I did a search of the Federalist Papers to make sure. But the word Subsidiarity isn't mentioned once. Even so it's an important principle of good Government. I was going to write about that subject. But then I started reading and realized that I need to write two articles. This one is about how the word "subsidiarity" entered modern Conservative Jargon. It turns out that it's from the founding fathers of our conservative movement. Just not our Founding Fathers. Google brings up this definition:
What is Subsidiarity?
"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."
Subsidiarity as a component of Federalism
This principle is a principle of Good Government. It is not an absolute principle, despite it being the latest "Conservative" buzzword. It is a legitimate principle. Except that for the Framers of the Constitution the goal was "subordination" not subsidiarity per-se in their definition of "Confederation or Federation". But Subsidiarity is a "constitutional necessity" by definition:
"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....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." [Federalist 9, Hamilton]
Subsidiarity while necessary for "Local purposes" was not seen as an end in itself. So when George Will started talking about the principle years ago. The question rose in my head, "where was he coming from?"
Jonah Goldberg and Rerum Novarum
Indeed while it's not mentioned once in the Federalist Papers, though it is a concept from the middle ages. It turns out the source was the late 19th century by Catholic Activists, specifically:
The principle of subsidiarity was first formally developed in the encyclical Rerum novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of communism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. The principle was further developed in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo anno of 1931, and Economic Justice for All by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subsidiarity_%28Catholicism%29]
I saw extensive references to Rerum Novarum in my authoritative references on Fascism (which are still in a box somewhere not yet unpacked), so I was desperately looking for that book while writing this. But then I realized I had another source. From a man who was trying to obfuscate the role of that encyclical! Our Good Friend Jonah Goldberg in his propaganda "Liberal Fascism" in the context of his discussion of Mussolini's fascism. However, Fascism's cult didn't start out with much definition as an economic system. And indeed the Economics of Fascist states has tended to be Right Wing and has taken a number of forms. But the Fascism of the Mediterranean was that of Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain and Mussolini in Italy, and all three were heavily influenced by Rerum Novarum. Which Jonah Grudgingly acknowledges:
"It’s revealing that corporatism has many of its roots in Catholic doctrine. The 1891 papal encyclical Rerum novarum proposed corporatism or syndicalism in response to the dislocations of the Industrial Revolution. ... The Church’s interest in corporatism stemmed from its belief that this was the best way to revive medieval social arrangements that gave man a greater sense of meaning in his life." [Liberal Fascism page 297]
Jonah Goldberg Mainstreaming Catholic Fascism
But what he calls "progressive Catholic Thought" based on Rerum Novarum, written by Pope Leo XIII (2 March 1810 – 20 July 1903, born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci) was the basis for authoritarian Catholic policy, not "progressive" policy. Dictators from Franco to Juan Peron cited Rerum Novarum, though he influenced progressives and classic liberals alike. The Catholic Church's interest in Corporatism was to subjugate man to Church Authority, as it has been since Constantine.
There is a reason that Jonah Goldberg tries to obfuscate the relationship between the Church and some forms of Fascism. There is no mention of António de Oliveira Salazar, or his form of explicitly Catholic Fascism, nor of Fascisms origins in Catholic Action. Nor does he talk about how Franco merged the explicitly Catholic Fascist groups with the Fascism of the Falange created by José Antonio Primo de Rivera [http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/falange.htm]. But Goldberg makes a lot of mistakes. For example he confuses Francos failure to enforce the "edict of expulsion during the 30's and 40's with him abrogating the edict. Franco closed the border, he just didn't enforce it by gunning down fleeing Jews the way the French or other Europeans did. The Edict of expulsion wasn't abrogated formally until 1968. [http://jewishwebsight.com/bin/articles.cgi?Area=jw&ID=JW903]
Essentially Jonah and other modern conservatives are rewriting the record to separate the Fascism of Salazar and Pinochet, Mussolini and Franco, of Catholic Action from it's equal partners in the Falange and the Fascist movement. Yes the two movements were parallel. One was focused on Social Issues and power. The other on Power. Together they were indomitable. If they had some divergent goals, most of their goals were convergent.
The Fact is that Fascism grows out of Nostalgia for the Dark Ages. Jonah agrees:
"Fascism is the cult of unity, within all spheres and between all spheres. Fascists are desperate to erode the organic, legal, or cultural boundaries between family and state, public and private, business and the “public good.”
But like all good Cons he tries to project that onto "progressives." This much is true. Fascism was and is explicitly a teaching that reifies Social Dominance and the imposition of Order/hierarchy.
"Unlike communist Jacobinism (or Jacobin Communism, if you prefer), which expropriated property and uprooted institutions in order to remake society from the ground up, Fascism pragmatically sought to preserve what was good and authentic about society while bending it to the common good. Interests or institutions that stood in the way of progress could be nationalized, to be sure. But if they worked with the regime, if they “did their part,” they could keep their little factories, banks, and department stores." [Liberal Fascism page 297]
Which of course is corporatism, Social Dominance, hierarchy and Elitism [http://holtesthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/01/understanding-social-dominance-theory.html]. And if those were also features of the mutant bolsheviks and characteristics of socially dominant wannabe "fearless leaders" of all stripes; it decidedly is not a set of progressive attributes. It's not conservative either. Fascism is about Orthodoxy, Nationalism, Authoritarianism and naked oppression.
George Will's (and Jonah's) Fascism
So Where did this concept of Subsidiarity really come from? I first heard it in an article I was reading by George Will back in 1994. My mind retained the term because it just makes sense. But it turns out that the context was George Will's nostalgia for a society with "Moral Fiber". This mention was an article; "Conservatism Will Restore Moral Fiber To Fraying Culture" November 14, 1994 |By George Will, Washington Post Writers Group
He wrote at that time, referring to the Southern Strategy "Contract With America", Gingrich Revolution of that year:
"Conservatives worry in a more contemporary vocabulary, questioning the power and ambitions of the post-New Deal state and finding a causal connection between those ambitions and the fraying of the culture. Conservatives believe government's principal functions are the preservation of freedom and removal of restraints on the individual." [http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1994-11-14/news/9411140338_1_liberalism-conservatives-worry-function-of-government]
Even the language of decline and renaissance reflects the language of Fascism more than conservatism. If Will had been resisting change he'd have been a conservative. But the Gingrich Revolution (ongoing) was about rolling back previous reforms on the premise that the "moral fiber" of the culture was fraying. Compare that to this description of Franco after he achieved power:
"Franco became caudillo, or absolute dictator, and unlike those he had accused of lacking "moral fiber," Franco tolerated little dissent. According to Ellwood, he placed a premium on "uniformity and conformity" rather than "plurality and diversity." He saw himself as the savior of the nation and therefore would suffer no one to stop him. He used military tribunals to try any manner of offense, and observers suspect that hundreds or thousands of political captives and other prisoners were executed between 1939 and 1943. Franco also used bureaucratic tools to harass the general public into loyalty. By requiring written authorizations for work or food purchases, ultimate authority rested in those issuing the cards, who, of course, owed loyalty to Franco." [Francisco Franco Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, November 6, 1996]
I could find better quotes but the point is that the notion that society is falling apart and order must be imposed to restore it to past glory is a feature of Fascism along with Imperialism and other characteristics. And note, Franco talked extensively about Rerum Novarum and pledged his fealty to the Catholic Church and to the Monarchy. Jonah is right about the features of Fascism and this "Restoration of Moral Fiber" is one of them. And if you read carefully his next passage and decode it you see the same "need for order" theme that is symbolized in the Sticks and Axe that are the symbol of Fascism:
"One count in conservatism's indictment of liberalism is that liberalism takes too much for granted, including those habits - thrift, industriousness, deferral of gratification - that make free societies succeed. Conservatives worry that the severest cost of solicitous government is not monetary but moral: the diminution of personal responsibility and private forms of social provision." [http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1994-11-14/news/9411140338_1_liberalism-conservatives-worry-function-of-government]
Contrary to the propaganda of Conservatives, it's not "liberalism" that seeks to impose order; "thrift, industriousness, deferral of gratification" on people. It is authoritarianism. And Will for all his talk about liberty and Freedom is usually a hypocrit on the subject. He condemns eminent domain when the Government uses it for urban renewal but calls for it when the Canadians impose a pipeline on the country.
And his mention of "subsidiarity" was in this context:
"The first business of the next Congress, the balanced-budget constitutional amendment, will promote, even compel, subsidiarity. This is because, as entitlements devour the federal budget, the central government will have a steadily shrinking sphere of discretion, so powers should devolve from Washington to lower governments." [http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1994-11-14/news/9411140338_1_liberalism-conservatives-worry-function-of-government]
Like I said I like the idea of Subsidiarity. But Will isn't really talking about giving more local authority to local decision makers. He claimed that Churches and local authorities will take over the role of charity, but in practice we now know that is a vicious lie. It just doesn't get done. And local government can be every bit as oppressive as Federal Government.
There were other laughing points (from hindsight) such as his claim that the government should attack "unfunded mandates" which was soon followed by off the books Defense spending and other accounting gimmicks.
Sadly the con notion that "relimiting government" would "strengthen society" proved to be a vicious lie too.
I'll have to write about subsidiarity again. I find it sad when reading Conservative sources takes me to Fascist ideology. I'd like to believe Jonah Goldberg wasn't lying because Fascism is a set of attributes about movements and government and there are "red fascists" as Bernard Levi teaches. It's just that folks like Goldberg are rewriting history so they can obscure efforts to repeat the worst of it.
The Trouble with the definitions
The trouble with the Right Wing's definition of "liberty", "individual Freedom" and subsidiarity, is that for the Right Wing everything is qualified with the word right. "Liberty" is for the "Right People". "Individual Freedom" means that property owners and corporate Tyrants rule their employees. And Subsidiarity depends on your definition of "competent authority", since authoritarianism usually creates some kind of aristocracy and puts power in the hands of Authorities, who usually are your Socially Dominant types. It's not "all the people" but "the right people."
- Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed., A Primer of Italian Fascism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), pp. 3–6;
- My Hard copy is of this book:
- Charles F. Delzell, Mediterranean Fascism, 1919–1945 (New York: Harper and Row, 1970)
- Liberal Fascism [https://t.co/uWCgnyG6q3]
- I have a copy of this one too:
- Hannah Arendt: "The Origins of Totalitarianism"
- Related Pages
- Are you a Social Dominator?
- First wrote this on 3/20/2015, updated title to "Subsidiarity Versus Fascism" as I understand the concept better.