Posts tagged with: subsidiarity

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…)

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.

Blog author: sstanley
posted by on Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Update: Acton now has a PDF of this article available. You can download a color or black and white copy of it here:

Gregg on Social Justice

Gregg on Social Justice (black & white)

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about “social justice” and what that term actually means. In order to provide some clarity, and precision, to better understand the concept, Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg, wrote an essay for Library of Law and Liberty , published today.

He begins by looking at justice generally:

Natural law ethics has identified justice as one of the cardinal virtues ever since Aristotle commenced his treatment of justice with the general notion of “legal justice” (the terms “legal” and “general” being more-or-less interchangeable). By this, he meant comprehensive virtue with regard to relationships with other persons. Justice-as-a-virtue was henceforth understood in this tradition as having a uniquely social dimension in the sense that one of its key elements is other-directedness.

As a virtue, general justice properly understood involves one’s general willingness to promote the common good of the communities to which one belongs. Here the common good should be understood as the conditions that promote the all-round integral flourishing of individuals and communities. Another element of justice which presents itself very early in the tradition is that of duty in the sense of what we owe to others. This is closely associated with a third element: equality. This should not be understood in the sense of everyone somehow being entitled to precisely the same, regardless of factors such as need or merit. Instead it means fairness as expressed in the Golden Rule. Injustice can after all involve doing things to people that entail no violation of any prior undertaking. Robbing someone, for instance, involves no breaking of any freely-entered-into agreement with the person from whom I steal. But does anyone doubt that an injustice has been done?

These three elements—other-directedness, duty (or what might be called rights today), and the Golden Rule—are closely linked and substantially overlap with each other. But attention to all three elements underscores that the same common good which is the end of general justice requires more than simply a broad inclination on the part of individuals and groups to promote the flourishing of others and themselves. On one level, as Aquinas specifies, it is a special concern of the rulers since they have a certain responsibility to promote the common good. But Aquinas also notes that it is a concern of every citizen: that is, those who participate in some way with the ruling of the community.

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In a story about looming budget cuts associated with the federal sequestration, Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing was called on by Aleteia to suggest “ways Catholic social teaching might be used to guide the cuts.” Schmiesing pointed out that the “cuts” are really “only a slow-down in the rate of growth in federal spending.” More:

“Much more dramatic cuts and/or revenue increases are needed to reach a position of fiscal responsibility,” he said in an interview. But the principle of “solidarity,” from Catholic social teaching, he suggested, would guide specific cuts in spending to be made in a way that “expresses shared responsibility for our nation and its problems.”

“For example, firing a lot of lower staffers while preserving intact the comfortable salaries and benefits of the higher-level staffers might be seen as a violation of solidarity,” he said. “It puts all of the sacrifice on one segment of the population.”

Schmiesing suggested too that cuts should be “managed in a way that encourages rather than undermines the institutions that operate at a level more local than the federal government.” This would be based on the principle of subsidiarity, which, to cite one example, would be violated by “closing a military base – cold turkey – that serves as the foundation of a local community comprised of families, churches, and businesses.”

In addition, budget decisions “must keep foremost in mind the effect on those who are most vulnerable,” Schmiesing said. “It would not be in line with Catholic social teaching (and its principle of a preferential option for the poor) to preserve inviolate the comfortable salaries of upper middle class bureaucrats while at the same time firing” lower-wage office staff.

Read “The Concrete Impact of Sequestration” on Aleteia.com

I was one of the estimated 200,000 faithful who arose at the crack of dawn to join the crowds swelling St. Peter’s Square and its surrounding streets. I was also joined by millions more by way of television, radio, and the internet. We had come on this historic day to express deep personal affection and solidarity for Benedict XVI, whose February 27 audience served as his last public appearance and farewell address in Rome.

DSCN0117Benedict reassured us that he will resign his papacy tomorrow “in full consciousness of its gravity and also novelty, but with profound serenity of soul.” He therefore confirmed his full personal freedom to do so, as originally announced on February 11 and in accordance with the Church’s legal canons which protect against forced resignations.

All said, there was not an air of gloom-and-doom in St. Peter’s Square. The unexpected spring-like sunny weather broke weeks of an endless stormy winter (literally and figuratively) in Rome. This glorious day, surely, was seen a positive sign for the Church’s future. The theological virtue of hope was indeed palpable among the vivacious crowd who expressed their gratitude with brightly colored banners of affection (“You will not be alone!”, “We love and thank you Holy Father!”, “We are young and will not fear!”) and culminated in festive joy as a Bavarian folk band broke into song. There was a cheering confidence, as if the Pontiff were on a final “victory lap” in his popemobile. The normally non-emotive German pope went off script during the rhythmic, joyful chant of Italian “Be-ne-det-to!”: “I am truly moved! And I see the Church is alive!”
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There is always much to discuss after a State of the Union address, and Tuesday’s speech is no different. Sam Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute, shared his thoughts:

“The overall theme of the address is that government is there to do stuff for you,” he said.  “He starts out making remarks about America being a country that values free enterprise and rewards individual initiative…and yet he offers proposals for government intervention after intervention after intervention,… and there’s not much there at all about freeing up the labor market or trying to do things like reducing America’s absurdly high level of corporate tax.”

Specifically, Gregg wanted to view the speech through a Catholic lens, using the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity:

Obama, he said, “basically seems to think the government, and specifically the federal government, should be intervening all over the place in the economy. He talks about the administration partnering with a certain number of communities throughout the U.S. You have to say, ‘Well, why does he think the federal government needs to be involved in these situations?’”

Obama said, for example, that his administration will “begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit [economically] towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.”

“Subsidiarity would suggest that surely one should be looking at other communities both in terms of local and state government,” said Gregg, “but also the actual communities themselves, if we’re serious about dealing with some of these problems.”

Read “A Catholic’s Take on Obama’s State of the Union Address” at Aleteia.org.

Sam Gregg is author of “Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture and How American Can Avoid a European Future”.

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.

I rather like Serene Jones’ piece in Huffington Post, “Economists and Innkeepers.” Jones got some things right. She knows that Christian Scripture teaches many economic lessons, like subsidiarity and stewardship (although she doesn’t use those terms.) She says, “Economic theory is replete with theological and moral assumptions about human nature and society” and that is correct. As Istituto Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan reminds us,

Things like the rule of law, a tradition of equality for the law, which should cut down on corruption, which give people the confidence and security in the future to take some risks and to develop the goods that they have either personally or socially, and use them for the good of all.

We make economic, legal and moral decisions that affect others every day, in ways large and small. Jones is practically defining subsidiarity when she says, “I would argue that rather than being merely faceless economic units, we all have a moral responsibility for the care of each other.” (more…)

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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