Subsidiarity: Theory X versus Theory Y

Subsidiarity requires that what single individuals, using their own resources, can do of themselves, must not be removed and taken by higher authority.  We associate the development of the principle to the 1950s. It was realised that there were two approaches. The first, and traditional, approach that workers only performed in response to reward or punishment; the new approach held that workers would be at their best through their sense of fulfilment, recognizing their potential value through their work. They were referred to as Theory X and Theory Y.

While the far greater effectiveness of Theory Y was plain it was very difficult to institute. Every business had necessary rules and controls, so it was not easy to discriminate between obligation and responsible choice for the worker. Many businesses claimed to have introduced Theory Y when, on evaluation, it turned out that the application was nominal. In practice it had remained Theory X. An important factor here was whether the seniors who were responsible for introducing the new approach had themselves got to the top through using Theory X.

It became clear that Theory Y could only succeed if the seniors really believed in the principle. So they minimised the rules as far as possible, and looked continually for opportunities to encourage workers to have personal commitment in their jobs and, whenever possible, to make their own choices.

Historically, the Catholic Church has been solidly Theory X. And not surprisingly as it lived in a Theory X society. But it began to change towards Theory Y round about the same time as secular society. A major expression of this was the Vatican Council in the 1960s. But, as one might expect, the application of Theory Y at the local level remains at least mixed – notwithstanding a Pope who is clearly Theory Y and prefers to ask questions and make suggestions rather than rulings. No wonder he is unpopular with some of his colleagues – that’s par for the course. Some twenty years ago, when I was writing a book on the subject, I researched at some depths the use of authority at the level of the Curia and the curial Congregations. At that time it was clear that Theory X still ruled. Has it changed?

But we are concerned with the diocesan bishops. They too have requirements which they need to enforce through their authority. But, like the business manager, they must decide between Theory X and Theory Y. Are they all about power or are they truly about leadership? As Lord Acton put it “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

What would a Theory Y diocesan bishop look like? While he is aware that he must make some unquestionable decisions by reason of his office he must be continuously in touch with his congregation. First of course he must be in frequent dialogue with his parish priests and other formal institutions. Then he must be very aware of the views of the laity – which may require regular representatives meetings. In listening to the views of these groups he must be aware that beyond the arguments he is listening to the people of God. He must be open to their experience and their spirituality.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries, subsidiarity, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Subsidiarity: Theory X versus Theory Y

  1. Olive Duddy Marjory says:

    Somehow the X and the Y should be reversed to fit the genetics of the cases.

    • David Smith says:

      Would you expand on that?

      • Iona says:

        I would guess that Olive is thinking of the Y chromosome which in human beings determines maleness, whereas females have no Y but XX chromosomes. All-male institutions tend to be hierarchical and authoritarian; female, less so.

  2. John Thomas says:

    Many thanks, Quentin, for explaining this, and so well: I’ve always wondered exactly what “subsidiarity” was … I wonder if there is much in the CofE … well, an awful lot of lip-service to it … but … do the absolutist powers still actually run things … I wonder …?

  3. John Nolan says:

    Two questions:

    1.To what extent can a theory developed in the 1950s be applicable to a 2000-year-old institution of supernatural origin and which claims supernatural authority?

    2. How does Pope Francis’s Peronist habit of adapting his message to suit his audience, his continued failure to ‘confirm the brethren’ in faith and morals, and his flagrant cronyism, benefit the Church?

    I have answers to both but would like to hear what others have to say.

    • David Smith says:

      John Nolan writes:

      // 2. How does Pope Francis’s Peronist habit of adapting his message to suit his audience, his continued failure to ‘confirm the brethren’ in faith and morals, and his flagrant cronyism, benefit the Church? //

      From his apparent point of view – “hagan lío” – make a mess, a muddle, a shamble, difficulty, problem, clutter – it works just fine. I suspect that it wouldn’t stretch the translation too far to have “hagan lío” mean “cause confusion”. “Cause scandal” might be a step too far, but maybe not. He’s an odd pope for troubled times. Maybe he’ll end up having been for the best, once much of the noise has died down or at least pointed in other directions and once some of the worst of the mess has been cleared away. The future’s not ours to see.

