Corporations: Fake, Real, Bad, Good, & Even Holy

In what follows, take “corporation” loosely and in the most general terms, as denoting any body collected of humans and exerting agency apart from those of its collected members. So, your family is a corporation, and so is your book club, and your parish, and so forth.

Real corporations (not the fake or specious sort) can be bad or good – or even holy.

A fake or specious corporation exists only on paper, and has been established not to do any real business – not, that is, itself to act in any way – but rather only for legal or tax reasons. A holding company, e.g., with no customers or employees of its own, is a fake corporation. Fake corporations have no moral character of their own, for they are nothing more than legal instruments of others, that do.

Real corporations are enterprises with a mission, a purpose, a telos, a set of final causes, living and active employees, and buying, generating and selling true goods or real services that they provide to living clients (and employees). They are furthermore spiritual entities; they have angels, regnant occasions, lives.

You can tell when you are dealing with a real corporation because you will find that at least some of its employees or customers care about it (either to love it, or to despise it). Sports teams are a perfect example of this phenomenon. We see the same thing at work with charitable and artistic corporations. We see it also with nations; patriotic feeling is a sign that its object is a concrete actual.

Qua enterprise, a real corporation evokes in her employees feelings of meaning and significance and importance. They care about the operation and work for its good, rather than only for their own. They sacrifice for the sake of her mission and purpose.

Real corporations can of course be and do evil. They are the sort that give corporation as such a bad name. But they can also be good, as most do in fact try to be good (even when they end up being evil). And so therefore can they be even holy, as the Church is, despite her manifold evils.

Thus there is no reason why a sovereign feudal corporation that is operated for profit could not be sacred, and consecrated to God, so that its operations were numinous, and its rituals and offices – and, by extension, its officers – invested with awe, and with aweful authority.

Subsidiaritan devolution of power and authority cannot transpire unless the supersidiary corporation first has that power and authority really as its own, so as to be able to devolve it. An officer of a fake corporation could not confer true authority and power upon any lesser concrete. A fake corporation – that is to say, a mere fiction – cannot act at all on its own; so it cannot confer. It has fake offices, and fake officers.

A sovereign feudal corporation need not therefore be bloodless, or cold, or exploitative, or manipulative, or selfish. It could be, of course, as any corporation – or any other sort of agency whatever – might be bad. But bad corporations tend to do poorly.

Good sovereign feudal corporations are likely to engender the same strong feelings of loyalty and piety that patriotic Americans feel toward their flag, or that patriotic Britons feel toward their Queen. Such a corporation is likely to have employees and customers who are willing to lay down their lives in her service.

Bad real corporations tend to engender feelings of hatred; good real corporations tend to engender affection, and loyalty.

Fake corporations don’t engender feelings of any sort. As only real corporations can act, or therefore have any moral valence strictly their own, they are the only sort that evoke moral sentiments.

31 thoughts on “Corporations: Fake, Real, Bad, Good, & Even Holy

  1. Pingback: Corporations: Fake, Real, Bad, Good, & Even Holy | Reaction Times

  2. Incorporation in purposive bodies is natural to humans, but I think corporations (like humans) are inherently inclined towards all evil. Actually, I think the grade of inclination is steeper because men acting together are less moral than man acting alone. A man struggling with his conscience will sometimes lose the struggle and follow his conscience. A corporation bent on evil deals with dissenters in a much more summary fashion. It seems to me that corporations are also much more given to pride, and that you, or I, or just about anyone, would blush and grow silent if we found ourselves boasting in the way corporations do. We see how quickly the corporate nation becomes chauvinist and jingoistic. Economic corporations survive by shamelessly boasting to their shareholder, customers and employees. You would be appalled if you met a man who was a self-satisfied as Google or Facebook.

    But, as I said, incorporation in purposive bodies (a.k.a. conspiracies) is natural to humans, so we cannot escape these problems by living as hermits or tiny conventicles. If you don’t organize, you die. If you do organize, you become a galley slave on a ship run by pirates.

    If a corporation resolves to develop a conscience and become moral, the results are grotesque. As we see in corporations where SJW convergence is far advanced, the corporation, which has no conscience, must outsource moral reflection to some other corporation. Some turn to academia, others to the SPLC, or the ADL, or some other outfit of grifters who were too dishonest for carnival work.

