Friday, March 16, 2012

Subsidiarity and Cooperation

Here is another post I really enjoyed from Catholic Moral Theology.

The principle of subsidiarity may be among the most controversial topics of the doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching because it is often used by both the left and the right to justify either small government or big government.

I prefer Meghan Clark's interpretation, that it is a two-sided coin. We need a system of governance that allows for the common good with multiple levels of institutions and associations working together for that common good. We cannot rely only on big government, nor can we rely only on small government. It is clear that there are proper functions belonging to each, but that most functions necessary for the common good require cooperation from all levels--individuals, families, local governments and private associations all the way to national government and international associations.

Here is Meghan's full article: Subsidiarity is a Two-sided Coin

Here are some highlights:
As a Catholic moral theologian, I must confess that the principle of subsidiarity is perhaps one of the most crucial and most misunderstood in Catholic social teaching. According to the principle of subsidiarity, decisions should be made at the lowest level possible and the highest level necessary. Subsidiarity is crucial because it has applications in just about every aspect of moral life. In medical ethics, subsidiarity helps guide decision-making. In social ethics, subsidiarity helps us prudentially judge not only decision-making but allocation of resources. Subsidiarity is an effort at balancing the many necessary levels of society – and at its best, the principle of subsidiarity navigates the allocation of resources by higher levels of society to support engagement and decision making by the lower levels. Despite how often it is stated – subsidiarity does NOT mean smaller is better.

The principle of subsidiarity is about the well-ordered society directed towards the common good and this requires the state, individuals, institutions, civil organizations and churches all work together in civil society (paragraph 56: “Both sides must work together in harmony, and their respective efforts must be proportioned to the needs of the common good in the prevailing circumstances and conditions of human life.”). Government in Catholic social teaching is not simply a necessary evil, government has a positive role in society – and here I would insert both federal and state governments as having their proper place.

The fundamental goal here is the common good. Thus, Catholic social teaching’s principle of subsidiarity actually includes within it a strong sense of the responsibility of the government for creating the conditions of human flourishing.

Participation at all levels is crucial for both subsidiarity and solidarity. A distinctive element of Catholic social thought is that the community and the government have a responsibility to actively promote the necessary conditions to support those families.

In CST, subsidiarity is a two-sided coin – the state has the responsibility to respect and promote the many levels of society. This means that the higher orders have the right and responsibility to intervene when necessary (And why it is not a violation of subsidiarity for CST to call for greater global governance as John XXIII and Benedict XVI have in both 1963 and 2012). That said – government programs must be evaluated for their effectiveness and necessity. This is why I previously wrote about why the new poverty measures including the supplemental measure were so important – they provide us with necessary data to evaluate the effectiveness of programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

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