Monday, November 12, 2018

The Building Blocks of Society

I will offer a brief examination of the several political building blocks as offered by Althusius.  These will begin with the most fundamental and voluntary and culminate with the aggregate and distant – but not yet the sovereign.  Ultimately, the question to be answered is what happens when the aggregate and distant polity plays by rules that the fundamental and voluntary groups don’t like. 

The Family

…without this primary association others are able neither to arise nor to endure. …individual men covenanting among themselves to communicate whatever is necessary and useful for organizing and living a private life.

Whether you believe this was given to us in God’s Creation or whether you believe such a practice evolved as the one most conducive for “organizing and living a private life” which desire also evolved as necessary for survival, this practice is in our DNA.  We destroy it and abuse it at the peril of civilized society.

Althusius offers that this body performs as one and can be considered as one; there is a family “interest” (for lack of a better term).  Aid and assistance is offered among members of the family – something destroyed when the state assumes the role of mother, father, son, and daughter.

The rights for those in this association are rights of blood; members of this association communicate for mutual advantage.  Duties are owed toward kinsmen: forethought, mutual defense, care.  The family should not be excluded when one considers political society:

[The] knowledge of other associations is…incomplete and defective without this doctrine of conjugal and kinship private association…

Destroy the family and you destroy the fundamentally necessary building block for decentralized society.

The Collegium

The family is a natural association.  Althusius now moves to the civil: associations voluntarily formed at the pleasure of the individual members; associations serving a common utility and necessity in human life.  These must serve both the whole body of people and the individual members. 

When the head of the family leaves the area of authority over the family and enters into the broader community, he enters into a realm of ally and citizen.  From here is formed a civil association – a collegium: a trade association, society, federation, sodality, synagogue, convention, or synod; one will find a collegia of bakers, tailors, builders, merchants, coiners of money, philosophers, theologians, government officials, etc.  Some will be ecclesiastical and sacred, some secular and profane.

The collegium is governed according to covenanted agreements.  These agreements govern the body as a whole, but cannot be formed to treat individual members uniquely – for such matters, unanimous consent is required.

Secession is possible; as with all such decisions, one will be faced with weighing benefits and costs.  The head of the collegium is to be elected by its members; as the associations are voluntary, the individual members are, of course, free to leave if unsatisfied. 

The City

Beginning with the city, Althusius will offer many specific details requiring the performance of the officials charged with such duty.  I will not examine these as I find these applicable to the culture and tradition of a specific time and place.  The answers and applications, it seems to me, will reflect the culture and tradition of the society so formed.

The city is a body made up of the private associations described above, the various collegia that are made up of individuals and families; the city is not a body of individual “citizens.”  It is from these bodies that the idea of citizenship is formed:

Differing from citizens, however, are foreigners, outsiders, aliens, and strangers whose duty is to mind their own business, make no strange inquiries, not even to be curious in a foreign commonwealth, but to adapt themselves, as far as good conscience permits, to the customs of the place and city where they live in order that they might not be a scandal to themselves and others.

Hans Hoppe has offered a concise statement regarding the value and purpose of just such a position.  He is well known, and often chastised, for his views about throwing out of the community those who might disrupt it (a position with which I agree, and find quite libertarian).  Here, he offers a simple statement as to why:

For the libertarian, this ideal of social perfection is peace, i.e. a normally tranquil and frictionless person-to-person interaction - and a peaceful resolution of occasional conflict - within the stable framework of private or several (mutually exclusive) property and property rights.

Returning to Althusius: the rights available to members of the city and those in the surrounding villages are not available to travelers and foreigners:

For citizens enjoy the same laws, (leges), the same religion, and the same language, speech, judgement under the law, discipline, customs, money, measures, weights, and so forth.

Such commonalities answer the questions left open by the non-aggression principle – or any set of laws: we all know how such things are handled around here, how things are done around here; we all have a common understanding of the definition of terms like aggression, punishment, and property.

Such a framework, within a political body generally voluntarily formed, will minimize any demands for “someone to do something about it” – someone to fix the perceived “wrongs” committed against those whose traditions and customs differ from that of the members of the community.

Enthusiasm for concord is the means for conserving friendship, equity, justice, peace and honor among the citizens, and of overcoming strife, if it arises among the citizens, as soon as possible.

The Province

The province is made up of the various villages, towns, outposts and cities under the communion of one right (jus).  I will touch on a few key points.

Althusius finds that the best persons for high office are to be found in the middle class, “for these persons do not aspire after what is alien, nor are they envious of the goods of others.”  Compare this to those who hold high office today – international, cosmopolitan, with “more” as the answer to every material question.

Women are not precluded from such office.  The nobility is constituted primarily for defense; again, basically the opposite of life today.  Convocation is called whenever matters of importance to the province are to be considered – this is especially true when the issue is taxes.  The convocation is based on the orders that make up the province – not the individuals.  Each order gets one vote. 


Wherefore, if the head of such a province does not protect his subjects in time of need, or refuses to support them, they can submit themselves to another.


I have not yet come to the top of this food chain, the entity with political sovereignty.  Until this point, as we see with the remedy for a failing provincial leader, secession is possible.  This is great as far as it goes. 

The key to the entire structure will be what happens at the top – what are the remedies when the leader of the sovereign entity is a tyrant.  We will come to this next.


  1. As I like to say about family: It’s the only organization where communism ever has (and ever will) worked.

    Interestingly, actual communists and socialists (which is basically everybody but us) do all they can to de-communize the family itself.

    1. A family is not a communist organization.

    2. It is meant in jest, but also to get the person hearing it to maybe think deeper. We can’t always present a peer-reviewed academic paper while engaged in short conversations.

  2. As Frank Lloyd Wright pointed out, cities came into being out of necessity, born of the fact that there was no other way to interact, to communicate, to get education, to work with others. It is the vital necessity of such association that make it possible to pick out the apparent hierarchies of networks.
    But the internet has made all such associations virtual and independent of geography, culture, history, and even language. The world has become de-centered. Economic and political discourse emerge, circulate, and compete. Austrian economics can now be found everywhere except Austria while its epicenter has become Alabama. The industrial nationalism of today plays much the same regressive role as the physiocrat agrarian philosophy of the 18th century.

  3. "Ultimately, the question to be answered is what happens when the aggregate and distant polity doesn’t play by rules that the fundamental and voluntary groups don’t like. "

    I think you made a small error above. You want to remove one of the negatives above (doesn't / don't), otherwise it gives the impression you're asking what happens when everyone does play by the same rules in a convoluted way. Feel free not to post this comment and simply make the correction if needed.