Democracy has its oddities, and one of them is that every citizen is expected, quite unreasonably, to have an opinion on nearly every political issue, regardless of the complexities associated with that issue. This is the result of our confusing the equal value of persons with the equal value of opinions. All persons are valuable. Many opinions, however, are less than worthless. I may have value, as a human being, equal to the doctor, but my opinion regarding medical treatments is worthless compared to his.
However, since this expectation of opinionation is prevalent, it would be wise to seek out basic principles which may keep our reasoning sound, even if we aren’t necessarily experts on everything about which we reason. To illustrate, let’s take one of my favorite principles, which is called “Subsidiarity.” One definition is as follows:
"It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil … to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” Fairly simple, right?
This means that what decisions I can justly and effectively make for myself, I should be allowed to make; what legislation my community can make for itself, it should be allowed to make. You turn to the higher only when you logically must. This is laid out in Article 3, Section 2 of the United States Constitution.
If the state wants to absorb a function of the community, it must prove that the community cannot carry out that function, because in absorbing that function it takes away a degree of liberty and responsibility from that community.
If “subsidiarity” is discarded or ignored, the larger always has a tendency to swallow up the functions of the smaller, and it becomes the ineffective and bloated mass of inefficiency that we now call our Federal Government. Chesterton once said that “Monarchy is a tired Democracy.” Complacent communities relinquish responsibility, and they lose their liberty along with it. This begins the concentration of political power, and it continues as a slow disintegration of community spirit and energy.
Community vigor dissipates as the central government bloats.
In order to move from theory to application, let’s look at a few examples, beginning in education.
The first and most obvious classroom is the home. By the time we leave home and enter schoolroom it is far too late to teach us anything—the most necessary education has already been completed. According to the principle of subsidiarity, when the home can no longer perform the formative function, the child may reasonably be introduced into a larger and more suitable educational organization. Ideally, such a decision could be made based on the interests of pupils, rather than on the interests of the national economy, which always prefers parents at work and children at school, simply for the sake of “growth.” It may be more economically convenient to organize society in such a way that all children can be away from home during working hours, but to say that this is beneficial for their minds and personalities would be quite misleading, judging from the fact that the school year increases in length, while the competency of the American student decreases in degree.
Page 2 of 2 - In this example, subsidiarity has been violated by the government, epitomized by the absurdity that is the Federal Department of Education.
All such violations of subsidiarity centralize power, create black holes for our taxes, and do violence to community and family by absorbing their duties while stealing their independence. Community schools must now make appeals to faceless federal powers, rather than familiar local councils.
Let us move to Natural Resources.
We also violate subsidiarity when the Federal budget pays for things that are the local community’s responsibility—things like levees near the Mississippi. If the local community funded the levees, then perhaps they would choose to avoid developing natural flood planes like the ones around New Orleans—or perhaps they would still develop there, but it would at least be a more responsible decision. If levees could not be seen as gifts from the federal government, natural resources like the Mississippi might even be allowed to flood, which does wonders for fertilization.
In this example, we see how subsidiarity would simultaneously decrease Federal spending and governmental parenting, increase community responsibility, and protect natural resources by treating them... well... naturally.
So much for Big Government. But don’t get to excited, my Libertarian friends. Big Business has proven itself quite as eager as Big Government when it comes to violating subsidiarity and eating the community. Small government is good exactly because it emphasizes the local. It is on the human scale and it encourages independence. Local business is good for the exact same reasons. Libertarian laissez-faire would simply sacrifice the community to the Market, which is just as tyrannical as any State. Don’t believe me? Try to find a local, family-owned grocery store, and if you can find one, ask them how “free” they think that market is. Ask those swallowed by the chain-stores how independent they feel working for a wage instead of for themselves.
Yes, economic competition definitely results in the elimination of the weak—and there is nothing more economically “weak” than contentedness. When the dust settles, the simple man and the family-sized business will not just be dying—they will be dead. The trade- off will have been made, and our priorities will have become undeniably clear. And the economy will grow…
This column is dedicated to social philosophy, religion and all other subjects that seek to keep us sane. If you have any related questions or suggestions that you would like to see explored here, simply email me at email@example.com.