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Alan Jacobs’ Flawed Faith in Subsidiarity

May 31, 2013

Jacobs’ statement of faith in commitment to subsidiarity is in paragraph five of this piece. … [Note: What follows was updated at 3:45 pm, CST, 5/31/2013.]

My reaction? It’s flawed. Faith in subsidiarity is almost (but not quite yet) as bad as faith in so-called free markets. For example, what if the little Plymouth-style participatory community you love (designated A) decides to regulate item X owned by those with more wealth and income in your utopia? Because of regulations to X, your well-off folks may move to a neighboring town (B). With their move went a substantial portion of your tax base, charitable giving, and charity help. Now your town (A) is relatively impoverished. So your town leaders implore the next town (B) to regulate item X. They do. But then the relatively rich move a few blocks outside the town limits. Now two towns are more/relatively impoverished. So then town leaders from A & B want to appeal to a higher authority (say the state of MA). But the ideology of subsidiarity in the electorate has weakened MA to be an essentially useless/ineffective entity. So now towns A and B are relatively impoverished, and there’s no way to systematize and enforce regulation to prevent the rich from moving. Now what? Wouldn’t it have been easier if the towns and the states had equal enforcement ability and more homogeneous laws?

Sure, the lack of subsidiarity doesn’t respect differences between smaller communities. But what do conservatives care about difference anyway? I mean, the goal of creating smaller communities is to promote or foster homogeneity, yes? In sum, the faith in subsidiarity (valued esp. by conservative Catholics) undermines the ability of communities (nested as they are) to foster equality by sharing wealth between those communities. Subsidiarity, then, like free markets, is another backdoor way to increased inequality. Subsidiarity undermines the positive checks and balances, invested in larger states, that can occur between communities. The goal should be to create balance between larger and smaller communal structures, not to fetishize the smaller communities. – TL


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