Posts tagged with: federalism

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the longstanding claim of the Roman Catholic Church that the universal character of the common good in our present era necessitates a world political authority. The problem, I argue, lies in the tradition’s too closely identifying the good of political communities with the common good.

The recently canonized Pope John XXIII, for example, states that “[p]ublic authority” is “the means of promoting the common good in civil society” (Pacem in Terris, 136, emphasis mine). And Pope Benedict XVI continued the call made by John XXIII for a “world political authority” in Caritas in Veritate, specifically recommending that the U.N. be “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (57, emphasis mine). The problem with the U.N., to the popes, is that it is not powerful enough.

In response, I write,

I would worry about a U.N. or any other global political authority endowed with such great power and means. If nation states have failed to ensure the global common good, as the pope admits, why should we expect a global government to be free from error in this regard? The only difference would be that the mistakes of such politicians would necessarily have global consequences. I like my U.N. nearly ineffective and mostly powerless, thank you very much. If anything, to ensure subsidiarity, the larger the political authority, the less power and means it should have. (more…)

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A recent speech by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio laid out what his press office terms “Conservative Reforms for Combating Poverty.” It began well and had a nice line or two emphasizing the role family breakdown plays in perpetuating generational poverty, but then it went all technocratic and wobbly.

So, for instance, at one point he argued that a lack of education is one reason for the decline of marriage among the poor, noting that “64% of adults with college degrees are married, while only 47% of those with a high-school education or less are.” How does he know that being married doesn’t make one more likely to pursue higher education, or that both tendencies aren’t caused by something else? (more…)

Alexei Khomiakov, the Russian Slavophile thinker often credited with first articulating the Orthodox principle of sobornost.

Today at Ethika Politika I offer an assessment of the phenomenon of globalization from the perspective of Orthodox Christian anthropology. In particular, I focus on the concept of sobornost in the thought of the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, writing,

Solovyov’s account of the moral progress of humanity through globalization is rooted in the Russian idea of sobornost’, which Christopher Marsh and Daniel P. Payne define as “the idea that human beings retain their freedom while participating in human society, and that human society is a participatory process through which human beings actualize themselves as unique hypostases [i.e. persons].” Accordingly, Solovyov writes that true society does not abolish the individual, but “subordination to society uplifts the individual” and “the independence of the individual lends strength to the social order” — an Orthodox parallel to subsidiarity.

I had raised the question of the similarity between sobornost and subsidiarity a few weeks ago during Fr. Michael Butler’s Acton University talk on “Orthodoxy, Church, and State.” I summarized his insight on the concept at the time, writing,

With the reforms of Tsar Peter the Great, however, the Church was literally made a department of the state [in Russia]. The inspiration for this, notably, was not symphonia but the European Protestant national Church model. While in this context the Russian Church still continued to carry out its functions in society, it had lost a great degree of autonomy. In the midst of this context, the Slavophile thinkers Alexei Khomiakov and Ivan Kireevsky reacted to this statist trend in Russian society by developing the theory of sobornost, inspired in part by the Russian word for “Catholic” in the Nicene Creed and inspired by the Orthodox Church’s conciliar basis of authority.

As they framed it, the idea of sobornost placed the idea of sovereignty in the whole of a people. All human beings are interconnected, and each therefore deserves their own autonomy while, at the same time, [each] has a duty to serve all others…. Ultimately, sobornost at its best would be an Orthodox parallel to subsidiarity in which each level of society, all the way down to the individual, has a role to freely play for the common good and each has a duty to assist others for that end.

The question of similarities and differences between subsidiarity and sobornost has been on my mind for some time. There would seem to be clear parallels between the concepts that were coincidentally developed in their modern forms at nearly the same time, though among different traditions for somewhat different purposes. (more…)

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) took to the Senate floor yesterday and quoted Lord Acton’s well known dictum, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There’s a partisan bite to his words, but he mostly warns against the grave dangers and tyranny under concentrated and centralized power.

Cornyn of course, is addressing the multitude of scandals blowing up in Washington, many of them linked to the White House. He also admits corruption has been a problem under both political parties. Cornyn says that we need “to restore faith in Washington.” It’s a worthy goal, but perhaps part of the problem is Americans already have too much faith and trust in federal power. The Texas senator concludes by saying we need to “respect the wisdom of the ages when it comes to concentrated power and its impact on individual liberty.”

His remarks, which runs 15 minutes, is worth your attention.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 2, 2013

As Michael Novak observes in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, “A successful corporation is frequently based upon the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, concrete decisions must be made on the level closest to the concrete reality. Managers and workers need to trust the skills of their colleagues. A corporate strategy which overlooks this principle–and many do–falls prey to all the vices of a command economy, in which all orders come from above.”

According to a study by Melba J. Duncan in the Harvard Business Review, such delegation makes economic sense: “Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well.”

A recent BusinessWeek article updates the case for executive assistants. Anyone who has had significant contact with corporate settings knows that the EAs are the ones who really get things done. But for such delegation to be effective and efficient, it must be empowering. As Duncan writes, “The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant.”

Even the “lowest-cost employee” has a stewardship responsibility.

Of course, delegation can go too far, too.

Brian Burrough has a mostly enjoyable New York Times review of a book that’s mostly positive about my native state’s mostly small-government formula for economic growth. Some excerpts:

Ms. Grieder, a onetime correspondent for The Economist who now works at Texas Monthly, and a Texan herself, has written a smart little book that … explains why the Texas economy is thriving. It’s called “Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas”….

