Subsidiarity Over Social Justice

[audio:|titles=Subsidiarity Over Social Justice]

We’re hearing a lot about “social justice” lately. If only we heard half as much about “subsidiarity.” When it comes to truly helping the needy, few words are so instructive. Unfortunately, very few Catholics have even heard of this core Catholic social-economic teaching.

When it comes to assisting the needy, subsidiarity encourages localism. Think about it: Localities, whether public or private, from counties to churches, are closer to the problem; they offer a more efficient, human touch than a distant bureaucracy. Most importantly, as the Catechism states (1885): “The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention.”

In addition to the Catechism, I strongly recommend Catholics visit the website of the Acton Institute to learn about subsidiarity.

I’m convinced, from study after study, and years of observing public policy, from the New Deal to the Great Society, that addressing poverty in the narrow federal, collectivist way preached by modern progressives—in the language of “social justice”—is counter-productive, fostering rather than lessening dependency.

In fact, the long experience of economies shows that those titled toward collectivism—to a single central government—become so unproductive and lacking in prosperity that they can’t produce the very wealth that progressives want to redistribute in the first place. That’s the self-defeating danger that social-justice engineers face as they shift private charity to a federal collective.

That’s not the policy of the Catholic Church. It’s incumbent among Catholics to learn more about this blessed concept of subsidiarity. Ask your priest about it, or your Religious Ed director. If they haven’t heard about it, look it up together.

Go to the Catechism, open the index, and look under “sub.” You won’t regret it.


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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