Home / Brian Douglass / Distributism as a Way of Life


Distributism seems mostly to be discussed, the rare times it is actually brought up, in a very hypothetical and academic fashion these days. This is all well and good. To everything there is a season. However, it seems that there is a danger of spending too much time on this sort of discussion and too little on how to apply it. Perhaps, as someone currently locked in the “Ivory Tower” (which has sadly become a pejorative phrase in these times rather than a term of endearment to that Turris eburnean the Mother of God), I read my own prejudices into this. If I am wrong, and I hope I am, I am willing to be corrected. However, it seems Dale Ahlquist’s recent article “G.K. Chesterton’s Distributism” draws our attention to the need of a more active Distributist discussion. As St. Francis might have said, discuss Distributism always, if necessary use words.

By the term Distributism, I take it to mean an English (and by extension American) attempt to live out the principles set forth most clearly in the social encyclicals. Other methods for approaching the same goal have been attempted in various parts of the world under various names and we can of course find similar movements which were not explicitly motivated by those Papal letters at all (the Jeffersonian-Southern Agrarian tradition comes to mind). But it is a way of life chiefly, not an economic system or a way to run a business, it is a total way of life that is, in a word Catholic. So, while not denigrating those who like to debate the various points of Distributism or engage in crusades against all comers who would question this system, I would like to suggest that we need to do better at looking at this as a system of life. The English Distributists had their Catholic Land Movement and the Ditchling Community, among other “non-academic” aspects to the program. There are similar activities going on in places today, the longest-running and best-known of course being the Catholic Worker Movement.

Dorothy Day wanted the houses and farms to be a part of every diocese and to serve as schools in which all interested people (notice the key of this being voluntary, because as Ahlquist notes Distributism must be voluntary: “Distributism cannot be done to people, but only by people.”) would learn how to perform the Works of Mercy. Most of them, Dorothy hoped, would then go out into the world and form their lives, no matter what they did, around these Works of Mercy. She liked to quote St. John Chrysostom who talked about “Christ rooms” in the houses of Christians where those needing a place to stay could find a bed and meal. But, of course, she knew there were many other ways do perform the Works of Mercy, which is, I would suggest, synonymous to living Distributism.

Since Distributism is not a system for hermits, it is by nature communal and communitarian. While we may have to get things started by our own initiative, any plan that is not strongly rooted in a community is bound to fail. Distributism, like Christianity, assumes community. It is a system which is based on love of neighbor. If there is no neighbor, there can be no love of neighbor and thus no Distributism. Modern economics doesn’t know how to handle things like love or the gifts that come from love. Love, by nature, cannot be said to be scarce and yet it is not equally available for the taking (as is the case with air), it comes from an act of the will. Worse, as common sense tells us, love plays a key role in some of our most important actions in life which have major economic impacts (marriage and having children being the two most obvious examples). Catholic Social Teaching calls us each to relate to one another based on Christian love, not simply based upon utilitarian considerations. The implications of this are that, again, we cannot force people to adopt such a system (as love cannot be forced) and that the methods of implementation of such a program must start off at an interpersonal level.

The major difference between Distributism and secular systems like Capitalism and Socialism is in a word love. Socialism holds its attraction because it claims to eliminate greed and “bad things” in life through the benevolent power of the State. Communism (of the secular sort) holds a strong pull because it preaches the possibility of a state of total equality and harmony for all. To compare Monastic Communism and Marxist Communism is to reveal the key difference, and to also explain why one fails and the other creates saints. Monasticism is voluntary and is based on mutual love for the other as the other it is not forced and it is not based on a “I get what I deserve and he gets what he deserves” mindset.

So, where does this all leave us? We need a community-centered approach that allows people to voluntarily be a part of this group whose actions are considered (at least ideally) through the lens of Christian love. Hey, let’s all be monks! But no, that’s not what I am suggesting. There is the monastic route, that is true, but there are also others which need to be examined and are likely to make better models for most people who are interested in the Distributist life. One benefit of subsidiarity is that there is no need to worry about finding one solution that will work for everyone. The Catholic Workers have put this to use and each house is slightly different. Some of them are even Catholic.

With that in mind, there are some common elements which I suggest should be considered in any attempt to live the Distributist life. The Eucharist and the parish must be at the heart of the life of every Catholic. To attempt to do anything without this element will eventually end in failure and disappointment. Some parts of the United States are blessed to have parishes in every neighborhood that are still active and open. Other regions are not so lucky and the “suburban parish” model is coming to dominate due to a combination of declining ordinations and dispersal of Catholic populations. For priests, having to shepherd such large numbers of souls spread over a wide area can be a nightmare, but for building a community centered upon parish life, it makes things very difficult. Often parishes are located in areas where, by necessity, like-minded individuals will find it hard to live close together or close to the church. This is not an insurmountable problem, but every added minute that it takes to get to a neighbor’s house or the parish makes it more likely for a person to decide to stay home, particularly if hauling children is involved.

Economics, particularly game theory, stresses the importance of incentives when considering any human actions. If you are designing, say, an auction for some public land, you want to make sure that all the players involved have the most incentive to behave in the manner in which you want them to. When talking about building community, care must be taken to ensure that everyone’s incentives are aimed in the same direction. This is why monastic communism, but not State Communism works. Within the family, we have natural incentives which make it an ideal model for all larger-scale communities, however the natural incentives which one finds in a family are not guaranteed to be present in our fallen world on any larger scale (sadly, they are not actually guaranteed in the family, either as we see evidence nightly on the news). The local government, in a Catholic world should focus on making it easy for men to be good. This is, in a nutshell, what incentives are all about. Even with men of goodwill, sometimes sin and pride rear their ugly heads and the community needs to be there to keep them in check.

For a Distributist-based community, these incentives must be voluntary because Distributism must be voluntary, yet they must also still have teeth, otherwise they would be useless. When studying intentional communities it often becomes readily apparent when incentives align and when they don’t. Many a commune has fallen apart over things which to outsiders may seem petty, but they were enough to tear the community apart. In cults a charismatic leader and brainwashing can keep people together, at least for a while, but that is not a healthy form of incentive alignment. Distributism is not a cult and neither should any group trying to follow it as an ideal of life be one either.

Co-op arangements, co-housing, and community land trusts area all methods which have successfully been used to ensure incentive alignment of participants in communities and all seem useful from a Distributist perspective. Co-ops, or collective ownership, are well known in the United States with numerous credit unions, food coops, herd-share/community supported agriculture, and worker-owned businesses being the prime examples. In some cities, apartment buildings are run on a co-op system as well. This model has the benefit of a relatively long tradition in the United States as well as being a widely understood and accepted organization.

Co-housing is perhaps less well known and has a name which unfortunately reminds me of cohabitation. It is a relatively new idea that came to the U.S. from Denmark. However, as Peter Maurin would say, it’s an idea so old it looks new. A co-housing community is typically a collection of privately owned houses and property with some shared resources (often a park or garden or community house) which are collectively owned. Residents often share various tasks and will commonly meet together or have community meals and celebrations. Of course, this sounds very little different than the old New England model of the village and the village green…but moderns like to forget things like that.

Community Land Trusts (CLT) were formulated by Ralph Borsodi and Robert Swann about forty years ago as a means to provide price stability and access to land to low income residents. The CLT is organized as a non-profit organization which holds an area of land in a given area under trust. The land is then leased for use to those who then can make improvements and use the land as long as they wish. However, because the CLT owns the land itself, the owners of the buildings on it are not able to sell as freely as in traditional settings. The CLT is community-run and exists to maintain stability in both purpose and value in the community. CLTs were often used to allow affordable access to farm land (particularly to minorities), but have been widely used in a variety of situations since then.

All three of these models provide measures to ensure that those involved in a new community are truly devoted to the community mission, they are set up on a voluntary basis, and yet are legally binding to those who choose to participate, as long as they chose to, while allowing them a straightforward means to leave without either destroying the whole community or causing needless strife. Perhaps new arrangements could be created for Distributist communities as well. Also, such communities could just use the old fashioned parish neighborhood approach and just move in and live as Christian neighbors and build things from there. Then there could be hybrid approaches, with everyone living in a normal neighborhood way and coming together in a food-coop or a communally owned garden. The options are virtually limitless. The important thing is to get people thinking and get people working.

The nice thing about Distributism is that it is so open to local variation. This makes it far more flexible than either Crony Capitalism or Socialism. It can be individualized as much as the people involved are individualized. Of course, it is much easier to sit and discuss the theory behind Distributism, I know that I am perhaps the most guilty of all of that, but the action must start somewhere for each of us. Grow your own lettuce in your dorm room if that is all you can do. Move across the country to be with like-minded people and start urban farms in dilapidated areas of over-the-hill cities if you can. As we were reminded at the recent GK Chesterton Society conference, we must go out and fight losing battles…and win them. That’s what Don John of Austria did and that is the call for Distributists, too. So, let the battle plans begin!