What might be copied, Ms. Grieder indicates, is the so-called Texas model — that is, a weak state government with few taxes and fewer regulations and services. It would be far harder to replicate the state’s civic DNA, which features traits that can be traced to its decade, beginning in 1836, as a stand-alone nation (independent, suspicious of Washington), the late-1800s cowboy era (self-reliant, fraternal) and the 20th-century introduction of oil and entrepreneurialism (pro-business, skeptical of government)….

Outside writers have been regularly caricaturing the state since the novelist Edna Ferber introduced America to postwar Texas with “Giant” in 1952. The canon ranges from “The Super-Americans,” by John Bainbridge (1961), to “As Texas Goes … : How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda,” by Gail Collins, a New York Times columnist (2012). Ms. Grieder’s is the rare book that takes stock of the Texas model without ridiculing many of its traditions and politicians.

My one concern is that the book’s author seems enamored of Gov. Rick Perry’s crony capitalist strategy of using subsidies to attract companies to the Lone Star State, a habit that is anything but small government and likely to come back to bite. On the whole, though, the book and the book review appear to give far more props to low taxes and limited government than I thought possible for a work endorsed in the pages of The New York Times. Maybe there’s hope for those city slickers after all.

I have wrapped up a brief series on the principle of subsidiarity over at the blog of the journal Political Theology with a post today, “Subsidiarity ‘From Below.’” You can check out the previous post, “Subsidiarity ‘From Above,’” as well as my introductory primer on the topic as well.

For those who might be interested in reading some more, you can also download some related papers: “State, Church, and the Reformational Roots of Subsidiarity” and “A Society of Mutual Aid: Natural Law and Subsidiarity in Early Modern Reformed Perspective.”

There’s also this recent coverage from the PowerBlog of a paper by Patrick Brennan and further responses (here, here, and here).

Ken Endo, who has done a great deal of work on the historical and legal background to the idea of subsidiarity, has a helpful summary of the two basic constructions as differing emphases of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism:

Founded on a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination that could be influenced by the Protestant tradition, the local municipalities and regions in Sweden and Finland considered subsidiarity indispensable if they are to join the European Community….

Their approach towards subsidiarity as well as that of Denmark and perhaps the Netherlands takes on a bottom-up character, and does not necessarily coincide with the conception of southern European countries, which are in general coloured by Catholicism.

Of this latter view, Endo is referring to the idea that “the Catholic Church presupposes the hierarchical view of Society in which all its components should be located in the ‘proper’ places. Moreover, the Church considers that other components of Society than the State are subordinated to the State in a harmonious way as if they were part of its body (to put it in a different way, in accordance with the common good.”

You can download the text of Endo’s lengthy essay, “The Principle of Subsidiarity: From Johannes Althusius to Jacques Delors,” in PDF form.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 7, 2012

Patrick Brennan graciously noted my engagement with his piece on subsidiarity, charitably calling it “substantive.” He takes issue, however, with my pace Brennan.” He rightly responds that “the very point of the book to which my chapter is a contribution is a ‘comparative’ perspective on subsidiarity.” He continues, “My assigned task in writing the chapter was to tell the what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”

To clarify, it seems to me that Brennan is quite ably articulating and explicating a particularly vigorous and metaphysically robust version of subsidiarity often associated with Catholic social teaching, and particularly the neo-Thomist revival of the previous two centuries. My quibble, and I’m not sure if it amounts to much more than that, is with the idea that this is identical to “what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”

In the papers linked in the previous post I do make more specific claims with respect to subsidiarity in “other” traditions, particularly the Reformed. But given the shared medieval (and even to a great extent the early modern) background and the diversity there, I do wonder whether that more robust, ontologically-freighted version of subsidiarity is the only version at play in the specifically Roman Catholic tradition, either before or after 1891.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Earlier this week we noted that Patrick Brennan posted a paper, “Subsidiarity in the Tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine,” which unpacks some of the recent background and implications for the use of the principle in Catholic social thought. As Brennan observes, “Although present in germ from the first Christian century, Catholic social thought began to emerge as a unified body of doctrine in the nineteenth century….” Brennan goes on to highlight the particularly Thomistic roots of the doctrine of subsidiarity, “a new idea creatively culled from the depths of the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition that had roots in Greek philosophical speculation.”

While recognizing the innovativeness of Taparelli’s thought and the genius of 19th and 20th century revivals of neo-Thomism, it is also worth noting the basic “catholicity,” or universality, of a doctrine like subsidiarity within the broader Christian tradition. If Christian social thought has been around since the first century, then so have its constitutive elements, in more or less developed form. And pace Brennan, it is not clear to me that there is one univocal version of subsidiarity, at least as it arises out of the early modern period.

With this in mind, I have just posted two papers that explore the early modern backgrounds of subsidiarity and related concepts like natural law which focus particularly on the provenance of these ideas in the Reformed tradition.
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Ahead of tonight’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, Hunter Baker (a Baptist political scholar) and I (a Reformed moral theologian), offer up some thoughts as “Protestants in Praise of Catholic Social Teaching” in a special edition of Acton Commentary.

We write,

Commentators are already busy parsing the partisan divide between the co-religionists Biden and Ryan, but having Roman Catholics represented in such prominent positions in this campaign and particularly in tonight’s debate is also likely to catapult another player into the national political consciousness: Catholic Social Teaching (CST).

For people of faith, and even for people of no particular faith whatsoever, CST represents a praiseworthy model for responsible civil engagement in a diverse and plural culture.

We go on to point in particular to the objective moral order recognized by CST, the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and the tradition’s commitment to religious liberty.

For an example of those “parsing the partisan divide” ahead of the debate, see this piece over at Religion Dispatches. There’s sure to be much more like this in the days and weeks to come.

Read our whole piece, though, for more on how CST provides some hope that we might elevate the level of our political discourse.