An Important Thing To Remember About Subsidiarity…and The Republican Party

Pope Leo XIII promulated the encyclical Rerum Novarum on May 15, 1891.

Leila Miller writes about subsidiarity:

Subsidiarity holds that decisions and policies should be made at the lowest level possible, and intervention by higher and bigger social organizations should only be undertaken when those lower levels truly need and desire a supporting (not usurping!) action.

She adds:

The role of the family must not be usurped by communities and cities, the role of cities must not be usurped by states, and the role of states must not be usurped by the federal government. Worst of all is when the federal government overtakes a role proper to the family.

Generally speaking, this is true, but it cannot be applied strictly so. For instance, if a man is beating his wife, he may feel that he does not “need and desire” government intervention. In such a scenario, it is important for the state to protect her by having laws in place that will allow law enforcement to enter in and protect her. If the state refuses to pass such laws, it is then the responsibility of the federal government to pass laws that will protect her.

From Rerum Novarum:

Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body. 

The rights of mankind always precede the State, prior to the formation of any State. This means that man’s rights automatically trump every level of government. That is an idea consistent with the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Founders agree with the Church that the only purpose of civil government is to “secure” our “rights” which come from God.

Also from Rerum Novarum:

The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. 

This is why I say that it is illegitimate under Catholic teaching AND under the Declaration of Independence for any candidate for president to say that abortion is not within the purview of the federal government at all, and that it is only a matter for the individual states.

It is also why the Fourteenth Amendment,which was authored by the still-new Republican Party (founded by Christians who sought to end slavery) and enacted after the Civil War, is a legitimate protection:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Unfortunately, that very reasonable and basic protection has been abused by those who would rather not think in terms of the most basic rights of every human person but rather seek to divide us all into groups and drive wedges between us. If we were all merely considered “persons” and our rights were considered to be only those which are “inalienable” (God-given) then we would not have so many silly rules in our laws that drive wedges between people and build up resentments in society. The fact that this has happened for so many years and has created a government that has grown so very large does not give us license to “tweak” Catholic teaching and claim that lower levels of government have sole power to defend our rights. We must still defend the basic law of the land that is consistent with our Faith and never claim that any state may legitimately decide what our rights are. Those, as the Declaration says, come from God alone. They are not defined by vote in a state legislature.

The Founders were fortunate enough that these “truths” were, as they said, “self-evident” to them. They were very clear and needed no explanation. In today’s times, due to man’s continual rejection of God, we are faced with a population in which “truths” are no longer “self-evident”. “Rights” are no longer understood. This failure to recognize “truth” has been explained by the Holy Father as an “eclipse of reason“.

“To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.” 

As Catholics we each have the duty “to preserve” our “capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and true” and always forsake any notion that it might be legitimate to do otherwise for expediency’s sake because we are faced with problematic  man-made boundaries in politics.

Subsidiarity is not so cut and dry. Our rights are very basic and always trump all forms of government, at all levels, according to the Catholic Church, according to the Founding Fathers, and according to the Fourteenth Amendment. If our government does not defend those very basic rights, then our government is operating in illegitimacy on the point, and if we defend that illegitimacy, our defense is illegitimate no matter how convincing we, or others, may think it to be.

Some argue that because our federal government is not defending the right to life, then the federal government is operating in illegitimacy and, therefore, it is necessary to usurp the authority of the federal government on the issue of abortion. But the authority of the federal government is found in the framework of the laws, not in the persons who are elected. The laws are clear. We can see this from the Declaration of Independence and from the Fourteenth Amendment. There is no mistake that our government is sound on this principle in considering the framework of laws. It is not the law that is the problem. It is the people who refuse to enforce those laws who must be voted out and replaced with people who will enforce those laws.

The explanation I have given above regarding the duties of all levels to defend our rights, which trump all government powers, means that the Republican Party has been from its beginning, in my view, the most Catholic political party there ever was. It is now under great threat as those who believe “states rights” trump inalienable rights — manifest primarily in the abortion issue — used to only have one candidate, but now seem to have several candidates in the field taking that wholly illegitimate position that “states” have “rights”.

States do not have rights. States have powers. Only people have rights.

The Republican Party’s current pro-life plank includes at least four phrases which fly in the face of the “states rights” position.

Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.

1. “Declaration of Independence” – As noted previously, it is in this founding document where “inalienable rights” are given as the reason for breaking away from tyranny. That is referred to as a “Natural Law” argument, which the Founders mention as “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. If you do not agree that Natural Law should be embraced in the reading of the Constitution, then you agree with Elena Kagan, who is by no means a Republican, and disagree with Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican. (See video here of Senator Coburn questioning Kagan about whether the right to bear arms is a “natural right”.)

