December 10, 2012
Subsidiarity. Who knew?
I've been really gratified -- and quite surprised -- by the hundreds of downloads of my new (and admittedly not-sexy) chapter on subsidiarity in the tradition of Catholic social doctrine. Who knew that subsidiarity would attract more readership than, say, the individual mandate and contraception? God only knows.
One important point to make about subsidiarity in Catholic social doctrine is that it is not a consequentialist position. I was reminded of this recently when I read fn. 5 on p. 163 of Nick Wolterstorff's The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology (CUP 2012). Wolterstorff accurately observes that many Catholics defend subsidiarity on consequentialist grounds. To reduce the social order to the counting of consequences is, however, to make the very mistake the Church was resisting and condemning when she authoritatively formulated the ontological principle of subsidiary function. Subsidiarity is not checks-and-balances by another name. It is a statement about the natural right of naturally social persons and their upright associations. We can recall that the American revolution was defined "more than anything else by its rejection of the fundamental metaphysical and methodological assumptions of the medieval Scholastic tradition" (Feser, Locke , 9). True subsidiarity, including its acknowledgment of hierarchy among societies, is hard for Locke's heirs to understand. Maritain's rendering of subsidiarity as "the pluralist principle" hides the layeredness of society that subsidiarity affirms.
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