THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Raw Judicial Power III: The Role of the Group

Aristotle characterized man as being by nature a political animal. This is a possibly unique combination on Earth of individual and social natures combined in a single being. As an individual, each human being has certain powers to do or not do acts. Because human beings are naturally political, that is, members of society, these powers are always exercised in relation to others in that society. These powers exercised in relation to others are called "rights." The existence of a right necessarily implies society — "others" against whom rights are to be exercised; rights cannot be exercised in a social vacuum.

A right therefore necessarily consists of the powers inherent or vested in the individual to require other individuals or groups to do or not do some act in relation to the right holder. Someone or something (rights can be delegated, even to things) that has rights is called a "person." Someone that has rights by nature is called a "natural person." Something that has rights delegated to it is called an "artificial person." The only natural persons recognized legally in the United States are human beings.

An artificial person can be a thing or a natural person. This sounds paradoxical, but is not. An individual human being is a natural person. A group of natural persons, however, is a thing. If a group is organized, there must be some individual or subgroup in charge for the purposes of governance, even if the subgroup is a "committee of the whole," that is, the group makes every decision by consulting every member of the group.

A governing individual or subgroup only receives the right to make decisions by delegation from the members of the main group. This process, however, is not direct. The members of a group first delegate the decision-making power to the group. The members of the group then select the governing individual or body, which thereby receives the right to govern from the group as a whole.

Were this not the case, any member of a group could withdraw his or her consent to the selection of the governing individual or body simply by rejecting the governor's authority on the grounds that he or she chose not to accept that authority. Because, however, the delegation of the right to govern was vested first in the group as a corporate body, and then from the group to the group's selected governor, the individual members of the group no longer retain the right to reject the authority of the group's chosen governor arbitrarily. They can only do so for just cause and through due process.

While individuals retain the right to disassociate themselves from the group and thereby reject the duly appointed governor's authority for just cause and by following due process, this is not always prudent or expedient. Aquinas advised that, even in the face of glaring injustice, a change of governors or, especially, the system itself be undertaken only after due consideration and in concert with "the best people" in the community.  (William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., analyzed this process in The Act of Social Justice, Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1943, and summarized the presentation in Introduction to Social Justice, New York: The Paulist Press, 1948.)

The point to be made here, however, is that a governor of a group, whether a single individual or a governing body composed of a number of individuals or smaller groups within the larger group, has two distinct characters. An individual, regardless of his or her position in a group, always remains an individual, a natural person, entitled to all the rights, and subject to all the duties of any other natural person in that group.

At the same time, filling an official position gives a natural person the additional character of an artificial person, exercising rights on behalf of the group, and subject to duties adhering to him or her not as an individual, but as the delegated agent of the group. The individual as an individual remains a natural person with natural rights, regardless of his or her official position. At the same time, as a member of a group that has been vested with powers by the group, the governor is also an artificial person with only those rights that the group has delegated to the governor as an agent of the group.

The question then becomes, Why form groups in the first place? The answer is that, because man is by nature a political animal, it is natural to do things politically, that is, in an organized group that, at the same time that it is engaged in social action, respects the individual rights of every member of the group. Individual people thus ordinarily organize in free association with others of their kind in order to satisfy their wants and needs, whether the purely material, or the highest spiritual.

At one time, this political nature of humanity was realized most fully in the United States. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed,

"Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds — religious, moral, serious, futile, extensive, or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found establishments for education, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; and in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it be proposed to advance some truth, or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association. I met with several kinds of associations in America, of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object to the exertions of a great many men, and in getting them voluntarily to pursue it. I have since travelled over England, whence the Americans have taken some of their laws and many of their customs; and it seemed to me that the principle of association was by no means so constantly or so adroitly used in that country. The English often perform great things singly; whereas the Americans form associations for the smallest undertakings. It is evident that the former people consider association as a powerful means of action, but the latter seem to regard it as the only means they have of acting." (Alexis de Tocqueville, "Of The Use Which The Americans Make Of Public Associations In Civil Life" Democracy in America, Volume II, 1840.)

The bottom line is that any group, from the family on up to the most powerful Nation-State, only exists ultimately to serve the needs of individuals, and to provide an environment within which it is ordinarily possible for the average individual to develop more fully as a human being. Thus we say that the State is made for man, not man for the State.

Sometimes the needs of the State or of the common good require an extraordinary sacrifice from some citizens. This, however, can only be justified if the sacrifice in no way violates those persons' inherent, natural rights, and if the sacrifice is required to preserve the common good. It is never justifiable to sacrifice an innocent person or violate his or her rights, even to obtain the greatest perceived good for any individual or group.