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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Implementing Democratic Subsidiarity

To make our system more successful we need to apply principles of Democratic Subsidiarity. I add the adjective "democratic" because without democratic features subsidiarity risks becoming a means for affirming updated forms of feudalism. The European Union is running into this problem because they can't agree and are afraid to enforce democratic or even representative principles when applying the principle of subsidiarity.

The notion of Democratic Subsidiarity hails from conservative arguments logically applied to good government:

"Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority."

Subsidiarity also is a term that hearkens back to Europe's Dark Ages and Feudal System. So beware of simplistic arguments!

In the context of Federations and confederations, this principle has to guide function for the members of a loose Federated government to be willing to join the confederation. However, not all political decisions logically are the jurisdiction of local authority. General decision making has to be a collective function of centralized authority mediated by leadership and some amount of coercive authority or Federations tend to be temporary and fly apart at the first sign of strain. General functions require that both local and central decisions be taken deliberately and with republican and democratic principles respected. Moreover, local functions usually require some sort of General support. For example the European Union created a monetary condominium with central banking managed chaotically under influence of centralized bankers. The result was that local governments weren't subject to rational accounting controls while at the same time the bankers were able to prey on local people and businesses without even the ability to fiscally assist local government. On the contrary local and national governments have been under the rule of compound interest and debt for money that rightfully should have belonged to the people as a whole. Creating the Euro was a good idea. Letting private banks govern it, not so good. Talking about subsidiarity without ordinary controls (regulations and rules) over local spending coupled with government that provides sufficient money to float an economy, is creating government without the tools to even survive.

Thus, Ironically, subsidiarity only works if it also encompasses republican and democratic principles.

  1. Republican principles include representation, separation of powers, and majority rule as a threshold for decision making. Democratic
  2. Democratic principles = governments that involve as many as possible of the ordinary people affected by them (within their jurisdiction).

Without representation consent of Governed of the governed becomes impossible. Countries without strong representative and rule of law principles tend to fly apart when people have minor disagreements and break out into warfare when they have major ones. Subsidiarity is a valid principle for some kinds of decisions and areas of government. Likewise governments without an informed and involved citizenry tend to be governed corruptly and poorly. "Competent authority" requires democratic controls (oversight). Subsidiarity requires both tools, privileges, checks and duties. Subsidiarity is a valid principle, but not by itself and not without that attribute "Democratic" added.

Details follow

Local Democracy Necessary for Democratic Republics

In Modern Greek demos (δήμος) = municipality or township. Direct Democracy is only possible locally. Under our current system municipalities are treated as if they were neighborhood associations or companies. In the USA the system so discriminates against them that municipalities sometimes resort to corrupt law enforcement (speed traps are an example) to finance themselves.

General Government and Specific Local Government.

Local government, where subsidiarity applies in principle, forms a chain or hierarchy of connections. At the lowest level possible each thinking, educated human entity governs him or herself within the traffic rules of civil authority. We follow those rules so that we can live in maximum freedom while sharing resources like roads, swimming pools or the internet.

Government forms ever widening circles of mutual self interest and interaction. Families, employers, neighborhoods, all have a role in our lives and have or should have some sort of governing authority, limiting checks and balances; and structure. When government is usurped by individuals, or factions, then people can exploit or misuse authority from owning the gates to the highways or vital resources. The principle of free enterprise is predicated on people being free to participate or not participate in markets. There is nothing free about the tyranny of monopolies or unearned privilege. Democracy doesn't exist where there is no "middle class" or equity in distribution of resources and fruits of labor. Equity means rewarding people's labor and treating people fairly

General governments exist to arbitrate, regulate or prevent disputes between individuals and neighbors. And in the case of widening circles general governments exist to regulate, arbitrate and avoid disputes between their subdivisions as well. All governments exist either to provide for the general welfare or they exercise some form of Tyranny. General Government often exists to check the possible tyranny of local government. Subsidiarity has its limits too. General Government cannot be direct democracy by definition because it involves representatives and/or too many people to be ordered in a way where all the people are actually ruling directly. However, a general government can run itself democratically, given that we are talking about the government itself.


Federal or Republican Government is General Government. A Republic is epitomized by a large town with subdivisions. Republican principles exist because direct democracy is impossible with scale. A republic cannot honestly claim to be a Democratic Republic unless it's parts are democratic and have representation in the central government. For a Republic to call itself democracy without those features is absurd.


A Federation is scaled up with many local governments that themselves are general governments. It is a government of governments separated by distances. Federations are necessary because people gang up on one another. The term for that sort of conflict is warfare. Ultimately the world will one day have to become a strong federation.


Places people live must be governed for the good of all their citizens, the common-wealth, and have the features of commonwealth. A commonwealth is not an alternative to a Democracy. It is a government that serves its people. The term was hijacked by monarchists as an early example of Orwellian newspeak. The British Monarchy is only a commonwealth when it has a parliament that represents and serves all its citizens. A government that serves some of its people has oligarchic not democratic features. To be fully democratic it should serve everybody. Without the attributes and virtues of commonwealth democracy doesn't last long if it ever existed.

For any government to succeed it needs commonwealth and democratic features.

Democratic Features

it must employs democratic principles in its governance and empower people to self govern.

Implementing Democratic Subsidiarity

To implement democratic subsidiarity, therefore. Local and General Governments both need constitutional limits. Locations should be governed with the masses of people having specific rights and powers:

  • The right to assemble and raise grievances with governments
  • The requirement that the assembly of the people be consulted on government decision making.
  • The right to free speech, within ordinary boundaries that respect everyone assembled.
  • The right to enjoy the privileges of due process in all legal deliberations
  • The right to self govern on private matters in private settings and enjoy privacy.
  • The right to appeal to more general authority when there are disputes about the above.

    Due process means:

  • rules of order that gives everyone a voice,
  • that involves ordinary citizens in decision making (juries and commissions)
  • That gives a common open to all bar for expertise in legal matters
  • That separates judge, jury, executive and chief roles
  • That lets local places have local governments that are integrated into the general government
  • That provides substantive fairness and equity to all

Neighborhoods should have a right to a Chief, a council of some kind, and a general assembly. By right. When people live contiguously they need to have a general government that respects the geographical and demographic locations of them. When one has a metropolitan, metropolitan government should cover the whole metropolis. And each subdivision have participatory rights in that. Towns should not be artificial constructs, second class corporations, but part of the Federal System.

These are basic, the list is actually broader. At the local level people working for a company should enjoy these rights. A private business, if it employs people, is also a private government. It shouldn't be allowed to be a tyranny. In order to have a society that respects democratic, commonwealth and republican principles, they need to be embodied in local government. Neighborhood associations shouldn't be nuisance groups that tell people what color their front door can be, but organs of our government with vital roles in the things that affect us. That is what I mean by democratic subsidiarity.

So Democratic Subsidiarity means Local Democracy Needed

Implementing Democratic Subsidiarity is necessary to implement a more just society. Talk about "subsidiarity" without considering neighborhoods and towns, cities and townships in a rational schema is doing half the job.

  • Top Down Strategy to Tactical policy deliberations and oversight.
  • Consent of Governed means that before a policy or law becomes law it should be presented and reviewed to all communities affected by the law.
  • Bottom up Representation, from community level to National and International --> everyone should have a voice!
  • Deliberation on local recommendations should be carried to the very top of government.
  • Ordinary courts -- a bottom up right to petition grievances or appeal unjust decision making.
  • Local decision making should be by consensus and consent. Coercive decisions should be mandated by a court after evidence presented and Jury type organs do a review.
  • Resource Allocation should accompany mandates to expend resources.

Electronic Democracy requires local participation and debate.

In the end we need to change our system to both enable and mandate that neighborhoods have direct first place roles in local government -- democracy -- and participate with a place at the table in more general governments - representation! To have a functional legislative branch of government that representation has to include a right to representation, bottom up! We can apply democratic principles by allowing chapters and clubs to replicate locally and nationally and then come together to debate and discuss.

In the meantime we can setup a Democratic party where people can setup locals and subdivide as small as necessary --> and still come together for collective action. That is a challenge of politics that a well designed Electronic Democracy can address. But key to this is understanding that democratic subsidiarity means enabling, protecting and resourcing local people.

Further Reading

Subsidiarity and Fascism
Articles on Subsidiarity
MacCormick, Neil. “Democracy, Subsidiarity, and Citizenship in the 'European Commonwealth'.” Law and Philosophy, vol. 16, no. 4, 1997, pp. 331–356.

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