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From an Internet Discussion List
Is Distributism a form of Socialism?

In a discussion about racial and class differences, a List participant suggested that Christendom would have far less social struggle if it instituted Distributism, the economic system of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who claimed to base their system on the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII.

June AD 2000

Dear Bishop Xxxxxx, Father Yyyyy, Zzzzz, and List-members:

    If "distributism" doesn't seem like socialism, it is because we are used to looking at the more coherent socialist systems of nation-states. Distributism is a more "cobbled together" socialism of the type that might be employed by altruistic utopians in a medium sized community somewhere in a developing nation that can afford to leave that community alone while giving it a measure of protection from outside threats. The United States had several such communities in its first fifty years or so -- for the most part they failed when succeeding generations fell from the original upper-middle class or otherwise ceased to share the founders' ideals, and as government taxation and conscription became more intrusive.  Such utopian enclaves were more viable in the days before the Income Tax and the need to involuntarily raise armies.  Were an entire country to adopt distributism, it might have serious difficulties defending itself against more aggressive neighbors. 

    For those who are unfamiliar, there are several articles describing and endorsing distributism in the July 1998 and the October and November 2002  issues of The Angelus. They appear to be urging it as an economic system for a nation.

    Distributism holds out the hope of returning to the simpler life of yesterday, based more on rural cottage industry than modern industrial methods. As such it sounds good to Catholic ears in that it promises a return to extended family life, away from the evils and temptations of dwelling in a crowded apartment among strangers. The premise is that there is such a thing as "the Christian economic system," that distributism is that system, and that Christian values can be built into the system instead of being built into the people.

    Distributism distributes production -- not wealth. By a series of new taxes, distributism makes it unprofitable for anyone to own a chain of stores or a department store, to finance an enterprise by the sale of stock (other than to its own workers), or to achieve any economy of scale in production. The cottage industry is thus made competitive by taxing everything that is more efficient. Wealth is not "re-distributed" to anyone -- it is simply suppressed! The resultiing decline in material wealth is seen as a "plus" by those who feel that the world is plagued with too many goods.

    Capital industries like communications, transportation, mining, energy, and heavy production would be state monopolies. The state would locate its heavy industry in rural locations, and short working hours would allow laborers to raise their own meat and vegetables in the family plot. They would, of course, be paid less because they will raise many of their own necessities.  Given the material expectations of modern man, it is difficult to imagine the state restricting itself to a few major industries.  We may not think of pocket combs and toilet paper as being capital intensive products--we would if such things were available only from cottage industries, making them with hand tools, at the prices they would have to charge.

    For utopian communities to function harmoniously they must be able to expel the unproductive and allow the dissatisfied to leave of their own will. Otherwise they must become brutal in order to enforce conformity with the community's standards. This becomes a danger as community membership falls off with new generations -- it is more inevitable in a utopian nation -- to say nothing of a utopian world order.

    Perhaps the greatest danger in a distributist society is the degree of control granted to some "elite" and to the bureaucracy run by that elite. In any form of government, bureaucracies become an end in themselves; they become entrenched and control the very mechanisms that might be used to remove them. Obviously, removal or change is even harder if the bureaucracy is essential to the economy.  In this connection, one is reminded of the Corporate Socialism of pre-war Italy

    As Father Xxxxx pointed out, the Church has no approved political or economic system. People are free to govern themselves as they will for as long as they do not encroach upon the rights of God, His Church, or each other. No human system will ever work properly without virtuous citizens who demand virtue from their leaders.

    Here in the United States our problems have less to do with "the system" than they have to do with the failure of the people to make the system work. Most have not read the Constitution since their fifth grade days. Only a handful actually understand how money is (in spite of the Constitution) circulated, controlled, and charged for by the private banking system.  The enormous, ever bloating bureaucracy continues to attack the moral law no matter which of the two (supposedly opposite) parties is in power. For the most part our citizens are blissfully ignorant of the proper role of government, and don't even want to think about restoring the Republic to virtue -- everyone is getting something from the government, so suggesting a return to legal government and economics is looked down upon as a form of sedition.

    "[W]e don't need any more communism/socialism" is right! What we need is people who know their Catholic faith and practice it, and who likewise know and actively fulfill their duties as citizens of their respective countries.


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