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“They say it is Utopian, and they are right. They say it is idealistic, and they are right. They say it is quixotic, and they are right. It deserves every name that will indicate how completely they have driven justice out of the world.” – G.K. Chesterton

I find it interesting when critics of Distributism claim, in essence or explicitly, that it is Utopian. Utopia is a fictional island where all of society is the ideal, where everything just works. Of course, to call something or someone Utopian is usually intended as an insult; it is saying that the ideas won’t work in the “real world.” To hear our critics talk about us, we distributists live in a world of fantasy, imagining that all will be rosey and well if only Distributism were adopted. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Distributism actually looks at society, and the people in it in a very realistic way. We look at human nature, and realize that it contains many unpredictable variables that are very real factors in society and economics. Human nature is a real economic force to be reckoned. There will always be those who fail to live up to the standard, those who fail to grasp the full consequences of their actions, and those who will deliberately choose to advance their own interests even when it is harmful to others. Society needs to be structured to mitigate their influence. It is precisely because of this that we promote subsidiarity, solidarity, and emphasize the local economy with the guild system. Distributism is not a perfect socio-economic system; it is merely one that takes account of the imperfections of people. It assumes that these imperfections will always be at play, so the socio-economic system must account for that fact.

These human imperfections can arise from different directions, from the lower orders of society and from the higher orders. When from the lower orders, businesses can seek to act in unjust ways, to charge unjust prices, to pay unjust wages, to use unjust methods to undermine competition. When from the higher orders, the government can enact unjust laws and usurp roles that are naturally the function of the lower orders, even roles that naturally belong to the family itself, like directing the education of children. The further removed the usurper is from the natural level, the less the natural level is able to effectively fight to correct the problem. If the highest level of government interferes with rights of families to direct the education of their children, those families are powerless to do anything about it unless they are part of a very vocal majority – and they might not be able to do anything about it even in that case.

Capitalism is a product of the philosophy of individualistic liberalism. Some might consider it odd that a society founded on this idea would result in the consolidation of economic and political power away from the mass of its individual citizens. To read the Founders of the United States, they considered it the most natural thing that individuals would jealously guard against it, that businesses would guard against it, that local and state governments would guard against it, and, therefore, the system would work as long as no one failed. Since, in their view, the power of any level of government is granted to it from the people, the people would always have the power to revoke any power unjustly usurped from them. The United States, from its very foundation, depended on the smaller, weaker levels of society always banding together in a perpetual defensive position against a larger aggressor. In other words, the people are to consider themselves as constantly besieged. Ironically, the U.S. Constitution, which limits the authority of the federal government, was itself an expansion of that government’s power from the U.S. Articles of Confederation. The reason is that coordination requires subordination, but applying that philosophical reality in combination with individualistic liberalism will not result in a just society.

This is very different from the view of Christendom, which believed that the power of government was determined by the need it existed to fulfill, not coming from the people, but from the nature of that level of government itself. Therefore, there is a need to acknowledge powers above and beyond ourselves, which define us and set limitations on us for the common good. These powers are God and the nature he created, including human nature. Christendom depended on a constant defending of the natural orders of society and a constant growth in understanding of human nature and its failings, but that defense came from all sides, the Church, the people, and the state.

In Christendom, the argument was that, if you failed to act justly, you would not go to heaven. This applied equally to king and peasant, pope and layman. In the eras that followed it, the argument became that, if you are not vigilant, you will be subject to tyranny. The individualistic liberals of the late 18th Century still viewed God as an important factor in guiding their daily lives, including in government, but the application of that factor was left to the individual. Those who negotiated the US Constitution knew their experiment might fail, but their expectation was that, through diligence and a natural jealous guarding of self-interest, it would succeed.

In the first century since the United States was founded, some of the principles of the US Constitution were already being abandoned with the loss of sovereignty of the individual states in the US Civil War. In the century since then, the federal government has not ceased in its continual power-grab, not merely from its subordinate states, but from every local community and family. One might consider it odd that this would happen, but the very individualism the Founders believed would protect their system is the cause of it being dismantled. The fact is that, throughout history, many of those individuals in power believe that their genius in being able to get into positions of power proves they should be allowed to exercise it as they see fit, even if it means preventing others from exercising powers that once belonged to them. Notice that this is the very same argument made to justify the never-ending consolidation of wealth among the very rich. Surely if they could get into the position of running these banks and international businesses, they are obviously smarter about business than others, and are therefore the best ones to know how business should be run and what the national economic policy should be, even if doing so puts others out of business.

