Subsidiarity & the Role of Government

The state is an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and develop the common good. Subsidiarity holds that such functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. When they cannot, higher levels of government must intervene. This principle goes hand-in-hand with Participation, the principle that all peoples have a right to participate in the economic, political and cultural life of society, and in the decisions that affect their community.


It is clearly laid down that the paramount task assigned to government officials is that of recognizing, respecting, reconciling, protecting and promoting the rights and duties of citizens.
- Saint John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 77

The principle of subsidiarity, which was developed as part of Catholic Social Teaching, states: What individuals can accomplish by their own initiative and efforts should not be taken from them by a higher authority. A greater and higher social institution must not take over the duties of subordinate organizations and deprive it of its competence. Its purpose, rather, is to intervene in a subsidiary fashion (thus offering help) when individuals or smaller institutions find that a task is beyond them.
- YOUCAT 323

Example in action:

Rather than sending ‘development experts’ to manage projects in the Global South, or sending Canadian volunteers to work on projects overseas, Development and Peace supports local grassroots organizations. These are our ‘partners,’ and their work is to promote alternatives to unjust systems and find solutions that will allow for the growth of the whole community. Recognizing the expertise of locals in matters that affect their communities, Development and Peace supports their being agents of their own development. This affirms the dignity and capacity of all persons.

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