About the author: Brian Douglass


Brian Douglass lives in Tower Grove South, St. Louis where he attends St. Francis de Sales Oratory and serves as a program coordinator for a non-profit dedicated to rebuilding homes and allowing home owners to stay in them as long as possible. He is currently preparing for marriage and is also slowly amassing an empire of container gardens and solving the economic problems of the world on the side.


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  1. I have to admit, Distributism has some appeal for me (and I continue to look into it). I know one notion that keeps coming back is the idea of “productive” property. In a world which is becoming more and more digital, what are the implications for “productive” property? Certainly computers and some programs are necessary for many people in our day, and I wonder what type of options might be available in terms of co-op type plans for software. Not illegal file sharing of course, but something more like wikipedia. Just a thought…

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  3. I don’t see any reasons why software would be a problem at all (beyond finding people who know how to program). The Open Source Movement and Free Software of other types seems to have a pretty well-established model out there. Wikipedia is a good example, but perhaps more impressive are all the various flavors of Linux and all the sub-projects related to that OS.

    The real problem comes in terms of hardware and networking. The newtworking issue seems to be something that is worked on at the moment with various things like LifeNet (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/20/lifenet-wireless-connunication_n_932165.html) show promise.

    Hardware, though, will be difficult. All current models assume very globalized supply chains for parts as far as I’m aware. It would take quite a technologically advanced production center locally to do it. But, of course there is nothing stopping anyone from doing this. Mondragón shows that cooperatives can manufacture quite a range of goods.

  4. Another example of easy distributism at work in our lives would be communal canneries (if they existed). There’s so much waste going on right now with people harvesting tons and tons of food.

    Last week I worked in the fields for my wife’s uncle picking for his farmers market. When he goes to market, he’ll take 60 crates of produce, sell 40, give as much as he can away to soup kitchens, then return with 10 crates that, if he can’t sell within 2-3 days on his wagon outside his house, get thrown away. Leaving probably 200 lbs of food to go to waste.

    Multiply that by the 50 some vendors in his farmers market and you have 5 tons of good, locally produced, sustainable food going to waste every single week.

    Every church I’ve ever been in has had a kitchen. There’s no reason we couldn’t can 100% of this food and feed ourselves and our indigents forever. I love to can food, but in my kitchen, it takes me 4 hours just to make 8 cans of tomato sauce. If I had a big pot and a big stove and some big help, I could multiply the amount I can keep out of the harvest the way we multiply graces by praying together with each other.

  5. There is one fact that seems to doom unadulterated Distributism from the get-go: land is limited. Without new land, Distributism, after so many generations, will be divided into too many parcels among too many families until each can no longer sustain the family that sits on it. It is inevitable that mankind will eventually saturate this planet. It is also difficult to argue against the fact that Distributism is slow to advance technologically (even Belloc admitted this point). The only frontier on which mankind is going to find new property is through the terra-forming of other planets, which requires still many more technological leaps than we have yet had even in a capitalist society. Now, it is also true that we have not seen global capitalism through to its conclusion, and it may indeed end in the enslavement of the human race. In fact, it is difficult to foresee any other conclusion.

    With that said, the best possible solution seems to me to be a balance between Capitalism, Socialism, and Distributism. The correct balance would provide enough Distributism so that families could, generally, provide most if not all of their necessities of living, i.e. food, water, and shelter. That degree of self-governance would allow dissenters to quit their jobs and allow even the poor to unionize and strike without fear of starvation, and would do so without reducing them to the dehumanizing handouts that keep many poor alive today. In this way, the poor would be self-sufficient, allowing them to pursue interests of their own will, to congregate, vacation, etc. They could work for a wage, but on top of their wage, they would have that Ace of Spades – their little property – which would give them the freedom to spit in a corporate mogul’s face and quit without fear of a slow death.

    The Socialist net that would exist in order to provide handouts would only be to provide for the absolutely helpless among us – those who cannot take care of themselves – and that is assuming charity is not enough to do this already. These are the elderly who were refused by their communities, the mentally unstable, the crippled and irreversibly injured war veterans, etc. This population would be small compared to the class of able-bodied citizens who (at least in America) receive government handouts already.

    The Capitalist side would provide for the increase in technology necessary to explore the heavens and see to it that mankind gets out onto other planets. Such Capitalism could also aid in the provision of the national defense, as technology generally does.

    The end result would be something like a scheme that is 5% Socialist, 30% Distributist, and 65% Capitalist. Granted those numbers are nothing but a vague representation of the balance of ideology that I have in my head right now, but I think it is a useful thought experiment nonetheless. Still, getting the world to look anything like 30% Distributive is a mammoth undertaking and certainly one that would require the voices present on sites such as this. However, I do believe that the movement would be more credible if it adopted an approach of limited Distributism, as opposed to total and complete (which is so foreign and poorly defined in practical use at it is).

    I personally can appreciate the goal of Distributism. Indeed, since I was young, whenever anyone asked me what kind of music I liked, the answer was invariably “live music.” It never mattered so much to me what kind of music it was, as long as I was witnessing its live creation. The existence of fiddlers and violists and bag-pipers and oboists etc. had a whole new meaning when one was the “town musician” than they do in an age of digital reproduction and remixes. Little did I know I was espousing a Distributive ideology at the time, but the epiphany has since stuck. The “green movement” also overlaps with Distributism, insomuch as it allows a form of rugged individualism that divests individuals of the need to rely on centralized power distribution networks, centralized water distribution, and indeed centralized farms (among other things). That is not to say the green movement is Distributist per se, but merely that the technologies that it is encouraging can also be turned to Distributive ends. Even the idea of “working out” is a Distributive idea, because it is a way in which people can build Capital (their muscles) through personal labor, and then at a later date use that Capital to perform tasks that they would otherwise not be able to perform. Distributism could go a lot further in appealing to young people if it harnessed these and similarly ubiquitous examples.

    Things such as “green” technologies, however, would either never develop, or would only do so at an extraordinarily slow pace, were it not for the Capitalist side of the triangle. It seems to me that Belloc’s overarching issue with Capitalism is that it takes man’s ability to say “no” away from him, because if the consequences of saying “no” are starvation for one’s family, it isn’t really an option at all. It doesn’t take a society dedicated to only Distributism who loath Capitalism in all forms and aspects to achieve the level of distributed capital that allow men to say “no.” It takes considerably more than we have right now, but it is disingenuous to pretend that the answer must lay in a 100% Distributive ideal.

    It appears self-evident to me that there is a balance to be struck, something Distributists have done a terrible job of recognizing – much to the alienation of those interested in its tenets. I posed an earlier question about why owning stock in a company I worked for was not Distributive in principle, as to me it seems that it is. In addition, why can elected corporate management not be considered Distributive, as there is nothing inherently evil about workers electing their leadership (particularly if they are anonymous elections). It seems that large firms can indeed exist in a Distributive spirit, and perhaps that is yet another side of the ideal that big Capitalism ought to be reformed to emulate. Usury and the printing of money and national debts and many other things could be made illegal without a complete end to Capitalism; such Distributist ideals are healthy and are things that can balance the benefits of both ideologies.

    I fear that Distributism as it is currently espoused is primed to alienate itself from its two cousin ideologies at the expense of those who could benefit from it. Instead, there seems to me to be workable lessons wrapped up in Distributism that should be combined with those lessons of Socialism and Capitalism in order to strike an essential, lasting balance. Distributists also should not always blame Capitalism for corrupt politicians, and then the next moment say of Distributism that “no system is perfect.” If our politicians were the ideologues that we are, then perhaps they would resist all corruption, but they aren’t and never will be; thus blaming Capitalism for unfair preferential business subsidies et alia is not really blaming an economic system but some individual men’s personal flaws. Until such things are outlawed in Constitutional (or similar) form, they will be inherent in any political economic system.

    I hope again that the above will be read knowing that I am a sympathizer and supporter of the movement in general. Of the three general economic theories, Distributism is certainly the one that needs the most help in raising people’s awareness of its existence, and that is why I support this site and this discussion.