    I have no solution, and expect we must be reconciled to building and rebuilding the Tower of Babel until the last trumps ring down, and this world comes to an end.

    • It is indeed impossible that a corporation entirely composed of concupiscent individuals could fail to reflect their concupiscence in itself; in its own acts. Corporations can’t be perfect. This is to say that they must all be somewhat corrupt. Nevertheless I think it possible for corporations, like their members, to avoid utter corruption and evil. Corporations need not necessarily be utterly corrupt. Indeed, to survive at all, a corporation – like a man – must avoid utter corruption.

      Utter corruption is characteristic of organisms utterly dead. Dead organisms are the only way to obtain it.

      Like people, corporations can be either more or less good. The corporations that make the news generally do so on account of some moral failure that, qua failure, is therefore inherently interesting, thus newsworthy. The thousands of corporations that cook along from day to day just doing a pretty doggone OK job never ever make the news. None of them are perfect, of course. No one of their members is perfect, after all (except for two members of one of them). They all err and stray like lost sheep from time to time. But a lot of them are OK. Many are pretty good, withal.

      How do I know? I have been fortunate to work for four such corporations, and to have done business with many others. Most were small; not a few were quite large. For those corporations, I find I feel an abiding affection and loyalty.

      One of the interesting things about such mostly OK corporations is that they not infrequently, and quite consciously, understand themselves to be at war with the moral reprobates in their own industry. They often feel that they are engaged on a mission, not just to do the right thing for their own customers, but also to punish the wicked of their ilk who do otherwise.

      There is something in what you say about corporate pride. Unless they repent and turn from their wickedness, and so live, corporations that deliver goods that are speciously good are bound to their own eventual dissolution – they have already begun to die – and often find themselves forced to trumpet their goodness via advertising, public relations, and lobbying, in order to stagger on for a while. Consider the tag line, “Honest Joe’s Used Cars.” To enter on that path is to engage as a contestant in the arms race to the degenerate bottom that comprises most of public life in the West these days.

      But as I suggested in the post, such corporations tend to generate among their employees and customers, not affectionate loyalty, not the sort of fellowship one sees expressed by, say, fans of a sports team, but rather cynicism, contempt and hatred – and alienation.

      • I am sure you know Jerry Pournelle’s “Iron Law of Bureaucracy.” ” In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.” The means becomes the end.

      • Sure. It’s a corollary of Murphy’s Law. In this our Fallen orb, all organisms eventually die. That does not mean they never live.

      • Corporations can’t be perfect. — Kristor

        Which is to say that “corporation” cannot will ALL (R)ight. Which then implies that “corporation” will wrong. And this seems to be an undeniable truism of modern “corporation.” “It” is willing ALL wrong.

        Yet, this “corporate will” assumes that no other corporation can will ALL (R)ight and so the real race is towards maximal wrongness.

        But…

        White man can will ALL (R)ight just because he has fallen so far down. So then can a corporation be perfect. Highly unlikely, yes, though, not entirely impossible.

  3. I have to ask, is it possible that the most common situation in corporate culture could be the synthesis of multiple (real, informal) corporations into a single (false, formal) corporation?

    While a single factory needs to be managed in a top-down manner, I can’t see why multiple factories need to be managed this way for any reasons other than monopoly. Even maintaining a distribution network would naturally be the work of a separate corporation, not a function of one of our mega-corporations.

    In which case, wouldn’t the dominant feature of our ‘corporate culture’ be the subsuming of genuine corporate will into a bureaucracy?

    • It depends. Scale matters. Buick can buy steel far more cheaply at GM’s corporate rate than it could on its own.

      Part of the genius of the GM model in its early decades was that GM would offer such economies of scale to independent brands like Buick and Chevrolet, while allowing them to run pretty much as separate companies. GM started to get into trouble when the home office started asking questions like, “Why not just use the same chassis for all our vehicles of all our brands?”

      Corporate stacks are ever vulnerable to such excessively centralized bureaucracy – i.e., of control. Such a breakdown of subsidiarity portends the death of any stack of corporations. Viz., the disaster of officials at the White House deciding each morning which targets to bomb in North Vietnam that day, or which bathrooms people of which sex should be allowed to use.

      A successful bureaucracy, on the other hand – which is to say, a bureaucracy that is properly subsidiaritan – is as decentralized as possible. At the height of the British Empire, the home office staff in London was about 500 men.

