Subsidi-what? You may be asking? Subsidiarity is a term originating in Catholic Social Doctrine (which is indeed a real thing, underneath layers of oft-peddled rip-offs).
Simply stated, the principle of subsidiarity proclaims that “one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what [the former] can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry”; and that “it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the large and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by lesser and subordinate bodies.”
If this still sounds complicated, subsidiarity can be further reduced to the notion that it is not only unhelpful, but wrong (and sometimes gravely so), regularly to do something for someone that he is capable of doing for himself, thereby over time depriving him of the capacity to care for himself. Extend the idea to social groups and various kinds and levels of authority, and it has powerful political implications.
Subsidiarity is sadly neglected today. In part, this stems from the unfortunate fact that its name is comprised of seven syllables, and its substance cannot be defined in three words or fewer. As Tocqueville lamented, the world is more readily governed by simple and false notions than by genuine but complex truths.
Even more sadly, subsidiarity is neglected because it flatly contradicts the direction our world has been taking for well over a century: toward an administrative despotism operating on an increasingly massive (now global) scale.
Though destructive of our humanity, a monstrous complex of bureaucratic agencies maximizes the wealth, power, and ego of elites, while funneling fleeting benefits and pleasures to a populace thereby lulled into surrendering its freedoms for the pottage of empty promises.
Objectively speaking, subsidiarity is necessary, and its violation is a grave evil, because it is a vital element of the common good: “the sum total of those conditions of social living, whereby men are enabled more fully and more readily to achieve their own perfection.”
Human beings cannot achieve perfection when the combined powers of habit, custom, and law deprive them of the opportunity or wherewithal to act on their own behalf, to the extent of their individual and social capacities.
Much can be and needs to be said about the nature of subsidiarity, the evils of its extinction, and the ways and means available for restoring it to our suffering world.
Let me begin, and end (for now), with this heartening account of “more than a dozen cities and counties in the United States [who] are fighting COVID-19 restrictions by designating themselves pro-freedom ‘sanctuaries,’ or by simply refusing to enforce emergency orders.”
I can think of no better occasion for the restoration of subsidiarity than a much needed revolution against the forces that have, hitherto, smothered it to the point of near demise.
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