Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Subsidiarity (a sample)

The following is a sample of the work I have been doing. It may form an appendix to the main work, which is of a rather different - ah - kind of writing.

The Modern Era: "Catholic Social Teaching"

Rerum Novarum
The idea of subsidiarity was first sketched by Leo XIII in his famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum, published in 1891. He founded the idea upon the family, setting it in logical opposition to the State – and thereby inverting the hierarchy which puts the State ahead of its components. Chesterton uses this inverted, upside-down view to indicate the correct perception of reality: remember that he [Peter] was crucified upside down. I've often fancied his humility was rewarded by seeing in death the beautiful vision of his boyhood. He also saw the landscape as it really is: with the stars like flowers, and the clouds like hills, and all men hanging on the mercy of God." [GKC The Poet and the Lunatics 21-22]

Indeed, Leo XIII's work seems dematically linked to Chesterton's, in showing the impoortance of distinguishing things which need to be kept separate. As Jesus said "Think ye, that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no; but separation." [Lk 12:51] and Chesterton's insightful inversion of Mt 19:6: "Those whom God has sundered, shall no man join." [GKC, The Common Man 143], Leo divided the social system into State and Family.
Now that Leo had effected the correct separation of the components in the social system, he restored order to it by lifting up the lowest part. This lesson, as Chesterton pointed out, "is the lesson of 'Cinderella ' which is the same as that of the Magnificat – exaltavit humiles. [GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:253. The Latin means "He has lifted up the lowly" Lk 1:52] Henceforth as Jesus predicted, the lowest was to rank ahead of the highest: "And behold, they are last that shall be first: and they are first that shall be last." [Lk 13:30] And we shall see this in even greater detail, because "That is the paradox of the whole position; that henceforth the highest thing can only work from below." [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:313. Also cf. Jn 13:2-15]
Here, then, is the kernel element of subsidiarity: The system is composed of parts, and the parts form a hierarchy – an ordered arrangement of layers – within the system. With this in mind, let us see how Leo proceeds:
20. It is a most sacred law of nature that the father of a family see that his offspring are provided with all the necessities of life, and nature even prompts him to desire to provide and to furnish his children, who, in fact reflect and in a sense continue his person, with the means of decently protecting themselves against harsh fortune in the uncertainties of life. He can do this surely in no other way than by owning fruitful goods to transmit by inheritance to his children. As already noted, the family like the State is by the same token a society in the strictest sense of the term, and is governed by its own proper authority, namely, by that of the father. Wherefore, assuming, of course, that those limits be observed which are fixed by its immediate purpose, the family assuredly possesses rights, at least equal with those of civil society, in respect to choosing and employing the things necessary for its protection and its just liberty. We say "at least equal" because, inasmuch as domestic living together is prior both in thought and in fact to uniting into a polity, it follows that its rights and duties are also prior and more in conformity with nature. But if citizens, if families, after becoming participants in common life and society, were to experience injury in a commonwealth instead of help, impairment of their rights instead of protection, society would be something to be repudiated rather than to be sought for.
21. To desire, therefore, that the civil power should enter arbitrarily into the privacy of homes is a great and pernicious error. If a family perchance is in such extreme difficulty and is so completely without plans that it is entirely unable to help itself, it is right that the distress by remedied by public aid, for each individual family is a part of the community. Similarly, if anywhere there is a grave violation of mutual rights within the family walls, public authority shall restore to each his right; for this is not usurping the rights of citizens, but protecting and confirming them with just and due care. Those in charge of public affairs, however, must stop here; nature does not permit them to go beyond these limits. Paternal authority is such that it can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State, because it has the same origin in common with that of man's own life. "Children are a part of their father," and, as it were, a kind of extension of the father's person; and, strictly speaking, not through themselves, but through the medium of the family society in which they are begotten, they enter into the participate in civil society. And for the very reason that children "are by nature part of their father...before they have the use of free will, they are kept under the care of their parents." [Summa Theologica II-II Q10A12] Inasmuch as the Socialists, therefore, disregard care by parents and in its place introduce care by the State, they act against natural justice and dissolve the structure of the home.
[Rerum Novarum 20-21 (1891)]

One important aside: from this excerpt, Leo XIII might be said to be the "founder" of subsidiarity – but he did not use that word in Rerum Novarum.
I wish I had room to explore the extent to which this great document influenced Chesterton. It may be the substrate on which he built his What's Wrong With the World (1910) and The Outline of Sanity (1926), and he seems to have made occasional indirect reference to it (e.g. Illustrated London News essay for Nov. 17, 1923 CW33:216-217; The Everlasting Man CW2:186; St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:544), but it was so much in his mind that in 1926 he mentioned it in a mystery story: "The Oracle of the Dog" in The Incredulity of Father Brown.

