If It Ain’t Broke . . .
The topic of subsidiarity has become so hot that the decision was taken to commission an authoritative report on this sometimes controversial subject. Who would be capable of tackling such a difficult theme? None other than Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of the UK’s most prestigious seats of learning, and recently dubbed the country’s Thinker-in-Chief. Fortunately he was available, so he cleared the decks and gave the task his full attention, reporting as follows:
This silly little matter is not worth much of my time, but dealing with it brings in some of the folding stuff, which is always welcome. I am almost tempted to present my conclusions without explaining the reasoning, much in the way that Sherlock Holmes initially offered his solutions. However, I recall that he did divulge his trains of thought, at least to Watson, so it would be remiss of me to deprive readers of similar courtesy.
It has taken a long time for our world to coalesce into the array of nation states we have today. Most of them are fairly stable, so it is interesting to note that there is in some quarters a desire to tamper with the present position. Doing this may have limited justification in a few cases, but there is no convincing argument for widespread upheaval, and I shall now indicate why that is so.
Subsidiarity, most often encountered in its political application, is a fancy way of expressing devolution, i.e. some affairs controlled centrally, others regionally. This has been much discussed, especially in the European Union. It is sometimes invoked by those who see the prospect of being big fish in small ponds. I would advise everyone to exercise caution when listening to these people because it is likely that if they reach positions of leadership, their practice will be in inverse proportion to their earlier preaching. In short, beware of dictatorial ambitions.
Let me go through this matter of ever-greater devolution. It will start with countries being split, the main consequence being that the resulting components will have, even in total, less influence in the world than the original entity had, i.e., the sum of the subsequent parts will amount to less than the previous whole. This is clearly contrary to common sense and is a very unsatisfactory outcome.
The next step would be splintering of the successor bodies, let us say to about the size of UK counties. Local bigwigs won’t stop there. The process would descend to cities and towns, then to areas no larger than the current British council wards, finally going down to single streets and in some cases large individual properties, such as mine. I will not divulge where that is, as I don’t wish to be besieged by admirers. Finally, every house, street, ward, town, city, county or whatever region would have its own prime minister, finance minister, etc. These people would have impressive titles, but no influence in the wider world. They may well be nominally similar to Pooh-Bah – The Lord High Everything Else in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado – but they might have a hard time matching that gentleman’s power.
Another development of the fragmenting might be that people in certain streets would emerge as more aggressive than those in neighbouring ones. It does not stretch the imagination to envisage the bellicose types preying on gentler folk, motivating the victims to band together to resist unwelcome attention. This idea would spread, leading to areas the size of whole wards making common cause against ruffians. Then it would go further, encompassing towns and cities. There could be only one logical culmination to this process. In the interests of security and of having a voice in the world, the once-devolved mini-states would form unions, taking us back to where we were before the dismantling began.
It has been noted many times throughout history that humankind has a tendency to make the right choices – after trying all the wrong ones. Need we experience this yet again? I think not. My conclusion is that subsidiarity is all very well, provided that it is it properly understood and implemented. By this I mean that decisions should be taken at appropriate levels – big ones by the authorities best placed to deal with them. And what are those bodies? The nation states we now have, of course.
I recommend that we leave things largely as they are, rather than take our administrations to pieces then rebuild them in what would most likely be ‘new improved versions’. We all know what that means. Many years ago, a perspicacious American fellow remarked: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I suggest that our current position is not in need of repair by indiscriminate decentralisation. Though not totally happy about having choices made for me by a government far from my home, I am not foolish enough to think that my own options would invariably be better than those selected on my behalf, and I am glad to be relieved of the necessity to make up my mind about an endless list of issues. That is all.
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