by Dr. Ovidiu Hurduzeu
Distributism is firmly grounded in the Western intellectual and religious tradition. Its political economy is based on the moral principles of the Catholic social teaching; its inspiring terms derive their vigor from the practice of “local” and “decentralized” economies of yesterday and today – where “local ” and “decentralized” are defined in Western terms. The Distributist alternative proposes the restoration of an economy within the boundaries of an enlarged Aristotelian oikonomia, “producing, distributing and maintaining concrete use values for the household and community over the long run”(H. E. Daly). The main tenets of Distributism are widespread property, the just wages, the subordination of economic activity to human life as a whole (reunion of ethics, spirituality and economics), subsidiarity, the cooperative and fraternal spirit. Successful as these Distributist tenets are in challenging entrenched idiosyncrasies, they still struggle to establish a firm foundation for a truly “third way” beyond capitalism and socialism, individualism and collectivism. Distributism should capitalize better on its own potentialities by calling into question the root cause of today’s Problems. My contention is that the Distributist embrace of economic localism cannot be divorced from a sound theology of the particular; “the local” needs to be rooted in an ontological soil in order to be a unique reality. I also argue that Distributists’ concern for the dignity of the human person and for the welfare of the community should be expressed within the context of a Christian anthropology. If Distributists want to avoid the pitfalls of materialism, they need adequate theological support. More precisely, they need to speak a Trinitarian language. Distributism cannot abstract from a Christology and Pneumatology of both communal and personal religious experience. Continue reading
The newly-formed Romanian Distributist League “Ion Mihalache” marks a first victory for Distributism in Romania. It should come as no surprise that Distributism is being touted as the best vehicle for radical change in this post-communist country.
In the post-World I period, Distributism found concrete success in Central and Eastern Europe. When the peasant parties came to power, they embarked on the implementation of a radical, distributist-oriented program which drew high praise from G.K. Chesterton. In his “Introduction” to Helen Douglas-Irvine’s book, The Making of Rural Europe (1923), G.K. Chesterton writes:
“[Throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans] in a sort of awful silence the peasantries have fought one vast and voiceless pitched battle with Bolshevism and its twin brother, which is Big Business, and the peasantries have won… It is a huge historical hinge and turning point, like the conversion of Constantine or the French Revolution… What has happened in Europe since the war was a vast victory for the peasant, and therefore a vast defeat for the communists and the capitalists.”
After the World War, Eastern European countries, except Hungary, adopted democratic institutions and enfranchised the peasant both politically (by the universal vote) and economically (by the land reform). “Peasant parties,” writes George D. Jackson, Jr., “having been suddenly thrust to the pinnacle of power by the new electoral laws professed their devotion to democracy, anti-Bolshevism, and significant social and economic reforms.” It was a period of hope and enthusiasm. The “vast victory for the peasant” came at a time when new national states in Eastern Europe were created. After 1918, Romania also rejoiced national statehood as she came to include all provinces with an ethnic Romanian majority. Peasants had no accumulated grievances against their governments and stayed immune to the Bolshevik internationalist propaganda (In Romania, for instance, the National Peasant Party vehemently rejected a Comintern-inspired “single great union of workers’ and peasants’ republic in the Balkans”).
“The vast victory for the peasant” was short-lived; by the end of the thirties, the agrarian regimes were ended by dictatorship. “The hue and cry was ever against the Bolshevik wolves,” writes David Mitrany, ”but it was the peasant shepherds who got murdered, like Stamboliski and Radic, or imprisoned and ostracized, like Witos and Maniu and a host of their followers. In one country after another, the peasant groups were in this way cheated out of their legitimate claim to power.” Alone, the Czechoslovak Agrarian Party stayed in power, in coalition with others, until 1938. And yet “the peasantist movements remained the highest and most authentic expression of both popular and intelligentsia aspirations in the interwar period.” Continue reading
The widespread distribution of productive property is the primary goal of Distributism; however, other principles also inform Distributism’s pursuit of this goal. The first of these is the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Leo XIII speaks little about it; however, Pope Pius XI, in a daughter encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, teaches it very clearly. The principle of subsidiarity is the simple notion that
[J]ust as it is a crime to take away and hand over to the community those things which can be done with proper struggle and industry by single men, so also it is an injury, a grave fault, and a disruption of right order to summon to the larger and higher society those things which can be done and excelled by smaller and lower communities.
Put simply, subsidiarity dictates that whatever can be done by a smaller unit should not be done by a larger one. This principle clearly leads to the greater distribution of productive property. There is no reason for much of our production of wealth to be so concentrated; Distributism would encourage this overconcentration to be remedied, spreading ownership of productive property more broadly throughout the populace. Continue reading
Catholic social teaching is as old as Catholicism; the Scriptures themselves teach the basics of economic justice. Our Lord reminds us that the laborer is due a just wage for his work, for example; the Didache tells us that greed is wickedness, and that “advocates for the rich” shall be condemned. Christian thinkers from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas and beyond have dedicated themselves to political and economic thinking in light of the Catholic faith. However, formalized economic teaching from the Magisterium is a relatively recent thing; its pioneering document was that of the great Pope Blessed Leo XIII, Rerum novarum.
