With subsidiarity as a guiding principle, families and businesses are free to develop their skills and responsibilities.

Subsidiarity is not a new idea: it has roots in Acts 2 when communities of believers supported themselves through prayer and the voluntary exchange and sharing of goods and services. 

Popes, philosophers, and Church leaders have elucidated and encouraged subsidiarity as a way of life among people of goodwill.

Below we present several quotes and further reading on subsidiarity. We also list notable secular and Catholic online resources that provide information on these and other topics.


"The primary norm for determining the scope and limits of governmental intervention is the "principle of subsidiarity" This principle states that, in order to protect basic justice, government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacities of individuals or private groups acting independently. Government should not replace or destroy smaller communities and individual initiative. Rather it should help them contribute more effectively to social well-being and supplement their activity when the demands of justice exceed their capacities. These does not mean, however, that the government that governs least, governs best. Rather it defines good government intervention as that which truly "helps" other social groups contribute to the common good by directing, urging, restraining, and regulating economic activity as 'the occasion requires and necessity demand.' -- United States Council of Catholic Bishops Economic Justice for All, #124


"He that hath a talent, let him see that he hide it not; he that hath abundance, let him quicken himself to mercy and generosity; he that hath art and skill, let him do his best to share the use and the utility hereof with his neighbor."-- Pope Leo XIII quoting Pope Gregory I in Rerum Novarum #22


"Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them. -- Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931, #79


“A community of a higher order should not interfere with the life of a community of a lower order, taking over its functions.” In case of need it should, rather, support the smaller community and help to coordinate its activity with activities in the rest of society for the sake of the common good." --Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1991, #48. See Vatican translation here.


"Socialism [besides Capitalism] also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community 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." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church #1883


"If you wanna change the world you’ve got to do it within your own ambit. Within your own circle of love. Anything grander--more far-reaching--and you’re dealing with people not as flesh and blood but as constituents, as soldiers, as numbers. You wind up shipping them off to war or herding them into public housing projects—always for their own good, of course. This doesn’t mean shun politics. It does mean, from my angle of vision, that the only meliorative political acts are those which decentralize, which devolve power to the most local levels: to the small community, to the family, to the individual. To the human scale--the only scale that can measure a person’s worth." -- Attributed to Bill Kaufman, "Love is the Answer to Empire," The American Conservative


Alexis de Tocqueville's classic study, Democracy in America, may be viewed as an examination of the operation of the principle of subsidiarity in early 19th century America. DeTocqueville noted that the French Revolution began with "a push towards decentralization... in the end, an extension of centralization." He wrote that "decentralization has, not only an administrative value, but also a civic dimension, since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will."


James Madison in Federalist #10 writes that “if a city grows too large for genuine affection to exist between leaders and citizens, that vacuum in familiarity is going to occupied by powerful players who can command sufficient factional support to be able to ostracize those small groups who don't agree with them.”


“Will we never heed the principle of subsidiarity (in which our fathers were bred), namely that no public agency should do what a private agency can do better, and that no higher-level public agency should attempt to do what a lower-level agency can do better –that to the degree the principle of subsidiarity is violated, first local government, the state government, and then federal government wax in inefficiency?”  -- Reid Buckley


“We are, today, subjects of an empire, not citizens of a republic. The idea of ‘citizenship’ has been diluted from one of membership in an organic body in which each person matters, takes part in civic affairs, to the current condition, in which you are a cog in a machine, just another brick in the wall. The role of an American citizen, as viewed by our rulers in Washington, D.C., is to pay your taxes, cast a meaningless vote every four years, and shut the hell up. You have almost—almost—no say in U.S. foreign policy. As Dick Cheney once replied when told that the vast majority of Americans wanted our soldiers home from Iraq: 'So?'"              --Bill Kaufman, "Love Is the Answer to Empire," The American Conservative


The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions. --Catechism of the Catholic Church, #236






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