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Distributism is an economic theory asserting that the world's productive assets should be widely owned rather than concentrated.
Developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, distributism was based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (1931).It has also partially influenced Christian democratic social market economy.
Distributism views both laissez-faire capitalism and state socialism as equally flawed and exploitative, favoring economic mechanisms such as cooperatives and member-owned mutual organizations as well as small to medium enterprises and large-scale competition law reform such as antitrust regulations. Some Christian democratic political parties such as the American Solidarity Party have advocated distributism alongside social market economy in their economic policies and party platform.The Democratic Labour Party of Australia is also a Christian democratic political party that espouses distributism as part of its party platform.
According to distributists, the right to property is a fundamental rightand the means of production should be spread as widely as possible rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state capitalism or state socialism), a few individuals (plutocracy), or corporations (corporatocracy). Therefore, distributism advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership. Cooperative economist Race Mathews argues that such a system is key to bringing about a just social order.
Distributism has often been described in opposition to both laissez-faire capitalism and state socialismwhich distributists see as equally flawed and exploitative. Furthermore, some distributists argue that state capitalism and state socialism are the logical conclusion of capitalism as capitalism's concentrated powers eventually capture the state. Thomas Storck argues: "Both socialism and capitalism are products of the European Enlightenment and are thus modernizing and anti-traditional forces. In contrast, distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life." A few distributists were influenced by the economic ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his mutualist economic theory, and therefore the lesser-known anarchist branch of distributism of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement could be considered a form of free-market libertarian socialism due to their opposition to both state capitalism and state socialism.
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Some have seen it more as an aspiration, which has been successfully realised in the short term by commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (these being built into financially independent local cooperatives and small family businesses), although proponents also cite such periods as the Middle Ages as examples of the historical long-term viability of distributism.Particularly influential in the development of distributist theory were Catholic authors G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, the Chesterbelloc, two of distributism's earliest and strongest proponents.
In the early 21st century, Arthur W. Hunt III in The American Conservativeand Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in First Things speculated on Pope Francis's position on distributism after he denounced unfettered capitalism in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium , in which he stated: "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."
The mid-to-late 19th century witnessed an increase in popularity of political Catholicism across Europe.According to historian Michael A. Riff, a common feature of these movements was opposition not only to secularism, but also to both capitalism and socialism. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII promulgated Rerum novarum , in which he addressed the "misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class" and spoke of how "a small number of very rich men" had been able to "lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself". Affirmed in the encyclical was the right of all men to own property, the necessity of a system that allowed "as many as possible of the people to become owners", the duty of employers to provide safe working conditions and sufficient wages, and the right of workers to unionise. Common and government property ownership was expressly dismissed as a means of helping the poor.
Around the start of the 20th century, G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc drew together the disparate experiences of the various cooperatives and friendly societies in Northern England, Ireland, and Northern Europe into a coherent political theory which specifically advocated widespread private ownership of housing and control of industry through owner-operated small businesses and worker-controlled cooperatives. In the United States in the 1930s, distributism was treated in numerous essays by Chesterton, Belloc and others in The American Review , published and edited by Seward Collins. Pivotal among Belloc's and Chesterton's other works regarding distributism are The Servile State ,and Outline of Sanity.
Although a majority of distributism's later supporters were not Catholics and many were in fact former radical socialists who had become disillusioned with socialism, distributist thought was adopted by the Catholic Worker Movement, conjoining it with the thought of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin concerning localized and independent communities. It also influenced the thought behind the Antigonish Movement, which implemented cooperatives and other measures to aid the poor in the Canadian Maritimes. Its practical implementation in the form of local cooperatives has been documented by Race Mathews in his 1999 book Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society.
