Distributism

The Real Antidote to Big Government

In the third installment of my proposal for a libertarian-distributist alliance, I explore why libertarians ought to be open to distributist ideas. An excerpt:

Chief among the reasons to support a greater distribution of property is the simple truth that the maximum sphere of individual liberty is not to be found in an individualist utopia, but a strong localism that provides individuals in a moral and efficient way that which they would otherwise turn to a powerful state or crime syndicate to provide.

Aristotle & Distributism: Part II

(Part I may be read here. Some of the discussion may be followed on my blog. Note: the presentation of this essay on this blog may differ somewhat from the outline I set forth in the introduction in Part I. The critique of communism/welfare-statism will be published tomorrow.)

In an academic culture that is often characterized by historicist and relativist viewpoints, the notion that Aristotle may have had anything relevant to say about modern economic systems seems a little strange to us. While it must be admitted that we cannot expect the ancient versions of capitalism and communism to be identical to their modern counterparts, we can nonetheless differentiate the historically-shaped form from what is arguably the timeless content. Moreover, by way of critique of the two dominant economic paradigms (for in the final instance, welfare-statism/Social Democracy incorporates the worst features of both), we can arrive at a more clear vision of the Distributist alternative.

Though it ought to become obvious through the critique of communism, it bears stating up front that the Aristotelian critique of capitalism is not an attack on private property. Difficult as it may be for some readers, the notion that the essence of capitalism is the possession and use of private property is a fallacy bequeathed to us not only by certain capitalist ideologists, but by many (though not all) communists and assorted “anti-capitalists” as well.

A definition of capitalism that accords well with Aristotle’s critique is an economy in which production for exchange is predominant, as opposed to production for immediate use/consumption. Though it is modern technology since the Industrial Revolution that actually allows such an economy to come into being, the pre-industrial tendencies towards this type of economy have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, and reached a pinnacle in the great civilizations of antiquity, including the ancient Greece in which Aristotle lived and wrote.

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Aristotle & Distributism: Part I

(Upon request, I am presenting my essay, which I will develop in five parts over the course of this week, here at TAC as well as my blog, Non Nobis)

Distributism is a current of Catholic social thought which holds that a greater distribution of private property, used in accordance with higher moral values and within the context of duties to community and society, is the best economic arrangement. It stands in contrast to both nationalized industry (socialism) as well as the permanent existence of a propertyless class (a feature of modern capitalism). For this, it has sometimes been wrongfully criticized as a reactionary anti-technology theory, a political program that would take society back to the technical level of the Middle Ages.

These accusations are groundless, for Distributism does not depend exclusively upon a particular mode of production; a business wherein shares of ownership were distributed among the employees would qualify as a Distributist enterprise. Thus whether we look to businesses such as the Spanish Mondragon, or to the ten-thousand plus Employee Stock Ownership Programs in the United States, Distributist ideas are not only alive and well, but are growing in appeal.

Although Distributism is most often associated with the modern social teaching of the Church, it is arguable that the first Distributist was in fact Aristotle. This should not be surprising, for insofar as Aristotle’s political and ethical philosophy stressed the importance of discovering and implementing the mean, that is, the middle between two extremes, it is only natural that he would arrive at a Distributist philosophy.

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Aristotle & Distributism: Part I (Non Nobis)

Rather than drown my readers with a lot of words, as I sometimes do, I’m going to write and post this essay in several parts over this following week. I hope that by the end of it at least some will have a somewhat greater understanding/appreciation of Distributism, an idea that Catholics such as myself hope will gain more ground and exposure in the coming years, though I absolutely do not claim to be anywhere near the final word on it (some will say other things, some will say the same things better). I look forward to discussion on this topic.

Read Part I here.

To read this on the American Catholic click here.

Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

I am going to provide everyone with a nice blast from the past- everyone I know respects Pope John Paul II- most orthodox Catholics refer to him as John Paul the Great. So I think what he thought officially as Pope on the question of Capital/Labor/State as part of the tradition deriving from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum- is incredibly interesting and relevant. Here is Chapter One of Centesimus Annus with no personal commentary- let the “man” speak without any interference from me:

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Will The Real Utopians Please Stand Up?

To follow up my last post on the Papal defense of Distributist ideas, I think it is also time we cleared up this notion of  ‘what can work’ and what actually does work.

Distributism, if it is practically defined as a set of social or political initiatives that encourage greater ownership of property, and specifically, worker ownership of the means of production, does exist and does work.

Here are some regional facts to consider:

Canada

“In Canada, there are distinct trends in worker co-operatives in Québec and the rest of the country. From 1993 to 2003, there was 87% growth in Québec and 25% growth in the rest of Canada.”

The United States

” In 2004, there were 300 worker co-operatives and 11,500 ESOPs covering over 8.5 million participants and controlling about $500 billion in assets.”

Spain

“Spain is home to the world’s oldest and most famous worker co-operative, the Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa (MCC), established in 1956. In 2004, this group located in the Basque County, had sales of 10.4 Billion euros, 10.0 Billion euros of administered assets, with a workforce of 71,500.”

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Stop Calling Me a Commie!

I can’t seem to go to any Catholic website or forum and talk about Distributism without at least one person accusing me of being a communist.

So, I post this not only for myself, but for anyone reading who is also sympathetic to the idea of spreading, by voluntary means, greater workers’ ownership of the means of production throughout society. Keep these in mind if you ever find yourself backed into a corner.

Rerum Novarum, 46 & 47. Excerpt:

“We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

Quadragesimo Anno, 65. Excerpt:

“Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received.”

Mater et Magistra, 75-77. Excerpt:

“[I]t is especially desirable today that workers gradually come to share in the ownership of their company, by ways and in the manner that seem most suitable.”

Laborem Exercens, 14. Excerpt:

“We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with every one else.”

If this is communism, then the Church is the original communist international, and the Bolsheviks were just wasiting their time. Or, maybe, the people who call these ideas ‘communist’ don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s probably that.

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