Forty Years Later
But in the Roman Catholic Church, Rerum Novarum had a very significant effect. So important did this encyclical prove – the first of the "modern" studies of Church teaching on human society – that in 1931 Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, specifically commemorating its fortieth anniversary.
It is indeed true, as history clearly proves, that owing to the change in social conditions, much that was formerly done by small bodies can nowadays be accomplished only by large corporations. None the less, just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to the community at large what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so, too, it is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies. This is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, unshaken and unchangeable...[Quadragesimo Anno 5 (1931) emphasis added]

Here, Pius gives a succinct and general (though negative) form of the concept – yet we still do not have the term "subsidiarity." It is this encyclical, however, not Leo's, which most later documents give as a reference.

John XXIII Gives Us the Term
John XXIII released his Mater Et Magistra in 1961, seventy years after Leo XIII's work, examining the topic in ever greater detail, and with ever greater concern. Here, the idea proposed by Leo and discussed by Pius is finally given a distinguishing name.
52. But – for reasons explained by Our predecessors – the civil power must also have a hand in the economy. It has to promote production in a way best calculated to achieve social progress and the well-being of all citizens.
53. And in this work of directing, stimulating, co-ordinating, supplying and integrating, its guiding principle must be the "principle of subsidiary function" formulated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, "This is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, unshaken and unchangeable... Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to a community what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too it is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order, for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower societies. Of its very nature the true aim of all social activity should be to help members of the social body, but never to destroy or absorb them."[See excerpt from QA above]
54. The present advance in scientific knowledge and productive technology clearly puts it within the power of the public authority to a much greater degree than ever before to reduce imbalances which may exist between different branches of the economy or between different regions within the same country or even between the different peoples of the world. It also puts into the hands of public authority a greater means for limiting fluctuations in the economy and for providing effective measures to prevent the recurrence of mass unemployment. Hence the insistent demands on those in authority – since they are responsible for the common good – to increase the degree and scope of their activities in the economic sphere, and to devise ways and means and set the necessary machinery in motion for the attainment of this end.
55. But however extensive and far-reaching the influence of the State on the economy may be, it must never be exerted to the extent of depriving the individual citizen of his freedom of action. It must rather augment his freedom while effectively guaranteeing the protection of his essential personal rights. Among these is a man's right and duty to be primarily responsible for his own upkeep and that of his family. Hence every economic system must permit and facilitate the free development ofproductive activity.[Mater et Magistra 52-55 (1961)]

But "the principle of subsidiary function" was reduced, just two years later, to the simpler term "subsidiarity" – which appeared for the first time in John XXIII's Pacem in Terris, as he applied it to a system even larger than the Family/State of Leo:
140. Moreover, just as it is necessary in each state that relations which the public authority has with its citizens, families and intermediate associations be controlled and regulated by the principle of subsidiarity, it is equally necessary that the relationships which exist between the world-wide public authority and the public authority of individual nations be governed by the same principle. This means that the world-wide public authority must tackle and solve problems of an economic, social, political or cultural character which are posed by the universal common good. For, because of the vastness, complexity and urgency of those problems, the public authorities of the individual states are not in a position to tackle them with any hope of a positive solution.
[Pacem in Terris 140 (1963) emphasis added]

The idea, though not the term, was evident in Paul VI's Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens in 1971, commemorating the 80th anniversary of Leo's work.

Similarly, John Paul II wrote Laborem Exercens a decade later (1981).

One hundred years after Leo's work, sixty after Pius XI's "negative" form, and nearly forty after John XIII's first use of the term, John Paul II gives this "positive" definition of subsidiarity:
Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: 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 coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.[ref to QA]
[Centesimus Annus 48 (1991)]


At 16 November, 2005 17:09, Blogger Newvictorian said...

Thank you for sharing, good sir.

I now understand better what your current work entails.


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