    • See my reference to John Gall’s ‘Systemantics’ above.

      Once a bureaucracy is established, its primary function becomes to preserve itself and expand its dominion – regardless of whatever enterprise or society it was set up to serve. As Gall observes: ‘All systems tend to expand to fill the known universe’. Governments, HR departments, Equal Rights Movements, the IPCC, the ‘Inclusivists’ etc… They all go the same way. They all corporately believe that they corporately have the answer and all must do as they say to save the company, the Nation, the Revolution, the People etc…. Those that won’t, that disagree, must be destroyed for the good of all; which all obviously cannot include those who must be destroyed…

      But, as Kurt Vonnegut so astutely observed: ‘So it goes…’

      • A straightforward extrapolation from the sorts of bureaucracies to which we have become accustomed, alas, in the modern West to all human corporation whatever is unwarranted. The bureaucracies we now all suffer are symptomatic corruptions of what we should see in a properly ordered corporation. Iron laws of modern bureaucracy may indeed be iron respecting modern bureaucracies. But we should not presume that the modern sort of bureaucracy is the only sort that will ever henceforth be possible to us, any more than we should presume that modernism is our only option, now and forevermore.

        All systems tend to expand to fill the known universe *when they are not properly governed.” That expansion is a search to find the limits of propriety. When it comes to establishing and clarifying such limits, liberal social orders – which eo ipso reject limits – tend to fumble. As founded to limit limitation, they fail to limit.

        Even now, most corporations (using the term in the broadest sense) are not liberal, or terrifically saddled with overweening bureaucracies of their own devices. But you don’t hear about them. Indeed, you probably don’t notice them, even though you encounter them every day.

      • “A straightforward extrapolation from the sorts of bureaucracies to which we have become accustomed, alas, in the modern West to all human corporation whatever is unwarranted.”

        History (from ancient Assyria, by way of Rome and China to the Soviets) suggests otherwise.

      • I reiterate: all living organisms eventually die; that does not mean they never lived.

        We know of Assyria because she was a mighty empire; and she became a mighty empire in the first place only because she was not then yet saddled with any fatal defects, such as an overweening bureaucracy of her own devices. Ditto for Russia; we can understand the Soviet bureaucracy as a late development in the long term corruption of the Russian Empire, which came first to her might and enormous geographic extent by virtue of a burgeoning vitality that overwhelmed her neighbours.

        Mancur Olson has done great work analyzing the bureaucratic sclerosis that more and more pervades societies that are stable, successful, and thus not subject to the social churn that results from great wars, invasions, disasters, or technological innovations; which then leads to their weakness, vis-à-vis their competitors; and so, prepares the way for their conquest. I find his argument compelling.

        The only question in my mind is whether bureaucratic sclerosis is an autogenous cause of the corporate rot, or a symptom thereof – or, even, an attempt by the body politic to compensate for the cause. I surmise that the latter is the case. Note that all three of those notions are compatible. Bureaucracy might begin to blossom in response to some social defect; then, like the inflammation that accompanies injury to animal tissue, it might be manifest as a symptom of such injury; and then, again like inflammation when it spreads from the site of an originating injury to afflict the body as a whole and cause all sorts of other problems, it might initiate a positive feedback cycle, in which bureaucracy creates problems that call for more bureaucracy, with the result that compounding bureaucracy eventually cripples the social coordination that it is intended to enable – and trying to enable.

        It behooves us then to discern the differences between different corporations. It is simply not the case that all corporations manifest bureaucratic sclerosis. I know this for a fact, because I happen to run a corporation that does not (yet!).

        It is the ailing, failing corporations that manifest bureaucratic sclerosis.

        The modern West is sick. This has been the basic argument of Reaction from its very beginnings. As philosophically incongruent with reality, modern civilization is at war with the Order of Being, and thus with itself. It is, as it were, afflicted with an auto-immune disorder. The sickness has been getting worse and worse *for centuries.* One effect is that we today have *no idea what it might be like to live in a healthy, sane civilization.* Naturally enough, we generalize from our experience. But it’s just not credible to suppose that *all* civilizations are always sick. If that were true, there would be no civilizations in the first place; they’d all have been culled ruthlessly by natural selection – which is to say, by the Lógos.

      • ‘It is the ailing, failing corporations that manifest bureaucratic sclerosis. ‘
        It comes to them all in the end – to those that survive long enough.

