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Accepted Paper:

Finding the ‘smallest scale appropriate’: On French Catholics’ subsidiary responses to ecological and social crises  
Camille Lardy (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines French Catholics’ recently-fraught public politics in light of a tension between two scalar imaginaries of political responsibility: the French Republican reliance on national centralisation, and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, or the ‘smallest scale appropriate’.

Paper long abstract:

This paper considers the changing scalar imaginaries of political responsibility held by young French Catholics inspired by the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. Drawing on twelve months of fieldwork among an association of ecologically-minded young Catholic intellectuals in Lyon, France, it shows how the public enactment of their newly-green political conscience evades and challenges the long-established scalar imaginary of the French Republic and its democratic processes.

I explore how, by contrast with the French Republican reliance on abstract universalism and national centralisation, young French Catholic intellectuals have recently made use of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity – or the ‘principle of the smallest scale appropriate’ – in their reflections about political responsibility and grassroots agency. Confronting what they see as inadequacies in the French state’s responses to the urgency of ecological and social crises, my interlocutors wield the ‘principle of the smallest scale appropriate’ in order to determine the ‘appropriateness’ of local, regional, international and global scales of political responsibility and responsive action – scales which may be both smaller and larger than that of the Republican nation-state.

The paper therefore examines the recently-fraught place of French Catholics on the national public stage not (only) in terms of a conflictual presence of religious actors in a secular political sphere, but as a tension between two visions of the scalar articulation of responsibility, individual dignity, and collective ‘Common Good’.

Panel Irre12a
Scaling irresponsibility: perceptions of the failure of European liberal democratic politics I
  Session 1 Tuesday 30 March, 2021, -