One of the persons encountered by Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s peripatetic Little Prince is the King of a tiny asteroid. The King teaches Little Prince that “Accepted authority rests first on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution.” The King claims that he has the right to require obedience because his orders are reasonable.
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“Over everything,” the King answers promptly and makes a majestic gesture which sweeps everything including the stars and the planets.
“And the stars obey you?” Little Prince is dismayed.
“Certainly they do,” tells the King. “They do instantly and I do not permit insubordination.”
Little Prince makes a request. He being very fond of sunsets would like to see one now. Can the King order the sun to set since everything obeys him?
“You shall have your sunset,” says the King. But Little Prince should wait until conditions are favourable for sunset. The King explains that authority does not mean making irrational and unnatural demands. Authority is a harmonious relationship between the ruler and the subject.
A good ruler should never demand from his subjects anything that would grate against the nature of the latter. Let the subjects live in their natural freedom as long as one man’s freedom does not meddle with another’s. Respect everyone’s freedom. Good authority does not curtail individual freedom. Nothing need be imposed. Not gods. Not morality. Nothing.
But that is the ideal situation. The fact is that there is no ideal situation. Even the Kings has human limitations or imperfections. He likes to feel his power by having someone to order about. Hence he tries to make Little Prince his minister. When the latter is not interested in the position, the King offers other options. Little Prince could be a Judge. There is a rat somewhere on the asteroid and Little Prince could exercise his power by condemning the rat to death and then forgive the rat so that Little Prince can again exercise his power and condemn it to death. Little Prince cannot condemn anybody to death, however.
The King turns out to be a megalomaniac. Like all those who love power. Bored of the megalomania, Little Prince takes leave of him. “I make you my ambassador,” says the King imperiously as Little Prince leaves. The King feels he is exercising his authority by making Little Prince his ambassador. It makes no difference to Little Prince since he is leaving the kingdom for good.
The ideal authority is one which exercises its megalomania without hurting the subjects in any way. But the subjects have to be as innocent as Little Prince. And that’s impossible. I’m amused to think: is the quest of certain people to establish their God’s kingdom on the earth – call it Caliphate or whatever – any more possible than making everyone a Little Prince?