Yes, that’s right, those of the so-called Left and Right in the US are actually making essentially the same  arguments to justify their attempts to increase their own power, the political left to justify their increase in government power, and the political right to justify their increase in economic power. This is because, even though they have diverged in regard to how to build the ideal society, they both spring from the same faulty philosophy of individualistic liberalism. They are both like the pigs in Orwell’s, Animal Farm, believing that they are the ones who are more equal than everyone else. That same individualism left the common man defenseless when economists decided that ethics does not apply to economics, and defenseless when political theorists decided that government was the solution to just about every problem. Each of these camps believes they have the real answer to creating a truly free and prosperous society, if only all of those pesky other people would behave the way they should. You see, when their systems fail, it is either the fault of the other camp, or of the consumers themselves. It is never really the fault of their ideas; it is the fault of people who pick and choose what to believe, and then choose to act differently than the economists predicted. Distributists, on the other hand, expect failures to occur. There will be those who attempt to corrupt the system. This is why the system must be set up to mitigate the damage these people will do, and make it easier to correct the problems they create.

This is why we advocate the guild system to fight corruption in the lower orders. When a single business engages in unjust practices, the guild can remove its license to do business in the local area. This is really no different than a business losing its license for failing to abide by the laws of the city or county. However, because businesses in the guild only operate in the local community, and the guild itself only has authority in that community, even if the entire guild were to become corrupt, its sphere of influence is limited by design. Therefore the local community has a greater ability to bring it back in line than they do with the intercity, interstate, and international companies with which we have to deal in our present system. Additionally, the problem of a local company will be a local problem. It will have little impact on the overall economy of the state, the federal nation, or the world, as has been the case with the current financial crisis triggered by the failure of a small percentage of sub-prime mortgages in the USA.

Distributists advocate subsidiarity to deal with corruption in the higher orders. The principle of subsidiarity only grants authority to the different orders of society according to the need they exist to fulfill. While this can be abused, Distributism grants more power to the local level than it has under our current system, even more than it had when the USA was founded. This will make the local level more effective at correcting corruption at higher levels. Currently, the higher level is allowed to override local laws, even in things that are local issues. Distributism corrects this. For example, by including in its founding principles the idea that state assistance does not give the state the right to usurp local authority, the state may still contribute to education in a poor area, but its contribution gives it no authority to dictate what must be taught. The state may contribute to social assistance programs when the level of need warrants it, but its contribution does not give it authority to direct those programs at the local level. Admittedly, these concepts are foreign to us. Those who promote assistance by the state insist that the assistance grants the state more authority in regard to that assistance. Thus, the state can, and even must increase its power over the masses whenever its assistance is needed. Those who promote the continued authority of the local level sometimes insist that this means the state cannot even assist. This was actually the view of the American Founders in regard to the federal government they created in both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. These two extremes are natural evolutions from the philosophy of individualistic liberalism.

Distributists advocate solidarity, which is when the society, both as a whole and at each level, accepts that everyone is responsible for everyone. It is not just the responsibility of individuals who work or contribute to help those in need, and it is not just the responsibility of the government who must step in pre-emptively just in case individuals would not. It is a social responsibility shared by the society as a whole and by each member. This also has a subsidiary nature which means that it primarily falls to the local levels of society, families, churches, guilds, and other local associations, but it also means that the higher levels of society must step in, when warranted, to assist but not take over. If the higher level is needed to coordinate efforts because the need is wide-spread, it may do so until the situation will allow the more local levels to effectively resume their natural role. Yes, there will be those who will not help, but there will be a tremendous social pressure to do so, and a tremendous social stigma for refusing to do so.

These ideas, subsidiarity, solidarity, ethical economics, preference for the local economy, guilds, the common good, and the other various aspects of what a Distributist society would be like, are why those of us who advocate Distributism cannot discuss it merely on the economic or the political level. It cannot even be discussed merely on both of them combined. When Distributists discuss these ideas, we are actually discussing a different philosophical view, a view that rejects the false philosophy of individualistic liberalism that is the core of the political and financial world in which we live. Distributism seeks to return to a truly scientific philosophical foundation based on philosophical psychology, ethics, and poietics. The philosophy that was born of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, and was ultimately refined by Saints Augustine and Aquinas. A philosophy of the reality of human nature, adequately understood. These philosophical teachings, combined with the moral theological teachings of the Church are the foundation of Catholic Social Doctrine and, through that doctrine, Distributism.

Capitalists dream of a society where man, or at least certain men, will act in a perfect way. It doesn’t matter if one is discussing the Austrian, Keyensian, Chicagoan, or any other “school” championed by a specific group of capitalists. They either require that all consumers act in a predetermined way, or that those at the head of industries, or in the government will know exactly what needs to be done and will get it done. When this doesn’t happen, they say, “Well, that’s not really our system.”

