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Thursday, December 29, 2005

A quick guide to Distributism

This is got from the Guildist League e-group on Yahoo. I put Distributism under the umbrella of Mutualism. The actual economics of Distributism I don't have much problem with. My problems with Distributism arise from its often extremely ultra-Catholic followers, which as a militant secularist, I find off putting. However, the following is worth reading, and if it floats your boat, go for it!


Distributism, also known as distributionism and distributivism, is an
anti-capitalist economic philosophy formulated by such Catholic
thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the
principles of social justice theoretically articulated by the Roman
Catholic Church. According to distributism, the ownership of the
means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the
populace, rather than being centralized under the control of a few
state bureaucrats (some forms of socialism) or a minority of resource-
commanding individuals (capitalism). A summary of distributism is
found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean
too many capitalists, but too few capitalists" ("The Uses of
Diversity", 1921).

Distributism has often been described as a third way of economic
order besides socialism and capitalism. It is now sometimes seen more
realistically as an aspiration, which has been successfully realised
in the short term by commitment to the principles of subsidarity and
solidarity (these being built into financially independent local co-
operatives). However, the elimination therein of usury and similar
percentage-based profiteering in trade will need to be theoretically
justified (in terms of the laws of circulation), and legally
generalised (by restatement of business aims in company and banking
law), if this system is to be a stable "third way" in the long term,
rather than a strand in a mixed economy, forever defending itself
against predatory capitalists.


While the papal encyclicals were a starting point, Belloc and
Chesterton based much of their suggestions of what to change today by
analyzing what worked in medieval times before the development of the
capitalist philosophy as first articluated by Jean Quidort (d. 1306)
in the theory of homo economicus in De potestate regia et papali.

The articulation of Distributist ideas was based on 19th and 20th
century Papal teachings, beginning with Pope Leo XIII's Rerum
Novarum. Distributist thought is probably Biblical but certainly,
with hindsight, already evident in medieval practice; its modern co-
operative form is evident in the Jesuit 'reductions' in Paraguay, the
origins of what is now being called the European Union, the Mondragon
co-operatives in Spain and MacArthur's strategy for the post-war
reconstruction of Japan (copied by Taiwan).

In 1930s America, distributism was treated in numerous essays by
Chesterton, Belloc and others in The American Review, published and
edited by Seward Collins.

Distributist thought was later adopted by the Catholic Worker
movement, conjoining it with Peter Maurin's vision of a green
revolution, and the thought of Dorothy Day concerning localized and
independent communities. Its practical implementation in the form of
local co-operatives has recently been documented by Race Mathews in
Jobs of Our Own.

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 individualist 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.

Guild system

The kind of economic order envisioned 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.


Distributism favors the elimination of the current private bank
system, or in any case, its profit-making basis. This does not
necessarily mean Nationalization. It does mean Governments accepting
their responsibility for ensuring justice, especially in the monetary

Social theory

The pioneers of the distributist movement wrote before the
Information Era; their Christian roots, however, were in the theory
of the Word of God. A forthcoming Distributist research program aims
to examine the theoretical implications of linguistic communication
capability being the specifically human basis of society, rather than
power relationships or specific institutions. Just as electrical
theory is the basis for the theory of operation of specific
electronic systems, so technical communication theory as it has
developed is envisaged as the basic theory of operation of specific
social systems. C.f. sociology.

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 principle unit of a functioning distributist
society and civilization. This unit is however 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 to come. 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'.

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.

Social security

Distributism favours 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.

It does not follow that social security as it exists now should be
simply eliminated: that is a fallacy (or cynical mis-use) of
naive "either-or" logic. Social security will remain necessary just
so long as people have no other means of acquiring a livelihood.
Study of time-based logic has suggested an alternative solution. If
everyone is paid before they work, they thus owe a fair share of what
work they can do which they can see needs doing (rather than an
employer owing [token] money just to those who have done work that he
has prescribed). If the wages (including trader's incomes and,
elsewhere, investment finances) take the form of interest-free loans,
the money will be repaid for recirculation simply by its return to
the bank when it is spent. Most people would want to continue earning
it in the usual way, but those not so working would be expected by
their local community to be doing a sufficient share of other
necessary or worthwhile work: child-rearing, education, artistic
creation, appropriate recreation etc., or voluntary work in the
community or natural environment. Business would no longer be for
monetary profit, but to create real benefits for the community. Crime
would no longer be attractive as a way of acquiring a livelihood. In
short, everyone would benefit from real social security without any
need for demeaning and inadequate state-run monetary "social

Political order

Distributism does not favor one set of political order over another,
whether it be from democracy to monarchism. Distributism does not
necessarily support anarchism, though some distributists, such as
Dorothy Day, were also anarchists. Distributism does not support
political orders that go towards extremes of individualism or statism.

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 England which espouse distributist views.


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 and the Second Boer
War. Cecil Chesterton fought in World War I.

Ultranationalist groups

Controversy in the Distributist community has occurred because of
associations of distributism with some ultranationalist groups. This
would include groups such as the British National Party which claims
to hold distributist views. The association of distributism with some
ultranationalist groups is more considerable in Europe where some
people see the usage of distributism to reflect an "old order" and
return to "nationalistic roots" of a country.

Many in the Distributist community are convinced that said groups are
trying to infiltrate the community, so as to co-opt them for their
own dark agendas.

Key texts
The Servile State by Hilaire Belloc
An Essay on The Restoration of Property by Hilaire Belloc
Utopia of Usurers by G.K. Chesterton
The Outline Of Sanity by G.K. Chesterton
What's Wrong With The World by G.K. Chesterton

Hilaire Belloc
Cecil Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton
Dorothy Day
Eric Gill
Fr. Vincent McNabb O.P.
Arthur Penty

Also look at :

Links favourable to Distributism Distributism Yahoo Group "The Distributist Review" weblog


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