Libertarians have long looked at decentralization not only as a political principle, with many calling themselves “Tenther” libertarians, but also as a strategy to achieve freedom within the existing political structure of the United States of America. This approach produced a great number of successful campaigns that effectively freed states from the tyrannical grasp of the federal government.
But while many use the Tenth Amendment alone as the basis for this strategy, the very idea of constraining power to the smallest organization possible has been around since long before the foundation of the economic science, which had its origins not with Adam Smith in the 18th century, but with the Thomist moral theologians known as the Late Scholastics three centuries earlier.
As a matter of fact, the foundation for decentralization is far older than the Church itself, with its chief ideas rooted in Aristotle’s political philosophy.
Respect for Familial Units Comes First
When attempting to synthesize the ideas of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas “developed the idea that human societies naturally progress from families,” University of Queensland’s Nicholas Aroney wrote, establishing the concept that each and every one of us should be free to contribute in the unique way we’re capable of, “without undue interference from any others, including the state.”
So it was this very principle of subsidiarity, which is usually associated with the founding political and social traditions of the United States, that defined decentralization as a means to achieve liberty today. A centuries-old idea observed by men who dedicated their lives to better understand what boosts human flourishing that has remained the very core teaching of Catholicism, whether libertarians (or even the current Pope for that matter) like it or not.
While belief in Catholicism isn’t required to understand and appreciate the work that St. Aquinas produced, and how he so rightly codified the idea of subsidiarity in a way that Aristotle couldn’t, it is important to know and understand where this principle comes from.
Recognizing its place in history, and more importantly, how long it’s existed as a part of the work of great philosophers, economists, and historians over the centuries gives us an even more solid foundation to believe that, yes, decentralization is the moral approach to power.
Furthermore, it helps us solidify our understanding of decentralization, and finally make use of it with the confidence that it isn’t an idea simply based on the U.S. Constitution.