Although never in a thousand years did I think I'd be glancing through Daniel Henninger's piece about President Obama's war of "rhetorical destruction" (what the heck did he say now? something worse than that comment to the Supreme Court?) and then suddenly see:
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he [Paul Ryan] said that in fact the Catholic Church's "social magisterium" had informed his House budget. One goal of that teaching, he said, is to prevent the poor from staying poor. Nor, he added, should individuals become lifelong dependents of their government.Now that's a little bit of info that made me sit up straight and cough on my coffee this morning. I suddenly started reading every word.
What Mr. Ryan actually said is worth quoting, because it should revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government:What kind of a crazy, mixed-up world is it when "Pope Leo XIII" and "Rerum Novarum" pops up in the editorial columns of the Wall Street Journal?
"A person's faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?
"To me, the principle of subsidiarity . . . meaning government closest to the people governs best . . . where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.
"Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto a life of independence."
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.
The first major use of subsidiarity as a basis for public policy was in Pope Leo XIII's famous 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (though the word itself doesn't appear). Leo was seeking a way to protect the dignity of human beings caught during those years in the tension between unfettered capitalism and unfettered government. "The State," he wrote, "must not absorb the individual or the family." Arguments over where the balance sits have raged since.
A really glorious world, I'd say.
Read it all.