The Nation-State and the Principle of Subsidiarity

Professor Gérard-François Dumont[*]

How and why the principle of subsidiarity was so long in the making

Though the term “subsidiarity” is recent, it is rooted in Antiquity and has been used over the centuries by great authors in connection with an ongoing question: how to organise relations between individuals, their communities (at family, village, regional and higher levels) and public authorities. In other words, the dilemma lies in a complex and recurrent question: “how are the actions of individuals, groups and public authorities to be articulated within society and, above all, the State”.[2]

Considering “the art of governing free men”, Aristotle[3] addressed the question of methods of governance. He contended that the household or family was society’s basic cell; above this came the village; then, one step up again, the City-State. The village should refrain from interfering in issues for which the household was competent. Likewise, the City-State should not get involved in issues that could be solved at village level. Aristotle set out the principle of non-interference whereby higher instances should only involve themselves when this was justified. Thus he defined the primacy of the individual and rejected the possibility of an omnipotent higher level.

In the Middle Ages, St Thomas Aquinas considered the theological foundations of the relationship between State and individuals. The latter, he argued, were social beings who, by definition, lived with other individuals forming a community, sharing concerns that formed a “common good”, more than just the sum of individual interests. The quest for this common good was the basis of all social and political organisation. In this perspective, the individual was not to be treated as a subject, but considered as a contributor to the quest. Power must be exercised within the compass of the Latin precept quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus tractori et approbari debet, “that which concerns all must be discussed and approved by all”, enunciated in the Civil Law of Ancient Rome. Any individual concerned by a decision must be able to take part in the process. Consequently, individuals should not, for the sake of efficiency, offload necessary decision-making processes, in which they should be involved, to higher instances.

Another author[4] who contributed to the debate on subsidiarity was the Protestant Johannes Althusius (1557-1638), Syndic of the German city of Emden. Setting out the principle of the distribution of powers encompassing the individual – family, guilds, city, province and, finally State, this precursor of the doctrine of federalism – anticipated the future concept of a subsidiary State. Whereas, in the theory of sovereignty formulated by Jean Bodin (1529-1596), the absolute, perpetual and indivisible competence to command was crystallized in the hands of the sovereign,[5] Althusius upheld that the ineluctable consequence of this theory would be that society would be shorn of its dynamism by becoming intrinsically dependent on power. He thus undertook to reverse this logic by entrusting the rights of sovereignty to the organised people.[6]

Meanwhile, in England, John Locke (1632-1704), one of the founders of the Rule of Law concept, deplored the absolutism being deployed in France but which failed to prevail in England. He proposed a social contract between the State and individuals, a contract that must ensure that the latter conserve some of their freedoms. Delegation of sovereignty by the people to those who govern is subject to a condition: the people only accepts to abandon sovereignty in exchange for guarantees of its basic rights and individual freedoms.

In the 19th century the liberal thinker John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), who notably championed freedom of expression, considered that only a small part of public business could be satisfactorily and safely attended to by central authorities. It was down to the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) to be the first to implicitly invoke subsidiarity in terms of political organisation when he launched a broadside against centralization. He considered questions of local autonomy and, thus, the distribution of powers between the State and its component parts, a question not yet discussed in terms of “decentralization[7]” or “devolution”.[8] Their contemporary, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) set out the goal of a federative State organisation, a solution that he argued would guarantee the individual’s participation in the power of the State.

Thus all the aforementioned authors developed a general idea: that of “subsidiarity”, without employing the term itself nor, a fortiori, offering a conceptualized definition. The term in fact appeared in the 19th century in texts published by the Roman Catholic Church and designed to clarify the latter’s social doctrine,[9] by providing it with an anthropological foundation.[10] More precisely, the concept of subsidiarity appeared as a constant theme of the encyclical Rerum Novarum published on May 15, 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. The text, addressing social issues, above all the condition of the working class, urged the State to fulfil a role of social regulator and servant of the common interest. The key text, however, is Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo anno published on May 15, 1931, subtitled “On the reconstruction of the social order”.

