On “Saving Subsidiarity”

Vincent Miller has an excellent post on the America blog entitled Saving Subsidiarity.  He has a lot to say; the following are some key quotes.

Subsidiarity envisions not a small government, but a strong, limited one that encourages intermediate bodies and organizations (families, community groups, unions, businesses) to contribute to the common good. It envisions a strong government that protects individuals and small intermediate bodies from the actions of large organizations—not just the state but corporations as well.

In “Quadragesimo Anno” (1931), Pius XI provided the classic formulation of subsidiarity. That document is worth revisiting because its teaching is often distorted by being quoted with insufficient context.The first lines of the paragraph on subsidiarity, which are almost never quoted, alert us that Pius was not simply discussing state power:

As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations.

Then follows the now classic definition:

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.

In a conversation related to this post, a friend asked me “who decides”?  Meaning, who decides what limits to place on competition, and who decides at what level matters need to be handled?   Clearly, these are contingent decisions, but given the messy contingency called the United States of America in 2012, what changes should we (as Catholics) propose to bring our social structure more in line with the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity?  Paul Ryan claimed that his budget was an application of subsidiarity, but serious Catholic scholars have found his argument wanting.  But what are the alternatives, besides more federal spending and the concomitant centralization of power that this entails?

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  • Bill Wilson

    How about applying the principle of subsidiarity to the Catholic Church? When I first studied subsidiarity in college in the 1950s, I saw that there was a huge gap between the Church’s espousal of the concept and the imperial, top- down governance actually practiced by Rome and the bishops. This continues. For instance , the bishop of Venice, FL, made one parish repaint their church because he didn’t like the color the lay leadership had chosen in consultation with the pastor. Cost: $9,000. jpII and b16 have turned the community of the People of God into a fascist dictatorship. And yes, the early Christian community was a democracy, contrary to what the reformers of the reform would have us believe.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Fascist dictatorship maybe an overstatement, and it certainly is a misuse of the word fascist. However, the question you raise is a valid one. How should the principles of subsidiarity be applied to the Church? For instance, at what level should decisions about the liturgy be made? Or another: at one time bishops were called from the local church and were “wedded” to their diocese; now they are moved around like corporate managers at the behest of the central office.

      • Rainbow Sash Movement

        I have often heard the Church is not democracy, but by the same token it is not a dictatorship, or least should not be.

        I think subsidiarity is one of the best kept secrets in the Church. But lets take this teaching outside the conversation of Church issues to the broader society. How would this concept be used in a situation where a community organization leadership is not being responsive to its community.

        Forgive me for asking for nuts and bolts.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          No, ask the nuts and bolts questions: these are the ones that need to be asked.

  • Willem S

    I like the questions you’ve asked at the end of your post. There are no clear-cut answers, however, I think it may be practical to begin by observing those things which are the most egregious failures–like funding and regulating healthcare.

    I live in a poor region where most of the children are on Medicaid. Our pediatrician’s office automatically orders multiple swab tests when a child comes in with cold symptoms. The tests are for strep, RSV and one other which I cannot recall. This is before the doctor even sees the patient. We refuse the tests because our private insurance does not cover them. The cost us about $30 apiece. Mind you, a child could have allergies, but if the parents don’t object, the child will get the swab tests. I consider this obvious abuse of the system. It can save the doctor time, which means he can see more patients, and it more directly lines his pockets by the cut he gets from having his staff take the samples for the tests.

    I think government funding of and regulation of healthcare, in its current state, is an an open artery on our nation’s budget. It also does a disservice to individual patients, as in the case of the swab tests which are invasive and frightening/painful to young children. (They push a swab to the back of the throat and take a sample of the mucus or up the nose.) As a parent with private insurance, I had to actively make the default my judgement, not the government-enabled, greedy doctor’s protocol. When the default is parental judgement, it saves both money and preserves more of the child’s dignity.

