The Lure of Subsidiarity
Hadley Arkes today directs our attention specifically to the need to make public moral arguments, with no apologies. Prof. Arkes argues that, in our time, the Catholic concept of subsidiarity is not necessarily a protection against tyranny.
The Catholic Thing
Call it the operating code or style of conservative jurists and lawyers as they faced the aggressive moral challenges that have marked the “culture wars” since 1965: Try to find some procedures that seem “fair” to people on all sides, arrangements we can agree on, and try then to avoid the substance of those vexing moral questions.
Abortion? We’ll seek to return the matter to the States, and live with some liberal States accepting abortion on demand. Let’s not claim that anything in the principles of the Constitution could possibly challenge the grounds on which a legislature could withdraw protections of the law from those small human “persons” in wombs.
Marriage? Let’s say that the Constitution says nothing about “marriage,” and so no need to stage an argument for the union of one man and one woman as the most defensible form of marriage. Let’s simply return that matter to the political arena, but without the guidance of suggesting the moral case for marriage as we’ve known it.
But now we have same-sex marriage installed by the Supreme Court? Let’s not move to have Congress flex its powers as it has in the past to counter decisions of the Court. Let’s leave the substance of that decision uncontested, and try at least to gain some “religious” exemption for ordinary folks, bakers and florists, who don’t wish to become accomplices in something they find objectionable.
But some of our people quarrel over what constitutes a “religion,” and even that effort is stalled now in Congress. Meanwhile, the other side holds the moral ground: They claim for themselves the mantle of the “just” and they see others merely quibbling for exemptions for themselves that cannot be shared with others who are not religious.