The Catholic Idea of Distributism
Just the word made a Capitalist like me shiver…but knowing what it means actually puts a word to what you have been thinking all your life…
We’re talking personal responsibility, property ownership, right-to-work and follow your dreams in a socio-economic system that makes sense – and works everywhere it is tried.
It’s Capitalism without the monopolies or government cronyism. It’s making sure that he who WON’T work won’t eat, but ensuring that he who CAN’T work does eat.
An economic social structure ideology that developed in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum (On Capital and Labor) and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno. Promulgated by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, Distributism walks hand-in-hand with the principle of Subsidiarity.
It’s hallmarks are…
The Family: Distributism sees the family of two married parents – one man and one woman – and their child or children as the central and primary social unit of human ordering and the principal unit of a functioning distributist society and civilization.
Private Property Rights: An environment that enables a person to earn a living without having to rely on the use of the property of others to do so.
A Guild-like labor system: Mixed class syndicates composed of both employers and employees cooperating for mutual benefit, thereby promoting class collaboration. This is diametrically opposed to the current union system that builds and thrives upon class interest and class struggle.
Credit unions: In preference over private banks and nationalized banking systems with some government oversight in the area of anti-trust regulation; this system particularly espouses the elimination of the banking practice of usury.
Government Market Regulation
Anti-trust legislation: Distributism embraces the idea that too much capitalism means too few capitalists, not too many; therefore it seeks legislation to prevent the concentration of market power in a given industry into too-few hands. 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.
Subsidiarity: Distributism puts great emphasis on this principle which holds that no larger unit (whether social, economic, or political) should perform a function which can be performed by a smaller unit. Subsidiarity is one of the Four Great Ideas I explore further here.
Social Security: Distributism favors the elimination of social security on the basis that it further alienates Man by making him more dependent on and subject to the government.
Production and Services
Society of Artisans: Distributism promotes an emphasis on small business, promotion of local culture, and favoring of small production over capitalistic mass production. Not promoting a return to pre-Industrial Revolution living and conditions, but a more localized ownership of production of manufactured goods and food.
System of Government
Political Order: Distributism is a widely encompassing concept inside of which any number of interpretations and perspectives thrive. Distributism works only in a political systems that are characterized by widespread ownership of productive property; meanin many people owning their own property, not a collective or commune or government owning property.
War: Distributists apply Just War Theory in determining whether a war should be fought or not.
I believe a real ManHusbandDad explores as an honest skeptic. The links below will provide more in-depth information concerning the history, use of, and viability of Distributism. Please do not assume the information given above is exhaustive, and do your own due diligence. Click on the heading below to be taken to these external resources.
Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 Letter “Rerum Novarum – Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor” was the catalyst for the Distributist ideology. Prophetic in its understanding of the Socialist and Capitalist self-destruction, this document is a must-read in order to understand what ills Distributism addresses in its founding.
One of the promulgators of the Distributist way of life, G. K. Chesterton’s writings and teachings are mandatory for an understanding of its development and “fleshing out” after Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 letter. The American Chesterton Society preserves and promotes Chesterton’s teaching and is a vast resource for the serious inquiry.
In 2013 Pope Francis was excoriated by such notables as Rush Limbaugh for taking what they believed was a socialist perspective on economics. With an understanding of Distributism now under your belt – assuming you have looked at the other resources – read the Pope’s letter now. This quote is what got him into trouble with the ill-informed talking heads:
Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.
Does his position make more sense now in context of Distributism?
As on the writing of this article, the Wikipedia entry for Distributism provides a concise overview of the history and platform of this ideology. It also provides links to current movements incorporating the ideals of this philosophy. It’s a good place to start in order to grasp the “big picture.” It is not a place to hang your hat as an expert of Distributism once you have read it, though! Consider this entry a primer. Future updates of this Wikipedia entry may render this suggestion to read it moot, as we all know Wikipedia is not the end-source or only source for any unchecked facts.
What do you think? Is Distributism Good? Bad?
Kristofer Cowles, MHD
HOO™ Co-Founder | Director of Catechetical Content | Catechist
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