Tuesday, January 3, 2017


1. This principle gives confidence in social relationships. Why? Well, in subsidiarity something is ADDED TO our relationships IN ORDER TO REINFORCE the relationships. 


3. Think of the case in your country. There is, of course, the highest authority in the President or Prime Minister and the whole group of people around that office. Is there any small political-public authority that you can find, say, in your village or neighborhood or district? Imagine if that small public authority is CONSULTED by higher authorities to help face certain problems. That is subsidiarity. 


5. The Church has picked up this principle and incorporated it in her social doctrine. 

6. Subsidiarity, as proposed by the Social Doctrine, involves NOT MAKING A STEP THAT IS HIGHER WHEN A LOWER STEP CAN BE MADE EFFECTIVELY. This may sound abstract. Let us put it this way. Let us say that there is a problem in a village. The village chief and his council form the high authority in the village. The chief can declare a solution. But maybe the different small families can, by themselves, find a solution. So BEFORE THE CHIEF MAKES A DECISION WHY NOT LET THE SMALL FAMILIES FIND A SOLUTION ON THEIR LEVEL? 

7. Let us look at another example. In a workplace the boss makes big decisions. But why not consult first the smaller levels--like the employees? Maybe the employees can have effective insights in running the workplace. Before the "higher step" of the decision of the boss, try out first the "lower step" that can be done by the ordinary workers. This is subsidiarity. If the "lower level" can make decisions and solutions to problems of the workplace IT IS BEST NOT TO INTERFERE AND IT IS BEST TO ALLOW THE "LOWER LEVELS" TO DISCOVER THE EFFECTIVE PATHS.

8. In subsidiarity there is a sub-principle called the principle of SUBSTITUTION. If the lower level shows difficulties in making decisions, then the "higher levels" can intervene. IF THE PROBLEMS FACED BY THE LOWER LEVELS ARE BIGGER THAN THEIR CAPACITY TO SOLVE IT, then the higher level can come in to help and encourage the lower levels. The higher levels then can "substitute". Think of a football match when one player gets very tired and cannot play well anymore. So someone else "substitutes". 

9. You are familiar with this in your formation experiences. Your formators allow you to discover things, maybe even make mistakes now and then. Your formators consult you and ask for you opinions and insights. If there are certain things you can do, your formators or superiors do not intervene. But if you face situations that go beyond your capacities to face them, your formators or superiors come in. But they come in TO ENCOURAGE YOU, TO HELP YOU MOVE ON, TO HELP YOU MAKE THE STEPS YOURSELVES. When superiors do this, they practice the principle of subsidiarity with the principle of substitution. 

10. Notice then that subsidiarity is a way of RECOGNIZING CAPACITIES AND COMPETENCES THAT PEOPLE CAN DO. Each social group can have its own competence in addressing social issues. Subsidiarity means therefore allowing that competence to effectively work. Let us mention some examples.

11. Listen to the authorities of families, like the parents, in raising their children. They have competence. Let those parents have something to share in the decisions regarding the family life in society. Now, if there are problems that the parents cannot deal with, then "higher authorities" can come in to help.

12. Listen to the low workers and laborers who work so hard and get tired at the end of each day. They can have something to say about the labor conditions of society. They have their own competence to talk about work conditions. If the discussions becomes more complex and go beyond the competence of the laborers, then the "higher authorities" can come in to help. 

13. Listen to the youth regarding problems with pregnancy, illegal drugs, etc. The youth have their experiences here and they have their levels of competence too. If the discussion becomes more complex then "higher authorities" can come in to help. 

14. Subsidiarity, in the Church, has already been given focus by the medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas. Much later, into modernity, there were popes who took seriously the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Leo XIII in his Rerum Novarum discussed subsidiarity for workers. The development of industrialization put laborers in a very marginal position. Laborers needed to be heard. Their conditions had to be looked into. It was necessary for subsidiarity. 

15. During the time of Pope John XXIII there was the rise of totalitarian governments an many people were left voiceless and powerless. The pope needed to take help from the principle of subsidiarity. That meant advocating for giving voice to the voiceless populations. 

