Last month a reader’s letter to the editor characterized me as “parochial” because I oppose legislation that would empower federal or state bureaucrats to override local zoning laws.
The reader is correct, I am “parochial.” But I do not consider it a pejorative label.
I am parochial because I agree with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s observation that the theory “you can run the Nation from Washington … at least … with respect to the kind of social change liberals generally seek to bring about” which pertains to “social attitudes” is “false.”
I subscribe, as Moynihan did, to the social concept known as “subsidiarity” which champions parochialism.
The principle of subsidiarity affirms that decisions are most appropriately made by municipal and social entities closest to the relevant issue and by the next highest entity when decisions and actions are beyond the scope of those at a lower level.
Hence, the national government is the proper agency to wage war; the family is the proper agency to raise children.
People depend on one another: first upon their parents and then upon friends, neighbors, teachers, employees, etc. Individuals and families naturally broaden their associations to meet their needs in “subsidiarity.”
According to the noted sociologist Andrew Greeley, subsidiarity means “no bigger than necessary” and by structuring life according to this principle, “one can protect, promote and defend the freedom, the dignity, the authenticity of the individual human person.”
Incidentally, subsidiarity is the foundation of Catholic social thought.
In his 1930 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (The Social Order), Pope Pius XI defined subsidiarity as “the fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry.”
Pope John XXIII re-enforced his concept in Mater et Magistra (1961):
“The state should leave to these smaller groups the settlement of business of minor importance. It will carry out with greater freedom, power, and success the tasks belonging to it, because it alone can effectively accomplish these, directing, watching, stimulating and restraining, as circumstances suggest or necessity demands. Let those in power, therefore be convinced that the more faithfully this principle be followed, and a graded hierarchical order exists between the various subsidiary organizations, the more excellent will be both the authority and the efficiency of the social organization as a whole and the happier and more prosperous the condition of the state.”
Moynihan agreed with this papal teaching, as I do, because he realized that subsidiarity “occupied a middle ground between the radical individualism that grew from classical liberalism and the statism that evolved from both continental socialism and conservative absolutists.”
In fact, in a speech Moynihan delivered at a conference in 1975, he chastised progressives for rejecting papal teachings on subsidiarity:
“Now a century earlier—just to keep matters complicated—such papal doctrine would have been seen as the embodiment of liberal principle! But by 1963 this was no longer so. To the contrary, American liberalism was at the very moment about to enter a period of unprecedented attachment to whatever it is that is the opposite of the principle of subsidiarity. The state was encouraged to take over more and more individual functions, and the highest levels of the state were encouraged to take over more and more of the functions of the “lesser and subordinate levels.””
Like Moynihan, I do not believe federal or state governments should micromanage local issues by overriding or stripping supervisory powers of local magistrates.
Hence, consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, I oppose state regulation of local zoning laws.
But, on the other hand, I oppose Garden City magistrates holding up LIRR Third Track project work permits for the replacement of the Denton Avenue Bridge.
The project is beyond the purview and competence of Garden City officials. Because the project benefits commuters throughout Long Island, decision making rightfully belongs in the hands of a higher government entity, the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
If my positions on these issues are “parochial,” so be it. I wear the label with pride.