By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
Subsidiarity, by Peter J. Floriani, Penn Street Productions, Reading, PA, 2012. The book can be ordered online at Amazon.com.
I had a colleague during my years teaching in a high school in a suburb of New York City who was your typical angry fallen-away Catholic. He wanted nothing to do with the Church, the Pope, the hierarchy, his local parish, or Catholic dogma and doctrine. Except for one thing: He thought “subsidiarity” was flawless thinking, the application of common sense to how we organize our government and the economy.
Readers of The Wanderer will be familiar with Pius XI’s articulation of the principle in the 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: “It is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.”
You can see why my former colleague was impressed. Why have the federal government handle a societal responsibility that can be performed by a state government? Why let a state government have responsibility over an activity that can be handled by a town government? Why involve the government at all in providing for a societal need if private charities and organizations are capable of dealing with the task at hand? Having the responsibility handled by “smaller and lower bodies” keeps things less expensive and give us more control over the process.
What’s not to like?
What Peter Floriani seeks to do with his book Subsidiarity is demonstrate the wisdom of subsidiarity by illustrating how he applied it to his company, which put together a software package and the necessary hardware to carry cable television commercials to some 80 remote television stations around the country. His software was designed to “insert” the correct commercial at each station at exactly the correct time.
It is a process that has always intrigued me. I’ll be watching a cable program and suddenly a commercial for a local car dealer or restaurant will pop up on my screen. I know that particular commercial is not being sent to viewers living thousands of miles away, that they are getting commercials for their local businesses, but how does it all get sorted out?
Floriani shows us how in his book; specifically, how he delegated decision-making authority to the people in his company — in ad sales, traffic, operations field services, and the tech shop — at levels below his office at corporate headquarters, while still keeping them focused on the central task of the business. He shows us with specific examples how these people at the lower levels of the business were better equipped to handle decisions affecting their particular responsibilities than executives at the home office. He maintains that this is the point the Popes have been making when they apply the principle of subsidiarity to national economies.
It is a theme that will intrigue many readers — but not all. Floriani goes into great detail about the technical aspects of organizing these “insertions” of commercials precisely when they are needed by local television stations. Those not highly interested in computer programming and technical matters may find his discussion of these things over their heads. (I did, much of the time.)
Also some may find Floriani’s proposition — that he was applying subsidiarity when he organized his company operations with a great deal of delegated authority to subordinates — a stretch. The Popes’ major concern when they made the case for subsidiarity was not how to more efficiently organize an enterprise, but the danger of totalitarian socialism inherent in central governments assuming power over all aspects of our economic life.
Dr. Stanley Jaki, the late Benedictine priest and scholar, made this point to Floriani when they met at a conference on G.K. Chesterton and discussed Floriani’s book. I am on Jaki’s side on this one, but readers of Subsidiarity well might think differently.