§ 87 contains the following: “For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them”. § 88 then defines the principle: “The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of ‘subsidiary function’, the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State”.[11]

This papal teaching of the “principle of the subsidiary function of any collective body” postulates that the State must restrict itself to a subsidiary role. This makes the State into an auxiliary, an aid, and a recourse when problems cannot be solved by “subordinate organizations”. As § 86 of the encyclical points out: “As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations. Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do”.[12]

The true meaning of the principle of subsidiarity is a call for human freedoms and responsibility, each individual having a right to self-determination, to personally sort out whatever issues fall within the compass of household, immediate circle, and at the first level the best equipped to solve the problems concerned: family, association, commune. Higher level organizations are to be solicited only when no solution can be found at a lower level.

However, though we had to wait till 1931 for a clear definition of the principle of subsidiarity, its application was nothing new.

Subsidiarity goes back centuries

Throughout history humanity has always been made up of local communities, be they sedentary or nomadic. For thousands of years, these communities have often been very localized. Even nomadic communities have moved from place to place according to their needs and as dictated by the transportation conditions which, historically, offered no alternative to what we now call “short supply chains”. These communities unwittingly created circular economies, each one governing itself according to its own cultural traditions or specific balance of power, both of which have changed over time.

Yet these local communities often understood that among the difficulties they encountered, for example in terms of security, the solutions could only come from a higher level capable of addressing concerns that could not be satisfactorily met at a lower level. In many territories, lower level communities accepted the authority of rulers who organised resources that could ensure the security of a territory, providing facilities such as fortified castles that could afford refuge. Forms of feudalism could thus be propitious. In other cases, this high-level community was purpose-built. An example was embodied in the Federal Charter or “Eternal Alliance” signed in 1291 by Uri, Schwyz and Unterwald, three Swiss cantons in the central Alps, the first step in the construction of the Swiss Confederation. The model,[13] an alternative to feudalism and monarchy, would not go unnoticed by other Europeans who discovered it as they travelled the Alpine passes. The legend of William Tell, icon of a model designed to safeguard freedoms in the face of bigger powers, would even nourish the ideology underpinning the French Revolution.[14]

Furthermore, the concern for subsidiarity, before the term was actually coined, underlay widespread implementations in Europe. In England, the idea that the king was not entitled to decide everything and that governance must therefore be subsidiary led, in 1215, to the celebrated Magna Carta. In this way England implemented an answer to the difficult quest for a balance between the power of the monarch and individual freedom.

It was in the Middle Ages too that the logic of subsidiarity was deployed, especially on the intellectual and geographical levels. Though power centres were often behind the creation of the new universities,[15] they did not insist on controlling them. At the end of the 12th and 13th centuries, the first Universities – Bologna in Italy, Salamanca in Spain, Coimbra in Portugal, Oxford in England, Paris in France – innovated by founding institutions of a new type governed no longer by higher-ranking bodies, but by corporations of masters and students, with their own statutes and regulations.[16]

Other examples of subsidiarity stem more from balance of power, especially in territories seeking to enjoy some level of self-determination. In the Middle Ages and in Europe, common law, i.e. the opportunity for territories to acquire some independence of governance, was obtained by sometimes tough negotiations, or prized away by conflict from the higher authorities of local rulers or princes. The acknowledgement of common law was generally embodied in a “communal charter”, regulating the relations between the community and the suzerain. This charter set out the rights and what were called at the time the “commune’s liberties” including competency in matters of justice and customs that the suzerain undertook to respect. The communes acquired the freedom to reform their customs, regulate their economic life, manage communal property and the city’s revenues generated above all by “rights of justice” and direct and indirect taxation such as land tax (taille) and octroi. Via the communal charter, the suzerain undertook not only to respect the rights granted to the commune, but also to protect it: for example, in the 1127 charter of the commune of Saint-Omer, the Count of Flanders wrote: “First that to every man I will show peace, and I will protect and defend them with good will just as I do my other men”. In return, the commune owed homage to the suzerain, swore an oath of allegiance and undertook to provide resources, notably soldiers. The commune’s rights were often embodied in the seal and the belfry that housed the bancloque, a great bell that summoned the population to communal meetings, and thus symbolized the right to self-administration.

According to Max Weber,[17] these practices of subsidiarity (universities, communes) appear to have been specific to Europe with no real equivalent on other continents. Why then did so many European cities so precociously acquire a significant and autonomous political role? The phenomenon appears to be partly linked to the relatively dense population in Europe that favoured agricultural productivity, leading to technical progress that in turn required the development of activities more differentiated than agriculture.

