In the previous posting on this subject, we looked at the essence of subsidiarity, that is, where power in society subsists in a properly structured social order. Within the context of “Thomist personalism” and the Aristotelian-Thomist concept of natural law we found that all power properly resides in the human person, not in any form of society. As Pope Pius XI noted in his social analysis, “Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will” (Divini Redemptoris, § 29), and thus even a human person in an official capacity has only such rights as are delegated from people.
Disregarding the fact that any rights forms of society (including the State) have come from human persons in the first place, many modern interpretations of subsidiarity get away from the human person altogether. They vest ultimate power in the State or some person in an official capacity, e.g., as the Wikipedia has it,
|Fr. Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J.|
The principle of subsidiarity was developed by German theologian and aristocrat Oswald von Nell-Breuning. His work influenced the social teaching of Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno and holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, labor unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. “Positive subsidiarity”, which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.
This all sounds very good until we realize that a key element in the social doctrine is omitted. The omission turns the principle of subsidiarity into a justification for fascism — which was exactly the opposite of what Pius XI intended.
And the omission is?
|Pope Pius XI|
The act of social justice, Pius XI’s breakthrough in moral philosophy that broke the century-old deadlock socialism, modernism, and the New Age had on social reform. Reading the extract from the Wikipedia carefully, we realize that, contrary to the principle of subsidiarity, the State is defined as having the ultimate power through its presumed role in stepping in to “undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.”
That, however, is precisely and exactly wrong. Why? Because no level of the common good should undertake any initiative whatsoever that is not within its proper sphere of action. Period. The “higher” levels of the common good may assist the “lower” levels when something is beyond the capacity of the individuals or groups most closely connected to the situation, but this must in all cases be understood as a temporary measure, an expedient in an emergency.
Anything else is an effective hijacking of the common good itself as it takes over a portion of the common good, thereby violating the principle of subsidiarity in the name of subsidiarity! This is, in fact, the fifth “law” of social justice as analyzed by Father William Ferree:
Higher Institutions Must Never Displace Lower Ones
|Fr. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
No institution in the vast hierarchy of institutions that makes up the common good can take over the particular actions of an institution or person below it — yet that is precisely what the Wikipedia definition of subsidiarity does. As Ferree explained, “Another law of Social Justice which stems from the institutional character of the Common Good is that no institution in the vast hierarchy which we have seen can take over the particular actions of an institution or person below it.” (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice. New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 37.)
Yet if the State is not supposed to step in at such times, or is only supposed to do so as a temporary measure, does that mean that there is no hope? Must we maintain the status quo or be forced to accept temporary measures as permanent solutions?
By no means. The whole point of social justice is that in social terms, nothing is impossible. As Ferree explained what he called the third characteristic of social justice,
[I]n Social Justice there is never any such thing as helplessness. No problem is ever too big or too complex, no field is ever too vast, for the methods of this Social Justice. Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any school child. (Ibid., 47.)
|Are you sure the problem's not the idea that income = wages?|
But what, then, can be done? That is the whole point of social justice: to empower the human person — not society in any form — with control over his own life by acting in a socially just manner. As Pius XI explained it, giving the problem of inadequate wages as an example of an unjust situation,
It happens all too frequently, however, under the salary system, that individual employers are helpless to ensure justice unless, with a view to its practice, they organize institutions the object of which is to prevent competition incompatible with fair treatment for the workers. Where this is true, it is the duty of contractors and employers to support and promote such necessary organizations as normal instruments enabling them to fulfill their obligations of justice. But the laborers too must be mindful of their duty to love and deal fairly with their employers, and persuade themselves that there is no better means of safeguarding their own interests. (Divini Redemptoris, § 53.)
Unfortunately, not understanding what Pius XI was talking about, the typical commentator will get exactly the wrong message from this extract. He or she will insist that what social justice demands in this situation is payment of a just wage.
No! That is not what the passage says!
It quite clearly states that the duty social justice imposes is not to pay a just wage, but to organize institutions (restructure the social order) so that a just wage can then be paid — something entirely different!
And, frankly, even that is not exactly what it says. Instead, it hints that “the salary system” is somehow inherently unjust if (as is clearly stated) “It happens all too frequently . . . that individual employers are helpless to ensure justice.” In other words, injustice is so common under the salary (or wage) system that it appears to be a distinguishing characteristic of the system itself.
So, what is to be done in conformity with the principle of subsidiarity? We will look at that in the next posting on this subject.#30#