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What is subsidiarity? It is a principle of political decision-making. It says that authorities should make decisions as close to citizens as possible. Hence, the local government should make the changes. That does not mean that a local government should set taxes and so on. The meaning is actually somewhat opposite. Besides, the principle of subsidiarity is one of the chief aspects of the European Union.

The principle of subsidiarity says that a federal or national government should not decide upon things that a lower-tier government can take care of itself. The local government understands the problem better. It is close to the citizens. So, it can consult them and allow them to participate. As a result, the process is effective. In summary, it is an argument for decentralization.

It originates in the Latin word “Subsidium,” which means “help” or “aid.”

Making decisions locally


The term is relatively new. However, similar arguments have existed before already. Aristotle said that the cell of society is a family. In Politics, he criticizes Plato’s The Republic for a very uniform state. A household and a town are much more natural. 

However, the first to directly implicate the idea was Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. There, he talks about the benefits of decentralization. Further, he states that it inspires the public to have a greater interest in public affairs.

The first time the word as it is known today was in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno from 1931.