This post's title is taken from the 1973 book of the same name authored by the late E. F. Schumacher. A collection of essays, the book was rated as one of the 100 most influential books published since World War II by The Times Literary Supplement of the eponymous British newspaper. Now that we are in the second half of the second decade of the twenty first century of what is now called the "common era", the book's influence has waned to the point that few people not already adults at the turn of the century remember the book, fewer still have read it, but reading is no longer as common a practice as it once was: a pity, that.
The Principle of Subsidiarity in its origins is political, but by extension can be applied in practically any situation: economic, social, technological and so on. The Principle of Subsidiarity in its origins is also Roman Catholic, a fact that diminishes its relevance in the eyes of many in what is now a very secular age. This is unfortunate and foolish prejudice, an intellectual intolerance that ill befits anyone who claims to be "inclusive" and more often than not shouts it from the housetops. It's sadly amusing to note that the chapter "Buddhist Economics" in Schumacher's book was originally to be titled "Catholic Economics", but the publisher insisted that it be changed, according to Schumacher.
Believers in collectivist, large-scale government—the "nanny State"—are particularly averse to Catholic Social Teaching and therefore attempt to limit its reach in the secular world, an effort that has been quite successful if the scarcity of material on subsidiarity is any indication.
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (⁋ 1885) has to say on collectivism: "The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order" (emphasis mine).
Subsidiarity, however, need not be synonymous with Catholicism, though Catholicism continues to emphasize it. In the papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI had this to say: "Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state."
Sounds good, doesn't it?
The Institute is designed to explore how the Subsidiarity Principle can be applied in a variety of secular contexts without introducing any implicitly partisan form of morality, religious or otherwise, beyond the most generally accepted. No social minority is to be favored over any other or over the majority on any given issue. We carry our own water around here and folks that do so are usually quite tolerant of others as long as the tolerance is reciprocal.
Sow the seed, tend the shoots, care for the plant and eventually reap the harvest.
All beauty begins with the small.