As I continue my autodidacticism, I encounter startling ideas that might prompt those with formal education in the discipline to yawn.
Any yawners out there at the thought that Roman Catholic social teaching on subsidiarity is congruent with Calvinist teaching on sphere sovereignty? That Pope Leo XIII was, figuratively speaking, in bed with Abraham Kuyper? Or that the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”) was allegedly an application of the principle before it was articulated by these two figures from two traditions 100+ years ago (more on “allegedly” later)?
Since Wikipedia has separate articles on “Subsidiarity” and “Subsidiarity (Catholicism),” I’m betting there would be yawners out there from political science departments at least. Whether they’re raptly following this blog is an extremely different matter.
In tracing the social-pluralist lineage of today’s faith-based initiatives, I pick up the story as it enters its distinctive confessional-political phase in the second half of the nineteenth century, marked by the rise of Catholic parties in Central Europe and (perhaps most dramatically) by the rise of the orthodox Calvinist Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Netherlands, led by Abraham Kuyper. Both Catholic and Reformed confessional traditions were strongly influenced by French counter-revolutionary thinkers as they sought to defend religious schooling and social welfare programs from being swept away by disestablishment and by the rise of public welfare systems. What emerged in this struggle between confessional institutions and the liberal state—understatedly described in the name it was given in Germany, Kulturkampf or “conflict of worldviews”–was a concept of plural sovereignty. Political order, in this view, was comprised of a plurality of sovereign group-domains, each ordered to its own distinctive nature and purposes and all held in balance across society by a limited but supportive public authority.
As you should have noted, Daly’s main task in the book is “tracing the social-pluralist lineage of today’s faith-based initiatives,” but his precis is more of interest to me because it reinforces, from yet another perspective, the idea (I’m tempted to call it a “reality,” but that perhaps would be premature for me) that liberal, Rousseauian individualism leads to destruction of institutions between the state and the individual – and a consequent disempowering of individuals, contrary to the promise of liberalism. Some of the French revolutionaries were quite explicit about it:
In August of 1789, after the Parisian insurrection and the taking of the Bastille on July 14, the National Assembly (created the previous June) set about abolishing the elaborate system of privileges upholding the First and Second Estates, from feudal dues and services, to proprietary offices, manorial courts, and tithes and plural benefices, to the aristocracy’s exemption from taxation. The annihilation of such privileges was famously the vision of Abbé Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès in What is the Third Estate? But for Sieyès and other republican theorists, abolishing aristocratic privilege was part of a much deeper vision of political transformation. It was a vision of a state-centered “dissociative democracy,” a totalistic politics in which the nation and the state become unified by dissolving all other orders of lawful existence outside of the selfhood and property of individual citizens. By the early 1790s, with decrees against the cloistered orders and secular congregations, and the famous d’Allarde and Le Chapelier laws abolishing trade unions and other corporations, revolutionary liberalism pressed further and further into the corporate and communal structures of French society and its producingclasses, the artisans and peasants.
I don’t think Daly’s omission of the 10th Amendment is a defect, however, because subsidiarity/sphere sovereignty is conceptually different than federalism/state’s rights, and I think it’s a defect of the Wikipedia article on subsidiarity to link them uncritically.
The 10th Amendment came from the reality (not “idea;” I know whereof I speak in this topic at least) that the national government was being constituted by 13 sovereign colonies, to become states in the new regime. They were retaining all their sovereignty except that ceded to the new national government or prohibited by the Bill of Rights – the preceding 9 amendments. This is a point widely missed even among educated people.
20 years or more ago, I argued with a Rabbi at the health club as we worked our way through the circuit of machines in sync. We had butted heads in public fora on a topic or two. Basically, I would characterize our conflict as being between his preference for secularism in contrast to my conviction that religion is not entirely banished from appearing in public. That conflict framed this vignette. I asked him “How did we ever got from ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m surprised you’re reading this at all) to ‘there shall be no prayer in public schools run by local communities’?” He answered, fairly confidently, that the states and communities were subsidiaries of the national government. Wrong answer.
(I recently stated a new appreciation of the seeming preference of Jews in this country for secularism in the course of a longer piece. I still think religion must be “allowed to appear in public,” but I’m far less apt to pooh-pooh talk of looming theocracy.)
Anyway, back to the 10th Amendment as distinct from subsidiarity or sphere sovereignty. As Daly puts it:
I needn’t explain here the tendency among American conservatives to interpret subsidiarity as a Catholic version of the Republican Party’s libertarian agenda of dismantling government agencies and privatizing entitlements and services. Of course it means nothing of the kind: subsidiarity is not a theory of local control or minimal government; it is a theory delineating precisely the critical role of central government in assisting natural social structures, beginning with the family, when they are weakened in the order of society. The properly subsidiary role of the state is to support, for example, the family, without distorting or usurping its place in the order of creation or its purposes as given by God. Unlike the liberal welfare state, a subsidiary state recognizes the prior ground of family and other natural spheres and does not encroach on the legal and moral autonomy they derive from God; but unlike liberal anti-statism, the subsidiary state is responsible for protecting and supporting the natural spheres when they are violated within society or otherwise falter. For example, when wages fail to support workers and their families in their proper dignity, the sanctity of the family is violated and the state must intervene, either by strengthening the power of workers to extract higher wages from employers, or by compensating families directly out of the public purse. Against the moral anarchy created by “market laws” that push working families beneath their dignity, a properly subsidiary state delineates “justice” by strengthening the weaker spheres against the stronger, those given by God against those ordered by men. In upholding and protecting such “sphere sovereignty,” as the Kuyperians termed it, the state “brings stability to the land,” and this, Kuyper insists, is called “justice.”
In my words, less eloquent and erudite than Daly’s, it would be quite possible for a state (not just the national government) to violate the proper sphere of families, churches and other human-scale institutions by action or inaction contrary to its proper role. (I wish I’d thought of this 15 years ago when City and County Councils were debating a politically-correct infringement on the sphere sovereignty of small business. But then, our local authorities really don’t know a lot about small business, do they? They only mostly suck up to the biggies. It’s called “economic development” and my local officials are very, very good at it – and I acknowledge at least temporary benefit thereby.)
Phillip Blond, in authentic subsidiaritist fashion, proposes provocatively that sovereignty be devolved, on some matters, down to the block level – as in “city block.” And he floats the idea (I’m not prepared to say “reality,” though it may be) that the “multiplier effect” – you know: that fabulous wealth creation tool whereby if we suck tourists in to spend a buck, it’s like getting $11.36 (or whatever) because the event sponsor pays workers who buy groceries from people who buy new homes and yadda yadda – is much greater when you do business with a local merchant versus a national big box. Something to think about when you’re enticed by low prices and convenience at Wally World.
No wonder Blond is becoming beloved over at Front Porch Republic.