New York Fellows 2016: Session Six

Mediating Structures Between the State and the Individual

Date: Monday, April 11, 2016
Guest Discussion Leader: Daniel J. Mahoney, Assumption College

The best conservative thought opposes radical individualism (which erodes the “mediating structures” between the state and the individual) in the name of those associations and groupings that give shape and form to human liberty. Tocqueville famously praised Americans for their prodigious “art of association,” their remarkable capacity to form voluntary associations between the state and the individual. Contemporary conservative thinkers such as Robert Nisbet, Richard John Neuhaus, and Peter Berger have drawn on Tocqueville’s wisdom to show how “mediating structures” can renew community and “empower people,” and in the process act as a check on state power.

Required Reading:

1977 pamphlet by Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, “To Empower People: The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy”

De Tocqueville, Alexis. “On the Use that Americans Make of Association in Civil Life.”  Democracy in America Vol II.

Recommended Reading: 

Wolfe, Christopher. “Subsidiarity: The “Other” Ground for Limited Government” in Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Moral Foundations of Democracy. (Grasso, Bradley, and Hunt eds., 1995). pp. 81-96.

Gregg, Samuel. “Markets, Morality, and Civil Society.” The Intercollegiate Review. Fall 03/Spring 04.

Stone, Brad. “Mediating Structures.” First Principles ISI Web Journal. April 9, 2012. 

Session Six Required Reading

Session Six Recommended Reading

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways is liberalism, with its roots in Enlightenment thought, blind to mediating structures? In what ways is it addicted to abstract, “geometric” approaches to social policy where the individual and the State are the principal social actors?  
  1. Why are mediating structures “essential for a vital democratic society”? How do they “empower people” and help avoid the centralization and concentration of power?  
  1. According to Tocqueville, how does the art of (voluntary) association counteract radical individualism and strengthen the social tie? Contrast the American “art of association” with the French reliance on government and the British reliance on “men of rank”? 
  1. How does Berger and Neuhaus’s analysis complement and update Tocqueville’s classic discussion of voluntary associations? 

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