Rerum novarum has been received less than enthusiastically by modern economic thinkers; some, even Catholics, argue that it was based on ignorance or even that it has since been changed. Nevertheless, the correct attitude of the Catholic toward this great encyclical was enunciated early on by Pope St. Pius X, in his own encyclical Singulari quadam:
Therefore, in the first place, we proclaim that the duty of all Catholics is… to hold firmly and to confess fearlessly the principles of Christian truth, handed down by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, especially those which Our most wise predecessor explained in the encyclical letter Rerum novarum. Continue reading
Who was E.F. Schumacher? And why should Catholics be interested in his ideas? Best-selling Catholic author Joseph Pearce explains why ‘small is still beautiful,’ and how Schumacher influenced his own conversion to Catholicism.Say the name “Joseph Pearce” and you think of the Christian literary figures he’s examined in his critically-acclaimed biographies—J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and most recently, Oscar Wilde. Or you think of his signature work, Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief, an elegantly written, meta-biographical tour de force which tells the story of the Christian literary revival of the twentieth century through the lives of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Malcolm Muggeridge, and other great English-language writers who had converted to Christianity.
Joseph Pearce’s current comments (…) on distributism, a subject on which he is an internationally respected scholar (I first heard his name in an address in Sydney on the theme), has brought to my mind a fact about Shakespeare which seems to have escaped scholarly notice. In King Lear the dramatist shows us how people afflicted with unjust suffering can learn not only to endure their adversity with dignity, but to profit from it. (Of course, the purifying potential of suffering has always been a central theme of Christianity; and this potential was also recognised among the classical philosophers). It is especially noteworthy that Lear and Gloucester learn from their ordeals how blind they had been in their days of prosperity to, among other things, the sufferings of those with nothing. Lear reflects (IV.iv.28ff.) that “pomp” should experience the “houseless poverty” of “Poor naked wretches”,
That thou may’st shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just.
“Superflux” means, of course, superfluity. Similarly, Gloucester declares (IV.i.69-73) that “the superfluous and lust dieted man” should give of his abundance
So distribution should undo excess,
And each man have enough.
“Lust” here means simply “wishes”; and the lust-dieted man is one who can indulge his every wish.
Through Lear’s and Gloucester’s reflections, Shakespeare is enunciating traditional Catholic social philosophy. Aquinas taught that the fruits of the earth are for all men, and that although it is natural and proper not only that there should be private property but that some men should own more goods than others, natural justice requires that those who have a superabundance of goods should give of their superfluity to help the poor. [Summa Theologica II.II.66.7.] Indeed, Aquinas maintained that if a person could survive only by taking the minimum he needed from the superfluity of another, such an appropriation was legitimate and did not constitute theft. It is unsurprising that Shakespeare should have been acquainted with Thomistic thought, since at the time he was writing Aquinas was much revered, read and invoked in intellectual “establishment” circles in England, not only by crypto-Catholic scholars such as Oxford’s Dr John Case, but even by militant anti-Catholics such as Oxford’s Dr John Rainolds and the poet-divine John Donne (both renegade Catholics). One could openly buy Aquinas’ complete works (in Latin) from leading London book shops in St Paul’s Churchyard.
by Dale Ahlquist
I remember a certain kind of television commercial that I vaguely saw about a million times when I was growing up. It was for some breakfast cereal. It would always end with a quick parting shot of the bowl of cereal surrounded by a lot of other food with the announcer’s voiceover urgently telling us, “Part of this complete breakfast!” The unconscious message was that the cereal alone was the complete breakfast. The “part of” was the part we missed. In order to achieve that elusive standard of completeness, we really had to have all that other stuff too. I can’t remember what it all was. It went by too fast. I know there was a glass of orange juice. There might have been a side of baked beans for all I know. And maybe some liver steaks. It is quite possible, in fact, that the breakfast shown would have been just as complete without the cereal. At any rate, the cereal alone was not enough, even though most people bought it thinking it was.
Most of our modern ideas suffer from being no more than breakfast cereal. Most of the energy and attraction in them is in the packaging. Inside there is very little substance. A lot of it is fried air with sugar coating. There may be a few grains of truth, but not enough, not the whole truth. Yet the world feeds on these light and snappy ideas and on nothing else. The rest of the complete breakfast is completely missing. Even those ideas which are profound and practical for our world still suffer from incompleteness. We can have the right ideas about politics and economics, but life is more than politics and economics. The affliction of specialization is myopia. As specialists we are under the delusion that our small area of expertise informs us about everything else. We know more and more about less and less. Truth has been carefully compartmentalized. Colleges and universities have been carefully departmentalized. We are all specialists, and none of us are generalists, and there is no glue to hold all our fragmented truths together. There is thinking, but no thought, as in a complete understanding that is comprehensive and coherent. Continue reading