Subsidiarity in the Tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine

  • Patrick McKinley BrennanEmail author
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 37)


The violent efforts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century revolutionaries to dissolve the social order led the Catholic Church to discern and articulate the principle of subsidiarity. In Catholic social doctrine, social justice is the demand that the common good be realised through societies, institutions, and groups. Derivative of social justice is the principle of subsidiarity or subsidiarity function, which has two aspects. Negatively, it is a principle of non-absorption of lower societies by higher societies, above all by the state. Positively, subsidiarity demands that when aid is given to a particular society, it be for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening that society. Societies are opportunities for activities by which rational agents achieve perfections proper to their nature, specifically by causing good in others through solidarity. The activities of the heterogeneous and pluriform whole that is the commonwealth must be harmonized with regard to the common good. In Catholic social doctrine, subsidiarity is not a principle of devolution or smallness of scale.


Subsidiarity Catholic church Social justice Social doctrine Social order Common good Pius IX Leo XIII Benedict XVI Quadragesimo Anno Rerum Novarum 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA

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