The Hanseatic League illustrates two aspects of subsidiarity embodied in the commune’s rights, as discussed above, namely a top-down logic that had to be safeguarded, and a bottom-up logic. On the one hand the foundation of the League in 1241 via the Treaty between Hamburg and Lubeck was designed to safeguard the freedoms acquired from the suzerains, notably in the event of issues raised by succession. On the other hand, the purpose was to create a higher-ranking organisation that could more effectively protect trade against pirates in the Baltic Sea (“Hansen” is from Old German meaning “to associate”). Each city provided the League with a military contingent and funds, while the League drew up a specific maritime law.

The advent of the nation state as a necessity

As the centuries unfolded, a higher-level community appeared: the State, successor to what Fernand Braudel called “the unfinished State, […] unable to exercise all its rights unaided, nor fulfil all its tasks […] and obliged to turn to others, to its own detriment”.[18]

The nation state, as we know it in the 21st century, and as it is recognised, for example, in the name “United Nations Organisation”, which is an assembly of States referred to as nations, can be considered as having stemmed from historical, geographical or societal realities. This political innovation is the result of several converging factors. On the one hand, geopolitical factors rooted in a desire for a power to be exerted over broader territory. The histories of France or China come to mind. Charles Tilly illustrates the case of France, pointing out that Louis XIII “probably demolished more fortresses [perfect symbols of local self-determination] than he actually built in his whole reign; but he built fortresses on the frontiers and destroyed them in the heartland”.[19] Thus forces are concentrated at “national” level, reinforcing royal power to the detriment of local autonomy.[20] In some cases, the birth of a State may be the result of a choice, as in the example of Switzerland, or when countries seized independence, as in the USA, Ireland, Norway and numerous Southern Hemisphere nations.

In other cases, the population of a territory has not felt big enough to ensure adequate autonomy. Examples were Geneva, which asked to join the Swiss Confederation,[21] a number of North American states that joined the United States of America, initially only made up of thirteen members, and also the creation of the United Arab Emirates.

These examples comply with the principle of subsidiarity: in each case competency is transferred to a higher level by a lower level that is short on capacity. The lower level nonetheless conserves its right to participate in decisions taken notably through representative democracy or a federative system. Geographical factors come into play too when state frontiers are geographical limits, be they, of course, coastlines as in the case of island states, but also watersheds, separating France and Spain, or Sweden and Norway, and river borders between Bulgaria and Romania,[22] French Guyana and Surinam, the USA and Mexico.

Put simply, any State may, however, evolve in two different ways.

One way is to take responsibility for functions that cannot be handed down, setting up mechanisms that comply with the principle of subsidiarity, notably in constitutional texts. To take a first example, Article 3 of the Swiss Constitution of 1874 spells out a subsidiary logic: “The Cantons are sovereign except to the extent that their sovereignty is limited by the Federal Constitution. They exercise all rights that are not vested in the Confederation”.[23] This means that the federal power only has competency when it can assume it better than the canton. In particular, Article 2 sets out the goals and therefore the legitimacy of the higher level that is the Swiss Confederation which “protects the freedom and rights of the people and insures the independence and security of the country”. Consequently, Swiss subsidiarity is worded as follows:[24] “What communes can do, the canton should not do; what cantons can do, the Confederation should not do”.

The second example is provided by Germany. Article 30 of the Basic Law of Bonn 1949 – the equivalent of a constitution – sets out the following: “The exercise of the powers of the state and the performance of state functions shall be the concern of the Laender, insofar as this Basic Law does not otherwise prescribe or permit”. The intention of distributing power between the different levels is thus clarified and then confirmed in Article 70 on the “The division of competence between the Federation and the Laender”, the first paragraph of which indicates that: “the Laender shall have the right of legislation insofar as this Basic Law does not accord legislative powers to the Federation”. Further, it is worth noting that the Laender exert significant influence on federal legislation especially via the second assembly, the Bundesrat, representing not the voters, like the Bundestag, but the governments elected by the Laender.