    • milliganp says:

      On question 1, as far as I can remember, subsidiarity was first expounded, as a Catholic principle, in Rerum Novarum (Leo XIII, 1891). Unless we posit that Leo XIII was irredeemably modernist, we can save subsidiarity from being a 1950’s social fad.
      In my opinion theory X / theory Y management has similarities to subsidiarity but is entirely separate.
      On question 2, I would posit one of the answers to an old Catholic joke “what are the 3 things God doesn’t know.” – what a Jesuit is thinking.
      My own Archbishop insists on proclaiming that Francis is a “breath of fresh air” in the church. Perhaps a (papal) bull in a theological china shop would be more apposite?

  4. G.D says:

    Theory Z would be better (both x and y are ‘Pavloves dogs’ in disguise)… To put in place a culture that would acknowledge & encourage, from birth, the value and potential of an individual prior to self imposed preferences of postion and/or capital/emotional worth they must become …. and let them grow as God would intend. But to do that the whole of society would have to turn inside out ….. Come Holy Spirit …. Thou shall renew the face of the earth’ … which of course is not for them, of all walks of life, that are locked into the systems norm of authority & control … who create in their own failed images ..

  5. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // Subsidiarity requires that what single individuals, using their own resources, can do of themselves, must not be removed and taken by higher authority. //

    That’s fine if the individuals in question are both competent and trustworthy and if there’s no need to be sure that they don’t do something that perhaps in their lights should be praiseworthy but that in fact would end up harming the organization as a whole. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church does not have the manpower to vet every single bishop thoroughly. The Curia is tiny and the Church is enormous. And even if a prospective bishop’s history, character, and personality are thought impeccable, people change. Also, especially in these times of radically different understandings of what proper Catholic thought and behavior consist in, one loose cannon free of external restraints can cause a great deal of damage before there’s time to rein him in.

    That said, of course there needs to be a healthy balance between micromanaging a subordinate and giving him complete freedom to do as he pleases. Perhaps I’m pessimistic about the prospect of the Church’s enlarging the scope of its practice of subsidiarity largely because of the tremendous amount of damage that’s been done over the past sixty or more years by local officials being left alone, unsupervised, deferred to, and, thus, permitted if not tacitly encouraged to act flagrantly against some of the most basic Catholic moral and theological principles. We’ve seen, abundantly, that many people trusted by the Vatican will go very bad, indeed.

  6. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    //
    It was realised that there were two approaches. The first, and traditional, approach that workers only performed in response to reward or punishment; the new approach held that workers would be at their best through their sense of fulfilment, recognizing their potential value through their work. They were referred to as Theory X and Theory Y.

    Historically, the Catholic Church has been solidly Theory X. And not surprisingly as it lived in a Theory X society. But it began to change towards Theory Y round about the same time as secular society. A major expression of this was the Vatican Council in the 1960s.

    What would a Theory Y diocesan bishop look like? While he is aware that he must make some unquestionable decisions by reason of his office he must be continuously in touch with his congregation. First of course he must be in frequent dialogue with his parish priests and other formal institutions. Then he must be very aware of the views of the laity – which may require regular representatives meetings. In listening to the views of these groups he must be aware that beyond the arguments he is listening to the people of God. He must be open to their experience and their spirituality.
    //

    It sounds, Quentin, as though you’re suggesting that dogma, liturgy, and just about everything else should be determined by popular vote among the laity. The bishops would be little more than the people’s representatives in Rome. I mean, it *sounds* like that. Do you really see the Catholic Church evolving into a democracy?

    By the way, your book has not yet arrived. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  7. Nektarios says:

    Quentin

    Your X or Y theories is far removed from the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.
    It is still talk down politic in the Church.

    The division within the Church of clergy and laity is a mechanical mechanism to permit such talk down politic in the Church, creating as it does a division between the clergy and Bishop. and the people as is artificial.

    Your view of the Bishop within the Catholic Church again is far removed from the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and practice as the one with sole authority.

    This is a very worldly approach and such approaches in the house of God and among God’s people is not only unapostolic it is downright wrong.

    In Business it was X moving to Y for the sake of it, they were pushed into it and still are and this has been going on since the 1970s.

    Businessmen are X people really. The impression is they are listening to their staff if they did they would save themselves a fortune, but they are not, but hire consultants. they avoid talking direct to staff if they can, it is beneath them. You see businessman and women are X people, they use people and where there is using there is no relationship at all just using.

