Paul Ryan & Subsidiarity

Ever since Congressman Paul Ryan announced his budget plan, claiming that it was inspired by his understanding of Catholic social teaching (CST) in general and subsidiarity in particular, old debates about the meaning of CST have flared up once again. Michael Sean Winters of NCR blasted Ryan’s conception of “subsidiarity”; then Stephen White of Catholic Vote critiqued some of Winter’s own oversimplifications. Since everyone and their aunt in the Catholic blogosphere will weigh in on this at some point, I’ll get it over with and throw in my two-cents now.

First: I do believe that some of Ryan’s statements are oversimplifications. For instance, he claimed that subsidiarity and federalism were more or less synonyms for one another. They are not. Stephen White pointed out that these concepts are complimentary, however, and they are.

Secondly: Winters, and he is not alone in this, repeats Vatican statements about “access” to health care as if they were an exact equivalent with Obamacare or other types of government-run healthcare schemes. As White pointed out, Winters presents his leftist policy preferences as non-negotiable points of CST.

Third: I think the entire framework of this discussion needs a serious overhaul.

On one level, something that has only been available for roughly a century or so cannot possibly be a “basic human right.”  Rerum Novarum establishes that the natural rights that belong to each individual precede the state; this categorically excludes something as specific and dependent upon a high level of technological development as a lifetime of health services. Such goods and services can only be “accessed” to the extent that a technologically advanced society can produce them, and this capability in turn depends upon on a level of economic freedom that cannot be attained with purchasing mandates, excessive tax burdens, and bureaucratic control.

As long as scarcity is a fact, the forces of supply and demand, operating within the framework of a Christian culture of charity and compassion for the poor, are the best and most efficient means of ensuring that the greatest amount of people have access to the health services they need. Classifying the goods and services themselves as “human rights” simply creates a false sense of injustice when the inevitable realities of scarcity and bureaucratic inefficiency deny them.

This can only disrupt the social order and disturb the common good. What else but grave harm can come from big promises unfulfilled? To take one example: just as the American left believes it has reached its moment of triumph with Obamacare (provided SCOUTS doesn’t shoot it down), Europe’s demographic, military, and financial problems are bringing its welfare systems to the brink of collapse. Societies and governments do not develop policies in idealist vacuums. They develop in social and geopolitical contexts that are constantly changing. Whether we point to the horrific birth-rates of Europe or its increasing defense burdens in this post-Cold War era, we see that a whole set of “givens” in which the welfare state developed is rapidly deteriorating.

All of this is to say that it is simply the height of irresponsibility to create a linkage in the public mind between “basic human right”, a phrase that creates a very specific impression of something one is entitled to, with something as contingent as healthcare, which could at any moment for any number of reasons outside of anyone’s control suddenly become much more scarce than it is at the present moment. Even in our technologically advanced society, nothing is guaranteed. This is why the classical liberal conception of natural rights, which is present in Rerum Novarum in all of its simplicity and elegance, is really the best framework for addressing these issues. My right to private property doesn’t depend on how world events will impact the flow of goods or the sustainability of social programs. It comes from God and is worth something to me as long as I live in a society shaped by a culture in which people value and respect those rights. And respect, unlike advanced medical procedures or pharmaceutical drugs, is not a scarce resource.

 

 

27 Responses to Paul Ryan & Subsidiarity

  • Very good, you added to excellent White’ piece.

  • As well, Rights being naturally endowed unto us by God, their exercise cannot entail any kind of need to obtain the service or labor of others, except in their mutual defense. If Health Care (or housing, or food, or any other lefty favorite) is a natural right, then this entails the enslavement of those who provide it, as rights cannot be purchased, but only exercised.

    How this quiet little piece of logic goes unshouted by the establishment GOP is, or at least used to be, beyond me.

  • generally I agree with you, but here ( in your “on one level” paragraph) something sticks:
    to me “precedes” the State does not just mean preceding in time, but precedes in another way– a ranking — now that we are technologically capable, for instance, of feeding and hydrating T Schiavo, charity calls us to that–
    we are not called to live like we are BC era,; I think we are called to work with what we have.. natural law does not take us back to some primitive state-but applies here and now with what “wherewithal” we have… that’s why “precedes” does not necessarily mean “precedes in time”
    once again I am more than willing to be corrected as needed!
    I think you are saying extraordinary measures are not a human right — like heart transplant etc–

