Principle of Subsidiarity

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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