Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Of subsidiarity, marriage, and such

I'm just catching up, and the Kmiec-Vischer exchange caught my eye.  Not that anyone's wondering, but I'm on record as favoring the proposed amendment.  Subsidiarity is one of the reasons that combine to get me there. 

I understand subsidiarity to be -- as worked out in the encyclicals of the last 125 yrs, the Catechism, the Compendium --  a principle in service of functions/authorities located by natural, divine, and, then, positive law.  Subsidiarity is, primarily, a principle of non-usurpation of function/authority. The principle is to the effect that functions/authorities that have been assigned cannot properly be re-assigned; it also places upon those with responsibility for the common good, as well as others, the duty to assist those individuals or societies that have difficulty fulfilling their respective functions. 

The function of marriage, with its correlative authority, is an example.  The responsibility of the state, and of others, is to respect and, as necessary, assist, the function/authority given, by nature and supernature, in the marriage society.  If you reject the proposition that marriage is naturally or supernaturally instituted, subsidiarity, as the Catholic social doctrine understands it, won't be relevant.

Assuming the Catholic s. d. perspective, the primary place of subsidiarity in the marriage amendment argument, as I understand it, concerns the government's responsibility to assist the body politic in giving effect to the particular function/authority that precedes the state.  I therefore agree with those who insist that subsidiarity does not necessarily assign this task to the lowest possible level, e.g., states, governments, or individuals.  Marriage needs help, and those charged with the common good are to provide it, consistent with their own proper functions.

As developed in the encyclicals, subsidiarity presupposes a world in which ruling power, such as the authority of the society that is marriage, has already been distributed.  (In a world in which authority didn't already have ontological traction, subsidiarity would be infinitely slippery).  If, then,  marriage is the goal, the question, as concerns subsidiarity, is how to achieve marriage through modes that both activate and respect other given functions and their correlative authorities. 

An alternative perspective on subsidiarity, if anyone would like to pursue it.  Devolution is not the answer, clearly; nor is centralization.     


Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

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