    If this the case within the Catholic Church? I suspect it is.

  8. Nektarios says:

    Correction – the last line in my posting above should read: ‘ Is this within the Catholic Church and many other churches, I suspect it is?

  9. galerimo says:

    Jesus was very clear about governance and it did not involve either theory or principles.

    It could not have been more explicit. Stripped off, nothing but a towel around the waist, offering to wash feet. Himself.

    It is hard to weave a clerical aristocracy into that picture. Property owning, money charging, fancy dressing elite, supported with legal structures so dense that it is beyond the reach of the law in any land.

    That is what we got from His lesson.

    Nobody talks much about collegiality among the bishops these days, it was much too hard a concept and likely to lead us into conciliarism, or at least that was the shield put up against it.

    Every Bishop continues in the mould of the male clerical rock from which he was hewn. He keeps a strong focus and an ever vigilant eye looking behind and over his shoulder in the direction of Rome. Occasionally tripping over a sheep or two.

    Subsidiarity is an aspiration for justice in a globalised world. And if it worked in that arena perhaps there would be no call for the likes of a brexit.

    It cannot work alone; it must always involve Solidarity – full identification with and participation in the community being served and needing to go no higher or no lower for the exercise of its responsibility in self determination.

    It is beautiful to see it working with not for profits, non government, voluntary groups, mass movements everywhere across the world, mostly way beyond the visible confines of churches or religious structures.

    They could all teach us Catholics a thing or two. Maybe succeed even where Jesus so obviously failed.

    • David Smith says:

      Galerimo writes:

      // Subsidiarity is an aspiration for justice in a globalised world. And if it worked in that arena perhaps there would be no call for the likes of a brexit.

      It cannot work alone; it must always involve Solidarity – full identification with and participation in the community being served and needing to go no higher or no lower for the exercise of its responsibility in self determination. //

      Subsidiarity in the Catholic Church applies to day-to-day governance. It cannot apply to matters like the definition of faith and morality. When you lay out and promote the implementation of a grand principle like subsidiarity, you need to make crystal clear where the boundary lines lie. Obviously, that was not done fifty years ago. A large number of clerics seem to have understood Vatican II as an opening for them to effect a radical liberalization in the Church’s rules and guidelines on sex and morals. Had their superiors bothered to correct them early on, the Church would not be under the dark fog that now engulfs it.

  10. Nektarios says:

    galerimo

    Wow – I can agree with practically everything you said apart from the very last sentence: ‘Maybe succeed even where Jesus so obviously failed.’
    No dear brother, Jesus finished the work he came into the world to do. He did not fail, He never fails and will see the plan of the Father through till all God’s people are safely home in glory with Him.

    When it comes to administration in the Church it is simple enough, but eggheads are clever inventive people, but not really required to rule over the Church. Every church has an administration, but that is also subject to the Apostolic doctrine, teaching and practice. Administration in the Church is serving the believers in that local church primarily, not ruling in any shape or form or bullying the people of God.

    • galerimo says:

      Well there is not much clear evidence of success where Jesus is concerned – look around you Brother – does this world really look like it has been saved from anything – most of all from corruption where religion is concerned.

  11. G.D says:

    Jesus embodied the Christ perfectly, and as such obeyed the ‘Law of God’ completely. The ‘authority’ secular & religious saw him as a threat and did away with him.

    The ‘failure’ is of the people who claim to follow him, not imitating his SELF sacrifice – and i don’t mean a ‘literal copy’ neccessarily – by letting the Spirit of God enable them to give up their own partisan (ego) preferences over the universal ‘Law of God’ which he embodied.
    Which is –
    1. steadfast witnessing to what is given us as Truth (always aware that it is not perfect in us, and that we continually need to change/grow) AND UNITED WITH IT
    2. unconditional love (without violent resistance) for all.

    Seems to me history proves most people are witnessing what they assume is Truth, and ignoring love in the name of it.
    Where’s the ‘profit’ (growth) in ‘respecting’ (loving) only those who agree with me?

    Jesus ‘lead’ a life of BOTH 1. & 2. (Christ made flesh). The examples of most ‘leaders’ secular & religious don’t seem to be imitating that life.
    And are acting as the ‘leaders’ that did away with it’s physical form 2000 yrs ago.
    Thanks be to God the Spirit lives on!

