Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Subsidiarity: A Primer

Brad Miner (The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry) writes,
Subsidiarity matters to me, and it's useful to recall this core principle of Catholic social teaching (and of American federalism), especially this week, as Benedict XVI releases his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth"), which is expected to address the subsidiarity principle in the context of the global financial crisis.

Here's what I wrote about it a decade ago in my book, The Concise Conservative Encyclopedia, sandwiched between entries on Strauss, Leo (1899-1973) and Sumner, William Graham (1840-1910):

subsidiarity: A term (the Latin subsidium for aid, help) from Roman Catholic social philosophy which expresses the view that, whenever practicable, decisions ought to be made by those most affected by the decisions. Put another way: the national government ought only to do what the states cannot; the states only what communities cannot; communities only what families cannot; families only what individuals cannot. This is not to suggest that Catholic social theory (especially as read in papal encyclicals) is always in favor of the minimalist state. John XXIII in Pacem in Terris (1963), while affirming the doctrine of subsidiarity, called for publicly funded health and unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and government support for the arts. Still, it is clear that "a planned economy . . . violates the principle of subsidiarity . . ." (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1965). Read: R.J. Neuhaus, Doing Well and Doing Good (1992). "Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to the community at large what private enterprise and endeavor can accomplish, so it is likewise unjust and a gravely harmful disturbance of right order to turn over to a greater society of higher rank functions and services which can be performed by lesser bodies on a lower plane." --Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931)

I might have mentioned that, although not derived from Catholic sources (the first formulation in an encyclical came in 1891 in Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, "Of New Things,"), subsidiarity forms the basis of our Tenth Amendment ("The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people") ...
Read more here.

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