Vince Miller on the “Lobotimization of Subsidiarity”
A common meme for Catholic conservatives looking to use Catholic Social Teaching to justify their ideological positions is to describe the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that civic responsibilities should be assigned to the most appropriate level of social organization, as something of a blanket endorsement of a narrow “states’ rights” version of federalism.
In an excellent piece at America magazine, University of Dayton professor Vince Miller picks apart the flaws the way this selective reading and reveals the broader implications of the principle:
As a moral principle subsidiarity has both a positive and negative meaning. In its positive sense, “ all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help (“subsidium”) — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies.” (#186) In its negative sense subsidiarity limits such intervention from usurping the power and agency of lower level governments, communities and institutions, including the family.
Catholic neo-liberals (who generally call themselves conservatives) have worked tirelessly to reduce subsidiarity to its negative sense and establish this as the keystone of Catholic social thought. They do so by selective reading– and outright editing–of Papal teaching from Pius XI through John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
This careful lobotomization of subsidiarity renders Catholic social teaching a docile partner in the neo-liberal program of limiting government and subjecting social institutions (schools, healthcare) to market logic. (Witness Ayn Rand devotee Congressman Paul Ryan’s invocation of subsidiarity in his attempted apologia for his radical budget to Archbishop Dolan this summer).