  • Anzlyne,
    I suspect that you and WK are not in agreement. WK is making the fairly time-honored case in favor of the proposition that rights are negative rather than positive. Libertarians point out, quite correctly, that the trouble with affirmative or positive rights is that they logically require the functional enslavement of others. This position has never been accepted by the Church, and in fact has been pretty directly criticized. That said, my sense is that the Church’s view and that of libertarians in this limited respect are not necessarily contradictory insomuch as libertarians are criticizing affirmative “rights” that are enforceable by government whereas the Church is affirming the importance of such rights vis-a-vis society, and government and society are not synonymous. More specifically, the Church is saying that society must be ordered in a way so that its members rights to basic needs are satisfied; liberarians do not oppose that as such, as long as the term right does not mean a legal right that can be enforced against others via government coercion. The Church does not oppose the latter, but does not require it either.
    All that said, I like the fact that Ryan seems to take his Catholicity seriously. I worry that he also takes Ayn Rand seriously, and while Rand had her insights her “philosophy” is ultimately not remotely compatable with Roman Catholicism.

  • All good points here. Consider that Mortimer Adler in his book “10 Philosophical Mistakes” makes the point that a human right to something doesn’t mean that a person must have that thing provided by either the government or his neighbors if he can’t get it for himself. It means that no one, whether government or anyone else can morally PREVENT the person from fulfilling that right. Often fulfilling that right is based on good fortune and circumstance. We see that in the right to bear arms. The government or anyone else doesn’t have the resposnsible to buy you a gun if you can’t afford one.

  • I think I am not in opposition to WK Aiken’s post– I do think that our rights precede the state, that they are not “posited” by the state… they are negative in that they are not imposed but are natural– I apologize that I wasn’t very clear who I was responding to– it was Bonchamps paragraph:

    ” On one level, something that has only been available for roughly a century or so cannot possibly be a “basic human right.” Rerum Novarum establishes that the natural rights that belong to each individual precede the state; this
    categorically excludes something as specific and dependent upon a high level of technological development as a lifetime of health services. Such goods and services can only be “accessed” to the extent that a technologically advanced society can produce them, and this capability in turn depends upon on a level of economic freedom that cannot be attained with purchasing mandates, excessive tax burdens, and bureaucratic control.’

    And I do agree with Bonchamps about all of this generally –at the end of the paragraph
    I agree we have to recognize that economic ability/ freedom to act which describes the level of burden to provide access to advanced health care. I agree that none of this burden (brother’s keeper) can be coerced by the state, but is social construct of individuals within families/ communities.
    my only question to Bonchamps was about our social burdens/responsibilities in his words since “roughly a century ago” — it sounds like our rights are defined a bit by the technical ability to intervene..
    so I say we do have the rights and mutual responsibilities and some of those responsibilities depend upon our “wherewithal” what we can and should do here and now is different than what would have been morally required back then or over there : )

    once people didn’t know how to read, but an education I think is a basic human right– provided first and foremost by the parents

  • I think I am not in opposition to WK Aiken’s post– I do think that our rights precede the state, that they are not “posited” by the state… they are negative in that they are not imposed but are natural– I apologize that I wasn’t very clear who I was responding to– it was Bonchamps paragraph:

    ” On one level, something that has only been available for roughly a century or so cannot possibly be a “basic human right.” Rerum Novarum establishes that the natural rights that belong to each individual precede the state; this
    categorically excludes something as specific and dependent upon a high level of technological development as a lifetime of health services. Such goods and services can only be “accessed” to the extent that a technologically advanced society can produce them, and this capability in turn depends upon on a level of economic freedom that cannot be attained with purchasing mandates, excessive tax burdens, and bureaucratic control.’

    And I do agree with Bonchamps about all of this generally –at the end of the paragraph
    I agree we have to recognize that economic ability/ freedom to act which describes the level of burden to provide access to advanced health care. I agree that none of this burden (brother’s keeper) can be coerced by the state, but is social construct of individuals within families/ communities.
    my only question to Bonchamps was about our social burdens/responsibilities in his words since “roughly a century ago” — it sounds like our rights are defined a bit by the technical ability to intervene..
    so I say we do have the rights and mutual responsibilities and some of those responsibilities depend upon our “wherewithal” what we can and should do here and now is different than what would have been morally required back then or over there : )

    once people didn’t know how to read, but an education I think is a basic human right– provided first and foremost by the parents

  • Throughout 2009 during the purported “health care debate”, the version of CST as has been corrupted by modernity, legal positivism (as nicely mentioned by MP), liberation theology, etc., was manifest in ways not herebefore many Catholics had known with the exception of the flick in time CHD scandal. I can leave to others the root causes of that corruption but the domestic policy people at the USCCB and many bishops contributed greatly to the present day impoverished notions of what constitutes CST. I haven’t done this in a while as it’s simply too depressing but over the years one could witness first hand how the USCCB gave the Democratic Party platform its “theological” approval as it promoted higher taxes, cap and trade, mortgage bailouts, the Fannie/Freddi debacle, and many other statist oriented laws. Subsidiarity gets nothing but lip service. Free enterprise receives nothing but disdain.

