15 April 2023
By Dr Adi Schlebusch
Within the Federal political tradition, all social units have historically been thought of as peoples or families. Prior to the rise of the nation-state, even cities were thought of as compromising a people or an ethnos on their own. In Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos it is noted that cities and towns have a right to expel or ban civil rulers, because cities do not in the first place belong to the greater whole, “since cities don’t consist of stones heaped together but of nations, and every nation belongs to God, to whom they owe a greater loyalty than to the king.”
Federalism necessitates the principle of subsidiarity—a mechanism that aims to ensure the liberty of citizens from the interventions of the central government, by emphasizing that socio-political matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest and least centralized authority. In other words, the family, as the social structure most basic to society, takes precedence. It is the family which sanctions the expansion of social order and the creation of the extended spheres of human existence. It is only those duties and functions which the family is unable to perform, that is then delegated to the extended family or clan, and then to local government. And finally, it is only those duties which the lesser magistrates are unable to perform (think of national defense, for example) that can, if absolutely needed, thereafter delegated to the national government or to international alliances. Not the state, not the school and not even the church has authority over the sphere of the family nor the right to usurp the duties of family government, which is primary to the social order. The social order does not begin with the whole who keeps the parts together, but begins with the parts, between whom legitimate co-operation is only possible by means of the process of covenanting together. For the well-known Federal Political Theorist Johannes Althusius, this covenant or pactum is not a type of once-off social contract by which free and equal individuals come together to form a society, but rather the fruit of an ever-present human need for association arising out of the way we were designed by God, and by which smaller associations form the basis of larger associations. But importantly, within a Federal or Covenantal framework
the lesser associations do not take a place as such in the greater associations; they are left behind … lesser associations, far from being subsumed, retain their own functionality and integrity, while the greater associations, up to and including the commonwealth, only foster this independent activity, not subsume it, and indeed, are required by higher law to respect the law-orders of the lesser associations rather than infringe upon them.
Federalism recognizes that these spheres exist not in a hierarchical, but horizontal relationship to one another and with each having its own domain of liberty and its own offices. This of course means that the state or civil government is heavily restricted in terms of its legal domain, which differs radically from the Aristotelian notion of the state as an ethical institution aimed at the cultivation of virtue. My increased appraisal of Federalism or Covenantalism as fundamental to the social order has led me to a new perspective on a little-known debate which took place well over a decade ago—back in 2011 in fact—between Kinists and Protestant Nationalists, with the former being represented by Faith and Heritage’s Davis Carlton and the latter by Puritan News Weekly’s Joe McCarter. Both Kinists and Protestant Nationalists agreed that nations, biblically defined, are covenantal ethnic units and that ethnic territorial homelands are preferable to large empires. The central point of disagreement between Protestant Nationalism and Kinism pertain to anti-miscegenation legislation. Kinists support government enforced anti-miscegenation laws, while Protestant Nationalists don’t. In this regard I think Protestant Nationalism clearly represents a more biblical and othodox view than Kinism does. This is because anti-miscegenation laws constitute an unjustifiable overreach of civil government into the sphere of the family. In practical terms my opposition to anti-miscegenation laws can be explained in terms of what one of my Theonomist friends calls the “walk around the corner” maxim, i.e. when it comes to government legislation, the only moral option is to support only those laws we would be willing to personally enforce but cannot because we cannot be everywhere at all times. For example, if you walk around the corner and see someone smoking a joint, would you beat him up and take his money? If you walk around the corner and see someone not wearing their seat belt, would you stop them and arrest them? One can ask the same question with regard to interracial couples. We may not want our young children to be exposed to drunkenness, or swearing, or birth-control, or drugs, or fornication, or sodomy, or miscegenation, and taking action against any of these things on your own private property or within the sphere of your own family unit is certainly commendable, but no reasonable person would go out of their way to beat up random people simply for engaging in such things. This is, of course, very different from a scenario where a random man is molesting a child or beating up a woman, for example. This maxim is a very helpful way to understand what Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos calls the “perpetual limits and delineations of government authority” as sanctioned by God’s Law.
When it comes to marriage and the state, R.J. Rushdoony rightly observes:
The state cannot be identified with government. It is one form of government among many, the main forms being self-government of the individual man, the family, the church, the school, vocations, society, and then civil government. Within each of these spheres, there are many varieties of governments … In many parts of the United States, as in the Ozarks, some religious groups restricted marriage and divorce to the church and refused to recognize any valid role for the state; this was still true as late as the 1950s.
The Civil Government being involved with marriage in the first place is a result of the diabolical social contract theory which functionally abolishes the governmental functions of all intermediate institutions in between the individual and the state, thereby effectuating radical atomization. There is simply no need to enact legislation preventing any two people from marrying if the families which make up a communitarian associationalist society, and the patriarchs leading that society, covenants to maintain not only their community intergenerationally, but also preserve the ethno-religious character of that community, and regulates the marriages in their community accordingly and in line with their own autonomy, functionality, and law-order. The Divinely-ordained social order, after all, is one that organically grows from families as smallest and most basic social order units covenanting together. I believe in this regard the Familialist or Protestant Nationalist view truly represents the classic Federalist or Covenantal social ontology.