The position of distributists when compared to other political philosophies is somewhat paradoxical and complicated (see triangulation). Strongly entrenched in an organic but very English Catholicism, advocating culturally traditionalist and agrarian values, directly challenging the precepts of Whig history—Belloc was nonetheless an MP for the Liberal Party and Chesterton once stated "As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals".This liberalism is different from most modern forms, taking influence from William Cobbett and John Ruskin, who combined elements of radicalism, challenging the establishment position, but from a perspective of renovation, not revolution; seeing themselves as trying to restore the traditional liberties of England and her people which had been taken away from them, amongst other things, since the Industrial Revolution.
While converging with certain elements of traditional Toryism, especially an appreciation of the Middle Ages and organic society, there were several points of significant contention. While many Tories were strongly opposed to reform, the distributists in certain cases saw this not as conserving a legitimate traditional concept of England, but in many cases entrenching harmful errors and innovations. Belloc was quite explicit in his opposition to Protestantism as a concept and schism from the Catholic Church in general, considering the division of Christendom in the 16th century one of the most harmful events in European history. Elements of Toryism on the other hand were quite intransigent when it came to the Church of England as the established church, some even spurning their original legitimist ultra-royalist principles in regards to James II to uphold it.
Much of Dorothy L. Sayers' writings on social and economic matters has affinity with distributism. She may have been influenced by them, or have come to similar conclusions on her own. As an Anglican, the reasonings she gave are rooted in the theologies of Creation and Incarnation, and are slightly different[ how? ] from the Catholic Chesterton and Belloc.
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, carpenters and plumbers who own their own tools, among others. The cooperative approach advances beyond this 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.
In Rerum novarum, Leo XIII states that people are likely to work harder and with greater commitment if they themselves possess the land on which they labour, which in turn will benefit them and their families as workers will be able to provide for themselves and their household. He puts forward the idea that when men have the opportunity to possess property and work on it, they will "learn to love the very soil which yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of the good things for themselves and those that are dear to them".He states also that owning property is not only beneficial for a person and their family, but is in fact a right, due to God having "given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race".
Similar views are presented by G. K. Chesterton in his 1910 book, What's Wrong with the World. Chesterton believes that whilst God has limitless capabilities, man has limited abilities in terms of creation. As such, man therefore is entitled to own property and to treat it as he sees fit, stating: "Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven. But because he is not God, but only a graven image of God, his self-expression must deal with limits; properly with limits that are strict and even small."Chesterton summed up his distributist views in the phrase "Three acres and a cow".
According to Belloc, the distributive state (the state which has implemented distributism) contains "an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production". This broader distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, and so on.Distributism allows for society to have public goods such as parks and transit systems. Distributists accept that wage labor will remain a small part of the economy, with small business owners hiring employees, usually young, inexperienced people.
The kind of economic order envisaged 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, as labour unions are organized along class lines to promote class interests and frequently class struggle, whereas guilds are mixed class syndicates composed of both employers and employees cooperating for mutual benefit, thereby promoting class collaboration. This doesn't suggest that distributists are against trade unions though.
Distributism favors the dissolution of the private banking system in favor of financial cooperatives and mutuals such as credit unions, building societies, mutual banks and friendly societies.Distributists disagree with the profit-making basis in charging interest to suit the interests of external investors. Dorothy Day, for example, suggested abolishing legal enforcement of interest-rate contracts (usury) issued by private banks. It would not entail nationalization but could involve government involvement of some sort. This can also involve favoring the dissolution of other private financial intermediaries such as insurance companies and industry funds.
Distributism appears to have one of its greatest influences in antitrust legislation in America and Europe designed to break up monopolies and excessive concentration of market power in one or only a few companies, trusts, interests, or cartels. Embodying the philosophy explained by Chesterton, above, that too much capitalism means too few capitalists, not too many, America's extensive system of antitrust legislation seeks to prevent the concentration of market power in a given industry into too few hands. Requiring that no company gain too great a share of any market is an example of how distributism has found its way into government policy. 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. Note that antitrust regulation does take into account cases when only large companies are viable because of the nature of an industry, as in the case of natural monopolies like electricity distribution. It also accepts that mergers and acquisitions may improve consumer welfare; however, it generally prefers more economic agents to fewer, as this generally improves competition.
