La XXXIXe Semaine sociale du Canada avait pour thème général « L'Etat et les corps intermédiaires ». L’auteur a présenté la communication suivante dans laquelle il essaie de préciser la notion de « corps intermédiaires ».
No clear-cut distinctions are made between « inferior groups », « intermediate groups » and « intermediate organizations » in the studies pertaining to this issue. Those concepts are used interchangeably. However, it seems that the organization concept adds to the notion of group structural and functional dimensions,
In sociology as well as in political science, group is one of those concepts which are the most difficult to grasp and define. All groups are « intermediate ». Adding this qualification to some groups means that we want to indicate a certain particularity. Then, what is it ?
The terms of the relationship in what is called « intermediate groups » are individuals, first-order groups, or second-order groups on one hand, and the whole society represented by the State on the other. Intermediate groups also possess two specific characteristics : a) a situation of exteriority vis-a-vis the State ; b) an autonomy of action vis-a-vis the government power.
They are socially-organized forms whose object is to represent and make the aspirations and common interests of a category of people prevail in the opinion of those who are held responsible for the public interest. An other trait that must be added is their intent to cooperate with the political power. In their essence, they are distinct of and external to the State ; in their activities, they are autonomous, but sensitive to the general interest. Political parties, by their very nature, must not be looked upon as intermediate groups since they seek to get hold of the political power and are parts of the governmental apparatus either as wielding power or as being in the opposition.
Moreover, economico-professional groups are not the only ones that should be called intermediate groups, eventhough they are maybe the most active and the best organized. Within the society, many other common interests exist in the most diverse areas which must be represented to the State.
Intermediate Groups : Pressure Groups
ls it appropriate to classify intermediate groups in the category of pressure groups ?
Pressure groups are unpopular and there are reasons for being so. However, it is difïicult to clearly delineate the borderlines of pressure groups. Jean Maynaud has defined them in the following manner: « All interest groups which intervene upon government under any title (exclusive, principal, occasional) to make their claims prevail or to affirm their pretentions even against an attack coming from the State itself ». If we agree upon this generic definition, we must include intermediate groups in « pressure groups ». Since all groups can casually intervene upon power-wielders — and as this intervention is more frequent due to the pervasiveness of State action — intermediate groups can be considered as pressure groups under a certain aspect. But they are not exclusively so. Besides that, if pressure groups, in our minds, amount to a secretly-organized force whose the sole purpose is to use the government power for special interests, it is impossible to think of all intermediate groups as being pressure groups.
Intermediate Groups : Administrative Bodies ?
Is it possible to consider intermediate groups as administrative bodies ? When we look at their objectives, their tructure, and their organization, it becomes obvious that some intermediate groups are designed to be administrative agencies, to perform administrative functions for their members.
But, must the faculty of exercising semi-public or public administrative functions be considered as being of the essence of intermediate groups ? Some people will answer positively. But, in our opinion, the doctrine and the experiencecompel us to reject this notion of intermediate groups as administrative agencies integrated in the governmental machinery, even though power centers are circumscribed to a particular sector.
The uniquenes of the State or political power is different from the specifity of intermediate groups. The first one is founded on sovereignty in order to promote the general interest ; the second one belongs to the order of special interests solely common to a section of the whole community.
Exteriority and autonomy vis-a-vis the political power which are the earmarks of intermediate groups would vanish. In practice, it would amount to deny the organic character of the society and to come back to Rousseau' framework of an atomized society or to give into communistis or facist totalitarianism. If this integration was realized, it would be impossible to avoid either the colonization of the State by intermediate groups or the domestication of intermediate groups by the State. Such an absorbtion supposes the disappearance of democracy as we conceive it.
Distinct and autonomous vis-a-vis the government power and public administration, intermediate groups must nevertheless establish contacts with the State. This articulated representation may take many forms. It can be institutionalized in certain government bodies whose members are the representatives of intermediate groups. But those public bodies integrated in the governmental machinery can not perform a decision function : this one belonging to the political power. Those organizations are not intermediate groups, since they belong to one of the tenus of the relationship which allows to define groups as intermediate ones.
To consider intermediate groups as public administrative agencies leads to a dangerous confusion. Neither can they be reduced exclusively to private administrative bodies or pressure groups as mentioned above.
In relation to the government power and other parts of the whole society, they are institutions expressing and representing special common interests in a framework of collaboration which must never destroy their uniqueness and vocation.
Intermediate groups do not have all the same importance and representative value. The span of their goals is more or less wide. It is difficult of refer to only one criterion for excluding either a group that pursues its interests or what is ideologically or culturally-oriented from the general denomination « intermediate groups ». Public opinion is still the best judge to indicate to public authorities what consideration should be given to each of them and what place should be attributed to it, when representing special interests which are conducive to the common good.
All apriorism risks to lead to artificial structures which will be a flight from social and emerging reality and which will not make room for true collaboration between the State and the different parts of the political society in the application of the subsidiarity principle.