CFP: After Subsidiarity?: A MANCEPT 2022 Workshop

Submission deadline: June 12, 2022

Conference date(s):
September 7, 2022 - September 9, 2022

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Conference Venue:

University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

Topic areas


Convenors: Michael Da Silva (Southampton) and Daniel Weinstock (McGill)


Dates: 7 – 9 September 2022 (in person (subject to future epidemiological constraints))

EXTENDED Abstract Deadline: 12 June 2022 (Details Below)


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,, and many states’ domestic constitutional laws. Subsidiarity’s proponents then 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. It 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 (Barber, Føllesdal, et al.) 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 actually be justified or merely imports Catholic doctrines while ignoring their implications.

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

This workshop aims to examine whether a coherent theory of subsidiarity can respond to recent challenges and what should be done if skeptical challenges succeed. Contributions should shed light on critical issues in political theory and the law and politics of states that use the principle.

Possible Questions to Be Addressed May Include:

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 real 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?

Further Information:

We invite contributions on these issues from scholars in philosophy, political science, law, and any cognate disciplines whose authors can contribute to the theoretical study of subsidiarity. We welcome work with substantial empirical content but it must be used to further philosophical claims. This workshop will build on insights in discussions from the 2021 workshop On the Philosophy of Federalism but hope to receive work from new scholars too.

Abstract Submission Deadline and Details:

We would appreciated if interested parties could send us abstracts (maximum 750 words), prepared for anonymous review, to [email protected] by 12 June 2022. Selected participants will be asked to submit a draft paper prior to the 7 – 9 September event. We anticipate running this as a traditional workshop where we can work to improve on drafts.


This is part of the MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory. Registration for the workshops will open in May. The anticipated fees are as follows:

Academics: £ 230.00

PG: £ 135.00

Dinner: £ 30

MANCEPT will offer a small number of fee waiver bursaries. The deadline for bursary applications (available to current graduate students only) will be the 27 June 2022. Successful applicants will be informed by 11 July 2022. We will send further details if your piece is accepted. We will provide decision notices in time for people to complete bursary applications.

For more information about the MANCEPT Workshops, please visit their webpage:

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