From a perspective in Nietzsche power takes many forms, including domination, art (for an audience), and creation (art without an audience). For some others following him, these three constitute the full range of power and point to identified, distinct forms. They often make a strident point on this because it is too easy to interpret power primarily as domination, which leads to a reading of Nietzsche as an aspiring totalitarian or an outright beast.
These three forms of power are elaborated more directly by Starhawk as shaped by Karen Horney. In "Truth or Dare" (a book with three themes, one of which is authority) Starhawk names these as 'power over', 'power with' and 'power within'. For Horney, they are the direction of resources against, toward, or away from others.
Less quaintly, they are
- the kind of power one uses to control others as objects, regardless of their will;
- the kind of power one derives among people as subjects, in groups, through interdependence with others; and
- the kind of power one has whether or not others are present at all, through one's own capabilities and resources.
These shade into one another and constitute a sort of circular continuum.
Authority is, in name and history, the variety of the second form of power -- power with or toward others -- that lies closest to the first. The word goes back to the Latin word for 'nourish', and authority is rightly, in terms of its etymology, the kind of power a parent has over a child or a keeper has over an animal, which helps them to grow or survive appropriately. It controls the child or charge, in his/its own best interest, though that best interest is also a direct interest of the agent wielding the power.
Authority gives one the right to control the action of others because of a relationship they have with you. But as we use the word most often, that relationship is an abstract agreement which is no longer negotiable and often does not involve equal concern for the agent and the one affected.
So, often, in 'patriarchal' society, we are treated as the nominal children of some parental figure for our whole lives (be that a person, some system playing the part of a clan, or God in the form of some contract he has provided.) Since we have reduced most of that public 'parental' role to 'fathering' as contrasted with 'mothering', this usually crosses over the natural boundary and makes the word 'authority' code for the first form of power masquerading as the second.