Subsidiaty

Gov. Christie–A Politician Who Understands Subsidiarity

Deal W. Hudson

Because of the ongoing furor about who caused the holiday traffic jams in Northern New Jersey, much of what Gov. Christie has done well as governor has been forgotten. But, as governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has distinguished himself in two ways as a Catholic politician. Not only he is pro-life, but he has aggressively pursuing a set of policies grounded in the principle of subsidiarity.

At a time when most prominent Catholic politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, have advocated federal government solutions to problems like health care, Gov. Christie led in the opposite direction in 2010 by releasing a New Jersey Privatization Task Force Report.

In the 57-page report, the Task Force proposes privatizing the state’s motor vehicle inspections, housing construction inspections, turnpike toll booths, state parks, psychiatric hospitals, as well as contracting for highway maintenance work, and outsourcing worker’s compensation claims and all pension, payroll, and benefit payments systems.

These recommendations, according to Christie, have saved New Jersey taxpayers over $200 million a year.
Next to the humanity of the unborn life, the principle of subsidiarity is the tenet of the Church’s social teaching most ignored by Catholic politicians.

However, unlike the 6th commandment – “thou shall not kill” – subsidiarity must be applied prudentially. The principle itself is simple, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains,

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 co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (CCC #1883)

Indeed, the Catechism is unambiguous in its claim that Catholics should uphold subsidiarity to offset one of the dangers of socialization, i.e., an “excessive intervention by the state” threatening “personal freedom and initiative” (CCC#1882-1883).

Christie has also sought to keep the burden of funding government from growing any further – he has proposed a constitutional amendment capping property tax increases at 2.5 percent above the prior year’s receipts. Christie explains, “That’s 2.5 percent growth in total for everything — municipal tax, county tax, and school tax. There is only one exception to this cap – to pay required debt service.”

The New Jersey governor’s further reliance on subsidiarity can be found in his 2010 speech supporting “parental choice” in education at American Federation of Children’s National Policy Summit Dinner in Washington, D.C. Legislation has already been introduced that would provide vouchers to students at “chronically failing schools,” like the ones in Newark that Christie described as “absolutely disgraceful.”

There were doubts raised during the campaign about Christie’s pro-life commitment, but those credentials were solidified by his eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood from the 2011 New Jersey budget. State Democrats are already pushing to restore the more than $7 million in funding despite an $11 billion dollar deficit next year (the state has been on the verge of bankruptcy).

It’s often said that some Catholic commentators focus too much on life and marriage issues, relegating prudential matters too far into the background. Gov. Christie’s performance provides an opportunity to reflect on the longer view of a Catholic in politics, as well as a good reason not to count Christie out for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Gov. Christie represents a pro-life Catholic politician drawing upon the principle of subsidiarity to make budgetary and policy choices that look to the private sector, not the federal government, for solutions to pressing problems.

Those Catholic members of Congress, well over a majority of them, who supported the president in his passage of Obamacare, the 2010 Patient and Affordable Care Act, however, ignored the principle of subsidiarity, and now that the sign-up “deadline” has now passed the insurance debacle is a matter of public record.

I think of what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his eloquent passage about subsidiarity in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate:

Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.

The Holy Father here articulates precisely the fear among many Americans fostered by the new health-care legislation in 2010, fears now becoming a reality as reports come in daily about the impossibility of jointing online and the dramatic rise of individual, family, and business health insurance. Any solution to the problems in our nation’s health-care system that eliminates personal responsibility and participation is the opposite of what subsidiarity demands, and that solution is destined for failure.

Human well-being, as taught in the Catholic tradition, is always a product of action, of an individual’s active participation in the acquiring of the basic goods necessary to life. Subsidiarity begins with the recognition that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative” (1883).

One final point: Some commenters have muddied the waters by comparing the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity to the non-negotiable moral teachings on abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage, implying that Catholics need not always add subsidiarity to their judgments about foreign policy.