Distributists don’t depend on a society where everyone acts in a perfect way. Instead, we attempt to create a society where the impact of corruption – in either the body politic or the body economic – is mitigated, and therefore more easily corrected. This will result in a society that is not perfect, but more just. When people within a distributist society fail to act according to distributist principles, it will not be because it’s not really our system. The steps necessary to correct the problem might not be perfect, but they will be distributist, and they will be made with regard to the common good and justice.

Utopia is a fantasy about a supposedly perfect society. If Distributism is Utopian and Capitalism is not, it is because Capitalism is not only a fantasy, but also a nightmare.

 

About the author: David W. Cooney

 

David W. Cooney serves on the Editorial Board of The Distributist Review. His articles have appeared in Gilbert Magazine and he has also contributed to The Hound of Distributism, a book of various authors. Originally from Southern California, he now lives with his wife and two children in Western Washington state where he works as a network administrator.

 

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26 Comments

  1. Pingback: Vatican Radio app Pope Benedict XVI Celebrates Ad Orientem | Big Pulpit

  2. Well put, Mr. Cooney. I fear the nightmare is already upon us! May God help us through the rough waters to build a more just society- a sacramental one.

  3. I thought capitalism taught market forces and competition would reduce coruption and force the economy to work for the common good. Admittedly, it doesn’t work that way.

    From what you say here — although it sounds very good — I am unsure how distributism will do better. It seems to me you are saying distributism relies on the good nature of everyone working together. And that does sound Utopian.

  4. Doug,

    Odd. I specifically stated that there would be those who would attempt to corrupt the system. Distributism prevents that corruption from becoming so large or wide-spread that it can’t effectively be corrected.

    Have you read any of our other articles or, at least, the other articles of ours to which I linked? I did mention certain motivational factors under Christendom, but I really don’t see how your conclusion (that Distributism relies on the good nature of everyone working together) can be reached.

    The majority of the people think that the market should be moral – that ethics should apply to the market – but they are powerless against the corporate giants of capitalism because the competition to which the people would turn has been effectively eliminated.

    I do admit that we are discussing a major philosophical shift. While some may consider that unrealistic, it is not Utopian.

  5. ACtually, I have read a lot of articles here, as well as Chesterton and Belloc. And you are right, you do mention there would be those who would attempt to corrupt the system.

    I suppose it is the philosophical shift I am having trouble imagining. How do you get to a widespread distributist way of life? How can you have essentially local economies so corruption doesn’t effect everyone everywhere, yet not return to a pre-industrial age?

    I understand the idea of industrial co-ops and guilds, but they would need to sell outside the local economy and buy from outside as well. Wouldn’t this interfer with the abibility of local institutions to regulate them?

    I think the reason distributism strikes so many as Utopian is it seems so far out of reach. The ultimate goal is identified, but the means to reach it — to get there from here — remains elusive.

  6. Doug,

    Why would we need to return to a pre-industrial age to have a local economy? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that we advocate the elimination of all of the technological progress that has taken place. Remember that the local economy is primary, not exclusive. Global trade has existed for at least 5,000 years and, during most of that time, the economies throughout the world were primarily local.

    Local institutions regulate the companies within their locality. They cannot, and should not, regulate their competitors based in another community because those competitors are regulated by their own local communities. Additionally, the existence of larger scale industries which cannot reasonably be instituted everywhere means that, in my opinion, Distributism must adjust and allow for regional guilds for those industries.

    Take, for example, the auto industry. It is not practical to call for an auto maker in every locality. However, regional guilds for auto makers could have protected the many auto makers that used to exist in the country from being swallowed up (or simply crushed) by the “Big Three” (an achievement they accomplished with the help of the federal government). This would not prevent auto makers from selling their cars throughout the country, or even exporting them. The main difference would be that, instead of franchises affiliated with specific auto makers or dealerships directly owned by auto makers from other areas, independent auto dealers in every locality would be free to import whatever cars they want according to the needs and desires of their communities.

    I readily admit that the means to reach a distributist society are elusive. One of the purposes of this site is to open the discussion of how to get there. I certainly don’t have all of the answers. Another purpose is to identify the impediments we face, so that we can discuss how to overcome them. The purpose of this article was to try and identify what I consider to be one of the most significant impediments – the prevalent philosophical view. How do we overcome this? The best way of which I know is frank discussion which exposes the failures of that view and a presentation of an alternate view for consideration. We also need to offer resources for more in-depth information from truly knowledgeable sources. (This is why I provided links to The Aquinas School of Philosophy.) This can, I believe, lead to an overall change in attitudes among the populous which will then infiltrate the different levels of society.

