Undue interference of the powerful over the less powerful and the weak often happens in social life. The top CEO in a corporation, for instance, sometimes interfere in hiring new employees or in any minor policies ignoring the people in-charge, or a school administrator, bypassing the teacher, decides to retain a student despite serious violation of school rules, or the President of the country unreasonably interferes in a government bureau to facilitate the business transaction of a relative, or a U.S. president calls up a president of a poor country and forces him/her to pass a legislation that serves American interests, are only few of the instances where the powerful abuse their power to the detriment of the social welfare of the weak and powerless.
The attainment of the common good does not only require commitment to solidarity but also to the moral principle of subsidiarity. This principle is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII (CSDC 185).
For the Church, subsidiarity is a mode of governance which protect people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfill their duties (CSDC # 187). The CST understands it as respecting the hierarchy of authorities and capabilities of various communities within a given social system: “[A] community of a higher order 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 needs and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CA, n.48; cf. QA, nn.184-186).
Subsidiarity also opposes certain forms of centralization and bureaucratization in running a country or organization by top officials which stifle or ignore the freedom and creativity of people of lower social rank. Top-down management models–whether in an organizational or national level– which promote centralization of power at the top hierarchy and discourage democratic participation of lower levels in decision-making can jeopardize the social doctrine of subsidiarity.
The system of checks and balances can be weakened and the concentration of power at the top can lead to abuse and disregard of the common good. For instance, in one Catholic university managed by religious sisters, only the President and the Vice-President for Academic Affairs seem to run the school. Without genuine consultation and participation of employees and faculty, they create and impose new policies which are, at times, impractical and unreasonable. And since the management structure is too centralized, genuine participation of those in the lower levels–faculty, staff and students–is often neglected. Legally speaking, one can argue that the school administration has management prerogative. But in moral terms, one can argue if this is too much concentration of power is done to suit personal interest or protect favorite groups or individuals, then this centralization runs contrary to subsidiarity.
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