        ‘…which is to say, by the Lógos.’
        The Lord doesn’t do it to them.
        They do it to themselves.

      • It is the ailing, failing corporations that manifest bureaucratic sclerosis.

        It comes to them all in the end – to those that survive long enough.

        Yes; again: to sicken and die, an organism must first live. No healthy vitality → no sickness or death. Ergo, not all corporations are per se & ab initio beset with sickness unto death.

        … which is to say, by the Lógos.

        The Lord doesn’t do it to them. They do it to themselves.

        Fair enough; an apt clarification, then:

        … which is to say, by their contravention of the Lógos.

      • The modern West is sick. This has been the basic argument of Reaction from its very beginnings

        The attack on bureaucracy per se strikes me as a typical right-liberal argument, as though all we need is more freedom and the “right kind” of individualism to fight Leftism. The reality is that liberalism largely developed just fine in the comparatively limited government era of the 19th century. This included inculcating the entire populations of the Anglophone countries into adopting liberal categories and murderous bouts of war and imperialism, all of this accomplished as Kristor noted with relatively small bureaucracies.

      • Thanks, Ita; always good to find your shield guarding my sword arm, and to find again to my relief that, bloody minded though I be, there are some berserkers out there even bloodier.

        Ascending now from the jocular …

        Attacking bureaucracy per se is understandable – who (including perhaps especially those poor souls who work there) does not hate the DMV with a cold fury? – but it is sort of like attacking writing as such on account of the egregious insults to language of Madison Avenue. As with the manifold perversities that result from the ramification of bureaucracy, many ills can be sourced at the reduction in the cost of information effected by writing. But, you can’t do civilization without at least a little of both of them.

      • As Enoch Powell noted in his life of Joseph Chamberlain:
        “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” [Joseph Chamberlain (Thames and Hudson, 1977), p. 151.]
        The same, in this fallen world, goes for corporations.

  4. I am coming to very strongly suspect that an analysis of power that revolves around the concepts of ‘sovereignty’ is both out-of-place for historical understanding until (roughly, say) 1534 and possibly, in fact, rooted in a necessarily heathen understanding of the world.

    This suspicion stems from the concurrent reading of Before Church and State by Andrew Willard Jones (first brought to my attention to Bonald, may his beard grow ever longer) and St Augustine’s City of God.

    Unfortunately I’m not far enough through either book to have any real concrete alternative structure to propose, except to point toward Jones’ explication of ‘societies of friends’ and the ‘business of the peace and the faith’. But it seems to me one of the weaknesses of the idea of subsidiarity is precisely the necessity of devolution of authorities from some sovereign who holds them himself and delegates to lower authorities. Instead, let us conceive of an order which separates the higher from the lower and recognizes the higher as precisely higher in the order of grace and salvation, but which nevertheless recognizes the proper sphere of the lower as proper to itself. Thus, tyranny on the part of the higher power is not conceived of as overstepping bounds which it should not, viz. arrogating authorities to itself that are more properly delegated, but rather attempting to overstep bounds which in right it cannot, as a violation of the order of salvation instituted by God and to which all human ends properly tend.

    This also preserves the distinction between de jure and de facto actions by authorities without positing either a self-referential sovereignty (‘the sovereign is acting unjustly because he acts against justice that flows from himself’) or a sort of imperium in imperio by which to judge the authority in question, commonly the King. (‘God is the real sovereign behind sovereignty, and the struggle is over whether the Crown or the Mitre get to be His interpreter.’)

    This second point isn’t well-formed, I freely grant. As written it’s difficult to put the finger on the distinction I’m making. But I’m sure there is one, which will become clearer as my conception of the different basis becomes clearer.

    • As the English politician Enoch Powell observed some fifty years ago: “Power devolved is power retained at the centre. That is precisely why it is acceptable.”

    • A fascinating and provocative comment, Rhetocrates: thanks.

      But it seems to me one of the weaknesses of the idea of subsidiarity is precisely the necessity of devolution of authorities from some sovereign who holds them himself and delegates to lower authorities. Instead, let us conceive of an order which separates the higher from the lower and recognizes the higher as precisely higher in the order of grace and salvation, but which nevertheless recognizes the proper sphere of the lower as proper to itself. Thus, tyranny on the part of the higher power is not conceived of as overstepping bounds which it should not, viz. arrogating authorities to itself that are more properly delegated, but rather attempting to overstep bounds which in right it cannot, as a violation of the order of salvation instituted by God and to which all human ends properly tend.

