This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the Gulf Coast. As always happens when remembering such ignominious events, we look back in hindsight to attempt to learn what could have been done differently. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we conservatives will admit that we share some of the blame for the disaster—just not in the way many of us realize.
The colossal failures in leadership in the wake of Hurricane Katrina proved once again that, as historian Richard Weaver famously claimed, “ideas have consequences.” In the aftermath of a natural disaster, abstract theories about public policy and governance were tested in the laboratory of reality. Bad ideas, naturally, can have catastrophic consequences. But as we saw, even good ideas, when poorly implemented, can be calamitous.
A primary example is the principle of subsidiarity, an idea found in both Catholic and Reformed social thought, and which is often embraced by conservatives. Almost twenty years ago in an issue of Religion and Liberty, David A. Bosnich explained,
This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom.
While limited government, personal freedom, and other such goods are worthy reasons to support such an ideal, there is an even more primary justification: it saves lives. The evacuation of New Orleans provided a useful example of how this works out in a real-world context.