The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.
-Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, (no. 58)
When the term “subsidiarity” is being thrown around by free market ideologues to give their ideas the veneer of Catholic social teaching, it is wise to reexamine the term and the way it is used by the Church. Stephen Schenk of Catholic University does so beautifully:
“Subsidiarity refers to the appropriate balancing of responsibilities and functions among the parts of a social order. It has its origin in the Catholic understanding of community, which perceives a community not as so many individuals connected by contracts, but as a corporate whole—a moral and cultural body that, like any body, is comprised of limbs and parts the differences of which contribute to the good of the whole. The ethic that pertains to the unity of the body is called solidarity. The ethic that pertains to the role of the parts is subsidiarity. And the good of the whole by which solidarity and subsidiarity are measured is called the common good.
In the complete sense, this understanding is referred to as the Mystical Body of Christ. Romans 12:4-5 puts it this way. “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” But, Catholic teachings encourage us to promote such an understanding in all human associations. Hence, the Church argues that subsidiarity (like solidarity and common good) is an ethic to apply even to political governance.”
Read the rest of his fine article here.