Supragenous Authority & the Subsidiaritan Feudal Stack of Sovereignties

The considerations of my recent post Authority Must Flow Down From On High have important implications for the subsidiaritan feudal stack of sovereign corporations. They go instantly to matters of legal form.

Ownership of any sort is authoritative control over some reals. It is, in other words, sovereignty.

In any sovereign domain, ownership of real property and of business enterprises is registered by the sovereign. We like to pretend that this means only that the sovereign is keeping track of that ownership, so that everyone is clear on who owns what. And indeed, he is doing at least that. But really, his registration of property rights in an asset means that the sovereign is *granting* those rights; he is conferring them from within his own store of rights. If the sovereign does not recognize ownership, the ownership has no legal existence, and does not therefore come into effect.

The sovereign’s grant of ownership rights is his devolution of sovereignty over assets that, in the absence of any other owner, would belong directly to him. Assets that once belonged to private persons but which have for whatever reason been abandoned escheat to the state – they become again the property of the sovereign.

So it is that the private ownership of property comes into formal, legal – which is to say, public – existence only in virtue of the sovereign’s recognition of that existence. Ownership of property within a sovereign domain is not therefore just *registered* by the sovereign for administrative and judicial purposes, but is furthermore and first *licensed.* The registration attests to the prior license. This is why the piece of paper that the municipal registrar hands to a businessman as documentation that his business has been recognized by the city is called a “business license.” The sovereign *licenses* the businessman to do business in his domains, in exchange for a fee, or toll, or tonlieu. The business license is not just a document. It is evidence of a sovereign grant of authoritative power over the assets of the business.

Without the sovereign’s business license, the only alternative open to a businessman is the black market. But this is no escape, really; for, the black market has sovereigns, too. And those who recur to the black market put the assets under their putative control at risk of seizure by their rightful sovereign.

Excursus: Nature abhors a vacuum; so, there is always a sovereign, whose license must be bought, or importuned.

Excursus: Ditto then also for the marriage license, the driver’s license, the visa, the passport, the license to kill …

That sovereignty is devolved subsidiarily – which is to say, properly, rightly, duly – does not mean that it is ever held by subsidiaries in their own right, and by their own power alone (except in the sole case of usurpation, rebellion, mutiny). Ownership – which is to say, devolved sovereignty – is always commensal. The whole polis must recognize it in and by the acts of the sovereign authority, or that ownership simply does not exist. In like manner, the whole polis, in the persons of the sovereign’s aristocratic lieutenants, must recognize the sovereign authority, or it does not exist.

In devolving his sovereignty to subjects, the sovereign then is acting in persona populi. Thence the ancient doctrine that the king’s body is the whole people.

Excursus: the doctrine of the king’s two bodies has obvious implications both for Christology and for ecclesiology.

The king’s devolution of his sovereignty to his barons nowise vitiates his sovereignty, but on the contrary, rather, constitutes that sovereignty. Authority is concretely implemented in history by means of its subsidiaritan devolution.

What has all this to do concretely with the feudal stack of sovereign corporations?

First, it is a stack, a hierarchy of authorities. Each derives its authority, not from below, but from above; and each is actually authoritative only insofar as it devolves its own authority downward to its subsidiary organs in the hierarchy.

Second, recall that the entities that populate each layer of the stack – the sovereign corporations – are business enterprises. As such, they each need legal license for their authority from some supersidiary authority. The village corporation is licensed by the county, and thereby has its legal existence; the county likewise by the state or duchy; the state or duchy by the nation or kingdom; the nation or kingdom by the empire or high kingdom.

Wherever in this hierarchy the political authority tops out, it must be granted by and devolve from the authority of the heavenly hierarchy. So the Church gets involved from the very start in ratifying and consecrating secular authority.  This is why the hierarchy is so called. It is why sessions of parliament open with prayer.

A state that rejects ecclesial authority throws off the mantle of the Mandate of Heaven and forthrightly proclaims its utter profanity; it thereby guts its own secular authority. It effectually declares that its rule is grounded *only* in coercive power, and is otherwise meaningless – ergo, tyrannical (no matter how high sounding its stated intentions). So it ruins patriotism, vitiates patrimonial tradition, and stokes resentment and rebellion.

The materialist conviction that society is struggle is therefore tenable only in purely secular states.

22 thoughts on “Supragenous Authority & the Subsidiaritan Feudal Stack of Sovereignties

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  3. The system you describe might be “subsidiaritan,” but it’s feudal in only a very tenuous sense.

    For one thing, you’re basically borrowing the Anglo-Norman model where the monarch is the supreme allod-holder and lord paramount, with all others holding tenure from what are his crown lands. This is in contrast to certain continental feudalisms where the monarch was a feudal actor in his own right, his royal demesne not being a general territory, but specific estates that he had to extend by alliances, tribute, conquest, etc.

