Joe Rogan and Naval Ravikant

I recently listened to Joe Rogan’s conversation with Naval Ravikant:

Naval riffs at one point on something from Nassim Taleb that I hadn’t heard before:

“With my family, I’m a communist. With my close friends, I’m a socialist. At the state level of politics, I’m a Democrat. At higher levels, I’m a Republican, and at the federal levels, I’m a Libertarian.”

Nassim’s point, Naval explains, is that “the larger the group of people you have together, the less trust there is and the more cheating takes place [and] the more you gear towards capitalism, [but] the smaller the group you’re in—then by all means be a socialist.”

This is provocative and perhaps it is helpful in provoking thought, but thinking it through is tough in light of the incredible cultural/political baggage that all of these words carry into the attempt to think clearly. Better to start fresh by returning to first principles.

A way to return to first principles, and to avoid stale political blind alleys in our thought, is to look to Catholic social teaching and particularly to subsidiarity as an organizing principle. I think Naval/Nassim are grasping for the principle of subsidiarity, which the catechism of the Catholic Church describes in this way:

Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.’ 

“God … entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of government ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

“Subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.” (CCC 1883-1885).

Christopher Dodson unpacks the principle of subsidiarity:

Subsidiarity, however, is not mere local control. In fact, the word comes from the Latin “subsidium,” meaning to provide aid. So, the principle of subsidiarity is really about the duty of the higher order to provide assistance to the lower order when appropriate. One example is when the lower order cannot provide a necessary function, such as defense, or has failed to protect the rights of persons and the common good, such as civil rights. …

Subsidiarity, therefore, is not “make local and leave alone.” It is “presume local and assist when needed through appropriate means.”

Whenever you act to do some good thing that no one else could better do, that is subsidiarity.