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The Institute for Human Ecology’s Program on Subsidiarity and the Constitution studies the conditions of human flourishing. It examines the “space,” as Alexis de Tocqueville termed it, in which human free activity operates and the extent to which government intrudes in that space and interferes with the natural yearning of people to order their lives and the surrounding world. It develops practical solutions to ensure that government is citizen-directed and protects the rights of the individual. Government that functions according to those principles fosters solidarity and, with that, peace and tranquility.

American federalism is a form of political subsidiarity. It apportions to the federal government limited, enumerated powers. General powers remain with the State: as James Madison noted, those which “in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people” and those which concern “the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” In Bond v. United States, a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court observed that this division “enables greater citizen ‘involvement in democratic processes.’”

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Some Questions Prompted by the Study of Subsidiarity and Constitution

  • Do certain practices, as Pope Pius XI phrased it in Quadragesimo Anno, “take from individuals” what they can do or “assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do”?
  • When the federal government usurps local tasks, does it create inefficiencies or institute policies weighted more to the administration of government rather than the delivery of assistance and the public good?
  • Does government take from the individual opportunities to practice, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, “the natural tendency . . . to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities.” Are such takings disproportionately injurious to the weak and the poor by depriving them of precious opportunities to be persons of prominence in their communities and to grow in stature?
  • Do such practices invite government to favor one faction over another for private gain rather than the public good? Has it become what Alexis de Tocqueville warned of: “an immense tutelary power . . . that every day . . . renders the employment of free will less useful and more rare” and that dampens the “spirit of freedom”? Do its practices lead to divisiveness rather than to solidarity, peace, and tranquility?

The Foundation of Catholic Social Doctrine

“The Church’s social doctrine . . . is based on man’s creation ‘in the image of God’ (Gn 1:27), a datum which gives rise to the inviolable dignity of the human person and the transcendent value of natural moral norms.”1

Man has to subdue the earth and dominate it, because as the ‘image of God’ he is a person, that is to say, a subjective being capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself, and with a tendency to self-realization.”2


The Universality of the Creative Process

The creative process “embraces all human beings, every generation, every phase of economic and cultural development, and at the same time it is a process that takes place within each human being, in each conscious human subject. Each and every individual, to the proper extent and in an incalculable number of ways, takes part in the giant process whereby man ‘subdues the earth’ through his work.”3


The Principle of Subsidiarity

The principle of subsidiarity is that “[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 co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”4

“[T]he principle of solidarity . . . is clearly seen to be one of the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organization.”5

“The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.”6

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Subsidiarity Protects An Essential Human Activity: Socialization

“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 body social, and never destroy and absorb them.”7

“If higher- order intervention takes place in absence of systemic failure, lower orders are forcibly divested of what they do best, the common good of all suffers, and the principle of subsidiarity has been violated.”8

“The concept posits a hierarchy of social action and responsibility that begins with the claim of primacy for the smallest units in society, including community associations, families, and individuals.”9

“One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom.”10


The Broad Reach of Socialization

“Leo’s learned treatment and vigorous defense of the natural right to form associations began, furthermore, to find ready application to other associations also and not alone to those of the workers.”11

“This socialization also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights.”12


Subsidiarity and Socialization Lead to Solidarity, The Highest Form of Diversity

“Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State.”13

“Apart from the family, other intermediate communities exercise primary functions and give life to specific networks of solidarity. These develop as real communities of persons and strengthen the social fabric, preventing society from becoming an anonymous and impersonal mass, as unfortunately often happens today. It is in interrelationships on many levels that a person lives, and that society becomes more `personalized.’”14

 

1 Andrew V. Abela and Joseph E. Capizzi, A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights from Catholic Teaching, 26 (The Catholic University of America Press 2014).
2 John Paul II, Laborem Excerns (On Human Work), ch. 6 (1981).
3 John Paul II, Laborem Excerns (On Human Work), ch. 4 (1981).
4 Catechism of the Catholic Church., par. 1883, citing John Paul II, Centisimus Annus 48, par. 4; cf. Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 184-86.
5 John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 10 (May 15, 1991).
6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1885.
7 Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 79 (May 15, 1931).
8 Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Subsidiarity, Society, and Entitlements: Understanding and Application, 11 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, Issue 2, pp. 549-579 (1997).
9 Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Subsidiarity, Society, and Entitlements: Understanding and Application, 11 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, Issue 2, pp. 549-579 (1997).
10 Catechism of the Catholic Church., par. 1915, citing GS 31, par 3.
11 Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 37 (May 15, 1931).
12 Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1882, citing CF, GS 25, par. 2, CA 12.
13 Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 38, quoted in Andrew V. Abela and Joseph E. Capizzi, A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights from Catholic Teaching, p. 9 (The Catholic University of America Press 2014).
14 John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, par. 49 (May 15, 1991).

Foundational Principle of the United States of America

The American founding rests on the idea that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”1

This idea sources human dignity in the infinite, beyond human compromise and corruption. Its embrace lifts all. It is the strongest political expression of the individual’s dignity.


The Constitution’s Purpose: Fulfill the Promise of The Declaration of Independence

“On the same certain and solid foundation [our constitutional] system is erected.”2


The People Are the Ultimate Earthly Sovereign

Sovereignty “resides in the PEOPLE, as the fountain of government; that the people have not–that the people mean not–and that the people ought not, to part with it to any government whatsoever. In their hands it remains secure. They can delegate it in such proportions, to such bodies, on such terms, and under such limitations, as they think proper.”3

“The fabric of American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.”4

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For more information about the Program on Subsidiarity and the Constitution,

please contact Emmett McGroarty, Program Director, at mcgroartye@cua.edu.

The Catholic University Advantage

Research

The Catholic University of America offers many opportunities for students inside and outside the campus. With seven different specialized libraries, state-of-the-art laboratories with specialized equipment, 22 research centers and facilities, and a location inside the nation’s capital that provides many opportunities for internships and research in a wide spectrum of fields and organizations, The Catholic University of America is one of a kind.

The Heart of Washington, D.C.

Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America offers unparalleled opportunities. The seat of government of the world’s most influential nation is a magnet for businesses, foundations, aid agencies, science and technology centers, think tanks, charities, research institutes, cultural organizations, and policy advocates. For every area of academic pursuit, there are stories of students finding ways to connect, to make a difference, to open doors, and to have an impact here in the heart of our nation’s culture.

The principle of subsidiarity begins with the notion that “[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.”