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.


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  • IntellectGetOne

    Gee, I thought for a moment there would be a discussion on the Pope’s Exhortation.

    But all I found was the wishful thinking of an interpreter.

    The Pope’s word’s were very clear: Trickle Down Economics are bad. If you believe in them, you are naive and ignorant. There are no factual cases where it worked (I guess that means the US economy from 1983 to 2001 actually did not exist?)

    There was much, much more — but one thing was also clear: This was an exhortation from a Bishop in a 3rd world Latin American country.

    You know that story of the blind men touching the elephant? Where one thinks it is a wall because he is touching the side; one thinks it is a rope because he is touching the tail; one thinks its a tree-trunk because he is touching the leg; etc..

    Well, that’s what the exhortation is: Pope Francis knows ONLY (or substantially) a 3rd world, latin american, oligarchy and he has decided to use that limited knowledge to discuss all economic theory — especially as they relate to western economies.

    For what it is worth, in this space, the Pope is a one of the blind-men, but he is standing behind the elephant touching the droppings and declaring that free enterprise and captalism are nothing more than **it.

    He’s just as wrong as all the other blind men, but he sure stepped in it!

    • feb142010

      I have read Pope Francis’ exhortation and interpreting his words as an outright rejection of free market is very much simplistic. If I have read him right, he’s calling people not only to remain in the macro- level (which he did not say was bad, only insufficient), but to be more concerned with the people as persons. His words are not meant to be taken as an economic argument but as an exhortation to Catholics (which is why it is called an apostolic exhortation, and not an economic research publication) to be more concerned of their brothers and sisters.

    • IntellectGetOne


      Read it as you wish. That does not make your read accurate or true.

      What he said is unmistakable. He does not support, and has chosen to willfully ignore, the benefits of capitalism. He has come out opposed to it, criticizing it very clearly.

      Never once, to my knowledge, has he exhorted the benefits.

      All he does is exhort the failures.

      You can read it as you wish but I only suggest that you don’t read it with your bias. After all, Christ said “Eat of my body.” And protestants “read” that exhortation differently than Catholics.

      One is true. Other interpretations are not.

  • The issue is not whether some policy or system “works” from a cold economic standpoint (ie, 1983-2001), but whether an economic system or set of policies works for the most vulnerable members of our race.

    It is unfortunate that too many of the champions of Free Market capitalism have also a weird devotion to Randian selfishness, and a “people get what they earned” disdain for the poor.

    Unfortunate, because as a free market is precisely what the poor need, and it is our pathologically altruistic tinkering on their behalf that the poor become not just poorer, but marginalized and excluded altogether.

    Perhaps we should start talking about a free market as a fundamental human right.