Much Ado About Subsidiarity

Much Ado About Subsidiarity June 4, 2012

In the wake of Paul Ryan’s woeful misunderstanding of the wonderful and profound principle of subsidiarity, a number of experts have – thankfully – weighed in. Here are five really good ones (some might date before Ryan’s most recent bout of foot-in-mouth disease,  but no matter). All are worth reading, and don’t require much comment from me.

First – Steve Schneck. Second – Vince Miller. Third, Gerald Beyer. Fourth, Peter Brown. Fifth, James Barasel.

On the last one, the authors lists 11 essential points associated with subsidiarity that I think are worth repeating in full:

1. Subsidiarity is a communitarian philosophy.

2. Because subsidiarity claims that human nature is communal the same doctrine claims that our obligations to the community are imposed by nature, rather than by free agreement.

3. According to subsidiarity the good is to be pursued communally under the direction of and, if necessary, compulsion by the government.

4. The doctrine of subsidiarity holds that the common good has priority over individual freedom.

5. Subsidiarity understands relations between human persons, between the individual and the community, primarily in terms of moral obligations and secondarily in terms of rights.

6. Subsidiarity argues that the route to the common good should be left to the most local or smallest level of society that can effectively look after the common good.

7. Subsidiarity recognizes that there are cases in which more government, even more centralized government, can be necessary for the common good.

8. Subsidiarity is suspicious of centralized big business even more than it is suspicious of centralized big government.

9. For subsidiarity, freedom is primarily freedom to live a Catholic and moral life, to pursue authentic cultural goods and to live in a community of life with one’s family, friends and neighbors. Economic freedom is of relatively low priority.

10. Subsidiarity holds government and authority, and our subordination to it, to be fundamentally good even while affirming the value of a high degree of freedom and whole recognizing that there can be excessive and tyrannous government control.

11. Finally, subsidiarity sees human relations primarily as cooperative.

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