16. The principle of subsidiarity together with substitution allow for HARMONIZING DECISIONS ON ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY. Decisions are not just made "from the top". The higher authorities do not monopolize discussion, choices and decisions for society. Consultations and aid have to be done in all levels. The small people in the lower levels have to be heard too. They have THEIR LEVELS OF COMPETENCE. They are not zero in insight about society. 

17. We can see how helpful subsidiarity can be in governments, federations, workplaces, business groups, AND EVEN IN CHURCH COMMUNITIES. (Just see how subsidiarity can be helpful in a religious congregation.) 

18. On each level of the social unit there is always some amount of competence. Do not disregard that competence. On each level there is also need for help and encouragement and guidance. Give to each level the necessary support. 

19. We can begin in our daily lives. In our families and workplaces, in our parishes and religious communities, in our villages and neighborhoods, we can try subsidiarity. Applying the principle in daily life we can FORM OURSELVES to be people who can stand on our own and live according to our competences and know when we need help. 

20. Subsidiarity aims to recognize in each social level autonomy and capability. In 1931, Pope Pius XI published his Quadragesimo Anno where he made clear his idea of Subsidiarity.

21. "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them" (QA#79).


23. The State then can function effectively. "The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of 'subsidiary function,' the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State" (QA#80).

24. Note what the pope is saying: that governments direct, watch, urge, restrain. By "empowering" the lower levels of society the government itself will have more freedom to do its crucial work. The higher the level in society THE LESS IT DOES THINGS FOR SOCIETY AND THE MORE IT EMPOWERS THE OTHER LEVELS OF SOCIETY. The big role it can do is to GIVE DIRECTIONS, GUIDE, AID, STIMULATE, ENCOURAGE society to move for the common good. 

25. Subsidiarity thus looks more like a "de-centralization" of powers. Today we say "empowering". The strusture of the social hierarchy becomes the area of social cohesion rather than conflict. Higher authority makes sure that lower orders are able to function according to what they can do.   

26. Maybe the principle looks big. But again we can try applying it IN EVERYDAY LIFE. We can try it is the family, at school, at work, etc. Then maybe we can slowly move up to the more complicated levels of social life--like the government and even international organizations. 

27. Do we see subsidiarity in the Church? This can be a stimulating discussion. 

Subsidiarity and Authority 

1. To be given an authority in an organization is something we might all want. So many people dream of having a "place of authority" somewhere. People want to be promoted. We find this everywhere in society. But BE CAREFUL BECAUSE OF THE "PETER'S PRINCIPLE". 

2. What is this? It tells us that people get promoted because they prove themselves competent. So for example Mr. X is so competent in his work, everybody notices it and even the boss notices it. So one day Mr. X gets promoted. He is given a NEW WORK. It is a "higher level" of authority. Well, Mr. X proved to be competent BEFORE THE PROMOTION. He can do his work well and efficiently IN THE WORK BEFORE PPROMOTION. But with the promotion and with the new work, can he prove himself competent? 

3. Let us say that HE DOES WELL IN THE NEW WORK AND HE SHOWS COMPETENCE AGAIN. Everybody notices it and eventually Mr. X gets promoted to a higher level of authority. He is then given A NEW WORK again. Will Mr. X be comptent in the new work? According to the Peter's Principle as Mr. X gets promoted the day will come when he will be promoted to a level of authority where HE WILL FAIL. At that level HE CANNOT ANYMORE BE COMPETENT. 

4. According to the Peter's Principle promotion in a social organization is a MOVEMENT TOWARDS INCOMPETENCE AND FAILURE. The day will come when, after being promoted over and over again, a person cannot anymore be effective in what he/she does. The limit has been reached. We cannot always go up to higher levels of authority without the risk of being failures at work. The higher we go, the closer we get to our limits.  

5. We know of stories like this. A person who has been so well in work suddenly, after time and many promotions, becomes a failure and a disappointment. We might see this happen in government service. 

6. Hierarchy is very much a result of people moving higher and higher up the ladder of promotion. And so we have a hierarchy of "people at the top" and "people at the bottom". We might think that those "at the top" are so competent "they know what they are doing". We might also think that BECAUSE THEY ARE ON THE TOP THEY KNOW MORE THAN THOSE "AT THE BOTTOM". We can have a whole society structured this way. 

