Despite sustained attention for over thirty years, the principle of subsidiarity has escaped thoroughgoing normative criticism. My contention is that subsidiarity’s presumption in favor of lower-level units is unjustified. I argue (1) that the “dangers of centralization,” when considered alongside the “dangers of fragmentation,” does not yield subsidiarity’s presumption in favor of lower-level units, and (2) that benefits-based arguments (from efficiency, democracy, and liberty) only justify subsidiarity’s presumption when the posited benefits are reliably produced. I provide reasons to believe they are not. Benefits-based claims are conditional in nature, and it is inappropriate to assume without evidence that the relevant conditions hold. Moreover, the conditions under which different benefits accrue are likely to be conflicting. When the conditions are satisfied for one set of benefits, they may not hold for another. When the various conditions of benefits-based arguments are not satisfied simultaneously, one must balance the interests and values at stake. Subsidiarity’s presumption in favor of lower-level units is then justified if benefits reliably outweigh costs. Subsidiarity’s advocates have not provided evidence to support this conjecture.
“The Principle of Subsidiarity: A Democratic Reinterpretation.” Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory. Published ahead of print, March 12, 2018. http://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8675.12347.
The two most prominent interpretations of the principle of subsidiarity—the secular version in the European Union and the theological version in Catholic social doctrine—are deeply and troublingly undemocratic. They remove profound questions of public concern from the domain of democratic decision-making. This article develops a normatively attractive, and institutionally feasible, democratic reinterpretation of the principle of subsidiarity that harnesses the strengths, while mitigating the weaknesses, of the main existing interpretations. From theological subsidiarity, democratic subsidiarity borrows the notion that democracy is most likely to flourish when political authority is assigned to the most appropriate units or levels of government within an institutional hierarchy. From secular subsidiarity, democratic subsidiarity borrows neutrality with respect to comprehensive conceptions of the good. Whereas theological subsidiarity uses a sectarian social ontology to identify the most appropriate units or levels of government, democratic subsidiarity utilizes democratic procedures. The article develops a proposal for institutionalizing democratic subsidiarity in which tasks and functions are assigned by a democratic assembly composed of a wide range of officials representing constituencies at multiple levels of government. Democratic subsidiarity has the potential to mitigate the so-called “democratic deficit” in multilayered institutional orders like the European Union.
I demonstrate that a set of well-known objections defeat John Stuart Mill’s plural voting proposal, but do not defeat plural voting as such. I adopt the following as a working definition of political equality: a voting system is egalitarian if and only if departures from a baseline of equally weighted votes are normatively permissible. I develop an alternative proposal, called procedural plural voting, which allocates plural votes procedurally, via the free choices of the electorate, rather than according to a substantive standard of competence. The alternative avoids standard objections to Mill’s proposal. Moreover, reflection on the alternative plural voting scheme disrupts our intuitions about what counts as an egalitarian voting system. Undue emphasis on Mill’s version of plural voting obscures three important reasons to reject plural voting in favor of strictly egalitarian voting systems: (1) that certain choices that generate inequalities of political power are morally impermissible; (2) that even chosen inequalities may undermine the potential epistemic benefits of democratic decision-making; and (3) that such choices may undermine citizens’ commitments to democracy understood as a joint project.
The first six presidents (1789–1829) vetoed bills far less frequently than their successors. Previous literature affords two competing explanations for this phenomenon. The constitutional norms approach contends that the early presidents used the veto only to reject unconstitutional legislation. The veto bargaining approach argues that the early presidents vetoed fewer bills because the electoral conditions under which vetoes typically occur had yet to emerge. This article accepts some of the insights of the veto bargaining approach, but defends a corrected version of the norms account. This account says the early presidents vetoed fewer bills because they were constrained by a norm according to which “adversarial” vetoes were considered illegitimate. The emergence of the modern veto required discursive legitimation of vetoes for adversarial purposes.