  6. @Ed Snyder, I asked a similar question (http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/85605/do-programmers-possess-the-means-of-production) on a programming forum. It got some responses from other programmers who didn’t know too much about distributism. But in general, open source software is a very distributive model. It’s 100% voluntary and 100% free. The only problem is trying to make a living giving away all your code for free. If we had a coop where we sold software made from a communal pile of good libraries we’d be golden, but we’re restricted to giving our stuff away if we want to use GPL’ed code (we can sell it, we just need to provide our source code – i.e. give away 100% of our trade secrets to competitors)

    If the system were tweaked a little, we might be able to have a class of programmers who don’t even need corporate sponsorship to make a living and it might completely backfire and totally kill open source software.

  7. Brian: A thought I had while reading your (very enjoyable and insightful) article: I think one of the reasons co-ops, co-housing, and other ‘radical’ (in the true sense of the word) schemes often flounder is because they tend to exist in a very isolated field. If one project fails, there aren’t other entities to go to, which leads to disillusionment and no further desire to form a new co-operative entity. It would seem that a given place needs to reach a sort of thresh-hold of co-operative, voluntaristic entities before they can begin to achieve self-sustenance and self-replication. We who desire co-operative and voluntary entities have the further disadvantage that so many of the proverbial cards are stacked against us: both cultural attitudes (probably the most important, and hardest to surmount, obstacle we face) and the institutional structures of State and Capital. This shouldn’t discourage us, just give us an idea of the obstacles we face, which are considerable, but not impossible.

    Andromedus: Just to address your first critique: land is indeed limited, but we’re no where near exhausting the planet’s potential, even in the highly limited bits of land inside of our cities. Just consider how much land is used up for monoculture lawns or for long empty lots with cracking concrete; if even a portion of this were devoted to intensive agriculture vast numbers of city dwellers could be involved in their own food production. Probably we will never live in a world in which everyone grows their own food or has a hand in agriculture, granted; but we could live in a world in which agriculture is much more decentralized and distributed- and productive. Read Kropotkin’s Fields, Farms, and Factories for a (now dated, but still thought-provoking and inspiring) vision of this sort of world. To build upon Kropotkin’s turn of the twentieth century vision: technology is once again tending towards the small-scale and easily re-duplicated; most of what holds genuine industrial decentralization and distribution back is patent protection and other forms of artificial rent and controls. We have a great deal of practical potential right now for a much more distributed, much more humane (not perfect, mind you) world.

  8. Jonathan: The fact that it will be a long time coming doesn’t negate the fact. Land is limited, but our population increase is logarithmic. Distributism does not seem likely to ever solve this problem, and I believe that to throw all of our eggs into the Distributist basket, so to speak, would be less than desirable for that and other reasons (some of which I pointed out in my previous post).

  9. Andromedus, basically your problem is the problem of Malthus and Malthus has been proven wrong time and again. Can we know how such things will be dealt with? No, we’re not psychics. Belloc could never have known the changes that have come in intensive farming, basement fish farms, perennial food crops, etc all without chemical fertilizer in the last 40-50 years. At the core, it’s really a lack of hope, both hope in humanity and hope in God, that He will provide…somehow.

    Malthus thought England would be starving by the 19th century. Ehrlich was calling for forced sterilization to prevent mass famine in India and just abandoning Pakistan to die as hopeless.

    I’m not sure, though, where the opposition between Distributism and anything that is a real solution to that lies, though. If anything “capitalism” or more properly what Hayek called Corporatism, that is the big-business-big-governemnt hybrid beast is more prone to running out of land first…or killing all the children “for their own good” at least.

    However, I definitely agree that we must be careful in where we attack “Capitalism” is a poorly defined word far too often.

  10. Jonathan, I agree there is a lot of difficulty out there. I know of one rural group that tried to start a local currency based off of the Social Credit idea…well that was killed because everyone wanted to go to Wal-Mart rather than work in town.

    One thing that I do see as promising is that there are many groups out there which are not explicitly distributist or Catholic or traditional even. Some of them may be doing things for odd reasons (often the case with “green” groups), but the thing is that they are allies. They are doing similar things and have people and experience. Networking isn’t just for facebook.

    Maybe some other group has a good existing food co-op going, but there is no communal housing group. Found one and join the other. I’ve been doing some research on various groups in one particular city and it’s actually quite impressive what is out there. Which is a wonderful sign!

  11. Douglass, the problem is always wrong until it is right. If you are attesting to the belief that the planet can sustain an unlimited number of people, and that belief is integral to what you define as “faith,” then yes, I lack your version of faith. There is only so much solar radiation incident to the planet, and only so much of that makes it to the Earth’s surface. That energy is transferable into various forms, one of which is the recombination of molecules into useful organics that we call “food.” We may improve our efficiency in reusing waste products and in cutting inefficiencies from the organic cycle, but the ceiling is a matter of physical law. Distributism is no less likely to hit that ceiling sooner than Capitalism; however, based on your response, I’m going to assume you didn’t read that I am not proposing Capitalism in the form that is currently familiar in the first place. I should be more clear and replace my general use of the word “Capitalism” with “Laissez-faire business environment.”

  12. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I was agreeing with you on the danger of isolating distributism from capitalism. I’ve found, for myself as an economist, the works of a number of Austrians, public choice economists, and New Institutional Economists to be very informative and have made good use of them. Florida State is a very Austrian and Public Choice-friendly place. I was just making a more general comment on the danger of definitions.

    Also, have you read Julian Simon’s book The Ultimate Resource? He seems to have been on to something. He certainly won his bets.

  13. I would also point out that the second half of my original post really is not dependent on the argument that land is limited (really, that is more of an aside, one that I wrongly began the post with). Its my fault for not organizing my writing better, but while the first portion dealt with the issue of limited resources, the second half was about combining the best lessons from Distributism, Socialism, and Capitalism (by which I mean a laissez-faire business environment, here and throughout that post).

    I don’t recall where it was, but one of the frequent authors of this site wrote somewhere that any of the three (Socialism, Capitalism, Distributism) can be made moral by following certain Catholic guidelines, but that Distributism is the easiest fit to begin with. Well, if that is in fact true, then it doesn’t seem like an extraordinary leap to combine the best aspects of all three into one moral political economy. Each has a strength and a purpose, and in balance the three would seem to strengthen each other. I attempted to explain how/why before, but I was probably unclear. I will try to eventually reorganize my reasoning into something better when I have the time.

  14. Based on your last comment, I would say we probably don’t disagree on much, but other of DR’s authors might not agree. Some propose an end to all Austrian-style economic though, or so is my impression at least.

    I haven’t read the Ultimate Resource, and I don’t want to represent myself as an alarmist in the sense that the book is intended to combat. I am not worried about overpopulation any time soon, but I do see it as an inevitability. We may be far from it now, but we are also far from settling any new land – a status unique to modern times.

    It is difficult, even nearly impossible, to imagine a Distributist world that saw to the building of space-ships. Ever. I say this because it is so technologically sluggish. I can not see it being slow to populate, which is certainly not a negative (the more the merrier). However, with increased population, we will one day have to find new land. I am not railing against large families, saying we should eat babies, or that we need to sterilize males. I am simply saying that we must set ourselves up for success, even in the very long term.

  15. In fact, I would go a step further and say that the kind of ingenuity that The Ultimate Resource speaks of in humans, will one day be exactly the ingenuity that sees us populating places other than Earth. If we cut off our ability to adapt technologically via idealized Distributism, we risk blocking ourselves from reaching that out. I hope I’ve made it clear that I am not an environmental or population alarmist, I simply think it is important that our technological advances keep pace with our population advances. Keep in mind that the bet that the author of The Ultimate Resource won was not a bet made in an idealized Distributist society, but something much closer to a Capitalist laissez-faire one. That point is critical.

  16. No, I didn’t think you were of the “lets kill all the 3rd world people” types at all. I hope it didn’t seem that way. However, it worries me that it’s really the same logic. And I think we’re talking so far down the line that we can’t even fathom what those people will be dealing with.

    We have to get to that point first, after all!

  17. Peter,

    You know, I was thinking about your cannery comment on the way home today, that is a lot of waste. And you’re right, churches have facilities as do schools and many other places. It seems like an ideal project for a mutual aid society to start up or a scout group for that matter!

  18. “Move across the country to be with like-minded people and start urban farms in dilapidated areas of over-the-hill cities if you can.”

    You have friends waiting for you in Michigan if this describes you. Peace :o)

  19. @Andromedus: I think it would be wrong to reject all of Austrian economic thought, as there is much good in it.

    I think what really got this debate a little too intense were many on the American Catholic “right” not being willing (or able) to nuance their position or deal with their critics fairly.

    There are areas where Distributists and Austrians (of goodwill) can agree, and one can admire portions of Austrianism and NOT reject the Popes’ work on economics and on social justice.

