Wednesday, June 8, 2016


"Subsidiarity" is a new word to me, but the principle is not. Here's what Wikipedia says about it:

Subsidiarity is a principle of social organization that originated in the Roman Catholic Church. In its most basic formulation, it holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary (that is, a supporting, rather than a subordinate) function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political scienceneuro-psychologycybernetics, management and in military command (Mission Command). In political theory, the principle of subsidiarity is sometimes viewed as an aspect of the concept of federalism, although the two have no necessary connection. 

If somebody had expressed the idea to me before, I'd have called it "localism," Though it probably would have also occurred to me to make the comparison to federalism. But the first time I heard of it was in the quote from the quibcag, which originated as a comment by tz on this blog post [link].

Whatever you call it, it's a damned good idea, though reasonable people can disagree about at which level such-and-such a responsibility belongs. I think everybody would agree on the idea that there are such levels. I'm inclined to make a comparison to the non-human world, and say that even wolf packs have subsidiarity, what with the feeding of the pups being the mom wolf's responsibility, while the hunting to feed the whole pack takes place maybe at the pack level.

But I won't, because I'd just get it wrong and Vulture of Critique would come after me again.

But it could happen that way, and if nonhumans don't have a set of levels as complicated as human beings do, it's only because they are less complicated in general, and maybe not smart enough to keep track if they tried.

Another thought, that I'm more comfortable about, is that different human cultures probably have different numbers of levels, and maybe some are more inclined towards localism, or centralization, than others. I wonder about Japan, because my impression is that they're much more likely to have nation-level decisions on matters that would be decided at lower levels elsewhere. And Americans, maybe, are extreme in the other direction.

But never mind other cultures, the subsidiarity principle is pretty basic to Western thinking, which is maybe another reason why we burst out of the smallish European continent to dominate the world. And bring the world cool Western ideas like subsidiarity. And that's another reason to reject multiculturalism, isn't it?

One more observation. Clearly subsidiarity is a good, useful principle, and it occurs to me that it's fundamental to just about every sensible political theory, at least here in the West. And without it, you have two bad ways to go — centralization of authority where it is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive, where the kindergarten teacher has to check with Washington to see whether she can start the kids on arithmetic or not, and you can think of much more dangerous results. And taking localism to an extreme, where the advantages of collective effort at higher levels are tossed out the window. And of course when you take localism more and more to an extreme, you end up with anarchism, which is basically giving up on trying to get anything done.
Quibcag: Illustrated by a kawaii nun that I found here:


  1. In Asia in general there is conformity and uniformity, so the range of subsidiarity is less important. If you can imagine a nation where the localities are all similar, populated by clones, everyone would have the same answer to any problem.

    In the West, the good side of diversity means that different areas of the country are not only geologically, meteorologically, and culturally different, but that subsidiarity is what moderates the differences so that we can be "One Nation, Under God", while having utterly different cities where you can move to where you match the culture.

    This is a danger with the alt-Right's nationalism, if they ignore that the "nation" is still diverse even if populated by Europeans. The Red-Coats and Patriots were both "Englishmen".

    One of the Libertarian/Anarchists points is valid in that the Free Market should decide, but that would also mean if I wanted to live in a gated city among my peers (however I define it) I should be allowed to.

    The glory and greatness of the west is because it found a way to create an ecosystem instead of a monoculture.

  2. Okay! That will be added as an afterword.