Integral Subsidiarity and Economy of Communion: Two Challenges from Caritas in Veritate
Guitian, Gregorio, Journal of Markets & Morality
In June 2009, Benedict XVI signed his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), (1) dedicated to integral human development in the context of globalization. Since then, many commentaries have been published on various aspects of this encyclical. (2) Among the challenges proposed to the world of economics by the encyclical, the perspective offered by the renewed explanation of the subsidiarity principle has not received much attention. This principle, just as it is addressed in the pontifical document, is connected to important issues that are conveniently highlighted: the logic of giving and gratuity, the call to concern for the common good, and even the promoting of a different way of doing business that already exists in the present time.
Indeed, the renewed explanation of subsidiarity is connected to the reference that the encyclical makes to the experience of the economy of communion. This business model exemplifies how it is possible to apply the logic of giving, subsidiarity, and the concern for the common good to the business world.
In this article, we shall first present the understanding of subsidiarity in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (hereafter CV), which can guide both the plans of development aid as well as corporate social responsibility in business. To that end, we shall first briefly look back at some fundamental theological ideas to understand the principle just as it is presented in CV. Second, we shall explain the reference that CV makes to businesses of the economy of communion, as a practical example of the exercise of business activity framed in Christian values, among them subsidiarity.
The Subsidiarity Principle
Subsidiarity is probably the most famous of the principles of the social doctrine of the Church (henceforth SDC). This is so for several reasons, among which is its adoption by the European Union (then the European Community) as a general clause of the important Maastricht Treaty (1992). When it came time to design the relationship among the member countries and the government of the European Union, the subsidiarity principle was considered a means to regulate the division of competences between each member and the Union.
This vision was influenced by the first formulation of the subsidiarity principle back in 1931. Pope Pius XI then tried to defend the freedom of the people and of intermediate groups in a context clearly framed by interventionism by totalitarian states. On that occasion, he formulated subsidiarity as a "fixed and unshaken" principle in these terms:
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. (3)
Years later, in 1991, John Paul II simplified that formulation in the encyclical Centesimus Annus, concerning democracy and capitalism: "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 coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good." (4)
This is how this principle is commonly known in the economic world. However, subsidiarity has a richer theological background that can only be captured using a collective vision of the related SDC. Naturally, it is not possible for us to look at this point now. However, to understand the meaning of the contribution of CV when it proposes subsidiarity in the context of the economic development of countries, it is sufficient to succinctly highlight some ideas of the theological substrate of this principle. …