    • Nektaros says:

      G.D

      Very good posting, clear and concise.
      In addition to what you posted above, let me add some other truths here.

      Truth is not a merely intellectual assent, rather Truth is eternal Word of God and is always life-changing when we see it or receive it, follow the Truth and obey the Truth.
      Children of God or the People of God are not called to imitate, but to participate in the very Life of Christ when we are regenerated. Many leaders do not know that life in Christ at all and have led many into error, religious nonsense and superstition.
      The Truth was given to us in Christ and by the Holy Apostles. Many have deviated from the Truth and landed in error and do great damage to the Church, but worse, to their own souls.

      If by the Universal Law of God, you mean Salvation has to be God’s way only. The People of God still live in this world battling with an old nature that sins, sinful and wants to sin. However, having Christ’s life, they are a new creation that does not sin but desires what our heavenly Father prepared for us in Christ in this world and the next.

      The communication God uses in the spiritual life is the Holy Spirit. The power in and of the Christian life is not dull conformity to mere external religion which abuses the people of God for the most part but a life of spiritual power and vitality for God, Christ, and our brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere in heaven and here on earth.

      To truly love one another as Christ commands, we can only truly do that when we are in fellowship, singing and obeying from the heart from the same hymn sheet as it were.
      They will always hear and follow the truth. That is the basis of a true Christian fellowship and of loving one another, there is no other way. It is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s way. And for any true Christian, they will have that life in the Spirit that will lead, guide and keep one forever.

  12. Alasdair says:

    Subsidiarity is the underpinning principal of all instututions of the European Union! – but let’s not digress.

    “We are justified by faith, not by works of the law, (Gal. 2:16)” could be a statement of Theory Y. In other words we do not benefit in God’s eyes through our actions other than the acceptance of his son as Lord and Saviour. Our good works are guided by the Spirit – Fruit of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, fulfilment etc, not through the need to look good in God’s eyes, and to achieve his reward or punishment.
    Theory X on the other hand, seems to be the default option, generally followed by religious traditions not grounded in christian scripture. In other words God is keeping a continuous scorecard, and a carrot and stick. This seems like the Karma principal which is very non christian. Nevertheless it is believed within some self-styled christian traditions although they wouldn’t use word karma.

    • Nektarios says:

      Alasdair

      You wrote in your first sentence: ‘Subsidiarity is the underpinning principle of all institutions of the European Union!

      I question that, as the EU is unelected commissioners who actually pose the questions to MEPs and also make the decisions.

      It has turned into a Union of communist/ globalists – – no subsidiarity there. Like so many unelected bodies and leaders political and religious are today. They give the appearance of subsidiarity only, but in fact, are quite dictatorial.

      As to the rest of your posting above I could not agree more. Hence my constant refrain to the Christian Churches to return to and revisit the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.
      And that is for the whole Church. How far we have strayed from that, leaning to our own understandings and interpretations leading many astray and into much sorrow and spiritual difficulties and confusion, where those wolves in sheep clothing lead many into errors many making shipwrecks of their faith in the process.

      • Alasdair says:

        Several broad-academy audits of the EU and of all its organs, have reported favourably on its level of democracy. Applying the same criteria to the government of the UK would surely not do so. Remember that we have an upper house wherein, not only are the presiding officers unelected, but also all of the sitting members!
        Communists and globalists are undoubtedly present in the EU. You would certainly hope so. Otherwise you could hardly claim that the full spectrum of political opinion is represented. Neither globalism nor communism are characteristics of the EU as a whole though. Remember that the 4 largest economies of the EU (including the UK for the moment) have right of centre governments.

      • FZM says:

        Several broad-academy audits of the EU and of all its organs, have reported favourably on its level of democracy. Applying the same criteria to the government of the UK would surely not do so. Remember that we have an upper house wherein, not only are the presiding officers unelected, but also all of the sitting members!

        In the EU the legislative and the executive is combined in the council of ministers and the commission, technically you can say it is democratic (in that the ministers in the council were elected one way or another). Whether 27 members of national executives sitting together and legislating with unelected civil servants leads to transparency and democratic accountability is different.

        In some cases there is also a question about whether the national governments really had a mandate for handing certain powers over to the EU in the first place (France and Ireland, possibly, depending on how Brexit goes, the UK too).

