Social Principles

What are principles?
A principle is a beginning (principium); Principles are not meant to end discussions but to begin them. Like compasses, they don’t provide for the precise path, but for the general direction.
Social principles are not absolute duties, but… “fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating” (CSDC 161)

  1. Principle of Association (We need to come together)
    The full realization of our dignity only happens when we are in community. In other words, we are not meant to be alone; God wants us to be in communion with each other. The most basic expression of this communion is the family. Others include our local communities and associations of people with common interests. These groupings are a way for us to grow in our relationship with God and contribute to the larger community. It is impossible to promote the dignity of the human person without also respecting these natural networks of relationships that people form.
  2. Principle of Subsidiarity (Our communities should be helped to flourish)
    Respecting the natural associations of people means supporting their growth and development. The word ‘subsidiarity’ comes from ‘subsidium’ which means ‘to help’. These natural groupings should be helped to flourish and not be disempowered by having a higher-level body take over what these groups can do for themselves.
  3. Principle of Participation (We must make a difference)
    In line with our dignity, each of us has a right to have a say and take action in what determines our future, whether as individuals or in groups. This applies to all realms of life – economic, social, political, faith and culture. In fact, participation is not just a right, but a responsibility as well.
  4. Principle of Solidarity (We’re in this together!)
    The Church teaches us to be one heart with others, especially the suffering. In contrast, humankind has set up many boundaries within itself – the have and have nots, the local and foreigners, ‘us’ and ‘them’ etc. Solidarity means “whatever happens to others happens to me” – in a figurative sense – even if it is happening miles away! Hence, we work towards the well-being of others as our joint responsibility.

Looking around us

Have we heard of stories or situations where certain groups of persons are discriminated in society? Persons living with mental disabilities, persons living with AIDS, the poor and elderly etc are often seen to be persons who have no right or say in how they can contribute to their own well-being or to society. Why is this so?

Very often, it is the persons with wealth, status and high educational standards that have the support, the influence and the opportunities to make the decisions. They seem to be given the liberty to decide for the others – especially the less educated, the less abled and poorer persons. ‘They know best what to do!’ – is something we hear a lot in such situations.

Do we see such situations happening around us or in our lives? Are we the ones with the mentality that we are better situated to participate in society and to make the decisions for others? What does ‘our brothers and sisters’ mean to us?

Let us reflect
From Scripture…

  • Matthew 20: 25-28 Leadership with service
  • 1 John 3:16-18 Love for each other

From our social teachings… (CSDC)
186.The necessity of defending and promoting the original expressions of social life is emphasized by the Church in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, in which the principle of subsidiarity is indicated as a most important principle of “social philosophy”. “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them”[399].

On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help (“subsidium”) — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place.

Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.

189. The characteristic implication of subsidiarity is participation[402], which is expressed essentially in a series of activities by means of which the citizen, either as an individual or in association with others, whether directly or through representation, contributes to the cultural, economic, political and social life of the civil community to which he belongs[403]. Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good[404].

This cannot be confined or restricted to only a certain area of social life, given its importance for growth — above all human growth — in areas such as the world of work and economic activity, especially in their internal dynamics[405]; in the sectors of information and culture; and, more than anything else, in the fields of social and political life even at the highest levels. The cooperation of all peoples and the building of an international community in a framework of solidarity depends on this latter area[406]. In this perspective it becomes absolutely necessary to encourage participation above all of the most disadvantaged, as well as the occasional rotation of political leaders in order to forestall the establishment of hidden privileges. Moreover, strong moral pressure is needed, so that the administration of public life will be the result of the shared responsibility of each individual with regard to the common good.

193.The new relationships of interdependence between individuals and peoples, which are de facto forms of solidarity, have to be transformed into relationships tending towards genuine ethical-social solidarity. This is a moral requirement inherent within all human relationships. Solidarity is seen therefore under two complementary aspects: that of a social principle[ 415] and that of a moral virtue[416].

Solidarity must be seen above all in its value as a moral virtue that determines the order of institutions. On the basis of this principle the “structures of sin”[417] that dominate relationships between individuals and peoples must be overcome. They must be purified and transformed into structures of solidarity through the creation or appropriate modification of laws, market regulations, and juridical systems.

Solidarity is also an authentic moral virtue, not a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”[418]. Solidarity rises to the rank of fundamental social virtue since it places itself in the sphere of justice. It is a virtue directed par excellence to the common good, and is found in “a commitment to the good of one’s neighbour with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself’ for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to ‘serve him’ instead of oppressing him for one’s own advantage (cf. Mt 10:40-42, 20:25; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27)”[419].

Let us take some time to reflect on what our faith is saying in relation to the above-mentioned issue.

Suggestions for action:
How can we understand and apply the above teaching of our faith in our lives – how have my attitudes and actions empowered others around me?
Do I take seriously my responsibility to ensure that just measures and the rights of persons in need are realized?

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