From the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching:
185. Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church's social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical. It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, local territorial realities; in short, for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth. This is the realm of civil society, understood as the sum of the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groupings, which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to "the creative subjectivity of the citizen." This network of relationships strengthens the social fabric and constitutes the basis of a true community of persons, making possible the recognition of higher forms of social activity.I believe that it would be a mistake to read this as a libertarian manifesto. The good of a nation state is not different in kind from that of a polis. It is however, more difficult to obtain, because of the size involved. One needs to remember the distinction between incomplete/imperfect communities and complete/perfect communities. The political community is a perfect community, while the family and other intermediate societies or associations are not.
186. The necessity of defending and promoting the original expressions of social life is emphasized by the Church in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, in which the principle of subsidiarity is indicated as a most important principle of "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."
On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help ("subsidium") -- therefore, of support, promotion, development -- with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place.
Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom, and responsibility must not be supplanted.
A polis is complete because it can provide all that is needed for the good life. The principle of subsidiarity protects the lesser societies and even the individual from micromanagement by the government.
Still, I do not think the principle of subsidiarity as it is presented within recent Church teaching should be understood as a positive endorsement or promotion of the modern nation-state. It may be an acceptance and affirmation that such political organizations exist, without an endorsement of their existence as being an ideal. Aristotle's criticism of communities that are too big are still valid today, especially for those nation-states that claim to be democracies. The principle of subsidiarity rather is a prudential response to them and their overreaching. The Church's teaching on subsidiarity can be seen as an attempt to limit the problems associated with nation-states that are too big for their own good and centralization, and is another example of the Church's realism.
Even in a properly sized polis the principle of subsidiarity would apply--there is a place for individuals to exercise some prudence in determining what to do for themselves, their families, and for the polis. In fact, the principle of subsidiarity is more a normative feature of the polis than of large nation-states. Why?
Because even in such a community there are multiple levels of organization; while the lower are wholly subordinate to the higher as to the end, nonetheless the lower have ends/goods proper to them.
The case can be made that for some smaller political "sub-units" (the province, state, etc.), that they are actually perfect communities. I would argue that it is not intrinsically unjust for such subunits to secede; only considerations of prudence, such as interdependency for essentials (food, etc.) should prevent such a unit from seceding. (Such communities which are contemplating secession should do what they can to mitigate such interdependency and to build up self-sufficiency before declaring political independence.)
(What work is proper to a certain level of organization?
An extreme interpretation--affirm that there is autonomy? Potential basis for independence?)
Note: the compendium makes a distinction between the political community and civil society:
417 The political community is established to be of service to civil society, from which it originates. The Church has contributed to the distinction between the political community and civil society above all by her vision of man, understood as an autonomous, relational being who is open to the Transcendent. This vision is challenged by political ideologies of an individualistic nature and those of a totalitarian character, which tend to absorb civil society into the sphere of the State. The Church's commitment on behalf of social pluralism aims at bringing about a more fitting attainment of the common good and democracy itself, according to the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and justice.What is the distinction being made here? I do not think "political community" is referring here to the state (or to the government). Rather, it is between men understood as being gathered together for the sake of a political end, and men understood as being gathered together for an end that is even higher than that. If I am correct here, then perhaps the language is a bit sloppy and needs to be clarified. (It may be similar to the distinction that is attributed to Augustine, between temporal society and a supernatural society, the City of Man and the City of God--this distinction is not the distinction that Augustine himself makes, though.)
Civil society is the sum of relationships and resources, cultural and associative, that are relatively independent from the political sphere and the economic sector. "The purpose of civil society is universal, since it concerns the common good, to which each and eveyr citizen has a right in due proportion." This is marked by a planning capacity that aims at fostering a freer and more just social life, in which the various groups of citizens can form associations, working to develop and express their preferences, in order to meet their fundamental needs and defend their legitimate interests.
418. The political community and civil society, although mutually connected and interdependent, are not equal in the hierarchy of ends...
The political community is not reducible to the government and institutions associated with governing, even if the government has the role of guiding the whole community to its proper end. (see Maritain and Simon on what they have to say about the "state").