    Here is an example of a man who respects the Austrians, respects business, but does not dissent from the Magesterium of the Church. I do not agree with him entirely, but notice the difference in both content and tone from what so many American dissenting “conservatives” produce… and this man is a fan of Austrian Economics:


  20. Andromedus; You mentioned you were brought up Catholic, are you one now? The Sci-Fi, technophile imagination is totally foreign to the traditional Christian one. I think it was Martin Lings who wisely noted the fact that space exploration and Sci-Fi dreams are a sort of sublimation for spiritual desires that are no longer satisfied in mainstream, Western society. Man was made to worship, take that away and he will seek other, less healthy, means to reach beyond the mundane. Have you ever read The Abolition of Man by C.S Lewis?

    I can confidently say the distributism should not, and likely will not, pursue the same sort of reckless, growth and technophile focused approach of corporate-capitalism. We will have less technological ‘progress’. Aside from the problems with the mindset that so prizes such ‘advances’, they are replete with dangers and unforeseen consequences. We’re just, probably more likely, to destroy this world before we could ever colonise the stars.

    To the very long-term problems you bring up, all we can do is trust in the wisdom of the Lord. Not pursuing distributism because it may prevent us colonising the stars centuries or millenia in the future is the sort of objection that probably weighs heavy on the mind of most distributists. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God”.

  21. Wessexman: Have you read “Out Of The Silent Planet,” “Prerelandra,” or “That Hideous Strength?” All are science fiction and all written by C.S. Lewis. You should research your points a bit more carefully before making such outrageous statement or, better yet, you should check your premises before adhering to such absurd notions.

    God granted you an imagination, whether you chose to deem something it creates as “science- fiction,” “daydreaming,” “fantasy,” “chivalry,” or any host of other romantic terms is up to you. Do not allow those labels to so readily lead your thoughts off of a cliff.

    I already feel as though Distributism is an inbred and distrustful ideology. I have quite frankly lost interest in the efficacy of it in its “pure” form, although I do maintain that it has valuable lessons to teach. I will read the encyclicals myself because, to be frank, the interpretations of numerous references on this website and in these discussions have been grossly errant and misleading.

  22. So have you The Abolition of Man? I have not yet read Lewis’s science fiction, but as I understand it it is the fictionalisation of his points in The Abolition of Man and is far from an endorsement of the technophile(for want of a better term.) position.

    I stand by my comments. Science fiction can obviously cover a wide area. I don’t necessarily object to all that could be covered by that term; sorry if that is how my comments came across. What I do object to is that part of it which is influenced by the ‘technophile’ ideology which is inherently materialistic and misguided, idealises the overwhelming focus on technological progress as an end in itself and the starry-eyed drooling over massively advanced technology and space travel and colonisation. I also object to this mentally when it is not restricted to fiction. To paraphrase Lord Northbourne I see the perfectibility of man in the spiritual sense and possible now and I see the wish to perfect him in the terrestrial and material sense, in the distant future, as not just a waste of time and effort but pernicious to his true purpose and being.

    Distributism is simply traditional Christianity applied to economics and society. I’m more than willing to defend my alternative technology/anti-technophile view and small is beautiful, human scale ideology, and its Christian credentials against the wisdom, and indeed Christian credentials, of the technophile, bigger is better and growth-fetish ideology.

    The idea that the distributists mistake the Papal encyclicals, as compared by the capitalists who try and channel them to their ideology is given the lie by simply acquainting oneself with the ethos and spirituality of traditional Christianity. If one deeply reads the Fathers, I use this term in the Eastern sense to include the great sages after, as well as before, St.John of Damascus, and the Councils then one can immediately see and the understand the large gulf between the sensibilities of the Church and capitalism, liberalism and modernism. I’m an high Church Anglican(and today basically borderline Eastern Orthodox.), so even if your interpretation had some validity I’d still object that it was contrary to the teachings of the Church, but those Encyclicals I have read have been nothing but steeped in Christian learning and spirituality.

    As a note I do not object in any sense to fantasy, romance or chivalry. Indeed I adore them. I was objecting only to a particular form of science fiction.

  23. Wessexman: Then live by yours words and chuck your computer. Your presence here indicates that you worship at the altar of the technological gods.

    None of your broad generalizations are quantifiable – they are little more than emotional reactions to some vague distrust of whatever your idea of “technology” happens to be. I’m certain that you are the exception to the rule; that your view of technology insulates you from the ill effects of its daily usage (as you stare at a computer this very moment), while the rest of the ingrates of the planet are blinded by their use of iPods and cell phones. You stand as the grand exception to those cattle-like buffoons.

    The fact is that technological progress and spiritual endeavors have never been mutually exclusive. Your distrust of technology is nothing but a projection of your distrust of your neighbor’s judgment. But you were questioning my Catholicism, so I suppose I digress…

    Yes, we should be damning “technology” for the wheel, for fire, for the sail, for language and writing, and for the exploration and settlement that all that of it has enabled. Am I correct? Or is only electronic technology evil? Or is it really just a “state of mind” that is evil? If it be the latter, then I must defer to your special expertise on a citizen’s sate of mind, most particularly my own, since you have been very forward in positing yourself its field expert. But perhaps it is size that makes technology evil, and that “small technology” is good while large is bad.

    I suppose CPT Kirk of the USS Enterprise should have flown his crew into the nearest sun; to think the technology on that ship and they didn’t scuttle it on the first planet they found! A dreadfully evil series indeed. As nothing more than a proponent of future exploration, I am actually being castigated as heretical the way earlier advocates were when the Earth was still flat. I am branded a “technophile,” clearly in opposition to the Church’s teachings, and am to reverse my opinion on the matter. How strangely “Catholic” indeed.

  24. Your entire post misses the mark. I criticised the ‘techophile'(for want of a better and as concise term and description for a comments thread.) viewpoint, not all technology.. As this is not the place to go into minute details about technology I’ll just say, as already should be obvious, I draw the line of pursuing technological ‘progress’ somewhere between computers and objections to distributism based upon its limitation on space colonisation. Your automatic equating of dissent from a ‘technophile’ ideology with some sort of primitivism is both tedious and telling. It isn’t a refutation of my position and is an obvious dodge of the issues at hand.

    Again this is not the place to have in depth discussions about such topics but you are incorrect to say that spiritual progress and material progress are not mutually exclusive. Of course they are not absolutely mutually exclusive, up to a point, but modern technological ‘progress’, indeed modern science, grew out of an environment in which spirituality was declining from its height in the Middle Ages and has been pursued so wholeheartedly only because of this decline. They both grew out of nominalism, Cartesianism, positivism, mechanism and other spiritual and philosophical diseases of modernism, which did have a very important role in creating and continuing to spur the modern lust for quantitative, corporeal based knowledge and technological ‘progress’ and at the same time lessening our desire and ability to gain spiritual knowledge and make spiritual progress.

    Francis Bacon’s idea of knowledge, which was decisively contrary to the perspective and philosophy of Christendom, is an early incarnation and representative example of the modern, scientific vision. There are certainly truths and uses in both modern science and modern technology, however incautious acceptance of either is unwise and certainly can effect one’s holistic spiritual vision of the world. Scientism is one of those many moderns diseases of the soul(or perhaps it is better described as one part of the one massive disease of modernism, though that is not too important now.) that undermines the traditional Christian of reality and starry-eyed dreaming about colonising the stars and all the ‘technophile’ assumptions this involves – and offering this as an objection to distributism and Christian economics!(which was the key reason I replied to your earlier comments.)- must be seen as part of that disease. The Roman Catholic philosopher Wolfgang Smith has done some excellent work on the philosophy of science and Scientism.

    I asked you if you were a Catholic because I seemed to remember you saying you had been brought up as one. Which seemed a strange turn of phrase to me and that you were implying you were not a practicing Catholic. I just wished to contextualise your position. I make no judgment upon the core of your spirituality and personal morality. I am sorry if it came across that way. I do think you are failing to apply a holistic, Christian vision to society, culture and economics, but then again so are the vast majority of Christians, even Catholics and Orthodox Christians. That I can dialetically express this(poorly) of course says nothing about how I apply it nor does it mean I am in any sense superior in my core spirituality and personal morality. It is precisely because spirituality is not just about rational acceptance of doctrines, but is a relationship and a state that it does matter how we approach culture and society and even economics(we can largely ignore this except for our personal consumption, but if we do hold opinions we should make sure they are broadly correct ones.).

  25. To make use of technology and to reject the Doctrine of Progress are not mutually exclusive. I don’t know about Wessexman, but I see a vast difference in improving a tool and becoming a slave to either the hard reality of technology or the mystical “Progress” that will make the universe our play toy.

