Document Type




Part of the confusion over subsidiarity—but also, perhaps, an aspect of the principle’s richness—is its combination, then, of both “libertarian” and “communitarian” elements. Progress in our understanding and application of subsidiarity will require a careful assessment of these considerations and determining when intervention or assistance [subsidium] from a higher authority is needed and when devolution of responsibility is warranted. More precisely, we will need to determine when authority is properly located at a higher level and when authority is properly recognized in the smaller community. This conclusion, in turn, will require a discussion of subsidiarity’s political theoretical and “anthropological” dimensions, that is, its grounding in a conception of the person in society. Rather than as a principle only of economic efficiency or limited government, subsidiarity is best viewed as an aspect of Catholic social thought’s emphasis on the human person adequately understood. Subsidiarity, I aim to show, cannot be properly understood apart from an adequate appreciation of the Catholic theory of political authority, of the state, and of associational life.