State and society





first edition: 2019

second edition: 2021 

©2021: M.D.Stafleu 







1. Introduction

1.1. The idea of law and various concepts of law

1.2. State, civil society and public domain

1.3. Values and norms for human acts and relations

1.4. Historical and current views on state and society


2. The modern state as the guardian of the public domain

2.1. Relation networks

2.2. Public works

2.3. Public festivities shape communities

2.4. The language community and the public opinion

2.5. Public research

2.6. The separation of church and state

2.7. Social intercourse

2.8. Markets

2.9. The public order

2.10. Public justice

2.11. Public welfare

2.12. The identification of the state with the public domain


3. Civil society

3.1. The generic character of any association

3.2. Cooperated labour

3.3. Playing together

3.4. Speakers, writers, and media

3.5. Research institutes

3.6. Profile of an organized faith congregation

3.7. Clubs and interest groups

3.8. Entrepreneurs, enterprises, and organizations

3.9. Profile of the state as an association and a republic

3.10. Courts of justice

3.11. Institutes of care


4. Limited authority

4.1. The territorial state

4.2. The power of the republic

4.3. The state as an association of citizens

4.4. A constitutional state is subject to justice

4.5. Independent courts of justice

4.6. Private and public law

4.7. The rule of law

4.8. Legal positivism

4.9. The origin of authority










 1. Introduction


1.1. The idea of law

and various concepts of law


The first chapter introduces the philosophical views on state and society forming the background of this book. To start with, for a political philosophy the concept of ‘law’ is very important (section 1.1). Unfortunately, in various contexts it has quite different meanings, and we should be continuously aware of this pitfall. In fact, the present treatise could be considered a study of the various meanings of the concept of law.

Section 1.2 introduces the concepts of ‘civil society’ and ‘public domain’, section 1.3 discusses the normative aspects of reality, and section 1.4 is a review of historical and current views on state and society relevant to this book. We do not start with the human-made concept but with the transcendental idea of law.


The philosophy of the cosmonomic idea

The idea of law is the nucleus of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, nearly a century ago introduced by Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd. It is the critical realist confession that God created the temporal world developing according to natural laws and normative commandments which are believed to be invariable because He sustains them from eternity. Christians know God through Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to the Torah, the Law of God. We call this the idea of law because by directly referring to the Creator, it transcends all concepts of law to be discussed later on.

In contrast to the eternal God, the creation is in every respect temporal, in a perennial state of dynamic development under the law, now considered as the upper boundary of the cosmos which only God transcends.

With respect to a given law, something is called a subject if it is directly subjected to that law. It is called an object if it is indirectly, i.e., via a subject, subjected to that law. Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven paid much attention to subject-object relations, but subject-subject relations are probably more important.

Whereas the natural laws and the normative principles are supposed to be invariant components of the creation, norms are human-made products, culturally and historically widely different artefacts. These norms are often called ‘laws’ as well. As to their content, these norms belong to the ‘law side’ of reality, just like the natural laws and the normative principles. As to their human-made form, they belong to the ‘subject-and-object side’. This means that human activity is not restricted to the subject-and-object side of reality, but includes the positivation of normative principles at the law side.


Relations and relation frames

The view that anything is related to everything else is far less controversial than the idea of law, but as a philosophical idea it is equally important. The diversity of temporal reality cannot be reduced to a single principle of explanation. Like a prism refracts the light of the sun into a spectrum of colours, the coherence of created reality is refracted into a wide variety of temporal relations: among things and events; among people; between people and their environment and all kinds of objects; between individuals and associations; and between associations among each other. Also the relations of people with their God display the same diversity.

These relations can be grouped into relation frames, also known as law spheres or modal aspects of being and experience. In each relation frame, all relations among subjects and objects are governed by one or more natural laws or normative commandments, characterizing the relation frame concerned.

The relation frames are mutually irreducible, yet not independent. They show a recognizable serial order in which earlier relation frames anticipate later ones, and reversely, later relations can be projected on earlier ones. For instance, genetic relations presuppose physical interaction. Kinetic relations can be projected on spatial relations, and both can be expressed in quantitative relations. Each relation frame presupposes the preceding ones (the spatial frame cannot exist without numbers) and deepens them (spatial continuity expands the denumerable set of rational numbers into the continuous set of real numbers). The public domain will be introduced as a set of communities being subjective relation networks (between subjects), usually sustained by objective relation networks (between objects), with the state acting as their guardian (chapter 2).


Values and norms

Six natural relation frames, briefly indicated as quantitative, spatial, kinetic, physical, biotic and psychic, precede ten normative frames, characterized by the values of skill, beauty, significance, rationality, reliability, social coherence, mutual service, good governance, justice, and loving care (section 1.3). According to Christian philosophy, in the course of history people elaborate normative principles or values into norms. Whereas values are universal standards for human activity, norms are human-made concrete directives, varying considerably between various cultures and during the course of history. ‘Values are central standards, by which people judge the behaviour of one’s own and that of others. In contrast to a norm, a value does not specify a concrete line of action, but rather an abstract starting point for behaviour. Therefore, values or principles are ideas, to a large extent forming the frame of reference of all kinds of perception. Often, a value forms the core of a large number of norms.’[1]

Like natural laws, values or normative principles are supposed to be universal and invariable conditions for human existence. Both people and associations are subject to values, which they can obey or disobey.


Characters and character types

The diversity of the creation comes to the fore in a rich variety of various kinds as well as in relations. A kind may be determined by a specific cluster of laws, to be called its character. Laws and principles give rise to two recognizable clusters. Generic laws for relations determine six natural relation frames and ten normative ones. Clusters of specific laws form characters and character types for kinds of individual things and events, artefacts and associations, each with their specific nature. In this way, relations and characters complement each other.

A character defined as a cluster of natural laws, values, and norms is not the structure of, but the law for individuality, indicating how an individual thing or event may differ from others of the same kind or of a different kind. The character of something concerns its law side, including its structure if it has one. It points out which properties an individual thing or event has and which propensities; how it relates to its environment; under which circumstances it exists; how it comes into being, changes and perishes. There is an enormous variety of characters, but a much more restricted set of character types, in which we abstract from variable norms. Normative character types of artefacts and associations (section 1.2) are not determined by historically and culturally determined variable norms, but only by invariant normative principles, besides by natural laws. Therefore philosophy will be more interested in character types than in the characters themselves, with which history is more concerned. In three ways characters can be distinguished with the help of relation frames.

Primarily, each kind is specifically qualified by the laws for one of the sixteen relation frames. Except for quantitative characters, a relation frame preceding the qualifying one constitutes the secondary characteristic, called its foundation. A character is specifically founded in a projection of the primary (qualifying) relation frame on the secondary one. The tertiary characteristic of a character is its natural tendency or affinity to become interlaced with another one. This ‘enkapsis’ is not a property, but a disposition. It occurs either because the individuals concerned cannot exist without each other or because an individual has a tendency to become a constitutive part of another one, in which it performs an objective function. Whereas the secondary characteristic refers to properties, the tertiary characteristic is usually a propensity.


1.2. State, civil society and public domain


Although there is a large abundance of kinds, not everything has a specific character as defined above. Associations and artefacts have a typical character, but unorganized communities have not. These are networks of subjects (both individuals and associations), sustained by objective networks, like a lingual community rests on their common language besides on technical networks like telephone or internet. In this respect characters are less general than relations, but they show a greater variety.

The present treatiseis concerned with policy. Political acts are performed both within public networks (chapter 2) and within organized groups constituting civil society (chapter 3).[2] The structure and the functioning of the state as the body politic par excellence will require most attention (chapter 4). This concerns the state as a type, as well as its historical and cultural realizations.

Policy regards both the state and civil society. The idea of a civil society called bürgerliche Gesellschaft was first formulated by Georg Hegel in Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (1820) as the set of organized communities operating between the family and the state.[3] Karl Marx paid much attention to it in his critique of Hegel’s book (1843, published posthumously in 1927). It was also investigated by Alexis de Tocqueville in De la démocratie en Amérique (1835-1840), and L’ancien régime et la révolution (1856). He argued that a society like America requires the existence of a strong civil society consisting of organized associations independent of the state. These authors treated civil society as a historical phenomenon (which it is), without acknowledging the generic and specific structures or characters of organized social groups.

In fact, among philosophers there is very little agreement about the concept of a ‘civil society’[4], and the definition proposed in the present treatise is quite new. It distinguishes between organized social groups with members and a governor or governing board (called ‘associations’) on the one hand, and unorganized public social groups with a network structure (called ‘communities’) on the other side. As will be argued, the former constitute the civil society, the latter the public domain with the state as its guardian.


The political relation frame is irreducible to that of justice

Although political philosophy is nowadays firmly distinguished from the philosophy of justice, it may still be controversial to state that political relations are irreducible to those of justice. One way to make this clear is to point out some undesirable consequences of their identification, as was done in legal positivism (section 4.8), but first we shall take a more constructive approach.

Like any individual person, an organized group of people – an association like a state, a church, a company, a corporation, or a club, having members and a governor or governing board - has a policy, a view on how to make decisions about their acts in the near or the distant future. In part this concerns internal relations, like the distribution of power, labour or benefits within the association. In part it is directed to relations with individuals who are not members (like clients of a shop) or to other associations like competitors or suppliers.

Like all human activities, the management of an association, being an organized social group with authority and discipline, is subject to norms of justice. Nevertheless, the generic character of any association is not qualified by principles of justice, but by principles of good management and discipline. Modern management has become a profession, qualified by the political relation frame and quite different from the profession of lawyers. People do not easily change of profession, and to become a manager requires skills that can be learned and developed. Often, a manager is involved in the government of quite different associations, and managers switch easily from one specific kind of association to another, without changing of profession. The conduct of an association may be unjust, even criminal, and still be effective. But if the management loses its authority and the members of the association forgo their discipline, the association will dissociate.

The analysis of the generic character of an association and of the generic and specific character of the state will provide a number of arguments pointing to the existence of a political relation frame, to be distinguished from that of justice. However, it should be emphasized that the political is really a universal relation frame, not only characterizing associations, but determining subject-subject relations and subject-object relations as well. The political subject-subject relation of authority and discipline is not restricted to associations, but is observable in any kind of deliberation or meeting, if its purpose is to reach an agreement. Now authority is recognizable as leadership. Decisions and resolutions are the objects of political activity. Policy as a subject-object relation means preparing, deciding, exerting and evaluating of decisions, usually in subject-subject relations which are not necessarily politically characterized. In the preparation of a decision one considers requirements, desirabilities and possibilities, when deciding one makes choices or establishes priorities. Decisions make little sense if not exerted, and are only effective if evaluated afterwards. Policy is not restricted to the government of a state, but applies to the management of any association. In a less structured sense, all people make decisions all the time. Deciding is a universal human condition.

Contrary to the views of Herman Dooyeweerd and most of his adherents, I suggest therefore that the political relation frame should be inserted between the economic and juridical ones.[5] Good management as a normative political principle refers to the preceding relation frames, in particular to the economic one and that of social intercourse. It makes an assessment of the economic consequences of any decision (a cost-effect analysis), not only for itself, but also for others. It takes into account the social interests of members, clients and neighbours, and is often influenced by organized and unorganized lobbies. Good management also refers to later relation frames, abiding to principles of justice and of loving care.


1.3. Values and norms

for human acts and relations


Both state and society are determined by normative principles or values, which accordingly play an important part in this treatise, in particular in chapters 2 and 3. Therefore, section 1.3 of this introduction reviews these values and the norms derived from them.

Although not being coercive, the normative principles appear to be as universal as the natural laws. Since the beginning of history people are aware to be able to obey or disobey these principles, something neither people nor animals are able to do with respect to natural laws. Moreover, sooner or later they discovered that the normative principles are not sufficiently articulated. In particular the organization of human societies required the establishment of human-made norms as implementation or positivation of normative principles. Therefore the idea of human freedom and responsibility has two sides. At the law side it means the development of norms from normative principles, which norms are different at different historical periods and places, in various cultures and civilizations. At the subject-and-object side individual persons and their associations are required to act according to these norms, such that freedom and responsibility can be warranted.

Historical development of norms takes place in all normative relation frames, not merely at the subject-and-object side (as is the case with natural evolution), but at the law side as well. In natural evolution heredity functions as a driving force. Learned properties cannot be inherited. In contrast, in each normative relation frame an asymmetric subject-subject relation functions as a dynamic engine of history driving the transfer of experience, for instance from one generation to the next.[6] The normative relation frames qualify the characters of both typical objects or artefacts and of typical subjects called associations.

Being free and responsible images of God, men and women satisfy no more than their acts a specific character as defined above. Their individual character, the set of their virtues and vices, is their attitude towards the law side of the creation, both natural and normative.

This section surveys the normative relation frames, the domain of human history and culture, of state and society. Both their number and their order are tentative and disputed.


1. The progressive development of culture and civilization started and continues with skilled labour. After the natural relation frames this is the first normative one, called the historical or cultural aspect by Herman Dooyeweerd who positioned it after the logical one. Initially the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea paid little attention to technology, but meanwhile an interesting group of reformational technical philosophers appeared. Anyone ought to exert their work according to their skills. Progress may be considered the temporal order for technical development. An event, process, artefact or association as well as a person may be called historical if contributing to or hampering progress. During the nineteenth century, progress was not viewed as a normative principle, but as an inevitable factual feature of Western history. This optimistic view was shattered during the First World War. The dynamic engine of technical progress is the asymmetric transfer of practical know-how and skills, from parents to their children in households; from skilled to untrained labourers in workshops; and from teachers to pupils in schools.

Technical artefacts like tools are instruments in the history of tilling the earth, the opening up of the natural characters and their succeeding technical development. The character of a technical instrument is its design, the set of natural laws and norms the apparatus should satisfy.[7] Technical artefacts are primarily characterized by the technical relation frame and secondarily founded in one of the natural frames. They function as typical objects in the transfer of technical skills, or in a technical subject-object relation, in which a skilled subject (an individual or an association like an enterprise) may be its designer, its producer or its user. Technical progress as expressed in the dynamic development of many kinds of technical artefacts is an important part of historical research. Besides, all natural subjects (things, plants, animals) may be objects for technical development. By their skilled labour with the help of technical instruments, people develop natural characters. The religious calling of mankind is to till and preserve the earth in a responsible way.


2. Like Calvin Seerveld[8] but unlike Herman Dooyeweerd, I believe that the aesthetic relation frame succeeds the technical one. The Greek word technè and the Latin ars do not only mean technical ability, but art as well. Labour is a prerequisite of art and play.

History is usually divided into periods according to a dominant style, the normative law for aesthetic phenomena like fashion, decoration, plays and the fine arts. Aesthetic artefacts like a piece of art, a musical performance or a football match are subjected to the style of the time, and are instrumental in the transfer of aesthetic experience from an artist, an orchestra or a football team to their audience or spectators. By making images persons show themselves to each other and to their God. Religion finds its aesthetic expression in the cults, in the epiphany of God.

For the transfer of the aesthetic experience of beauty people use artefacts like novels and other pieces of art, as an important contribution to the dynamic development of the creation. The production of aesthetic artefacts requires specific technical skills. In each piece of art or performance, the perspective of the spectator, auditor, or reader plays an important part, constituting a weighty criterion for judging its quality. The artists determine the perspective and the spectators follow them.

The products of the performing arts are subject to a specific set of human-made norms, like the text of a play, the choreography of a ballet, the score of a piece of music, or the script of a movie, having the character of a prescription. Although the performers are more or less bound to the text, they are free to find their own interpretation, as long as it testifies of their aesthetic skills.


3. An important engine of dynamic development is the human ability to remember and to make sense of things and events, and to communicate these with each other. Information is a semiotic form of the transfer of human knowledge. The common name for a semiotic object is a sign, but the semiotic frame does not necessarily qualify a sign. For instance, a fossil is a sign of a formerly living body, and is therefore qualified by the biotic relation frame. In contrast, a human-made semiotic artefact is usually called a symbol. A rainbow is a sign that it is raining while the sun shines, whereas the Bible interprets it as a symbol of God’s covenant with the world. For the transfer of semiotic experience a language forms an important instrument. Without language, the individual memory of people would be as limited as animal memory. The use of language, both oral tradition and written texts, forms the basis of shared memory and remembered history.


4. Logic is derived from the Greek logos, meaning word or conversation rather than reason, derived from the Latin ratio. Nevertheless, logic is the name of the science of reasoning, of analysis and synthesis, of drawing conclusions. The logical relation frame concerns the relevance of argumentation as a universal value for humanity. Everything we want to know, anything that presents itself to our experience, is object for our reasoning. The ratio of history consists of finding logical connections between events and their consequences, the explanation of recorded historical events based on earlier events, circumstances and human intervention.

Reasoning always concerns the solution of a problem. In part, history consists of imagining and solving new problems, increasing rational insight. By generating and solving problems and communication of their solutions people create a rational order in their environment.

Apparently, rationality is concerned with ‘thinking about ...’, which emphasizes the subject-object relation. Whoever wants to put the subject-subject relation to the fore may observe that logic concerns the discussion between two logical sub­jects, attempting to achieve agreement about something on which their opinions differed before. This can be done either in a direct manner, or indirectly, in an abs­tract, objectifying and theoretical way. A discussion is subject to the law of excluded contradiction.

Continuously people confer with each other, exchanging information and drawing conclusions for the future. The logical engine of history is the dynamic transfer of rational knowledge and insight, with logic as instrument to analyse past events and predict future events. Logical extrapolation, as in prediction, explanation and rational choiceis subjected to the logical temporal order of prior and posterior, in which a conclusion follows from premises.


5. So far the order of the relation frames is the same as Seerveld’s, but I think that faith succeeds reasoning. According to Dooyeweerd this is the final modal aspect, opening a window on eternity, which I believe to be a prerogative of religion. Dooyeweerd emphasizes that religion differs from faith because it is not a modal aspect, but the heart of human existence, in which each human being transcends the diversity of time in order to arrive at the coherence of meaning either in his relation with God in Jesus Christ, or in an apostate direction. Anyone ought to perform their religious concentration ‘with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind’.[9]

Whereas the meaning of language is to speak the truth, and the meaning of logic is to prove statements to be true, on their own force these cannot arrive at reliable truth. To arrive at certitude people must be convinced of the validity of their arguments. Acts of faith are characterized by the mutual trust of people and their trust in all kinds of objects and in their God. The temporal aspect of this universal value is expressed in the wish to reform the world while preserving what is good.

Artefacts like myths, confessions, party programs and mission statements play an instrumental part in the reform of views and the transfer of beliefs. Often these lie at the foundation of associations, in particular but not exclusively of faith communities. Being narratives, myths appear to be founded in the semiotic relation frame. Confessions and dogmas (often established after a theological investigation) appear to be founded in the logical frame and icons in the aesthetic one.


6. People seek company in unorganized communities with a network structure (chapter 2) and in organized associations with some kind of authority (chapter 3). The home base of education and nurture, the nuclear family (or its replacement) educates children to keep each other’s company and that of others. Education serves as the dynamic engine of integration, the temporal order for the relation frame of companionship.

In this relation frame habits or customs play an instrumental part in education, the transfer of how to act as a civilized person in any company. Integration is not restricted to children, however. Emancipation is a candidate for expressing the historical meaning in this relation frame. Reverence is the leading social motive in the religious intercourse with God.


7. Whereas each animal kind is specialized in its Umwelt, human beings are able to perform many different tasks. In the economic relation frame the normative order is best described as differentiation, without which economic acts like the exchange of goods or services would make no sense. Mutual service is the dynamic engine of economic differentiation. The service of God expresses religion in the economic aspect of human existence.

As far as it can be owned and sold, anything may be an economic object without being economically qualified. The most obvious economic artefact besides capital and contracts is money as an instrument for trade, the transfer of services and commodities made possible by the economic division of labour.


8. Keeping peace, good government, accountability, and democracy or participation are universal political values, not reducible to one of the other relation frames, not even the frame of justice as Dooyeweerd assumes (see section 1.2). At the subject-and-object side it means giving and accepting leadership as an asymmetric engine of dynamic development.

A state law is a human-made artefact qualified by the political relation frame, serving as an instrument in leadership and discipline, the transfer of policy. Peace is the historical meaning of this relation frame. In a religious sense, anybody should be obedient to God. This means that neither leadership in an association nor that association’s sovereignty in its own sphere can ever be absolute, because it always concerns a mandate derived from the supreme Sovereign.


9. In order to open the future, justice meets history as the unfinished past. The past cannot be undone, but sometimes one can do something about its consequences. The history of civilization means not only integration, differentiation, and policy, but also correcting events, restoring order, compensating wrong doing, rectifying an incorrect news item, as well as repairing a defunct apparatus, restoring a piece of art, or reconstructing a document: all being acts of justice leading to conceptions of what is right or wrong, a legal order.

The nucleus of justice may be expressed by the verb ‘tribute’ and its derivatives: attribution, distribution, retribution, contribution, giving everything proportionally to what it deserves, positively or negatively: suum cuique tribuere (to give each his due), in classical terms.[10]  

A human right or duty is an artefact qualifiedby the juridical relation frame. Customs determined by the relation frame of keeping company, economic contracts and state laws have juridical consequences, playing an important part in the transfer of justice.


10. Each human being and everything created or human-made is vulnerable and is therefore in need of care. People have always tried to diminish their vulnerability, to become invulnerable, independent, autonomous. Besides being relatedto others, each person also depends on other persons, on their environment and on God. The care for one’s fellows, compassion, misericordia or pity means showing respect for people who suffer or are hurt, knowing to be vulnerable oneself. Contrary to loving care, people take advantage of each other’s vulnerability, by insulting, robbing, dominating, injustice, maltreating or murdering. The denial of mutual dependence leads to the fall into sin.

