“Subsidiarity” is not a word we tend to use in everyday speech. However, this fundamental principle is key – one of the three cornerstone principles of Catholic Social Teaching – so we need to understand it, and its application to social, political, and economic spheres.
The principle of subsidiarity holds that the state should undertake only those tasks which are beyond the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.
"...that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them." (QA, 79)
Can you explain Subsidiarity further?
“Subsidiary is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical [Rerum Novarum]” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 185)
Basically: decisions in society need to be taken at the lowest competent level. Problems are best solved at the level where they arise or, if this is not possible, at the lowest competent level. Any activity that can be performed by a more decentralized entity – should be.
What is the “definition” of Subsidiarity?
“It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies” (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 79)
Why is Subsidiarity important?
The principle of subsidiarity lies at the heart of a stable social order by fostering the personal responsibility that naturally accompanies individual liberty - ensuring that personal interest is not placed in opposition to societal interests - and by seeking to bring individual desires and the demands of the common good into fruitful harmony.
Subsidiarity is a prescriptive principle in that it informs us how decision-making should be delegated among social groups - in order to allow for authentic freedom and human dignity.
How does Subsidiarity foster freedom?
Subsidarity is a prescriptive principle in that it informs us how decision making should be delegated among social groups - in order to allow for authentic freedom and human dignity. ("[God] entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature." – CCC, 1884)
Why must the state respect Subsidiarity?
Subsidiarity, as Blessed John Paul told us: “Insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention…inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the state and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them”. (CA, 11)
What results when the Principle of Subsidiarity is absent or lacking?
“Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.” (CCC, 1883)
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