Another note on subsidiarity

A point raised in my last entry, that the realization that social engineering isn’t possible makes nonsense of a lot of current political, social and religious thought, is worth expanding. One implication is that a “top down” understanding of subsidiarity, in which government watches to see if families or whatever are doing what they should, and if they aren’t then it steps in to do the job itself, isn’t well-founded. There’s no assurance that government will be able to do the job that needs to be done, or even more good than harm.

Government is organized force. As such, it has ultimate responsibility for some things, like dealing with immediate threats to public physical safety, but why is it sensible to give it ultimate responsibility for individual well-being and social justice? It can contribute to those things, but it can’t bring them about and so shouldn’t be assigned ultimate responsibility for them. Pascal said that tyranny is the attempt to get in one way what can only be had in another. The statement is as true of ultimate social goals as anything else. With that in mind, it seems that what “subsidiarity” should mean is “government should do what it can to promote the functioning of other social agencies,” NOT “government should ensure that all social functions get carried out adequately, by other agencies if that can be arranged and by its own action otherwise.” The tendency to think that if something is important then it’s government that should do it if it’s otherwise not getting done is one that needs to be resisted.

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