The care for vulnerable people like widows, orphans and the poor belongs to the nucleus of the Gospel. The miracles wrought by Jesus and his disciples according to the New Testament do not testify of God’s omnipotence (Jesus rejected this emphatically when tempted by the devil), but of his care for vulnerable people. The gospels do not present Jesus as an almighty magician, but as a healer. The early Christians expected the end of the times to be imminent. They were not concerned with the politics of the government. But they developed a new life style and new ways of living together, characterized by love for one’s neighbour, mercy, charity and care for vulnerable people.

We shall use these normative principles in our analysis of the public domain (chapter 2) and of civil society (chapter 3).


1.4. Historical and current views

on state and society


Civil society is part of a modern differentiated society. It is virtually absent in underdeveloped countries. As a historical phenomenon it is quite recent. As an introduction to chapters 2-4, this section reviews the history of various views of state and society.

Views on the meaning of associations as part of a civil society differ widely. Opposite to the Protestant view that each association has a character of its own, with sphere sovereignty independent of the character of a state, one finds the family based society; Catholic and romantic organicism; liberal individualism; socialist collectivism or universalism; positivism; post-modern historism and populism.[11] Section 1.4 reviews these ideologies, finding that associations have strongly influenced the development of the Western civil society, and are starting to do so in the rest of the world, moving toward an increasingly open future of the public domain. We shall see that the freedom of associations to act on the public domain is strongly connected to the freedom of individuals to do the same.


Bands and tribes

A tribal society based on a nomadic band or an agricultural tribe rests on subordination; on the distinction of men and women; of close and removed family members; of masters and servants or slaves; of patrons and clients; of believers and unbelievers. This old social form based on kinship and ancestor worship characterizes an undifferentiated totalitarian society in which someone belongs exclusively to one community, to wit, the family, band, tribe or caste, whether or not acting as an association with some kind of authority.[12] When people meet each other, they do so as members of their family or tribe, not as individuals. These communities can be found in the past of all cultures, sometimes still in the Third World, and it is favoured not only by romantics, but also in some Christian, Jewish, and especially Muslim orthodox circles. In several Muslim countries in the Middle East tribal relations are still dominant. Without these one cannot understand the political situation in Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. They often coincide with religious controversies between Christians and Muslims, or between Sunnites and Shiites.

Only in the Western world tribalism was abandoned in a process which probably started in the sixth century, when and where the Catholic Church became dominant.[13] In a tribal society property rights are often determined by kinship. In particular land is not owned by individuals but by a family. After someone deceased their property remained within the family. During the Middle Ages the European church achieved much property, in part because of the tithe of ten percent tax on income. Often it owned up to one third of all cultivated area, being the most important source of income and wealth. The church wanted to keep this property in its own hand, allegedly because it was necessary to sustain the poor. Therefore it forbade the priests and monks to marry and have children, and it promoted an individualized practice of heritance among the laity, such that after their death they would leave their property to the church. As a result the tribal society disappeared from Europe much earlier than in other parts of the world.

The relations within an undifferentiated society may be quite complicated, depending on one’s position in their family and of the family in the tribe. A tribe has many kinds of functions which in a modern differentiated society are exerted by institutes like the state or the church, by free associations or by individuals. By the loss of these functions the family or tribe has generally speaking no meaning left as an organized group. Only the marital bond and the nuclear family as basis of the education of children remain. The extended family merely survives as an unorganized community. This is a relatively recent Western phenomenon. In many countries family relations still play an important part, for instance in family companies. In a modern society, enterprises in which the employees consist entirely or mainly of family members are usually small. Enterprises being the property of a single family are more common.

In the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia and Africa, tribal politics is still influential.[14] However, also in the West, ethnicity remained forcefully present. In particular, populism has an ethnic background.


Polis and cosmopolis

In the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle too, the Greek polis is not differentiated. Their ideal city state (already out of date in their time) is a totalitarian community, a commonwealth, to which everything is subordinated and in which the citizens find their happiness (eudaimonia) and their destiny (telos). In Plato’s well-ordered polis, a few rationally trained men govern as philosopher-kings. They direct well-trained spirited guardians serving as defenders and administrators, whereas the lower classes are engaged in production and commerce.  At the city boundaries the political community halts. Only free men have rights, excluding women, slaves, and foreigners. Their mutual connection is not the family, but friendship. Family ties are subordinated to the polis.[15]

The Roman Empire extended the polis to cosmopolis, in which an increasing number of people achieved citizen rights, but it still attributed a large autonomy to the familia, including slaves and clients besides family members.[16] The senate consisted of important family heads. The Roman Empire was as totalitarian as the Greek polis, but in both citizens could bring each other to justice.


Multi-tribal states

The assumed, by no means always factual, biotic relationship of the tribe’s members with each other and with their ancestors constitutes a natural bonding myth for the emergence of the tribe. The ancestors were worshiped as its founders. When tribes were united into a state, a new myth attributed the state a divine origin.[17] The first large empires deified the power of the kings.[18] In order to enhance their authority the rulers were worshiped as God or majesty. Like the Chinese and Byzantine emperors, Charlemagne and his anointed successors believed that they received their authority directly from God.[19]

In the twelfth century the Catholic myth emerged that the state derives its authority from the church and through the church from God. In some countries, hereditary royalty is a remainder of this, in particular if the head of state is simultaneously the head of the state church. At the end of the Middle Ages, the myth of the divine origin of royal authority was weakened by a theory about the right of insurrection.

The first association organizing itself independent of family and state was the Christian church, at first repressed, next tolerated, then made into a state organ in the Eastern Roman Empire, and finally in the West involved in a power struggle with the emerging nation states.


Society as an organism

Society as an organismis originally especially a Western Catholic view, later also contemplated by romantic philosophers. The rise of Christianity stroke at the roots of the totalitarian Roman state. The young church only recognized the emperor’s authority on worldly affairs. Augustine’s book De civitate Dei assumed the existence of two communities, the city of God and the city of the world, separated because of the fall into sin.[20]

After in the Roman empire Christianity was elevated to state worship, medieval philosophers and theologians considered society to be an organic bi-unity, consisting of the church equipped with the spiritual sword, and the subordinated state armed with the secular sword.[21] Martin Luther too adhered to a doctrine of ‘two regiments’.[22] Eastern-orthodox theologians identified the church with the state. If the church is subordinated to the emperor one speaks of caesaro-papism. In many countries, Muslims adopted a similar view, though in Shiite Iran the state is subordinate to the clergy. The relation between the medieval church and state corresponded with that between the human supernatural soul and natural body. The church was concerned with the eternal salvation of people, the state with their worldly well-being.

The assumption that the state is subordinated to the church implied first that the state should not be concerned with internal affairs of the church, second that the church decided which matters belonged to the domain of the church, and which matters belonged to the state’s jurisdiction. According to Thomas Aquinas all communities, except the church, are organic parts of the state, like parts of a body. This totalitarian view was mitigated by the principle of subsidiarity, stating that each social activity is subsidiary: it ought to support the members of the social body. The principle of subsidiarity assumes that society exists of a hierarchy of higher and lower communities or organs, of which the state is the highest and all embracing, with the most important norm that a higher organ should not be concerned with what a lower one can do. In 1931 pope Pius XI confirmed the principle of subsidiarity in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, and in particular the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain elaborated it. It was never applied to the Catholic church itself.

Indeed, the principle of subsidiarity is applicable whenever an association as a whole has more or less autonomous parts. Such a relation of a whole and its parts is found in a state divided into provinces and municipalities; a national or international church with regional dioceses and local parishes; a national party with local branches; a holding company with more or less independent subsidiary companies; or a chain of shops. The principle of subsidiarity may be considered an important strategy for the internal organization of an association, in which the separate parts receive as much freedom and responsibility as possible. It determines the relation of the United States and the European Union (as well as Canada and Switzerland) to its member states. It opposes a centralized government. However, the organicist view on which it is based provides no insight into the relation of mutually independent associations, because it does not recognize these. At most it tolerates them.

Because the Roman-Catholic Church circa 1965 abandoned the idea of an all-embracing society, some politicologists now consider the vertical principle of subsidiarity and the principle of sphere sovereignty (also called horizontal subsidiarity, see below) as being slight differences within a converging view that they call communitarism or Christian pluralism.[23] It is the political philosophy of Christian-democratic and conservative parties in Europe. The principle of recognition of the independence of all kinds of associations is, however, not equivalent to an internal organization principle within such associations.

Ultimately, in the Western society, the church once more became separated from the state. This led to freedom of faith, the recognition that any person is free in one’s conscience, being fully responsible for their relation to God. People who are free in their conscience also demand freedom in other respects. The rise of free associations apart from family ties and the state does not accidentally coincide with the recognition of freedom of faith. It formed the basis of a republican and democratic civil society, not founded on tribal or nationalistic views, but on free associations.

Medieval European feudalism is a specific form of organicism. It was based on the division of the population into three estates. Nobility and clergy were strongly hierarchical, with the king at the head of nobility and the pope heading the church. Lacking such a hierarchy, the third estate distinguished free people (especially living in the cities), slaves, and serfs which were bound to the land on which they lived and worked, serving their noble or clerical lord. In North-West Europe serfdom disappeared in the fourteenth century, perhaps due to the mid-century plague. In Eastern Europe it lasted into the nineteenth century.

Free associations only existed in the cities. The local guilds were differentiated labour associations. Apart from that, differentiation was an individual affair: especially in the cities but also elsewhere people started to specialize, such that besides the majority labouring on the land one finds an increasing number of specialized professions.  


Individualism and universalism

Liberal individualism recognizes only individual persons to be original members of society.[24] They ought to have as much freedom of acting as possible. Each association and community is considered to be a voluntary set of individuals, no more than the sum of the members of the set. Individuals may form a union with a determined goal, based on a contract, which they can break or revise at any time. Liberals reject the generic and specific characters of associations, which they do not distinguish from unorganized communities.

During the nineteenth century, socialist collectivism or universalism arose as a romantic reaction to individualistic liberalism. It too does not allow of much room for independent associations, because it considers society to be the all-encompassing social reality. Collectivism overemphasizes the public domain, which it often identifies with the state.



The historistic myth legitimizes the state exclusively on the basis of historical developments, for instance its factual origin from a family or tribe, or a coalition of tribes. The transition from family groups (for instance of hunters/gatherers) via tribes to states is strongly connected to the increasing population density and the growth of settlements into cities.[25] The people are subordinate to the prince, like the Roman family is subordinated to the pater familias. The monarch is the owner and his successor the heir of the sovereignty.[26] Therefore there is no clear separation between the fortune and income of the monarch and that of the state. The traditionalist or conservative current within historism (Edmund Burke, circa 1800 and Friedrich Hayek, second half of the twentieth century) rejects both the theocratic view about the divine origin of authority and the rationalist contract theory arising in the seventeenth century. In a long process complex systems like states are made by and for people, ‘results of human action but not of human design’.[27]

Earlier, Johann Gottfried von Herder, the founder of historism, emphasized that each human community is unique and separate from its neighbours.[28] This historistic view, denying structural normative principles for associations, has given rise to nationalism.

From the Reformation to the American and French revolutions, citizens have liberated themselves from monarchy, nobility, and ecclesiastical hierarchy, taking over the leadership of the network society. In the nineteenth century, when the cities displayed ever more differentiation without much integration, the idea of a cultural unity was transferred from the settlement to the nation. Nationalists believed that the cultural differences within a country could be bridged by an often mystic unity.[29] In the nineteenth century Protestants were more inclined to nationalism than Catholics or Jews, and liberals more than socialists. Often one emphasized the uniqueness of the nation by dissociating from other nations, getting these in wrong. In Protestant countries one identified the nation with Protestantism, and Catholics and Jews were kept outside the nation, by disqualifying them as ‘transmontanists’ and ‘internationalists’ respectively. Nineteenth-century Austrian-Hungarian and German anti-semitism was initially more nationalist than racist, but it became a fertile breeding-ground for the genocides of the twentieth century. After the rivalries between settlements grew into conflicts between peoples, the search for their own identity degenerated into the glorification of the nation and atrocious wars. Outside the national borders one only recognized enemies and allies against enemies.[30] Nationalism is a perverse form of historism, because it disdains the history of other peoples, predominating that of its own. Georg Hegel and his adherents have provided this view with a philosophical justification: ‘The self-consciousness of a particular Nation … is the objective actuality in which the Spirit of the Time invests its Will. Against this absolute Will the other particular national minds have no rights: that Nation dominates the World ...’[31]

The national state, characterized by absolute power, cannot but strive after expansion. This view, influential not only in Germany but also elsewhere in Europe, has led to the long European war (1914-1991).

Nationalism has proved to be a bad form of integration. It is an attempt to counter the integration of others. It does not contribute to the historical development of a free society, but is reactionary throughout. Nationalism is a modern form of tribalism, in which one’s own tribe is the measure of society. It does not lead to social integration, but to discrimination and expulsion.

As a competitor of nineteenth century nationalism, the industrial revolution induced the class struggle. Class formation as a social stratification of the poor, middle groups and the rich appears to be a consequence of economic differentiation. However, class distinctions come more to the fore in differences of descent, education, training, use of language, intelligence, faith, habits, wealth, and income. It is expressed by the popular opposition of ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’.

The twenty-first century saw an upsurge of nationalism, most successfully with rulers like Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Viktor Orbán, Hugo Chávez, and Donald Trump, but also with Britain’s brexit and several minority populist political parties elsewhere.



Positivist philosophers like Auguste Comte emphasized the establishment of objective social facts apart from normative considerations. Legal positivists attempted to establish a completely objective system of written legal rules, to which judges would be bound without any subjectivity on their part. They assumed that the state determines what is right (‘might is right’). Outside the sphere of the state justice was at most a private moral affair. Legal positivism was very influential in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it lost much adherence after the Second World War (section 4.8).



The central question from antique to modern philosophy concerned the possibility of autonomous human persons to achieve absolutely certain knowledge, on the basis of propositions which anybody can understand to be true.

In twentieth-century philosophy human knowledge lost the central position which it had occupied since René Descartes. Postmodernism takes leave from the modernist project of the autonomous person, from the domination of nature, and from fundamentalism.[32] As a reaction to the horrors of the long European war (1914-1991) and the decline of Marxism and existentialism, postmodern philosophers and historians rejected the ‘grand narratives’, the all encompassing idealistic views on humanity and its history, including Christianity, which did not convince them any more.[33] More than the original Enlightenment, postmodernism stressed the social connections within human communities.

Postmodern social constructivism poses that each truth is bound to culture, dependent on the insights of individual scientists and of the scientific community. Nobody is a tabula rasa, an unwritten piece of paper absorbing knowledge from outside through the senses. According to social constructivism, human beings construct their knowledge from a tangle of experiences, and no one’s construction is better than that of anyone else. This self-destroying relativism lost much of its credibility because it could neither explain the success of the natural sciences investigating the hidden structure of organic and anorganic matter, nor the undeniable applicability of modern technology and medicine based on natural science. ‘Science, as a method and practice, is a social construct. But science as a system of knowledge is more than a social construct because it is successful, because it fits with reality.’[34] ‘Realism, the belief that science gets at the truth, is the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success a miracle’.[35]

Postmodern philosophy flourished between 1980 and 1995, afterward soon losing much adherence.[36] Nevertheless, postmodern relativism came to be one of the main philosophical roots of populism.[37]



Although it has its roots in nineteenth-century nationalism and in post-modernism, the term ‘populism’ came in vogue only in the twenty-first century. Populist movements emerged in Europe and the America’s since the 1980’s. There is no generally accepted definition, perhaps because populism takes various forms in different countries. However, there is some agreement about several common features.[38]

As a competitor of nineteenth century nationalism, the industrial revolution induced the class struggle. Class formation as a social stratification of the poor, middle groups and the rich appears to be a consequence of economic differentiation. Whereas world-wide the average income increased steadily, since the 1970’s the differences in income and wealth between the highest haves and the lowest have-nots increased even more.[39] It was accompanied by the rise of powerful oligarchies, as well as a decreasing mobility between social classes, ethnic and age groups.[40] Populism assumes the existence of two more or less homogeneous units of analysis: on the one hand 'the people' or ‘the nation’; on the other side 'the elite' or ‘the establishment’. These maintain an antagonistic relationship: a positive valorisation of 'the people' and a denigration of 'the elite'.

For the public opinion, populists favour the social media with their emphasis on subjective truth, above the elitist traditional communication channels, stressing objective facts. They tend to ignore the results of elitist science with respect to the changing climate, for instance. Scientific arguments against their views are ignored.

Populism stresses the idea of popular sovereignty, preferring direct democracy above representational democracy. It favours referendums with a simplified choice of yes or no. Each populist movement pretends to represent the people better than the formal democracy of elected representatives which they mistrust.

Populists have an ethnic view of the people, making them kindred to tribalism. Because they want to keep their own ethnic group pure, they abhor immigrants, in particular Muslims. In the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia and Africa, tribal politics is still common.[41] However, also in the West, ethnicity remained forcefully present. In particular, populism has an ethnic background.

Populism is sometimes called a ‘thin ideology’. It has to be fleshed out by a right or left ‘thick ideology’, like liberalism or socialism, giving rise to right and left-wing populism. An alternative is some kind of religious populism, like Islamic or Hindu nationalism.


Sphere sovereignty

Already before 1930, Herman Dooyeweerd concluded that the Western idea of the state suffered from a deep crisis.[42] He criticised both individualistic and universalistic views. The theory developed in the present treatise is basically Dooyeweerdian, but differs from his in several respects, as will be seen. [43]

Opposed to the social contract theory, a Protestant (in particular Calvinian) tradition maintains the principle that associations are characterized by normative principles laid down in the creation, and developed in the course of history. In the social differentiation and integration process, neither individuals, nor free associations, nor the state or the church play an exclusive part. For the formation of associations people are responsible, and human freedom makes use of the possibilities presented by character types being part of the creation (see below).

Sphere sovereignty (soevereiniteit in eigen kring) is originally a typical Dutch term for an unsuspected widespread phenomenon. In particular during the twentieth century, the existence of free associations, having their own administration independent of the republic which only exerts supervision of the public domain, has become the hallmark of the free Western society, even if it is not always recognized as such. Elsewhere it expands explosively too. The fact that Abraham Kuyper designed his view of sphere sovereignty in the nineteenth century testifies to his prophetic mind.[44] In fact, this is historically a much more interesting phenomenon than the victory of neo-liberalism proclaiming the end of history, according to Francis Fukuyama.[45]

If in one respect Protestantism collides with Catholic, liberal, collectivist, and totalitarian views, it concerns their insight into associations. Since the sixteenth century, Protestants argue and practice that associations belong to a character type of their own; that these are irreducible to individual interests or to the interest of a collective; that associations are not subordinate but co-ordinate; that each person belongs to several associations; that no all-embracing association exists; that nobody is embraced completely by any association whatsoever; and that various mutually irreducible character types of associations exist. There is no better warrant for freedom and diversity than this Protestant view of a civil society.

The principle of sphere sovereignty is a societal principle, characterized by the way people deal with associations and keep each other’s company. It is a political principle too, because it indicates that an association does not derive its authority from other associations, but from the creation order, from God’s sovereignty, such that authority should never be absolute. It is not an organizational principle. Unlike the above mentioned principle of subsidiarity, it is not applicable to the mutual relations of the state with its provinces and local communities, as far as these are more or less autonomous but subordinate parts of the state. It should not be applied to ethnic diversity, as was sometimes done in South-Africa’s period of apartheid.

Sovereignty presupposes some kind of authoritative rule. Therefore, the principle of sphere sovereignty only applies to associations, not to unorganized social communities. The view that sphere sovereignty applies to the authority in associations can be found both with Abraham Kuyper and with Herman Dooyeweerd.[46] Moreover Kuyper also speaks of sphere sovereignty in ‘spheres of life’, like art or science, which Dooyeweerd develops into the ontological principle of creaturely diversity or mutual irreducibility of modal aspects and character types.[47] In order to avoid this ambiguity I prefer to delimit the concept of ‘sovereignty’ to bearers of authority and authority having instances, and ‘sphere sovereignty’ to the governor or board of an association, avoiding the metaphorical application of sphere sovereignty to, for instance, modal aspects.

Sphere sovereignty does not imply that associations are autonomous, independent of other associations. In fact, associations form many kinds of networks, in which they cooperate to achieve their goals. The meaning of sphere sovereignty is that any kind of authority is limited. It promotes the freedom and responsibility of individual persons. Because they belong to various associations, they can be alternatively leaders in one and subordinate members in another association.

The principle of sphere sovereignty does not in the least mean that each association should have an ideological foundation. The typically Dutch and Belgian phenomenon of the ‘verzuiling’ (the ideological compartmentalization of society from about 1850 to 1980[48]) could make that plausible, but Kuyper’s principle applies to associations having no relation to any world view as well.

Chapter 2 discusses the public domain conceived as a set of unorganized networks, guarded by the state. In chapter 3 the civil society considered as a set of organized associations will be investigated. Chapter 4 reviews the character type of the various states and the restrictions on their sovereignty.



[1] Van Doorn, Lammers 1959, 99; Hübner 1978, 108.

[2] Chaplin 2011, chapter 1.

[3] For a critical review of Hegel’s views on the civil society, see Dooyeweerd NC III, 583-588.

[4] Chaplin 2011, chapter 11.

[5] Stafleu 2004.

[6] Stafleu 2008.

[7] Verkerk et al. 2007.

[8] Seerveld 2001.

[9] Matthew 22.37; Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27.

[10] Chaplin 2011, 192, 193.

[11] Griffioen, van Woudenberg 1996; Woldring 2001; Chaplin 2011, 14-16.

[12] Dooyeweerd 1931, 160-164; Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 346-376; Dooyeweerd 1959, 70-84.

[13] Fukuyama 2011, chapter 16.

[14] Chua 2018.

