Saturday, March 10, 2012

Partition of Cares

But it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within its local bounds; each county again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by its individual proprietor. Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed, for the good and prosperity of all.

Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography. In this passage Jefferson is discussing the danger of judges trying to increase their jurisdiction, and the consequent pooling of power into a few hands. It's this streak of Jeffersonianism, incidentally, that makes so many conservatively inclined American Catholics sympathetic with it, since this is a Jeffersonian version of what Catholics call subsidiarity. Joshua P. Hochschild has an interesting paper discussing subsidiarity in precisely this light. It's also the reason for the very different turns discussions of subsidiarity tend to take in Europe and in America; Americans are faced with Jeffersonian issues and worries in direct ways that Europeans are not.

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