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Monday, July 12, 2010



Subsidiarity is an unavoidably and decidedly conservative characteristic of Catholic social teaching. The reason lefties, including some in the USCCB, don't mention subsidiarity much at all is because they don't really want to promote Catholic social teaching. They want to promote leftist ideology, and dressing up leftist ideas in aspects of the vocabulary of Catholic social teaching seems to many of them a persuasive way to get Catholics to incline left politically. If they were to promote or explain subsidiarity, then Catholics would correctly understand that Catholicism supports some elements of conservatism; but lefties want none of that. Hence the absence of subsidiarity from much discussion of CST.

Stephen M. Bauer

Subsidiarty is a wonderful principle. Unfortunately, I have noticed that some Catholics who are politically conservative tend reduce the principle of subsidiarity to a justification of pure, unfettered Capitalism.

Carl E. Olson

Unfortunately, I have noticed that some Catholics who are politically conservative tend reduce the principle of subsidiarity to a justification of pure, unfettered Capitalism.

That is undoubtedly possible, but I'm hard pressed to think of an example. Can you provide some? It is unfortunate, if understandable to some degree, that subsidiarity is sometimes seen as the "conservative" principle of Catholic social teaching, while solidarity is the "liberal" principle, as though the two are at odds. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:

The permanent principles of the Church's social doctrine constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of: the dignity of the human person, which has already been dealt with in the preceding chapter, and which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine; the common good; subsidiarity; and solidarity. These principles, the expression of the whole truth about man known by reason and faith, are born of “the encounter of the Gospel message and of its demands summarized in the supreme commandment of love of God and neighbour in justice with the problems emanating from the life of society”. ...

These are principles of a general and fundamental character, since they concern the reality of society in its entirety: from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations. Because of their permanence in time and their universality of meaning, the Church presents them as the primary and fundamental perameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena, which is the necessary source for working out the criteria for the discernment and orientation of social interactions in every area.

The principles of the Church's social doctrine must be appreciated in their unity, interrelatedness and articulation. This requirement is rooted in the meaning that the Church herself attributes to her social doctrine, as a unified doctrinal corpus that interprets modern social realities in a systematic manner. Examining each of these principles individually must not lead to using them only in part or in an erroneous manner, which would be the case if they were to be invoked in a disjointed and unconnected way with respect to each of the others. A deep theoretical understanding and the actual application of even just one of these social principles clearly shows the reciprocity, complementarities and interconnectedness that is part of their structure. ... [pars. 160, 161, 162]

If anyone consistently misuses and brazenly abuses these principles, it is those who see solidarity as a means to promote forms of redistribution and egalitarianism that are in opposition to Catholic teaching and are, to varying degrees, forms of socialism, which is expressly condemned by the Church:

Rerum Novarum lists errors that give rise to social ills, excludes socialism as a remedy and expounds with precision and in contemporary terms “the Catholic doctrine on work, the right to property, the principle of collaboration instead of class struggle as the fundamental means for social change, the rights of the weak, the dignity of the poor and the obligations of the rich, the perfecting of justice through charity, on the right to form professional associations”. [Compendium, par. 89]


In addendum Carl, I would also make two points.

First, the closest that any nation has ever come to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity was in the founding of the United States in the principles and philosophy undergirding the American constitution. And we have heard Barack Obama on record, when he was a State senator, lamenting that very fact. The more power that is vested in the federal government, the further the nation moves from that principle of subsidiarity.

Second, the Catholic Church was practicing the principle of solidarity through the building and running of hospitals, schools, homes for widows and orphans, etc., etc for some 1800 years before Karl Marx took his first breath. A famous and early case in point, St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, 329-379, who not only established monasteries but gave away his own family wealth in time of famine to feed the hungry, distributing food with his own hands to the sick and needy, as a bishop setting the example for his flock.

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