Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 231-259, 1998

42 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2010

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 1998


The principle of subsidiarity regulates authority within a political order, placing the burden of argument with attempts to centralize authority. It has come to recent political prominence through its inclusion in the Maastricht treaty on European Union, intended to quell fears of centralization. However, the principle increases and shapes such tensions due to disagreement about formulations and possible institutional roles. Alternative accounts have strikingly different institutional implications regarding the objectives of the polity, the domain and role of sub-units, and the allocation of authority to apply the principle of subsidiarity itself. The need for a political theory of subsidiarity thus established, five alternative normative justifications of conceptions of subsidiarity are presented and assessed, illustrated by reference to the European Union. Few of the arguments constitute full theories addressing all issues of interpretation and application. Two arguments from liberty - Althusius and Confederalism - are addressed, one argument from efficiency (fiscal or economic federalism), and two arguments from justice: a Catholic argument based on Personalism and liberal contractualism. The order roughly reflects the decreasing autonomy of sub-units granted by each argument.

Keywords: subsidiarity, European Union (EU), political theory, liberty, justice

Suggested Citation

Follesdal, Andreas, Subsidiarity (1998). Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 231-259, 1998. Available at SSRN:

Andreas Follesdal (Contact Author)

Pluricourts ( email )

P.O. Box 6706
St. Olavs plass 5
0130 Oslo

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