What Conservatives Have Forgotten about Subsidiarity and the Common Good

In the last decade or so, various strands of the “new right” have fallen prey to the lures of governmental consolidation. But despite these conservatives’ attempts to justify bold state action in the name of the common good, subsidiarity remains an indispensable guide. Subsidiarity is perhaps the greatest expression of a polycentric approach to the common good.
Conservatives are generally good at conserving, and we are particularly aware of the continuities across the human condition. But given today’s conditions, when so much has changed so recently and so many social problems bedevil us, we need to get great at creating new institutions.
The term “social justice” is typically associated with an aggressively progressive political agenda led by a muscular Uncle Sam. But there is an alternative understanding of social justice—one that is especially well-suited to helping the nation address many of today’s most troubling challenges. It’s time for conservatives to explain this approach and articulate an agenda for the future based on it.
In conservation biology, a complex ecosystem whose health was slowly compromised over time can be revivified through a cascade of positive changes set in motion by reintroducing one of that system’s previous components. That’s exactly what today’s civil society needs, and conservative policymakers can help. We mustn’t shy away from using policy to achieve important ends—not just freedom, but the lessons, beliefs, and norms that make a free society succeed.