Pluralism and the Personality of the State (Ideas in Context)

By David Runciman

Pluralism and the character of the country tells the historical past of English political proposal from 1900 to 1933, focusing on the paintings of the political pluralists and their assault at the inspiration of country sovereignty. It explores the heritage to their paintings within the principles of the English thinker Thomas Hobbes and the German jurist Otto von Gierke. It additionally seems at what wider relevance their rules may have at the present time, quite with reference to the query of the relation among the nation and voluntary institutions.

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In it, Figgis asks of any church: Does [she] exist by some inward living force, with powers of self­development? or is she a mere aggregate, a fortuitous concourse of ecclesiastical atoms, treated it may be as one  for the purposes of commonsense, but with no real claim to a mind or will of her own, except so far as the civil power sees good to invest her for the nonce with the portion of  team spirit? 29 This, for Figgis, was the key question; and it was to provide a clear answer to this question that he attempted in Churches in the modern State to produce a coherent  Genossenschaftstheorie of his own. But before looking to see what that theory was, it is worth (footnote continued from previous page) 1900–1904 and its origins (Edinburgh, 1988), p. 1). This may be somewhat melodramatic, but it conveys the immediate effect of the final decision in the cast, which was to divide  the material life of the church from the lives of most of its members. 28 This was The Churches (Scotland) Act of 1905, which vested the funds of the Free Church in a Parliamentary Commission, whose job it was to distribute those funds as nearly as  possible in accordance with the spirit in which they had been raised. 29 Figgis, Churches in the modern State (London, 1913), p. forty. Page 136 considering in more detail the Scottish Church case itself, which was so crucial to the development of Figgis's political thought, and therefore to the development of  English political pluralism as a whole. The first point to note is that although Figgis believed that the point at issue was group personality, this did not involve the issue of  the group's corporate status understood in any strictly legal sense. No­one believed that the Scottish Church case was to be resolved by deciding whether or not the  church was a corporation. It was a trust, and the question was whether or not the original terms of the trust were binding on successive generations of the church's  contributors. In this sense, it was not a case which can be fitted neatly into the heart of Maitland's arguments about group personality, since Maitland believed that the  primary purpose of introducing English (and by extension Scottish) lawyers to the concept of the Genossenschaft was to enable them to ascribe corporate status to  groups with a greater degree of accuracy. Yet for this very reason, the Scottish Church case helps to illuminate the part of Maitland's argument which is least clear —  that is, its conclusion, where Maitland moves from non­concessionary fictitious personality to a conception of group personality as something real. The Free Church of  Scotland had already addressed itself to the issue of concessionary personality at the time of its formation in 1843 — the break in the established church had occurred  precisely because some of its members could not accept the state interfering in its internal affairs as it was used to interfere in the affairs of chartered corporations. Although the dissidents still believed in the broad principles of church establishment, they utilised the general rules of trust law to create a group capable of self­ governance, and organised around principles that its members had chosen for themselves.

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