Catholicism, Liberty and FederalismWilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, Bishop of Mainz (1850-1877), founded German Social Catholicism. He was born in Westphalia to an aristocratic family. He was deeply influence by the Kölner Wirren (when the Archbishop of Cologne Droste-Vischering was imprisoned until his death because he would not confirm the marriage of Protestant men and Catholic women as “Protestant”.) Under his influence, Germans undertook social works on their own initiatives, supported by the efforts of the Catholic clergy, even to the point of forming their own labor unions.
It was in the 1848-1849 Revolution that Ketteler made his mark as a political figure. He was elected to the Parliament at Frankfurt that was charged with writing a constitution for the German state. Ketteler believed that he could keep focused on religious and education issues. However, He was quickly entangled in issues that dealt with the prerogatives of the state. In the district that he represented a Prussia bureaucrat began complaining that Ketteler was undermining the power of the Berlin government to set the priorities of education in the kingdom. In his letters, the bureaucrat argued that the state had exclusive rights over communal affairs because it was the community owed its existence to the state.
Ketteler reacted. He upheld his belief that the people of the community should establish the priorities of education, especially whether schools would be secular or religious and what religious instruction would be given in schools:
The majority of patriarchs of a community decide then over the spirit of the school wherein their children should be educated.
But Ketteler was forced into state-local relations:
The State is merely an institution which has its existence through the communities and without which it could not even be conceived.
Furthermore, individuals are not just subjects and citizens of the state but of all the communities and entities to which they belong:
To me the state is not a machine, but a living organism with living members, in which every member (Glied) had his own law, his own function, has made his own free life. Such members are for me the individual, the family, the community, etc.
This defense of both the rights of the individual and of the community (and every other sub-national entity) helped to characterize subsidiarity. Social Catholicism emphasized the social interdependence of men, but it also affirmed their autonomy. These seemingly contradictory beliefs, one socialist and the other liberal, combined as a commitment to diversity and the restraint of central authority. The society imagined by Social Catholics consisted of individuals, families, territorial states, social organization, the central state, the Church–all manner of groups and political bodies that came together organically and federally as a nation.
Subsidiarity justified the work of different organizations. The central government was just another actor that protected its members and helped them to advance. The central government was not synonymous with the nation. Instead, different groups cut across the nation and ministered to them. An individual was a member of several different communities, and the nationality of the individual was reflected in how these memberships merged with others.
Catholic social thought influence European federalism. Subsidiarity displaced the notion that an supranational organization must and will dominate its member states. Instead, it works side by side with them.
[This post is based on my own research. If you are interested in my sources, please contact me.]