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Distributism, also known as distributionism and distributivism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Roman Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of Catholic Social Teaching articulated by the Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum[1] and more expansively explained by Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno[2] According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (plutarchic capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists."[3]

Essentially, distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property (not to be confused with redistribution of capital that would be carried out by most socialist plans of governance). While socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers' control), and capitalism allows only a few to own it, distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property. As Hilaire Belloc stated, the distributive state (that is, the state which has implemented distributism) contains "an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production."[4] This broader distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, etc.[5]

Distributism has often been described as a third way of economic order opposing both socialism and capitalism. Some have seen it more as an aspiration, which has been successfully realised in the short term by commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (these being built into financially independent local co-operatives and family owned, small businesses), though proponents also cite such periods as the Middle Ages as examples of the historical long-term viability of distributism.[6]

Contents

History

The articulation of Distributist ideas was based on 19th and 20th century Papal teachings, beginning with Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum. In 1930s America, distributism was treated in numerous essays by Chesterton, Belloc and others in The American Review, published and edited by Seward Collins. Pivotal among Chesterton's and Belloc's other works regarding distributism include The Servile State[7] and Outline of Sanity[8]

Distributist thought was later adopted by the Catholic Worker Movement, conjoining it with the thought of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin concerning localized and independent communities. It also influenced the thought behind the Antigonish Movement, which implemented co-operatives and other measures to aid the poor in the Canadian Maritimes. Its practical implementation in the form of local co-operatives has recently been documented by Race Mathews in Jobs of Our Own.

Position within the political spectrum

William Cobbett's social views influenced Chesterton.

The position of Distributists when compared to other political philosophies is somewhat paradoxical and complicated. Strongly entrenched in an organic but very English Catholicism, advocating culturally traditionalist and agrarian values, directly challenging the precepts of Whig history — Belloc was nonetheless an MP for the Liberal Party and Chesterton once stated "I still believe in liberalism today as much as I ever did, but, oh, there was a happy time when I believed in liberals". This "liberalism" in essence is different to most mainstream forms, taking influence from William Cobbett and John Ruskin, who combined elements of radicalism, challenging the establishment position, but from a perspective of renovation, not revolution; seeing themselves as trying to restore the traditional liberties of England and her people which had been taken away from them, by amongst other things the Industrial Revolution.

While converging with certain elements of traditional Toryism, especially an appreciation of the Middle Ages and organic society, there were several points of significant contention. While many Tories were strongly opposed to reform, the Distributists in certain cases saw this not as conserving a legitimate traditional concept of England, but in many cases, entrenching harmful errors and innovations. Belloc was quite explicit in his opposition to Protestantism as a concept and schism from the Catholic Church in general, considering the division of Christendom in the 16th century, as one of the most harmful events in the history of Europe. Elements of Toryism on the other hand were quite intransigent when it came to the Church of England as the established church, some even spurned their original legitimist royalist principles in regards to James II to uphold it.

Much of Dorothy L. Sayers' writings on social and economic matters has affinity with Distributism, although she nowhere identifies herself as a Distributist. She may have been influenced by them, or have come to similar conclusions on her own; as an Anglican, the reasonings she gave are rooted in the theologies of Creation and Incarnation, and thus are slightly different from the Roman Catholic Chesterton and Belloc.

Economic theory

Private property

Under such a system, most people would be able to earn a living without having to rely on the use of the property of others to do so. Examples of people earning a living in this way would be farmers who own their own land and related machinery, plumbers who own their own tools, software developers who own their own computer, etc. The "co-operative" approach advances beyond this perspective to recognise that such property and equipment may be "co-owned" by local communities larger than a family, e.g. partners in a business.