        Neither globalism nor communism are characteristics of the EU as a whole though. Remember that the 4 largest economies of the EU (including the UK for the moment) have right of centre governments.

        It depends on the member country and their government, I’d say in the UK the government has been committed to promoting globalism in the EU and to using the EU as far as possible to promote it at home. Communists are much less in evidence, except Communist mismanagement of the economies in Eastern Europe left a legacy of bargain price skilled labour for UK business interests to profit from.

  13. John Nolan says:

    Unfortunately we cannot return to a late medieval subsidiarity where bishops were elected by cathedral chapters (although this still applies in some German sees) or appointed by monarchs; where the personal opinions or lifestyles of popes were of little account; where Rome acted as a backstop although its appeals system was fairly expeditious and popular; where bishops were responsible for maintaining orthodoxy and correct liturgical practice; where local uses and customs were accepted as legitimate since they were clearly the same Roman Rite which unified Western Christendom (and non-Roman rites were tolerated, and in some cases restored). For a start, heretical opinions were seen as aberrant. Nowadays they are institutionalized.

    It is odd that people of a certain generation fondly imagine that Vatican II ushered in a new age of collegiality. In 1969 its prime mover, Paul VI, used his papal fiat to attempt to impose an entirely novel liturgy on the Church, cobbled together by a committee of ‘experts’ in a matter of months. This represented the zenith of papal absolutism and centralization; it was unprecedented and probably ultra vires. These days liberalism is marked equally by self-delusion and self-righteousness, a nauseating compound.

    • milliganp says:

      John, perhaps the loss of subsidiarity in the appointment of Bishops is part of the problem in the modern church. Centrally managed systems tend to encourage mediocrity, the least offensive candidate is often the least competent.
      It is also worth considering whether Bishops Conferences increase or decrease subsidiarity.
      Much of the criticism of the Roman Missal of Paul VI in the English speaking world was actually down to a very poor translation into the vernacular along with peripheral reforms such as “Mass facing the people” and the re-positioning of the Tabernacle in many churches.

  14. milliganp says:

    an interesting – if somewhat unusual – use of Catholic teaching on subsidiarity was invoked by the Irish bishops in what became known as the mother and child scandal. In 1950 the government of Ireland tried to introduce free healthcare for children from birth to 16 years of age. At the time Ireland had a significant problem with infant mortality. The Catholic bishops opposed it on the basis it interfered with the right of a father to provide for his children. It is perhaps no coincidence that, at the time, almost all hospitals in Ireland were run by the church. Given there was widespread poverty and deprivation in Ireland at the time, the intervention will undoubtedly led to large numbers of children and their mothers dying.

    For more info. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_and_Child_Scheme

  15. John Nolan says:

    milliganp

    That’s very interesting. In the 1950s Ireland could not afford the sort of welfare state which was established post-war in the UK. So a lot of social welfare and healthcare (not to mention education) was left to the Church. As a result, the Church has recently come under a lot of criticism for the way its institutions were run. Some of this criticism is justified, but the McAleese report into the ‘Magdalene laundries’ found that conditions in state-run institutions were considerably worse.

    When Pius XI defined subsidiarity in Quadragesimo Anno (1931) the English bishops were at pains to point out that Catholics could still vote for the Labour Party despite the fact that its advocacy of a welfare state seemed to be at odds with papal teaching.

    • FZM says:

      In the 1950s Ireland could not afford the sort of welfare state which was established post-war in the UK. So a lot of social welfare and healthcare (not to mention education) was left to the Church. As a result, the Church has recently come under a lot of criticism for the way its institutions were run. Some of this criticism is justified, but the McAleese report into the ‘Magdalene laundries’ found that conditions in state-run institutions were considerably worse.

      Hearing about the Magdalene laundries, I thought that it is important to compare ‘like with like’ because knowing something about ultra-secular, socialist countries in the same period, their social welfare systems were not superior (if not actually worse, depending on how wealthy and developed the country).

    • milliganp says:

      John, I think it is important not to see some of the problems in Ireland as merely ’caused by Catholicism’ rather than indicative of a wider social and political environment. In Britain, young women who became pregnant outside marriage were often consigned to mental asylums on the basis of being ‘weak willed’.

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