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Changing Lanes, Part 2: Mediating Entities

This is part 2 of a 5-part article.

Read Part 1 Here

So what are “mediating entities” and why are they essential to a free society?

The word mediate comes from the Latin mediare, which means “to be in the middle.”

A mediator is one who stands in the middle of a dispute to help the parties find a common-ground resolution to the conflict.

We are familiar with this role of mediators in personal matters in our society but we have largely forgotten the role of institutional mediating entities that can help provide common-ground resolutions to the inherent and seemingly eternal conflict between the private and public spheres, between the lone individual and the looming state.

The private sphere is where meaning, fulfillment, and personal identity are to be realized for each individual and is most commonly understood in the context of family life.

The public sphere is where compromise and conformity to public norms require the sacrifice of individuality so society can function.

Standing between the lone individual in the private sphere and the looming mega-structure of national government in the public sphere are what Edmund Burke refers to as “little platoons.”

These include families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and other voluntary associations that provide intermediary bubbles in which individuality is enhanced while at the same time intermixed with state notions of compromise and commonality.


Consider the family. The family is the bubble in which a child first learns what makes him unique and where he feels safe enough to explore his individuality.

It is also the first place a child learns to make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole.

In the family, it is natural for a parent to expose a child to various activities or ideas to determine what unique interests the child may have and to give the child an enhanced sense of self.

It is also natural for a parent to ask a child to sacrifice personal interests to benefit the family, such as to provide help with cooking or cleaning.

In the end, this is not very different from what makes free societies tick.

Just as the family will provide protection for a child to develop his individuality but will ask the child to make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole family, the state will protect an individual from outside threats, but will also require personal sacrifice of each citizen at times, whether in the form of taxes, jury duty, or military service.

For this reason, the family is the fundamental mediating unit that stands between the individual and the state in society.

It is in the family that children are expected to learn the core values and beliefs that democratic institutions later draw on to perpetuate themselves.

Public School

Another important mediating entity is the public school. In the traditional sense, public schools derive their authority from both parents and the state.

Public schools derive their authority from the state because they were created by and may be terminated by the state. This gives the state some leverage regarding curriculum and policies.

However, schools also derive their authority from parents because parents have a fundamental right to educate their children, and public schools only hold that right when delegated to them by parents.

Even under modern Supreme Court jurisprudence, unsatisfied parents are always free to withdraw their children and enroll them in private schools or educate them at home.

Because of this right, parents also have some leverage regarding curriculum and policies. The hybrid character of the source of authority places schools in an interactive relationship with both the private family sphere and the public governmental sphere.

The public school should not be a place that imposes the state’s cookie-cutter sense of meaning on all students; but nor should it be a place that must conform in all respects to how a small group of parents in a given locale think it should be.

Instead, the school has traditionally been a mediating entity that has forced parents and the state to come together and create an atmosphere in which students may be instilled with values and morality on behalf of the family and with a sense of community and socialization on behalf of the state.

While schools today have essentially become nothing but an arm of the state, causing many parents to seek alternative educational models for their children, it is important that parents remember the higher function public schools should be performing so they can recognize and support appropriate public school legislation.

Other Mediating Entities

Neighborhoods, churches, and other voluntary associations also form an important part of the fabric that holds a democratic society together.

These entities allow individuality and pluralism on a broader level because an individual’s involvement in her neighborhood, church, scout troop, rotary club, sports team, or other organizations at once enhances her individuality and increases her shared sense of community.

These are also important platoons that mediate between the individual and the state.


James C. Ure, Esquire is a mentor of Constitutional Case Law at George Wythe University and the owner and headmaster of Williamsburg Academy, an accredited, private, online high school with an emphasis in leadership, classical works and the outdoors.

James received his B.A. in English from Brigham Young University and graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law. In law school, James served as President of the Federalist Society, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and hosted speeches or debates with prominent judges and professors from around the country. He also served on the South Texas Law Review, which published an article of his on the structure and powers of the U.S. Constitution.

He has been a small business owner, clerked for a Texas state court judge and a law firm, and served as an intern in the Utah House of Representatives for the majority whip. He is married to the former Angela Stott. They have three children and reside in Cedar City, Utah.


  1. I agree with the part about family 100%, but I’m a little uncomfortable about state-funded public schools being a mediating entity. Maybe I’m just paranoid or pessimistic, but when people talk about parents and state cooperating, I see that as simply a pretense for taking away power from parents.

    For example, in the 2001 book, “Developing Democratic Character in the Young,” edited by education theorist John Goodlad, we read:

    “…education is a task for both parents and state. The state, parents and children all have interests that must be protected…

    “we are looking for balance…that will consider the interests of parents, state, and children.”

    Okay, so these statements are not too different from what you’re saying in this article. But then we find this bold pronouncement:

    “Parents do not own their children. They have no ‘natural right’ to control their education fully.”

    I think you are painting a picture of a how public schools could be a positive environment, but I’m having a hard time visualizing it. I’m okay with parents and state coming together, but I think that parents should have more power than the state. That, to me, is what a bottom-up republican system means.

    Also, the Founders wanted a broad program of education, but I’m not sure they intended it to funded and run by the state.

  2. Yes, I agree that parents are primarily responsible. However, schools and government are secondarily responsible and have vested interests in perpetuating our republic through educated citizens. I do not mean to say that the school should have more power than the parents. If anything, the opposite is true. However, I do think it’s important to acknowledge a legitimate state interest in education. Just because the state has gone to the extreme of thinking only the state’s interests matter doesn’t mean we should go to the opposite extreme. Balance is the key, and I think balance requires us to acknowledge that the state does have some interest in an educated citizenry. I think we probably agree on what that balance should look like, with parents having ultimate responsibility.

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