moral authority

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moral authority (uncountable)

  1. (of a person, institution, or written work) The quality or characteristic of being respected for having good character or knowledge, especially as a source of guidance or an exemplar of proper conduct.
    • 1835, John Orville Taylor, The District School or National Education 3rd ed., Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, Philadelphia, p. 287:
      The people adopted the government they had framed, and thus gave it its moral authority.
    • 1903, Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, ch. 85:
      There was an essay . . . devoted to a consideration of the many questions which must be reopened and reconsidered on their merits if the teaching of the Church of England were to cease to carry moral authority.
    • 2007 Oct. 16, "Bush to Meet With Dalai Lama Today," Time:
      While the Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, Beijing reviles the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
  2. One possessing this characteristic.
    • 2009, Robert Jefferson Norrell, Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington, p. 431:
      At first Martin Luther King Jr. invoked Booker as a moral authority for King's ethic of love and his posture of passive resistance to white hatred.
    • 2010, Dan P. McAdams, George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream, p. 207:
      No less a moral authority than Elie Wiesel, the celebrated holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, urged President Bush to invade Iraq to defend freedom and liberate the Iraqi people.
    • 2011, Scott C. Lowe, Christmas - Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal, p. 100:
      Santa is not only a moral authority, like a strict father, but he is also like a nurturing parent, traditionally, a mother.
  3. The right or power to act (or direct others to act), based on the belief that the actor is moral, rather than on the actor having or needing some formal power to do so.
    • 2002, Samuel Edward Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics, p. 20:
      Thus, when the military breaches the existing political order, it will be forced to claim a moral authority for its actions.
    • 2008, Philip B. Heymann, Living the Policy Process, p. 121:
      Victims of palpable injustice enjoy a moral authority that is likely to provide access to even busy players.
    • 2011, Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue, p. 124:
      In that knowledge I realized that while I lacked any legal authority, I already possessed all the necessary moral authority to confront and interview Watson for his crimes.