    John Crowe Ransom described the dual American idols of Progress and Service very well in an ariticle that can be found here: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~DRBR/ransom.html

    “The masculine form is hallowed by Americans, if I am not mistaken, under the name of Progress. The concept of Progress is the concept of man’s increasing command, and eventually perfect command, over the forces of nature; a concept which enhances too readily our conceit, intoxicates us, and brutalizes our life. I believe it is demonstrable that there is possible no deep sense of beauty, no heroism of conduct, and no sublimity of religion, which is not informed by the humble sense of man’s precarious position in the universe….
    Progress and Service are not European slogans, they are Americanisms. We alone have devoted our lives to ideals which are admirable within their proper limits, but which expose us to slavery when pursued without critical intelligence.”

    The concept of proper limits is very important. On the one hand, the human mind is a very ingenious creator of new ideas and devices, but that will not save us, in the end, only Christ can bring us eternal happiness and true salvation. Technology can never replicate that.

  26. Wessexman: My post was exactly on the mark, but you fail to understand the absurdity of your position. I will instead distill our positions into something shorter and simpler to comprehend. My last post aptly parries even your newest rebuttal, and I encourage a reread on your part.

    You did, in setting this debate off, pop up out of nowhere with the criticism of one of my much earlier posts, saying that: “The Sci-Fi, technophile imagination is totally foreign to the traditional Christian one.” You did so in support of the direct allegation that I am, by extension, not a Catholic. That is the singular statement out of which this debate has grown and on which your entire argument rests. Never mind that C.S Lewis was a Sci-Fi writer, since he did not in fact possess the other ingredient, that being a “technophile imagination,” as you were so quick to point out in an earlier post despite not having read any of his science fiction novels.

    Thus, your position depends on your ability to prove that I am a “technophile” possessing of a “technophile imagination.” You must further do so solely as a reaction to my belief that mankind should ensure that it is capable of colonizing other planets or places before the Earth is no longer capable of sustaining human growth. That is the sole criteria with which you must prove that I fit whatever devilish thing you deem a “technolophile” to be, since that is the only speck of technological possibility that I have actually advocated anywhere on this page.

    Upon attempting to prove this fact, you are likely to come to the realization that it is impossible to condemn me an evil “technophile” based on that singular belief. You are also likely to realize that – as I stated earlier – your insinuation that I am a heretic has been an emotional reaction due to a distrust that stems entirely from your own breast. What that distrust actually results from in either the particular or abstract sense is entirely your demon – one which I gladly leave you to wrestle. I will drop a bread crumb for your search for this demon with one minute hint: Carl Sagan. You’re welcome, and happy grappling.

  27. Andromedus, I’m a Protestant and so apt to agree with you on the (likely future) problem of over-population. I’m not sure that space exploration will save us – if there are suitable planets, they’re likely to be already inhabited – but your diagnosis of the issue accords with mine. There is, to be sure, the really anti-technophile solution, where we resume the medical and other technologies of centuries earlier, so that the death rate will equal the birth rate over the long term, but I don’t know if even the most ardent Distributist would advocate that. So we’re on largely the same wavelength here.

    What I don’t understand is “Carl Sagan” as a hint, minute or otherwise. The late astronomer was rather well-known as an atheist, so how does that relate to Wessexman’s grappling?


  28. Vi King: AS I stated earlier, I am not in favor of curbing population growth in any form. I am simply in favor of being prepared for the growth that that ideal entails.

    You are on-track to understand the connection with your current line of thought.

  29. Andromedus I’m not sure what your last post adds. I gave good, albeit brief reasons that what I called the ‘technophile'(and as I said such a label is imperfect, but works quite well in this setting, so you aren’t really taunting me by using it.) position is actually quite different to that of the traditional Christian position. I’m not exactly sure what you are asking me to do. Objecting to distrubitism because you think it will stop us colonising space in the distant future does suggest you have something of the ‘technophile’ imagination; the valuing of a high level of technological progress for its own sake and ignoring the higher dimensions of human society. It is just a suggestion, but the desire to colonise planents and the sort of burning desire, or even just the support for, the technological ‘progress’ which goes with it really does involve a mindset that must jar with the traditional Christian ethos because it must be bent on material matters so much and has such a worldly way of thinking.

    BDouglass; I totally agree. We distributists though should be very much thinking how we adapt technologies for a distributist, decentralised, Christian society. Technology is not completely neutral as Lewis Mumford reminds us, it shapes society and is shaped by it. I do think though that there will come a time, not too far away, where we should begin to draw many lines beyond which we will not follow the dance of technological ‘progress’ because such technology will just take us too far from nature, from real community and the real place of man in the cosmos and indeed it will involve too much of a materialist and worldly mindset. Space travel and colonisation would obviously fall under this category, but we are already beginning to see developments in medical and biological technology and some other areas(ignoring the obviously anti-distributist consumerist cycle which speeds up the replacement of one electromagnetic gadget by the next.).

    But as you seem to have gathered(unlike Andromedus.) that I’m not simply rejecting most technology, but supporting something like the alternative, distributist based view on technology of E.F Schumacher, Ivan Illich, Kirkpatrick Sale, Lewis Mumford and those sorts of figures.

  30. Wessexman: “…we should begin to draw many lines beyond which we will not follow the dance of technological ‘progress’ because such technology will just take us too far from nature, from real community and the real place of man in the cosmos and indeed it will involve too much of a materialist and worldly mindset. Space travel and colonisation would obviously fall under this category…”

    Prove what you consider to be so obvious. That’s the burden inherent in your accusation, which you continue to dodge, skirt, and ignore.

  31. Prove what? That space travel and colonisation falls under this category? That shouldn’t require the sort of dialetic proof you mean, from a traditional Christian perspective it should be intuitively obvious. But anyway it involves focusing hugely upon material ‘progress’, prioritising that ‘progress’, prioritising that kind of knowledge instead of making moves towards a Christ focused economy and society and reprioritising our desires and our knowledge towards the spiritual. It is basically incomprehensible that our society could spend so much time, effort and resources on the sort of ‘progress’, both in technology and knowledge, which would allow space colonisation and still have a flourishing holistic social, cultural and spiritual life. We haven’t really managed that so far with our current level of technological ‘progress'; quantitative science and modern technology have not only not been helpful to Christianity these past few centuries, and there should be nothing neutral in a truly spiritual society, but have even been directly and indirectly harmful. That doesn’t mean that we need to turn our backs on the real truths and uses they have revealed, much of it can be adapted to distributist, Christian purposes. However there will come a limit, probably quite soon, where much new technological ‘progress’ will become a burden in an absolute sense.

    One could talk, at length, about the ontological symbolism inherent in all creation and in all the creation of men; the hierarchic and symbolic nature of reality. We could note how far removed from the injunctions of scripture, the Fathers and the Schoolmen, that man should live and make Intellectually according to intelligible nature, is the desire to pilot metal and plastic boxes with artificial air supplies and tubed food across the cold depths of space are. But I think the above paragraph will suffice and we don’t need to go there.

    The burden is on anyone who makes an affirmation, whether positive or negative. The argument that the irreligious, for instance, make that the burden of proof is on those who are religious to defend their positions is incorrect. The burden of proof is simply on someone who makes an affirmation, whether positive or negative, as opposed to someone who simply supposes something personally and then moves on with their everyday lives. So the burden of proof is just as much upon you, if you wish to affirm that Christianity and unlimited technological progress, and the great desire for it, are compatible or even just that space travel and colonisation and Christianity are compatible.

    Again when I asked you if you were a Catholic I did not mean to offend you. I simply saw you, in response to a different article, refer to yourself as having been brought up a Catholic. This seemed to imply you were not one now, as it would be an unusual turn of phrase for a currently pracitising one. I also wanted to get the right context for your arguments and most importantly to know if you were a traditional Christian, because if you weren’t I didn’t really see much point in trying to have the current dispute with you as your perspective would be radically different to mine. I myself soon hope to dip into the deep learning of the School of Chartres, whose vision of man in nature and the cosmos is supposed to be among the most profound in all Western Christianity. If you are a traditional Christian may I suggest you join me in this pursuit and afterwards we can discuss again man’s place in the universe.

  32. Wessexman: Is it also intuitively obvious that the sailing ships that allowed mankind to explore and colonize foreign lands somehow fogged his ability to flourish “in holistic social, cultural and spiritual life?”

    I will remind you that you are the one making these statements, not I, and thus you are the one who must defend them. I merely stated that the absence of colonization would eventually lead to a lack of resources given our logarithmic population growth (particularly were we an ideal Distributist society). That statement is sound, but I see no need to defend even that when your disagreement is not with that logic but (oddly) with the actual technology that would allow it.

