Civil authority or civilian authority, also known as civilian government, is the practical implementation of a State, other than its military units, that enforces law and order. It is also used to distinguish between religious authority (for example Canon law) and secular authority. The enforcement of law and order is typically the role of the police in modern states.
Among the first modern experiments in civil government took place in 1636 when Roger Williams, a Christian minister, founded the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. He sought to create a "wall of separation" between church and state to prevent corruption of the church and maintain civil order as expounded upon in his 1644 book, Bloudy Tenent of Persecution.
Thus three forms of authority may be seen:
- Civil authority
- Military authority
- Religious authority (certain constitutions exclude the state having any religious authority)
It can also mean the moral power of command, supported (when need be) by physical coercion, which the State exercises over its members. In this view, because man can not live in isolation without being deprived of what makes him human, and because authority is necessary for a society to hold together, the authority has not only the power but the right to command. It is natural to man to live in society, to submit to authority, and to be governed by that custom of society which crystallizes into law, and the obedience that is required is paid to the powers that be, to the authority in possession. The extent of its authority is bound by the ends it has in view, and the extent to which it provides for the government of society.
In modern states enforcement of law and order is typically the role of the police although the line between military and civil units may be hard to distinguish; especially when militias and volunteers, such as yeomanry, act in pursuance of non-military, domestic objectives.
- Roger Williams, James Calvin Davis (editor), On religious liberty: selections from the works of Roger Williams, (Harvard University Press, 2008), ISBN 0-674-02685-3, ISBN 9780674026858 (accessed July 11, 2009 on Google Books)
- James Emanuel Ernst, Roger Williams, New England Firebrand (Macmillan Co., Rhode Island, 1932), pg. 246