Economic interdependence is not a sufficient reason to create an even bigger political community with a centralized government, destroying sovereignty -- rather it should give impetus for relocalization and a move towards self-sufficiency. If we know that we are dependent upon other communities for the necessities of bodily life, we should take that as a warning sign, rather than an indication that we have attained some sort of lofty humane ideal.
Defensive alliances too can take care of the need for a common defense. There is no reason that a single government is necessary for a collection of states, even though by themselves, they are lacking in the means to defend themselves from a larger state.
(Is the Federal Government a necessary instrument for determining interstate commerce, movement of peoples between states? That is, the authority it has to make decisions on such matters is originally derived from the states themselves? Or does it actually have a higher authority by its very nature than that of the states?)
Historically, the trend towards consolidation is a result of sin more than "reason." (Thanks to Dr. Clyde Wilson for describing this trend as "consolidationist.") Those who attempt to justify an international community, with "one world government" point to the ills that such a government can solve, but at what price? (Advocates include certain prominent Catholic intellectuals, unfortunately.)
The size of the modern nation-states thus presents an obstacle to the good life in at least two ways (and is therefore fundamentally disordered).
1. When it has been coupled to an almost unlimited right to acquire and dispose of property, the self-sufficiency of smaller political units becomes threatened and eventually destroyed as corporations are able to expand their reach and even most food is produced by corporations. With their long chains of supply, the production of food is eliminated, for the most part, from most political units and the burden for feeding their citizens is transferred onto other political units (to the detriment of local ecologies).
2. Even in a properly ordered nation-state which is able to maintain some sort of check on the corporations and the rich, one must ask the question of how much power the new central government can have, without destroying the political life of the smaller units, or violating their authority?
Wwhat sort of justice is involved here, in these considerations about size and sovereignty and subsidiarity?
Are powers delegated to the government by the people by agreement or consent? Is transference of authority possible, and to what extent?
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church on
The Organization of the International Community
441. Concern for an ordered and peaceful coexistence within the human family prompts the Magisterium to insist on the need to establish 'some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all and endowed with effective power to safeguard, on the behalf of all, security, regard for justice, and respect for rights.' In the course of history, despite the changing viewpoints of the different eras, there has been a constant awareness of the need for a similar authority to respond to worldwide problems arising from the quest for the common good: it is essential that such an authority arise from mutual agreement and that it not be imposed, nor must it be understood as a kind of 'global super-State'.Is the solution worse than the problem? How can the public authority of the world community be effective if it does not in some way override the authority of sovereign nation-states? The Compendium and the Magisterium do not appear to be talking about the continued use of diplomacy and binding treaties, but of something else entirely. Catholic liberals also endorse the nation of a supranational authority as being necessary for the common good of all mankind. I find it rather dubious--how can be subsidiarity be preserved, when the size and organization of current nation-states themselves are already opposed to reason?
Political authority exercised at the level of the international community must be regulated by law, ordered to the common good and respectful of the principle of subsidiarity. 'The public authority of the world community is not intended to limit the sphere of action of the public authority of the individual political community, much less to take its place. On the contrary, its purpose is to create, on a world basis, an environment in which the public authorities of each political community, their citizens and intermediate associations can carry out their tasks, fulfil their duties and exercise their rights with greater security'.
442. Because of the globalization of problems, it has become more urgent than ever to stimulate international political action that pursues the goals of peace and development through the adoption of coordinated measures. The Magisterium recognizes that the interdependence among men and nations takes on a moral dimension and is the determining factor for relations in the modern world in the economic, cultural, political and religious sense. In this context it is hoped that there will be a revision of international organizations, a process that 'presupposes the overcoming of political rivalries and the renouncing of all desire to manipulate these organizations, which exist solely for the common good', for the purpose of achieving 'a greater degree of international ordering'.
In particular, intergovernmental structures must effectively perform their functions of control and guidance in the economic field because the attainment of the common good has become a goal that is beyond the reach of individual States, even if they are dominant in terms of power, wealth, and political strength. International agencies must moreover guarantee the attainment of that equality which is the basis of the right of all to participate in the process of full development, duly respecting legitimate differences.
Mirror of Justice: Mirror of Justice: Subsidiarity Within the Church, The Ambiguities of Subsidiarity
What is the link between practical reason and a theory of authority; what is reasonable versus what is legally binding?
Clyde Wilson on Ft. Sumter