    If you are going to claim the existence of a technological line by which man cannot morally cross, further claim that we have conveniently not yet crossed it, and then state that you cannot actually say where that line is but merely that you know colonization is beyond it, you reveal the arbitrary nature of your argument and judgment. I will repeat again that it is arbitrary because it is emotional, not logical. Were you born 200 years ago, the idea of the technology necessary to put a man on the moon no doubt would have been as disagreeable to you as the concept of colonization is today.

  33. Wessexman: Is it also intuitively obvious that the sailing ships that allowed mankind to explore and colonize foreign lands somehow fogged his ability to flourish “in holistic social, cultural and spiritual life?”

    I will remind you that you are the one making these statements, not I, and thus you are the one who must defend them. I merely stated that the absence of colonization would eventually lead to a lack of resources given our logarithmic population growth (particularly were we an ideal Distributist society). That statement is sound, but I see no need to defend even that when your disagreement is not with that logic but (strangely) with the actual technology that would allow it.

    If you are going to claim the existence of a technological line by which man cannot morally cross, further claim that we have conveniently not yet crossed it, and then state that you cannot actually say where that line is but merely that you know colonization is beyond it, you reveal the arbitrary nature of your argument and judgment. I will repeat again that it is arbitrary because it is emotional, not logical. Were you born 200 years ago, the idea of the technology necessary to put a man on the moon no doubt would have been as disagreeable to you as the concept of colonization is today.

  34. Wessexman: “…is the desire to pilot metal and plastic boxes with artificial air supplies and tubed food across the cold depths of space are.”

    Would you be more inclined towards exploration and colonization if a ship’s air supply were recycled via gardens, if the spaceship were not box-shaped, and if food were not transported via tubes? None of the adjectives you use are required for a ship’s design (unless you possess some special knowledge on space-ship design) and yet you speak of them as though they were forgone conclusions. You betray your emotional bias in the picture you attempt to paint, one that reads more like propaganda than intellectual honesty.

  35. I notice you haven’t actually answered my question about your faith. Are you a traditional Christian? I have no desire to debate with someone here on this subject if you do not share the same basic worldview that I do because the gulf between us is just too far for the setting.

    You’re avoiding the actual issue at hand and not discussing the role of materialistic thinking and other modernist diseases at the root of modern scientific and technological ‘progress’.The idea that every kind of human knowledge must be expressible in only the most explicit and concise discursive form is just rationalism and simply shows you are under the sway of the modern mentality. Why does the fact I maintain that ‘technophile’ and scientistic thinking has had a negative, as well as positive, effect on man’s higher requirements and will likely become an absolute burden at some stage require that I be able to express this in a simple mathematical formula?

    The line I was talking about is simply the expression of the fact that there has been many technologies introduced in the past and up to the present that can be absorbed into a distributist, Christian society. Many of the ‘advances’ that are talked about in the future, and the consequences that seem to be tied to them, do not seem to able to be absorbed in such a way. Why exactly is it emotional not to be able to give this ‘line’ as a mathematical formula?

    You yourself are, ironically, just acting emotionally and rejecting my position with broad, inaccurate characterisations like I reject technology wholesale. You have not really responded to my position. Modern technological and scientific ‘progress’ have already led to a decline in social, cultural and spiritual fulfillment in our society, whatever the real truths and uses involved in them. They were partly formed by and partly helped to foster a nominalist, positivist and mechanistic mindset which has, amongst other diseases, damaged spirituality. Indeed one can basically say that what allowed this unleashing of knowledge of and attempts to conquer the material and quantifiable side of reality was the turning away of man from the spiritual and qualitative side. Future technological ‘advances’ that are talked of all seem to continue this pathological focus on the material and quantifiable, they all seem to leave behind any (ontologically) symbolic and Christian metaphysical, realist, hierarchic view to reality, they all seem to be based upon the Baconian vision of further conquering a passive, mechanistic nature. Is saying that this will be spiritually harmful that strange? If you’re not a traditional Christian(or Platonist or perhaps even Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu or in some way accepts the principles and view of reality I’m talking about.) then most of this means little to you, hence my original query about your religion.

    Then there is the real importance of intelligible nature to the purpose of men’s life. Nature is formed, hierarchically and symbolically, through the Word and Wisdom of God; in a sense it is a reflection of God through which we can read his Wisdom, through his Grace, and which we should imitate in our lives.

    As Dante puts it ‘‘”Philosophy, to one who understands,
    Points out — and on more than one occasion —
    How nature gathers her entire course

    “From divine intellect and divine art.
    And if you pore over your Physics closely,
    You’ll find, not many pages from the start,

    “That, when possible, your art follows nature
    As a pupil does his master; in effect,
    Your art is like the grandchild of our God.’

    The sort of constant ‘progress’ you are talking about takes us further and further from nature, forgets the role of nature(as understood Intellectually by what Dante calls ‘Philosophy’) as the rightful father of all innovation and creation and indeed, being based in and spurred on by the evils of modernism, makes war upon nature. Traditionally technology was dealt with very differently as Rodney Blackhirst tells us; ‘In a traditional social order we find that technological innovations are carefully sacralized and integrated into the continuum of tradition, even if radical adjustments need to be made to weave the new technology into the total symbolic framework that is the matrix of such a society. Sacralization, though, always consists of ways and means of ensuring that the inherent limitations and dangers of man’s productions are understood.’. As I said if you’re not a traditional Christian this will mean little to you, but if you are it should make you pause before glorying in technological ‘progress’ like any modernist and using it to object to distributism.

  36. And when you talk about your ‘logic'(do you mean reasoning?) I can refute it immediately. The Lord will provide if we live according to his wishes. ‘Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?’. To say the Lord would not provide for those who live according to his principles is close to impiety. If the end of days does not come the Lord will provide.

  37. Wessexman: “The Lord will provide if we live according to his wishes.” Then your next requirement would be to demonstrate that the Lord wishes us to remain Earthbound for all eternity. Your argument also assumes that his “provision” is not a virtually boundless universe – a counter-intuitive position to say the least. I guess any refutation is “easy” if it needn’t pass any muster beyond that of circular reasoning.

    I haven’t answered your question about my religion because there is no need. It is nothing but a derailing of the issue under the thin veil of “contextualization.” I could be anything you wanted; it wouldn’t change the weight of my argument one iota, and if you feel it would then there truly is no common ground in our worldview.

    It amuses me that you choose to ignore the glaring fact that a Wessexman today debating planetary (or lunar) colonization and a Wessexman from the 1800s debating moon landings are identical in their argument and in their folly. The one simply appears later in the historical timeline. I have no doubt that two hundred years from now, there will be a Wessexman who has found some new facet of discovery against which to direct his ire, and colonization itself may by then have become an “obvious” exception to the spiritual cancer of technophilia.

    Furthermore, what position do you expect me to refute? “Future technological ‘advances’ that are talked of all SEEM to continue this pathological focus on the material and quantifiable, they all SEEM to leave behind any (ontologically) symbolic and Christian metaphysical, realist, hierarchic view to reality, they all SEEM to be based upon the Baconian vision of further conquering a passive, mechanistic nature.” You infuse your own argument with uncertainty. I’m not going to waste time attempting to refute something worded as slippery as that, even if I thought it were relevant.

  38. I think what is being missed here is the concept of appropriate technology. An inanimate item of technology in itself is not evil or good, but it is a tool and can be used for evil or good ends. So, does interplanetary travel serve anything good for us at the moment? I can’t see it as such, but maybe at some point in the future it will. Who knows? None of us do.

    The point remains that there are destructive tendencies in the “technophile” (although I’m not sure I like that term, I like the old Progressive as in a follower of the cult of Progress). That has always been true and likely always will. Hubris is a hell of a drug.

    But, it seems a tad silly to dismiss Distributism because of an issue that will only be a problem centuries after we are all dead if it becomes one then.

  39. Again you seem to utterly ignore most of my points. It has now become clear you don’t really want to engage with the topic. The Lord gave us an Intellect and Being that is virtually boundless in its core, that you mistake the mere large size of the corporeal universe for anywhere this level of ‘boundlessness’ is again quite telling. Using your level of reasoning, but making it somewhat comprehensible, I can come back with the retort that the Lord nowhere in Scripture encourages us to colonise space nor does he seem concerned at all with perpetual technological ‘progress’. Indeed the metaphysics, symbolism and principles of Scripture are opposed to it.

    It matters quite a bit if you are a traditional Christian because I have no real desire, particularly in the context of a comments thread to try and convince someone who doesn’t share the basic assumptions of traditional Christianity of the errors of a ‘technophile’ position. It does very much seem that you are not a traditional Christian. If you were you would have simply have said so; this makes your apparent faux outrage earlier ridiculous.