Though we did say that we would not be discussing the European Union, it does appear important to mention an incident that predates the inclusion of the term “subsidiarity” in European treaties, namely the draft directive on lawnmowers submitted to the President of the Commission, Lord Jenkins, for signature in 1978. He refused to sign, not seeing fit to enforce a single uniform regulation on the use of lawnmowers in all member nations of the European Economic Community (EEC), considering that this constituted an unnecessary interference in the life of each commune in the EEC and demonstrating a totally unjustified omnipotence of red tape. Without actually using the word, he applied the principle of subsidiarity.

Notwithstanding the examples above, it is true that in all cases, the State enjoys a position of superiority defined by Carré de Malberg in these terms: the State is “a human community, established on its own territory and endowed with an organisation that yields for the group, envisaged in its relationships with its members, a superior power of action, command and coercion”.[25] Consequently, the State often has a tendency to concentrate a greater number of decisions, all the more readily as it enjoys territorial sovereignty, a phenomenon exemplified 1204 when the king, at the time King of the Francs, i.e. one of the peoples then living in the kingdom, decided to style himself King of France,[26] thereby demonstrating that the monarchical power now had a territorial basis.

As a result, many States develop a centralized administration. Hence they create nationwide vertical links, with no intermediaries, between the power of the sovereign and the population. This engenders a real risk of the State tending towards a spirit of domination, analysed as follows: “The State has become the power over powers. It is the superior power, overarching the other powers, in a position of exteriority and superiority in relation to society, dominating it, and based on the idea of unconditioned power”.[27]

Yet this primacy of the State can derail, leading to internal or external conflicts that are detrimental to the common good. The idea of national unity that has a tendency to neglect the reality of lower-level groups, prevails over the idea whereby the nation is a union. In these scenarios, “it is considered that the individual’s supreme loyalty must go to the nation state”.[28] Yet this supreme loyalty is often expressed integrally, meaning that it must exclude any additional loyalty to groups of inferior rank, deemed liable to damage the supreme loyalty. To legitimate this undivided loyalty, the nation state predicates that it would otherwise be exposed to a twofold threat: from separatist pressure within and from external domination by other powers.

Whence the excesses of nationalism sometimes based on the myth of the nation-race exemplified by National-Socialist Germany with its insistence on a common language, the geography of lebensraum and the idea of a German race, superior to the others.[29]

State can also be side-tracked by religious nationalism, a key to understanding the Armenian genocide or Egypt’s policy of expulsion in 1956. In religious nationalism Nation is defined by membership of a religious community. This legitimates the exclusion of all non-members.[30]

Yet, over and above the dramatic risk of nationalist hyperbola riding roughshod over the principle of subsidiarity, the risk, temporary or enduring, is real, even in countries that are self-styled democracies.

The risk of self-styled democratic States trampling the principle of subsidiarity

True, in democracies and even in undemocratic States, the State itself is generally uncontested in the execution of tasks falling within its “sovereign powers”, namely, essentially, justice, internal security (police and justice) and external security (the army). Yet as we have already seen, any State, given the sovereignty that it exercises over a territory, has a tendency to extend the scope of its authority, even when limited by constitutional principles. In Germany, for example, a federal nation, responsibility for higher education lies with the Laender. Yet, in 2018, the federal State proposed to specifically fund universities with the proviso that it would have the power to monitor how the money was used. Several Laender preferred to reject the subsidies that undermined their competency and appeared contrary to the principle of subsidiarity. Even in the USA, States or cities periodically undertake legal proceedings in situations where they consider that the President has overstepped the mark. Examples are the safe haven cities that consider that they have the right to welcome and protect immigrants deemed at federal level to be in an irregular situation. In France and other democratic nations, the parliamentary opposition periodically refers bills to the Conseil constitutionnel (watchdog on matters of constitutionality) on the grounds that they may be an abuse of power.

There are a variety of ways in which a State, even when it has styled itself as democratic, can waive subsidiarity. One is to vote laws and regulations that significantly bridle and indeed, asphyxiate the freedom of intermediary levels, such as local and regional authorities.[31] Another tactic is to penalize a lower-level organisation by creating an environment that reduces its options and makes its life difficult. For example, in any State the family contributes to the education of children and teenagers. If the State, via regulatory, financial decisions or tax policy… increases the burden on family life, it restricts families’ freedom to have children[32] and access education.

