Subsidiarity versus “solidarity” and the “option” for the poor.

As mentioned in our last post, the American Bishops have a tendency to favor liberal political policy positions on most of the issues of the day. This is obvious for anyone who takes a look at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ( USCCB) web site. There is all kinds of additional evidence for this, ranging from the fact that the specific charity under the auspices of the USCCB, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, ( CCHD) funded any number of far left political groups, many of which were pro-abortion, active in the gay marriage movement etc etc. despite that such groups were actively working to oppose Church teaching. This continued until conservative lay Catholics vehemently complained. Even now it is unclear if this practice has completely stopped.  I could go on, but I think objective observers would agree that the Bishops tend as a group to be political liberals. Presumably they find it difficult to see liberalism wed to the pro-abortion party. This cognitive dissonance results in a element of ambivalence, even fecklessness in public statements. So Archbishop Chaput calls out the federal government for its intrusion on first amendment rights, while simultaneously reassuring us that the Bishops want the government to “reform” health care, so that it is “affordable” for all. This begs the question of whether a government with such far reaching powers as to make Health care “affordable for all”,  would not be tempted to role over personal freedom, including religious freedom. One might imagine this sort of thing occurring if the government believed an important aspect of making care “affordable for all”  was to implement measures, ostensibly for public health, that might trample religious freedom. Oh…  say for instance mandating employers pay for contraception or abortion as these are important components of “women’s health”, or maybe even implementing wide spread physician assisted suicide in some kinds of advanced diseases, so as to reduce the waste entailed in providing high technology care to such patients.  The dangers of such a nearly limitless government were clear to the framers of the Constitution. They would think it obvious that a federal government large enough to achieve such grandiose ends as the making of health care “affordable for all”, not for merely for most people… but for “all”, ( I suppose this means everyone regardless of personal behavior. … )  would be powerful enough to do bad things to you. That is why they gave the federal government limited and enumerated powers. Among these powers we do not find the financing of health care or the control of health care costs.

What is particularly distressing is the fact that the Bishops seem to think concern for the poor ( otherwise known as “solidarity” with them, leads naturally to favoring large federal programs targeted at the poor. There are 3 problems with this reasoning. 1) There is ample evidence that liberal programs hurt the poor, that is the kinds of programs advocated by liberal Catholics in the name of “social justice” including some of the Bishops would tend to make more people poor, and would tend to worsen the poverty of the already poor. This does not seem to be a factor weighed by “Social Justice Catholics”.  At some point this blog may run a contest offering a prize for any evidence that a “social justice” Catholic publicly evaluated the actual effect on the poor of the policies they favor.   2) In the United States of 2013 political support by “social justice” Catholics for political liberals results in liberal social policies like abortion on demand, or mandated funding of contraception, and so forth,  which the Bishops then claim to oppose. This is political schizophrenia. As my old Jesuit philosophy professors used to say, If you will the ends, you must will the means. If you want religious freedom you must point out the need to support politicians who favor religious freedom, and oppose those who do not. In the United States this means for the most part opposing political liberalism, i.e. The Democratic party.  The combined effects  of (1) and (2) above are that not only do socially conservative Catholics get relegated to the sidelines, and the unborn along with vulnerable and often desperate women get thrown to butchers like the Kermit Gosnells of the world. ( Gosnell was the notorious abortionist recently convicted for murder related to activities in his ” house of horrors” abortion mill in Philadelphia)  Finally since the proposed policies actually do not help but rather inadvertently harm the poor, the supposed objects of “solidarity” get ground further into poverty as well. A trifecta ! The Catholic social justice crowd advocated for Obama and won. Similarly they advocated for Democratic control of congress and the Democrats have controlled at least the Senate for the almost the last 6 years. So the social justice Catholics have had their way. in addition Democratic liberals politically control many large “blue” States like New York, Maryland, Illinois and California. I would ask has handing political power over to liberal statists resulted in significant decreases in poverty? How about we look at places like… Oh I don’t know…… Maybe Chicago?  Obama’s old stomping grounds and the place his former Chief of Staff,  Rahm Emmanuel, is running as mayor?  Does the West Side of Chicago look any better than what it looked like in this recent photo:

Chicago West Side Housing Slump ???

Do any social justice types actually care enough about the poor to ask whether liberal statism actually helps them? Does an “option for the poor” actually include some assessment of whether what you advocate actually works? Just asking… You see In my world ( medicine) it is easy enough to simply declare that you want to help sick people. Any quack or charlatan does that. You might even call this an “option for the sick” . Regardless of what you call your “preferential option”, Some demonstration of medical effectiveness is required. Otherwise you are a quack selling snake oil. Perhaps a well meaning quack, but 100% quack regardless. It seems fair to ask at what point continued advocacy by “social justice” types of ineffective and even demonstrably harmful public policy quackery can be justified solely based on good intentions. Good Catholics, not to mention reasonable people in general, should understand that to oppose public policy quackery is as much a moral obligation owed to the poor as opposition to medical quackery is an obligation owed to the sick.  Memo to the Bishops.. a “preferential option for the poor” might actually entail refraining from advocacy of policies ultimately harmful to poor people. To simply sound good is not enough.

Finally the third problem is this approach is in violation of the principle of “Subsidiarity”. Subsidiarity was clearly defined by Pius XI  in his encyclical Quadragesimo anno: “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 lesser and subordinate bodies. Inasmuch as every social activity should, by its very nature, prove a help to members of the body social, it should never destroy or absorb them”  Moreover Blessed John Paul II said in “Centesimus Anno” :“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending” An absent or insufficient recognition of private initiative — in economic matters also — and the failure to recognize its public function, contribute to the undermining of the principle of subsidiarity. Gee, does anyone at the USCCB see anything like that going on right now?

So it would seem that the bias in most situations of public policy should be for the federal government to not intervene unless the issue can not be solved at the state or local level, and in turn the state and local government should intervene only when local civic and private groups can not deal with a problem. To the extent any higher body should intervene the focus should be on assisting, not supplanting the role of the lower order body. Failure to respect the principle of subsidiarity leads to exactly the kind of loss of personal initiative, that is loss of personal freedom, that was described with loathing by Alexis Tocqueville. Tocqueville imagined the state could evolve into a kind of benevolent dictatorship which treated its citizens with all the love and respect a farmer treats domesticated livestock. As he put it…  “For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” This was clearly the concern of the framers. It is the evil that the principal of subsidiarity aims to avoid.

Now our Catholic statist brothers and sisters on the left often respond to this argument, by citing the principal that there is an clear role for the state when other lower agencies have failed. They will cite the non sequitor of “solidarity” as a kind of counter balance to “subsidiarity” Solidarity being basically the idea that as one human family created in the image and likeness of God and called to love one another,  we are our brothers keepers. In fact a moments reflection would tell you that solidarity is not a counterbalance to subsidiarity but  rather because we are our brothers keepers we should favor policies that enhance their personal freedom. We might also want to refrain from advocating policies that hurt them if they are poor, as liberal policies do. This is an important topic, We may return to it at some point as a misunderstanding of “solidarity” is the source of much mischief…  But we will have to wait for a future episode to demonstrate this.

In the meantime consider a prayer to the St Thomas More, for more just government. thomas more

St. Thomas More
Patron of Religious Freedom
Pray for Us 


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