    I like what George Weigal said in a lecture, From Centesimus Annus to Deus Caritas Est, The Free and Virtuous Society of the 21st Century, about subsidiarity and federalism:
    “The principle of susidiarity teaches us that decision-making in society should be left at the lowest possible level (i.e., the level closest to those most effected by the decision), commensurate with the common good. American ‘federalism’ is one empirical example of the principle of subsidiarity at work in actual political life. Articulated under the lengthening shadow of the totalitarian project in the first third of the twentieth century, the principle of subsidiarity remains today as a counter-statist principle in Catholic social thinking. It directs us to look first to private sector solutions, or to a private sector/public sector mix of solutions, rather than to the state, in dealing with urgent social issues such as education, health care, and social welfare.”

    As I’ve stated before, our constitutional federalism offers us the template for the reality of subsidiarity, which we should cherish.

    Finally as to any “worry” that Paul Ryan takes Rand’s “philosophy” seriously, I find that not being helpful to the discussion inasmuch that it is a random perjorative. Ryan, like many of us, have read Rand and particularly Atlas Shrugged. I would hope most college students do read it. Rand, as Ryan read it and as most of us have, provides keen insight into the simple understanding that economics, at its heart, is a behavioral ‘science.’ Where Ryan and any Catholic reading Rand depart radically from her is with her depressing notions of glorifying human depravity, egoism, selfishness and objectiveism…..but then that is the flip side of the coin known as freedom….the same coin which gives us the choice to obey Him, to live out authentic Charity and not the faux charity of government coercion, confiscation, dependency, etc. And when you really think about Rand’s depressing view of human nature, it’s not much different than the ideological ingredient found in socialism, or statism.

  • Paul Ryan speaks the truth regarding destructive, massive government spending and sky-rocketing debt that will enslave your children.

    The truth damages Obama’s narrative.

    Paul Ryan must be destroyed.

    Left-wing gangsters cloaking themselves in their version of CST politicize the Gospels to smooth the way for socialist serfdom.

  • Anzlyne,

    Thanks for the comments. By “precedes”, I actually think that Rerum Novarum – other natural rights doctrines too, in fact – really means “morally precedes.” It is a way of stating that man’s rights are not derived from the state, they do not depend upon the state, and the state can’t have some obligation to actually provide things for people; the state is instituted for a very specific purpose, which is to safeguard natural rights.

    “my only question to Bonchamps was about our social burdens/responsibilities in his words since “roughly a century ago” — it sounds like our rights are defined a bit by the technical ability to intervene..”

    That’s now how I would have it. I don’t think our rights should depend on technology. I don’t think new technologies that make the mass production of goods and services possible can create new rights to those goods and services. If something was not recognized as an entitlement 1000 years ago mainly because of reasons of scarcity, it can’t be recognized as an entitlement today, because we still have scarcity – just less of it. It is still impossible for everyone to get everything they want.

    The main reason people are agitated and clamoring for egalitarian “social justice” is precisely because the system they despise, capitalism, has made so many people so much better off that the presence of a marginalized underclass really sticks out like a sore thumb. But even this underclass, at least in the Western world, lives better than much of the rest of the world today and most of humanity throughout history. So there is a lot of impatience.

    More people die each year in auto accidents in this country than die from a want of health insurance. I would say that there’s just as little we can efficiently and justly do at the federal/bureaucratic level to prevent all auto accidents as there is all deaths related to a lack of health insurance. The amazing thing is that this rules out nothing for people whose imaginations can possibly operate outside of federal bureaucracies. But you’d have to be uninterested in controlling and plundering your neighbor for that, and I guess that’s too much to ask from fallen man.

