I was talking with a friend today about the rise of fascism in the west. He made the case that it was a phenomenon that was driven from the top by a thirst for power. I disagreed, stating that no government could hold power without the tacit consent and cooperation of its people. What then is the motivating principle that drives this impulse to power from the bottom? I believe that it is the complete neglect of subsidiarity in our public life. Briefly stated, subsidiarity is an organizing principle stating that affairs amongst people should be handled by the smallest, lowest level of authority possible. When two factions disagree about an issue it is far better that they find some way of arriving at a solution on their own than to refer the matter to a higher authority. While the appeal to authority may resolve the issue it also grants the higher level of authority control. Once you have ceded power to the higher level of government it is extraordinarily difficult to seize it back again.
In short, it is the appeal to a higher authority which is driving the concentration of power. The most obvious example is the marriage issue. So long as the government was willing to define marriage in accord with our wishes most Catholics were quite happy to allow them to legislate on the matter. Within a few short years society changed enough to permit legislation in quite the opposite direction. The notion that the government of the day had the right to dictate to the Church who is married and who is not would have shocked St. Thomas More who was martyred over that very issue.
We are no longer capable of having reasonable conversations or settling contentious issues amongst ourselves. We scream slogans and epitaphs at each other and we live in our own little insular worlds in which we never have to talk to someone who disagrees with us. We demand all or nothing and we rely upon the coercive power of the state to enforce our will. Why spend the time and energy convincing anyone? We had better learn to talk to our enemies for the alternative will doom us all.
The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity; according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of it's functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."