Social credit is an interdisciplinary distributive philosophy developed by C. H. Douglas (1879–1952), a British engineer, who wrote a book by that name in 1924. It encompasses the fields of economics, political science, history, accounting, and physics. Its policies are designed, according to Douglas, to disperse economic and political power to individuals.
Distributism requires either direct or indirect distribution of the means of production (productive assets)—in some ideological circles including the redistribution of wealth—to a wide portion of society instead of concentrating it in the hands of a minority of wealthy elites (as seen in its criticism of certain varieties of capitalism) or the hands of the state (as seen in its criticism of certain varieties of communism and socialism).More capitalist-oriented supporters support a distributism-influenced social capitalism (also known as social market economy), while more socialist-oriented supporters support a distributism-influenced libertarian socialism. Examples of methods of distributism include: direct productive property redistribution, taxation of excessive ownership of property, and small-business subsidization.
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G. K. Chesterton considered one's home and family as the centerpiece of society. He recognized the family unit and home as centerpieces of living and believed that therefore every man should have their own property and home to enable one to raise and support his family. Distributists recognize that strengthening and protecting the family requires that society be nurturing.Many proponents of distributism favor enabling the flourishing of family owned businesses as a central aim at promoting the family unit.
Distributism puts great emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity. This principle holds that no larger unit (whether social, economic, or political) should perform a function which can be performed by a smaller unit. In Quadragesimo anno , Pope Pius XI provided the classical statement of the principle: "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do".Thus, any activity of production (which distributism holds to be the most important part of any economy) ought to be performed by the smallest possible unit. This helps support distributism's argument that smaller units, families if possible, ought to be in control of the means of production, rather than the large units typical of modern economies.
In Quadragesimo anno, Pope Pius XI further stated that "every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them".To prevent large private organizations from thus dominating the body politic, distributism applies this principle of subsidiarity to economic as well as to social and political action.
Distributists believe in a society that is as self-reliant as possible. Some may advocate that families and charitable organisations ought to provide an alternative to social security as a means of advancing the principles of subsidiary. However, many distributists reject the idea of eliminating social security.
Distributists such as Dorothy Day did not favour social security when it was introduced by the United States government. This rejection of the new program was due to the direct influence of the ideas of Hilaire Belloc over American distributists.
The Democratic Labour Party of Australia espouses distributism and does not hold the view of favouring the elimination of social security who for instance wish to "[r]aise the level of student income support payments to the Henderson poverty line".
The American Solidarity Party has a platform of favouring an adequate social security system, whereby they state: "We advocate for social safety nets that adequately provide for the material needs of the most vulnerable in society".
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 or socialist 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.
This suggests that distributism necessarily favours a technological 'regression' to a pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle, given that it explictly favours the craftsman over factories and other industrial centers. Products such as food and clothing would be preferably returned to local producers and artisans instead of being mass-produced nationally or overseas.
Distributism does not favor one political order over another (political accidentalism). While some distributists such as Dorothy Day have been anarchists, it should be remembered that most Chestertonian distributists are opposed to the mere concept of anarchism. Chesterton thought that distributism would benefit from the discipline that theoretical analysis imposes, and that distributism is best seen as a widely encompassing concept inside of which any number of interpretations and perspectives can fit. This concept should fit in a political system broadly characterized by widespread ownership of productive property.
In the United States, the American Solidarity Party generally adheres to Distributist principles as its economic model. The Brazilian political party, Humanist Party of Solidarity is a distributist party, and distributism has influenced Christian Democratic parties in Continental Europe, as well as the National Distributist Party in England,and the Democratic Labour Party in Australia. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam view their Grand New Party, a roadmap for revising the Republican Party in the United States, as "a book written in the distributist tradition". The Pirate Party of Romania is also considered to be a distributist party.
