Joe Carter over at First Things has recently published a brief monologue about Distributism that can only be described as completely missing the point. Not, understand, just missing the target, but really failing to fire at all. The only remotely sufficient comparison is the man who, when told that the Catholic Church is based in Rome, writes a bitterly hateful critique of Catholicism because he went right to Rome, New York and couldn’t find the Pope anywhere.
First, Mr. Carter excoriates Distributism as a “utopian” ideology (and kudos to Mr. Carter for managing to work the phrase “immanentize the eschaton” into a blog posting). Much of the remainder of the post is a lengthy quotation which begins with a bitter ad hominem and ends with something about a czar.
Here, for example, is the beginning of the quotation:
I know it’s futile to point out obvious things to a Distributist. The fixed, false beliefs undergirding Distributism are impervious to reason and experience. But let me try one more time, perhaps for the benefit of those new to this nonsense.
The author then proceeds to completely fail to point out any of the “fixed, false beliefs undergirding Distributism.” Instead, he decrees (without the slightest explanation) that Distributism would require a “Czar of Aesthetic Consumption” to enforce what people buy. Eh?
Mr. Carter then states, “This gets to the heart of my concern about Distributionism. I’m afraid that if they every [sic] got their way they no [sic] only would enthrone a Czar of Aesthetic Consumption whose first decree would be to banish LOLCats.” The rationality of basing one’s political beliefs on the relative availability of LOLCats, and the difficulty of interpreting this sentence without eliminating the “no only” from it entirely, put (just for now) aside, one is forced to ask:
1.) What does this have to do with Distributism’s alleged utopianism?
2.) What does Distributism have to do with coercing (non)consumption?
Still, one can identify among the various “arguments” in Mr. Carter’s article two main issues, which more or less mirror these two issues above.
Is Distributism utopian? Well, insofar as it tries to achieve the best possible society, then yes, it is. But it’s really hard to understand why this should be considered a bad thing. But it certainly isn’t utopian in the sense that it assumes that man is all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: Distributism recognizes man’s vices and specifically tries to limit the damage they do to the body politic. Capitalism, on the other hand, celebrates those vices (or one of them, at least), and in fact makes one of them the principle of economic action.
Next, will Distributism require a “Czar of Aesthetic Consumption” to regulate the consumption of citizens? “Coming out of left field” doesn’t begin to describe this argument; more accurately it came from some strange parallel universe where black is white, down is up, and corporate executives are penalized when they tank a company.
Distributism is not concerned with consumption. It’s genuinely difficult to understand how anyone could get a contrary idea. Distributism isn’t even concerned with wealth, per se; there would be the very rich and the comparatively poor even in a perfectly Distributist society. Distributism is concerned with productive property. That is, Distributism is that system in which the ownership of productive property is widely distributed. There’s nobody mandating what people can and can’t buy; there’s nobody making sure that people only have so much stuff; and there’s certainly nobody ensuring that nobody goes golfing on summer afternoons. There’s just a set of policies encouraging the widespread distribution of productive property.
Would Distributism get rid of LOLCats? One can only hope. But if it did, it wouldn’t be because some “czar” banished them to the outer realms.
There are certainly legitimate concerns about Distributism; but Mr. Carter’s posting simply doesn’t contain any. Let’s hope that no one has nightmares about czars because of it.