2. “[F]undamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” – Any attempt to deny that right is illegitimate. Hence, the claim that any level of government — whether local, state or federal — may, if they choose, deny that right is an illegitimate claim on its face.

3. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution” — This is an acknowledgment that states cannot legitimately allow abortion.

4. “Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children” — This specifically refers to the provision “nor shall any State deprive any person of life.”

Sadly, most people appear to be taking a postion on abortion for expediency’s sake. Ask any who believe in “states rights” on abortion if they believe states may ban guns, or if states may allow unreasonable searches by law enforcement. I assure you, they will either not respond to the question, or they will fundamentally fail to understand that it is only the Fourteenth Amendment which guarantees that individual states must not ever fail to uphold our natural rights. If there is some other explanation offered from a reading of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence for these candidates failing to call for “states rights” in regard to other “natural” rights, I would be most happy to hear the explanation.

I conclude, therefore, that only two candidates currently campaigning for the Republican nomination are genuine Republicans on this issue, are genuinely in keeping with the Founders and genuinely in keeping with the Church. Not surprisingly, they are both Catholic. I will let you do the research to find out who they are.




29 Responses to An Important Thing To Remember About Subsidiarity…and The Republican Party

  • Good Article Lisa. The only thing I would say is that the Human life amendment should recognize the rights of the pre born but it is up to states to make the specific laws and punishments just like they do for all murders now. I don’t think that conflicts with states rights at all. Our rights as stated in the constitution aply in all states as should a Human Life Amendment. But regardless of where or who defines these things Abortion must be fought at every level of society. Thanks for your insight :)

  • That’s all fine philosophically but it doesn’t hold up legally or historically. The Declaration isn’t law in any sense. Not to mention that it doesn’t even support your point. The Declaration didn’t even apply to slaves. It’s indiscernible whether “person” in the 14th Amendment was originally understood to include the unborn. If relitigated, stare decisis would dictate that at least this point from Roe v. Wade should stand. That doesn’t mean that all of Roe would stand. The right to abort can still be overturned without recognizing personhood. IMO the only way to legitimately recognize legal personhood would be through a combination of overturning Roe’s right to abort through the courts and legislation recognizing personhood.

  • RR, then you agree with Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, et al, re: “natural rights”…that there is no such thing as an “inalienable right”. The Declaration did apply to slaves but it was not recognized that it applied to slaves because they were not seen as human persons, the same as the unborn are not now seen as human persons by those who support abortion.

  • Kevinbsnyder, yes I agree, but when candidates say that abortion is, in and of itself, a matter “left for the states”, that is an illegitimate claim on its face.

  • The Declaration isn’t law as a law saying go on green and stop on red is, although it is set forth under the United States Code. It is much more important than that. It is one of the essential building blocks of what we as a people believe. Contra RR it most certainly did apply to slaves, as it applied to everyone. Lincoln in a speech on the Dred Scott decision on June 26, 1857 addressed this issue:

    “Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once, actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact, that they did not at once, or ever afterwards, actually place all white people on an equality with one or another. And this is the staple argument of both the Chief Justice and the Senator, for doing this obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration. I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal-equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”

    The Declaration of Independence is for pro-lifers, as it was for abolitionists, a shining beacon in the ever-lasting struggle to have people treated as children of god and not as mere things, disposable at the whim of others.

  • I repeat, “That’s all fine philosophically but it doesn’t hold up legally or historically.” IOW, arguing your case before an impartial pro-life originalist judge who believes in natural inalienable rights, you would lose. You can’t win a legal argument by arguing what the law should be.

  • Lincoln was wrong. The slaveowners who signed the Declaration did believe that the liberty of slaves are alienable. It’s fine to admire the principles set forth in the Declaration but it’s original intent wasn’t so inclusive.

  • RR,

    “The Declaration isn’t law in any sense.”

    I’m repeating what Donald said, but to me this is always a very powerful point. The Declaration is in fact US code. It is organic law of the United States. That means it is law in the most fundamental sense. The Constitution was written to protect those rights. When people say they don’t believe in inalienable rights and then they appeal to the Constitution, they contradict themselves.

  • The Articles of Confederation are also contained in the Code. Good luck citing it in court.

  • “The slaveowners who signed the Declaration did believe that the liberty of slaves are alienable. It’s fine to admire the principles set forth in the Declaration but it’s original intent wasn’t so inclusive.”

    Completely untrue RR as to Jefferson and most of the other slave holding Founding Fathers. They believed that slavery was a temporary evil that needed to be abolished. Their statements on that score are many. Jefferson never breathed a syllable that the statement all men are created equal was not to be taken in a universal sense and applied to all of humanity. It was the slave holders of Lincoln’s day, and their useful idiot allies in the North, who were the historical revisionists in regard to the originial meaning of the Declaration and not Mr. Lincoln.