Applying the principle of subsidiarity

In the hope of finding a way of countering the rules – some of which are inevitably restrictive – that States set for their nationals, risking the excesses of centralized States, some prone the replacement of States by a cosmopolitanism in which all individuals should be considered solely in terms of their identity as “citizens of the world”. Thus, in the pipedream of an undiluted cosmopolitanism the concept of State is made obsolete, all the more so as it is held responsible for conflicts and for limiting the sharing of ideas, information and for preventing the freedom of movement of individuals.

Yet, according to Francis Wolff,[33] it is impossible to be a citizen of the world if that implies being a citizen of nowhere, reneging on all origins and on each individual’s sense of belonging. We should note here that an individual may only be a citizen of the European Union when he or she is a citizen of one of the EU’s member states. The cosmopolitan idea implies that individuals agree to forfeit the different facets of their identity, making all humans into interchangeable beings. It therefore becomes incoherent as soon as it has to be applied to real individuals, because “all authentic identity is plural”.[34] Elsewhere, Georges Burdeau[35] writes: “Nobody has ever seen the State. Yet who can deny that it is a reality”. The author however points out that there can be no State without territory, population or commanding authority.

The existence of a rank corresponding to the State should therefore not be dispensed with, provided that it is always based on rules of law. Indeed, without law, there is no State worthy of the name. As St Augustine of Hippo pointed out: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?”.[36]

The existence of the State is more generally legitimated by its duties, clearly detailed by Pope Benedict XVI in Freeing Freedom: Faith and Politics in the Third Millennium “The duty of the State is to maintain order in the human community, to create a balance between property and freedom such that individuals may each live a life worthy of their humanity […] The State guarantees law as a condition for freedom and common wellbeing […] However, it is not the role of the State to fulfil the happiness of humanity; nor is it to create new men. Neither is its role to transform the world into Paradise; of this it is indeed incapable. If, despite all this, it tries, it posits itself as absolute and oversteps its remit”.[37]

True, nation states do not all reference the same ideal values, be they those of democracy or individual freedoms. Yet, in the 21st century, they are not an obsolete structure that we should be in a rush to jettison. A well-conceived nation state remains a space for democracy and solidarity, as well as a player which, by nature, can continue to strive to achieve real international cooperation.

In other words, the nation state, while it may assume various guises in different times and places, is a tangible reality that will continue to have considerable importance in the lives of mankind. As for nationalism, in the view of Gil Delannoi, it has nothing innately malevolent. Good and bad use may be made of it.[38] Delannoi argues that in the 21st century, the nation remains the indispensable arena for democratic experience; it is even the best rampart against enduring and resurgent forms of nationalism.[39]

The nation is all the more a reality in that it is obviously rooted in a geographical base to which it attaches crucial importance as testified by countless ongoing border disputes. It is true that the International Court of Justice (ICJ), founded by Article 92 of the United Nations Charter, does periodically settle some of these disputes from its head office in the Peace Palace at The Hague (Netherlands).

However, given the admittedly wide-ranging means available to a State, and its sovereignty over both domestic and foreign affairs,[40] there is an inevitable risk that its rulers may develop, in the name of the principle of unity, a strong-arm nationalism liable to engender external and internal conflict against opponents, or gain ever more power. As was pointed out by the British politician John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Lord Acton (1934-1902): “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

One way to eliminate these risks, not only through a concern for individual freedoms, is to implement the principle of subsidiarity whereby the State agrees to intervene only when the beneficial effects of its action are a clear improvement on the measures taken at intermediary, regional or local levels.[41]

Because, as Alexis de Tocqueville argued in advocating territorial subsidiarity, the building of democracy was a bottom-up process:[42] “The strength of free peoples resides in the town. Town institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to knowledge; they put it within the grasp of the people; they give them a taste of its peaceful practice and accustom them to its use. Without town institutions, a nation can pretend to have a free government, but it does not possess the spirit of liberty. Temporary passions, momentary interests, the chance of circumstances can give it the external forms of independence; but despotism, driven back into the interior of the social body, reappears sooner or later at the surface”.[43]


