All posts on Catholic Social Teaching.
Subsidiarity Due For ComebackMalcolm A. Kline, November 27, 2012
The Catholic principle of subsidiarity, whereby that level of government closest to the problem is the one best-equipped to deal with it, may be viewed as quaint but in public education, its inverse could be seen as disastrous. “The 20th century was marked by dramatic consolidation of school districts in the United States,” Tom Loveless and Katharyn Field of the Brookings Institution found. “As the number of districts shrank from 117,000 in 1940 to 15,000 in 2000, the size of districts ballooned.”
“The average district served 217 children in 1940, as opposed to 3,000 in 2000.” Their research is quoted in a new report by the Heartland Institute, written by Joseph L. Bast and Joy Pullmann.
“In a 2012 poll conducted by Braun Research, Inc., 37 percent of parents said they would prefer to send their children to private schools yet fewer than 10 percent of parents do,” Bast and Pullmann write. “Seventy-one percent of mothers and 56 percent of Americans favor school vouchers.”
“In the Washington, D. C. area, almost three-quarters of those polled support the local voucher program, and it had a parental satisfaction rate of more than 90 percent.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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By the way, it should be noted that the principle of subsidiarity does not apply only to government, it applies to any person or agency who can address a problem of need in the community. The principle of subsidiarity requires that the need be addressed by whoever is closest to the needy person and able to help them. If the immediate family can’t address the needs of one of its members, they should look for help first among those closest — extended family and immediate neighbors, then the larger local community, and so on. This is why the principle of subsidiarity supports homeschooling. It is only because not all parents are equipped to school their own children that we need public schools.
In this week’s selection, the encyclical continues making the case for the Church’s legitimate and beneficent role in society, not competing but cooperating with the State for the common good. And, indeed, Pope Leo cannot refrain from pointing out that the Church, motivated by Christian charity, can and will go much further than the State in alleviating the suffering of the poor, in both their spiritual and their material needs. Not only that, but She influences the hearts and minds of citizens also to desire to do good toward their fellows. So governments should not seek to marginalize religion, because it helps the State do its legitimate job, i.e., maintain a safe environment in which all its citizens may prosper.
This view of the nature of government, and the Church’s relationship to it, is laid out more fully in Leo’s encyclical Immortale Dei (“On the Christian Constitution of the State). The third paragraph of that document sums it up nicely:
It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life, be it family, social, or civil, with his fellow-men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless someone be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author. Hence it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything without exception must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single source, namely God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. “There is no power but from God.”
Thus, both the Church and the State ultimately serve God. Not only that, but some kind of State (i.e., governing structure) is necessary and natural if individuals and society as a whole are to prosper.
Once the case for the Church and her agencies has been made, the encyclical goes on to delineate the State’s legitimate role in ordering society. First, it is pointed out that it is in the State’s best interest to see to it that its laws and institutions allow people to live good lives, as this will promote peace and the common good. In particular, the State should see to it that the rights of the working class are protected, since they make up the bulk of society and their labor serves the whole of society. In other words, it would be foolish and impractical to allow workers to be victimized by their wealthy employers, because without a healthy working class everything would grind to a halt.
Still, the State’s job seems to be, not to interfere in and manage the daily lives of its citizens, but to see that justice prevails in public and private matters. That is, it should stand by in case things go wrong, or appear to be about to go wrong, and to intervene only when necessary to avoid a breakdown (such as work stoppages or riots) in the normal operations of society and industry, and only until peace and justice have been restored, which would include addressing the causes of such disturbances — e.g., the lamentable conditions that drive workers to strike. Bearing in mind the dangerous ideas put forth by Socialists, Leo also addresses specifically acts of class warfare that would violate justice, such as workers’ seizing the property of the owners of capital, as well as greedy capitalists’ treatment of workers as wage slaves in order to wring the maximum profit from their labors — either of these would be grossly unjust, and the State should guard against them.
However, the State’s role is also to safeguard the good of the individual, even when the individual might not want it to do so, much as a father must sometimes do things for his child’s good, even if the child does not recognize that action as good. So, for instance, a worker desperate to earn money might agree to poor wages, excessively long hours, or bad working conditions, but the State should not allow it. It is interesting that Leo claims that the State should safeguard not only the material well-being of its citizens, but also their moral well-being, by making sure that workers have time not only to recuperate from their labors, but also to spend time with their families and to worship. This is in accord with the Church’s view that the State “no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author.”
|Australian Senator John Madigan|
As we’ve seen in our reading so far of Rerum Novarum, one of the key ideas is that citizens — both business owners and their employees — and the State should cooperate for the common good. Injustice results when one element is favored over the other. This idea still “has legs” in our contemporary world, and it animated a lecture presented by Australian Senator John Madigan when he spoke recently during the 2012 Rerum Novarum Oration at Australian Catholic University.
