Daily Archives: April 13, 2012

(Sort of) thrilled to see ‘subsidiarity’ mentioned

You sort of have to be a member, or former member, of The State‘s editorial board to get what this means to me, but I was excited to see that, in a column in yesterday’s WSJ, Daniel Henninger made repeated references to the concept of subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity is a concept I first ran across, and was intrigued by, in the communitarian classic The Good Society by Robert Bellah, et al.

In the years after I first read about it, I was enough of a bore about the concept in the editorial suite of The State that one April 1st, at the instigation of then-Publisher Ann Caulkins, my colleagues played a truly elaborate April Fool’s prank on me that was entirely based on some supposed new research debunking subsidiarity. It was probably the most esoteric, nerdy prank ever played on anyone in South Carolina history. The sort of thing the geeks on “The Big Bang” might play on each other, only with them it would be about physics instead of political philosophy — some knee-slapper having to do with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, perhaps.

The Bellah book, and other references I have seen since, defined the concept this way:

As you can see, the idea is sorta, kinda related to what conservatives in the early 90s used to call “devolution” — the concept of moving governmental functions down to lower, more local levels. And yes, subsidiarity generally demands that. But it can also work the other way when you consider the duty “of the larger unit being to support and assist the local body in carrying out its tasks.” Also, the smallest unit isn’t necessarily the best; you look for the smallest unit “at which decisions might reasonably be made.”

While I haven’t used the word much over the years, if you peruse my work, you’ll see the influence of the concept in, for instance, my constant battles with the Legislative State to let local governments make the decisions that are properly left to the governments closest to the people. (I know of no state in the union more reluctant to allow that than South Carolina.) You also see it in my occasional mentions that the federal government has no business trying to run public schools. But then you see it work the other way, too — I’ve realized that many of the poor, small districts in South Carolina are unable to govern themselves effectively, and have a need for the state to “support and assist” them (by, for starters, consolidating many of them).

Anyway, so I was at first pleased to see Henninger mention “subsidiarity” — not once, but three times! But as I read the way he and Paul Ryan defined it, I grew confused:

Subsidiarity—an awful but important word—attempts to discover where the limits lie in the demands a state can make on its people. Identifying that limit was at the center of the Supreme Court’s mandate arguments.

Huh? I hadn’t run across that before. It’s a concept I’ve certainly encountered thousands of times in the WSJ, but I’d never heard it called “subsidiarity.”

But he’s not completely out of line. Sure enough, the Wikipedia entry on the Catholic social teaching (forgive me for citing such a plebeian source, but I’m too tired on a Friday evening to go poring through papal encyclicals) does mention this:

The principle of subsidiarity was developed by German theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning.[2] His work influenced the social teaching of Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno and holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

Of course, it does so after citing the more general definition that I have always understood:

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority. [1] The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching.

So forgive me if I continue to believe that the concept is about the proper relationships between the biggest entity for making societal decisions (the federal government, the United Nations) and the smaller units (municipal government, neighborhood associations, the family — and taken to an extreme, the individual, although it seems to me that any concept of social structures sort of needs two or more to be present), and not yet another way of speaking of the monotonous, never-ending political battle between public and private, which is a different sort of dynamic altogether.

When, I wondered, did emphasis on the word’s meaning shift from the idea that things should be handled on the most local competent level, and become a servant of the libertarian concept of freeing the individual from the supposed “tyranny” of government, a mere matter of asserting the superiority of private over public?

Again, Wikipedia helps me out:

Subsidiarity is also a tenet of some forms of conservative or libertarian thought. For example, conservative author Reid Buckley writes:

Will the American people never learn that, as a principle, to expect swift response and efficiency from government is fatuous? 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? Moreover, the more powers that are invested in government, and the more powers that are wielded by government, the less well does government discharge its primary responsibilities, which are (1) defense of the commonwealth, (2) protection of the rights of citizens, and (3) support of just order.[2]

Aha! Suddenly, I realize that the editorial board of The State was not the only entity in South Carolina given to pulling pranks regarding the concept of subsidiarity. Reid Buckley runs The Buckley School of Public Speaking right up the road in Camden.

So…  I see the libertarian ideologues have gone to messing with my pet concept, emphasizing one small consideration at the expense of the larger, more constructive idea, in their never-ending battle against the notion that we might ever dare to work together as a society to address concerns that are legitimately public.

