Principle of Subsidiarity
I would like to join Michael Denton in his critique of Catholic Vote’s endorsements (here and here). For the record, I am still technically a guest blogger for Catholic Vote, although I rarely find the time to blog there these days (the life of a Theology grad student isn’t always conducive to the 24-hour news cycle). I also would like to state that I very much support the work of Catholic Vote and I have the utmost respect for Thomas Peters and Josh Mercer (CV’s Communications Director). I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Burch, but I am sure we would get along quite well.
First, I agree with Mr. Denton’s critique of Catholic Vote’s endorsement criteria, but I also think their very practice of making endorsements hurts their overall credibility. By engaging in elections they sully the wonderfully non-partisan creditability they gained via their Life: Imagine the Potential Campaign. What attracted me to their mission initially is their advancement of Catholic beliefs in the public square in a way that was educational rather than political. Perhaps, my fears will be proven wrong (I hope they are). Kudos to CV though for endorsing a Democrat, at a time when endorsing Democrats is almost an anathema in the social conservative world this is downright courageous.
Secondly, as a theologian-in-training, I feel I need to speak out against two common misunderstandings of Catholic Social Teaching, which Catholic Vote and countless others seem to be making. Before I go into this, I would like to say that I am trying to “think with the Church” on this. I ask that anyone responding to this post, likewise, try to think with the Church and not impose your political biases onto our attempt to better understand the teachings of the Church.
I wasn’t going to do this, but now I am. A contributor (Morning’s Minion) to a certain blog (Vox Nova), whose views on gun control I previously challenged, took it upon himself to let it all out about “conservatism” – partially, I believe, in response to our exchange. The same themes are there at least, though he does go on (and on) about slavish right-wing support for Israel, an issue on which I am not so enthusiastic. I’ve also made my opposition to America’s interventionist foreign policy known. In doing so I respectfully digress from many of my co-bloggers at The American Catholic.
But there are a number of very broad points made by Morning Minions that are more or less directed at me, and my co-bloggers, and of course conservatives and libertarians in general, and I will answer them here.
With the news of Israel’s blockade of Gaza still hot all around the world because of the Israeli attack on the activist boats- I think it is important to look back and assess how we have got to this point of chaos, confusion and rage.
Despite their obvious potential advantages, employee owned businesses tend to be rare. In 2004, there were an estimated 300 worker owned cooperatives in the United States. If that sounds impressive, consider that in 2001, there were over 18.3 million nonfarm proprietorships in the U.S. Nor is the situation much different overseas. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is typically cited as an example of a successful worker cooperative, and it is indeed quite successful . . . for a co-op. Compared to other types of businesses, however, Mondragon performs well, but not stellar. It is the seventh largest corporation in Spain, and despite being a conglomeration of more than a 100 different companies, it accounts for less than 4% of the GDP of the Basque region of Spain where it is located. When one considers that Mondragon is in all likelihood the most successful worker cooperative on the planet, the idea that the co-op’s success proves the viability of worker cooperatives generally begins to seem doubtful.
There’s nothing legally preventing people from choosing to start a workers-owned cooperative rather than some other form of business, and in fact cooperatives receive more favorable tax treatment than do standard business corporations. Why then, aren’t they more common? The question has actually inspired a fair amount of research, which has identified at least four obstacles to the success of worker owned businesses.
Pertinent to recent discussions of Stupak and the role of the USCCB in advancing the health care bill, Edward Feser offers his reflections on Bart Stupak, the USCCB and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity:
… before the health care bill vote, the USCCB urged Congress either to alter the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion or to vote the bill down. (The USCCB also objected to the bill’s failure to extend coverage to illegal immigrants.) But the letter in which this request was made also emphasized that “for decades, the United States Catholic bishops have supported universal health care,” that “the Catholic Church teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential for human life and dignity,” and that it is only “with deep regret” that the bishops must oppose passage of the bill “unless these fundamental flaws are remedied” (emphasis added).
Needless to say, the impression these words leave the reader with – whether the bishops intended this or not – is that, were abortion (and coverage of illegal immigrants) not at issue, the moral teaching of the Catholic Church would require the passage of the health care bill in question, or something like it. In fact the teaching of the Church requires no such thing. Indeed, I would argue (see below) that while the Church’s teaching does not rule out in principle a significant federal role in providing health care, a bill like the one that has just passed would be very hard to justify in light of Catholic doctrine, even aside from the abortion question. Nevertheless, as I say, the bishops’ language would surely leave the average reader with the opposite impression. And as the bishops themselves remind us, they have “supported universal health care” for “decades,” in statements that also would leave the unwary average reader with the impression that Catholic moral teaching strictly requires as a matter of justice the passage some sort of federal health care legislation. On the day Obama signed the bill into law, Cardinal Francis George, a bishop with a reputation for orthodoxy, urged vigilance on the matter of abortion while declaring that “we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.”