[15] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 198-214; Griffioen 2003, 13.

[16] Dooyeweerd 1962, 169.

[17] Franken et al. 2003, 357-359.

[18] Schilling 1968, 104-105.

[19] Duby 1961-1962, 24-26.

[20] Hoogerwerf 1999, chapter 3.

[21] Luke 22:38.

[22] Ruppert 1987; Hoogerwerf 1999, chapter 5.

[23] Woldring 2001; Griffioen 2003, 56; Chaplin 2011, 16.

[24] Hobsbawm 1994, 167 (chapter 4, V); Calhoun 2000, 534.

[25] Diamond 1997, chapter 14.

[26] Groen van Prinsterer 1847, 66.

[27] Hayek 1978; Fukuyama 2011, 251-253.

[28] Fukuyama 2018, 60.

[29] Calhoun 2000.

[30] Schmitt 1963, 62-64.

[31] Hegel, cited by Popper 1945, 317.

[32] Smart 2000; Cahoone (ed.) 2003, 1-13; Wiersing 2007, 660-687.

[33] Lyotard 1979.

[34] Wootton 2015, 540; 580-592.

[35] Wootton 2015, 568, quoting Hilary Putnam.

[36] Wiersing 2007, 683-687.

[37] Schaap 2017, chapter 5.

[38] Mudde, Kaltwasser 2017; Schaap 2017.

[39] Piketty 2013; Fukuyama 2018, 77-78.

[40] Fukuyama 2011, 8-9, 17.

[41] Chua 2018.

[42] Dooyeweerd 1931; NC III, 379-508; see Zwart 1994; 1996; Chaplin 2011, 156.

[43] For Dooyeweerd’s extensive discussion of the structures of human society, see Dooyeweerd NC III, 157-624. For a recent evaluation, see Chaplin 2011.

[44] Kuyper 1880; 1898, 72-80 (lecture 3); Dooyeweerd 1959, 46-58; Clouser 1991, 290-302.

[45] Fukuyama 1992

[46] Chaplin 2011, 138-151.

[47] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, 101-102; II, 3-54; Dooyeweerd 1962, 213; Marshall 1985, 126.

[48] Van Doorn 2009, chapter 7.





2. The modern state as the guardian of the public domain


2.1. Relation networks


For the understanding of the civil society and its relation to the state, it appears to be absolutely necessary to distinguish the public domain as a set of relation networks (unorganized social structures) from the civil society as a set of associations (organized social groups). The former will be discussed in chapter 2, the latter in chapter 3. Further we need to distinguish relation networks of subjects from networks of objects. The first will be called ‘(inter-) subjective’, the second ‘objective’.

In chapter 2 the public domain will be understood as a multiply connected set of subjective relation networks constituting unorganized groups of people, to be called communities.Often these are sustained by objective networks. Herman Dooyeweerd calls such a community an ‘interindividual and inter-communal relationship’,[1] later to be abbreviated to ‘interlinkage’,[2] which I interpret as a subjective relation network in which both individuals and associations participate. The sovereign state is not identical with the public domain (section 2.12), but ought to act as its guardian to warrant its free use by individual persons and by associations apart from the state.


Communities and associations

A community will be distinguished from an association (section 3.1) with members and a governing board. Alongside individual people, associations may act as subjects in communities, like shops in a neighbourhood. A community defined as an unorganized social group cannot act as a subject. Sometimes a community is objectively determined by an artefact, like a lingual community by a language; sometimes by a common ideology, like communism; sometimes by a connection with an association, like a nation or people is connected to a state; sometimes it is related to an event, like a party is to a birthday.

A community has a social coherence, forming an intersubjective network, often sustained by an objective network (a network of objects), like a lingual community requires a common language. A lingual community and the public opinion are not active subjects, no more than Christianity, the market, society, a (sub-) culture, or a civilization. Communities cannot work, talk, act, show respect for each other, or negotiate. They do not bear responsibility and are not answerable.

This does not exclude a peculiar kind of internal activity, influencing the accompanying objective networks. Fashions, the markets, languages, the public opinion, etc., continuously change because of irregular subjective interactions between the actors in the public domain, much like a herd of beasts or a swarm of birds behaves communally. The individual freedom of the actors in the public domain implies that their acts are to a large extent unpredictable, but it turns out that their collective behaviour is subjected to statistical laws, allowing of, for instance, life insurance. Communities do not always lack leadership. For instance, in a lingual community, authors and social media usually have quite some influence, bordering to leadership, but this is not organized authority. 


Human acts and animal behaviour

The public domain is based on a technical infrastructure of objective networks, such as the road system. Thereby it transcends the animal Umwelt, the environment in which animals live and procreate, where they find their food and shelter. As a network of experiences, the Umwelt of a population of animals is psychically determined by the presence of other animals, in particular because of kinship; biotically by the presence of plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses; and by physical and chemical conditions as well. Each animal experiences its environment in a characteristic way, depending on its species. In a biotope, animals of different species recognize, attract or avoid each other. The predator-prey relation and parasitism are characteristic examples. The Umwelt and the horizon of experience of a population of animals are restricted by their direct needs of food, safety, and reproduction. Animals do not transcend their Umwelt. Only human beings are aware of the cosmos, meaning the coherence of both natural and normative reality transcending the biotic and psychic world of animals.

Human feelings have a primary or a secondary character. The kind of feelings that people have in common with animals, like fear, pain, cold, or hunger, have a primary psychical character, being qualified by the psychic relation frame. Besides, people have a secondary feeling for values like proficiency, beauty, clarity, truth, reliability, respect, service, discipline, justice, and loving care. These values primarily characterize the ten normative relation frames starting from the technical one (section 1.3). For instance, the feeling of justice is a projection of the juridical frame on the psychic one. It has primarily a juridical, secondarily a psychic character. The awareness of values points to a human propensity, a hereditary intuition, shared by all people, laid down in the human genetic and psychic constitution. When education articulates this intuition, it turns into a virtue or a vice. In education, the inborn feeling of justice is developed into the virtue of righteousness. Because both righteous and unjust people have a feeling of justice, they are responsible for their deeds. The same applies to all virtues.[3]


Ethics and ethology

The human body character is interlaced with an animal behaviour character, opened up into an act structure, determining the human position in the animal kingdom.[4] Whereas ethics is concerned with human acts being characterized by the normative relation frames succeeding the psychic one, biological ethology studies the psychically qualified behaviour of animals, which is not subject to values or norms, but to natural laws, in particular to the character of the species to which the animal belongs.[5] Like an animal is characterized by its species-specific behaviour,[6] a human is an acting being, implying an important difference. Animal behaviour is stereotype, directed to its organic and psychic needs. It is purposeful, goal-directed, but not goal-conscious. People share this animal behaviour. Much of what they do is genetically programmed or laid down in their memory. Besides, human acts are normative and to a certain extent free. People are conscious of what they are doing, such that as free persons they are responsible for what they do or fail to do. Of course, many human acts are based on a reflex or some other fixed action pattern, wired in the brain. Experiments to point this out cannot prove, however, that this is always the case.


The structure of human acts

An individual person’s acts start internally, within the limits of their corporeal and spiritual existence, as an intention. This is based on experiences from the past, on imagination of the present, on the consideration of the eventual future consequences of an act, and on the will to achieve something. After arriving at a decision a human being actualises this intention into a deed outside body and mind, in a subject-object relation or in a subject-subject relation. These acts are characterized by one of the normative principles, which everyone knows intuitively, like economical, juridical, or logical. They are determined by norms derived from normative principles, as far as the actor knows and acknowledges these norms, which anyhow allow of a margin for the freedom and responsibility of the acting person. Besides individuals, organized associations are able to prepare and perform such acts in an analogical way.

Psychic and biotic needs determine animal behaviour as well as related kinds of human behaviour. In contrast, human acts are characterized by the relation frames succeeding the psychic one. People have the will to labour or to destroy; to enjoy or to disturb a party; to understand or to cheat; to speak the truth or to lie; to be faithful or unreliable; to keep each other’s company in a respectful or in an offending way; to conduct a business honestly or to swindle; to exert good management or to be a dictator; to do justice or injustice; to care for or to neglect each other’s vulnerability. The various virtues and vices express the will to do good or evil in widely differing circumstances. The will to act rightly or wrongly opens the human psyche towards the relation frames following the psychic one.


System theory

In the twentieth century the structure of an unorganized or organized group of people forming a network has been studied by the system theory of Talcott Parsons, Niklas Luhmann, and others.[7] Luhmann was inspired by electric and electronic networks, Parsons by living organisms, and both by cybernetics, the science of control. According to Parsons an interactive system consists of a number of mutually interacting units; a set of rules determining their interaction; an ordered interaction process; and an environment with which the system systematically interacts. Interaction means that each participant is both actively and passively involved in the process. According to Parsons this can lead to a stable and orderly result if the participants in the process stick to a common normative basis. Luhmann denied that norms form a necessary element of the society system.[8]


The res publica

In the public intersubjecive networks, besides individuals associations are active, each pursuing their specific interests. In contrast to other associations the state as a republic ought to guard the public domain, the res publica, the general interest. (In this treatise, the word ‘republic’ does not indicate a form of government without a monarch, but the public character of any state.) In a free society this means on the one hand that the state maintains and extends the objective networks, regulating their use in intersubjective networks. On the other hand the republic’s policy should be to make the public domain available to all people and associations to use it freely. The public domain is therefore pre-eminently the realm of freedom. This is not obvious, but must be fighted for continuously. The republic as guardian of the public domain ought to protect the freedom of all who use it, both individuals (not only citizens of the state) and associations, which internal authority the republic should respect.

The central question to be discussed in this treatise is: what characterizes a strong state and what a strong society? Are these two related? Chapter 2 investigates the public domain as a differentiated set of relation networks, as well as possible norms for the functioning of the republic as the guardian of public freedom and responsibility. Next, in chapter 3 we turn to the civil society, conceived as a set of associations being the counterpart of the public domain. We shall argue that the distinction of public domain and civil society, of unorganized relation networks and organized associations, is absolutely necessary for understanding the role of a strong state in a strong society.

Because both the public domain and the civil society are subject to normative principles, chapters 2 and 3 follow the succession of normative relation frames as reviewed in section 1.3. Occasionally we shall also refer to the historical and current views on state and society as summarized in section 1.4.


2.2. Public works


A strong modern state relies on a well-developed technical infrastructure consisting of various interconnected objective networks with the purpose to sustain intersubjective human networks.

Networks exist either of mutually connected subjects (persons or associations) or of objects, and may accordingly be called intersubjective respectively objective. In the technical relation frame the emphasis lies on the objective networks constituting the technical infrastructure of society, but the intersubjective labour networks should not be overlooked. Of old, employers and employees have formed networks, small-scale or large-scale, together forming an unorganized labour force. In a well functioning society each individual has entry to the labour community according to their skills. Because it concerns a public network, the government may proclaim rules to protect the weak and to require relevant certifications for vital activities.

In the course of history applying their skilful labour, people developed the natural environment into a complex set of technical objective networks. Without gas, water and electricity, street lighting, sewers, telephone connections, networks for radio, television and internet, a modern society cannot be imagined. Yet most of these networks hardly existed before the start of the twentieth century, when electricity and electrical appliances became available at a large scale. No town or village could organize labour without some infrastructure, connecting cities, villages, districts, suburbs, and streets, as well as their various functions. The technical infrastructure allowing of traffic and transport is an expression of the mutual dependence of people. Public networks connect people, and on an increasing level of abstraction, houses, buildings, settlements, quarters, cities, counties, and countries.

The state may subject a network to rules for its use. On the road one has to comply with traffic rules. For industry and commerce standard measures apply, for technology internationally agreed norms. Such rules established and maintained by or on behalf of the government, are not intended to limit one’s freedom, but first of all make the freedom to use the network possible. The introduction of metric systems in the nineteenth century stimulated the functioning of technical networks. By the standardising of parts it became possible to connect appliances made in different factories, even in different countries, to the public networks.

So it appears that the original function of the government is the establishment and maintenance of rules for the safe use and maintenance of public objective technical networks. Of old these concerned the construction of fences and entrances of settlements, of roads therein and between them, and of dikes and canals serving irrigation. It seems obvious that initially the heads of family or tribe exerted the function of guardian of these networks.


2.3. Public festivities shape communities


In a different context the public domain is said to consist of all the creative works to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply, but in its proper meaning, aesthetic creativity forms only one part of the public domain, albeit a significant one. 

Feasting and mourning are typically social activities displayed in an association or in a community, in the form of public celebrations, at the commemoration of an important event in the past or at a new start. In each settlement, weddings and burials alternate, where family members, friends, and vague acquaintances meet each other and start new binds. The significance of public festivals for the society means that the state always takes a large part in the cults. The policy of any state is to confirm its legitimacy in cults, promoting celebrations and memorial days, wherein the state shows itself the bearer of authority in the public domain. In the Greek and Roman culture the performance of tragedies and comedies served a public interest. In Western countries, the government supports music temples, theatres, sports grounds, and stadiums, where aesthetically characterized associations show their arts. Each celebration has its own cultural style, in history formed and renewing, but always recognizable.

Museums and libraries have an important function to make art available to anybody, but art also takes part in public life outside museums, theatres, and concert halls. Architecture is the pre-eminent art of the public space. A city shows itself in its architecture, not only of buildings, but also of monuments, parks, and squares. Buildings with their towers or minarets draw the attention and enhance the status of the city population. The town government presents itself by a hall showing the glory of the city.


2.4. The language community

and the public opinion


The native speakers of a language form a lingual community. It is not an association (an organized whole), for it has no government. Nor is it a semiotic subject, for a language community does not speak or write, it does not listen or communicate. Only people belonging to the lingual community and associations do that, being active semiotic subjects. A lingual community is objectively defined by a language or a group language, with its characteristic vocabulary, semantics and grammar, constituting an objective infrastructure of lingual acts. The lingual community itself connects persons and associations constituting an intersubjective network. Translations connect the various language communities into a world-wide semiotic network.

Regional, national, and world-wide languages can be distinguished by their communicative power, depending on the number of people commanding the language as their mother tongue or as a second or third language.[9] Usually one language functions as lingua franca, the local or international language of trade.

Because lingual acts can be translated, the collective memory constitutes an objective network of information and communication, in principle accessible for anyone. For the history of mankind the development of communication networks is very important. Written language is almost indispensable to the trade among settlements and in the organization of political associations surpassing a single settlement. With written language, the first large multitribal empires emerged, and the first professional writers were perhaps imperial officials.[10]

The public opinion in a modern society is formed by the press and since the twentieth century by other media too. As the guardian of the public domain, the republic ought to protect the freedom of communication and expression of one’s opinions, though it is sometimes necessary to indicate limits in order to warrant the freedom of others. The freedom to criticize the acts of the government has proved to be the best guarantee against government arbitrariness in the public domain. With the rise of daily papers and periodicals, later of radio and television, since the eighteenth century the public opinion has a large influence on the policy of the government and of other associations. Sometimes the elite uses a different language than the common people. In that case, the language does not serve to communicate, but to exclude people from functions in the administration and education.[11]


2.5. Public research


From primitive societies dates the word taboo, a domain of life that nobody is allowed to enter, a holy place, forbidden ground except for the initiated. It may be something about which one does not like to talk except in veiled words, or in which one is not allowed to do research. The policy of a modern, free state may be to exclude taboos, such that anything is accessible, disputable, and researchable. The abolishment of taboos is in accord with the Christian view that the whole creation is given to people as caretakers of the public domain, and is therefore open to be investigated. This leads to an ever extending public objective network of systematically achieved knowledge and of theories. It ought to satisfy the norm of consistency, of excluded contradiction. It supports networks of objective insights, views, and opinions. In each field of science scholars with their research institutes, laboratories, and libraries, their conferences and periodicals, form a public intersubjective network, in which they share results of research and methods.

Because governments consider it their duty to sustain science they have a tendency to control it as well. This varies between complete control as in communist countries to a large amount of freedom as in constitutional states. In fact, state influence of science is limited by the fact that science is an international affair. Even during wars scientific contacts across state boundaries remain largely intact. 

Scientists publish their results and make these available to anybody for critical discussion, further elaboration, and application. Publication is a condition for the recognition of a scientific result. Of course one often attempts to keep the achieved knowledge secret, for instance if military or industrial interests are involved. However, secrecy is neither in the specific interest of science nor in the general interest of the public. Moreover, secrecy turns against the discoverer, because someone else who reaches the same result later but publishes earlier gets the credits.

According to Robert Merton, the scientific ethos or code of conduct consists of: communism (science is public knowledge, freely available to all); universalism (there are no privileged sources of scientific knowledge); disinterestness (science is done for its own sake); originality (science is the discoverer of the unknown); scepticism (scientists take nothing on trust).[12] John Ziman replaced Merton’s communism by communalism and added originality.[13] However, the relatively large certainty, provided by the natural sciences in particular, is not derived from their ethos, but from the object of research, the lawfulness of the creation. It cannot provide complete certainty out of itself. In particular it cannot account for the origin and validity of laws and normative principles conditioning human conduct and therefore science as well. Science can only derive certainty trusting that the laws and normative principles which it studies are universally valid, now, in the past and in the future. This includes the faith or conviction that antinomies do not occur, meaning that natural laws and normative principles do not contradict each other. This is not a logical, but a cosmological principle, surpassing the logical principle of excluded contradiction.[14]

The results of science are intended to be universally valid, yet they are not always true. Rather the critical character of science makes that it continuously revises its results. Current Western science is not fundamentalist, if fundamentalism is understood as any view accepting a priori the absolute truth of some propositions. The force of modern science is not having a firm foundation, but its critical striving after consistency. Its network structure is open, liable to critical reflection and extension. Therefore there is no unity of science, no uniform scientific method. Yet there is a coherence and mutual dependence among related fields of science, informing and inspiring each other. Freedom of the exertion of science means the freedom of having different opinions, to debate with each other continuously, to correct and to be corrected.

Not the sciences but the laws they try to find are universally valid. Being valid for anybody, these laws are not the property of science, but are public. Who believes that the laws are given in the creation, should not consider a scientific theory a logical construction of reality, but at most a fallible reconstruction. Science can find the natural and normative principles, but not found them. Scientists investigate the law side of reality, which everybody concerns. Therefore the performance of science belongs to the public domain.


2.6. The separation of church and state


In the relation frame of faith and trust the public domain may be called oecumene, originally meaning the inhabited world, now the as yet not realized norm for an intersubjective network of Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or other faith communities. Ecumenism expresses that its members ought not to fight each other. On the basis of a common conviction, they ought to live together in a sphere of tolerance, respecting each other’s freedom of conscience. In each Western city churches form a network of social services, with an undeniable integrating function.

The view that in the public domain freedom of worship ought to exist is often considered a fruit of the Enlightenment. However, the Dutch Republic proclaimed the freedom of conscience already from its foundation in the Union of Utrecht on January 6, 1579. It recognized the freedom of worship since 1650, albeit that until the end of the eighteenth century only the Reformed church was allowed to preach its faith in public.[15] Also in the Middle Ages many examples can be given of countries and cities tolerating views of minorities. Yet the public domain has long been dominated by a single faith or ideology, repressing, persecuting, or expelling those who believe differently. Countries with a state faith tolerate other faiths sometimes only if their adherents worship in buildings not recognizable as churches, or segregate into a ghetto. Only in a differentiated, free, in particular municipal society, different faith communities can manifest themselves freely.

During the eleventh-century struggle about the right of investiture of bishops, culminating in the Concordat of Worms (1122), the Catholic Church declared itself independent of the Holy Roman Empire.[16] The medieval division of public authority between the church and the state was based on the accepted dualism of mind and body. In this view the church is competent on the terrain of the salvation of the citizen’s soul and all spiritual matters. The state was almost exclusively concerned with bodily affairs.

Since the twelfth century Catholic philosophers and theologians assumed that the state is subordinated to the church. This implied first that the state should not be concerned with internal affairs of the church, second that the church decided which matters belonged to the domain of the church, and which matters belonged to the state’s jurisdiction.

According to Thomas Aquinas all communities, except the church, are organic parts of the state, like parts of a body. This rather totalitarian view was mitigated by the principle of subsidiarity, stating that each social activity is subsidiary. It assumes that society exists of a hierarchy of higher and lower communities or organs, of which the state is the highest and all embracing, with the most important norm that a higher organ should not be concerned with what a lower one can do. In 1931 pope Pius XI confirmed the principle of subsidiarity in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.

The separation of church and state, already in the early fourteenth century proposed by William of Ockham,[17] is adopted by Enlightenment philosophers and laid down in the constitution of the United States after its foundation in 1776, almost two hundred years after the Union of Utrecht. In Europe it is gradually introduced after the French revolution. The Roman-Catholic Church reluctantly acquiesced in the separation of church and state since the second Vatican council (1962-65). In many Islamic countries, the state is not separated from the faith community. The Islam does not know an international co-ordinating authority, like the Catholic Church has. The separation of church and state implies the recognition that the republic (rather than the church) is the guardian of the public domain. By no means does it imply that churches do not have a public task. Like political parties and interest groups they have a message for society and a message for their members about society.