[*] Rector and Professor at Sorbonne University, Chairman of the review Population & Avenir, e-mail:
[2] Millon-Delsol, Chantal, Le principe de subsidiarité, Paris, PUF, 1993, p. 13.
[3] See notably, Pellissier-Tanon, Arnaud, “L’ordre hiérarchique des divers groupements – Une note sur les fondements aristotéliciens du principe de subsidiarité”, in: Bichot, Jacques, P. Coulange, Pierre et Largillier, Bernard, et al., La subsidiarité, Aix, Presses universitaires d’Aix-Marseille, 2014, pp. 15-22.
[4] Cf. Millon-Delsol, Chantal, L’Etat subsidiaire. Ingérence et non-ingérence de l’Etat : le principe de subsidiarité aux fondements de l’histoire européenne, Paris, PUF, 1991.
[5] Bodin, Jean, Les six livres de la République, Paris, Fayard, 1986, 6 volumes.
[6] Cf. Demelemestre, Gaëlle, Introduction à la Politica methodice de Johannes Althusius, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 2012. According to Althusius, a people was not just the sum of its individuals, but a corporate, legal and political person. Society was made up of nested groups, each working to address needs that cannot be satisfied at the immediately lower level, thus delivering not just greater utility, but also a higher quality of being.
[7] E.g. Aubelle, Vincent, Kada, Nicolas (direction), Les grandes figures de la décentralisation, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 2019.
[8] Term used in the United Kingdom.
[9] For a recent analysis, see, for example, Naudet, Jean-Yves, “Société civile et subsidiarité : l’apport de Benoît XVI”, in Bichot, Jacques, P. Coulange, Pierre et Largillier, Bernard, et al., La subsidiarité, Presses universitaires d’Aix- Marseille, 2014, pp. 23-36.
[10] Cf. Delsol, Chantal, “Les fondements anthropologiques du principe de subsidiarité”, May 4, 2011, available at:
[11] The theologian priest George Desbuquois, in the first French translation of the 1931 encyclical used the adjective supplétif (an adjective that places greater emphasis on the role of “auxiliary” or “back-up” and less on the connotation of rank), while more recent translations have opted for the more explicit “subsidiarity”. The four official versions, published on May 15, 1931 in Italian, English, Spanish, and Latin and in neither German nor French, make no use of the noun form “subsidiarity”, using only the adjective form.
[12] Encyclical Quadragesimo anno, May 15, 1931.
[13] The template for a Germanic civilisation of freedom is outlined in: Zurfluh, Anselm, Un monde contre le changement, une culture au cœur des Alpes, Uri en Suisse, Paris, Economica, 1993.
[14] See: Bergier Jean-François, Guillaume Tell, Paris, Fayard, 1988.
[15] It is worth remembering that the term “university” comes from a Medieval Latin word meaning “community”.
[16] Including some quite tasty rules. For example in the 1366 “Reform of the Statutes of the University of Paris”, students are instructed to “sit on the floor in front of their masters and not on benches... to preserve youth from any opportunity for pride”; see Carpentier, Jean, Lebrun, François (direction), Histoire de l’Europe, Paris, Seuil, 1990.
[17] Weber, Max, La ville, 1921, Paris, trad. Aubier-Montaigne, 1982.
[18] Braudel Fernand, Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe-XVIIIe siècle. Les jeux de l’échange (Tome III), Paris, Librairie Armand Colin, 1979, p. 661. Our translation.
[19] Tilly Charles, Contrainte et capital dans la formation de l’Europe, 990-1990, Paris, Aubier, 1992, pp. 122-123.
[20] Anderson, Lineage of the absolutist state, New York, Verso, 1996, p. 19.