It’s true that the principle of subsidiarity is not a moral act, and thus is not comparable to an act like abortion. But it should never be ignored as a way of viewing the relationship between individual well-being and the various levels of institutions and governments that exert influence and authority over our thoughts and actions. Gov. Christie’s success due to employing subsidiarity in contrast to the massive failure of Obamacare, due to its rejection of subsidiarity, prove once again the wisdom of Catholic social teaching.
If subsidiarity is forgotten, if individual liberty and responsibility are not protected, then tyranny is inevitable; and with tyranny will come heinous moral crimes as well. Subsidiarity acts as a kind of nonstop watchman of, and advocate for, human freedom.

Thus, to ignore the Church’s principle of subsidiarity is no moral crime per se, but it encourages habits of dependency and the avoidance of responsibility that undermine human dignity.

Does the USCCB Understand Subsidiarity?

Deal W. Hudson
Published January 3, 2011

The plan of House Republicans to read the Constitution aloud on January 6, the second day of the 112th Congress, has provoked jeering from the liberal media. Yet in the midst of the jeers came a revealing comment from Washington Postcolumnist and blogger Ezra Klein in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown:

The issue of the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago, and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.

During the interview with Nora O’Donnell, Klein clarified the comment somewhat by confessing his cynicism: “It seems to me that these legal battles almost always break down along partisan lines and have very little to do with any sort of enduring understanding of the document.”

Whether Klein’s chief concern is the age of the Constitution or the inevitability of conflicting claims made about its interpretation, he appears to have given up on a shared and “enduring understanding” that would guide the work of government.

Thus, Klein misses completely the central purpose of this exercise: a symbolic reminder that our nation is founded on a specific set of first principles designed to limit government and protect individual liberty.

Republicans, however, hope to move beyond the symbolic gesture by changing the House rules so that each bill introduced must cite its constitutional authority.

The Democrats who accuse House Republicans of grandstanding have only themselves to blame: They ignored altogether the constitutional questions raised about the health-care legislation passed by the last Congress.

U.S. district court judge Henry Hudson, responding to a suit brought by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, recently ruled the new health care law unconstitutional. Hudson found the legislation represented an “unchecked expansion” of congressional power. He explained that Congress does not have the authority, even under its power to regulate interstate commerce, to force a citizen to purchase private insurance coverage. The judge wrote:

At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance – or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage – it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.

Twenty other states have similar constitutional challenges pending, making it a certainty that what President Obama considers the greatest accomplishment of his administration will end up being adjudicated by the Supreme Court.

When I first commented on the Virginia decision, I noted that no official response had been released by the USCCB. That remains the case. But with the likelihood that the Obama administration’s version of universal health care will be dismantled either by the Supreme Court, the Congress, or both, the USCCB should be looking for other ways of reaching the same goal.

Perhaps this effort could begin with paying closer attention to the reading of the Constitution on January 6. Catholics, after all, should understand how institutions are rooted in first principles.

While the bishops objected vigorously to the presence of abortion funding in the legislation, they seem untroubled by the question of its general constitutionality, one that comports closely with the principle of subsidiarity as articulated in Catholic social teaching.

Why so much of the public policy advocated by the USCCB in the past 30 years seems oblivious to subsidiarity has been the topic of much speculation. Rev. Donald Boesch, writing for the Acton Institute, suggests it’s due to a basicmisunderstanding. In my 2008 book Onward Christian Soldiers, I traced it to the habit of the conference documents to portray “structures of sin” in social rather than individual terms.

Commentators on the Catholic culture wars focus on abortion, marriage, and homosexuality while completely overlooking the deep divisions over subsidiarity and the role of government in seeking the common good.

But now that a state court has found that the principle of individual liberty is violated by the health-care legislation, the questions of subsidiarity and individual liberty again come to the fore. As this case, and perhaps similar cases, moves toward the Supreme Court, the USCCB will no longer be able to duck questions about expanding the power of the federal government.

It’s a good moment in our nation’s history for all of us to take a fresh look at our founding documents. And while we are at it, Catholics can lay them alongside theCompendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and note how a limited government with a separation of powers, as well as a respect for individual liberty and free enterprise, is not antithetical to what is found there.