The separation of church and state has led to a continuing reinforcement of the position of the state at the cost of the church. Since the Enlightenment, with its belief in universal reason, the state has even taken over the function of the church as the all encompassing institute of faith, degrading the church to a part of the state. According to Georg Hegel, in the ideal state the private interests of the citizens coincide with the general interest.[18] Their freedom consists of acting in complete rational harmony with the state: ‘The perfect State is the perfectly rational structure in which men fully understand their inevitable relations to each other and to everything else, and which they perpetuate by freely willing it …’[19]

In the twentieth century this view constituted the basis of fascist, national-socialist, and communist states. According to Isaya Berlin, ‘this is one of the most powerful and dangerous arguments in the entire history of human thought … objective good can be discovered only by the use of reason; to impose it on others is only to activate the dormant reason within them; to liberate people is to do just that for them which, were they rational, they would do for themselves, no matter what they in fact say they want; therefore some forms of the most violent coercion are tantamount to the most absolute freedom. This, of course, is the great justification of the State despotism advocated by Hegel and all his followers from Marx onwards.’ [20]

It sharply contradicts the insight that the state as a republic only guards the public domain in order to warrant the real freedom of individuals and associations. The state should not be identified with the public domain (section 2.12). This insight, that in the second half of the twentieth century became common, led to a decrease of the significance of the state in favour of other associations. The increasing globalization stimulated this phenomenon, because especially large associations operate in the public domain ever more across the boundaries of the separate states.


2.7. Social intercourse


An unorganized group of people meeting in a club or a pub with the purpose of keeping each other’s company is sometimes called a party. It is a temporal community, to be distinguished from any organized association. A party also differs from a community which is not typified by companionship, but for instance by a shared language or belief. The manners in a small party like a birthday differ from those in a large one like the public at a football match, being less formal but with more social control. The norm for a party is cosiness, indicating the temporal order of integration. By their social conduct, all persons present should contribute positively to the group’s conviviality, excluding nobody. Whoever does not adjust to the party is ignored or expelled. Parties are observable at a coffee break, a visit, a reception, a wedding, or a funeral. Someone’s presence at a party may be convenient or inconvenient. You cannot join a party just like that, that would not be polite. You greet, looking or asking whether you are welcome. Leaving a party you apologise and say goodbye.

In contrast to civil society to be discussed in chapter 3, society at large consists of public intersubjective relation networks integrating individuals and associations. ‘Society is the total network of relations between human beings.’[21] ‘Society does not consist of individuals; it expresses the sum of connections and relationships in which individuals stand.’[22] Making contacts, seeking support, being a member of boards and committees, visiting receptions, lobbying, demonstrating, and striking are social activities in the public domain to promote specific and general interests. It used to take place in a neighbourhood, but increasingly also beyond, in the ‘global village’.

In the public domain various interests meet each other. The general interest consists of the right functioning of the public domain. The republic guards this by balancing the interests of private persons and associations, protecting these and if possible promoting these. In particular the republic ought to enable the social integration and emancipation of diverse parts of the population. Whether it should also stimulate, facilitate, or control these is disputed, in particular because the effects of these actions appear to be limited.


2.8. Markets


A public network of trade relations is called a market, characterized by competition as an economically qualified intersubjective relation. There are many specific markets: gold market, fruit market, labour market, and the stock exchange, with payment networks like clearing banks. Old artefacts like money and modern devices like credit or debit cards facilitate the function of the market. On the market both individuals and associations operate, in particular economically qualified enterprises: shops, brokers, big business. The normative principle for any economic act is to serve each other, such that all parties have a profit. This principle is violated in the slave markets, operated from antiquity up till modern times.

Competition as a consequence of the freedom of choice is a condition for economic functioning in the public domain. On the market, competition (both between buyers and sellers) has a strong influence on prices, according to the law of supply and demand. In transactions by private contract that do not take place on the market, without public competition, this law plays a less important part. Supply and demand are not constants. Increasing the production increases the supply. Advertisement promotes the demand by publication of the availability of competing products, their quality and prices.

The public character of a market does not mean that everybody is admitted. On many markets only specialized merchants are welcome. The public character of the market means that the prices, available stocks, and other economically relevant data are public.[23] Someone who suppresses information relevant for the public functioning of the market contravenes the rules. The disclosure of the conditions of sale makes that different markets (for instance in different places) form an economic network. The prices for vegetables in one place influence those at other places. The offshoots of the network are the shops, where the consumers, the end users, buy their wares usually at a fixed price. Supply, price, and quality differ in various shops, such that the consumer too has access to the market. International markets are not, as is often assumed, controlled by multinational concerns, but by networks of enterprises.[24]

From the eighteenth century the liberal view holds that the republic should be concerned with economy as little as possible, according to the device laissez faire, laissez-passer (let things slide). Private persons and their associations taking care of themselves will promote the general interest. In the classical economical theory since Adam Smith, the relation of autonomous persons to the world is all-important. The market is not primarily a meeting between persons, but a meeting between any individual separately with a relevant price. The market is a mechanism. Adam Smith considered human labour not primarily ‘… as a mutual human relation and an expression of community, but as an individual effort to be exerted by anyone in a certain combination of labour, land and capital.’[25] This view expresses a form of egoism.[26] If everybody acts out of self-interest, Smith supposed that an invisible hand causes society as a whole to make the maximum possible profit.[27]

An opposite view is that the state has its own economical task in the public domain. Taxes and import duties are meant to provide the state with an income, but are also useful political instruments to control, stimulate, or slow down economic developments. Besides, the government should watch critically the interests of private persons and associations in administrative measures, letting them pay for it, if necessary. Sharper than before, the general interest is separated from all kinds of group interests. In the middle of the twentieth century, many economists believed that the influence of the government on the market is decisive, that the administration is the most important economic actor in the public domain, partly because the government has a large budget and is in control of extensive budgets for defence, education, and care. Besides, some governments control the markets in some detail, by establishing minimum or maximum wages and prices; by giving subsidies or tax allowances to farmers, shopkeepers, or starting entrepreneurs; by regulating the import and export of products; and by stimulating or obstructing competition. The government often attempts to control the amount of money, the interest rate, and the exchange rate. By its economical policy, the government may serve various goals.[28]

Because a well functioning free market has a public character, the state as the guardian of the public domain ought to supervise it. The credit crisis since 2007 revealed a failing supervision of the Western governments on the supply of credits by banks, who were more concerned with the trade in money and derived products than with their primary task: facilitating the activities of enterprises and private persons, in particular by providing capital. The republic should oppose fake competition, enforcing public economical information. For instance, the government may take action when sellers conspire to keep goods out of the market in order to increase the prices. Yet, the surveillance by the government is limited. The market as a public network ought to be free. When the state tries to suppress free trade, illegal forms of trade occurs, like smuggling or black-markets transactions.

Since the second half of the twentieth century, markets become more and more international, stimulated by the growing world trade and the release of trade barriers. Globalization is usually considered an economic phenomenon, starting with trading on markets, next being expressed in the activities of enterprises crossing the boundaries. In particular this limits the influence of smaller countries, which is a reason why the European countries unite in a mainly economical union, and why almost all countries in the world are members of the World Trade Organization. Globalization started with the principle of the free sea, in the seventeenth century formulated by Hugo Grotius. In the twentieth century the term globalization got a negative ring, caused by a global protest against the influence of internationally operating enterprises and the cooperation of the wealthy countries. Colonialism, after the Second World War gradually abolished, is according to anti-globalists replaced by a system of post-colonialism, in which the rich countries still exploit the poor ones, among other things by excluding them from the Western markets.[29]


2.9. The public order


The state as a republic regulates the order in the public domain by giving rules for its use by individuals and associations. The state maintains these rules and eventually punishes trespassers. This specifies the character of any state as a body politic.

The state’s authority is intended to maintain the public order, both within and outside its borders. It is an old wisdom of unknown origin, that public peace requires a strong defence power: si vis pacem, para bellum, if you want peace, prepare for war. It is recommendable to prevent concentrations of power. Meanwhile the history of mankind shows more war than peace. The first Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, even believed that only war deserves the attention of historiography.[30] It is striking that during wars ordinary life continues. War is often a challenge, respectively defence of authority, motivated by maintaining the peace or the establishment of a new order. In practice the war faring parties intend to extend their authority or to defend themselves against it. War is a violent means of realizing policies. The right to make war (ius ad belli, to be distinguished from jus in bello, the just way of warfare) is only allowed to sovereign states, not to other associations and not to parts of a state. The fact that the United Nations (uniting sovereign states) restricts this right does not diminish this principle. When individuals and/or associations come into conflict with each other or the state, they have to turn to a court of justice, whose judgment will be carried out by the state, if necessary with the use of violence. Nowadays, conflicts between states are more and more subjected to the judgment of a court of justice.

Marxism believes that imperialism and capitalism are inevitably connected.[31] Even without economic motives, states with an imperial character are inclined to expand their internal power without restrictions and to intervene in other states. By the intervention an imperial state attempts to enforce peace, on conditions dictated by the empire.[32] The Roman state imposed the pax romana to its neighbouring states; the European countries did the same in their colonies; Japan tried it between 1900 and 1945 in South-East-Asia; the Soviet-Union in Eastern-Europe and elsewhere; and the United States with more success first in North-America, next on the Western hemisphere, and since the middle of the twentieth century around the whole world. However, even the United States lost wars in Vietnam and in Afghanistan. Nowadays China is busy establishing its dominance of Asia. An empire can also behave as isolationists, as imperial China did many centuries, and Americans sometimes advocate. Besides isolationism, American foreign policy knows unilaterism and internationalism, i.e., unilaterally acting on its own authority or internationally consulting other countries, for instance in the NATO or the United Nations. The Second World War, succeeded by the decolonization of Africa and Asia, signified the end of European imperialism, of the extension of the sovereignty of European states beyond their own territory.[33]

Armed force is not allowed to any association that has not the character of the state. However, the republic may leave its defence to another state, or to an alliance of states like NATO. Within a state, member states, provinces, or cities often have their own police, not subject to the authority of the central government. It may provide a private organization with a license to maintain the order on a limited area like a shopping centre. In many countries civilians have the right of self-defence and the right to carry weapons. Companies may have an internal security service. In civilized countries these exceptions are severely limited, subjected to a licence granted by the government and to juridical approval after the fact.

At the foundation and expansion of the European Union imperialistic motives were strikingly absent. The main political motive was to prevent wars among the member states by increasing their mutual dependence. By admitting Greece and Cyprus as member states, the European Union has decided to make no distinction between the Western and Eastern Christian culture. It even considers the admission of Islamic Turkey. The European Union bases its unity not on a culture dominated by one faith or a common language, but on respectful social intercourse instead of war, on mutual free trade instead of autarky, on democracy, the constitutional state, and the welfare state – in other words, on a shared Western civilization recognizing a large variety of cultures.

The establishment of an international order may be a form of imperialism, whether or not indicated with the word globalization.It isnot an organized empire, but the postmodern network of capitalist powers dominating the world, ‘… a decentred and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers.’[34] Alternatively one finds a growing insight, that although each state is responsible for maintaining the public order on its own territory, it can no longer be completely autonomous for the maintenance of peace and safety.[35] The national networks constituting the public domain of each state are multiply connected, such that the mutual dependence increases. States have always concluded treaties in order to form political networks or alliances. Since the second half of the twentieth century more and more supranational organs arise, taking part of the sovereignty from the states concerned. The state ought to serve the public interest, but in international transactions self-interest often prevails. International organizations like the United Nations use the general interest of mankind as their line of action. This is globalization in the right sense of the word. The role of the United Nations to maintain the peace is, however, quite restricted for the time being.


2.10. Public justice


Private or civil justice follows from contracts and other agreements between legal persons. These can be both individuals and associations, including the state according to its generic character. A citizen or an association may conclude an agreement with the local or national government. In this case there is no juridical difference between the state and any other association.

‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law’[36] is a normative statement, as a right recognized and applied only during the course of history. In a little developed society, justice is connected to the position one has in a tribe or settlement. Even for Plato and Aristotle it would only be just to take the correct position in the polis and to act accordingly, and it is unjust if someone does not know one’s place. Anybody’s right was bound to one’s caste, and who did not belong to a caste (slaves, foreigners) had no rights. Circa 450 BC Pericles first formulated the principle of equality for the law, but that only applied to the citizens of Athens.[37] In Roman justice, slaves, and minors were mere objects, not subjects of justice. The legal personality of women was disputed and foreigners had no rights. In a civilized society slavery should not occur, foreigners should have the same rights as citizens in the public domain, women should share all rights with men, and minors are legal persons, though occasionally they should be represented by their parents or guardians. But all this is quite recent. In the Netherlands women have the right to vote only since 1922, and married women became ‘handelingsbekwaam’ (able to act) as legal persons not before 1957. In some Islamic countries women and non-Muslims are still not legal subjects.

In a humanist philosophy based on the autonomy of individuals, only natural persons can be legal subjects. The influence of the originally Protestant principle of limited internal authority in Western society appears from the fact that the concept of a legal person or juridical subject is not only applicable to natural persons, but to associations as well. The principle of internal authority allows of the possibility to consider associations as subjects (not only in juridical relations) and would lose its meaning if the concept of a legal person would be a fiction.


2.11. Public welfare


The republic should oversee the care for public networks: construction, maintenance, and free accessibility for anybody. Minimally the government takes care of public safety. In the eyes of many people, safety transcends rights. In times of war or threats of terrorism, the government may take measures having strained relations to the constitutional state. Lawyers rightly require public attention if this happens, because it is of public interest that the government and its organs are subject to justice in all circumstances.[38] Moreover, besides combating any infringement of safety, the government ought to cooperate in taking away its probable causes – youth unemployment, to mention a single example. Therefore a modern state does not restrict its tasks to police and defence, but it furthers public welfare. In the fight against illnesses like epidemics threatening the public domain, the government has always seen a task for the state. To this also belongs the supervision of the networks for public health, care for the elders, and so on.

Poverty is not merely a problem for the poor, but it is also a threat to public order, the peace of labour and public health.[39] In the public domain charity lasts only if everybody can expect that others are charitable too.[40] Since the late Middle Ages this led to the foundation of many kinds of municipal institutes for the care of poor and ill people.[41] Gradually the care for vulnerable people became a state matter.[42] A welfare state does not leave organized care to free associations, but accepts the responsibility for care.[43] This ideal of the communist and socialist movement was abandoned almost everywhere at the end of the twentieth century. However, the other (liberal) extreme, that a republic should not be concerned at all with care, is no more acceptable in a modern civilized society. State supervision of the quality, costs, and accessibility of public care for all appears to be necessary.

Guarding the public domain, the republic offers protection to its citizens, in particular the vulnerable in society. For instance, the protective function of the state implies that nobody falls outside the system of insurance, on the one hand by making insurance obligatory, on the other side by compelling insurance companies to refuse nobody as a client, both with the motive to preclude an appeal to public funds. However, care supersedes right. This means that people should receive care, even if they have no right of care because they are not insured by their own negligence or otherwise.

This chapter started by observing that the public domain is the human extension of the animal Umwelt, and people remain responsible for the environment. The republic cares for protection against natural disasters, for instance by constructing dikes, and it protects the environment. The care for the environment, the diminishing natural resources, the increasing world population, health care, and war on poverty, require ever more international cooperation. In this respect, the state has been preceded by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) like the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and many religious organizations.

 2.12. The identification of the state

with the public domain


In the public networks, besides individuals associations are active, each pursuing their specific interests. In contrast to other associations the state as a republic ought to guard the public domain, the res publica, the general interest. In a free society this means on the one hand that the state maintains and extends the objective networks, regulating their use in intersubjective networks. On the other hand the republic’s policy should be to make the public domain available to all people and associations to use it freely. The public domain is therefore pre-eminently the realm of freedom. This freedom is not obvious or self-evident, but must be fighted for continuously. The republic as guardian of the public domain ought to protect the freedom of all who use it, both individuals (not only citizens of the state) and associations, which internal authority the republic should respect.

In contrast, a totalitarian state recognizes neither free associations nor free citizens, because it identifies itself with the public domain. For instance, the Dritte Reich,with Adolf Hitler as its charismatic leader, declared itself to be the exclusive domain of the national-socialist Volksgemeinschaft, after eliminating hostile people, and forcing all associations to conform.[44] Japan too was a totalitarian state during centuries and China is still one.[45] The combination of a strong state with a weak society (as in China) is as detrimental as the combination of a weak state with a relatively strong society (as in India).[46]

Calling man a social animal, Karl Marx assumed that whatever a man does has the society as its perspective and should serve the community. According to nineteenth-century romantic nationalism and twentieth-century fascism, this community was the people, determined by its language and culture. According to national-socialism this was the Volksgemeinschaft, determined by a common race.[47] According to communism it is the proletariat, represented by the everything embracing communist party. In some Islamic states it is the common faith, laid down in the Koran and in tradition.

For social-democrats, who were usually strongly related to trade unions, the collective is the labour community embracing all institutions and associations, not only the state, factories and companies, trade unions and political parties, but also families and schools, preparing children for their position in the society conceived as a universal labour community, as well as clubs, if these fulfil a useful function in society. None of these views has an eye for the existence of free associations, even if the social-democrats like the liberals recognize the rights of association and of assembly.

Whereas liberals stress the autonomy and freedom of any individual, socialists tend to emphasize that human beings are determined by their social environment, as well as by their physical, biological and psychic constitution.


[1] Dooyeweerd NC III, 177

[2] Kalsbeek 1970, 260, 349; Chaplin 2011, 111-116.

[3] Aristotle, Ethics, I: 9, II: 1.

[4] Reynolds 1976, xv. Dooyeweerd NC III, 87-89; Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XIV.

[5] Graham 2004, 58-61.

[6] Stafleu 2015, chapter 13; 2018b, chapter 7.

[7] Vrieze 1977, 77-85; Dengerink 1986, 146-165; Strijbos 1988; de Jong 2007, chapter 6.

[8] Lechner 2000, 127-128.

[9] De Swaan 2001.

[10] Rutgers 2004, chapter 3.

[11] De Swaan 2001, 131-135 (section 6.2.1).

[12] Merton 1973, 267-278.

[13] Ziman 1984, 84-90; 2000, 33-46.

[14] Dooyeweerd NC II, 36-49.

[15] Israel 1995, 397-435 (chapter 16), 539-560 (chapter 21), 737-775 (chapter 27), 1151-1199 (chapters 38, 39).

[16] Fukuyama 2011, 262-267.

[17] Duby 1961-1962, 296-297.

[18] Hegel 1840, 52-69; White 1973, 108.

[19] Berlin 2006, 247.

[20] Berlin 2006, 124. See also ibid. xxviii-xxix.

[21] Toynbee 1972, 43.

[22] Karl Marx, cited by Bentley 1997, 451.

[23] Jevons 1871, 427.

[24] Castells 2000, 208.

[25] Goudzwaard 1976, 27.

[26] Baier 1991.

[27] Smith 1776, 167.

[28] Rawls 1971, 244-249.

[29] Hardt, Negri 2000, 244-249; Goudzwaard et al. 2007, chapter 8.

[30] Cartledge 1997, 25.

[31] Daalder 1990, 291-299; Hardt, Negri 2000.

[32] Hardt, Negri 2000, 167.

[33] Hobsbawm 1994, chapter 7.

[34] Hardt, Negri 2000, xi, xii.

[35] Goudzwaard et al. 2007, chapter 6.

[36] Universal declaration of human rights (UDHR, 1948), article 6.

[37] Popper 1945, 202.

[38] Böhler 2004.

[39] De Swaan 1988, 15 (introduction); Van Doorn 2009, chapter 17.

[40] De Swaan 1988, 18 (introduction).

[41] Israel 1995, 389-396 (chapter 15).

[42] De Swaan 1988, chapter 2.

[43] Van Caenegem 1995, 21-23.

[44] Van Doorn 2007, 184, 206-208, 212-217, chapter X.

[45] Landes 1998, 72-75 (chapter 4), 111-116 (chapter 6), chapter 22, 23.

[46] Fukuyama 2011, chapter 12.

[47] Safranski 2007, chapter 15-17.




3. Civil society


3.1. The generic character of any association


This chapter discusses a variety of free associations, assuming that these constitute what is called a ‘civil society’, in which citizens organize themselves in order to take responsibility for a well-functioning society, to pursue their own interests, to transfer their experience, and to share their values. For the understanding of this civil society, the distinction between organized and unorganized social connections turns out to be highly relevant (section 2.1).

An organized social group with leadership, in this treatise to be called an association, has a governing person or board with authority over the group. Herman Dooyeweerd calls this an organized community. An association is also known as a corporation, a company, or an institute. Such an association is the state, the guardian of the public domain. If a state does not tolerate other associations besides itself, one speaks of state absolutism. The recognition of free associations independent of the state is called pluralism.[1] Free associations have flowered especially since the twentieth century, but some kinds are much older. Because they also act as subjects in the public domain, this domain becomes ever more important (chapter 2).


Associations are subjects in all relation frames

Like individual persons, but in contrast to unorganized communities, associations act as subjects in all relation frames. An association has its own continuous identity, independent of the identity of its members. It maintains its identity at the leave of members from the association and the resignation of members of the board. It has its own character, it is actively subjected to normative principles and it is involved with their realization into norms.[2]

Like any individual an association has a name and address. A flag, logo, or ideogram, and a mission statement symbolise the association’s identity. It is important if its members can identify themselves with the association, socializing them. In a household any member should feel at home. As a metaphor this is also stated about other associations. Immigrants are supposed to do their utmost to struck root in their new country. This is no less true for new members of any other association.

It may be questioned whether associations are subjects in the natural relation frames as well as in the normative frames.[3] However, there are large and small associations (which can be counted), referring to the quantitative aspect; they often act on a restricted region, where they need to have an address (spatial), and from which they move occasionally (kinetic); they interact in various ways (physical); they grow (biotic) and behave well or badly (psychic). It is true that associations having no bodies cannot be measured or weighed, because as subjects associations are characteristically different from material bodies, acting in their own characteristic way. Therefore I shall assume that associations, like individual persons, act as subjects in all relation frames.


The increasing relevance of professionals

Usually, the authority in an association is restricted to members of the association (and to the objects possessed by the association) and within the association by the freedom and responsibility of the members of the association, especially if these are professionals. The growing number of professional specialists is a condition for the diversification of social groups. Quite often, associations are formed by professionals sharing a common goal. In a differentiated civil society, both associations and professionals qualified by one of the normative relation frames play a decisive part, as will be argued in due course.