      If in the orders of salvation and grace a sovereign *cannot* overstep a bound, then certainly also he *should not* overstep it; no?

      Nevertheless I get what you are saying: the lower orders do not derive their proper authority in virtue only of the devolution thereof to them by the higher, but rather possess it inherently, in virtue of the Order of Being (which subsumes the orders of grace, of salvation, and as well those of nature and of logic), which confers upon them an essential dignity deriving from the fact that all of them are imago dei.

      This seems true, but I cannot see that it contradicts subsidiarity. On the contrary, it seems to me that its truth *founds* subsidiarity.

      I was trying to get at the notion of the necessary mutuality of any authoritative relationship – which implies that some degree of authority is present in every person – in the post Authority Must Flow Down From On High, in which I wrote:

      Thus authority is not simple control, but rather a delegation of control. It is furthermore a relation of mutuality between superordinate and subordinate. Each must grant the other something in order for the relation to subsist. So it is an exchange. The superordinate grants his authority to the subordinate; in accepting that authority, the subordinate grants to the superordinate an agreement with his authority. It is a conference. Both agree together that the superordinate has authority that he can grant to the subordinate.

      If either side of this relation defects from it, the authority of the relation vanishes. The superordinate is then no longer superordinate *in respect to his former subordinate.* Each has fired the other; either of them may trigger this separation.

      I may of course be misunderstanding you.

      • Very sorry I haven’t gotten back to this until now. Things have been quite busy in my little corner of the world what with the semester marching inexorably to its end.

        I’ll try this as a response to what you’ve written, and then try to make clearer what I meant. The latter may be difficult, as it’s only a little clearer to myself at this point. (I haven’t gotten a chance to do much reading for pleasure lately.)

        If in the orders of salvation and grace a sovereign *cannot* overstep a bound, then certainly also he *should not* overstep it; no?

        This misses the point, methinks. One says you should not raid the cookie jar before dinner. Even if this is technically outside your ability because you are bedridden, it remains within the possible realm of human action. Even if this is extremely unlikely or difficult to the point of practical impossibility because someone has sunk the cookie jar in a cubic meter of battle steel and posted attack dogs (your wife really doesn’t want you ruining dinner, see) it remains within the possible realm of human action.

        Quibbles about physics aside, no one tells people they should not violate Newton’s Law of Gravitation because it’s a simple fact of the world.

        The conception of political organization which is sovereignty and subsidiarity says the sovereign should not violate his sphere. The conception of political organization which is medieval Christendom says the monarch (or any other political actor) cannot violate his sphere. It posits authority not just as a moral entity but an ontological and objective real. Political morality as such is radically unseparated from some moral-neutral ‘reality’.

        This seems true, but I cannot see that it contradicts subsidiarity. On the contrary, it seems to me that its truth *founds* subsidiarity.

        The difficulty certainly exists. We live in the Sovereign-Subject, Church-State, Religious-Secular distinction. It seems so true to us it isn’t even a postulate, because to postulate it would be to distinguish it.

        However, that distinction itself is not actually a fundamental fact about the political and moral universe, but rather a later, distinctly Anglo-Protestant invention; a social technology, if you will.

        Making these distinctions is further hampered by the fact that the creation of this distinction has been so wildly successful that we use the same words in many cases. “Common good,” is one of the greatest examples.

        I’d say subsidiarity is a translation of the idea of medieval political interdependence into our language of sovereignty.

        I will now attempt to make my idea clearer through an historical account.

        Our modern idea of politics and sovereignty is founded upon violence as a fundamental state of mankind. Sovereignty devolves simply to the exclusive legitimate use of violence, including delegated legitimate use of violence. As everyone here knows, this traces itself back to Hobbes.

        From this flows the fundamental axioms of economics, sociology, etc.

        St Augustine (and with him Clement IV and Louis IX) would instead say that the fundamental true state of mankind is peace, and best Christian peace. Conflicts are aberrations, and always ultimately frictions between different definitions of peace. In Christian peace, there is no fundamental distinction between Church and State, because those we would consider now to be State actors are, in fact, different portions of the Church, which subsumes all Creation into Herself. For example, there is no distinction between heresy and rebellion when Clement IV denounces and excommunicates the Albigensian Count Raymond VII. (I may be thinking about Innocent III and Raymond VI, but the point stands methinks.)

