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Decentralized Community and the Importance of a Framework of Authority

A realistic look at decentralized libertarian communities can be gained by reading Robert Nisbet’s The Quest for Community in particular Chapter 5 entitled The State as Revolution.  Nisbet makes the provocative claim that it is the State that is in revolt against intermediate associations such as church, family, and local village and this is further seen as the State is an outgrowth of military endeavor. In Chapter 5, Nisbet highlights the legal particularism of these intermediate associations and the importance of the framework of authority of these associations which has largely been lost today. If any area of libertarian philosophy need be developed, it is my opinion that it should be in the area how libertarian communities develop or regain such decentralized frameworks of authority.  It seems necessary to have more than private legal authorities in a libertarian community but also a variety of competing authorities in family and church and other intermediate associations.  I leave you with this expanded quote from pages 101-103 of The Quest for Community:

“Organism, medieval society may have seemed to the Schoolmen, and Unity it may appear in retrospect to all those who…seek escape from the flux and diversity of the modern world. But in fact, medieval society, from the point of view of formal authority, was one of the most loosely organized societies in history. Despite the occasional pretensions of centralizing popes, emperors, and kings, the authority that stretched theoretically from each of them was constantly hampered by the existence of jealously guarded “liberties” of town, guild, monastery, and village…”Such autocracy as existed in the Middle Ages…was because of the absence of centralization. It was dilute, not because it was distributed in many hands, but because it was derived from many independent sources. There were the liberties of the church, based on law superior to that of the King; there was the law of nature, graven in the hearts of men and not to be erased by royal writs; and there was the prescription of immemorial local and feudal custom stereotyping a variety of jurisdictions and impeding the operation of a single will”…It is the particularism, then, rather that the asserted unity of life of the Middle Ages that stands as the most significant fact in the understanding of its structure of authority. Apart from the legal facts of diversity and decentralization (“anarchy” later legal rationalists were to call them), the preeminence of the medieval social group in unintelligible. This is the point that has so often been overlooked by modern reformers of an orthodox or scholastic set of mind who have endeavored to reestablish some variant of medieval moral or educational practice. The claims of kinship, guild, and university lay then in a framework of authority that has largely disappeared in the modern world. Such terms as corpus morale, corpus mysticum, and their synonyms had deep roots in the legal particularism of the Middle Ages, and it is worthy of notice that the mystic unity of a given group was never so clamantly upheld as when the environing legal conditions were threatened.”

Published in Trey Smith