Characters and character types of associations

Chapter 3 investigates the supposition that character types of associations, conceived of as sets of normative principles (and sometimes natural laws), are recognizable constant factors in human culture and civilization. In contrast, the norms determining the characters of concrete associations are formed in history, and are therefore culturally different.  

Each association appears to have a dual character. The specific character distinguishes diverse types of associations from each other, each specific type being primarily characterized (qualified) by one of the relation frames. The generic character is the same for all associations. Before investigating the specific character type of a number of associations, first the generic profile shared by all associations will be discussed.[4] Establishing an association as an organized whole, it accounts for the many organizational similarities of otherwise widely different corporations.

The governor or governing board has a restricted and temporal competence to act with authority within and on behalf of the association. Their authorization rests on the recognition by the members, on discipline.[5] The members of the board cannot long continue to act within the association if they fail to earn the respect of its members, for instance by neglecting to consult them. Moreover the members of an association ought to have respect for each other, expressed by mutual solidarity and a sense of communality, by connectedness. Otherwise the association would explode sooner or later. These are normative principles, which not every association satisfies. Sometimes an association only exists by the grace of the exertion or threat of violence. This may occur in a state, a criminal gang, or a terror group, and also in a marriage or a household.

Therefore the generic character of an association is primarily qualified by the political relation frame (because it has leadership) and secondarily founded in the frame of companionship (because it has members). For most associations the specific character is qualified by a different relation frame than the political one, for instance the character of the church by the frame of faith and the character of an enterprise by the economic frame. Only the character of the republic as the guardian of the public domain appears to be qualified both specifically and generically by the political relation frame.


Limited authority

The limited authority within an association is restricted by its generic and specific character, by the values and norms valid for the group. In the first place the authority is restricted to the association itself: in a free society, no association ought to rule over another one.[6] In a modern, plural society, the state does not rule over the church or the church over the state. Enterprises should be able to display themselves freely. Freedom of associating and assembling should be acknowledged. Second, in each association the authority ought to be limited by agreements and rules, by division of authority and members’ participation. Third, the bearers of authority ought to account for their acts. Fourth, it should be clear how bearers of authority are nominated, how long their term of office is, and how they transfer their office to someone else. In the course of history, these general rules have been developed in various ways, conform the association’s specific character and history.


Primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics of any association

It is quite common to interpret the authority in an association in a juridical sense. Yet it seems better to consider the authority as a political form, not characterized by justice but by policy, by competent decision making, directed to the realization of accepted goals, and on the prevention and solution of conflicts, the maintenance of peace within the association, with other associations, and with individuals the association connects with. The leadership in an association as policy determining, decision making, executing, and maintaining organ is generically characterized by the political frame, next by the relation frames characterizing the association’s specific character. The maintaining task of the authority means that it takes care that the members accept and execute the decisions taken. A leadership neglecting this task soon loses its authority.

Discipline means accepting of guidance and respecting those who are in command. It aims at the integration of the members into an adequately functioning social group. In some associations discipline is more obvious than in others, compare for instance a jail or a barracks with a hospital, a school, or an enterprise. However, leadership and discipline are both conditions for the existence of any organized association. Where leadership or discipline are lacking, the organized group gets lost. Therefore I propose to characterize the generic character of each association primarily by the political relation frame and secondarily by the frame of companionship, primarily by policy and secondarily by social integration.[7]

Democracy, accountability, or participation, roughly conceived as the leadership’s obligation to consult the association’s members and to account for its deeds, is not merely a norm for the state, but for every free association as well. It can have many forms, like direct democracy (in which all members of the association partake, for instance in a small enterprise, or in a referendum). More common is representative democracy based on elections or representation. In the first case the elected is usually not directly accountable to the voters.

The members of an association experience mutual solidarity, a sense of community.[8] This is expressed in mutual forms of social conduct, more specified by the characterizing relation frame of the association’s specific character. Solidarity in a labour group differs from the love between siblings in a nuclear family. In a church solidarity comes to the fore in a different way than in a football club. In a state solidarity is expressed in civic responsibility and patriotism. Many associations endeavour to promote solidarity, by means of facilities like a canteen, by organising events like communal festive or memorial days, or by publishing a magazine.

As a tertiary characteristic, an association may be interlaced with other associations. Many large associations are interlaced with an economically characterized organization,having a bureaucratic character of its own (section 3.8).


Historical development

The characters of associations are subject to historical development, in two ways. First, characters are sets of laws, to be realized at the subject-and-object side of reality in the course of time. Normative characters share this property with natural characters. Second, at the law side these characters consist of natural laws and normative principles, but also of norms, which may differ widely in various cultures and at different times. In order to delimit the latter diversity, philosophy is often forced to restrict its investigation to character types, which do not contain variable norms, but only presumed invariable values, besides natural laws.

The assumption of invariable character types does neither imply that states, churches, enterprises and hospitals (or of artefacts like art products and languages) have always existed, nor that they would not widely differ from each other, and change forever. In fact, the hypothesis of invariable character types allows us to compare these characters as they developed in the course of history.

The purpose of this chapter is to investigate some invariant character types for associations forming the civil society. Only these types are apt to be described in a general philosophical framework. The characters themselves develop in history dependent on culture and civilization. In this sense these are products of human activity. This means that within each given characterization an enormous variation of characters of associations is to be expected. Only if associations satisfy a common invariant profile, a character type, it will be possible to recognize them, to compare them and to write their history. It will become clear that the civil society has a long history and is by no means a recent phenomenon. It is still developing.

Like in chapter 2, we follow the order of the normative relation frames as reviewed in section 1.3. In any relation frame an asymmetric subject-subject relation expressing a kind of transfer of experience will be recognized as an engine of historical development of civil society.


3.2. Cooperated labour


The idea of a civil society implies that people organize themselves into associations in order to accept responsibility for their social life and to pursue their common interests. To start with, people take their responsibility by cooperating in their labour. Therefore this investigation starts with labour associations (not to be confused with trade unions), characterized by collectively performed labour, like in a farm, a factory or an office, and first of all in a household. (Besides associations which are specifically qualified by skilled labour, associations being specified otherwise often employ more or less skilled people in their service. Sometimes these are organized in an association of their own, in order to support each other and their common interests.)

Depending on the nature of the work, a labour association can be secondarily characterized by one or more natural relation frames. Besides quantitatively typified groups of collectors, hunters, or fishermen, one of the oldest labour associations seems to be the household, consisting of all living together in a home. A household is by definition coupled to a house or some other building, meaning that it is secondarily spatially characterized. Schools have a caretaker. Large offices, factories, and hospitals have a domestic service department. The nucleus of a common household is a nuclear family, which character is, however, not determined by the technical frame, but primarily by the relation frame of loving care, and secondarily by natural biotic kinship. A household is a real labour association in which all members should have their own task, in which they cooperate, and which is a centre for the transfer of technical skills from one generation to the next. The traditional view that unpaid domestic work is not labour testifies to an overestimation of the economic relation frame and of working in a large organization in which one can make a career. Moreover, it is contradicted by the possibility to let others do domestic work, e.g. a charwoman, servant, housekeeper, or butler (whether or not resident) taking part in the household without being a member of the family. In their household, children learn to work, to deal with instruments. They become familiar with the environment, having nowadays largely an artificial character. In their household the parents share the authority, but with respect to the domestic work, traditionally the housewife plays an executive role. Children learn discipline, to accept (and sometimes to exert) leadership. If the head of the household is the same as that of the family, the corresponding characters are interlaced in a natural way. The character of the household of a monastery or a student dormitory is not interlaced with that of a family.

Long ago, the extended family and the tribe formed the basis of all working groups, in hunting, cattle-breeding, agriculture, commerce, and early industry. Society was considered to consist of the set of households. Even in the nineteenth century, Abraham Kuyper proposed to restrict the suffrage for the election of the parliament to heads of households. In a little differentiated society, a labour association often coincided with a household, like in family enterprises. The differences between Western societies and those of Africa or Asia still rest on the amount of interlacement of family and work.[9]



Originally a farm was a labour association having the character of a household, interlaced with a nuclear family. In that case the character of a farm is primarily characterized by technical relations, and secondarily by biotic ones, providing the basic needs of life for the household. In a more differentiated society an agricultural enterprise produces for the market and is characterized by the economic relation frame. As a labour association an agricultural enterprise is biotically typified and a cattle farm psychically. As an enterprise it is economically characterized, interlaced with one or more labour associations.


From handicrafts to enterprises

Other working groups, too, had in the past the character of a household. This applies in particular to the handicrafts, which already implied a differentiation of labour. Usually children got a place in the labour association. Labourers from outside became members of the household and were treated as members of the family. For a long time, the household served as a model for any labour association, from a monastery to a royal court.

In a differentiated society, labour associations depart from households by developing into associations between an employer and one or more employees, in principle having no other relation but that of the labour association. In particular this is not necessarily based on a family or tribe. This process has clearly an economic character, being motivated by the differentiation of labour. These associations are often interlaced with other labour associations or with associations characterized by a succeeding relation frame. Such interlacements are recognizable by looking at relations of authority. The more technical acts are interlaced with each other or with other activities, the more labour needs organization and leadership. Historically, this is accompanied by a shift from individual handicraft to organized and industrial production. Handicraft is directed to an individual product. Even if the makers use previously shaped materials and tools, they command the process from the beginning to the end. They have a direct relation with the user, customer, or buyer. Technology not based on handicraft is organized production with division of labour and mass production, often accompanied by scientific research. One can distinguish between the technical nature of labour, secondarily characterized by one of the natural relation frames, and its technical or non-technical purpose. For instance, dependent on the kind of exerted acts and the produced artefacts, a labour association may have an economic purpose (a factory); an aesthetic one (an orchestra); a semiotic, information aim (a daily paper); or an internal technical one (as part of a larger labour association). An enterprise that primarily produces for the market (not directly for a client), is economically characterized. With the character of an enterprise the characters of one or more labour associations are interlaced. These are still characterized by labour, but have an economic purpose.


Labour as part of the production process

After the tie with the household got lost, employers treated their employees on large estates and in factories often as parts of the production process, as was earlier the case with slaves. Workers did not earn more than the costs of their living sustenance. Well into the twentieth century these were considered as costs of labour, the costs to maintain the labour force. Women and children of labourers had to work too. Labourers could be replaced by animals or machines if these were cheaper. The scientific formulation of all this was given by Frederic Winslow Taylor (1911) with the introduction of the assembly line, in which the workers functioned as parts of a large machine.[10] Because of the professionalization of labour, gradually the insight broke through that labourers are co-workers, deserving to earn more than what is necessary for the sustenance of their lives, or rather their productivity.

Simultaneously one started to understand that labour which can be performed by animals or machines is not really fit for human life. In the twentieth century such kind of labour became more and more automated. Since the Middle Ages, labourers opposed replacement of people by animals or machines, for fear of losing their jobs and their income. At short notice, this happened often enough, but on the average, the introduction of machines increased the production. Not only the profits of the entrepreneurs had advanced, but in the long run the general prosperity as well, leading to new employment at a higher human level. This higher level means that labourers in their work realise an important amount of freedom and responsibility. It requires a labour organization different from the assembly line.



Both the increasing relevance of associations and the specialization of human labour implied a growing professionalization of the labour force, based on specialist schooling. Transfer of technical skills, like making and using technical artefacts, finds a natural place in each labour association, but for this purpose ever more specialized schools are serving. As an association, a school or university is a labour group of teachers and other employees, directed by a master or governing board. In class, teachers have authority over their pupils. To the disciplinary relations between the board and the teachers other norms apply than to those between teachers and their pupils. The character of a school, its constitutive law, is its curriculum, an organized plan for teaching and learning. Having a curriculum distinguishes a school from all other kinds of associations, and different curriculums define different types of schools. The curriculum does not always indicate what is actually taught in the school, which, in fact, often deviates from the curriculum. Rather, the curriculum stipulates what ought to be taught and learned, leaving a more or less large margin of freedom and responsibility for all parties involved. It is a set of values and norms. Teachers should be familiar with the curriculum and command its contents. They should be trained in exerting the curriculum, with respect to both its contents and the required pedagogic and didactic skills. This leads to the formulation of quality norms for public education, according to rules set by the government, whenever the school is in need of public recognition and funding.


3.3. Playing together


Artists are historically important aesthetic subjects for the transfer of aesthetic experience in a civil society. In the twentieth century they experience competition of sport and entertainment. Historically seen, the professionalization and specialization of artists is a relatively recent phenomenon of economic differentiation, displaying several mutually connected aspects. First, the distinction between a craftsman and an artist corresponds to the mutual irreducibility of the technical and the aesthetic relation frame. Next one recognizes the difference between, for instance, a painter and a musician, corresponding to various aesthetic character types. Third, the emancipation from moral and other restrictions illustrate the irreducibility of the aesthetic relation frame to the succeeding frames. Finally, there is the emancipation of the public. All this reflects the gradual development of aesthetic relations in Western culture as part of the increasing differentiation of modern society.

The Middle Ages made no distinction between a craftsman and an artist, between a stone-mason and a sculptor.[11] Many-sided artists were involved in the decoration of a city, a church, or a monastery. Michelangelo Buonarotti was a sculptor as well as a painter and an architect. The distinction between an artist and a craftsman emerged in the sixteenth century, when artists took distance from the guilds, uniting in academies, in which artistic norms prevailed. Whereas the guilds were often organized as productive institutes in cities, the academies were usually connected (if not subjected) to princes, usurping power during the Renaissance.[12] These academies distinguished between craft and art, they provided the artists with their identity, but not their freedom. Artists were bound to the academies as much as their medieval predecessors to the guilds. Both depended on whoever commissioned them or favoured them. Free artists manifested themselves only later, after the emergence of the trade of art, when also the artists started to become specialists.

Until the eighteenth century, to enjoy art was a privilege of an elite. The Victorian nineteenth century considered entertainment as inferior, something to be avoided or at most tolerated, to be surrounded by many kinds of moral admonitions. This is no less true for socialists and liberals than for Christians ‘avoiding the world’.[13] By creating a contrast between seriousness and diversion the nineteenth century rejected amusement as vulgar.

However, also in that century emancipation movements occurred, having the democratization of art and entertainment as their goal. As a form of organization they often adopted a free association. Many clubs and societies started to deal with the active exertion of art or sport. Besides, schooling in art and sport became a fixed part of the curriculum of many types of schools. Since the twentieth century, mass communication became an enormous incentive, just like the possibility to multiply inexpensive texts (pocket books), pictures, and music.

This did not always concern the promotion of the aesthetic experience. Especially in the nineteenth century, it was often coupled to utilitarian, moralist, or nationalist considerations. Drawing was propagated because of its significance for the handicrafts and the industry. Musical education had to serve the national cause, or the Christian cults. Conservative Protestants, Roman-Catholics, socialists and Muslims have long but in vain tried to blockade the emancipation of art and entertainment. Especially the night life and the mixing of the sexes in sport and dance met with distrust. Together with the emancipation of various parts of the population these objections disappeared entirely or mostly. Sport, entertainment, and art are now less the privilege of an elite. It is striking that during the second half of the twentieth century the youth culture has emancipated, in particular in the age group of twelve to twenty. Before, adults determined what was good for the youth, often without inquiring after their opinion. Since about 1960 young people decide for themselves which music they prefer and play. Usually this is not classical music, folk songs, or fanfare, but rock, beat, and other pop music.[14]

As a consequence of the youth’s emancipation the ideological load of the artistic and sportive education is disappearing. In the nineteenth and twentieth century this was determined by alternating views on art and entertainment, successively aiming at the religious, moral, national, political, or social elevation of the youth and the common people.[15] With the emancipation the insight breaks through that art and play are activities with their own intrinsic value, not requiring justification or control from outside. This underlines the irreducibility of the aesthetic relation frame, of the aesthetic experience as a condition for human existence.

Associations which specific character is primarily aesthetically characterized are found both in team sports and in the performing arts, for instance a soccer team, an orchestra, or a dance group. Such an association acts as an aesthetically characterized subject in all relation frames, like individuals acting as a historically acting person. There is a clear division of tasks between the players, sustained by the accompaniment and the technical staff. Playing together requires guidance by a conductor, director, or coach, as well as discipline of the players.

A soccer team acts like an aesthetically characterized subject. As a team it partakes in a league, it wins or loses a match. The team has an internal division of tasks (e.g., keeper or left back), leadership (the captain or the coach) and internal discipline. The team does not have a fixed composition, but it has its own identity.

In contrast, a soccer club is not an aesthetically typified subject, for it does not partake in matches or leagues. The club facilitates players, fans, trainers, technical staff, and sponsors to keep each other’s company. Many people are member of a sports club (or of a musical or theatrical company) first of all to enjoy company. As a consequence, the relation frame of companionship characterizes the specific character of a sports club by customs, interests, and rules of social conduct. The identity of a soccer club differs from the identity of the soccer team. This means that the specific character of a soccer team having an aesthetic type is interlaced with the specific character of the soccer club, being an association primarily characterized by the relation frame of keeping company.

Teams and clubs are subjected to different norms, having divergent specific characters. Often, a club has several teams, playing in separate divisions. Neither the leadership nor the membership of a soccer club needs to consist of soccer players and the internal division of tasks in a club has little to do with soccer playing. Besides soccer the club may organize other sports or display non-sportive activities. The club is not subject to the rules of play of soccer, as is the team. One of the tasks of the club may be to compose the teams, but the club should not determine how the game would be played. The competing teams should do that themselves.

A comparable analysis can be made of the distinct characters of a musical company and the orchestra; a theatre company and the cast of a performance; or a dance company and the performing group. In any case one has to distinguish associations qualified by the aesthetic relation frame, from associations which are primarily characterized by the social (or even the economic) frame, assuming a tertiary aesthetic purpose.


3.4. Speakers, writers, and media


For the civil society, freedom of expression of one’s views is an indispensable component. In the course of history, besides libraries and bookshops typically semiotic associations emerged, like printers, publishers and editors of books, papers, periodicals, and other informative media. Sometimes these are interlaced with public broadcasting, which is not merely concerned with spoken language, but also with plastic arts or music. Semiotic associations often consist of or rely on professional authors, journalists, etc.

Enterprises maintaining communicative networks (like the telephone), have an objective function in the semiotic relation frame. They do not communicate information themselves, but facilitate it. Also associations which do not have a semiotic character communicate with each other and with individuals.

An important engine of dynamic development is the human ability to remember, to communicate, and to make sense of all kinds of things and events. People transfer these to each other in the form of information, the significant form of human knowledge.[16] Language is the most important instrument for the transfer of semiotic experience, of meaning carrying information. When the transfer is one-sided, as is usually the case in history, one speaks of tradition, otherwise it is communication. The semiotic normative principle for both is the value of mutual understanding. Communication of significant information characterizes more or less synchronous semiotic subject-subject relations, provided that all parties involved are willing and able to understand each other. Interpretation and elucidation characterize semiotic subject-object relations.[17] When a sign or symbol cannot be interpreted clearly it loses its semiotic meaning of transfer of information. Who deliberately gives unclear signs or a wrong interpretation uses language deceitful.  Only by responding to the norm of clarity people can understand each other and the world.

A norm for meaningful use of language is that people speak the truth. When someone says ‘it rains’, this has only meaning if it is assumed that they intend to affirm that it rains.[18] Even lying is only possible in a context in which speaking the truth is the norm.[19] The meaning of the use of language is that people give significance to and speak the truth about the world, about their fellow people, about themselves and about the God whom they proclaim.

But if language is an instrument for finding and communicating the truth, what about poems and novels, with their fictive characters and events? Even these lingual utterances ought to speak the truth, but because it concerns lingual forms which are secondarily aesthetically characterized, their truth comes to the fore in the image they evoke. Like any piece of art, a novel or a poem ought to be veritable. This aesthetic truth is not reducible to semiotic, logical, or ideological truth.


3.5. Research institutes


All people argue, and argued insight is a condition for the existence of any civil society. Of old, lawyers are the masters of rhetoric, with the clergy as the second best. Yet more than other logical subjects, in particular scientists and scholars strongly influenced Western culture. In a logical argumentation besides people also human associations can be subjects. The board of an association will, if right, substantiate its decisions on a solid argumentation. In this sense each association is a logical subject.

Transfer of knowledge takes place in households and in schools, and the preservation of knowledge in libraries and other data storages. Special institutes with the purpose of achieving collective scientific knowledge are relatively recent. Until the seventeenth century, scientific research was not organized, but was exerted like a craft by usually isolated individuals. Only during and after the Renaissance learned societies or academies arose having no other purpose than to perform science. Sometimes they instituted observatories or laboratories, usually connected to universities, enterprises, or hospitals. Since the twentieth century, independent enterprises do contract research. Research is by no means always purely scientific, if we understand thereby the investigation of the lawfulness of nature and society. Many institutes are directed to the collection of data (e.g., for the benefit of hospitals or for forensic research), or for the development of new technologies. This is called applied research. The members of the board of such an institute and its co-workers are partly scientists, but the supporting staff plays an increasing professional part.

Because scientists specialise, more and more scientific societies arise, with the purpose to organize congresses, to publish scientific results, and to award many kinds of prizes and medals. By means of peer-reviews, the editors of scientific periodicals pass a judgment of scientific work. Within a scientific institute superiors, seniors, or colleagues judge the work of students and of junior or senior co-workers.


3.6. Profile of an organized faith congregation


Besides free associations there are social groups within a civil society which membership is not entirely voluntary. Sometimes these are called exclusively ‘institutional communities’.[20] Into the nuclear or extended family or the state a child is born, and in principle or in practice this also applies to a faith community. In a little differentiated society faith is unbreakably connected to the family, the band, the tribe, or the state. In most churches this is still expressed in infant baptism, in other faith communities by the circumcision of boys. With or without such rituals most people belong unasked for to a faith community from their birth. However, not every child is admitted to an organized faith community, though consciously or unconsciously parents educate their children according to their own convictions. If parents leave their children free in their choice of faith, this rests on the conviction that this ought to be done so, if it is not a matter of negligence.