In Rerurm Novarurm, Leo XIII states that people are likely to work harder and with greater commitment if they themselves possess the land on which they labour, which in turn will benefit them and their families as workers will be able to provide for themselves and their household. He puts forward the idea that when men have the opportunity to possess property and work on it, they will “learn to love the very soil which yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of the good things for themselves and those that are dear to them.” [9] He states also that owning property is not only beneficial for a person and their family, but is in fact a right, due to God having “...given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race”. [10]

Similar views are presented by G.K Chesterton in his 1910 Book What’s Wrong with the World. Chesterton believes that whilst God has limitless capabilities, man has limited abilities in terms of creation. As such, man therefore is entitled to own property and to treat it as he sees fit. He states “Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven. But because he is not God, but only a graven image of God, his self-expression must deal with limits; properly with limits that are strict and even small.”[11]

Guild system

The kind of economic order envisaged by the early distributist thinkers would involve the return to some sort of guild system. The present existence of labor unions does not constitute a realization of this facet of distributist economic order, as labour unions are organized along class lines to promote class interests, whereas Guilds are mixed class syndicates composed of both employers and employees cooperating for mutual benefit.

Banks

Distributism favors the elimination of the current private bank system, or in any case, its profit-making basis. This does not necessarily entail nationalization, but could involve government involvement of some sort.

Distributists look favorably on credit unions as a preferable alternative to banks.

Anti-Trust Legislation

Distributism appears to have one of its greatest influences in anti-trust legislation in America and Europe designed to break up monopolies and excessive concentration of market power in one or only a few companies, trusts, interests, or cartels. Embodying the philosophy explained by Chesterton, above, that too much capitalism means too few capitalists, not too many, America's extensive system of anti-trust legislation seeks to prevent the concentration of market power in a given industry into too-few hands. Requiring that no company gain too great a share of any market is an example of how distributism has found its way into US government policy. The assumption behind this legislation is the idea that having economic activity decentralized among many different industry participants is better for the economy than having one or a few large players in an industry. (Note that anti-trust regulation does take into account cases when only large companies are viable because of the nature of an industry, but favors many participants over few, whenever possible.)

Social theory

The human family

Distributism sees the trinitarian human family of one male, one female, and their children as the central and primary social unit of human ordering and the principal unit of a functioning distributist society and civilization. This unit is also the basis of a multi-generational extended family, which is embedded in socially as well as genetically inter-related communities, nations, etc., and ultimately in the whole human family past, present and future. The economic system of a society should therefore be focussed primarily on the flourishing of the family unit, but not in isolation: at the appropriate level of family context, as is intended in the principle of subsidiarity. Distributism reflects this doctrine most evidently by promoting the family, rather than the individual, as the basic type of owner; that is, distributism seeks to ensure that most families, rather than most individuals, will be owners of productive property. The family is, then, vitally important to the very core of distributist thought.

Subsidiarity

Distributism puts great emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity. This principle holds that no larger unit (whether social, economic, or political) should perform a function which can be performed by a smaller unit. Pope Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno, provided the classical statement of the principle: "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do."[2] Thus, any activity of production (which distributism holds to be the most important part of any economy) ought to be performed by the smallest possible unit. This helps support distributism's argument that smaller units, families if possible, ought to be in control of the means of production, rather than the large units typical of modern economies.

Pope Pius XI further stated, again in Quadragesimo Anno, "every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them."[5] To prevent large private organizations from thus dominating the body politic, distributism applies this principle of subsidiarity to economic as well as to social and political action.

Society of artisans

Distributism promotes a society of artisans and culture. This is influenced by an emphasis on small business, promotion of local culture, and favoring of small production over capitalistic mass production. A society of artisans promotes the distributist ideal of the unification of capital, ownership, and production rather than what distributism sees as an alienation of man from work. This does not, however, suggest that Distributism favors a technological regression to a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle, but a more local ownership of factories and other industrial centers. Products such as food and clothing would be preferably returned to local producers and artisans instead of being mass produced overseas.

Social security

Distributism favors the elimination of social security on the basis that it further alienates man by making him more dependent on the Servile State. Distributists such as Dorothy Day did not favor social security when it was introduced by the United States government. This rejection of this new program was due to the direct influence of the ideas of Hilaire Belloc over American distributists.