Read the rest!
The entire country, including and especially the blogosphere, is ablaze with commentary, debate, and verbal warfare over the merits and potential consequences of Obamacare’s passage into law on Tuesday. Among us Catholics debate has been particularly intense, since the American Church played a key role in opposing Obamacare due to its anti-life provisions, though I can’t say that I agree at all with the bishops when they suggest that the bill was otherwise acceptable.
I opposed, and continue to oppose Obamacare for many reasons, abortion funding being only one of them. Indeed, while the absence of the Hyde language from the bill is certainly troubling, the truth is that Catholic taxpayers have been funding “medically necessary” or “exceptional” abortions at the state level through Medicaid for decades – abortions which are still offenses against life according to the teaching of the Church. Some Catholics have also been doing so through their participation in private health care plans that cover abortion. In modern America, we may as well forget about any kind of meaningful “conscience protection.”
It occurs to me that there are – among several others – two major problems that I have not seen adequate coverage of in the news that will result from Obamacare, though I admit, I can’t read everything, so if someone can direct me to analysis of these issues, I would be grateful.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made a determined effort for universal health coverage, without abortion, in the run-up to the vote on ObamaCare. In the end, due to the abortion language in this bill, they condemned it in its entirety.
Now I believe that our bishops had the best intentions of wanting universal health coverage, but this violates the principle of subsidiarity.
The Principle of Subsidiarity is the handling of affairs by small-scale, bottommost, or minutest government.
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which said that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function.
And those that are uninsured, can get readily available treatment for a serious illness. Including illegal aliens.
So why the bishops haste and aggressive posturing in pushing for something everybody already has and are satisfied with?
I’ve been thinking a bit about the principle of subsidiarity recently as it relates to health care reform. To provide some context, here is the Catechism on subsidiarity:
1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”7
1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.
Despite the rancor which sometimes surrounds the health care debate in the Catholic blogosphere, it seems to me that the basic issue is different prudential judgments regarding the application of the principle of subsidiarity. I’m a bit torn between two ways to apply subsidiarity in this particular circumstance, and so I thought it might be worthwhile to explore the different positions as I understand them.
I have been wanting to say something about the health care debate for sometime, but I have refrained from doing so for one simple reason; not only do I not know enough about the issue, but I am not certain where to even look for relevant knowledge about it. There are two, sometimes more, narratives about what the government is proposing that are so completely at odds, but put forward with such ferocity and vehemence, that it is difficult to know how much of the truth each side is portraying.
Thus I am left to wander about with my own hazy speculation. All I can speak to are my own principles and what little I do know about the state of health care and the dimensions of the problem, neither of which are adequate for the task at hand, but I will proceed anyway and let the discussion develop as it may.
One thing I believe that the vast majority of Catholics can agree to is that, somehow, some way, everyone is entitled by way of their human dignity to health care. Among the things that Christ will judge us for at the end of time is whether or not we helped Him, through the least of our brethren, while he was sick; did we care for Him, or turn our backs on Him?
Everyone here at the American Catholic hoped that you all have had a happy Labor Day weekend.
The principle of Subsidiarity states that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.
Pope Leo XIII developed the principle in his AD 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. The principle was further developed by Pope Pius XI in his AD 1931 encyclial Quadragesimo Anno.
To learn more about Subsidiarity click here.
To read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum click here.
To read Pope Pius XI‘s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno click here.
For more Dilbert funnies click here.
Part I. A Catholic Vision of Health Care
by Eric Brown & DarwinCatholic
The rich body of Catholic social teaching provides the faithful with moral principles to guide their thoughts and actions in political life. All too often, however, discussion of the Church’s social teaching is hijacked by a partisan political agenda — with the elements that seem to agree with one’s own party emphasized and all else ignored in order to give the stamp of Church approval to one’s party of choice. This deprives American Catholics of a meaningful analysis and reflection over the wisdom of the Church. This could not be more true on any subject than on health care.
The American bishops in Faithful Citizenship remind Catholics that “affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right. With an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health care coverage, it is also an urgent national priority. Reform of the nation’s health care system needs to be rooted in values that respect human dignity, protect human life, and meet the needs of the poor and uninsured, especially born and unborn children, pregnant women, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.” The Bishops also state that “religious groups should be able to provide health care without compromising their religious convictions.”
