The word subsidiarity may be hurled as a slogan by respelling it in a Calvinist way. I shall be channelling Johannes Althusius (1563–1638) in today’s remark, but as gentle reader may suspect, I have not read him, have only read about him. But I broadly approve. For he was a Calvinist Aristotelian, which should give us confidence; and he carried into early modernity some political notions of that marvellous Catholic, Thomas Aquinas. These included subsidiarity as a splendid political, and social, good.

He was in opposition to Hugo Grotius, as the legal conception of the modern state was being formed, or invented. He was, to be plain, a champion of small local autonomies, at a time when the “wars of religion” were cluttering Europe with fledgling modern nation states. In my counter-history, this was an unfortunate development; but it is accepted with the same mindlessness as the Enlightenment is accepted by most of my contemporaries, whether of the Left or Right. Alas one argues hopelessly.

In Althusius we may see that, from the beginning, subsidiarity was advanced as an alternative to the nation state, not as a supplementary principle of nationalism. That what we now call “fascism,” and some worse names, was the consequence of the invention of nationalism in those dark, early modern times, I take to be obvious. That notions like “freedom” should come to be associated with a common ethnicity, in the construction of modern states, is part of our tragic history. With fake freedom, absolutism prevails.

The ancient Greek state was, in modern terms, a town. It was geographically restricted, generally to the distance one could walk, or perhaps ride a horse, or paddle a canoe, conveniently, in the course of a morning, if one intended to return by nightfall. It was an urban territory, plus a few farms, as opposed to a tribal territory. It was a conspiracy of everyone who lived there, excluding everyone who did not.

Once this is accepted as the approximate definition of a political state, the catholic principle of subsidiarity flows naturally. Anything else involves the creation of an aggressive bureaucracy, to manipulate fear.

In a world of tiny, autonomous states, you may travel abroad, and visit populations who are not one’s countrymen; and you will be under universal rules of politeness. Or you may have a war, against the state next door, if you think that is wise; but it will never amount to much. What happens within The Empire stays within the empire.

In my view, “The Empire” should be defined as Christendom; but no one consults me as a lexicographer.