Brexit and Catholic Social Teaching

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. – Catechism of the Catholic Church 1885

I have to say, the mainstream coverage of the UK exiting the EU has been laughably one sided. It has been exclusively reported on as a catastrophe. The sky is falling, blah, blah, blah. I acknowledge, as an American, I am likely missing out on a few nuances of the situation. To me, nation states taking back their sovereignty from elite oligarchs on which there are no checks or balances seems a good thing.  All of this reminds me of “liberal” Catholics who reduce the faith to working for “social justice”. Generally, this “social justice” turns out to be some sort of naïve, faithless, socialism rather than that taught by the Church.

I have consciously avoided discussing politics on this blog for a number of reasons. My personal politics are in the category typically considered ‘conservative’, but I’m not the typical conservative American. The idea of the social reign of Christ the King is chief in my political thinking; as a result, there are elements of democracy and freedom (so called) which I am quite critical of. These criticisms are not always easily understood by other Americans. Breaking this silence today, I would like to take Brexit as an opportunity to remind myself, as well as make more broadly known, the teaching of the Church called subsidiarity.

First for those inclined to read, let me first provide links to some primary sources.



Pope S. JOHN PAUL II on the centennial of Rerum Novarum CENTESIMUS ANNUS

And fairly easy reading  1878-1896 of the CCC

Ok, for those who want to be spared the homework, I will now give a brief explanation of subsidiarity.

Every human person is made in the image of God and therefore has intrinsic dignity. Society is the organization of persons in relation to each other. Societal structures such as government exist for the good of all, that is, government is meant to serve the person not vice versa.  “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”- Mk 10:44.

Now, the classical Christian understanding of the ideal king is that he be a faithful imitator of Christ.  A good king is the servant of his people even laying his life down for them.  As revolutions, political and industrial, came about. The problem of the individual being a slave to either industry or the state arose. Pope Leo XIII, in 1891, issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum to address the dehumanizing tendencies of both unrestrained capitalism and socialism.  This encyclical introduced the development of principles of how to apply Catholic social thought in the context of modern economic and political structures. One principle which developed, and has the magisterial (teaching) authority of the Church behind it, is that of subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity- is the principle that “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.”  Rerum Novarum 48.   In other words if the family can govern and take care of and do what is good for its members, then the government should not interfere. Likewise, to the extent that the government and economy of a town is able to ensure the good of its people, the regional government should not interfere. Again, to the extent the regional government is able to serve its people, the next larger unit of government should not interfere. It is only when some smaller unit of society has a problem it cannot handle that the larger spheres of society should come into play. When the larger spheres of society come into play, they should as much as possible support and work with, rather than impose upon, the smaller units of society.

Now, is an economic and political super-entity which makes rules which trump the laws of member nations, which manipulates the economies of those nations, which has only increased in power and is controlled by an elitist ruling class at odds with the principle of subsidiarity? I would say yes.

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