The Rerum Novarum Oration is an annual event sponsored by the Office of Justice and Peace of the Melbourne Archdiocese, to commemorate Pope Leo’s encyclical as the encyclical “that formed the foundation of the Church’s social doctrine in modern times.” In addition to Senator Madigan, Dr Matthew Tan, Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at Campion College, Sydney, also gave a keynote address.
Click here to read transcripts of the two speeches or listen to the podcasts.
Vatican Radio has begun broadcasting interviews discussing works of the Catholic Social Tradition. The first addresses Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, and includes a discussion of the context in which the first social encyclical was written, and its reception in the world at large. Click the link at the end to find the audio links to the interview.
Leo XIII: father of social encyclicals…(Vatican Radio) Leo XIII who died on the 20th July 1903 has gone down in history as the first pope ever to have written a social encyclical.
It was 1891 and the title of this document was “Rerum Novarum,” Latin words highlighting the novelty of the theme explored [sic — a misunderstanding of the title, as I pointed out in my commentary. –LN].
Veronica Scarisbrick asks Professor of Catholic Social Teaching at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas here in Rome, Dominican Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, to place this encyclical into an historical context for us.
While Father Crosthwaite explains how the Catholic Church’s concern in social issues dates back to the times of the Fathers of the Church, he also notes how this document breaks new ground. As for the first time in history a Roman Pontiff begins to realise the need to address social issues in a new way, expressing concern for the condition of workers.
[On the respective roles of Church and State in the lives of citizens]
On the Christian Constitution of the State [see also Catholic Encyclopedia online]. Its chief duty is to make sure that its laws and institutions promote and protect public well-being and private prosperity; this being so, it should promote everything that makes its citizens better and happier, including public morality, well-ordered family life, respect for religion and justice, moderate taxation, productive use of land, etc. If these things are seen to, there will be fewer poor and less need for public relief. Nonetheless, the right to private property must be protected by law, nor should private property be seized and redistributed under pretext of justice.  The State should ensure humane working conditions and reasonable pay, in order to forestall workers’ strikes, because the disruptions caused by strikes are injurious to the public peace.
Last May, the Obama-Biden campaign rolled out an online slideshow, “The Life of Julia,” that explained “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime.”
The narrative does not feature a boyfriend, let alone a husband, but Julia benefits from free birth control, letting her “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” But if Obama is defeated, Julia could be denied the same health-care benefits because “Romney supports the Blunt Amendment — which would place Julia’s health-care decisions in the hands of her employer.”
This fictional Julia is presented as the typical American who benefits from Obama’s leadership, and apparently she represents the self-image of enough Americans that Barack Obama was favored in the elections over Mitt Romney, identified with the traditional understanding of family.
Ask Catholic scholars and commentators to distill the message of the Democratic presidential campaign, and they may well cite “The Life of Julia.” That’s in part because it presents the government as a reliable placeholder for spouses and families, but also because it elevates the right to free contraception over First Amendment conscience protections.
“There really are competing irreconcilable visions of society on offer in this election,” said Gerard Bradley, a constitutional scholar at the University of Notre Dame who has spoken out against the HHS mandate.
“The Obama campaign’s ‘Julia’ ad sums up the president’s vision” of the individual as “basically alone in society,” noted Bradley, editor of the newly released Challenges to Religious Liberty in the Twenty-First Century.
“Julia has no family and evidently no religious community to support her,” Bradley said. “She does have a set of aspirations and goals, and the government is her financial angel — Uncle Sam as Daddy Warbucks, if you will.”
This view of society as atomistic individuals connected only through the State is clearly at odds with the view assumed by Rerum Novarum. Frawley goes on to cite analysts who fault Mitt Romney for failing to present with adequate vitality the competing, traditional understandings of society, the individual, marriage and family.
“The questions about life and marriage were effectively sidelined by the Republican Party in the interests of making the election about stewardship,” agreed Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things.
With the election now decided, he said that “one of the most important things Catholics can do is set about reforming the Republican Party so that is a more effective vehicle for Catholic social teaching.”