A Principle of Autonomy

July 15, 2013

Man is a rational being endowed with free will. As such, he naturally enjoys a personal autonomy where he exerts control of himself, his character, and the world immediately around him. The individualist limits this personal autonomy to a mere means to construct a separate little world and further a pursuit of happiness, while in an organic social order, man is a social being that only attains his full development in fellowship with others.

Fishermen near the Isola Bella at Taormina

This personal autonomy allows individuals to project the mark of their personalities and talents upon family, profession, and immediate surroundings. A person finds fulfillment in assuming the responsibility for a domain: the father and mother, their family; the farmer, his farm; the teacher, the classroom; the craftsman, a shop; the priest, his parish. Inside the domain, be it large or small, each governs autonomously in a manner that strongly recalls that of a sovereign with little outside interference. Each senses and exults in having a domain and being part of its tradition.

The school exam, painted by Albert Anker

In a similar manner, man freely enters into association with others, forming groups and social units that exercise autonomy and from which rise governing structures and authorities. As a result, the family, parish, local community, occupational group, or cultural or political groupings all form part of man’s insatiable appetite for social expression. In an organic order, they are essential supports for the perfection of our social nature that enrich the person and the whole social order.


John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 171-2.


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