Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trickle Up Power and Pour Down Participation

ONE OF THE CORE PRINCIPLES OF THE CHURCH'S social doctrine is the principle of subsidiarity, and with it, like the caboose behind the train, comes the necessary implication of subsidiarity: participation.

The principle of subsidiarity is a foundational principle of social philosophy that has two prongs. First, it holds that political, economic, and other social matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized competent authority able to handle them. This preserves the vast and healthy network of relations in civil society, from the family on upwards. Second, it includes the concept that any higher authority, if and when it justifiably intervenes, should have at most a subsidiary, helping function (subsidium), performing only those tasks which cannot be performed adequately at a lower level, and only for such time as the lower level is unable adequately to handle them.* Any such necessary intervention "must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary, since justification for such intervention is found only in the exceptional nature of the situation." (Compendium, No. 188)

The principle of subsidiarity means we ought to have a bias or presumption against centralization, and a bias or presumption in favor of de-centralization. "The principle of subsidiarity is opposed," therefore, "to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms." (Compendium, No. 187)

The principle of subsidiarity is not limited to government and political questions only. It covers all all civil society, and includes, for example, the economic realm. The principle of subsidiarity will therefore distrust concentrations of economic power in bureaucratic, powerful, often impersonal corporations. It abhors monopolies. It would rather see such economic resources and economic power distributed as low down as possible. Distributist in spirit,*** it prefers the mom-and-pop store over a Wal-Mart. It prefers a family farm over an big agribusiness. To a subsidiarist, small is beautiful in the world of economics as E. F. Schumacher put it in the title of his famous book on economics.

In short, power ought at best to "trickle up," and, conversely, participation ought to "pour down." Anyone who believes in the principle of subsidiarity will entertain a healthy horror grapheocratiae,** a horror of bureaucracy, an antipathy to big government and big business. He will see the serious injustice to persons and society involved by the arrogation of powers by an overweening, intermeddling state or corporate culture. He will view the intervention of the State as one of last resort. He will understand the great truth behind Ronald Regan's joke: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

The principle of subsidiarity stems directly from the dignity of the human person. It recognizes the truth that "every person, family, and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community," and that potential ought not be stymied by higher ups, since it tends to suppress or even destroy the "spirit of freedom and initiative." (Compendium, No. 187) "It is impossible," the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church therefore tells us, "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, sport-oriented, recreational, professional, and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth." (Compendium, No. 185)

"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." (Compendium, No. 186)

The principal of subsidiarity is a bulwark against abuse of power. It "protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfill their duties." (Compendium, No. 187)

Concretely, the principle of subsidiarity, when put into effect, will result in the following:
  1. "respect and effective promotion of the human person and family"
  2. "ever greater appreciation of associations and intermediate organizations in their fundamental choices and in those that cannot be delegated to or exercised by others."
  3. "the encouragement of private initiate so that ever social entity remains at the service of the common good, each with its own distinctive characteristics"
  4. "the presence of pluralism in society and due representation of its vital components"
  5. "safeguarding the rights of minorities"
  6. "bringing about bureaucratic and administrative decentralization"
  7. "striking a balance between the public and private spheres, with the resulting recognition of the social function of the private sphere"
  8. "appropriate methods for making citizens more responsible in actively 'being a part' of the political and social reality of their country."
(Compendium, No. 187)

The flip-side of the principle of subsidiarity is participation. Participation is defined as "a series of activities by means of which the citizen, either as an individual or in association with others, whether directly or through representation, contributes to the cultural, economic, political, and social life of the civil community to which he belongs." (Compendium, No. 189) Participation is to be encouraged and fostered so that people exercise responsibility, participate in all areas of social life, and contribute to the common good.

Bureaucracy, monopoly, privilege, red-tape, excessive regulation are all enemies of participation. Cultural, legal, bureaucratic, attitudinal, and social obstacles to active participation of persons is something that ought to be removed through education or other means.

Though participation is important in any society, it plays a particularly significant role and enjoys a notable vibrant color in democratic societies since by definition,"every democracy must be participative." Participation is, as the Compendium puts it, "one of the pillars of all democratic orders and one of the major guarantees of the permanence of the democratic system." (Compendium, No. 190)

On the other hand, totalitarian or dictatorial regimes de jure deny the public the right to participate in public life outside the confines, supervision, or control of the State since they view a free people as a threat to their power. Somewhere between democracy and totalitarianism is that form of government we see entirely too often in the modern world: one that stifles participation through the heavy bureaucratic machinery and regulations which can sap the citizenry of its creativity and result in de facto or practical denial of the right to participation.
*The word "subsidarity" in fact comes from the Latin term subsidium, when means help, aid, or assistance.
Grapheocratia is modern Latin for bureaucracy. See Walter Redmond's Glossarium Anglico-Latinum (s.v. "burocracy" [sic])
***Distributism is an economic philosophy that was formulated and promoted by such Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc as an effort to apply the principles of Catholic social teaching articulated by the Catholic Church, in particular in Pope Leo XIII's social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI's social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. Distributism advocates that the ownership of the means of production ought to be distributed as widely as possible among the population, and that it ought not be centralized either under the control of the state (which yields State Socialism) nor under the control of a few large businesses or wealthy men (e.g., laissez-faire capitalism). Distributism, however, is for free markets and private property. It wishes as many as possible to participate in the economic life and the means of production. Perhaps the best summary of distributism can be found in Chesterton's quip: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists." G. K. Chesterton,
The Superstition of Divorce (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 47.

1 comment:

  1. By the way, I have been reading your posts and I think I have starred them most. Thanks for your work.