The Development of the Principle of Distributed Authority, or Sphere Sovereignty

In: Philosophia Reformata
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The article traces the articulation of the principle of distributed authority, or sphere sovereignty, and its background in politics and theology. It considers the two Dutch national leaders who used and developed it most as well as noting some of its earlier sources. An account is given of the way the principle of distributed authority arose and what it meant to the thinkers and leaders of the Anti-Revolutionary (movement and) Party in the Netherlands. The principle and its articulation is chronicled through the long struggle for the distribution of educational, ecclesiastical, and political authority (sovereignty) to those people active in various areas, each understood as sovereign spheres. The article shows the crucial role played by Kuyper in the step by step formulation of the principle, thereby laying to rest rival claims. Finally, the article suggests that the principle had great importance in Herman Dooyeweerd’s thought and in the development of his philosophy.

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  • 3

    Published in May 1874 (Kuyper 1874, 282). This is also the first time Kuyper used the term “Calvinism” in the title of a treatise − soon to be followed by others (Kuyper 1888; 1891a; 1898).

  • 7

    Kuyper 1879, 39 §23: ‘It is my conviction that knowledge of these principles, of a pure or full kind, can nowhere be gained except from a study of God’s Word and research into God’s ordinances. The standards that others have used to test what is correct and incorrect are unsatisfactory, and as far as I can judge, neither history, legal studies, nor the systems of philosophers have a reliable point of departure to offer for knowledge of the true, virtuous, eternal legal principles. Not in history! Because even though we gladly agree that in morals, manners, habits and customs, a national awareness of justice is expressed − and every piece of legislation that fails to take past history into account will be baseless − hence, history can never be the touchstone of the principles, because they exemplify a relative application of the principle, but never formulate the principles themselves; and even if this constitutes no objection, there is nothing in the application that offers us a guarantee against the corrupting and denaturing of the principles.’

  • 10

    This was cited in Henderson 1994, note 133.

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