    In contrast, a genuine feudal system would have subinfeudation: the ability of a liege lord (vassal) to enfeoff property under feudal obligations to another vassal of his own, making the liegeman a mesne lord and creating a pyramidal hierarchy. This was abolished in England in 1296. Before that, the Constitutions of Clarendon had already been passed and the ecclesiastical courts severely weakened. This process culminated in the doctrine of Royal Supremacy over the Church of England. Thus, absolutism came through a straightforward “push,” whereas in the continent it either had to pull itself there or even decentralize further, as the Holy Roman Empire did by the 14th century.

    Hence, you say that “ownership” does not exist except by virtue of sovereign authority, which is true only in the Anglo-Norman model. But otherwise, ownership can exist by virtue of custom and of recognition by a lordship, which does not necessarily have sovereign authority in any Bodinian sense, since it is bounded by canon, tradition and jurisdiction encompassing only given estates/domains as opposed to “borders” in a cartographic sense.

    Since the sovereign can not only enfeoff someone, but ennoble them also, this creates not merely a sliding devolution of the lord paramount’s duties, but a polyarchic system in its own right. To be both enfeoffed and ennobled means getting both an estate and a title, in turn conferring jurisdiction. This jurisdiction usually taking the form of a manor not only gives the nobleman his own courts to administer, but creates a stratification of tenurial duties: the unfree copyholders being subject to the manorial courts before the royal courts, the opposite with the freeholders. From the perspective of a monarch who is regarded as lord paramount of all, this arrangement, even if conferring lots of practical benefits like polycentric law, had to be taken away in the end and thus to lead to the path of equality before the law.

    If the Church is merely a ratifier of secular authority and not a countervailing and independent authority in its own right, the Gelasian doctrine of the two swords will quickly degenerate into the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms.

    Nevertheless, the Pseudo-Dionysian-like hierarchical elegance of your system can’t be denied, and in our modern republican forms where anarchy reigns, some Normanization certainly would be a welcome.

    • Fascinating comment, thanks.

      Feudal in a tenuous sense the subsidiaritan stack certainly is. I am trying to describe it in only the very most general terms; so general, in fact, that I am trying deliberately to be vague about whether the “sovereign” is a corporation sole or multiple, a single man or a company of men.

      I furthermore wanted to remind myself that property is always a matter of social agreement, and that this is so even of the property of the sovereign, under any model. If the aristoi and the commons decide that the king is not the king, well then, he isn’t the king anymore, and his ownership of his demesne (howsoever otherwise constrained by law, usage, custom, or tradition) is essentially disrupt.

      Thus the stuff about charisma in the precedent post. Everyone must agree that the sovereign de jure is the sovereign de facto, or else his sovereignty is in doubt, and his throne insecure.

      This, again, whether the sovereign body be composed of one human body, or of several.

      This again, also, howsoever the sovereign power is constrained by various customs, by traditions, or by other social organs or actors.

      Pseudo-Dionysian is not a qualifier I would have thought pertinent to the subsidiaritan stack – except perhaps insofar as I am describing a subangelic hierarchy. But I take it as a very great compliment.

    • As far as private property rights go, it is law that distinguishes mere possession (which is a physical fact) from ownership (which is a legal right). A thief can deprive me of possession of goods, but not of ownership of them; thus I can follow them into the hands of a bona fide possessor.

      As the great classical scholar, Charles Rollin (1661-1741), reminds us, “Theft was permitted in Sparta. It was severely punished among the Scythians. The reason for this difference is obvious: the law, which alone determines the right to property and the use of goods, granted a private individual no right, among the Scythians, to the goods of another person, whereas in Sparta the contrary was the case.”

      You can see this principle everywhere enunciated in the French Revolution. Take Mirabeau (a moderate) “Property is a social creation. The laws not only protect and maintain property; they bring it into being; they determine its scope and the extent that it occupies in the rights of the citizens. So, too, Robespierre (not a moderate) “In defining liberty, the first of man’s needs, the most sacred of his natural rights, we have said, quite correctly, that its limit is to be found in the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as if natural laws were less inviolable than human conventions?”

      Of course, most legal systems, following Roman law, protect possession, as well as ownership. The interdicts protect possession, even against an owner, leaving him to bring an action to assert his right of ownership.

    • “In contrast, a genuine feudal system would have subinfeudation: the ability of a liege lord (vassal) to enfeoff property under feudal obligations to another vassal of his own, making the liegeman a mesne lord and creating a pyramidal hierarchy. This was abolished in England in 1296.”

      But in Scotland, it remained possible (and very common) until 2004. That is why one finds heritable (freehold) appartments in Scotland, but not in England, where they are held on long (often very long 999 years) leases. Maintenance and repairing obligations could be attached as real burdens to a feu in Scotland, but not to a freehold in England.

