Polemics & Exchanges

On Limiting Leviathan

For the most part, the flourishing of self-governing cities of the kind Prof. Donald W. Livingston describes in “Aristotelian Worms in the Leviathan” (Views, January) took place in northern Italy, central and western Germany, and the Netherlands, where the absence of a strong central authority was decisive, but the rights of the cities in Germany and Holland received confirmation and protection only through the adjudication of a superior authority in the Imperial Diet.  That would suggest that, for free cities or free associations of the kind Professor Livingston envisions to come about, there would need to be an authoritative—which is to say, legitimate—but fairly weak government confirming the rights of these associations in law.  For his idea to work, there would need to be a federal government akin to the Holy Roman Empire to guarantee the independence of the associations or “private governments” in their own internal affairs.

        —Daniel Larison
Chicago, IL

Dr. Livingston Replies:

Mr. Larison’s point is well taken, but the question is whether “a federal government akin to the Holy Roman Empire” is necessary to maintain the independence of small human-scale polities.

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