Friday, November 30, 2012

Subsidiarity, Justice, and the Common Good

Villanova School of Law seal
I've been very busy this week and haven't yet gotten around to writing my commentary on the middle section of Rerum Novarum, but we've already seen that one of the key doctrines developed in the encyclical is the doctrine of subsidiarity. Like many key doctrines, it is too often over-simplified and consequently misconstrued. As we read later documents, we'll be able to see how this doctrine gets elaborated as the social teaching tradition develops, but those who can't wait to know more might read a paper recently published online by Patrick McKinley Brennan of the Villanova University School of Law, entitled  “Subsidiarity in the Tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine,” which will soon be published as one chapter in Subsidiarity in Comparative Perspective, edited by Michelle Evans and Augusto Zimmermann.

In his abstract, Brennan says:
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.
It seems to me he makes an important point: that social justice demands that all authentic societies (associations among people which “constitute unities of order”) be respected. The State's duty toward such societies is not to subsume them into itself, but to aid them when necessary.)We see this indicated very clearly in the middle section of Rerum Novarum.) These smaller societies -- including the family and the local community -- are themselves necessary to the common good, just as is the State itself.

I also find interesting the fact that he sees this doctrine emerging from the aftermath of the French Revolution (1789-99). The French Revolution, of course, infamously attempted to destroy all unities of order (such as the Church and the aristocracy) that might compete with the authority of the secular State, perhaps the first time in the Christian era that such a thing was attempted. I look forward to reading Brennan's paper.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Subsidiarity and our public schools

There was a time when our government(s) had more respect for local solutions, as indicated in this article from Accuracy in Academia.

Subsidiarity Due For Comeback

Malcolm A. Kline
The Catholic principle of subsidiarity, whereby that level of government closest to the problem is the one best-equipped to deal with it, may be viewed as quaint but in public education, its inverse could be seen as disastrous. “The 20th century was marked by dramatic consolidation of school districts in the United States,” Tom Loveless and Katharyn Field of the Brookings Institution found. “As the number of districts shrank from 117,000 in 1940 to 15,000 in 2000, the size of districts ballooned.”

“The average district served 217 children in 1940, as opposed to 3,000 in 2000.” Their research is quoted in a new report by the Heartland Institute, written by Joseph L. Bast and Joy Pullmann.

“In a 2012 poll conducted by Braun Research, Inc., 37 percent of parents said they would prefer to send their children to private schools yet fewer than 10 percent of parents do,” Bast and Pullmann write. “Seventy-one percent of mothers and 56 percent of Americans favor school vouchers.”

“In the Washington, D. C. area, almost three-quarters of those polled support the local voucher program, and it had a parental satisfaction rate of more than 90 percent.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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By the way, it should be noted that the principle of subsidiarity does not apply only to government, it applies to any person or agency who can address a problem of need in the community. The principle of subsidiarity requires that the need be addressed by whoever is closest to the needy person and able to help them. If the immediate family can't address the needs of one of its members, they should look for help first among those closest -- extended family and immediate neighbors, then the larger local community, and so on. This is why the principle of subsidiarity supports homeschooling. It is only because not all parents are equipped to school their own children that we need public schools.