“Parceled Out Sovereignty”

August 5, 2013

This great sense of autonomy permeated all Christendom and gave rise to multiple levels of authority. In this order, authority is neither absolute nor centralized since there was a “parceling out of sovereignty” all over society.(1) Each one assumes dominion over a domain while integrating and having recourse to that of higher human groups only when necessary.

Painting of the Capitulation of Granada by by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz.

Where such autonomy rules, each individual assumes an importance and finds meaning in the context of his community. That is why, as Lewis Mumford explains, “The medieval social order could not be completely mechanized or depersonalized because it was based, fundamentally, upon a recognition of the ultimate value and reality of the individual soul, a value and a reality that related it to equally identifiable groups and corporate associations.”(2)

One of the many signs from supporters of Traditional Marriage throughout the country.

It is an order where everyone knows how to fight for their own legitimate rights with great energy against an intruding higher or lower order. While this fight for rights may seem very intense and even disorderly, it is in reality a superficial fight since it tends to consolidate rather than destroy order in society. A nation where everyone fights for their legitimate rights is a strong nation, not a weak one.

A Pro-Life Rally in Topeka, Kansas, which in April passed House Bill 2253, an anti-abortion bill. Many State legislatures have enacted more than 40 measures to restrict or control access to abortion throughout the nation, including recently in Texas.

Such a decentralized system creates a healthy society that is layered with personal authority yet bristling with those meaningful and intense associations where an individual belongs to several orders at the same time and is, in the multiple contexts of community, at once both sovereign and subject.


(1) Marc Bloch, The Growth of Ties of Dependence, vol. 1 of Feudal Society, trans. L. A. Manyon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), xvii. Bloch notes that historian Henri de Boulainvilliers (1658-1722) and the philosopher Montesquieu singled out this decentralized “parceling out of sovereignty” to small and still smaller local authorities as a central characteristic defining feudal society. Such sovereignty would, of course, be limited and relative in smaller social units, following the principle of subsidiarity.


(2) Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power, vol. 2 of The Myth of the Machine (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970),141.


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), 172.


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