Mr. Daly writes, concerning subsidiarity:
I needn’t explain here the tendency among American conservatives to interpret subsidiarity as a Catholic version of the Republican Party’s libertarian agenda of dismantling government agencies and privatizing entitlements and services. Of course it means nothing of the kind: subsidiarity is not a theory of local control or minimal government; it is a theory delineating precisely the critical role of central government in assisting natural social structures, beginning with the family, when they are weakened in the order of society. The properly subsidiary role of the state is to support, for example, the family, without distorting or usurping its place in the order of creation or its purposes as given by God. Unlike the liberal welfare state, a subsidiary state recognizes the prior ground of family and other natural spheres and does not encroach on the legal and moral autonomy they derive from God; but unlike liberal anti-statism, the subsidiary state is responsible for protecting and supporting the natural spheres when they are violated within society or otherwise falter. For example, when wages fail to support workers and their families in their proper dignity, the sanctity of the family is violated and the state must intervene, either by strengthening the power of workers to extract higher wages from employers, or by compensating families directly out of the public purse. Against the moral anarchy created by “market laws” that push working families beneath their dignity, a properly subsidiary state delineates “justice” by strengthening the weaker spheres against the stronger, those given by God against those ordered by men. In upholding and protecting such “sphere sovereignty,” as the Kuyperians termed it, the state “brings stability to the land,” and this, Kuyper insists, is called “justice.”
In the background to modern subsidiarity teaching, the opponents of revolutionary liberalism at the dawn of the modern era understood the dialectical relationship between individualism and statism. The latter does not arise without the former’s destruction of all other forms of authority and protection within society. As Nisbet put it, “the state is a refuge for the moral consequences of individualism,” adding, further, that the new “laissez faire individualism” of the nineteenth century was not “the simple heritage of nature,” but rather a calculated, collaborative product of economic interests and centralized power:
It was brought into existence by the planned destruction of old customs, associations, villages, and other securities; by the force of the State throwing the weight of its fast-developing administrative system in favor of new economic elements of the population. And it was brought into existence, hardly less, by reigning systems of economic, political, and psychological thought, systems which neglected altogether the social and cultural unities and settled single-mindedly on the abstract individual as the proper unit of speculation and planning.