    I’m unsure what you think you are proving by banging on about the moonlandings. They were a waste of time and effort. I have said several times that even the current level of technological ‘progress’ has been directly and indirectly damaging to the social, cultural and spiritual health of modern society in the way it has been developed and implemented.

    I used the term ‘seem’ for hypothetical ‘innovations’. I was talking about technologies that are only science fiction at the moment, so I fail to see how my use of seem is a refutation of my position. You seem(how ironic.) to think that these sorts of dodges get you out of actually making an argument, you have done it several times now. It is really wearying a bit thin. You seem(more irony!) to really have given up on any proper discussion.

  40. That last post was addressed to Andromedus by the way.
    When I say Scripture is opposed to technological ‘progress’ I mean of course in the ‘technophile’, for its-own-sake, sense and not all such ‘progress. This is the position I have consistently been taking in this discussion.

    BDouglass; I myself am an enthusiastic believer in appropriate technology(I used the synonymous term alternative technology above.). While I agree with the spirit of your comment I’m not sure it is correct to consider technology neutral. Are you familiar with the work of Lewis Mumford? As he reminds us technology, as it is developed, is significantly influenced by society, just as it influences society. There are, I suppose, more or less neutral insights arising from abstract and applied material sciences, but when it comes to the actual development and application of these insights they are strongly influenced by the pressures of our society. Capitalism has long caused many, many choices to me made in the development of many, many technologies which has caused them to be more centralised and less distributist, and indeed Christian, than they need have been.

    I do not think that the scope of appropriate technology reaches indefinitely towards the goals of technological ‘advances’ that the ‘technophiles'(I don’t particularly like this term either, but in this setting its meaning is obvious enough to make it a useful term.) envision. I do not see how space travel could come around in the context of a general social-technological environment that was completely within the bounds of appropriate technology. It is not as if we can suddenly go from a distributist society to developing interstellar spacecraft. In itself though I do not see how space travel and colonisation can fit within the parameters of a Christian, appropriate technology. This is not just because of the mindset that that sort of technology seems to require for its development, as has been noted repeatedly, but for the (ontologically) symbolic and technological, indeed metaphysical, centrality this planet(over which we are God’s stewards) plays in the life of man and indeed of the cosmos itself. Man is inextricably bound to this planet by ties greater than any envisioned by NASA.

  41. -Darn- that should have been ‘symbolic and theological’, not technological.

  42. By saying that technology is neutral I was simply saying that any piece of technology being an inanimate object was itself neutral. A screw driver is not good or bad, it just exists. We could use it to murder some one or hang an icon. As far as I can see, we can’t really make any moral claims for any other item, either.

    Maybe I’m wrong with that, and you’re right, our actual applications of some items seems always to be bad. Take for example a condom, 99.999% or more of them are used for bad ends, but they also make morally neutral or good uses too, such as water balloons or emergency water holders.

    Also, I can’t see much defensible use for colonization of planets, but then again, I doubt Belloc could have have seen much use for the computer, which in his day was a war-centered device. And yet without it, I’d certainly have never heard about Distributism. So, I’m hesitant to say conclusively that there is never, ever a way for it to be acceptable.

  43. Wessexman: And your propensity to ignore my points is equally telling. But, to follow your rabbit hole: are we not to be fruitful and multiply? In no verse or commandment does the Bible prohibit space travel. Further, nowhere did I compare the boundlessness of man’s “Intellect and Being” with that of the “corporeal Universe,” the comparison is yours alone. What the rebuttal to a comparison I never made can possibly “tell” shall remain a mystery.

    I concur with BDouglass that technology itself is neutral, which goes to the heart of my position. Technology is a tool (and science is a method, not an ideology) and does not in and of itself say anything about its discoverer’s spiritual health, maturity, or intentions. There are exceptions, but for the most part every discovery ever made brings forth uses that can be aimed to both good and evil pursuits – and the only exceptions are those technologies specifically studied for purposes of war (and even the vast majority of those have brought benevolent uses). To distrust technology is to distrust its user.

    I’m going to ignore yet another projection of your own biases onto me (“faux outrage”) since it contributes nothing to the debate. You will label me as you please, since fuzzy labels seem to be the name of your game.

    Your usage of the term “seem” demonstrates that you do not feel certain that the hypothetical advances we are discussing would promote the symptoms you so denounce. I thought that would have been clear without needing to spell it out.

    I’m curious if you are still the impression that I am a proponent of exploration/colonization for its own sake. From an earlier post: “‘…technophile’ ideology which is inherently materialistic and misguided, idealises the overwhelming focus on technological progress as an end in itself and the starry-eyed drooling over massively advanced technology and space travel and colonisation.” And again: “Objecting to distrubitism because you think it will stop us colonising space in the distant future does…” My objection is not that Distributism will keep us from colonizing the sake of colonizing, but for the sake of allowing us to continue to multiply; indeed to do so with health, space, freedom, and the resources necessary to continue to grow. This was made clear even before your initial post. Being that you may have missed that, I can see how you might have labeled me a “technophile” in the sense that you appear to mean to convey. However, your position (I’m certain) will continue to be the same because my position is not specifically called for in the Bible (added in your last post), and because it would require a seemingly less pure form of Distributism to support it. If Distributism is a litmus test by which you judge human endeavors, then not many will pass muster for you. I can say to you that “space colonization” is not a litmus test of mine, but that the continuance of human growth, comfort, and freedom are. The wall of limited space and the exponentiality of human growth will one day come to odds. Your adherents may pray that God intercedes, mine will do the same while also exercising their free will to work at constructing a solution. If God answers our adherent’s prayers, then my adherents will succeed.

    And at last, I don’t see this argument ever ending and we are clearly tiring of one another. I’m willing to simply agree to disagree. You may even have the last word.

  44. “The wall of limited space and the exponentiality of human growth will one day come to odds.”

    This statement, I definitely disagree with. How will this ever be, especially with disasters that happen, reducing the population? Why would there ever be a need to colonize space? The earth is sufficient for all the needs of the human race; it is only through deliberate neglect and destruction of the earth’s resources that the much of the human race is wanting proper food and shelter.

  45. Andromedus you do not deal with any any of my points, you keep doing this, there is little point in continuing our discussion if you keep just dodging it. It is clear when you make comments like this ‘I can say to you that “space colonization” is not a litmus test of mine, but that the continuance of human growth, comfort, and freedom are.’, that you are not operating from a traditional Christian perspective. You ignore the importance of God and man’s spirituality as the litmus test for everything. Man’s growth, comfort and freedom are all in God.

    You ignore my points and make the comment that technology is just a tool and science a method. But as I said this is not the case. Even up to our time science and technology have been associated with and caused social, cultural and spiritual diseases. They only flourished because man took his eyes off heaven and th qualitative and unleashed his powers towards the material and quantifiable. As an example Cartesianism, positivism, mechanism and the Baconian knowledge-as-power ideology have long dominated the natural sciences. They have little validity but they are still there. Every tool and every scientific insight takes place in the context of a complex philosophical endeavour. You remove the user and developer from your calculations and don’t see that one doesn’t approach tools or minute insights about the material realm in themselves alone, but within the contexts of a more holistic worldview. You really should take a look at the philosophy of science. As the Roman Catholic philosopher of science Wolfgang Smith describes Newton’s philosophy, which still dominates physics, despite the collapse of many of its technical insights ‘In short, the Newtonian heritage turns out to be multifaceted and curiously equivocal. Apart from mechanics, optics and gravitational theorems, it contains the elements of Cartesian metaphysics and an uncompromising positivism, all brought together in one magnum opus of incalculable influence.’.

    BDouglass; the screwdriver is quite a simple tool I suppose. When it comes to more advanced technology decisions have to be made about how and if they are implemented, on what scale, to the benefit of whom and so forth. This is why Lewis Mumford is surely right when says technology as such is not neutral, it shapes society and is shaped by it. The early history of state supported capitalism meant that factories tended to be owned by single capitalists who wished to dominate their workers and the technology that went in them was adapted to suit this purpose. This process is constant in the development of advanced technology.

    Philosophically speaking any object is actually the imprint of an intelligible essence, through the higher levels of reality onto substance, so from that point of view it is incorrect to see objects as ‘neutral’, each object has its symbolism and its own place in the hierarchic, cosmic order which should not be ignored. No technology is completely evil, but space colonisation and the sort of mindset, scale, complexity and artificiality that must accompany it must surely compromise said order as revealed through Scripture and Philosophy(which the above quote by Dante gives us an excellent introduction to.). Computers and our current level of technology, independent even of how it is implemented, must be getting close itself to be an absolute negative in itself, but the dreams which certain types of people drool over today have surely passed that line.

