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Flirting With Socialism

Part 3: the Dangers of ‘Upsidiarity’


| Posted 1/20/10 at 12:04 PM


First, a reminder that an important principle described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the principle of subsidiarity.

Check out No. 1883: “Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘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 the way, the quote is from Quadragesimo Anno, an encyclical put forth by Pope Pius XI.

In other words, don’t let a higher authority make decisions and meddle in issues that a lower authority can handle better, cheaper, faster and with more humanity.

A great philosopher could provide you with a complicated explanation of subsidiarity. But I’m just a regular Joe, so here is my description:
I live in Chicago and it is snowing — a lot. In the morning, to get my car out of the garage I’ll need to push the show off the drive way. I’ll do it myself with the help of a shovel and snow blower.

That’s the principle of subsidiarity in action. I take care of the immediate situation because I can do it best. I don’t expect the city, the county, the state or the federal government to shovel my driveway. If I’m too feeble or lazy to do the work myself, I can pay a kid down the street to do it — and since it is my driveway I don’t expect my neighbors to pay the kid for me.

The street at the end of my driveway is a different story. I expect the city to plow that, as do all my neighbors. We have paid taxes so our little community can own a couple plows and hire people to drive them. I don’t expect the county, state or federal government to do that job. So it continues: The county plows county roads, the state plows state roads and the federal government plows whatever it is responsible for, maybe the sidewalk around the White House.

The point is each level of “community” handles what it can best handle.

The opposite of subsidiarity is the principle of “upsidiarity.” You won’t find this in the catechism for two reasons. First, it is a bad principle. Second, I made it up — although it clearly is being practiced by some politicians in Washington.

According to the principle of “upsidiarity,” we should push responsibility to the highest level possible. So, if it snows and my driveway is covered, I should send a request to Washington. It will be processed and in several weeks I’ll receive a snow-removal-rationing form that I can take to the regional federal plowing office to request assistance. They will put me on a list and in a few more weeks they will send someone to remove the snow from my driveway.

The “upsidiarity” system isn’t efficient or effective and it costs a fortune, but it ensures that everyone gets the same level of service: equally bad. And I’m afraid that if applied to real issues — like medical care — the “upsidiarity” approach could cause some real problems.

I’m just a common Catholic, but I wish our politicians would pay more attention to Pius XI.

Jim Fair writes from Chicago.