  • I agree with Stacy T.

    The Declaration (unalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness) is infinitely superior to any and all court decisions (they can’t kill 50,000,000 babies or destroy the human family through democratic methods, i.e., the vote) and laws promulgated by progressives.

    The Declaration rights are God-given and thus infinitely superior to the fallen-man-guarantied rights enumerated/guarantied in the US Constitution.

    I think the biggest departures from founding principles are we have allowed the 1% that is truly ruining us to usurp too much power and these evil men/women are “gaming the system” to buy votes. NB: These people are evil. Our Constitution and form of government are untenable. Their vices will forge OUR chains.

  • “The equal protection demanded by the 14th Amendment forbids this. No language is more worthy of frequent and thoughtful consideration than these words of Mr. Justice Matthews, speaking for this court, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369 , 30 S. L. ed. 220, 226, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1064, 1071: ‘When we consider the nature and the theory of our institutions of government, the principles upon which they are supposed to rest, and review the history of their development, we are constrained to conclude that they do not mean to leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power.’ The first official action of this nation declared the foundation of government in these words: ‘We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ While such declaration of principles may not have the force of organic law, or be made the basis of judicial decision as to the limits of right and duty, and while in all cases reference must be had to the organic law of the nation for such limits, yet the latter is but the body and the letter of which the former is the thought and the spirit, and it is always safe to read the letter of the Constitution in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. No duty rests more imperatively upon the courts than the enforcement of those constitutional provisions intended to secure that equality of rights which is the foundation of free government.’ ”

    Cotting v. Goddard, 183 US 79 (1901) (United States Supreme Court decision)

  • Interesting article, Lisa. On a tangent separate from the other comments, the issue of human personhood is what stood out to me in the recent economic document from the Vatican’s Office of Justice and Peace, which supports structures of global statehood over the sovereignty of individual states, and over the sovereignty of the human person, instead trumpeting ‘peoples’, the ‘common good’ and ‘subsidiarity.’ It’s not that its a bad document (although it is,) it’s that it needs a lot of explanation from the Vatican policy wonks who floated it onto the world stage.

    Subsidiarity is a great term to bandy about when discussing Catholic social thought. But the rights of the human person, created with great dignity in the image and likeness of God, are at the heart of subsidiarity.

    The principle of subsidiarity alone, followed to it’s natural ands, might easily be used to argue for the right to abortion. For instance, the family would be better off economically; no child an unwanted child; women wouldn’t be bothered with unwanted children; the state would be better off, abortion ‘fixes’ social issues at the lowest levels, so that at higher levels alarmists might not be bothered with notions of population control and the nuisance reproductive capacity of the ignorant masses. Everyone would be happier if unwanted pregnancy were a thing of the past, and enlightened science now helps us fix that pesky issue at the lowest level.

    As you point out, it always goes back to the human person and the inalienable rights given by God. These things *are* self evident, even when one does not realize them.

    For instance, as RR (I believe,) points out, perhaps when the Declaration of Independence was written slaves were not seen as persons. But when the evident concept was followed to its natural conclusion, Truth prevailed and the horror of slavery became manifest.

  • Don, I would concede as to Jefferson but not so sure about others. There were certainly those who didn’t believe as Jefferson did. Otherwise, his mentions of slavery in his draft of the Declaration would’ve been kept in.

  • Thank you very much, Father. Re: the point on slavery, yes, man is supposed to be on a journey to be led into all truth (e.g., doctrinal development) and I have always seen America as being on a journey toward more truth, more protection of human dignity. The Founders of America were by no means perfect, but what they engaged in was a great leap forward in the journey of man, and the end of slavery was another step forward. The end to abortion is the next step forward.


  • Stacy is correct. The Declaration of Independence is the “reason” for America, and the Constitution delineates “how” that reasoning is applied.

  • I read some of the Federalist Papers and it seems to me that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution so that the people could abolish slavery – they left the door open for the people to do the right thing.

  • There were some who did not RR, that is correct, but the major ones did. George Washington made several anti-slavery statements during his lifetime and manunmitted his slaves upon his death. Patrick Henry, a slave holder, denounced slavery as an unmitigated evil. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, made anti-slavery statements his entire life and helped found the American Colonization Society, the purpose of which was to free blacks and settle them in Africa. Charles Carroll, the Catholic signer of the Declaration, often spoke and wrote against slavery, and sponsored a bill, which failed, to abolish slavery in Maryland. Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia delegate who sponsored the resolution that America should declare its independence, called for the abolition of slavery. Luther Martin of Maryland predicted that God would punish America for the sin of slavery.

