Posts tagged with: subsidiarity

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
Friday, December 7, 2012
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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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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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Patrick McKinley Brennan, a professor at Villanova University School of Law, has a new paper that considers the place subsidiarity in the tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine:

Subsidiarity is often described as a norm calling for the devolution of power or for performing social functions at the lowest possible level. In Catholic social doctrine, it is neither. Subsidiarity is the fixed and immovable ontological principle according to which the common good is to be achieved through a plurality of social forms. Subsidiarity is derivative of social justice, a recognition that societies other than the state constitute unities of order, possessing genuine authority, which which are to be respected and, when necessary, aided. Subsidiarity is not a policy preference for checking power with power. This chapter traces the emergence of the principle of subsidiarity to the neo-Scholastic revival that contributed to the Church’s defense against the French Revolution’s onslaught aimed at eliminating societies other than the state. The concept of subsidiarity has implications for the present, changing socio-political landscape in the United States as the Church faces a state that is poised to compel the Church to violate the moral law.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, October 15, 2012
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What is Catholic Church’s teaching on the size of government? And what is the principle of subsidiarity? Our friends at CatholicVote.org have put together a brief video to help answer these questions.

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.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
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“The world thinks of the state’s sovereignty in terms of power; Catholic social doctrine understands the state to be in service to all,” says Patrick Brennan, a professor of law at Villanova University. Brennan has a new paper, ‘Religious Freedom,’ the Individual Mandate, and Gifts: On Why the Church is Not a Bomb Shelter.’ From the abstract:

The Health and Human Services’ regulatory requirement that all but a narrow set of “religious” employers provide contraceptives to employees is an example of what Robert Post and Nancy Rosenblum refer to as a growing “congruence” between civil society’s values and the state’s legally enacted policy. Catholics and many others have resisted the HHS requirement on the ground that it violates “religious freedom.” They ask (in the words of Cardinal Dolan) to be “left alone” by the state. But the argument to be “left alone” overlooks or suppresses the fact that the Catholic Church understands that it is its role to correct and transform society, not merely to be left alone in a gilded cage. This paper uses the HHS mandate as a vehicle by which to clarify the Catholic understanding of the ideal — but currently mostly unachievable — relationship between Church and state: the state should receive its principles from the Church, not the Church from the state. Social justice and subsidiarity disallow a state that reduces the Church to the status of a bomb shelter. Leviathan is happy to have the Church out of sight and out of mind.

You can download the paper here.