“One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.
This is why Pope John Paul II took the “social assistance state” to task in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. The Pontiff wrote that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility. This “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.”
More by David Bosnich at the Acton Institute’s website.
I will comment on this next week when work lightens up. But just for now, I should say that though I’m not a Catholic, this has always struck me as one of the most important Catholic social doctrines. Maybe even the most. Subsidiarity includes more than the term decentralization suggests, though. There’s also the idea of contiguity in it, which is the notion that you ought to prefer the near to the far whenever possible. Subsidiarity means I clean up my backyard and stop trashing my neighborhood before I start worrying about the melting of the polar ice caps….