Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Subsidiarity, Where Art Thou?

     If you’re a Catholic, you...well, you might be familiar with this tenet of Catholic thought:

     Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

     From the definition, it’s clear that federalism – the American Constitutional principle that defines a small number of limited powers for the federal government and leaves all other legitimate authorities to the states – is a form of the subsidiarity principle. Many politicians, Left and Right, have either forgotten that principle or have dismissed it as an impediment to their agendas.

     Which brings me to the following ads:

     You may have seen one or both of those ads before this. They’re impressive statements by an impressive young woman. If the rest of her politicking is as powerful as those ads, she could well be in Congress on January 3. I’d love to see her there.

     But note that those ads highlight the city of Baltimore – admittedly, a city reduced to ruin – and what Klacik would like to do about it. Her focus is on the local problems of a particular city.

     Are Baltimore’s problems real? Yes. Are they serious? Yes. Do they demand immediate attention? Yes. But from whom? From what body of legislators and executives?

     Are Baltimore’s problems properly the concern of the federal government of the United States?

     Baltimore has a city government, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that government collect taxes, fund a police department, and administer a municipal garbage collection program? What are the officials of that government doing about Baltimore’s many problems?

     Under the principle of subsidiarity, the local affairs of the city of Baltimore should be handled by its local authorities: the city government. Under the principle of federalism, no government higher up than the state government of Maryland has any legitimate authority over Baltimore and what happens there. Except in cases of invasion or insurrection, the Constitution delegates no authority to Congress or the president to intervene in the local affairs of cities. Didn’t we hear all about that when the talk started about sending federal troops to Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis?

     But Kim Klacik is running for Congress.

     People really ought to be thinking about this.

     Kim Klacik is an articulate, courageous, conservative young woman. As I said in the above segment, I’d love to see her in Congress. But the clash between her campaign’s focus and her political aspiration highlights an open wound in the American political system: the loss of the demarcations of legitimate authority established by the Constitution. That wound has festered for far too long.

     Local problems are best understood by the people and authorities of that locale. There is no valid argument that outsiders should thrust their preferences into the matter. Similarly, local problems must be assumed to be the product of local action. Americans from other parts of the country didn’t flock to Baltimore to commit thousands of felony crimes, nor to bury it in garbage. Why, then, are the problems of beleaguered cities such as Baltimore a proper concern for the federal government?

     So many concerns best left to state or local authorities have been federalized, whether by overt or covert action, that few persons even ask such questions today. Consider unemployment benefits, welfare benefits, and educational funding. Consider “revenue sharing.” Consider the handling of tottering corporations, which reflexively appeal to federal authorities for “bailouts.” Do the chief executives of such corporations even consider going to a local or state body before approaching a federal Cabinet department?

     What we call federalization, the Founding Fathers called usurpation: the federal government’s seizure of authorities and powers not Constitutionally delegated to it. The result is what James Madison termed consolidated government: a state of affairs in which the state and local governments are reduced to ciphers before the power of the federal Leviathan. Everything becomes a matter for federal decision making, which means that no matter where you are or what your particular local concerns may be, decisions about what will be done to you and / or for you will be dominated by persons far away.

     The lure is the prospect of having your problems solved for you by others, at others’ expense. The price is the loss of local and state autonomy, which were once fundamental to American governance. They made it possible, as Clarence Carson wrote in The American Tradition, for people to agree to disagree about many things and still share a nation.

     I could go on, but I have other work to do today, and anyway the point should be well enough established by now. Gentle Readers, please submit your thoughts in the comments.


pc-not said...

Excellent points. This false narrative, that the federal government stick its nose in every minute detail of state and local concern has always bothered me. Isn't this one reason why the Soviet Union failed?

To further the argument, take note of how Blue cities are always begging for more handouts and federally funded monies, while successful Red cities work out common sense, long term solutions to better their communities.


I absolutely concur with your perspective on the federalism issue. Local affairs are - or should be - handled by local officials.

But if it takes a FEDERAL Congresswoman such as Kim to help break the slavish lock the Left has on blacks, I'm all for it.

Jess said...

The most terrible influence is in the education system. Federal funds should never be used for local education. That's the responsibility of the local taxpayers, and the state; if the taxpayers want to allow the state to meddle in their local affairs. Considering how many city school districts receive the most money - with the most failure - intervention by higher government entities is a mistake.

JWM said...

What happens to subsidiarity when the local population demonstrates that they are either incapable, or utterly unwilling to keep their affairs in order?

I recently watched a documentary from the "Vice" channel entitled "The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia". It is every bit as horrifying as the title implies. In one segment the film makers visited West Point which is one of the worst slums in Africa. Open sewers ran down the streets. The locals' toilet of choice was the beach. I recall the sight of what could have been a beautiful stretch of coastline that was peppered with human feces. I doubt anyone could cross it without stepping into a pile.
In the midst of this disgusting squalor they filmed an emaciated wretch of a woman, Her plaintive moan was, "Nobody will help us here". My thought was, "Help you?" How much help do you need to dig a hole in the ground for an outhouse? How much help do you need to use a chamber pot, and bury your own shit? Apparently the locals could not grasp the technology.


Francis W. Porretto said...

I know, JWM. It's appalling. But we're to blame, in part. We're too ready to help. It's inappropriate to take others' proper responsibilities off their shoulders when they're perfectly equal to them...but the U.S. has done it repeatedly, both abroad and here at home.

There's even a very funny movie that touches on this: Mouse On The Moon. You'd probably laugh your sides off at it.


There was a FANTASTIC Bill Whittle video* - long but excellent - wherein he discussed how fixing things permanently is a WESTERN thought.

In parallel he did another one, about Israel specifically, where the only reason Israel has been greening and turned from desert to agricultural powerhouse was the vision the returning Zionists had of CREATING that agriculture. The Arabs in the late 19th century had the same technology the Jews did. It was the MINDSET that differed.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AduC5MsRzdc