Oh, well. At least I got to read the word in a general-circulation newspaper.

Men can always be more obtuse than women can be clever, so don’t mess with us

One of my Facebook friends of the female persuasion posted the above notice today.


I responded:

OK. What’s a recipe book? And where do we keep it? Since my dinner’s in it, will I be able to find it by smell?

Ladies, never, ever think that you can manipulate us by being clever. Our sheer, unforced obtuseness, combined with the fact that evolution has developed helplessness in us to a stage you can’t even begin to fathom, will always defeat you.

Memo to Harvey Peeler and Senate Republicans: ‘Conservative’ means you SUPPORT status quo

This artwork came with the release.

This release from Wesley and the Senate Republicans is intriguing on a couple of levels:

From today’s Associated Press:
State treasurer, House speaker oppose restructuring bill

There have been some unfortunate developments with the Senate’s bill eliminating the Budget and Control Board, with “The state treasurer and House speaker opposing the Senate’s version of a bill restructuring state government.”

“Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler shot back that the Senate’s version is more conservative than what the House passed last year. He accused the two of supporting the status quo.”

If you support conservative governance, and real restructuring, NOW is the time to stand up to the failed status quo.

Contact the Speaker’s Office and the Treasurer’s Office TODAY, and tell them to support the Senate version of the Department of Administration bill, and to support elimination of the Budget and Control Board.

First, you have the Senate Republicans attacking the Republican House and Republican Treasurer. In a nostalgic sense that’s not weird, because historically the biggest, nastiest split in SC was not between Democrats and Republicans, but between Senate and House. But that was when senators identified themselves primarily as senators, and not as R and D. Now that they think of themselves as Republican senators first and foremost (and this is being sent by the “South Carolina Senate GOP”), it comes across as odd.

Then, there are the really strange words that Harvey chooses to express his disagreement with the House and Loftis: “Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler shot back that the Senate’s version is more conservative than what the House passed last year. He accused the two of supporting the status quo.”

Senator, to the extent that language has meaning, if you are “more conservative” than someone else, that means that you support the status quo more than the other person does. By definition. Go look it up. OK, I’ll save you the trouble. When I Google the word “conservative,” the first dictionary definition that comes up is the one at Dictionary.com, and the first sense of the word is: “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.”

(I would quibble a bit with that definition. If you want “to restore traditional ones,” you are “reactionary.” But the rest is fine.)

The videos we did for the Coble campaign

Here are the three videos ADCO created for the Daniel Coble runoff campaign. I like the way they came out.

I think you’ll find they’re a little different from what you usually see from a political campaign.

There are no “gotchas” here. We haven’t edited the truth to try to embarrass the opponent or make him look bad. Our purpose was more journalistic, to provide the voter with information they weren’t getting from news media, to help them make up their minds. Yes, we thought Daniel looked a little better than Moe in these clips. But the clips weren’t just chosen on that basis — in fact, we thought Daniel came across better throughout the debate, although Moe handled himself well, too. They were chosen because they struck a nice balance between complete answers, more than you’d get on TV news, without being so lengthy that the viewer wouldn’t lose interest and go away. (For instance, there were some really pertinent passages when the candidates discussed an important issue at some length — such as when Coble explained his position on water and sewer funds being used in the general fund, and did a good job with it — but we felt they were too long for this purpose.)

At the end of this forum, before the Melrose Neighborhood Association on Monday night, Moe Baddourah thanked the group and praised the format. He liked it because he wasn’t limited to 30-second answers as in some such gatherings. I think he was right, and you should be able to see some of what he liked about the format in these clips, even though we didn’t use some of the longer answers.

Each of the answers you see is mostly complete and unedited. I say “mostly” because in several cases, we trimmed the beginning of an answer and started the clip at the point when the candidate settled down to really answering the question — to the extent that he actually did answer it, which didn’t always happen.

You might watch these and decide you prefer Moe to Daniel, although I think most people will not. In any case, you can get a pretty good sense from watching them which of them approaches issues, and public service, in the way that you would prefer an elected representative to do.

I could elaborate here on the three clips and why we chose them, but I’d rather that those of you who are interested (particularly those who live in Columbia’s third district) would look at them with a fresh eye first, and after I see your reaction, I’ll elaborate.