Subsidiarity and Human Dignity

Deal W. Hudson
Published January 10, 2011

In my column last week, I asked the question, “Does the USCCB understand subsidiarity?” I received a variety of responses to that piece, the most interesting being from Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, who posted his thoughts on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Writing in a judicious and even-handed way about the issue of subsidiarity, Monsignor Pope quoted my column at length and, after indicating sympathy with the basic points being raised, framed the question as, “What is a bishop to do?”

It is perhaps easy for Mr. Hudson to want to draw the bishops in on this question. But, of course, he would want them to agree with his level of subsidiarity. Reasonable men do differ on what the proper level of government involvement is. Liberals generally want a higher level and conservatives a lower level.

Fair enough, and it’s refreshing to be engaged in thorny issues in a way that clarifies my point rather than subjecting it to caricature. Monsignor Pope continues with exactly the right series of questions:

What is the metric we are to use here to gauge proper subsidiarity? What is the level the bishops should use? Or, is it enough for them to set forth the principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity, and for lay people (such as Mr. Hudson) to take these principles into the public arena and influence policy as they see fit? Should bishops reject the healthcare bill on the basis of subsidiarity?

At this point, however, Monsignor Pope veers in a direction that overlooks the specific threat to the principle of subsidiarity represented by the health-care legislation that expanded the power of the federal government in a way unprecedented in my lifetime.

Monsignor Pope asked, “Is it wise to apply the principle to a specific piece of legislation when the exact metric for subsidiarity isn’t even clear?” He is surely not unaware that USCCB support for this particular form of universal health care by federal mandate implies a virtual rejection of subsidiarity in the delivery of health goods and services.

The “metric of subsidiarity” in the case of the health-care legislation passed by the 111th Congress was represented as a difference in kind, rather than degree, of government control over our lives and those of our family. It was a giant step toward the European form of socialism that has brought many countries to the brink of insolvency.

Monsignor Pope is surely right when it comes to many of the pieces of legislation supported by the USCCB, where metrics of subsidiarity are difficult to determine. But handing the nation’s health care over to federal control flouts the Catholic principle of subsidiarity in an obvious way.

Monsignor Pope’s final point would normally be the prudent course: “Is it best for the bishops to allow the political process to make that determination of the proper balance between solidarity, subsidiarity, and the proper scope and role of government?”

During the months of debate leading up to the final vote on the legislation, one bishop (who was vigorously supporting the bill while working to get the abortion funding taken out) told me that subsidiarity had not worked in achieving universal health coverage, and it was time for a federal program.

At the time, I appreciated the fact that a bishop gave me a straightforward answer to my question of why concern for subsidiarity was being tossed out the window. But the assertion that previous attempts at subsidiarity had failed sounded to me more like an assertion that needed verification than solid justification for handing control of health care over to the federal government.

I think of what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his eloquent passage about subsidiarity in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate:

Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.

The Holy Father here articulates precisely the fear among many Americans fostered in the new health-care legislation, even among those Catholics, such as myself, who embrace the goal of achieving some sort of universal coverage. Any solution to the problems in our nation’s health-care system that eliminates personal responsibility and participation is the opposite of what subsidiarity demands.

Human well-being, as taught in the Catholic tradition, is always a product of action, of an individual’s active participation in the acquiring of the basic goods necessary to life. Subsidiarity begins with the recognition that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative” (1883).

One final point: Some commenters have muddied the waters by comparing the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity to the non-negotiable moral teachings on abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage, implying that Catholics need not always add subsidiarity to their judgments about foreign policy.

It’s true that the principle of subsidiarity is not a moral act, and thus is not comparable to an act like abortion. But it should never be ignored as a way of viewing the relationship between individual well-being and the various levels of institutions and governments that exert influence and authority over our thoughts and actions.

If subsidiarity is forgotten, if individual liberty and responsibility are not protected, then tyranny is inevitable; and with tyranny will come heinous moral crimes as well. Subsidiarity acts as a kind of nonstop watchman of, and advocate for, human freedom.

Thus, to ignore the Church’s principle of subsidiarity is no moral crime per se, but it encourages habits of dependency and the avoidance of responsibility that undermine human dignity.