Distributists usually use just war theory in determining whether a war should be fought or not. Historical positions of distributist thinkers provide insight into a distributist position on war. Both Belloc and Chesterton opposed British imperialism in general as well as specifically opposing the Second Boer War, but they supported British involvement in World War I.
On the other hand, prominent distributists such as Dorothy Day and those involved in the Catholic Worker Movement were/are strict pacifists, even to the point of condemning involvement in World War II at much personal cost.
Distributism is known to have had an influence on the economist E. F. Schumacher,a convert to Catholicism.
The Mondragon Corporation, based in the Basque Country in a region of Spain and France, was founded by a Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, who seems to have been influenced by the same Catholic social and economic teachings that inspired Belloc, Chesterton, Father Vincent McNabb, and the other founders of distributism.
Distributist ideas were put into practice by The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a group of artists and craftsmen who established a community in Ditchling, Sussex, England, in 1920, with the motto "Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses". The guild sought to recreate an idealised medieval lifestyle in the manner of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It survived almost 70 years until 1989.
The Big Society was the flagship policy idea of the 2010 UK Conservative Party general election manifesto. Some distributists claim that the rhetorical marketing of this policy was influenced by aphorisms of the distributist ideology and promotes distributism.It purportedly formed a part of the legislative programme of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement. The stated aim was "to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will 'take power away from politicians and give it to people.'" The idea of the Big Society was suggested by Steve Hilton, who worked as director of strategy for David Cameron during the Coalition government before moving on to live and work in California. Big Society gradually declined as an instrument of government policy over the course of the 2010–2015 government.
Christian socialism is a religious and political philosophy that blends Christianity and socialism, endorsing left-wing politics and socialist economics on the basis of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in the sin of greed. Christian socialists identify the cause of social inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism. Christian socialism became a major movement in the United Kingdom beginning in the 19th century. The Christian Socialist Movement, known as Christians on the Left since 2013, is one formal group, as well as a faction of the Labour Party.
Rerum novarum, or Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor, is an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on 15 May 1891. It is an open letter, passed to all Catholic patriarchs, primates, archbishops and bishops, that addressed the condition of the working classes.
Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc was a Franco-English writer and historian of the early twentieth century. Belloc was also an orator, poet, sailor, satirist, writer of letters, soldier, and political activist. His Catholic faith had a strong effect on his works.
Quadragesimo anno is an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on 15 May 1931, 40 years after Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum, further developing Catholic social teaching. Unlike Leo XIII, who addressed the condition of workers, Pius XI discusses the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He describes the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism, socialism, and totalitarian communism. He also calls for the reconstruction of the social order based on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Arthur Joseph Penty was an English architect and writer on guild socialism and distributism. He was first a Fabian socialist, and follower of Victorian thinkers William Morris and John Ruskin. He is generally credited with the formulation of a Christian socialist form of the medieval guild, as an alternative basis for economic life.
Catholic social teaching, commonly abbreviated CST, is an area of Catholic doctrine concerning matters of human dignity and the common good in society. The ideas address oppression, the role of the state, subsidiarity, social organization, concern for social justice, and issues of wealth distribution. Its foundations are widely considered to have been laid by Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical letter Rerum novarum, which advocated economic distributism. Its roots can be traced to the writings of Catholic theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Hippo. It is also derived from the concepts present in the Bible and the cultures of the ancient Near East.
The Catholic Church and politics and concerns the interplay of Catholicism with religious, and later secular, politics. Historically, the Church opposed liberal ideas such as democracy, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state under the grounds that "error has no rights". It eventually accommodated these ideas and began to view religious liberty as a positive value during and after the Second Vatican Council.
