How can we tell whether a given sort of government coercion is just?
Government just is coercive control. But coercion eo ipso traduces a man’s dignity – which is to say, his status as an image of the Most High, and therefore in his very being a thing worthy of all honor and respect; a King, indeed, within his own small domain. Men ought then to be coerced as little as possible. So the basic problem of just government is to discover where coercion is justified nonetheless; and the moral hazard of all government is that it will coerce where it ought not to. The probability that government will err is obviously very high; so then is the probability that it will coerce unjustly.
The less that any organ of government can do while still meeting its duties, then, the better. Primum non nocere: better to do nothing than act unjustly. In practical terms, this means that each organ of government should leave as much coercion as possible in the hands of some lower order organ of government. A sort of activity that can be directed more meetly at a lower level of the hierarchy of social control, ought to be. If an organ of one level is controlling agents at a lower level when things would run more smoothly and appropriately if the latter were in charge, then the control of the former is in that respect unjust. It is also likely to be inept.
Thus the Nation should recuse itself as much as possible from meddling with the Province; the Province likewise with the Metropolis; the Metropolis with the Polis; the Polis with the Township; the Township with the Family; the Family with the Household; the Household with the Person. The effect will be as libertarian as a functional society can possibly be.
The only practical way to determine what functions ought to be controlled at what level is by trial and error. See what works at lower levels of the hierarchy, and what doesn’t. What doesn’t, should be referred upward. When men disagree about what works or does not, or who should or should not rule in respect to this or that, and the normal discourse of politics is unable to resolve the conflict, the ultimate resort must be to juridical trial. Let a Duke overstep the bonds of his proper coercive control of an Earl, and let the Earl then appeal to the King or his ministers – which is to say, generally, his lawyers and the officers of his Court – for adjudication. Their rulings set precedents. Thus the whole system of determinations of what sorts of coercion are proper to each level of the hierarchy can evolve organically, like the Common Law.
This subsidiaritan criterion of just coercion ends up implementing by trial and error and continuous tiny adjustments in view of specific idiosyncratic concrete circumstances a proper ideological and political humility, given our incapacity – implicit in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem – to devise and implement a meet and right social order according to some prior abstract formal logic of political science. A just social order must somehow be discovered and implemented, but we cannot understand what it might be ex ante. The subsidiaritan criterion specifies, not an a priori political order that pretends to universal justice, but rather a method of testing the justice of each practical policy.