It is often have pointed out — in response to suggestions that such matters be funded via charity or other non-governmental organizations — that if there is not a single, government run, consistent program to provide benefits such as unemployment insurance and health care to those who need them, there is no guarantee that people will receive the benefits that they need.
This does not surprise me. One of the reasons why we set up bureaucratic social programs is because we don’t want to accept the level of inconsistency and unfairness that can result from organically developed community systems of mutual obligation.
Some have, however, taken this argument farther and suggested that it is simply impossible for needs such as health care, unemployment, etc. to be provided through any system other than a large government run one, which spreads the risk across millions of people (and allows nearly unlimited deficit spending.) It’s all very well to want personal mutual obligation to take care of things, I’m told, but you simply can’t deal with some issues that way.
I disagree. It is possible to take care of all of these things at the community level through mutual obligation. And there is a test case which we can look at to see how that looks. The Amish applied to congress to receive an exemption from social security.
I was somewhat fascinated the other day, when participating in a discussion of school vouchers on another blog, to hear someone make the assertion that public schools are “more democratic” than vouchers because everyone must use the curriculum which is decided via “the democratic process” in public schools, whereas with vouchers someone might attend a religious (or otherwise flaky school) teaching things you do not believe to be true.
This strikes me as interesting because it suggests to me a view of democracy rather different from my own. Thinking on it further, I think there are basically three reasons why one would consider deciding things democratically (defining that broadly here as “by majority vote, either directly or via elected officials”) to be a good thing:
One of the great principles that tends to be ignored in our debates about economics, social justice, and governmental involvement in the lives of the people is solidarity. We argue about how involved the government should be in our lives, what kinds of safety nets it should provide, and to what extent it should mandate and appropriate in order to provide for the most needy of society. We argue about how well certain economic theories–capitalism, Keynesian economics, socialism, etc.–work in providing justice, or even providing just shelter and food. We argue about subsidiarity, and how it should be practiced, and while that touches on solidarity, it doesn’t fully overlap.
One of the arguments about governmental involvement is how the aid provided is cold and distant. By the time the welfare check is spat out of the massive, convulsing, bureaucratic mess that is the government, any principle of charity has been rendered flat. The recipient is a name on the list, judged worthy to receive a handout based upon an entry in a database. At first this seems like an argument of aesthetics. If a man receives a welfare check from the government rather than from friends in the community or local charities, he still receives the money he needs to survive. Yet there is a deeper problem here than merely looking at from whom the money comes, or how much charity exists in the entity delivering assistance. The continual reliance on the federal government to solve our problems aids in the breakdown of solidarity.
Is it any wonder that we have become so polarized, so factious, so estranged?
In the American election cycles 2004 and following, there has been an increased visibility of Catholic influence in the political process and a public debate amongst Catholic voters. It is a great gift to the American people that the Catholic Church may offer the clarity of moral truth to the country’s political discourse.
However, this participation on the part of Catholics presents a variety of challenges. How is the teaching found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to be expressed within the American political tradition? The answer is not so clear-cut and is inevitably the subject of much debate. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a document before every election called Faithful Citizenship, which presents “Catholic Social Teaching” to the laity, in summary form, an authentic Catholic view of the natural moral law grounded in the inherent dignity of each human person and how it can and should be lived out within the political process.
Ryan Harkins took an initial look at how Catholics should look at the question of whether there is a natural right to own guns in a post last week. The basic thrust of Ryan’s argument, and I ask him to correct me if I misstate this, was to examine the question of whether the benefits of private gun ownership outweighed the potential social evils. This is, in a sense, an obvious way to look at the question. If one is trying to determine the rightness of allowing people to own something potentially destructive, it would seem natural to take a “do the benefits outweigh the dangers?” approach.
I’d like to take a slightly different approach, looking at both the actual text of the second amendment and Catholic Social Teaching. The second amendment reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The libertarian approach to this is to assert that an armed citizenry is required in order to provide a counter-weight to the power of the government. However, I’m not convinced that the thinking behind the second amendment was a merely a balancing of powers in this sense. Rather, it seems to me that to a great extent the US Constitution is written with the point of view that people possess certain natural rights and duties, and that from these spring rights and duties of the government. My understanding is that one of the major controversies in regards to the second amendment (one spoken to fairly definitely in last June’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision) has been whether it secures a right of state militias to have weapons, or a right of individuals to have weapons. While in effect my opinion on the matter lies closer to the individual right side, it seems to me that there is an important distinction which has been increasingly lost in our modern mass society:
Pop quiz: what is the difference between a) giving directly to the poor, b) donating to a charity, and c) surrendering taxes that go to help the needy?
While you ponder that, here’s another one.
Question: if you could receive, free of charge, a) generic drugs or b) name-brand drugs, which would you choose?