Subsidiarity and the role of government

The state is an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights and develop the common good. Subsidiarity says that these government functions must be performed at the lowest level possible. Higher levels of government must intervene only when a function cannot be adequately performed at a lower level.

Subsidiarity and the role of government

It must be clearly laid down that the principal function of public authorities is to recognize, respect, co-ordinate, safeguard and promote citizens’ rights and duties.

The principle of subsidiarity, which was developed as part of Catholic Social Teaching, states: What individuals can accomplish by their own initiative and efforts should not be taken from them by a higher authority. A greater and higher social institution must not take over the duties of subordinate organizations and deprive it of its competence. Its purpose, rather, is to intervene in a subsidiary fashion (thus offering help) when individuals or smaller institutions find that a task is beyond them.

Example in action:

This principle goes hand-in-hand with participation, the principle that all peoples have a right to participate in the economic, political and cultural life of society, and in decisions that affect their communities.

Rather than sending “development experts” or Canadian volunteers to run projects in the Global South, Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada supports local grassroots organizations. These partners work to promote alternatives to unjust systems and find solutions that benefit whole communities. Recognizing the expertise of local people in matters that affect them, our partnership model empowers local people to be the agents of their own development, on their terms.

We also encourage international cooperation and responsible governance. Too often, governments act in self-interest or in the interests of corporations and powerful people, instead of acting the interest of local communities. This can allow conflicts to fester internally or with other states. Subsidiarity affirms the state’s role of empowering just institutions and communities; respond to people’s needs and aspirations; and collaborating with other states to build a more equitable world.



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