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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Subsidiarity in Exodus

I have been studying aspects of communitarian and distributist thought, but I have not thought to explore roots of them in the Bible. Then Monday night at a Bible study someone referred to subsidiarity in the advice of Jethro to Moses.

In the 18th Chapter of Exodus Moses's father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, seeks him out in the desert near Mt Sinai.  Moses greets him by bowing before him and kissing him, showing the respect he has for Jethro.
Jethro praises and blesses Yahweh for the good he has done Israel and brings a holocaust to God.

The next day Moses sits as the judge for all the disputes of Israel and the wait for judgement is from morning to evening.  Jethro instantly sees the foolishness of this and asks Moses why he sits alone while making people wait for judgement. Moses says all these people come to him to consult God.  But Jethro says you will wear yourself out and also these people. Jethro says that Moses should be the peoples representative to God but look for trustworthy men to set as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  The more important cases will be sent to Moses.

Moses followed Jethro's advice.  He appointed officers to handle all the ordinary cases.

Seen in this light subsidiarity is a quite old principle and not opposed to government, not a libertarian principle, but a principle of government. The more decisions can be made close to the people affected the happier they will be.

So subsidiarity is not about having a powerless government, but about how close that government is to the people.  Government has it's proper role and necessary things that cannot be done by voluntary organization must be done by government.  But the government is most effective and just when authority is distributed downwards.

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