Subsidiarity, Free Markets, and Creature Care
Conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—should be among the most instinctively inclined toward creation care.
In 2006, Rod Dreher released his book Crunchy Cons, which proclaimed how “Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).”
These segments have always been present within the right’s coalition. Conservatives have long echoed the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity, which holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate or local level closest to the source of need. Free markets are a central component of a flourishing society, and the state’s responsibility is to promote justice and the common good. Finally, as Christians, we hold that “stewardship” includes prudential creation care which includes creature care, concern for animals’ welfare.
Conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—should be among the most instinctively inclined toward creation care. The Clapham Group led an effort called Every Living Thing, inviting Christians to celebrate the wonder and beauty of God’s creation and commit to compassionate living by signing the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.
Whether you sign the statement or not, all Bible-believing Christians believe that God put Adam in the garden and instructed him to care for it (Gen. 2:15), God’s character can be learned from that which He created (Rom. 1:20), and the earth, and everything in it, belongs to God (1 Cor. 10:26).
These intermingled beliefs of subsidiarity, free markets, and creature care are at the center of an ongoing debate that started in California, traveled through the U.S. Supreme Court, and is now simmering in the U.S. Congress in the form of the Ending Agriculture Trade Suppression Act (EATS Act).
In 2018, California voters approved—by a nearly 2-to-1 margin—a proposition to set certain standards for agricultural products sold in California. One of the standards required that pork offered for sale in the state be derived from breeding pigs that were allowed enough space to turn around and lie down freely. While a very minimal requirement, most breeding pigs are encased in restrictive metal cages so tightly as to be deprived of even these basic and natural movements—and deprived of them for nearly their entire lifespan.
While many pork producers have adopted new and more humane methods of housing breeding pigs—and their businesses are thriving as a result—some of the largest pork producers challenged the law, claiming that it effectively regulated farming in other states. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected that particular claim in an opinion authored by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.
As Congress’ discussions of a new Farm Bill gain momentum, enter the EATS Act, an effort to push back against a valid exercise of state authority—one just affirmed by the Supreme Court. The EATS Act would trample all three conservative principles we’ve outlined: 1) It would swallow up subsidiarity–invalidating not only the California law in question but hundreds of other state laws all across the nation–de facto favoring centralized authority in Washington, D.C. instead. 2) It would eviscerate the free market rooted in federalism that currently exists for pork products–and within which many producers are thriving. 3) Finally, it would punish hundreds of producers who have already embraced the responsibility of animal stewardship.
As conservatives, we can and should do better than accepting the short-sighted argument that we have no interest in how our food is raised and produced, and that local people can’t make decisions about the type of food sold in their communities.
Dreher puts it this way:
To participate in a system and a way of thinking in which the act of eating is merely a commercial transaction is to sell out our spiritual and cultural patrimony. I understand the free-market reasons why Americans do this. But I don’t understand why it is called conservative.
We think Dreher is correct. Affordable and readily accessible food is a good thing. But it is not the only thing. The EATS Act is a misguided effort that turns a blind eye to a whole host of conservative principles. Conservatives in D.C. should reject it, and conservatives all across the country should continue to embrace the goals of subsidiarity, free markets rooted in federalism, and creation and creature care.