Subsidiarity and the Social Doctrine

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money [to spend]." Margaret Thatcher

“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” G. K. Chesterton

Subsidiarity in the Gospels

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bad Medicine

“One clear change in recent years is the emergence of a factionalism that we’ve never quite known before in American history.

The Founders understood the dangers of faction, of course. Alexander Hamilton famously issued a warning against it in the ninth of the Federalist Papers, and James Madison worked on the answer in the tenth, where he defined faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

The solution, Madison thought, is representative democracy. Direct democracy, all the people voting on all the issues, is too likely to be swayed by the passions of the moment and the interests of small crowds: “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

Madison won that argument; representative democracy he wanted, and representative democracy he got. The dangers of factionalism didn’t thereby go away, however. A representative system, the interposition of elected officials and procedural rules between the people and the law, only dams up factional dangers—to the enormous frustration of those who gain what they believe to be popular mandates and then discover that they cannot simply do whatever they want. (Remember the angry columns this year by several liberal commentators, which said that the Senate’s filibuster rules are an unconstitutional outrage, when the election of Massachusetts senator Scott Brown cost the Democrats their sixtieth Senate vote and looked as though it might derail the health-care bill?) And when a great surge washes over the dam, factionalism is translated from a danger of the populace to a danger of the representatives.

The process by which this health-care bill came about has baleful effects throughout the American political scene. The banishment of the pro-life movement to one party will produce only ugly results, and although abortion is not, in itself, a religious issue, it parallels a faith divide in this country—a divide no one in their right mind should want echoed in the definitions of our political parties.

Meanwhile, the American populace, which strongly believes we cannot afford this, is angry at being ignored. The civility of the Capitol, such as it was, is further reduced. And representative democracy has taken a beating, perhaps even pushed down toward a system in which we are free only to elect the tyrants who will rule us until the next election. This bill was badly thought-through economics, badly constructed legislation, and badly conceived ideology. All in all, just plain bad medicine. But the worst of it may lie in the process by which it came about. Is this the manner in which we wish to be ruled?"
Joseph Bottum is editor of First Things.

The definition of a confederate republic seems simply to be "an assemblage of societies," or an association of two or more states into one state. The extent, modifications, and objects of the federal authority are mere matters of discretion. So long as the separate organization of the members be not abolished; so long as it exists, by a constitutional necessity, for local purposes; though it should be in perfect subordination to the general authority of the union, it would still be, in fact and in theory, an association of states, or a confederacy. The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power. This fully corresponds, in every rational import of the terms, with the idea of a federal government. Federalist 9
The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State. Federalist 10

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