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Fr Dwight Longenecker: Ryan's Catholic Financial Principles
By Fr Dwight Longenecker
August 14th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
I am no economist and I have little patience with politics, but I do understand that my Catholic faith is opposed to both socialism and unrestrained capitalism. It is opposed to both because it is in favor of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.
GREENVILLE,SC (Catholic Online) - I am no economist and I have little patience with politics, but I do understand that my Catholic faith is opposed to both socialism and unrestrained capitalism. It is opposed to both because it is in favor of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. These principles are easily understood as the proper need for community and government being balanced by being "in favor of the little guy and the homegrown solution". The Catholic faith is therefore in favor of community, but sees community as founded on personal freedom and personal responsibility. Therefore we distrust both big government and big business.
Catholic social teaching is a largely undiscovered treasure. It provides a sensible way of balance in fiercely partisan politics. A Catholic politician should work according to the principles of this social teaching. To do so is not to bring religion into politics, but to allow his beliefs to influence his decisions. We would expect this to be the case for any politician-that his personal ideals and beliefs should positively motivate his political decisions. In a speech at Georgetown, Ryan has said,
"The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it," Ryan said. "What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding of the problems of the day." This article explains how Paul Ryan's economic plans echo the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. What interests me most is why the principle of subsidiarity is a Catholic principle. It is Catholic because it is an outgrowth of the Catholic understanding of individual responsibility and freedom. These personal, social and political principles: (freedom and responsibility) are a direct outgrowth of Catholic theology and anthropology.
We believe that each human person is created in God's image and are therefore created with free will. They have power to act. They are able not only to make choices, but to follow through and take action. This personal freedom is one of humanity's greatest potentialities and strengths. Linked with personal freedom is personal responsibility. If I would have freedom I must exercise that freedom responsibly. I must be aware of the consequences of my decisions and actions. I must weight up the possible rewards and punishments that flow naturally from the exercise of my free will. I must weigh up how my decisions and actions influence other people and society in general.
The principle of freedom and responsibility are woven into the fabric of what it means to be human. Big Government and Big Business too often sap the individual of both freedom and responsibility. A big welfare state supports the individual-sapping him of personal freedom by making him reliant on a handout. As his personal freedom is drained, so is his need for personal responsibility. The entitlement culture prevails, and poverty is exacerbated rather than cured.
Similarly, big business too often saps personal freedom. As welfare recipients become dependent on big government, so the employee can become dependent on the employer to provide everything for him and the more he becomes dependent the more his own freedom is sapped, and as his freedom is drained, so his need to take responsibility for himself is drained. Big business can force financial decisions (lower wages-higher prices) which negatively impact the individual and therefore deprive him of freedom and responsibility.
The principle of subsidiarity moves us always (whether in government or business) to look for the small, local solution to the problem. Allow health care and insurance to be provided at the state or even the local level. Expect businesses to devolve decision making and responsibility to the lowest level possible. If we did this we would not only have cheaper solutions, but we would have a built in system of check and balances. It is much more difficult for graft, corruption and insider trading to go on at a local level than at a huge corporate or governmental level. It is much easier to encourage entrepreneurship, customer service and hard work when business is done at a local level.
The beauty of subsidiarity (as with every Catholic solution) is that it totally steers around the conventional models of 'left wing' or 'right wing' with their built in conflict laden Hegelian mentality of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. The idea that small is beautiful and the solution is local should play well with both Republicans and Democrats-left wing and right wing. The 'power to the people' folks on the left should be pleased because subsidiarity really does demand that power is devolved to the people, while the "less government is more" people on the right wing should also be happy. Those who want to help the poor and achieve justice can see real results when they work on the local level. Those who want to encourage free enterprise, initiative and reward hard work will find it easier to do on the local level.
This is a principle that both Democrats and Republicans should embrace, and Catholics should use principles like this as a way to test whether the person they want to vote for is standing for the best principles for the common good.
The principle of subsidiarity is balanced in Catholic social thought by the principle of "solidarity". Solidarity recognizes that there is a proper need for the appropriate level of social organization and government. Not everything should be handed down to the lowest possible level. We need good government to make the right decisions for the common good. We live together in families, in communities, in parishes, in schools and in cities, states and countries. Therefore these organizations also need to be structured and empowered at a proper level. Subsidiarity calls for power to be handed down to the lowest level while Solidarity recognizes that some power needs to be held at a higher level-but for the good and at the service of the lower level.
The principle of solidarity is also rooted in Catholic theology. God may have created individuals, but he also put them into social groups. From the beginning God made man and woman and told them to multiply. Therefore God made the family as part of the natural order. The family is therefore the basic structure within Catholic social teaching. The family is the first location of the principle of solidarity, and other organizations build from that and are there to serve the family. So the school, the local community, the church and the government are extended families and the they exist to nurture the individual family and the whole human family.
The Church itself is understood as the family of God and exists at a domestic, local, national and global level. As a family we have a responsibility for one another. We care for the needy, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and suffering as we would with any family member, and to whom much is given much is required. Therefore, within the church we have enshrined the idea of what might be called 'a hierarchy of service' or to use an older term noblesse oblige-the idea that the higher the individual in the power and wealth stakes, the more he is obliged to serve those below.
Economics and politics that are enlightened by these balanced principles of subsidiarity and solidarity should produce intelligent, humane, compassionate and realistic solutions to the problems our nation and world face.
Let's hope Ryan represents a new generation of politicians on both sides of the divide who will think these things through and come up with a positive new approach for politics.
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