The Relationship Between Sphere Sovereignty and Subsidiarity

  • Lael Daniel WeinbergerEmail author
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 37)


Sphere sovereignty is a social theory based on theological principles. Its starting point is the absolute sovereignty of God. From this principle, sphere sovereignty denies that any single human institution can claim absolute sovereignty. As a result, sphere sovereignty principles support an institutionally pluralistic society, where all kinds of power and authority are divided among various “spheres.” First propounded by Reformed theologians in the Netherlands, sphere sovereignty initially focused on the limitation of state power so as to preserve the independence of various social “spheres,” especially the church, from the state. While sphere sovereignty is rightly opposed to improper consolidation of state power, it does affirm the place of civil government in the social order. The model of society affirmed by sphere sovereignty has certain resonances with the Catholic social teachings on subsidiarity. Some have argued that sphere sovereignty is fundamentally different from its Catholic counterpart. But it is more helpful to see sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity as complimentary, each recognising a distinct aspect of social relationships within healthy and well-functioning society.


Sphere sovereignty Calvin Kuyper Groen Dooyeweerd Dutch reformed tradition Dutch Calvinism Pluralism Catholic social teaching 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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