When the Distributist Tail Wags the CST Dog
… one shall find the golden mean.
Distributism, distributism, sweet distributism. Were it not for the uniquely American disdain for anything that sounds like the word “redistribution,” distributism would have a much larger audience. The name itself has a certain elegance. Far better than conservatism, libertarianism, constitutionalism, communism, or liberalism, though I have always thought the word liberalism had a rather pleasant ring to it. Socialism, as a word, may come close, but distributism is still by far the most wonderful sounding political “ism” on the books.
Regrettably, while the word may run off the tongue as smooth as milk and honey, the definition is about as elusive as a $3 bill.
Disagreement within any school of thought isn’t new, especially for the godfathers of of that beautifully idealistic school commonly reffered to as distributism. Chesterton, Belloc and Penty all had their differences. This is especially true of Penty. The very man who wrote the Distributist Manifesto later wrote a peice entitled “Why I am not a Distributist.”
For one to insist that distributism was, or even is, a unified school of thought would be to romanticize the system. Then again, romanticizing systems may be in our blood. A cursory glance of the aforementioned writers would demonstrate this beyond dispute.
So it shouldn’t be at all surprising to see differences amongst various modern distributists. One may insist, and rightly so, that such disagreement is healthy. Uniform agreement and lockstep devotion may work out well for “dittoheads,” but not for those devoted to a social theory that has both a sense of being and becoming.
Somewhere along the line, though, I came to the realization that there is an element of disagreement that is rooted in something that ought to give distributists pause. It is my belief that many identifying themselves as distributists are influenced more by the works of Chesterton, Belloc, Gill and Penty than popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. This isn’t to say that the former list is of no use or that distributists should only concern themselves with the latter list, but that the latter list is primary and the former should be read in light of it. While these list form a splendid both/and (over against an either/or), the latter certainly hold primacy, as even their office would indicate.
Case in point: libertarian distributists. I have run across many distributists who advocate a system that more closely reflects the political and economic views of Lew Rockwell and Rep. Ron Paul than Pope Leo XIII or Blessed Pope John XXIII.
The typical excuse is that of subsidiarity. But subsidiarity, taken by itself, may allow one to make a case for the most extreme forms of libertarianism, even those bordering upon the threshold of anarchy.
But it is at this very point that we face difficulty. The popes didn’t leave subsidiarity by itself. They didn’t leave all things to one’s ability to make a case for “the lowest level possible at all times and in all situations.” No, they describe a society made up of various institutions that provide us with the necessary framework by which to determine at which level various things could, should, and must be done. This included the state, and a state that was to be respected and revered in its majesty.
Now let’s make something very clear. I readily admit to being a novice. Nothing of what I have written here has been mean to insinuate that I have all the answers, or for that matter many at all. Far from it! Distributists, both past and present, never cease to amaze me. Reading their literature, or peeking in on their discussions, leaves me with the wonderful realization that I still have a lifetime of learning ahead of me.
The point of this entry, then, is to toss into the arena my relatively insignificant perception that, regardless of good intentions, many distributists have forgotten that the Social Doctrine of the Church develops, leaving the work of heroes such as Chesterton and Belloc as beautifully brilliant footnotes for the Catholic Social Doctrine contained in the encyclals given to us by Holy Mother Church.
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