[21] Dumont, Gérard-François, Démographie politique, Les lois de la géopolitique des populations, Paris, Ellipses, 2007.
[22] On river and other natural borders in Europe, cf.: Dumont, Gérard-François, Verluise, Pierre, Géopolitique de l’Europe : de l’Atlantique à l’Oural, Paris, PUF, 2016.
[23] Wording kept in the December 18, 1998 Federal Decree pertaining to the new updated version of the Federal Constitution.
[24] Bernard, Élise, “La Confédération suisse comme modèle de l’intégration européenne”, Uvo u pravo Svajcarske, Belgrade, 2018.
[25] Contribution à la théorie générale de l’Etat, 1920, t. 1, p 7. Our translation.
[26] As for the birth of the State in France, it can be dated to 1190: “King Philippe II, prior to setting out on a crusade, issued an ordinance setting out how the kingdom was to be organised during his absence. This became known as the “testament”, as nobody could be sure of returning from a crusade! The document establishes a centralized and hierarchical organization spanning the whole of the kingdom’s territory. The king became the sovereign of the land and this sovereignty was legitimated by being in the “public interest”. The decree opens with the following proclamation: “The office of king consists of providing by all means for the needs of his subjects, and of placing public interest before personal interest”; Giltard, Daniel, L’idée d’État
, id. Our translation.
[27] Giltard, Daniel, “L’idée d’État”, Zbornik radova Pravnog fakulteta u Splitu, god. 56, 1/2019. Our translation.
[28] Hans Kohn, The idea of nationalism. A study in its origin and background, New York, 1944; Nationalism: its meaning and history, Princeton, 1955, p. 9.
[29] Cf, Chapoutot, Johann, La Révolution culturelle nazie, Paris, Gallimard, 2017. Central to the Nazi system was the supreme value of the concept of nature, and, consequently of race, instinct, primitiveness, antiquity, blood and soil. In the racist conception of history the body social can be defined as a racial body and “the culture of the Northern race as an expression of its blood” (p. 140).
[30] Da Lage, Olivier, L’essor des nationalismes religieux, Paris, Demopolis, 2018. See also Maalouf, Amin, Les identités meurtrières, Paris, Grasset, 1998. Why does the affirmation of self so often go hand in hand with the negation of the other?
[31] For example, in 2015, the French State, which regularly presents itself as Rule of Law State, had no hesitation in using force to flout an international treaty, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, to merge its regions. Article 5 of this treaty sets out that “Changes in local authority boundaries shall not be made without prior consultation of the local communities concerned, possibly by means of a referendum where this is permitted by statute”. The European Council’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities ultimately denounced the violation in its report “Local and regional democracy in France”, March 2016, point 208. Cf. Dumont, Gérard-François, “Géopolitique des territoires français : décentralisation versus recentralisation”,, la revue géopolitique, September 15, 2018; “Devoluzione addio! Lo Stato francese riaccentra”, Limes, revista italiana di geopolitica, Rome, 2018, n° 3.
[32] France also illustrates this trend: cf. Dumont, Gérard-François, “France : comment expliquer quatre années de baisse de la fécondité ?”, Population & Avenir, n° 742, March-April 2019.
[33] Wolff, Francis, Trois utopies contemporaines, Paris, Fayard, 2017.
[34] Dumont, Gérard-François, Médiavenir, special issue #2, spring 2004.
[35] Burdeau, Georges, L’Etat, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 2009; preface by Philippe Braud.
[36] Cité de Dieu, IV, 4, 1.
[37] Ratzinger, Joseph/Benoît XVI, Libérer la Liberté, Foi et politique, Paris, Parole et Silence, 2018, p. 122.
[38] Delannoi, Gil, La nation contre le nationalisme, ou la résistance des nations, Paris, PUF, 2018.
[39] See the analysis by Joshua Mitchell, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Georgetown. A specialist in the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, he considers that “Westerners alone feel guilty about their nations”. If the nation state makes way, identities re-emerge at the expense of citizenship. Cf. Figarovox, 19 July 2019.
[40] On the importance of the State in the exercise of its external sovereignty, Article 32 of the Basic Law of Germany provides us with an example: “Insofar as the Laender have power to legislate, they may conclude treaties with foreign states with the consent of the Federal Government”.
[41] We should note that what ideally tends towards regional subsidiarity takes very different forms from one European country to another; cf. Dumont, Gérard-François, “Les régions d’Europe : une extrême diversité institutionnelle”,, La revue géopolitique, January 11, 2014.
[42] Dumont, Gérard-François, “La démocratie se construit par le bas”, Ensemble, inventions la commune du XXIe siècle, Paris, Association des Maires de France (AMF), 2016.
[43] De la démocratie en Amérique, Pagnerre, 1848, Vol. 1.


Nation, State, Nation-State

Plenary Session 1-3 May 2019 | Concept Note – The world is facing today a growing... Read more

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