      Again, a great many mid-superiorities were created in Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries, to qualify the grantee to vote in parliamentary elections as a 40 shilling freeholder. A landowner would make a resignation to his superior in favour of a friend F; F would grant the landowner a new feu, with a reddendo of 40/-.making the landowner F’s vassal; F would then resign his feu in favour of the would-be voter, subject to and with the benefit of the landowner’s feu. The voter now held a superiority worth 40/- heritably and irredeemably, (in other words, a freehold) with the landowner as his vassal, The process could be repeated any number of times, the price including sufficient funds to by government stock paying 40/- a year.

      • Wow, fascinating stuff. I had no idea that subinfeudation was operant in Scotland right down to the 21st Century.

        Mirabeau and Robespierre erred in taking the undeniably social *aspect* of property rights to mean that ownership is an original *creation* of society, conjured up ex nihilo, and therefore nowise founded in Natural Law or in historical fact. That would be to make of property a pure fiction. It is not; nothing could be further from the truth. Ownership is an ontological fact; the social agreement in virtue of which it is recognized and formalized, and which is indeed among its historical factors insofar as it is perdurantly reiterated, is an ex post apprehension of that fact; the social implementation of formalized ownership is as it were the final terminus ad quem of its factition.

      • ST IIa IIae Q66, II, obj 1: “Community of goods is ascribed to the natural law, not that the natural law dictates that all things should be possessed in common and that nothing should be possessed as one’s own: but because the division of possessions is not according to the natural law, but rather arose from human agreement which belongs to positive law, as stated above (57, 2,3). Hence the ownership of possessions is not contrary to the natural law, but an addition thereto devised by human reason.”

      • Thanks, Michael. Always good to find that I have managed to blunder my way into agreement with the Angelic Doctor. Wherever I manage to go, there I find him already.

      • Kristor:

        Ownership is an ontological fact; the social agreement in virtue of which it is recognized and formalized

        Indeed, like fatherhood. Without societal recognition of fatherhood the goods of fatherhood are destroyed.

        But destroying the goods of fatherhood – or falling short in their realization – doesn’t unmake the fact of fatherhood.

        And so it goes for authority in general, including the authority we label “ownership”.

      • Precisely. That a king has lost the Mandate of Heaven, and is to be superseded one way or another, does not vitiate the fact of his ordination to the royal order. Likewise, one can’t undo baptism, presbyterian orders, marriage, knighthood, and so forth. These are ontological realities, and historical facts, that cannot be undone. They can at most be superseded; their ordinands can at most – whether purposely or by dereliction – abdicate the offices to which they have been irrevocably ordained.

  4. You know God is the only being in the universe that is not diminished in his power to act even if all creation ceased to obey him. He can if he choose accomplish everything by his own power but created intermediaries to accomplish his purposes instead.

    Greater is the result when as a result of creation the great chain of being is brought into existence.

    • In that light the subsidiaritan stack is indeed Pseudo-Dionysian.

      The flattening proposed by egalitarianism is inherently then an impoverishment.

      Greater to enact innumerable goods than not. So the creation of the Great Chain of Being – the concrete implementation of the Principle of Plenitude – is a straightforward corollary of Anselm’s definition of “God,” which is the only conceivable proper definition: that than which no greater can be conceived.

    • Endless conflict is a sign rather of misrule than not, ceteris paribus. Victorious prosperous peace is the ticket. No peoples who enjoy it are inclined to wonder whether their sovereign has lost the Mandate of Heaven.

      • the point, in another guise:

        victorious prosperous peace is indistinguishable from perpetual war against criminals, dissenters and usurpers of all kinds.
        also, on the highest level of the stack – unless one is seriously positing a global (or universal) sovereign – there are borders, and hence the need for effective protection, which is a kind of perpetual war

      • I see now what you were getting at. Yes: absolutely. Eternal vigilance, blood of patriots, etc.

        As for whether war is proper only to the highest level of the stack or not, I would say, not. Every level of the stack should ideally have some war-making capacity of its very own. That makes the overall system more robust; one can’t kill it by taking out the head. It also keeps higher ups in line; you want your baronial sovereigns to have some independent power of their own, that they can bring together to assist or resist the supersidiary power, as needs be. All that remains to us latter day Americans of this ancient distribution of lethal force is the Second Amendment and the National Guards under the commands of state governors.

        The strictly military authority of the national sovereign *ought* to be delegated down the stack. It *ought* to be the case that the military power of his barons is his to direct on condition of their agreement to their fealty to him. It ought, i.e., to depend on whether his barons are in fact his, or not; on whether he has or has lost the Mandate of Heaven.

      • Kristor:

        All that remains to us latter day Americans of this ancient distribution of lethal force is the Second Amendment and the National Guards under the commands of state governors.

        Don’t let the cat out of the bag too much, Kristor! If ever our enemies discover the way in which officers are commissioned in the national forces, the focus on the left will immediately shift to centralizing their commissions under the federal head. Sometimes a little obsessive distraction with matters trivial by comparison works to the common good in spite of ourselves. 🙂

  5. Pingback: The mantle of heaven. | Dark Brightness

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