  • Hi Bonchamps
    so we agree on what “precedes” means– that it is a moral ranking so to speak –
    your reference to our rights as related to time ( last century) and the development of technology threw me. I think you said that the ability to offer these things only for less than a century means we cannot see the application of technology as something that could be coerced by the state– ok
    I have no probem understanding negative or natural rights given by God preceding the state– but our real choices change a bit because we
    live now

  • Anzlyne,

    My point is to warn against the illusion that things have changed so much that we can declare specific goods and services “rights”, as if they existed in super-abundance and only some sort of irrational prejudice was preventing an unlimited supply to meet an unlimited demand.

  • Yes. Good point. Thank you. Also BPS point is well taken.

  • First among the many things I like about Paul Ryan is that he sees the need to take the CST narrative away from the left (which unfortunately includes the USCCB when it comes to issues like this) and proceeds to do just that.

  • If it’s Socialist to have Social Security, Medicare, and Medicade, than count me as a Socialist! What we need now is Socialized Healthcare. Healthcare for PROFIT no longer works! 50% of the population can no longer afford Healthcare! And 50% of the Country lives at or below the POVERTY LINE! Remember, the early Christians were Socialists! They held everything in Common! Don’t tell me that there is no money for these programs-that is pure BS! Stop giving BILLIONS of dollars away every year as “Foreign Aid”! Stop trying to police the world and cut back on the more than 1000 military bases we have around the world! Tax the RICH! Vote Democratic! Let Obama lead-not the Rich Republicans!

  • The notion of subsidiarity has captivated my attention for years, and I’m hoping that this concept soaks in to the public mind. As stated by others here, subsidiarity can be applied more broadly than rule-making. Specifically, charity needs to happen in person to person contact rather than through the organs of the State. State-run charity, welfare, had the promise to be more efficient than churches operating through disorganized but well-meaning individuals, but the state operates as would a machine between the donor and recipient. Without contact between the donor (taxpayer) and recipient (poor) there is no sense of charity and thankfulness, but only their opposites. A machine cannot convey love.

    In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the first two passers-by likely wished that someone else would help.

  • Richard,

    Use your inside voice.

    The “poverty line” is an arbitrary line. To be at the American “poverty line” today is to be wealthier than at least half of the people in the world, if not many more than that.

    I do agree that we should stop policing the world and slash the military budget significantly. But that money ought to be returned to the taxpayer, not siphoned into an inefficient bureaucratic monstrosity.

    I also think it is pretty absurd to cite such concerns and then scream about voting for Obama and the Democrats. Obama went into Lybia and is threatening Syria and Iran. And in case you’ve forgotten, Bill Clinton went into the Balkans, twice, and LBJ gave us the Vietnam War. If you want to go even further back, it was FDR who got us into WWII and Wilson who got us into WWI. I’ll leave aside the value judgments of these military adventures. The point is that Democrats get us into more wars than Republicans do, because they have always been more idealistic and willing to believe that ideas can be spread and imposed by force. It is nothing but an extension of their socialistic philosophy, which imposes ideas by force domestically. Republican war-idealism is a new thing (hence why we call those who promote it NEOconservatives).

    Obama is a warmonger. And unlike Bush, his war in Lybia had no Congressional approval.

  • Richard you are a thinking person and I invite you to read about the “Light to the Nations” Pope Leo XVII. That would be a good start.

  • Anzlyne,

    You mean Pope Leo XIII, right?

  • hahaha
    sorry sometimes I type too fast! ha– I do mean Thirteenth! and I see that I also wrote light to the nations! Lumen gentium! what a goofy post– I meant Light in the Heavens! ( remember St. malachy called him that)– Thanks Bonchamps

  • CAPS ON!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! NO ARGUMENT!!!!

  • yes I know very well he didn’t write that– I was just saying that in my gooofy post I meant to write” Light in the Heavens” but my brain slipped to that other familiar phrase– which is the title (taken from the first sentence) of the Dogmatic Constitution–

  • I really don’t follow the argument that a service that has become highly technical cannot be a right.

    Whether we have a right to healthcare, or to access to healthcare, depends on the fundamental nature of the service (that is, the removal of suffering and the preservation of life), not the cost or sophistication of the technology. People are not to be left to die on the street, because they have a right to life. If, for example, someone passes out in my house, it is my obligation to apply CPR. This is my level of knowledge. CPR was unknown in prior generations, but I have the knowledge, and I am duty bound to apply it. If someone was shot on the battlefield during the Civil War, there was an obligation to perform an amputation or apply a tourniquet.

    It seems to me you are saying that, if someone is ill, they are entitled to whatever care one could naturally give them without technology – bed rest, dressing a wound, etc., but otherwise it is moral to let them die. This seems so ludicrous that I can’t imagine that is your position.

