Acton Institute Powerblog

‘The Simple Principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity’

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Pope Francis’ exhortation Evangelii Gaudium has been garnering much attention, especially for some of the economic views he put forth in the document. With the reminder that an apostolic exhortation does not have the weight of infallibility, the exhortation has been a terrific way to discuss Catholic teaching on different matters.

Rev. Dwight Longenecker, in his blog Standing On My Head, tackles the issues raised regarding the wealthy and the poor.

We continue to believe the stereotypes despite the fact that the greatest philanthropists and benefactors to the good of the human race have been wealthy capitalists while the greatest monsters, murderers of the poor by starvation, displacement and ethnic cleansing have been communists.

Saying this is not to fall into the other extreme of imagining that all capitalists are therefore humane philanthropists and all left wingers are genocidal maniacs. Instead it is a suggestion that the only way through the impasse is to first of all shed the ridiculously simplistic stereotypes completely and search for a new way of thinking.

The new way of thinking is actually the old Catholic way of thinking and it falls back on the simple principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. The principle of solidarity is simply that no man is an island entire of himself. We are all a continent, a part of the main. We are our brother’s keeper. We are responsible for everyone else–not just ourselves.

The second principle avoids the big government solution. Subsidiarity is the principle that every problem should be solved at the most local level possible. When the two are combined we find that the poor are being ministered to not just with handouts from either big brother government or big brother philanthropist, but by a local person who should be a friend and neighbor.

Longenecker goes on to say that throwing blame around – whether directed at evil capitalists or evil socialists – isn’t getting the job done, and what is needed is a “radical shift in awareness.” He turns to Sam Gregg, author of Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, A Free Economy, and Human Flourishing.

His solutions are not just an old argument for unrestrained capitalism with a nod to “oh yes we must help the poor if we can…” Instead he outlines the foundations for a society that is built on the foundations of solidarity and subsidiarity with the aim not just of getting richer and richer, but of true human flourishing.

By seriously considering the sound teachings of the Church already in place, while also deepening our sense of solidarity with the poor, we stand a much better chance of solving these issues, rather than just casting aspersions.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.