Grassroots Commentary

The Only Legitimate Function

Andy Kerl Jr. · Apr. 18, 2014

Cliven Bundy’s stand against the dictates of the Bureau of Land Management is a study in the principles of federalism upon which this nation was founded, not the federalism of the current administration or for that matter the federalism of the massive bureaucracies created since the Wilson Administration.

Subsidiarity is a defining principle used by the founders in creating the Constitution of the United States of America. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. In political theory, subsidiarity is sometimes viewed as a principle entailed by the idea of federalism.”

The founders understood the truth that one size fits all government would never work in a United States of America. It could only lead to tyranny and despotism. They understood that a powerful central government would soon lead to despotic rule, so in the Constitution that they wrote, the federal governments powers were defined and limited.

James Madison illustrated this view in Federalist #45 when he wrote:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negociation [sic], and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will for the most part be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Clearly the founders wanted a small limited central government and stronger local and state governments. Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic study, Democracy in America, may be viewed as an examination of the operation of the principle of subsidiarity in early 19th century America. De Tocqueville noted that the French Revolution began with “a push towards decentralization…in the end, an extension of centralization.” And he wrote that “Decentralization has, not only an administrative value, but also a civic dimension, since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will.”

Perhaps the time has come for another push for decentralization and a return to the founding principle of subsidiarity. Cliven Bundy and his family understand this principle. It is long past time that the rest of the people embrace it.

There can be no one size fits all governance. Every state, county, city, town, and hamlet across this nation have different needs and their citizens have different wants. Forcing all Americans into the one Federal Bureaucratic mold is a violation of nature and the founding principles. The only legitimate function of any central government is to preserve and defend the rights of its citizens.

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