Organized faith communities constitute important components of civil society. Christianity, Jewry, and Islam are not associations, but unorganized communities with a network structure. The originally Christian word ‘church’ (Greek: kuriakè, of the Lord) indicates an organized congregation, an association with members and a board. It may be a synagogue or a mosque, as well as a congregation, parish, or diocese, national or international churches, like the Catholic Church. A monastery or religious order, too, is an organized faith community.

Like any other association, a local, national, or international church has a dual character. Its generic character is primarily politically characterized by authority and discipline and secondarily by the relation frame of keeping company. In this respect a church does not differ much from other associations. Almost all Christian churches base their official authority in the apostolic succession, the ordination of an office holder by one or more others, in the inverse course of history going back to the apostles being the first office keepers. Local congregations are united into a regional, national, or worldwide connection. In Calvinian churches, one office bearer is not above another one, the church council being the head of the congregation. Other churches have an episcopal system, with an office hierarchy. The superstructure exerts authority over the congregations, coordinating many practical affairs, like the schooling of officials. In the Protestant churches an increasing congregationalism is observable. People consider themselves first of all members of the local parish, having little interest in the denomination and not caring very much about the central authority.

The specific character of a church, distinguishing it from other kinds of associations, is primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith, by the transfer of experience of faith. This character is secondarily an aesthetic kind of worship (cult), the common celebration of the shared faith. When the church becomes less dogmatic, stressing its doctrines lesser, its liturgy as prescription for worship comes more to the fore. In Catholic churches, the pastor is a priest, with the most important task to celebrate the mass, conceived as a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice. In a Protestant church service, the ministry of the word is central and the pastor is called a minister. Rabbis and imams, too, are not priests but ministers of the word. However, the preaching of the word is part of the celebration, including prayer, singing, collects, and sacraments, such that these associations, too, should be considered to have an aesthetic secondary type rather than a semiotic one.

A church’s common content of faith is usually laid down in a confession, a series of faith statements or dogma’s, determining the church’s specific character, its denomination. It indicates what the faithful ought to believe. All faith communities distinguish the true doctrine from false ones. They would not be trustworthy if they would not hold their own faith to be true. That does not take away that people may recognize organized and unorganized communities starting from different doctrines in their own right, if only because one should be aware of one’s own fallibility. Moreover many people are convinced that ecclesiastical dogmas are in part historically determined.

According to most Protestants a church cannot be identified with the Christian religion, with the relation to God, for then it would not be a human association. The intersubjective relation celebrated by a church concerns the shared beliefs about the relation to God and about the ways religion is expressed in the faith community and in dayly life. For this reason, there are so many different denominations and differences within churches, each specifying their religion into a faith, consisting of various views which are by no means all formally laid down in a confession or a church law.

Many believers experience the dissension of and within the churches as a deficiency, as a consequence of sin. Nevertheless, the diversity is also an expression of the liberty of conscience and the responsibility of all people for their convictions and the ways to celebrate these. The problem of dissension arises from the identification of one’s own faith community with the true church or the kingdom of heavens. In contrast to the official Catholic view until the middle of the twentieth century, Protestants believe that the assembly of all believers is not a temporal association with an internal authority. They consider the body of Christ, the assembly of all believers, not as a temporal association with an internal authority installed and maintained by men, but as a purely religious community, in which Christ himself assembles his disciples and acknowledging no other authority than God’s.

Religion or world view as the concentration point of human activity in all relation frames is not restricted to the frame of faith. Of course, faith and religion have much in common. Inter alia, religion concerns the final certainty which a person trusts unconditionally, his ultimate faith. However, a world view is more than trust alone. Protestants believe that all of ordinary life is drenched with religion, which cannot be confined to any church. Like John Calvin and Immanuel Kant,[21] Abraham Kuyper distinguished the visible church as a temporal ecclesiastical institute, an association organized by human beings, from the invisible church as a religious community of all believers, the body of Christ. Kuyper reproached the Roman-Catholic Church for identifying its own visible church with the invisible one, not recognizing other churches. Until the twentieth century, the identification of the body of Christ with one’s own temporal organized faith community, conceived as the only true church, has led to charges of heresy and persecution because of faith. The ecumenical movement in the second half of that century led many churches to the mutual recognition of each other’s celebration of word and sacrament, of being a church, and of the offices in the transfer of faith. Since the second Vatican council also the Roman-Catholic Church recognizes each organized Christian faith community to be an expression of the body of Christ, celebrating community in the service of word and sacrament.


3.7. Clubs and interest groups


A place to eat or drink, a restaurant, pub, or club, is often more intended to keep company than to take food. Many institutes have a representative meeting place. A sports club has a bar. A church building has a cultic purpose, but it also has a social function. Churches and institutes of care exploit youth hostels and clubs for elder people. In all these places different customs prevail and those present should adapt to its social sphere.

Associations characterized by the relation frame of keeping company are first of all social clubs, like societies for students, the youth at large or elder people. A football club or a theatre company is typified by the frame of keeping company, having an aesthetic focus (section 3.3).

Besides clubs, the relation frame of keeping company characterizes organized interest groups like trade unions, even if these usually find their destiny elsewhere, for instance in the economic or political frame. Its members entrust the promotion of their interests to the association. Clubs and interest groups play an important part in the emancipation of minority groups into the civil society.


3.8. Entrepreneurs, enterprises,

and organizations


Sometimes ‘civil society’ is understood as the ‘third sector’ of society, including the family and the private sphere, but distinct from government and business. In contrast, the present treatise considers enterprises to be important components of any civil society. Producers, consumers, traders, and entrepreneurs act as economical subjects, both individually and in groups. Households are nowadays mainly considered as consumption units, but as a labour group a household functioned till the end of the nineteenth century as an economic model, not only for an enterprise but for the state as well. A small company was conducted like a household, a large one (like the Dutch United East-Indian Company) as a state.[22] Nevertheless, already long before the Renaissance economic enterprises existed, directed to taking risks and making profits or losses. Production in enterprises in which capital and labour are separated, is more modern. An enterprise is an association, directed by an entrepreneur instead of a head of family. It is secondarily typified by organized and differentiated labour. Gradually, enterprises have become the most important actors in the transfer of goods and services, with the market as a public place of trade (section 2.8).

The primarily economic character of an enterprise is interlaced with that of one or more labour groups like a factory. The entrepreneur disposes of the means of production, possessed by the enterprise. These are distinguished into invested capital (buildings, machines, transport means, stock) and the labour potential. The latter includes both the actually present labour force and skills and the potential employment offered by the enterprise. The ratio of capital and labour may vary strongly, from a more or less completely automated capital intensive enterprise to a labour intensive enterprise like an accountants firm. Especially in small enterprises the entrepreneur is often the co-owner of the capital as well as one of the co-workers. In large enterprises these functions are separated. The director of the enterprise is responsible to the suppliers of capital (for instance, shareholders) and to the employees. In practice, the influence of both is limited, the entrepreneur being in command. Entrepreneurs are responsible for the quality of their products and the production process. Responsible enterprise is more than making profit. It implies to create a good working climate, to maintain a reliable relation with suppliers and clients, and to prevent forged competition and pollution of the environment.[23]

In an undifferentiated labour group, the workers possess the means of production: tools, raw materials, intermediary and end products. In a modern enterprise, labourers are employees and the means of production are possessed by the enterprise, as property or hired. Both the invested capital and the labour potential have an economic value. As a consequence, it is possible to sell an enterprise. Usually the employees will stay with the enterprise, including the directors, although reorganization may follow the sale. Without a profit, an enterprise cannot exist for long, but making profit should not be the most important aim of an enterprise. That is to be of economic service to shareholders and to employees, as well as to suppliers and clients.

An entrepreneur as an economic subject considers all means of production to be economic objects. Labour too forms a kind of cost. Yet in an enterprise each co-worker as an employee is an economic subject placing their labour at the disposal of the enterprise, as well as being a technical subject as a labourer. A well functioning modern enterprise recognizes its employees as co-workers, as subjects, not as objects, as wage-slaves. Like other nineteenth-century economists, Karl Marx assumed that the value of a product is determined by the cost of labour needed to produce it on the average.[24] However, labourers do not get paid for their labour, but for their labour potential. According to Marx this is the value of the goods that workers need to provide for their family and to reproduce. The labourers get paid less than the value of the goods they produce. Fear for unemployment and starvation forces the labourers to work a few hours a day more than would be needed for their livelihood. Marx calls the difference the surplus value of labour, i.e., the source of all incomes not derived from labour, constituting the heart of capitalism. Marx confirmed the view that entrepreneurs are exploiters, because they pay for labour less than it is worth. As a dialectical thinker, Karl Marx opposed the labourers, conceived as the possessors of labour force, to the owners of money or goods.[25] He did not recognize an enterprise to be a cooperation in which all parties make a profit, but he considered it the place of a continuous struggle between capital and labour, in which capitalists are parasites at the cost of workers. In a civil society, however, both labourers and suppliers of capital put their possession together at the disposal of the entrepreneur, organizing both into a profit making venture, in which all participants bear their own responsibility.



Each association has a specific internal differentiation, a division of tasks and authority. This is the organization or bureaucracy of the association.[26] An organization requires rules and an administration, if only a list of the members and a cashbook. In large associations, in particular the state, the organization or administration has received a relative independence from the government, which was recognized only in the nineteenth century as the ‘fourth power’,[27] if this term is not reserved for the free press. The relative independence of the organization from the enterprise itself is illustrated by the fact that occasionally the organization is sourced out.

It has a character of its own, interlaced with but usually to be distinguished from the dual character of the association itself. Because the division of labour is economical, the primarily politically characterized organization is secondarily typified as a projection on the economic relation frame. Sometimes the members of the organization are not members of the association, but employees. Therefore, in an enterprise the organization cannot always be distinguished from the association itself. The organization of an association maintains economically typified relations with clients and suppliers. These relations are not based on authority but on contracts. The larger an association, the more important its organization. Sometimes the organization gets so much attention that an association which is in fact primarily not economically characterized is conducted like an enterprise. However, when a hospital starts behaving like an enterprise, it risks the danger that the patients are treated like clients whose health is subordinated to the profit they generate.

Within an organization a social order exists, influencing the social intercourse. Even the simplest association has an internal division of tasks and regulations of authority. Often these lead to the formation of departments within the association or the organization. If an organization acts according to strict lines from above to below (top-down), one speaks of a centralized or vertical hierarchy, in which higher instances delegate authority to lower ones. If the authority of the departments is emphasized, the leadership having a mandate, the organization is decentralized, horizontal, or flat, having a network structure. In the case of delegation a higher instance may revoke each decision of a lower one, in the case of a mandate this is not generally possible. Then only the mandate can be withdrawn entirely or a great deal. The departments have a limited freedom and responsibility. They are obliged to account for their labour after the fact. The network structure confirms the increasing professionalism of highly schooled co-workers and their own responsibility. Therefore horizontal organizations appear to have more future in civil society than hierarchical vertical structures.


3.9. Free political associations


The political profile of the state will be discussed separately in chapter 4. Within the context of an investigation of free associations independent of the state political parties should be mentioned as a relevant part of civil society, if they are not absorbed by the state, as is the case in communist countries.

Freedom of faith is not restricted to Christian belief, for it includes each conviction, each ideology. It implies political freedom as well, the freedom to propagate political convictions in the public domain. Interest and action groups usually restrict themselves to a part of the public domain. In contrast, a political party is concerned with the public domain as a whole, and with the internal organization of its guardian, the republic. A political party is an association primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith, but it is not secondarily typified by worship. Therefore it is not a church. Sometimes a political party is based on state power, sometimes it is an interest group, but it ought to be free from the state and to serve general interest, according to its ideology. Its primarily ideological character is secondarily based in an argued program of principles, a political manifesto and an action program.[28]

A political party is exclusively directed to the public domain including the republic that administers the public domain. The character of a political party is typically interlaced with that of the state, in a way that no longer exists for the church since the separation of church and state. The political ideology implies first of all an argued view of the state and public government. Nevertheless the similarities between faith communities and political parties are striking. For some people their party is a substitute for the church, for others a place where people from separated churches can meet each other. The members of a political party trust each other more than they trust members of a different party.


3.10. Courts of justice


In any society, courts of justice are concerned with juridical aspects of many kinds of human activity. Their independence from state government means that courts of justice are not necessarily organs of the state. In private law, the state is usually not even an interested party. In the public domain, the state sometimes acts as an organ of justice, in particular with respect to criminal acts. The office of public justice, being an organ of the state and a specific juridical subject, brings criminals to court and executes the judgments of courts. However, even in the public domain, the state does not only act in a juridical sense.

In a civilized country, a court of justice (or a system of such courts) forms an association with a dual character. Its generic character is like that of any association qualified by the political relation frame, for higher courts have authority over lower courts, which assert discipline by adhering to the rulings of the higher courts. Its generic character is founded in the frame of social intercourse. Its members are judges, adhering to many typical customs. Its specific character is qualified by the juridical relation frame. The character of the courts of justice is interlaced with that of the office of public justice, and of associations of lawyers.


3.11. Institutes of care


In 2006 in Germany a 4600 year old grave was found with skeletons of a man and a woman with their two children, as established by a DNA test. The four were killed by violent means and were buried in a loving position. Dating from the Stone Age, it appears to be the oldest known nuclear family. Nuclear families and their households having the character of associations form the building bricks of civil society.



In a Western society, someone engaging in a marriage leaves the parental home, usually with the intention to start a family. Marriage has the disposition to grow into a nuclear family. In other cultures married persons remain part of a larger family or tribe. In some cultures polygamy or polyandry occurs, but in Western culture monogamy is the norm. In Western society the family – apart from the nuclear family – has especially the character of keeping company. This agrees with the fact that family members, in particular grandmothers, often take an important part in the education of children. In case of the death of one or both parents often a family member replaces them in their educational tasks. Although unorganized, also in the West extended family connections remain important.

If there is one Biblical refutation of the humanist project of the autonomous person, it is marriage: ‘So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’[29]

Marriage is not an association as defined above, but a unique bisociation, naturally founded in the sexual relation, in the psychic relation frame. Assuming that marriage is intended to form the basis of a nuclear family, Herman Dooyeweerd believed that marriage is a kind of association, founded in the biotic aspect. I do not share this view, first because unlike a nuclear family a marriage lacks the properties of an association; and second because it also functions if it does not lead to the formation of a family. I shall only discuss the kind of marriage between a wife and husband, though in many respects my analysis also applies to ‘same-sex marriages’.

Culturally, marriage is secondarily characterized by mutual trust, hence by the relation frame of faith. It is not surprising that marriage between members of different faith communities encounter resistance and are rare. Loving care forms the strongest connection in any marriage (or cohabitation) of two individuals who have pledged each other their troth until death separates them.[30] Marriage is the most common, the most important, the surest, and simultaneously the most vulnerable relation two people may start. Since the Reformation, Protestants have emphasized that in marriage ordinary life is shown to full advantage.[31] The vulnerability of marriage is evident from the large number of divorces as well as many cases of humiliation, ill treatment, violence, and rape in wedlock.[32] Because of its vulnerability, when a marriage goes wrong it is advisable to call in a third party, not to decide whether the marriage should be dissolved, but to determine the conditions for divorce, in order to protect the most vulnerable partner and eventually the children. In a constitutional state, the third party is a competent judge, lawyer, or mediator. It appears that divorce (after the norm of love is no longer operative) is subject to justice, whereas marriage is not. Therefore in Western countries, the law and judges only pay attention to the juridical aspects of marriage (rights and duties), without touching its being characterized by the relation frame of loving care.[33]


Sex and gender

The norm for marital troth excludes adultery, promiscuity, carelessness, and neglect. Meanwhile it is clear that psychically typified sex (what people have in common with animals) should be distinguished from gender, the culturally developed human form of sexual differences. The distinction between men and women, which is not merely natural, is determined especially by culture and civilization.[34] This means that both partners are incomplete and need the other as a supplement. Marriage is more than its sexual foundation, more than a sexual relation. It is a community in which husband and spouse share their lives in the most intensive way imaginable. It remains even if a sexual relation is no more at stake.

In a socially primitive situation the relations of authority between husband and wife rests on physical force, meaning that usually the husband as protector of the family prevails. The naturalistic view that the husband should be the head of the family finds no official support in Western culture, but is still widespread. For the male primacy, Jews, Christians, and Muslims often invoke the Tenach, the New Testament, or the Koran, books concerned with agricultural common life of 3000, 2000, or 1200 years ago, in a culture in which the task of the husband included the protection of his family against violent attacks. Yet views of male supremacy are derived more from Greek philosophy and Roman law than from the Bible.[35] However, Christianity and humanism pretend to bring freedom, also of naturalistic prejudices. In a differentiated family situation, in which husband and wife cooperate with each other and their children in many different ways, authority is divided.


The nuclear family

As a character type, the natural nuclear family is primarily characterized by the relation frame of care and secondarily by biotic descent.[36] However, by adoption or otherwise a child can also be placed in a foster family. Like a natural nuclear family, a foster family as well as an orphanage or a boarding-school is primarily characterized by the normative relation frame of care, but secondarily by the frame of keeping company, by education. Apparently, a natural nuclear family has both a natural and a normative secondary character.

It seems obvious that children are vulnerable and in need of the loving care of their parents, but it is a norm violated in many ways during history.[37] Children have been sacrificed, exposed, neglected, maltreated, enslaved, raped, and murdered. In many cultures children have no rights and their parents can dispose of them arbitrarily, as if parents were the owners of their children, possessing them. Although each culture appeals to parents to educate them well, only since the seventeenth century the nuclear family is in the West more important than the extended family, because of the differentiation of society.[38]

The most important function of the nuclear family is the mutual care of all its members, not only the children. Therefore, the nuclear family is primarily characterized by the norm of careful love. This concerns providing food, clothing and protection, education and schooling, for which the parents are responsible until the children come of age, when they can bear the responsibility themselves. It is already a part of education to make children increasingly co-responsible for the mutual care in the household.

Often a nuclear family forms the nucleus of a household in their home, in which each member has their own position and tasks. The home (also for singles) is the starting point for all labour and a daily resting place after ending this. It is the place where the nuclear family celebrates its coherence, in the daily meals, in reading books to each other, in playing, and in viewing television together. Family members tell each other their experiences and share their concerns. They consult each other and argue, sometimes leading to quarrels, but more often ending in agreement.


The extended family

Even if the children become adults and leave the parental home, the family relation remains as a special friendship relation, in which the parents feel responsible for their children. Increasingly the reverse occurs, the children taking care of their parents. Although the family connection ends when the children leave the parental home, the family relation remains as a special form of friendship. Its nature and intensity are historically and culturally determined. The family relation extends by the loving acceptance of daughters and sons in law and of grandchildren.


Collective care

In a more or less undifferentiated society, collective or social care rests with the family, later becoming a sideline of the church, the guilds, or the state. In a modern society, collective care is organized into free associations that are qualified by the relation frame of care itself. These associations take up a growing part of common means. This has led to the view that social care is the task of the republic, sometimes called the ‘welfare state’. Another view grants the social responsibility to free associations, supervised by the state as far as they act in the public domain.

Three character types of associations may be distinguished which as active subjects of care in civil society become increasingly important: practices, institutions, and insurance.



The practice of a general practitioner, a dentist, a physiotherapist, or a psychotherapist, appears to be primarily characterized by the relation frame of care and secondarily by the technical one. Although single practicing doctors still exist, a practice is increasingly a labour unit, in which several doctors with their assistants cooperate. It may be interlaced with an institute like a hospital, if its co-workers are not employed by the hospital, but practice their job there partly or entirely.



A developing civil society knows numerous charitable associations for the care of the fellow men. Originally these had the character of a household, providing a shelter to homeless people. Hospitals, maternity hospitals, almshouses, orphanages, old people’s homes, and psychiatric clinics are known in Western society since centuries, but their importance has increased enormously since the twentieth century. Besides, society has to care for prisoners, unemployed people, unmarried mothers, foreigners, and asylum seekers.

Suchlike associations are primarily characterized by loving care and secondarily by the relation frame of keeping company. Often they are interlaced with a faith community like the Salvation Army; with a club typified by the relation frame of keeping company; with an economically characterized company; or with a training institute, like a university hospital.  In some cases an institute of care belongs to the state. There may be valid arguments for these kinds of interlacements, but in general one had better stick to the Protestant principle of internal authority, emphasizing the associations’ mutual independence.



Quite a few people believe that altruism (disinterested care) is characteristic for care, distinguishing people from animals. Evolutionists (in particular sociobiologists) have done their best to show that altruism occurs in the animal world as well and can be explained by the current evolution theory. However, care based on mutual interest occurs more often and is more efficient. A system wherein people are insured of care should be preferred above a system in which the poor depend on the rich for charity. Insurance is preferable above charity. People insure themselves for personal interest, in case of fire, burglary, or an accident. As long as these events do not occur to us, we share anonymously in the misfortune of others.

When people insure themselves mutually they achieve a right on care if they need it. The exertion of care they leave to experts and specialized institutions. Insurance pays for care, and is therefore secondarily characterized by the economic relation frame. Insuring is a projection of the relation frame of care on the economical one and has right of care as a juridical consequence. Often insurance is part of a collective labour agreement. Many countries have compulsory collective insurance, in which all citizens take part. Even these insurance can very well be implied by social organizations licensed by the state. Especially in European civil societies, the twentieth-century development of a public system of ‘social’ (i.e. collective) insurance is an administrative and political renewal of the first order, an achievement of administrative technique which relevance, though severely underestimated, is comparable to representative democracy.[39]


[1] Schmitt 1963, 74-78; Kuiper 2009, 231-242; Chaplin 2011, chapter 1.