G.K.'s Weekly was a British publication founded in 1925 by writer G. K. Chesterton, continuing until his death in 1936. Its articles typically discussed topical cultural, political, and socio-economic issues yet the publication also ran poems, cartoons, and other such material that piqued Chesterton's interest. It contained much of his journalistic work done in the latter part of his life, and extracts from it were published as the book The Outline of Sanity. Precursor publications existed by the names of The Eye-Witness and The New Witness, the former being a weekly newspaper started by Hilaire Belloc in 1911, the latter Belloc took over from Cecil Chesterton, Gilbert's brother, who died in World War I: and a revamped version of G. K.'s Weekly continued some years after Chesterton's death by the name of The Weekly Review.
IHS Press is a publishing house based in Virginia whose mission is to promote the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The name "IHS" is a truncation of the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus Christ. IHS Press has been concerned with the promotion of the social teaching as laid down by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum. IHS Press has thus been primarily focused on reprinting the rarer works of authors who promote a third-way between capitalism and socialism such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, along with those of such older guild theorists as Arthur Penty and Heinrich Pesch.
Centesimus annus is an encyclical which was written by Pope John Paul II in 1991 on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum novarum, an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. It is part of a larger body of writings, known as Catholic social teaching, which trace their origin to Rerum novarum and aim to relate the teachings of Jesus to the industrial age.
Graves de communi re was an encyclical written by Pope Leo XIII in 1901, on Christian Democracy. It is part of a larger body of writings known as Catholic social teaching, that trace their origin to Rerum novarum which was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. While reaffirming the Church's opposition to individualistic liberal capitalism, it also denied that the new ideals of Christian Democracy were an endorsement of the principles of a democratic political system. Leo also attacks socialism within the work, referring to it as a "harvest of misery" .
Octogesima adveniens is the incipit of the 14 May 1971 Apostolic Letter addressed by Pope Paul VI to Cardinal Maurice Roy, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum. Generally known as A Call to Action on the Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum novarum, it is an Apostolic Letter which discusses themes such as securing democratic foundations in society.
Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies – and Why They Disappeared is a book which looks at twentieth century alternatives to unrestricted capitalism on the one hand, and totalitarian systems such as communism, socialism, and fascism on the other. It was written by Allan C. Carlson and published by ISI Books in 2007.
Social teachings of the papacy gives a succinct review of salient features in the papal social encyclicals beginning with Rerum novarum, the groundbreaking encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in 1891, and going to the present time.
Catholic social activism in the United States is the practical application of the notions of Catholic social teaching into American public life. Its roots can be traced to the 19th century encyclical Rerum novarum of Pope Leo XIII.
Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.
Christian corporatism is a societal, economic, or a modern political application of the Christian doctrine of Paul of Tarsus in I Corinthians 12:12-31 where Paul speaks of an organic form of politics and society where all people and components are functionally united, like the human body. Christian corporatism has been supported by the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants, Christian democrats, and others. Economic application of Christian corporatism has promoted consultations between employers and workers and has sponsored Christian trade unionism.
The modern welfare state has been criticized on economic and moral grounds from all ends of the political spectrum. Many have argued that the provision of tax-funded services or transfer payments reduces the incentive for workers to seek employment, thereby reducing the need to work, reducing the rewards of work and exacerbating poverty. On the other hand, socialists typically criticize the welfare state as championed by social democrats as an attempt to legitimize and strengthen the capitalist economy system which conflicts with the socialist goal of replacing capitalism with a socialist economic system.
François René de La Tour du Pin, Marquis de la Charce, was a French Military Officer, Politician and Social Reformer.
Heinrich Pesch, S.J. was a German Roman Catholic ethicist and economist of the Solidarist school. His major work, Lehrbuch der Nationalökonomie, is generally regarded as a source for Pope Pius XI's social encyclical Quadragesimo anno.
The American Solidarity Party believes that political economy (economics) is a branch of political ethics, and therefore rejects models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest. We advocate for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as 'distributism') rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.
We believe in the economic concept of distributism as taught by GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.