In a piece in The Catholic Thing, Prof. Arkes further elaborates on the notion of “subsidiarity” with “Revisiting Subsidiarity: Temptations and Limits.” Prof. Arkes further explains the proper place of this valuable principle in Catholic social teaching, while cautioning that a deference toward “subsidiarity” does not excuse our federal government from ordering society based on objective moral principles.
“The protection of local minorities might depend on a more distant authority, not under the political thumb of the people who are powerful at the local level. That responsibility of the federal government was dramatically enlarged with the 14th Amendment, after the Civil War, when we found ourselves filling out the implications of ‘nationhood.’”
“But that possibility for intervention was present from the beginning. It came with the awareness that the purpose of this whole project was to ‘secure’ natural rights, and a government depending on ‘the consent of the governed.’ In the same way, the scheme of ‘subsidiarity’ in Catholic teaching is not one that finds something immanently admirable in using the laws to mark off a distinct local ethic – regardless of whether that local ethic is decent or debased. The scheme of subsidiarity takes its place in a larger polity that seeks to preserve, overall, a country directed to rightful ends.”
“What we have here, again, is the search for some handy device, in the Constitution, that allows us to avoid those vexing arguments about the ‘rights’ and ‘persons’ that are protected under the Constitution. The Constitution serves its first purpose in providing a structure of governance rather than an exhaustive inventory of rights. It becomes quite useful to know such things as: who will become President, and whom will the military obey, when a President dies in office; or whether a State may make its territory available as a naval base for another country. Those are matters simple and structural, and they usually don’t stir litigation…Our friend and counsel, Michael Uhlmann, has pointed out that the very notion of a government of limited powers is drawn from deeper principles that were never themselves set down in the text of the Constitution. To make ourselves aware again of those principles is to do the work of the Natural Law.”
Read the whole column here.