[2] Dooyeweerd NC III, 198, 472.

[3] Chaplin 2011, 103, 163-164.

[4] Dooyeweerd NC III, 177, 180-181; Griffioen, van Woudenberg 1996.

[5] Fukuyama 2011, 42.

[6] Dooyeweerd 1962, 213-215.

[7] Stafleu 2004.

[8] Comte-Sponville 1995, 110 (chapter 7).

[9] Fukuyama 1995, part II.

[10] Verkerk 2004, 63-83; Verkerk et al. 2007, chapter 8.

[11] Duby 1961-1962.

[12] Seerveld 2000, 47-58.

[13] Huizinga 1938, 282-284 (chapter 12).

[14] Hobsbawm 1994, 372-388 (chapter 11, I-III); Vos 1999, 186.

[15] Vos 1999, 371-387.

[16] Langer 1960, 8 (preface).

[17] Wittgenstein 1953, I nr. 304; Staal 1986, 261.

[18] Tarski 1944.

[19] MacIntyre 1967, 74, 92.

[20] Dooyeweerd NC III, 567: ‘There cannot exist any ordered society without the basis of natural and institutional communities, which are sharply distinguished from free associations’.

[21] Calvin 1559, III; Kant 1793, 142 (section 2.2).

[22] De Vries and van der Woude 1995, 499-538; Landes 1998, chapter 10.

[23] Graafland 2007, 177-183.

[24] Marx 1867, 380; Van het Reve 1969, 86-102.

[25] Arendt 1958, 160-161 (section 4,5).

[26] Fukuyama 2011, 134.

[27] Rutgers 2004, 66.

[28] Dooyeweerd NC III, 605-624.

[29] Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; 1 Corinthians 11:11-12; Olthuis 1975, chapter 1; Vrieze 1977, 162.

[30] Olthuis 1975, chapter 2-3.

[31] Taylor 1989, 12-13.

[32] Verkerk 1997, chapter 7.

[33] Dooyeweerd  NC III, 304-322.

[34] Verkerk 1997, chapter 9.

[35] MacCulloch 2003, 609-612.

[36] Dooyeweerd NC III, 266-345; Olthuis 1975, chapter 4.

[37] Sommerville 1982.

[38] Taylor 1989, 289-294.

[39] De Swaan 1988, 158 (section 5.4); chapter 6.





4. Limited authority



4.1. The territorial state




Chapter 2 described the public domain as a set of intersubjective relation networks, sustained by objective networks, guarded by the state. Chapter 3 discussed the civil society as a collection of associations each having a relative sovereignty in their own sphere. Both made already clear that the sovereignty of the state is restricted. At least the state has to respect the sphere sovereignty of other associations, in particular of other states. Chapter 4 further investigates how the authority of the state is further limited. After a review of the profile of the territorial state (section 4.1) we shall pay attention to the power of the republic (4.2); the state as an association of citizens (4.3); a constitutional state being subject to justice (4.4); independent courts of justice (4.5); the distinction between private and public law (4.6); the rule of law (4.7); legal positivism (4.8); and finally the origin of authority (4.9).


The ultimate restriction of any state’s sovereignty is the simple fact that there is not a single state, but nearly two hundred. (The United Nations counts 193 members.) Their relations should be ruled by mutual recognition and respect for their sovereignty, yet are largely determined by their military and economic power (section 2.9).


Any state acting as the guardian of a significant segment of the public domain is also an association with its own internal organization, according to its specific respectively generic character. This characteristic duality implies the distinction between citizens and foreigners having both to comply with the public function of the state. In common with other associations, the state has a competent authority (its government) and members (citizens). Besides, as a sovereign the state maintains the public order in the public domain (the res publica) by means of a public network of rules and supported by intervention forces (section 4.2). Hence the state is not only sovereign in its own sphere (like any other association), but it is also sovereign in the public domain, within its territory. However, this sovereignty is restricted in various ways, not merely by its boundaries.


Each state governs a certain area, bordering to other states or the sea. Within its territory the republic is responsible for the functioning of the public networks. In order to stress this, one sometimes speaks of the ‘territorial state’, to be distinguished from the ‘nation state’. The first points to the specific character of the state as a republic, the second to its generic character as an association of citizens constituting a national community. On its territory, the republic ought to warrant the freedom of individuals and associations to make use of the public space. This statement opposes the absolutist view identifying the statewith the public space, excluding other associations, which it expels to the private domain. A republic ought to make rules restricting one’s freedom only if necessary to make the freedom of others possible. The republic ought to establish the public order in the public domain, to maintain it and if necessary to expand it. At first sight one could assume that the state is characterized by the territory on which it exerts authority. However, the authority does not concern the territory itself, but the objective public networks on the territory. Usually the authority of the land rests with its owner. Anyhow, the state may expropriate land if this would serve the public interest, for instance for the development of technical networks.


The public domain is not a purely spatial affair, but is cultivated and opened up by human labour. Therefore, the specific character of the republic is secondarily technical, characterized by the command and opening up of public technical networks. This does not mean that the government would be the owner of the public domain in an economical or juridical sense, or that its power over the public space would be unlimited. The republic develops and maintains the public domain, but it is not responsible for the way people use it. The republic does not regulate the public subject-subject relations, but the objective networks. In order to warrant the freedom and the responsibility of the users, the republic maintains the public order, the rules pertaining to the public domain.


The republic exerts authority in the public domain where it is sovereign. Conceived as administrative authority over the public domain (restricted, as described in chapter 2), relative sovereignty indicates the primary characteristic of the republic’s specific character. In this respect the profile of the state differs from that of any other association, having internal authority, but having no authority outside it. As far as associations act in the public domain they do so as subjects among other subjects, both individuals and associations, guarded by the republic.


The secondary characteristic implies that each state has a limited territory, such that different states do not overlap (but see below). Precisely indicated boundary lines between states are a relatively modern phenomenon. Even during the eighteenth century a boundary used to be a strip with a changing or shared sovereignty, or a defence line. Uncultivated areas, about which it makes no sense to dispute the sovereignty, hardly exist anymore. Only the Antarctic and the free sea and the air above it are not subjected to the sovereignty of states. Nowadays the republic’s sovereignty is also extended to the extraction of subterraneous minerals, the control of airspace and, for coastal states, a part of the adjacent sea. Ships and airplanes staying outside the territorial waters are considered to be the territory of the republic under which flag they travel, such that they are subjected to the authority of that state. According to the specific character of the republic it exerts authority over all people present in its public space. When using the public domain they ought to keep the country’s laws, even if they are not citizens of the state. This applies, for instance, to traffic rules or to education compulsory for all children living on the state’s territory.


It is a political dogma, possibly due to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (or earlier to Jean Bodin), that sovereignty is one and indivisible.[1] In fact, the diversity of the public domain allows of various possibilities to share authority, leading to the distinction of a confederation of states, a federal state, a decentralized or a centralized unitary state, being subtypes of the specific character type of the republic. A confederation of states like the European Union is a union of sovereign states, based on one or more treaties. It derives its sovereignty from the member states. In a federal state like Germany or the United States, the separate states are sovereign in a number of designed areas, for instance education. In a decentralized unitary state like the Netherlands, the state delegates or mandates part of its authority to lower organs. A unitary state like France is completely or largely governed from the capital. The transitions between these four types, all having the character of a republic, are fluid. Clearly, sovereignty is not as indivisible as Rousseau thought.


The modern state as guardian of the public domain has a much more complicated organization than follows from the system of checks and balances, the American name for the separation of powers. Indeed, the organization of the republic reflects the public domain, consisting of a multiple system of networks. First of all this is seen in the spatial division of the state territory into provinces, cities, and boroughs, each having its own government and people’s representation. The republic also displays a functional division, into more or less autonomous state organs, or independent enterprises like an electricity company having a license to exploit a public network. These organs or corporations have an authority on a limited field restricted by law. They share a part of the government, in the public domain exerting tasks delegated to them by the central government. Sometimes they are relatively autonomous, meaning that they are authorized to establish public rules, to levy taxes, and to inflict fines.


4.2. The power of the republic


The policy of the government to defend the public order is directed to individual trespassers and criminals; to illegal organized crime and terror; to crimes of associations other than the state; and against attacks of other states.


In principle the boundaries of each state are established by treaties with other states, in particular neighbouring states. Sometimes boundaries change by a war, but even then a political peace treaty ought to confirm the new status quo. Countries have often sought after natural, easily defendable boundaries: the sea, a river, or a mountain range. This motivated the French foreign policy in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. For the same reason England extended its power to Scotland and Wales and the Irish Republic propagates the union with Northern-Ireland. Politicians experience enclaves as unnatural.


The assumption that the specific character of the republic is secondarily typified by the technical relation frame implies that the republic has not only authority but also power in the public domain. In a civilized society it has a monopoly of the armed forces. This implies the obligation to protect citizens and associations against each other. The state maintains the public order and defends its territory by means of armed forces, such as the police and the army. These are called intervention forces, because police and army only act when citizens or associations respectively other states do not stick to the rules or to treaties.[2] They may intervene whenever the public order is threatened. Intervention is legitimate in an exceptional situation of crisis.


Armed force is not allowed to any association that has not the character of the state. However, the republic may leave its defence to another state, or to an alliance of states like NATO. Within a state member states, provinces, or cities often have their own police, not subject to the authority of the central government. It may provide a private organization with a license to maintain the order in a limited area, such as a shopping centre. In many countries civilians have the right of self-defence and the right to carry weapons. Companies may have an internal security service. In a civilized country these exceptions are severely limited, subjected to a licence granted by the government and to juridical approval after the fact.


However important the monopoly of armed intervention may be, it should not primarily characterize the republic, as it does in the case of a police state. The definition of a modern state as having the monopoly of armed intervention seems to be due to Max Weber and still finds adherents.[3] It is true that the disposal of armed forces characterizes a republic secondarily, for no state can operate without it. Authority is not the same as armed power, however. Each association dissolves when its board loses its internal authority. This is also the case with the government of a state. It may happen if the state is invaded by the army of another state, or by an internal armed revolt. In that case the republic loses its authority over the public domain. However, a state can also disintegrate because the government loses the trust of its citizens, thereby losing its authority as an association. In this way, in 1989 the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist without a single shot being fired.


The use of violence is only acceptable in emergency cases, ‘because of sin’.[4] Only in situations where others use violence, the state may violently interfere. Assuming that the state is not characterized by authority but by armed power, by the monopoly of violence, it seems unavoidable to conclude that the state itself only exists because of sin. This view originates with Augustine, is contested by Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, but resurrected by Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd.[5] According to Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, both the state and the church were instituted after the fall into sin, as a consequence of the principle of ‘general grace’ valid for all people in the case of the state, and of ‘special grace’ applicable to the faithful in the case of the church. A careful analysis of the generic character of the state as an association having authority over its citizens and of its specific character being the guardian of the public domain, leads to an integral rejection of this view.[6] The specific character type of both the state and the church are qualified and founded in the creation order. This state of affairs has not changed by the fall into sin. Only the existence of actual states believing that mutual conflicts can be legitimately dealt with by warfare, may be correctly considered a consequence of the initial fall into sin.


4.3. The state as an association of citizens


In common with the generic character of all associations (section 3.1), the state has a competent authority (its government) and members (citizens). According to its specific character, the state governs the public domain (the res publica) by means of a public network of rules. The republic exerts authority in the public domain on which it is sovereign. Conceived as administrative authority over the public domain, restricted sovereignty indicates the primary characteristic of the republic’s specific character. In this respect the profile of the state differs from that of other associations, having authority in their own sphere, but having no authority outside it. As far as associations besides the state act in the public domain they do so as subjects among other subjects, guarded by the republic. The specific character of the state as a republic is therefore primarily characterized by the political and secondarily by the technical relation frame with its objective networks.


The state as a republic is distinguished from other associations by its specific character, its relative sovereign authority to guard and regulate the public domain. No other association acting in the public domain can avoid the autority of the state. Its specific character provides the republic with a unique authority. The state’s authority in the public domain should be restricted to the protection of freedom, without infringing on the internal authority of other associations, and without restricting their responsibility and that of individual persons. Associations do not derive their internal authority from the state. Therefore, the state has to respect the internal authority of any association, as well as its freedom to act in the public domain according to its own specific character.


The authority of the state over its citizens is comparable with the authority in each other association with respect to its members. It requires the assent of the population (in a democracy expressed by the people’s representation) and of the mutual solidarity within it, expressed by a community feeling of being one nation.[7] The view that the state is carried by its citizens - that the state keeps its identity when its form of government changes - is relatively young and Western.[8] Much more common is that the ruling elite (the monarch, the nobility, or the bourgeoisie) detaches itself from the people, for instance by a different use of language and courteous forms of intercourse. The ruling elite considers the state (as well as the church) as a source of income in order to increase their wealth and prestige. Louis XIV, with his legendary ‘l’état c’est moi’, was no exception in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The identification of a state with a hereditary monarch as sovereign owner of the state has caused many bloody succession wars from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century.


As an association, the state has no authority over foreigners present within the state’s boundaries, but it has so for its own citizens being abroad. In contrast, a state conceived as a republic has authority over foreigners residing on its territory, and not over its own citizens staying abroad, for instance with respect to traffic rules.


Democracy, the people’s representation, is not characteristic for the state as a republic, but the state as an association may be democratic or not. On the one hand, there are states that are not democratic and there are views of the state rejecting democracy. On the other side, democracy is a form of the members’ participation in management, being a Western norm for any association, not only for the state.


As a  political norm democracy means more than majority rule. It means that the management respects the views of minorities, avoiding oppression.[9] In many cases a majority is no more than a temporal coalition of minorities. A democracy does not first of all mean that members are allowed to have a say in important decisions (anyhow, this is often quite impractical in large associations). It rather implies that people have the opportunity to check and to criticize the management, to call it to account for its acts. Elections determine who will govern the country in the years to come, but the voters use their vote just as well to approve or disapprove of the policy of the preceding period.


On the one hand, there are states that are not democratic and there are views of the state rejecting democracy.[10] Some Muslims consider democracy as a political system and a way of life contrary to the basic principles of the Islam. When the people have the power of legislature, it is no longer God determining what is halâl (admitted) and harâm (forbidden), but people will do so. On the other side, democracy is a form of the members’ participation in management, being a Western norm for any association, not only for the state.


Democracy is not a juridical principle, but a political one. It indicates that the population participates in the state’s government. Therefore democracy is not a hallmark of a constitutional state.[11] An authoritarian state, in which the power of the state is withdrawn from democratic decision making, can still be a constitutional state. Reversely, a democratically elected government, like that of Adolf Hitler in 1933, does not warrant a constitutional state. The constitutional state rests on the juridical principle that the power of the government ought to be restricted by justice and that the state subjects itself to justice. Favouring direct democracy, populists reject this view of a constitutional state.


In order to prevent dictatorship, against de view accepting only democracy according to the principle of one man, one vote, one finds the pluralistic view looking for democracy in a multitude of decisive organs within the state, especially as grown in Protestant countries.[12] In the Dutch Republic, the Provincial States consisted of representatives of the cities and the nobility, whereas the States-General assembled representatives of the Provincial States. In the German Bundesrat and in the European Council of Ministers, the member states are represented.


4.4. A constitutional state is

subject to justice


The state is not specifically characterized by justice, but by the political relation frame.[13] Yet the idea of a constitutional state (Rechtsstaat) is very important for the restriction of the state’s sovereignty. It implies that the state itself is not an absolute sovereign, but like any other association is subject to justice (‘Recht’ in Dutch or German). It is obliged to obey the laws of the state itself as well as international laws. Only then a state may be called a constitutional state. This is not contrary to democracy. An elected authority that is not subject to the power of a judge sooner or later escapes from any control, eroding itself continuously.[14] According to its specific character as a republic it is a party in the course of justice whenever the public order is at stake. For example, in criminal justice the attorney represents the state as a juridical subject, but is not the judge.


Who like the legal positivists (section 4.8) assumes that the state decides what is right (‘might is right’), identifying justice with laws ordained by the state, should consider any state to be constitutional.[15] In particular since the Second World War one defines the constitutional state in a wider sense, implying that many states are not constitutional. The specific character of a constitutional state now concerns both the primary political characterization and the secondary technical one, considering the state’s authority in the public domain. The latter implies that the power of the state is constitutionally restricted, which is the original meaning of the term constitutional state. This emphasizes the protection of citizens and associations from the state’s power, which can only exert coercion after previous authorization by a judge, who only in case of emergency gives a verdict after the fact. This supplies a necessary but not a sufficient definition of a constitutional state. The concept of a constitutional state is also an extension, a juridical development of the political concept of a state. It means more than the assumption that the state laws are just (which they are by definition, according to the legalists) or ought to be (according to people rejecting legalism). It means that the government itself is subject to justice, and cannot as a sovereign elevate itself above justice. Sovereignty is not a juridical but a political principle. A constitutional state does not derive the fundamental and freedom rights of citizens and associations from the law, but recognizes these.


A constitutional state is always a state; it cannot exist without government and without dominion of the public domain. A state that is not a constitutional state is yet able to function as a state, as the guardian of the public domain. This is the case, for instance, if a state has conquered another one, ruling unjustified over the conquered country and its population. The recognition of a state by other states often does not rest on its justification (de jure), but on the factual political authority (de facto) that the government exerts on its territory.  A state ceases to exist when the government cannot maintain the public order (for instance after a revolt or an invasion), even if the government originated in a legal way.


4.5. Independent courts of justice


A constitutional state is a republic subjecting itself to justice. Therefore a constitutional state has courts of justice having juridical authority independent of the political administration of the state. The judge ought to have the competence to test a law or decision to a higher law or an international treaty. Politicians (in particular populists) tend to reject this possibility, assuming that it would contradict the primacy of democracy and violate the sovereignty of the people or the parliament. For them, the political principle of democracy (laws are established by the government together with the people’s representation) prevails over the juridical principle of the constitutional state.[16] For the same reason Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected Charles de Montesquieu’s view about the separation of powers: the volonté générale shall always prevail.[17] In the United Kingdom, considering the sovereignty of parliament a ‘sacred dogma’, until 2009 no judge (except the European Court of Justice) could nullify a parliamentary law.[18] 


Only by distinguishing political from juridical relations it is possible to explain why in a constitutional state the courts of justice should be independent of the government; why in a constitutional state the courts are competent to judge whether the state adheres to its laws; why in a constitutional state the courts are competent to judge whether laws are consistent with the constitution; and why in a constitutional state the acceptance of international courts of justice does not infringe on the sovereignty of the republic.


Indeed, sovereignty is not a juridical but a political principle. A court of justice does not exert administrative authority but administers justice. Therefore the subjection of the state’s authority to justice does not imply a loss of sovereignty.


A constitutional state subjects itself to international justice, rather than fight armed conflicts. States close treaties and a constitutional state recognizes a treaty to be binding for national law. The twentieth century witnesses the emergence of a globalization of justice, initially voluntarily, later compulsory. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the International Court of Justice was established in The Hague, gradually receiving more prestige and competences, and in 2002 being complemented with the International Court of Criminal Law. 

 Hence, in a constitutional state its sovereignty is restricted.


4.6. Private and public law


The common distinction between private and public justice has grown out of the humanist dualism of the individual citizens and the state.[19] In the Middle Ages public law was distinguished into clerical and state law, but nowadays church law is considered a form of private law. The principle of internal authority implies that each association has its own laws and justice. This is called private law unless the association is the state. Like any other association the state has its own organization. Its rules are laid down in the constitution and other state laws. It concerns the relation between the government and the citizens. It defines the rights and duties of the citizens as members of the state, as well as the division of competences between various organs of the state, and the way of arriving at valid decisions.


In public justice the republic represents the general interest, and there is no equality between the state and other juridical subjects. The latter include all individual persons (not only citizens) and all associations operating in the public domain, as well as their mutual relations as far as these are public, such as those between an enterprise and its clients on the market. In the past, the members of the board of an association were individually responsible for its acts. In a modern society an association may act as a legal person, as long as it is legally recognized or registered. In order to act legally in the public domain legal persons may be required to legitimise themselves, natural persons by an identity card or a passport, associations by their foundation documents and their articles.


In a constitutional state this ought not to be a favour but a right, only to be withdrawn on the ground of a juridical verdict, for instance if the association has a criminal purpose. In a country with an absolutist government (an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship) it is not a right but a privilege, granted by the state. The Soviet-Union, for instance, did not recognize the right of people to form associations or to hold meetings without preceding consent by the government. On the other hand, the European Union requires its member states to be constitutional states. European citizens and associations have the possibility to appeal to a European court if they believe that their government violates their rights.


Criminal law, too, is not restricted to the state. All associations exert disciplinary measures. The distinction of public criminal law of the republic and the right of correction within an association is that only the government may use violence in the persecution, and that the judge may order to use violence at the punishment of criminals, for instance by restricting their freedom. This does not only concern the access to the public space, but also the free disposal of income and properties or the right to exert a certain profession. Individuals and associations are not allowed to inflict punishment violently, that would be an exertion of vengeance, not unlike a war between two states.


The character of an association determines the nature of the penalty they mete out. In a nuclear family the penalty has an educational purpose, at school it aims at a learning effect. A penalty should always be accompanied by mercy,[20] taking into account the circumstances of the perpetrator. A punishment should always aim at reconciliation and remission. When that does not succeed, in each association a penalty may lead to an expulsion; in a labour situation to discharge; in a club to the end of membership; in a church to refusal of the sacraments; in a state to exile or imprisonment. Like any other association, the state punishes transgressions within its sphere, for instance by withdrawing the right of voting.


