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The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution, by drawing masses of unskilled laborers to urban centers during the late eighteenth century, presented complex new social problems. These laborers included women and children, working under very unhealthy conditions, and 14 hour workdays were common. Following the thought of Scottish economist Adam Smith, there was a widespread belief that the economy would regulate itself, but laws were finally passed in the English Parliament protecting factory workers between 1802 and 1833. Comparable laws were passed in France during the 1840's. Reactions in the American continent were slower.
Part of the reluctance in the United States to address the problems resulting from the Industrial Revolution stemmed from a pervasive attitude of "individualism": "Governmental acts are thought of as restrictions upon individual liberty. Government and its operations come to be regarded as little better than necessary evils... [and limited to] preserve order, enforce contracts, and punish crime." John Ryan blames some of this attitude on "the natural individualism of a pioneer people inhabiting a land of exceptional opportunities."
Gladden point out that modern democracy creates a new form of social responsibility, and governments should be seen as an agent of the will of the voters: "the men to whom you and I preach are sovereigns, — the sovereign people; voters in this country are 'the powers that be'; they are ordained of God to organize and administer civil society..."
The Principle of Subsidiarity
Returning to fundamental principles, government is not a necessary evil, it is one of the many group functions in which human beings participate, and it can be small and local like a village or large as a nation. In implementing a proper order in a civil society, a very useful organizational principle has been termed the Principle of Subsidiarity. It is attributed to Wilhelm von Ketteler (1811-1877), bishop of Mainz, Germany:
My ideal is expressed in the simple formula: the individual has his own rights which he may exercise. I do not look upon the state as a machine, but as a living organism with living members, in which each member has his own right and his own free life. Such members are the individuals, the family, the community. Each inferior member has freedom of action in his own sphere and enjoys complete autonomy. Only when an inferior member of the organism is no longer in position to attain to its goals alone, to overcome a danger threatening its development, does the higher member take over the responsibility and the inferior member must concede to the superior whatever portion of its freedom this latter needs to attain to its goal.
Bishop von Ketteler developed the principle as a result of his experiences dealing with sociopolitical issues in Germany, and the concept became an essential component of the Catholic social encyclicals. This principle affirms that it is preferable to handle problems at a lower level, that is at the individual or local community level, before resorting to a higher level, such as a state or federal level. This great practical rule seeks the most freedom of action and autonomy possible for the individual and the smaller communities, placing the solution of problems at the closest level to the problems, where they may be best understood, but resorting to the next higher level when it becomes necessary. At the same time the opportunity for the individual to develop his sense of responsibility and creativity is maximized, fostering his or her moral growth.
 J. Wesley Bready, Lord Shaftesbury (New York: Fran-Maurice Inc., 1927).
 Parker Thomas Moon, The Labor Problem and the Social Catholic Movement in France (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1921), 48-49.
 John A. Ryan, "Erroneous Theories Concerning the Functions of the State," in The State and the Church, John A. Ryan and Moorhouse F. X. Millar, S.J., eds. (New York: The Macmillan Company,1922), 209.
 Ibid., 209-210.
 Washington Gladden, The Nation and the Kingdom (Boston: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1909), 4-5.
 Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1898), Paragraph #32.
 Washington Gladden, Social Salvation (Cambridge, Mass.: The Riverside Press, 1902), 21.
 John A. Ryan, "Erroneous Theories Concerning the Functions of the State," 213.
 Wilhelm von Ketteler in William Edward Hogan, ed., The Development of Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel Von Ketteler Interpretation of the Social Problem, 260.