Subsidiarity, according to the teachings of the Church

Written by Alain Pilote on Saturday, 01 January 2022. Posted in Family

The last lesson of our book, "Economic Democracy seen in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church," is a comparative study of the Social Doctrine of the Church and C.H. Douglas' financial proposals, known as Economic Democracy, or Social Credit. In that lesson, we learn that the "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church" can be summarized by four principles, or four pillars, upon which a stable social system must be built:

1. The dignity of the human person;

2. The common good;

3. Subsidiarity;

4. Solidarity.

In this article, we will explain what the principle of subsidiarity means, and particularly its importance in regard to parental authority or primacy, which governments today are not only undermining, but abolishing.

by Alain Pilote

In his first Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "In God's family, no one ought to go without the necessities of life... The aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community's goods."

What is subsidiarity? Basically, it demands that higher and more remote tiers of government not take over functions that families and lesser institutions, closer to the individual, can perform. This is in contrast to centralization and a one-world government where smaller entities, such as nation-states, will not exist. Subsidiarity implies that the government exists to help parents and families rather than take their place.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:

185. Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church's social doctrine, and has been present since the first great social encyclical. (Pope Leo XIII, encyclical Rerum Novarum, 11). It is impossible 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, sports oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth.

186. The necessity of defending and promoting the original expressions of social life is emphasized by the Church in the encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, in which the principle of subsidiarity is indicated as a most important principle of 'social philosophy.' "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice, and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order, to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the social body, and never destroy and absorb them."

On the basis of this principle, advanced social entities must adopt a helpful attitude ("subsidium") — of support, promotion and development — with regard to lower ordered entities. In this way, intermediate bodies can properly perform the functions that fall to them without having to transfer their duties to the higher level organization, by which they would be absorbed and substituted, and thus stripped of their dignity and function.

Subsidiarity is best understood in the positive sense that economic or juridical institutions should offer assistance and support to lower level social entities. There is an implication that the state should refrain from actions that would restrict the functions of the smaller essential cells of society. Initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.

187. The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher level social authority, and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties. This principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community. Experience shows that the denial of subsidiarity, or its limitation in the name of an alleged democratization or equality of all members of society, limits and sometimes even destroys the spirit of freedom and initiative. The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance, and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms…

The Welfare State

Louis Even explained the growth of the so-called welfare state: "To accomplish his own functions, Caesar must not resort to means that prevent individuals and families from fulfilling theirs... However, Caesar has not taken on the reform which is his duty: ending the monopoly of the creation of money by private banks and creating the nation's debt-free money. As he has not taken on that which is his responsibility, he takes on other duties and uses these as a pretext to levy burdensome and sometimes ruinous taxes on citizens and families. Caesar thus becomes the de facto tool of the very financial dictators which he should take down, and the oppressor of citizens and families whom he should protect."

The state accumulates new functions and responsibilities instead of changing the financial system. An enormous bureaucracy and an army of public servants grows to harass the population rather than serve it. Saint John Paul II denounced the abuses of the welfare state:

"In recent years the range of such intervention [of the State] has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called 'Welfare State'. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the 'Social Assistance State'. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State.

"Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

"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" (Centesimus Annus n. 48).

The greater part of today's taxes are without justification and could be eliminated in a Social Credit system. The most iniquitous and unnecessary are those applied to service the national debt. Every year the nation pays interest on its debt because the money borrowed from the bank is interest-bearing. The country could have created its own interest-free money.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:

187. In order for the principle of subsidiarity to be put into practice, there is a corresponding need for: respect and effective promotion of the human person and the family; ever greater appreciation of associations and intermediate organizations in their fundamental choices and in those that cannot be delegated to or exercised by others; the encouragement of private initiative so that every social entity remains at the service of the common good, each with its own distinctive characteristics; the presence of pluralism in society and due representation of its vital components; safeguarding human rights and the rights of minorities; bringing about bureaucratic and administrative decentralization; striking a balance between the public and private spheres, with the resulting recognition of the social function of the private sphere; appropriate methods for making citizens more responsible in actively "being a part" of the political and social reality of their country.

188. Various circumstances may make it advisable that the State step in to supply certain functions. One may think, for example, of situations in which it is necessary for the State itself to stimulate the economy because it is impossible for civil society to support initiatives on its own. One may also envision the reality of serious social imbalance or injustice where only the intervention of the public authority can create conditions of greater equality, justice and peace.

We have already concluded that reforming the financial system is a duty of the state. Money must be created by society and not by private bankers for their own profit:

"For certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals" (Quadragesimo Anno, n. 114).

Families Are First

The principle of subsidiarity implies that families are more important than the State. Governments must not destroy the family nor undermine parents'authority. The Church teaches that children belong to their parents and not to the State:

"Hence we have the family, the 'society' of a man's house — a society very small, one must admit, but nonetheless a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State...

"The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error... Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State... The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home." (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, nn. 12-14).

A Salary for Homemakers

The Social Credit Dividend recognizes the contribution of the work of homemakers. This is consistent with the social teachings of the Church:

"Experience confirms that there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother's role, of the toil connected with it, and of the need that children have for care, love and affection in order that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons. It will redound to the credit of society to make it possible and for a mother — without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalizing her as compared with other women — to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age. Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother." (Saint John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, n. 19).

"It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers, on account of the father's low wage, to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children." (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, n. 71).

In October 1983, the Holy See issued the Charter of the Rights of the Family in which he advocated "the remuneration of the work in the home of one of the parents; it should be such that mothers will not be obliged to work outside the home to the detriment of family life and especially of the education of the children. The work of the mother in the home must be recognized and respected because of its value for the family and for society." (Article 10).

About the Author

Alain Pilote

Alain Pilote

Alain Pilote has been the editor of the English edition of MICHAEL for several years. Twice a year we organize a week of study of the social doctrine of the Church and its application and Mr. Pilote is the instructor during these sessions.


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