of equality. We are not obligated to obey the laws of any government because those are not the supreme law of the land and to believe that those laws are the supreme law of the land is to believe that some people (the elected) have more authority than others. In order for there to be a state of equality between all people in a society we must realize that the text of the constitution is the only authority that exists in society.
We are not ruled by kings, legislatures, or any human being but by words on a document called the constitution which has no will other than what the people manifested into them. It does not have any malice, ambition for power, and cruel desires (other than the one that we write into it). It allows our free-will to manifest itself because the authority we are subject to is not the personal authority of others but the words that are written into it. When we realize this we are free of the authority of others because we are subject to the supreme law of the land and not the supposed supreme will of others.