CFP: Call for Papers: Special Issue of the Journal of Social Philosophy on Subsidiarity

Submission deadline: February 15, 2024

Topic areas


Michael Da Silva (Southampton) and Daniel Weinstock (McGill) invite papers for a special issue of the Journal of Social Philosophy on the concept of subsidiarity. All submissions will undergo editorial review by these guest editors. Accepted papers must also pass peer review. 

Deadline for Initial Submissions 

15 February 2024 


This is a special issue of the Journal of Social Philosophy. Prospective authors should ensure their submissions conform to the journal’s basic requirements, which are available at and submit following the procedure there. Please note your submission is for the special issue. 


Subsidiarity is the principle whereby decision-making authority should presumptively belong to the candidate governance unit closest to the decision. It plays prominent roles in international law, E.U. law, and many states’ domestic constitutional laws. Subsidiarity’s proponents expect much of the principle. It is invoked to identify the entities who could possess constitutional or devolved authority in states; guide the allocation of authority to those bodies; structure international law; establish boundaries of transnational authority; constitute state boundaries; keep peace; or justify transfers of funds between entities (compare, e.g., Føllesdal 1998, 2006; Fleming and Levy 2014; Barber 2018; Da Silva 2023). The principle is thus raised to explain why, e.g., Germany should be able to make decisions independent of the E.U. and why its länder (provinces) should be able to make decisions free from central interference. Depending on the domain in which it applies, this can impact everything from who is in a state (if, e.g., Germany should set immigration policy) to health outcomes (if, e.g., Saxony should control health policy).  

Philosophers seek to justify the principle of subsidiarity on several grounds, including by reference to the importance of local interests/values; via democratic claims that subsidiarity ensures decisions that best reflect the interests of those most affected by them; and by appeals to the epistemic benefits of decisions made by those most aware of local context. However, subsidiarity’s various intended roles unsurprisingly raise challenges for specifying its meaning. It purports to be a decentralizing principle favoring control by states over international or regional bodies and provinces/länder over central/federal governments. Yet it has centralizing tendencies in practice and recent theories suggest that it only creates a presumption of local control for bodies who demonstrably address relevant problems. Recent scholarship on municipal authority led to questions about why the principle most often maintains constitutional authority at provincial/länder levels. Questions also remain about when and how the presumption can be defeated; whether it makes sense to have a single principle applying to international, E.U. and domestic authority allocations; and whether the ‘modern’ conception of subsidiarity can be justified or merely imports Catholic doctrine while ignoring its implications. 

Despite subsidiarity’s prevalence, these theoretical challenges have engendered skepticism about the principle. Prominent recent papers bluntly declare themselves “against subsidiarity” (Latimer 2018), call for more ontologically-sensitive approaches that recognize more loci of authority than is traditional in liberal states (Cahill 2017), or argue that the principle has mere discursive value, rather than directly contributing to moral ontology (Allard-Tremblay 2017). 

This special issue seeks conceptual clarity regarding the meaning of subsidiarity, its scope of application, its relationship to adjacent concepts, and what to do if the deflationary critiques survive. It will accordingly (non-exhaustively) address the following philosophical questions: 

- Can any principle serve all the roles subsidiarity is asked to play? If not, what is the most plausible potential role subsidiarity can play in moral ontology and/or law and politics? 

- Is subsidiarity best understood as a constitutional principle or a sub-constitutional one? Is it a principle for the constitutional ordering of states, the devolution of powers, or both? 

- What is the relationship between subsidiarity and federalism (at regional or domestic levels)? 

- Can one limit the application of subsidiarity such that it does not necessitate authority for cities, neighbourhoods, or even guilds and boxing clubs? 

- Are subsidiarity’s current problems attributable to forgotten lessons from earlier conceptions thereof? If so, how (if at all) can historical conceptions be deployed in liberal democracies now? 

- How should we invoke subsidiarity in relevant debates if it has merely discursive value? 

- What should one do if subsidiarity has no distinct moral value and yet is rhetorically valuable for historically marginalized groups in distinct states (e.g., sub-state nations, Indigenous groups)? 

- What other principles could play the roles subsidiarity purports to play? Do they face similar issues? 


Allard-Tremblay, Y. (2017). Divide and Rule Better: On Subsidiarity, Legitimacy and the Epistemic Aim of Political Decision-Making. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 34: 696-710.  

Barber, N.W. (2018). The Principles of Constitutionalism. Oxford University Press. 

Føllesdal, A. (1998). Survey Article: Subsidiarity. Journal of Political Philosophy, 6(2): 190-218. 

Føllesdal, A. (2006). Subsidiarity, Democracy and Human Rights in the Constitutional Treaty for Europe. Journal of Social Philosophy, 37(1): 61-80. 

Cahill, M. (2017). Theorizing Subsidiarity: Towards an Ontology-Sensitive Approach. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 15(1): 201-224. 

Da Silva, M. (2023). Subsidiarity and the Allocation of Governmental Powers. Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence, 36(1): 83-111. 

Fleming, J.E. and Levy, J.T. (2014). Nomos 55: Federalism and Subsidiarity. American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy/New York University Press. 

Latimer, T. (2018). Against Subsidiarity. Journal of Political Philosophy, 26: 282-303. 

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