Aug 22, 2012
For many on the left, Paul Ryan is a menace, the very embodiment of cold, indifferent Republicanism, and for many on the right, he is a knight in shining armor, a God-fearing advocate of a principled conservatism.
Mitt Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate has already triggered the worst kind of exaggerated hoo-hah on both sides of the political debate. What is most interesting, from my perspective, is that Ryan, a devout Catholic, has claimed the social doctrine of the Church as the principal inspiration for his policies. Whether you stand with “First Things” and affirm that such a claim is coherent or with “Commonweal” and affirm that it is absurd, Ryan’s assertion prompts a healthy thinking-through of Catholic social teaching in the present economic and political context.
Ryan himself has correctly identified two principles as foundational for Catholic social thought, namely subsidiarity and solidarity. The first, implied throughout the whole of Catholic social theory but given clearest expression in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, is that in the adjudication of matters political and economic, a preferential option should be given to the more local level of authority.
For example, when seeking to solve a traffic-flow issue in a suburb, appeal should be made to the municipal authority and not to the governor, even less to the Congress or the President. Only when a satisfactory solution is not achieved by the local government should one move to the next highest level of authority, etc. This principle by no means calls into question the legitimacy of an over-arching federal power (something you sense in the more extreme advocates of the Tea Party), but it does indeed involve a prejudice in favor of the local.