Our American government was founded on three basic principles. Yet most Americans today are only familiar with one. The first principle, and most commonly understood, is the principle of "no taxation without representation." In other words, the people should have elected representatives to defend their interests in the government before the government taxes them. Today, this is commonly (and somewhat incorrectly) referred to as "democracy." In fact, it is not democracy, but rather republicanism. Granted, democratic processes are used to elect our representatives, but once they're elected, the people have no further say on the bills that go before Congress. If they did, and the people voted directly on every piece of legislation, that would be a democracy. But because we elect officials to do that for us, it is more accurately called a republic. But I digress, let's get back to the three main principles. The second principle, and known by some of the voting population, is the principle of small government. America's founding fathers believed that when people are capable of taking care of their own problems, they should be left alone to do just that. They believed government was clumsy by its very nature, and any government attempt to "help" Americans with their problems would only succeed in making their problems worse in the long run. They based this on their personal experience in dealing with the imperial government of England. The more the king tried to "help" the American colonists, he only succeeded in making their problems worse, or in creating entirely new ones. The third and final principle, also the least known, is the idea that the individual states are supreme in their sovereign authority, and the federal government only receives its powers on loan from the states. In other words, the individual states are boss! The people deal directly with them, and they deal directly with the people. This is called "federalism," and it's the idea that the powers of the federal government only exist because the states consent to them. Whenever the states refuse to give their consent, those federal powers evaporate. The purpose of the federal government was mainly to coordinate commerce, trade and justice between the states. The function of the federal government was never designed to take over those things the states are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. Granted, in the last 100 years our federal government has done just that, but it doesn't change the fact that our founding fathers never intended it, nor did they design a Constitution that could accommodate it. This is one reason why, in recent years, the federal government has increasingly bypassed its Constitutional restrictions in order to "get things done." These things were originally the duties of the states, but because the federal government has taken so much responsibility away from the states in the last century, the state governments have become complacent and lazy. Now, as the federal government tries to do their job for them, it must work against the US Constitution to get the work done. It would seem to me that Americans would do well to remember the founding principles of American government, and demand their states do their jobs, while simultaneously demanding the federal government to butt out! But for Catholics, this civic duty takes on a religious and moral call, because the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' demands we do just that and more.
The often forgotten principle of Subsidiarity, is the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. The Catechism makes it clear by listing it first before everything else on the topic of Social Justice. Before there is "the common good," before there is "option for the poor," before there is "human solidarity;" there is Subsidiarity, and Subsidiarity reigns supreme over them all. The 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' defines Subsidiarity this way...
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."
1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.
1885 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.
1894 In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies.
2209 The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family's prerogatives or interfere in its life.
Now this principle is defined in the Catechism before any other principle of Catholic Social Justice. Do you suppose it might be important? I think so. In fact, I would argue that it is THE most important issue of Catholic Social Justice, and I'm not alone in this. Many commentators on the Catechism, far brighter than myself, have described this principle as the "hinge" upon which all the other principles turn. You simply cannot have "the common good" without Subsidiarity. You cannot have "respect for the human person" without Subsidiarity. You cannot have "equality among men" without Subsidiarity. Nor can you have "human solidarity" without Subsidiarity. In short, Subsidiarity reigns supreme in the realm of Catholic Social Justice, and you cannot have any justice (Catholic or otherwise) without it. Do you now see why the principle of Subsidiarity fits in so nicely with the American ideals of small government and state sovereignty? To be a good Catholic is to agree with America's founding fathers on these issues. A good Catholic would strongly support the principle of Subsidiarity as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and that in turn would make a good Catholic a very good citizen as far as America's founding fathers would be concerned. Do you see what I'm getting at here?