  46. One thing about space colonization too, is that it’s actually a colonization movement of people, not just “rockets” or “long-term food storage” and things like that.

    But, still, I say, why get hung up on something like that…we’ve got to get there first and at the rate we’re going, we’ll destroy everything long before we can even get people to Mars. Let alone chase Kahn around the cosmos.

    Community gardens are much more pressing a need than space farms ;)

  47. I agree BDouglass, which is why I found the objection to distributism based upon it to be absurd.

    I do think that such desires though are symbolic of the mindset that glorifies in the constant increase in technology and particularly the complexity and scale of technology and the ‘conquest’ of nature(which as Schumacher points out would mean man would be on the loosing side). This mindset is linked to, amongst other things, the consumerist, growth fetish ideology of corporate-capitalism, which is a great barrier to distributism. Andromedus’s objection might be silly, but many will object to distributism precisely because it aims to break this consumerist-technophile matrix. They will realise that technological development will be more sedate in distributism, we will not be developing four new nanotechnologies a week(as I recently heard is going on.) nor new pinning our desires on the rapid succession of ‘smartphones’ or flatscreen tvs or similar consumer goods, and also technology will be less prominent and dominating, being developed in a more human-scale way in line with the needs and desires of the community and not massive corporations and governments. I think we need to not shy away from this conflict, we can make attacks, both in the insightful, but less metaphysical, way that E.F Schumacher and Lewis Mumford et al did with their ideas on appropriate technology and even occasionally with the more metaphysical arguments I sometimes used above, and embrace the full radical, for want of a better term, change that distributism implies.

    This radicalness is a weakness, witness people like Andromedus, but it can also be a huge strength if we really embrace it and turn it into a proper vision. Distributism and decentralism are almost impossible in the ‘consumerist-technophile’ matrix of modern capitalism, where many are far more interested in owning the latest consumer goods or what is going on in Hollywood than in owning their own business or having a strong community. Never mind interstellar travel, the television, for example, has been more negative than positive. It has replaced authentic familial and communal means of entertainment, which incidentally usually had far more real cultural and spiritual value, with the largely anti-social and culturally moribund practices of vegetating in front of the TV.

    As an Englishmen from the West Country, though not currently residing there, interested in topics like distributism and decentralism I have encountered many Cornish nationalists. I never cease to be astonished that many of them, particularly the left-of-centre majority, seem to think that they will get much support for their agenda of Cornish autonomy, or that it will mean much, absent of any vision for a holistic cultural and social decentralism(and indeed basically distributism). Only such a vision could ever make political decentralism meaningful and workable, otherwise people will not be interested, having far more concern for the next electromagnetic gadget to be produced in Japan or China, and hostile interests, like transnational corporations, will still have a strangle hold on the territory. It is important that we distributists do not make the same mistakes and therefore we do not shy away from holding up a full, holistic vision, including such a key area as appropriate technology.

  48. BDouglass: Go back and read my original objection and you will find that I agree that other requirements are currently more pressing, but that the inevitable does not cease being inevitable simply because it is not yet a problem. In another thread I posited a novel idea requiring relatively little technology by comparison, and such a simple idea doesn’t even seem supportable by Distributist localism. There is nothing absurd about facing reality. It’s a shame that most are not capable of comprehending what exponential growth actually means, and what a physically limited resource actually is.

    Yes, space colonization is a colonization movement no different in philosophical implications than the colonization of Australia. It simply requires a greater capital investment, one that Distributism could never provide. Because I choose to look at the way a proposed global economic theory would effect the human race in all its side-effects, I note that this one is too large to ignore. Putting one’s head in the proverbial sand solves few problems. It is disheartening that such appears the norm here, but is also telling of the movement’s tenor and the nature of the thought that informs it.

  49. Am I the only distributist not worried if Andromedus shouts his objection to distributism from the roof top? Most people would not pay a blind bit of notice to the fact that distributism rules space colonisation in the distance future. I think if they do object to our differences over technological and material ‘progress’, they will have much more terrestial reasons for doing this, like various electromagnetic gadgets they have come to put so much desire into.

    Incidentally I recently stumbled across an article by E.F Schumacher that expresses many of the points I have on technology and indeed recently on work(if not the most metaphysical side of my arguments.), which may be of interest; neweconomicsinstitute.org/content/schumacher-modern-industry

  50. Shout from the roof top? That’s cause for a chuckle. If there is one thing I don’t need to do in order to keep Distributism in check it’s shout an opposition from the roof top. My ojbection to it will become more poignant with each passing decade, not that it will matter as little-known as it is. It’s a far greater loss to have turned away a potential sympathizer than it is to have gained an enemy activist (which I am not). I really needn’t do anything but observe.

  51. You make the mistake of thinking that distributism is, or should, anything but the application of Christianity. We are not your average political activists. I personally have no illusions about the likelihood of winning many successes for distributism in the near future, but I can recognise this, with a sigh, and pray, go to church and enjoy the company of my family and friends. BDouglass in this very article has also written well about how we can live as distributists, up to a point and with some inconvenience of course, right now. ‘For those who trouble me:/ The bloody cross of my dear Lord/ Is both my physic and my sword.’.

    I honestly did not mean to offend you and apologise for any undue offense, although I’m not always one to shy away from being forthright in these contexts. I think you’d be unwise though to make judgments about distributism based simply on the view that I was ‘turning you away’. To be honest I’m growing to agree with the point Schumacher makes in that article; ‘I think there are many, of which I shall mention only one: the extraordinary increase in the rate of change. ‘If you would draw a curve of the rate of change, it woud appear as an exponential, or logarithmic, curve of continuous acceleration. It is quite clear that no such curve can proceed for any length of time on this earth. It must come to a stop before long, and that must mean the end of an era and “the revaluation of all values: or, in the imagery of the gospels, the separation of the wheat from the tares.’. However I think there is an Islamic hadith that makes a point that Christians can agree with, namely when the Lord comes we should found in the fields with plow in hand, hence I do my bit in struggling for a Christian economy and society.

    Your position on constant growth would seem to fall victim to the ‘Carsonite’ analysis of capitalism, if this analysis is correct. If corporate-capitalism only survives with increasing state intervention, which cannot go on indefinitely, then distributism, or alternatively some sort of chaos, anarchy and despotism, will come sooner or later before we ever get to the point of space colonisation.

  52. The parish system is mentioned in passing, but I think there’s more to say (and do) here. What does a parish look like, if as a community, it embraces the Church’s social encyclicals? How does a parish move from what it is now to one that operates under the ideas of these encyclicals? It seems me, that social justice ministries (at the parish level, diocesan level and national conference level) tend to have little to do with the encyclicals that are the basis of Catholic social justice. My parish tried to move to a total stewardship model (paying for everything, including school tuition from the Sunday collection) but abandoned it. That seemed like a move toward social justice and the sort of distributism this article talks about. Is it? The parish system is there, every practicing Catholic is part of it, so it seems that any move toward Catholic social justice is going to have to involve (heavily) the parishes.

  53. Doug: Yes, that’s something that very much needs talked about. It’s also something that will take different forms in different places, I think.

    I grew up in East TN where the Catholic population is rather minuscule (3%, I think?) Outside of Knoxville and Chattanooga most counties have one parish, if that. I think some still have missions which are served from a nearby county. In such a situation travel makes doing a lot of things very difficult. However, in other places it is not a problem. Plus having one maybe two priests for a county is not ideal, either.

    The first thing we need to do is to get rid of the idea that parishes are for Sunday and maybe school. Full stewardship can be a good model, but it gets into the issue of convincing people who don’t use the school (especially if it is not orthodox) to support it. It didn’t work at my home parish for a number of reasons, one being the retirement of the long-time pastor who really kept it going.

    I think ideally parishes should coincide with where we live and have enough Catholics around them that people are easily able to make parish life central to their family life. Having to drive an hour round trip to the parish makes that hard. And some people drive even further to find a solid, orthodox parish. I’ve found one that I like and has a good, building community already and I’m going to move there. That’s my own solution.

    The family needs the neighborhood and the parish and the parish and neighborhood need the family. And sadly, I think Americans have been doing badly with all three for quite a while.

  54. Christopher Stevenson

    What an amazing article, Brian! I must say, it has definitely got me thinking and the use of Catholic spirituality and Theology in it is so effective and makes it an even more compelling read. I will say that I feel like Distributism is a little utopic (but I guess any perfect form of anything is), however, it is definitely a way of life I could see myself trying to follow. Pax tecum!