    It is disheartening to think government involvement in healthcare is about to expand exponentially. Wherever a large, distant agency provides directives for healthcare, which is personal, it opens the door for any number of abuses, fiscally, physically and otherwise.

    For what title is “SFO” an abbreviation? I’m not familiar. Thanks.

    Regarding Bill’s comment above, I would be interested to know what he means by this statement: “jpII and b16 have turned the community of the People of God into a fascist dictatorship.” I wonder if he would be willing to define “fascist” as he uses the term and then substantiate his claim. I also wonder about his definition of democracy and how it applies to the early Church.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      SFO stands for “Secular Franciscan Order”. Technically, I should write OFS for the latin abbreviation, but I spent nearly 20 years fighting to establish a professional identity signing my papers “SFO” and I don’t want to have to deal with the change over.

      With regards to your story about the doctor: I do not deny it: Medicaid abuse is well-known, though often exaggerated. However, it occurs with private insurance as well. Go to a doctor whose medical group has invested in a CAT scan or MRI facility, and you will suddenly find that these tests are ordered all the time, milking the private insurance. So I am not able to make the leap with you from “greedy doctor” to “medicaid is the problem.” Similarly, many of my medical decisions are not made by me or my doctor, but by what my insurance will pay for. One example: my doctor and I believe I should have an annual physical. My insurance disagrees. So either I pay for it, or his staff dreams up someway to work around the insurance company.

      So, how would you propose to provide medical care to the people on Medicaid and to the uninsured, in light of the twin principles of solidarity and subsidiarity?

      • Willem S

        Naturally you realize that the abuse in private insurance doesn’t negate the abuses in Medicaid. Large insurance companies are yet another demonstration of what happens when we ignore subsidiarity, in my opinion. My point is that when I, as a parent, actively take responsibility and am and allowed to have the prerogative in my children’s healthcare (subsidiarity), then things work as they ought.

        I can’t answer the question at the end of your reply. Do I think people deserve medical care, based simply on their inherent human dignity? Yes, I do. Do I think that the answer can be found by abdicating to government? Never. I don’t have an answer. I have a vague idea of what *doesn’t* work…but that’s not very useful.

        Thanks for clearing up the SFO.

        • Willem S

          I think the answer more likely lies in deregulation–which would facilitate subsidiarity.

        • Paul DuBois

          How do we reconcile the parent’s right to choose healthcare with the parents refusing vaccinations based on fraudulent claims that the vaccines cause autism and the resultant increase in whooping cough deaths as a result. clearly subsidiarity is a failure here. My family suffers from a rare disease and this has shown me the need for both well researched standards of care that doctors are heavily encouraged to follow and the need for patients to be heavily involved in their own treatment. However, we cannot be educated on all medical care or make the right choices when we have limited time and knowledge to make these decisions. There are reasons doctors spend years being educated and decades are spent on research.

          As far as the Affordable Care Act, in truth it is very much centered around subsidiarity. The states are encouraged to set up exchanges were people can choose healthcare that best fits them. The law is structured around giving people the choices they need so they can pick the health care they want. The mandates are that we indeed pay for our health care if we can (insurance mandate) and that the insurance companies provide coverage that enables people to get the care they need to stay healthy. The intent of the law is to let the states and the individuals do the right thing (then everyone gets left alone) The federal government steps in when that doesn’t happen.

  • http://welcomehome0525.wordpress.com Rainbow Sash Movement

    Let me put this hypothetical situation to you. There is a community organization X that puts on a huge parade each year. But has no accountability for its fund raising (no 501C3), and it let its incorporation with the state expire There is no board of directors, and appears to be lead by one individual an two local politicians. People in the community continue to ask questions, but those questions are met with silence. What would subsidiarity have to say about this situation , if anything?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Hmmm, I suspect that this example is a bit more than a hypothetical. But let me take a stab. The parade is being organized locally: “one individual and two local politicians.” There are “questions” but you give no idea of what these questions entail: how the parade is organized, who is invited, how money is being raised, how it is being spent? Does the “community” asking these questions have an organic connection with the parade in any way? Were higher authority to intervene (assuming they could) what would you have them do?