        Further, there is no (or very little) distinction between offices of the State and offices of the Church, as we would consider them. At the very same time the very same man can hold the office of enqueteur (think Special Investigator) and Inquisitor. In fact, said very same man can not just hold both offices but be instrumental in the foundation, constitution, and operation of both and later go on to become Pope Clement IV, and all this without those at the time worrying about a ‘revolving door’ or ‘corruption’ or any such thing.

        Instead of governing as a sovereign, King Louis IX both in his own consideration and in that of others, expands the influence of his ‘society of friends’, conceived as a concrete and rational body of action, to cover the whole of France and mingle very strongly with the episcopal hierarchy, again without worries about ‘corruption’ or the like because this isn’t a subversion of a separation, but no separation exists.

        By analogy, it’s the difference between the Aristotlean conception of the body and soul and Cartesian dualism.

        An example consequence: being founded in the inherent violence of the indvidual, modern political philosophy (and economics, sociology, et. al.) wrestle with the ‘problem of altruism’. Various explanations exist which rest upon the assumption of ultimately selfish action in, e.g. game theory and economics.

        The medieval conception of political philosophy doesn’t have that problem. Love and peace are inherent human motivations which need no explanation to this science, much like the fact that men need to eat.

      • Our modern idea of politics and sovereignty is founded upon violence as a fundamental state of mankind. Sovereignty devolves simply to the exclusive legitimate use of violence, including delegated legitimate use of violence. As everyone here knows, this traces itself back to Hobbes.

        Yes! I have insisted upon this point many times here, in defense of hierarchy, patriarchy, monarchy, authority, and so forth. I expatiated on the topic in my posts about the Familiar Society.

        The modern assumption is that hierarchy as such is depraved and tyrannical. But that’s idiotic. It’s depraved hierarchy that is the problem, not hierarchy as such. Likewise with fathers, kings, authorities, and so forth: most of them do a pretty good job of taking care of their subsidiaries. The attitude of a sane and normal man toward those over whom he rules is love; and his basic impulse is to sacrifice for their benefit. We generally don’t hear about them; it’s the rotten failures who make the news.

        But, you don’t delete fatherhood on account of the fact that there are some bad fathers out there. Ditto for kingship, patriarchy, and so forth.

        Society is brotherhood, not war. War, faction, politics; these are all breakdowns of society, not its basis.

        In Christian peace, there is no fundamental distinction between Church and State, because those we would consider now to be State actors are, in fact, different portions of the Church, which subsumes all Creation into Herself.

        Again, yes. This I have not written about much here yet, except implicitly. But I arrived some time ago at the conclusion that the civil hierarchy must be integral with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and under its ultimate supervision, or else the civil hierarchy is bound to devolve into a babelarchy.

        Implicit in the fact that there is always a state religion is that the state is always religious.

        I think we are using “sovereign” somewhat differently. I have been taking it in the broadest possible sense, in which the office of sovereign authority over a social organization may be held by a priest or bishop or abbot, a feudal lord, an assembly or parliament such as the Sanhedrin, judges, Prophets, old wives, presidents or CEOs or chairmen of the board, you name it. I did not mean it to indicate a secular sovereign only – as if there could really be such a thing, which I doubt. Thus I take it, for example, that the Pope is the sovereign of the Church.

        Likewise a corporation is any coordinate body of humans (a mob, e.g., is not a corporation; a marriage is a corporation).

      • I think we basically agree, but you’re still in the realm of the Secular and the Religious and the State and the Church because that language is so hard to get rid of these days. I think there is, however, a very real difference.

        It is certainly true that the distinctions above mentioned pertain today to the way we organize ourselves and the world. It is just as true that it was not always so; 9th century France did not operate in that fashion. When I say there was no sovereign, I do not mean the King did not conceive of himself as the source of all powers, but nevertheless behaved in the manner of a sovereign, taking up all the duties and privileges we would expect from this side of Louis XIV. I do not even mean that he would have, but some of those hadn’t been invented yet. I mean rather that Louis IX’s position was so uniquely different from what we would expect that he did not exercise sovereignty – and neither did anyone else. Sovereignty as such did not exist, and it wasn’t held implicitly by any person or office or any combination of person or offices because it did not exist.