Yet over the last 100 years, we have seen this principle of Subsidiarity erode in American government. It would seem that every year the federal government takes more and more responsibilities away from the states, and that in turn causes the federal government to grow ever larger and more intrusive into the affairs of average Americans. Nowhere is this more clearly seen then in the abominable institution of the income tax (invented in 1913 with the passage of the 16th Amendment). Prior to this, the US federal government acquired more than the funds it needed from tariffs and excise taxes. It wasn't long after the establishment of the income tax, that the US federal government started taking over the responsibilities of the states through social programs. Simultaneously with the establishment of the income tax came the rise of military ventures around the world. But I'm digressing again. Let's get back to Subsidiarity.
In recent decades the pope has increasingly found himself having to discipline clergy in Latin America over what has come to be called "Liberation Theology." Now Liberation Theology is a form of collectivism, as mentioned in Catechism 1885 above. It is essentially socialism at best. Communism would probably be a more accurate description. The idea is to fervently preach all the principles of Catholic Social Justice, while selectively and intentionally omitting the "hinge" principle of Subsidiarity. This is so the people can be easily duped into believing that the Church is telling them to make the state central government solely responsible for these things. When the central government has absolute control over things like "the common good" and "option for the poor," it essentially becomes a collectivist state. To do this in the name of the Church is not only a form of immorality -- it's heresy! Both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have condemned this teaching, and dealt with it in disciplinary action. They have managed to slow the progress of this immoral heresy, but they have not stopped it completely.
This wicked spirit of Liberation Theology is alive and well, and I submit to you that it thrives right here in the United States too. Though Liberation theologians in America may not be so bold as to declare themselves as such, their impression can be felt wherever the chief principle of Subsidiarity is omitted from Catholic teaching on Social Justice. I find it disturbing when the principle is lightly treated in contemporary summaries of the catechism, and it gives me the impression that the authors of such summaries didn't think it to be that important. Yet how could it not be important? Careful time and attention should be given to it. Or else all the other principles of Catholic Social Justice can be easily distorted and perverted into collectivist thinking (socialism, communism or fascism). Subsidiarity must be brought to the forefront where everyone can easily see it, or else we set up Catholic Social Justice to become the vehicle for something it was never intended to be.
Could it be that some high ranking theologians within the American Church harbor sympathy for Liberation Theology? I don't know the answer to that, but I find it suspicious when the USCCB 'Catechism for Catholic Adults' reduces this "hinge" principle to nothing more than a single sentence on page 326, along with a quick quote of Catechism 1883 in the glossary. Perhaps there is no sinister component here. Maybe its just an oversight - the result of a careless handling of the text. Whatever the case, I think this issue deserves more attention, and perhaps the USCCB will do just that in future publications of their adult catechism.
I find this principle of Subsidiarity of key importance to my identity as both a Catholic and an American. I'm surprised that more Catholic Americans don't feel the same way. I have found that the spirit of Liberation Theology does exist in this country, at least among a sizable portion of the laity, and it's a spirit that must be put down. It's just as anti-Catholic as it is un-American. The government is not God, and our Constitution was never designed to govern a people who expect the state to solve all their problems. As Catholic Americans, it is our civil and religious duty to wean ourselves off the 'big government' mentality. God is our savior, not government. Our religion mandates that we focus on the American principle of returning power back to the states, closer to home, where it can be more closely monitored and regulated by the watchful eye of the people. The American principle of liberty affirms our Catholic belief that the traditional family is the most important social structure in a civilization, and that all social institutions (including government) should be focused on supporting the family while butting out of its personal affairs.
The Catholic view of Social Justice envisions a world where families and communities take care of each other through voluntary means, while respecting each other's privacy and autonomy. It envisions a state government that is unobtrusive and discrete in the way it governs its people, placing few burdens on them, working only to help them help themselves. Lastly, it envisions a federal government that does the same, but instead deals primarily with the states, and recognizes that its powers are merely on loan to it by those same sovereign states. Yes, to understand Catholic Social Justice is to grasp what our nation's founding fathers intended for the United States of America. To practice the "hinge" Social Justice principle of Subsidiarity is not only to be a good Catholic, but also a great American!