7. Just think of our societies where we have "people at the top" with high authorities and they are piloting our countries. They are presidents or prime ministers or  people in "key positions" of the government. Many if not all of them started "at the bottom". In the course of their careers they were gradually promoted. Our usual thinking will say that they have become people of high competence THEY KNOW MORE THAN US. So the tendency is to LET THEM DO MOST OF THE TINKING AND DECIDING FOR OUR SOCIETIES. 

8. We, small people "at the bottom", going through the ordinary daily grind of life, working and living simply, we are "small people" compared to those "at the top". We are NOT AS COMPETENT AS THEY ARE. What happens in society therefore is that we relate with higher authorities by GIVING UP OUR OWN LEVELS OF THINKING AND DECIDING. We assume that people "in-charge" know more and have the legitimate powers to run our lives. They can be juridical or financial people but the question needs to be asked now and then, "Can they really and fully guide ou social lives?"

9. We can be fortunate if all our authorities "at the top" are super-competent. But this is not always the case. How frustrated we sometimes get when we see how lousy our governments function. Well, we can think of the "Peter's Principle". We cannot be 100% confident that "the top" is always better than "the bottom". We cannot be 100% confident that "the top" always knows more than us about how society should go. The "Peter's Principle" gives us a warning signal.

10. For us, ordinary people, we need to be vigilant about the competence of our government authorities. For those in authority, the Peter's Principle should awaken in them the fact that, although they are "at the top" they must recognize POSSIBLE LIMITS TO THEIR COMPETENCE.  

11. Here is where we see the need for subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is empowerment. We, at "at the bottom" do not just naively obey "higher authorities". We just do not let them fully pilot our lives. We have our own skills, talents, insights, understanding...we have our levels of competence. We know life from the daily grind we do. We are not zero, we are not absolutely ignorant and incapable of making decisions for our future and for our society. FROM OUR LEVEL we can decide and act.  

12. As for those "on the top", they need a certain amount of humility because THEY ALSO NEED TO CONSULT SMALL PEOPLE. There are certain insights and skills that small people have. There are certain levels of ignorance proper to those "on the top". There are insights and decisions that CANNOT BE EFFECTIVELY DONE WITHOUT HEARING WHAT SMALL PEOPLE HAVE TO SAY. As for us, ordinary people of daily life, we need the guidance and competence too of our "leaders". They have their levels of competence, nonetheless. At some point, we need them. They have access to information about social life that we do not have. 

13. In subsidiarity there is a "communion" between/among levels of society. We need each other.

14. For subsidiarity authority in society must have a moral basis. It is not just juridical. It is not just about promotion. It is certainly not just about power. It is moral too because it must admit limits, it must admit its levels of incomptence somewhere, it must admit that it is authority that affects people's lives. How often do we experience people "on the top" manipulating lives with sheer incompetence! 

15. The morality of subsidiarity tells us that each responsibility in the social hierarchy DOES NOT CONFISCATE THE CAPACITIES, COMPETENCEAND THE DECISION MAKING OF PEOPLE IN THE LOWER LEVELS OF SOCIETY. 

16. The principle of subsidiarity therefore implies the DIFFUSION OF POWERS. Social hierarchy must be RESPONSIBLE. It does not monopolize social powers. It should recognize human dignity and this includes the dignity--and right--of small people to be consulted, heard and have a participation in social decisions. 

17. The principle of subsidiarity aims to open up the autonomy of people and groups; that power be exatended to them too. Power must respect human dignity and rights, ALLOWING PEOPLE ESPECIALLY "AT THE BOTTOM" TO HAVE A VOICE IN DIRECTING SOCIETY TO THE COMMON GOOD. 

18. The Church can be a good guide of subsidiarity. Church theology today admits that the Church is a "communion Church". Although the Church shows a hierarchy it is a hierarchy in communion. This is why, for example, we see the notion of "collegiality" among local churches. All members of the local and universal church have roles in the mission of the Church. This can be a model for our secular social lives.

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