  • “I really don’t follow the argument that a service that has become highly technical cannot be a right.”

    I don’t know why you would try, since that isn’t my argument at all. My argument is that something that hasn’t been a “basic human right” throughout most of human history cannot possibly be a basic human right today because it suddenly looks like we might have the wealth and resources for everyone to have it (we don’t). Scarcity isn’t an “injustice”; its just a natural condition that all of the ideological temper-tantrums in the world can’t make go away.

    “Whether we have a right to healthcare, or to access to healthcare, depends on the fundamental nature of the service (that is, the removal of suffering and the preservation of life), not the cost or sophistication of the technology. ”

    My point is that you can declare whatever you want a “right”; if reality prevents it from being produced and distributed for all who might need it, then such declarations are not only meaningless, but potentially harmful to society.

    ” If, for example, someone passes out in my house, it is my obligation to apply CPR.”

    That’s not “healthcare.” That’s charity. And it isn’t your legal obligation to apply CPR, but the advocates of universal healthcare want to force us all to pay into a healthcare system to satisfy their social ideals.

    “This is my level of knowledge. CPR was unknown in prior generations, but I have the knowledge, and I am duty bound to apply it. If someone was shot on the battlefield during the Civil War, there was an obligation to perform an amputation or apply a tourniquet.”

    Yeah, I don’t know what this has to do with anything. I mean, if in your battlefield there are more injured people then there are tourinquets, no one is going to say it is a situation of profound injustice that some people will simply bleed to death. The reality of scarcity was understood by all. There isn’t always enough to go around. If and when there is enough, then YES, of course charity obliges us to provide what we can for those who need. My argument is against those who think they can overcome the realities of scarcity with government edicts and philosophical pronouncements of new rights.

    “It seems to me you are saying that, if someone is ill, they are entitled to whatever care one could naturally give them without technology – bed rest, dressing a wound, etc., but otherwise it is moral to let them die. This seems so ludicrous that I can’t imagine that is your position.”

    I certainly never said that. If you think I said that, maybe you could copy and paste what I said that gave you such an impression.

  • You in fact said:

    “On one level, something that has only been available for roughly a century or so cannot possibly be a “basic human right.” ”

    Now, you pretend you didn’t say any such thing, and that you were only talking about “scarcity.” It’s quite plain where I got the idea that I considered your argument to be based on modern technology – because there is no other way to intepret the sentence quoted above. So much for intellectual honesty.

  • I can see why your comments are put on moderation. It doesn’t occur to you that there might be a miscommunication here: you jump right to the uncharitable accusation of dishonesty.

    This is how you cast my position: “if someone is ill, they are entitled to whatever care one could naturally give them without technology – bed rest, dressing a wound, etc., but otherwise it is moral to let them die.”

    First, I never said anyone was entitled to anything. No one has ever been entitled to any of these things. People have had individual moral obligations to provide what they can, when they can, for those in need.

    Secondly, what I said has only been available for a century or so has been cradle-to-grave healthcare. This is what is demanded by those who classify “healthcare” as such as a “basic human right”, and who believe that this “right” obliges governments to provide it.

    And yet this thing they demand as a right, has only been available for about 100 years. So how can it be something that people have always been entitled to? No one in the past insisted that cradle-to-grave healthcare was a “basic human right” because it would have been impossible to provide it for every single person. Such a thing couldn’t even be imagined. No one said, “we live under a regime of injustice because we can’t snap our fingers and make the resources to provide everyone with this basic human right appear before us.” It was just a fact of life. There was no “right” to that which couldn’t exist.

    My argument is that it still doesn’t exist today. It just so happens that our level of technological advancement has made it so that SOME people, and in fact, a significant majority of people, can afford it, while others cannot. And this strikes people as unfair. And so they imagine that what some people have, everyone ought to have in order for fairness to be achieved. And they then insist that the government has an obligation to make it fair. And they clothe these presumptions in the language of “rights” in order to strike a chord in our hearts.

    You accuse me of saying that it is MORAL to “let people die.” I am not proposing that it is some positive act of morality to say to a person, “we’re not going to give you what you need because you can’t afford it.” But I would say that you can’t classify a situation of scarcity itself as a state of injustice or immorality, because that is simply the way the world is. Nor can you overcome such a state by saying that the thing which cannot be made available to all is a “basic human right” that governments MUST make available to all.

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