Libertarianism and the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity.”

Few trends are more damaging than the relentless march of the state into every area of life. With each passing year, the state brazenly exposes its contempt for the dignity of the individual and thereby testifies to its own illegitimacy.

The Church recognizes that while man is a social creature, he himself is prior to society; prior to the state. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it.” CCC 1930.

Man is above the stateHuman society is first composed of its individual members, who form numerous associations for survival, companionship and every other human need. Whether the group is a family, a church or any other co-operative effort, every institution derives its governing authority from the consent of the individual person. Society has an order that must be respected.

Pope Leo XIII taught that “Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.” Rerum Novarum, 7.

Regarding the next societal level—the family—he wrote, “[T]he domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of community, and founded more immediately in nature.” Rerum Novarum, 13.

This natural ordering of society is known as the principle of subsidiarity.

In 1931, Pope Pius XI lamented the “near extinction” of these intermediate institutions that left the individual standing alone before his master, the state. In the place of

. . . that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State. This is to the great harm of the State itself; for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”

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.

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. 

Quadragesimo Anno, 78 – 80.

Subsidiarity is a principle of respect, and of justice. Subsidiarity best promotes the common good at every level of society. Nations fall. Civilizations die, but every person we meet is an immortal being, higher than anything in the physical creation; above and before the state. So let’s show some respect.

 

revolution

2 thoughts on “Libertarianism and the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity.”

  1. “Every institution derives its governing authority from the consent of the individual person.” This is actually not true.

    The Catholic Church, in matters of faith and morals, derives her authority from God alone; the state, and the members of the Church shall always obey her pertinent judgments. She exists entirely outside this calculus. As a human institution, she has a formal structure: that of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which coincides with her Divine mission. Such is inspired and approved by God. Other functions are strictly the creation of man; nonetheless, their authority is not derived from a democratic process of Church members.

    Nor does a tyrant derive his authority from the consent of the governed. Such a governor who usurps power immediately resigns from himself the just authority he once possessed. The people can then rightly depose him, because he has already ceded all righteous authority.

    To correct the statement, then, would require the Church to be removed from the calculus of consented authority. It would also be wise to render the wording as in the Declaration of Independence: that “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    As a final word: obedience does not create authority, but acknowledges it; nor does disobedience remove an authority, but simply defies it.

    No one can be forced to obey authority. That itself is an authority we can usurp to our own ends, making tyrants of ourselves.

    • “[T]he choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens.”
      Gaudium et Spes: “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” 74 § 3.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *