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Politicians Ignore Subsidiarity At Their Own Risk

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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).

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 is he pro-life, but he is aggressively pursuing a set of policies grounded in the principle of subsidiarity.


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WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - 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 is he pro-life, but he is 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 workers' compensation claims and all pension, payroll, and benefit payment 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 com-munity 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, DC. 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."

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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 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 joining 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, proves 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.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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