There’s a lot being written about Paul Ryan’s devotion to Catholicism, especially his claim that Catholic principles have been formative in developing his economic and social views. In particular, his interview with David Brody this past April has Ryan himself attempting to articulate his understanding of what both subsidiarity and solidarity mean. Unfortunately, he seems to have read only half the story of Catholic social teaching. Saving Subsidiarity (by Vincent J Miller in the Jesuit weekly America) fills in the huge gaps in Ryan’s intellectually and theologically incomplete understanding. In part, Miller writes:
Critics of the Ryan budget have argued that solidarity—the virtue that impels us to active concern for the needs of others—must be used to balance subsidiarity. While this argument is true, it gives too much away, for subsidiarity is an application of solidarity, not its opposite. Subsidiarity is not a principle of small government. It is a two-edged sword. Subsidiarity warns against the overbearing action of any large social actors and also demands that they render assistance, subsidium, when problems are too large to be handled by smaller, local actors.
Subsidiarity envisions not a small government, but a strong, limited one that encourages intermediate bodies and organizations (families, community groups, unions, businesses) to contribute to the common good. It envisions a strong government that protects individuals and small intermediate bodies from the actions of large organizations—not just the state but corporations as well.
What does it all mean and how might a world-according-to-Ryan affect us? Here’s how Miller, professor of Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, describes it:
If the Ryan budget passes, when age and illness push our premiums beyond what our vouchers can cover, no “death panel” will ordain our exit. We will be left to exercise all the freedom our poverty can buy.