        Just as much, it would not be proper to say that Clement IV or Innocent III was sovereign over the Church.

      • What term then would you use for hierarchic executive authority over subordinates (which is what I mean by “sovereignty” – literally, “superiority”)? For the power of command? And how does the non-sovereign exercise of such command authority differ from the sovereign sort? Was not Saint Bernard subordinate to Innocent II, so that Innocent was his superior – i.e., his sovereign? If Innocent II was not Bernard’s sovereign, what then was he to Bernard, along the dimension of authority?

        Sovereignty as such did not exist, and it wasn’t held implicitly by any person or office or any combination of person or offices because it did not exist.

        That reads as if you mean that because no one was superior to anyone else – no one was sovereign of anyone else, or subject to anyone else – so hierarchy did not exist; that arche per se did not exist. But that seems counterfactual; viz., the etymology of “Imperator Romanorum,” the title conferred upon Charlemagne by Leo III; and, indeed, the whole hierarchical system of feudalism, of the church, and for that matter of every human social organ whatsoever. I conclude that you do not mean that there was no such thing as hierarchy. But then, what *do* you mean, exactly?

        I’m genuinely curious; I’m not disagreeing, for I agree that we agree on substance. I have rather that nice feeling that I’m about to learn something good.

    • This is an interesting idea, and at risk of misunderstanding to the detriment of the discussion, i’d like to throw in my two cents and see if I A) Understand your thesis and B) Can represent my thoughts adequately.

      I am coming to very strongly suspect that an analysis of power that revolves around the concepts of ‘sovereignty’ is both out-of-place for historical understanding until (roughly, say) 1534 and possibly, in fact, rooted in a necessarily heathen understanding of the world.

      If I can attempt to restate this, I understand you to mean “Sovereignty retains the heathen nature of its origins, and is therefore inadequate for addressing modern power dynamics”

      Although I ought to amend this given this section:

      But it seems to me one of the weaknesses of the idea of subsidiarity is precisely the necessity of devolution of authorities from some sovereign who holds them himself and delegates to lower authorities. Instead, let us conceive of an order which separates the higher from the lower and recognizes the higher as precisely higher in the order of grace and salvation, but which nevertheless recognizes the proper sphere of the lower as proper to itself.

      So i will revise my understanding thus: “Sovereignty should not be considered the center and source of all authority, devolved to lower orders; but rather should be considered the higher of the bipolar order of authority, the lower order being distinct and having authority unto itself.”

      My response is predicated on this understanding, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

      1- My first thought was that in God’s own language, he is described as the King of Kings. That is to say, in my view at least, the Sovereign of all creation. I think considering humanity as having authority unto itself, distinct from the authority of God, would be a limit on the authority of God which should be infinite. If God is the king of Kings, and he cannot claim the authority of the lower order of humanity, that necessarily makes his authority less than infinite, does it not?
      1a – Yes, God became Man in Christ. But I think that more supports my argument than otherwise. Christ did not claim any authority other than that devolved upon him from God. He did not reign as King of the lower order. He humbled himself to take the lowest station of the lowest form. here we have a King who relates to his people, and can speak to them with compassion and understanding.

      2- Ideas of sovereignty do predate Christ, but that has more to do with Anthropological necessity in my mind. The whole idea of “Seats of power”, Thrones, and the idea of speaking ex cathedra is derived from the original manifestations of power. Early european tribes did not have all the accidents of power, so they relied on symbols such as seats and crowns. Thrones are an important symbol of central authority. There are no lower thrones, and we can philosophically discuss ideas of lower orders of authority but in fact I don’t think it can be said to be inherent or intrinsic to the lower orders, for much the same reason as in point 1. A Chief cannot command his tribe if they in fact have any authority unto themselves. A Chief allows certain things for the good of the tribe, but must disallow those same things if they begin to work to the tribes detriment. Authority ceases to be effective when it is split. Authority can only effectively be wielded from one source.

      if I have missed the mark completely, please disregard. Thank you for the thought provoking comment, nevertheless!

      • I might be wrong here, but I think you’re still using the idea of sovereignty as part of your explanation. I’m saying we can (probably should) get rid of the idea of sovereignty at all.

  5. Pingback: Cantandum In Ezkhaton 04/07/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

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