4.7. The rule of law


Although political philosophy is nowadays sharply distinguished from philosophy of law (and politics from the theory of law), it is still controversial to state that politics differs from justice. Until recently, the European part of humanity lived in an era that derived its juridical concepts entirely from the state, conceiving of the state as a model of political unity.[21] The best way to make clear the distinction of politics and justice is to point out a number of unwanted consequences of their identification.


Traditionally, the rule of law means that justice is bound to written laws, not merely to the conscience and insight of judges and others.[22] However, Francis Fukuyama (admitting that ‘... there are as many definitions of “rule of law” as there are legal scholars...’) defines the rule of law such that ‘... the individual holding political power feels bound by the law ... The rule of law is a separate component of political order that puts limitations on a state’s power.’[23]


The rule of lawalso means that the juridical process should proceed independent of political rulers.[24] Justice should transcend the specific interests of the parties involved in civil or criminal lawsuits. It should pass judgment neutrally and impartially.[25] Evidently, this is a norm, not to be confused with the fact that judges may be influenced by their class, their education, or by the public opinion, and are sometimes corrupt.


It is quite common to interpret the authority in an association in a juridical sense. Yet it seems better to consider authority and sovereignty as political forms, not characterized by justice but by policy, by competent decision making, directed to the realization of accepted goals; and on the prevention and solution of conflicts, the maintenance of peace within the association, with other associations, and with individuals the association connects with. The leadership in an association as policy determining, decision making, executing, and peace keeping organ is generically characterized by political values, next by the values characterizing the association’s specific character. The maintaining task of the authority means that it takes care that the members accept and execute the decisions taken. A leadership neglecting this task soon loses its authority.


However, the view that authority is not characterized by justice does not exclude that any authority is subject to principles of justice, in particular the rule of law. Traditionally, the rule of law means that justice is bound to written and codified laws, not merely to the conscience and insight of judges and others like the members of a jury.[26] The much older moderating principle of equity attempted to prevent unintended consequences of the application of a rule. According to Aristotle, for instance, the principle of equity allows judges to mitigate the rigidity of the law, without transcending the limits of the law.[27] The rule of lawalso means that the juridical process should proceed independent of political rulers.[28] In particular, the courts of justice should be independent of both the executive and the legislative. Justice should transcend the specific interests of the parties involved in civil or criminal lawsuits. Judges should pass judgment neutrally and impartially.[29]


According to its generic character as an association the state is a juridical subject obliged to obey the laws of the state and international laws. Because of their assumption that the people are sovereign, populists reject the idea of the constitutional state. They do not accept that the state is subject to justice. They reject the rule of law, believing that the people transcend the law. Populist rulers pretending to be the vox populi, the sovereign voice of the people, attempt to subject the courts of justice to the executive.


The rule of law has a political meaning as well. ‘The rule of law is a separate component of political order that puts limitations on a state’s power.’[30] The first meaning of a constitution (besides regulating the internal functioning of the government) is to warrant the human rights against the government, such as the freedom of faith, the freedom of speech and expression of one’s views, or the freedom of assembling and association. The constitution warrants the protection of minorities. The second meaning is to delimit the people’s influence on the state’s policy. Both intend to ward off the ‘tyranny of the majority’ as propagated by populism. By delimiting the power of the state and of the people, the constitution promotes the freedom of individuals and associations to act in the public domain.


4.8. Legal positivism


The Christian view that human authority is derived from God’s authority implies that it is subject to God’s law, to the normative principles laid down in the creation and known to all. These are the principles of mutual love, justice, good government, mutual service, respect, trust, reason, clarity, joy and skilful labour. Since the Enlightenment declared humans to be autonomous, they had to take recourse to a legalistic view of law as a product of human activity.


From the eighteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, legal positivism identified justice with the written and codified laws of the country,[31] narrowing down the ‘rule of law’ to ‘the rule of written state law’, the ‘rule of codified law’. According to Mark Tebbit, the nineteenth-century utilist Jeremy Bentham was the first legal positivist, followed by John Austin and in the twentieth century by Herbert Hart in England and Hans Kelsen in Austria.[32] However, already in the sixteenth century, Jean Bodin developed a ‘naive legalistic variety of juridical positivism’.[33] Influenced by pragmatism,[34] American judges are more realistic and less legalistic than their European colleagues. For instance, for American commercial life rights and duties are usually not laid down in state laws (as in Europe), but in jurisprudence. According to positivist legalism a rule or law was legal if justified by a higher law. The highest law was the constitution, derived from an earlier constitution and ultimately from a mythical social contract, succeeding the state of nature or ‘original position’.[35] (section 4.9). Romantic optimists like Jean-Jacques Rousseau considered this state of nature an ideal situation in which no injustice occurred. Pessimists like Thomas Hobbes believed it was a state of homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man, a situation in which justice does not exist.


In legalism the lawful order was narrowed down to legislation. Legal positivists rejected Thomas Aquinas’ rationalist natural philosophy, considering justice to be of divine origin, knowable from human nature, in conformity with Aristotle’s philosophy. Alternatively, Plato derived justice from the unchangeable world of ideas, and Hugo Grotius from human reason. 


Legalism overrated the written and published laws of the state. It held the doctrine stating that nearly all rules of justice are legal rules, that in principle the law is complete and that a judge has to apply the codified law ‘to the letter’, without questioning it.[36] Legalism is inspired by utilitarian Enlightenment philosophers believing that simple and elementary rules, derived from reason and natural law, had to take the place of intricate traditional law ruling European society before their time.[37] This implied the separation of political formulation and juridical application of justice. Concerning the first, courts of justice are subjected to law-making organs of the state. Concerning the second, the courts are independent of the government, whereas the executive organs of the state are subjected to justice administered by the courts of justice. This separation and balance of powers (Charles Montesquieu’s trias politica, 1748) presupposed that the three powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) are all organs of the state. (In fact, Montesquieu did not discuss a separation, but a dispersal of powers, like he found these in England. He also believed that the judiciary should not be an organ of the state.[38]) The separation of the three powers intended to warrant the freedom of the citizens. Emerged from humanist philosophy, it did not even consider the possibility that justice and authority with discipline might be mutually irreducible.


In the second half of the twentieth century legal positivism came under fire, however, first because courts of justice took the freedom to interpret laws. Jurisprudence became as much a source of justice as the laws of the country, in the USA even more so than in Europe. Legalism presupposes that only the legislature is allowed to interpret its own laws. It is the task of a judge to provide an interpretation of the law applied to the case in question. According to legalism, judges may only administer justice according to the written law. In practice, they also take into account principles of justice, jurisprudence, influential commentaries, the circumstances, interests of all parties, changing views, and practices. They have a large margin, for instance if the penal law only indicates maximum penalties. Judges may interpret a law slightly different from the intentions of the legislative. In extreme cases they may even decide against a law. This means that administering justice is not an abstract activity, but a very concrete one. Though it is juridically typified, in principle judges take into account all aspects of human being, not only codified state laws.


Legalism has two faces. From a liberal point of view, stressing the individual freedom of citizens with respect to the state, everything that is not prohibited by law is just and therefore admitted. In the name of this view a lot of injustice has been committed, which new laws had to prevent. For instance, in the nineteenth century slavery and child labour were not lawfully prohibited and therefore admitted, until slavery was forbidden, and child labour restricted by law. According to the liberal world view, only then child labour was unjust. People defending this variant sometimes say that what is not prohibited by law is just but not necessarily moral. Then it would be a moral question whether one makes use of the fact that the government allows or tolerates certain matters. It would be a moral question whether one accepts slavery or child labour as long as there is no state law interdicting it. ‘For natural lawyers, the legal principles revealed by a purely descriptive account of law are inherently moral; for positivists, the law in its actuality is the practical expression of a political decision, the moral content of which is quite irrelevant.’[39]


This is a consequence of the view that the written law determines what is right or wrong. It opposes the view that justice is a universal principle, to be actualized into norms, including state laws. This means that one makes laws because slavery and child labour are unjust, not to make them unjust. The distinction between just and unjust action is always part of ethics. It is immoral to act unjustly, whether this act is prohibited by law or not. Legalistic attempts to slip through the meshes of the law, not only popular with tax payers, are immoral if it leads to behaviour contrary to the principles of justice. Formalistic legalism sometimes means that a judge acquits a criminal because of mistakes made by the police or the attorney.[40] Of course, police and the attorney have to respect the rights of the accused, and the judge ought to penalize trespassers. However, it runs counter to the common sense of justice when a criminal is acquitted because of a formal mistake.


In another variant of legalism everything is prohibited that is not allowed by the state. In practice this leads to an abundance of rules and to suppression of inevitable resistance. The best illustration is the Soviet-Union, which ultimately collapsed under its top-heavy bureaucracy in 1990. However, this variant not only occurs in a dictatorship, but also in a moderate form in countries influenced by social-democracy where many kinds of activities are subject to a licence by the government according to the view that the state is the all-encompassing expression of society.


Both legalistic views identify justice with codified law. They consider the state as the only source of justice. Legalism is a consequence of statism, the overrating of the state, considered as representative of the volonté générale (the general will, the public interest) exclusively determining what is right: ‘might is right’. An extreme form is known as Befehl ist Befehl: people having done injustice defend themselves by saying that they only obeyed a command from a higher level, ultimately from the state. This view, identifying justice with the political principle of authority and discipline, has become notorious since the Nazi-regime and has been abolished by Western justice.[41] However, it was not restricted to Germany, for it is a consequence of legalism, reducing justice to written laws given by the state. It deprives both individuals and associations the freedom and responsibility to act in all circumstances not only legally, but also just. Even if they find justice in the laws of the country, judges ought not to pass a sentence in the name of the law, or of the queen, or of the state, but in the name of justice as a universal value, irreducible to state or politics.


Legalism can be warded off by recognizing that the juridical relation frame or modal aspect is irreducible to the political one, and that the state as a politically characterized association does not surpass justice but is subject to it, like any other association and each individual. The distinction of the political from the juridical frame has important consequences for the analysis of the characters of associations, in particular of the state.


Legalism is a form of objectivism, the positivist attempt to reduce all norms to objective statements of laws, neglecting the principle that human-made norms ought to be derived from universal normative principles or values being part of the creation order.


4.9. The origin of authority


Section 4.9 is concerned with the origin of authority, of the state and of other associations.

Assuming that all social groups are based on voluntary and rather arbitrary agreements between its members, liberal individualism does not recognize the distinction of organized associations and unorganized communities, and appears therefore to be unable to arrive at a fundamental understanding of the civil society.

This is especially clear with respect to the understanding of the origin of the state’s authority. Enlightened natural law scholars like Jean Bodin, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant, attempted to found the state in the myth of a voluntary social contract.[42] The state is legitimized by a voluntary agreement of citizens, a contract in which the citizens transfer their natural rights in part to the collective state. Thomas Hobbes characterized the state of nature as an unlimited anarchy, but John Locke assumed that people have naturally inalienable human rights, to be respected by any sovereign.[43] The reason for the formation of a state is to warrant these rights. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau not the state, but the community (the people) is the bearer of authority. In the romantic period this became the nation.

Contrary to Bodin, the Calvinian philosopher Johannes Althusius emphasized that authority should never be attributed to an absolute sovereign. At each level in the state, the ruler should be checked by a representation of the people, a view later developed by Charles Montesquieu. Rousseau propagated the absolute and undivided sovereignty of the people. Hobbes preferred the reign of a single person having the consent of his subjects, because he considered a strong government necessary to suppress haughty people.[44] For Locke it became a small step to the sovereignty of the parliament. It became a leading motive in British political thought. Because it clashes with the idea of sharing sovereignty in the European Union, it led to the ‘brexit’ in 2019. The idea of a social contract with checks and balances forms the foundation of the constitution of the United States of America.[45]

The theory of the social contract rests on the Enlightenment principle that any individual person is autonomous, having primacy above any association. Its critics observed that people never lived outside a community and contested the view that the state can be seen as a set of autonomous individuals.[46] Anybody is a member of the state without being asked, it is an ‘institution’ based on birth, not an association based on a contract. Philosophers defending the idea of the social contract readily admit this to be a theoretical fiction, having no historical ground.[47] It appears to be more likely that the modern state emerged from a multitribal community (section 1.4).[48] An intermediate form would be a class or caste state, in which people are classified according to their birth status. Both the recognition of individual rights apart from tribe or state and the recognition of the independence of free associations that are not bound to a family or the state are more recent than the emergence of states apart from tribal ties. The liberation from tribal ties constitutes an important part of the historical development of a modern differentiated society.

Enlightenment philosophers based the sovereignty of the people on the contract theory. They often overemphasized democracy, without recognizing that this is not characteristic of the state (section 4.3), with its specific character of being the guardian of the public domain. Rather, democracy is a form of management that can be realized in many associations besides the state. Participation of the members in the leadership confirms the view that the generic character of any association is founded in social relations of keeping company.

The question of the meaning of the state and other associations is related to the question of the origin of authority.[49] Isaiah Berlin considers ‘the problem of obedience’ to be the heart of political philosophy.[50] In concrete cases the foundation, expansion, contraction, or disappearance of a state rests on conquest, revolution, rebellion, or liberation from foreign domination.[51] This indicates how a state is historically arisen or disengaged from one or more other states, how a state came to power, but it does not answer the question of the origin of the republic’s or any other association’s authority. The answer to this question strongly depends on one’s world view and is often expressed in a myth, a faith story legitimizing the authority (section 1.4).

Christians believe that the state is an institution of God and the authority of the government is given by God.[52] This can hardly be valid for any concrete state in its historical form, but it can be true for the general character type of the state and, in fact, for all types of associations. In his often cited letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul does not call the state but may be understood to refer to any government: ‘Every person must submit to the supreme authorities. There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him.’[53]

In this view the normative profile of an association originates from God’s laws, not from its historic realization. Any board exerts authority by the grace of God, the supreme sovereign, who does not provide a license to act arbitrarily but lawfully, according to divine normative principles. Each government ought to satisfy the universal political norm that it should not abuse its authority. If a government satisfies this norm, the members of the association ought to obey the authority within the association’s limits.

There is an important difference between the specific character type of the state and that of other associations. Whereas each association exerts authority within its own sphere, the state as a republic also exerts a limited authority on the public domain.

In the state as well as in other associations, authority is often conceived in a conservative way: to maintain the existing order at all costs. A more progressive view insists that any authority should display leadership with respect to the dynamic development of the association and its membership, and as far as the state is concerned, the development of the public domain.




[1] Rousseau 1762, 63 (book II, chapter 2); Berlin 2006, 139; Chaplin 2011, 207-208.

[2] Hardt, Negri 2000, 17-18.

[3] Dooyeweerd NC III, 416; Schmitt 1963, 69, 90.

[4] Dooyeweerd NC III, 423-424.

[5] Kuyper 1898, 64-66, 74-75 (lecture 3); Dooyeweerd NC III, 423, 506; Hoogerwerf 1999, 60, 71, 77-78, 103.

[6] Clouser 1991, 268-269; Chaplin 2011, 176-185; Skillen 2014.

[7] Dooyeweerd NC III, 436; Kymlicka 2002, 254.

[8] Arendt 1963, 334 (note 24 to chapter 1); Daalder 1990, 409-410; Kymlicka 2002, 262.

[9] Popper 1945, 136-137.

[10] Van Bommel 2003, 303.

[11] Franken et al. 2003, 379; Cliteur 2002; Verbrugge 2004, 96.

[12] Daalder 1990, 407-408.

[13] See Dooyeweerd NC III, Van Eikema Hommes 1982; Chaplin 2011 for a different opinion.

[14] De Tocqueville 1835-1856, 106.

[15] Dooyeweerd NC III, 425-467; Daalder 1990, 381.

[16] Cliteur 2002; Franken et al. 2003, 375; de Tocqueville 1835-1856, 116-119.

[17] Russell 1946, 660-674; Van Caenegem 1995, 20.

[18] Van Caenegem 1995, 159-160, 196-200.

[19] Franken et al. 2003, 240-244.

[20] Nussbaum 2001, section 7.6.

[21] Schmitt 1963, 46:

[22] Tebbit 2005, 8.

[23] Fukuyama 2011, 245-246.

[24] Tebbit 2005, 79-80.

[25] Tebbit 2005, 79.

[26] Tebbit 2005, 8.

[27] Tebbit 2005, 9, 31.

[28] Tebbit 2005, 79-80.

[29] Tebbit 2005, 79.

[30] Fukuyama 2011, 245-246.

[31] Franken et al. 2003, chapter 2; Dworkin 1967, 63-64; Rutgers 2004, 175-176; Böhler 2004, 28-30; Kinneging 2005, 381-398; Tebbit 2005, 15-48.

[32] Tebbit 2005, 18

[33] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 666; Lemon 2003, 116.

[34] Tebbit 2005, 21-32.

[35] Rousseau 1762; Toulmin, Goodfield 1965, 144-148; Rawls 1971, 15-19; Graham 2004, chapter 8; Tebbit 2005, 94-102; Kuiper 2009, chapter 7; Fukuyama 2011, chapter 2.

[36] Franken et al. 2003, 115-116.

[37] de Tocqueville 1835-1856, 286.

[38] Montesquieu 1748, 219-231 (part II, book XI, chapter 6).

[39] Tebbit 2005, 11.

[40] Böhler 2004, 54-55.

[41] Tebbit 2005, 35-36.

[42] Rousseau 1762, 68-69 (section 2.4); Russell 1946, 601-610; Achterhuis 1988, part I-III; Tebbit 2005, 94-102; Fukuyama 2011, chapter 2, 82.

[43] Fukuyama 1992, chapter 14.

[44] Achterhuis 1988, 28.

[45] Hardt, Negri 2000, 164-166; Fukuyama 2011, 29.

[46] Burckhardt 1905, 20 (secion 1.1); Popper 1945, 122; Midgley 1985, chapter 17, 18; Fukuyama 2011, 30, 34, 439.

[47] Rawls 1971, 11; Von der Dunk 2007, 182-192.

[48] Popper 1945, chapter 4.

[49] Fukuyama 2011;

[50] Berlin 2006, 19.

[51] Burckhardt 1905, 20-24 (section 1.1).

[52] Groen van Prinsterer 1847, 50-56.

[53] Romans 13:1.












This treatise tries to find an answer to the question: What characterizes a strong state and what a strong society? It hinges on the distinction of organized social groups, called associations, based on authority and membership, and of unorganized communities, having a network structure. Organized associations are the building bricks of the civil society (chapter 3); unorganized networks constitute the public domain (chapter 2). In both the state plays a crucial part, although its sovereignty is limited in various ways (chapter 4).

The civil society is a set of associations of individual persons (in particular professionals) and of other associations which are free to act and to exert their responsibility in the public domain according to shared values. It is a generally held assumption that human beings and their associations are to a certain extent free to act, and therefore responsible for their deeds. Although this confirms common understanding, it is an unprovable hypothesis. Naturalist philosophers denying free will cannot prove their view too, but they should carry the burden of proof, in particular because they cannot account for a free civil society. Only as far as human beings are free to act, their acts can be judged to be more or less good or bad, according to universal values like skill, beauty, significance, rationality, reliability, social coherence, mutual service, good governance, justice, and loving care.

A strong state acts as the guardian of the public domain consisting of social networks, recognizing and protecting the freedom and responsibility of the actors in the public domain, respecting their rights and obligations, as stipulated by a clear set of public laws. As a constitutional state aiming at good governance it subjects itself to norms of justice. A strong state defends the public order against criminals and aggression. It does not seek war but peace and cooperation with other states. Because the public domain tends to cross national boundaries, international cooperation becomes more and more important.

The principle of sphere sovereignty implies that society is not an undivided comprehensive whole with a single authority. In this respect it differs from all other views mentioned in section 1.4. It depends on the Christian view of the divine lawful origin of authority, allowing of and even implying a division of human authority. Freedom and responsibility of individuals and of associations in the civil society would be severely threatened if the state or any other institute would have unlimited power. In fact such a state is not strong but unstable. A really strong state has a strong civil society as its counterpart.

Civil society is a dynamically developing system. In each normative relation frame, an ‘engine of history’ expresses the transfer of experience in an asymmetric subject-subject relation (section 1.3). For instance, as the engine of technical progress I consider the transfer of practical know-how and skills, from parents to children in households, from skilled to untrained labourers in workshops, and from teachers to pupils in schools.

In the words of Abraham Kuyper (1880), any association is sovereign in its own sphere. This implies that it makes its own rules (only subject to state laws if it wants to make an entry on the public domain) and disposes of its own possessions. In a civilized and free society, this sovereignty is never absolute. It is restricted both by the individual freedom of its members and the internal sovereignty of other associations. The authority of its management should not be extended beyond its competence, and only its members are required to observe discipline. The fact that this Protestant view is effectively dominant in present-day Western society is remarkable, for it contradicts both the humanist ideal of autonomous individual subjects and the Roman-Catholic view on church and state, even with the mitigating principle of subsidiarity. Sovereignty presupposes some kind of authoritative rule. Therefore, the principle of sphere sovereignty only applies to associations, not to unorganized social communities, as Kuyper erroneously assumed.

Sphere sovereignty (‘soevereiniteit in eigen kring’) is originally a typical Dutch term for an unsuspected widespread phenomenon. In particular during the twentieth century, the existence of free associations, independent of the republic which only exerts supervision of the public domain, has become the hallmark of the free Western society, even if it is not always recognized as such. Elsewhere it expands explosively too. The fact that Abraham Kuyper (in suit of Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and others) designed his view of sphere sovereignty in the nineteenth century testifies to his prophetic mind.[1] In fact, this is historically a much more interesting phenomenon than the victory of neo-liberalism proclaiming the end of history, according to Francis Fukuyama.[2]

[1] Kuyper 1880; 1898, 72-80 (lecture 3); Dooyeweerd 1959, 46-58; Clouser 1991, 290-302.

[2] Fukuyama 1992.