Geopolitical theory

Political order

Distributism does not favor one set of political order over another, from democracy to monarchism. Nor does it necessarily support anarchism; however, some distributists, such as Dorothy Day, have been also anarchists. It should be remembered how violently opposed to the mere concept of anarchism chesterian distributists are.

Political parties

Distributism does not attach itself to one national political party or another in any part of the world. There are some modern political parties in the United Kingdom which espouse distributist views such as the British National Party[12] and the National Front[13][14][15]

War

Distributists usually use Just War Theory in determining whether a war should be fought or not. Historical positions of distributist thinkers provides insight into a distributist position on war. Both Belloc and Chesterton opposed British imperialism in general, as well as specifically opposing the Second Boer War, but supported British involvement in World War I.

Influence

E. F. Schumacher

Distributism is known to have had an influence on the economist E. F. Schumacher, a convert to Catholicism.

Mondragón Cooperative Corporation

The Mondragón Cooperative Corporation based out of the Basque Country in the region of Spain and France, was founded by a Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, who seems to have been influenced by the same Catholic social and economic teachings that inspired Belloc, Chesterton, McNabb and the other founders of distributism. The Mondragón cooperative, however, may be considered "distributist" in the sense of valuing the ideal of the worker owning the means of production as much as possible, while some of its more international and capitalistic leanings seem to veer away from a true distributism.

The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

Distributist ideas were put into practice by The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a group of artists and craftsmen who established a community in Ditchling, Sussex, England in 1920, with the motto 'Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses'. The Guild sought to recreate an idealised medieval lifestyle in the manner of the Arts and Crafts Movement; it survived until 1989.

Controversy

Ultra-nationalist groups

Controversy in the Distributist community has occurred because of some ultra-nationalist groups appropriating distributism as their economic philosophy. This would include groups such as the British National Party which claims to hold some distributist views.[16]

Ultra-nationalists, who trace their ancestry back to fascist movements, see distributism as a version of corporativism.[17] There are some similarities between the two systems, notable parallels between the Corporativists' Corporations and the Distributists' Guilds. But there are fundamental differences between the two philosophies, notably the secular Corporativists' permissiveness towards big business and big government, and their ignoring of the principle of subsidiarity. Furthermore, most Distributists are Catholic and follow the Church's rejection of all forms of secular nationalism.

Key texts

See also

References

  1. ^ Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891.
  2. ^ a b Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1931.
  3. ^ G. K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity, 1921.
  4. ^ Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, 1913).
  5. ^ a b Id.
  6. ^ Hilaire Belloc, "The Servile Institution Dissolved," The Servile State (1913; reprint, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1977), 71-83.
  7. ^ Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, The Liberty Fund, originally published 1913.
  8. ^ G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, IHS Press, 2002, originally published 1927.
  9. ^ Pope Leo XIII, ‘’Rerum Novarum’’’ : 47, 1891
  10. ^ Pope Leo XII, Rerum Novarum: 8, 1891.
  11. ^ Chesterton, Gilbert Keith, What’s Wrong with the World, (1920) p 59.
  12. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20071016030401/www.bnp.org.uk/articles/deadly_twins1.htm
  13. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20040201212522/http://natfront.com/nf_faqs_1.html
  14. ^ http://www.by-elections.co.uk/carshalton76/nfcar7601b.jpg
  15. ^ http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=1889131444967090826&ei=0RGlSqLkLKSk2ALFiK34BA&q=ian+anderson+interview# Ian Anderson interview on criticism of Liberalism
  16. ^ N. Griffin, "Moving Forward for Good", Identity, No. 21, June 2002, p. 7.
  17. ^ David Baker, "The political economy of fascism: Myth or reality, or myth and reality?" New Political Economy, Volume 11, Issue 2 June 2006 , p. 227–250.

Further reading

  • Distributism by Anthony Cooney. ISBN 0-9535077-2-6.
  • Distributism by S Sagar. ISBN 0-905109-20-1
  • Shaw V. Chesterton: a Debate between George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton. ISBN 0-9679707-7-6. Etext







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