      Let’s deal with real situations in all their complexity and messiness. I think that will be much more illuminating of the principle of subsidiarity.

  • Jordan

    As is often the case with America, the comments are often just as informative as the article. In combox #6, Ronald Ruais counters Vincent Miller’s lament over legislative attacks against labor unions with an idea that labor union negotiations often unfairly reward benefits enjoyed by “achievers in the non-union sector” to ostensibly less-achieving or less-productive workers in unionized jobs. Ruais states, “Achievement, value added and efforts achieved by the fourth and fifth quintiles should exceed under the principle of justice those of the lower quintiles even in a multivariate approach.” Perhaps Ruais might agree that the IRS tax tables dictate human dignity?

    I interpret Ruais’s statement as quite uncatholic but not atypical of the convictions of many self-identified Catholics. A distributionist subsidiarity model consistent both with historic Catholic social teaching and modern Catholic social progressivism would provide similar basic material benefits (e.g. health care) to persons of different incomes. Put differently, the inherent dignity of every person demands that all persons under Catholic subsidiarity receive a basic level of morally-acceptable medical care without excluding the possibility that persons of greater means might be able to procure additional treatments. In this respect, both unbridled capitalism (i.e. an absolute measure of human dignity by income-based “achievement”) and a totalized socialism are avoided.

    Early in his article Miller writes “[t]hat Representative [Paul] Ryan could change his allegiance from Ayn Rand to Catholic social doctrines without changing his policies suggests something is terribly amiss.” (my additions in brackets) Miller’s quip is not entirely gratuitous. Those who have suffered through Rand’s mangled prose perhaps have noted the way in which her self-actualized supermen dehumanize all encounted on the way up and down the capitalist ladder. Are not arguments based on libertarian meritocracy-oligarchy usually prone to similar results in extremis?

  • http://welcomehome0525.wordpress.com Rainbow Sash Movement

    I thought I would throw that out to see what type of a response I would get. For obvious reasons I want to keep this a hypothetical situation. Sometimes insights come from the strangest of places if you are open to wonder. Is this I wonder a Catholic response to this situation?

    As to the questions. Has an outside audit of funds raised been done, if it has what is the name of the accounting firm that did it.. Are these funds being used for salaries? Are any of the monies going to community charity organizations.

    Lets say this parade attracted a little over 850,000 people this year with 200 floats and contingents each corporate and community paid anywhere between $350.00 to $850.000 dollars. This does not involve a published program with paid advertising, and additional vendors. The parade is for the community, and is organized in the communities name.

    Does that help?

  • Bruce Cole

    “I think the answer more likely lies in deregulation–which would facilitate subsidiarity.”
    Sure worked with banking!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova Morning’s Minion

    Thanks for drawing attention to this. I’ve been trying to push Quadragesimo Anno for years, and am surprised by both its burning relevance to today’s problems, and the fact that it is almost totally forgotten/ignored.

  • http://welcomehome0525.wordpress.com Rainbow Sash Movement

    I attempted to ask in a very round about way about Subsidiarity. For all I know the concept of Subsidiarity may of already been something at play in society prior to the Church noticing it.

    I understand this concept as being associated with top down authority. Now this is a very simple concept in my opinion. But being a frail human being I am still not understanding why this is the best kept secret in the Church.

    Why for instance is this concept not promoted in our Catholic Education System. Why is it not promoted by US Conference of Catholic Bishops in their responses to for instance our theologians and nuns? On a parish level our pastors also seem to either be ignorant of this concept, or openly hostile to it. I think the readings this past Sunday about religious authority scattering the flock points to this concept.

    Is my understanding of top down authority with the authority that is close to the problem being the authority that should be in play?

    No answers here just explorations.