Principle of Subsidiarity

Failure: Vox Nova Takes on Conservatism

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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.

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Edward Feser on Stupak, the USCCB and Subsidiarity

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!

Principle of Subsidiarity Violated by ObamaCare

Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII

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.

Private insurance agencies cover over 84% of all Americans, with an overwhelming 93% saying they are satisfied with their coverage.

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?

Healthcare & Subsidiarity: Two Interpretations

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. 

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One Catholic's View of Health Care

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?

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Subsidiarity at Work

dilbert subsidiarity

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.

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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.

Why Have Democracy?

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:

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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

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?

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Catholics, The 2nd Amendment, & Subsidiarity

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:

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