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
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.