    The consensus of men of the Founders’ generation in the South was that slavery was evil and needed to be abolished, even if they were uncertain how to go about doing it immediately. How that changed over time, and how many Southerners came to view slavery as a necessary evil or even a positive good, is a fascinating and tragic story that led to the Civil War and the fulfillment of the prophecy of Luther Martin.

  • I should like to add in regard to the beliefs of the Founders on slavery that any belief they held that was pro-slavery should be rejected as erroneous whereas their unity on inalienable rights for all human beings is in keeping with our Faith and should be embraced.

    We must build on the foundational points that are true rather than pointing to errors as if they might somehow give us reason to reject the unborn.

  • For instance, if a man is beating his wife, he may feel that he does not “need and desire” government intervention. In such a scenario, it is important for the state to protect her by having laws in place that will allow law enforcement to enter in and protect her. If the state refuses to pass such laws, it is then the responsibility of the federal government to pass laws that will protect her.

    If I understand the philosophy correctly, it doesn’t matter what he desires– her basic human dignity trumps any family claim, the family is supposed to support that basic right, so if it fails to do so it’s as illegitimate as a gov’t that requires immoral actions. (Same applies to an unborn child– his right to be alive outweighs her desire to not be pregnant.)

  • I would not suggest that the law should require that the woman’s family should intervene when her husband is beating her unless there is immediate danger and no time to call law enforcement. She is an adult, I presume, and is a partner with her spouse as the head of her family. Law enforcement officials act as neutral parties in such matters and this is conducive to minimizing resentments in society. We’re not allowed to build up resentments in society either. That is a topic for another day, but I did mention “resentments” in my article above, and I believe resentments are the cause of the political polarization in America today with the Tea Party on the right and the Occupy Wall Street on the Left. I spoke of that polarization in the context of the personhood argument on my blogl: Does Anyone Know What A Person Is Anymore? <—–LINK

  • If the law- “stare decisis”- is unable to affirm the right of each human being to life, then the law is insane.

    If the law is unable to affirm that each human being is a human person, then the law is a form of murderous tyranny imposed by devils.

    If RR is right, then the American experiment has failed.

  • This risks oversimplification, but subsidiarity is like a right of first refusal. Local communities should act to secure the rights and dignity of human persons and foster the common good. If, however, it fails to do that, the “higher” order should provide assistance. If that does not help, the higher order is obligated to step in.

    Subsidiarity is a presumption, or preference for, the lower order. The Church has never taught that action by the higher order is always intrinsically wrong.

  • A jury in NYC may have identified the solution for the wife-beating plague.

    The wife of the chronic wife-beater shot her tormentor 16 times (overkill?). She had to reload two weapons.

    A jury of her peers found her not guilty of murder.

    Apparently, the jury deemed it was self-defense, and ruled she need not have fled or divorced the jerk: killing the rat was justified because of all the prior beatings and in anticipation of all the future beatings.

    Wife beaters: beware.

    Battered wive’s: obtain pistol permits.

    I watch the GOP candidate debates in anticipation of hearing the one of the liberal liars’ (I repeat myself) ask Herman Cain, “When did you stop beating your wife?”

  • You can’t win a legal argument by arguing what the law should be.

    Sure you can – see Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas – they did exactly that.

  • c matt,

    You got that right – a lot of the problem here regarding abortion, as it was in the 1850’s regarding slavery, is that everyone pretending the pro-abortion/pro-slavery side is motivated by something other than greed and pride. When a person sets out to do something wrong (extend and preserve slavery/abortion, eg), THEY WILL NOT OPERATE FROM HONORABLE MOTIVES. While they might cite something honorable as buttressing their cause and while they might sucker people in to agreeing (and they agreeing usually from the motive of cowardice…a desire for social peace trumping the courage to do the right thing), it should never be considered they they had a case. What is wrong, is wrong. People who are willing to recognize evil and call it what it is should never allow themselves to be snared in to an argument which assumes that evil might have a case to make.

    I often cringe, for instance, when I see the pro-life person asked the “what about rape?” question in the abortion debate…never once heard the pro-life person fling it right back with “why does a child have to be executed because his father is a rapist?”. We keep going along with the notion that the wrong side has a point to be respected…they don’t. They are wrong – all our arguments should be, in various forms, a continual re-statement that they are wrong. Ask THEM why they want to kill the unborn; why they want to shackle us to debt slavery; why they want to destroy marriage; why they want to permit a rising tide of filth in popular culture….don’t answer their absurd “arguments”, just keep accusing them of their crimes.

  • Mark Noonan, you are right on target. Never by their premise. Never be forced into believing that there is a grey area on abortion. The grey area is created by evil men to do unspeakable things. It is always black and white, right and wrong.

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