    Distributists face tremendous obstacles. Don’t expect a quick solution. If Distributism is to happen at all, it will happen slowly, piece by piece, neighborhood by neighborhood. Distributism started as a movement in England almost 100 years ago. It has taken this long just to get serious conversations about it going in different areas of the world. Movements and changes are taking place, but we not only face the problem of a faulty prevalent philosophical view among the populous, and a general ignorance of our existence (let alone what we advocate), we also face the problem of entrenched corporate and political powers which will launch all of their might to thwart us. However, that is a topic for another article.

  7. David:

    It’s exactly these kinds of practical questions I think distributists need to be able to answer to avoid the Utopianist label. John Medialle’s book “Towards a Truly Free Market” had some good suggestions, but I think using Montdragon as an example of industrial co-ops is going to be self defeating. Mondragon is beoming a real dragon. It is becoming so large it cannot continue to function the way it was intended.

    Your automobile model is a good one. You could have local or reginional automakers in the early days, because “horseless carriages” were just that. Carriage makers put motors on something they were already making. A machine shop could make a simple internal combustion engine. But the automoble of today is far more complex. How do you avoid someone with a major innovation which improves performance or safety or reduces costs from taking over local markets and eventually an industry? If you restrict the markets in which they can sell you stifle innovation. If all automakers had to be part of an automaker’s guild, perhaps they would share innovations, but I’m not sure what the incentive would be for them to make innovations in the first place.

    Another good book to read is John Mueller’s Redeeming Economics. He demonstrates the need to return to Aquinas’s four-part economic model. While not specifically distributist, it has the same philosophical foundation.

  8. Doug,

    Innovations would occur because improvements are both needed and desired. I’m not talking about cosmetic redesign, but real improvements. Honestly, wouldn’t you consider buying a new car if it had a significant improvement over your current one? Why would that be any different if our economic structure was distributist rather than capitalist. Innovation would likely be slower in a distributist environment, but that’s mainly because a lot of the innovations we have seen have been for glitz rather than need. The Middle Ages saw significant innovation when you consider the level of technology they had to develop it.

    I specifically did not restrict any market in which producers may sell, only those in which they may sell directly. We currently have no problem with trade between countries. We produce things desired in other countries and they produce things we desire. Why would that not work between localities and regions as it did in the past?

    After reading Brian Douglass’ review of Redeeming Economics, I purchased a copy. I have not yet had the chance to read it. You seem to suggest that the complexity of cars is the reason we have so few manufacturers today. I dispute that. The number of auto makers in the U.S. has significantly decreased in just the last 70 years; we don’t have to look all the way back to the horseless carriage days when laws required auto drivers to stop at all intersections, get out and look both ways, and even fire a shot before proceeding through. Just look at all of the auto makers that have been either gone out of business or swallowed by the Big Three. Sure there were some that folded because they were bad designs or because the producers were not good businessmen, but I don’t believe that can be said for all of them.

    As far as practical suggestions, we do make them. You pointed out ones made in John’s book. I presented a different model for mortgages. My point is that we also look to our readers to come up with suggestions. I’ve seen some very good ones for establishing local markets run collectively by several producers rather than each producer having to sell directly. We also look at existing systems which are already in use and are compatible with Distributism. I am currently working on an article on one that has had significant success but has not yet been discussed on our site. That is the point of the discussion.

    Just because I am an editor for The Distributist Review does not mean that I am more qualified to come up with solutions than you are. If Distributism is going to work, it won’t be on the basis of a handful of leaders at the head of a swarm of followers. Distributism will only work with a whole lot of local leaders working independently, but from a common set of principles. That is because, even though there are some common issues we all will face, the details and specific obstacles will be different in different places. Not only would a small city like Yelm, Washington have a different experience in establishing Distributism than a large urban area like Seattle, it is entirely possible that another large urban area like Tacoma or Olympia would have a different experience as well.

  9. David:

    I admire your tenacity in defending Distributism. I am troubled though, by this comment:

    “I specifically did not restrict any market in which producers may sell, only those in which they may sell directly.”

    Would you impose tariffs on products from a manufacturer that is prohibited from selling those products directly to a certain region or country? If so, what would be the result on the consumer of those products in the other region or country?

  10. dmiehls,

    Very good question. I can only address my own opinion on the matter.

    I believe that there should be no tarrifs within a State (or, if you will, nation). The added expense of transport from one region to another already gives a competitive edge to local producers. When it comes to imports from other countries, I might be willing to agree when the countries in question do not protect the workers. I think it is a tragedy that so many of our electronic components are manufactured in countries where the workers are so close to being slaves that even shipping their products across the ocean doesn’t raise the price enough to give a competitive advantage to local manufacturers.

    When it comes to tarrifs, a very careful balance must be maintained so that it doesn’t just become a means for local goods to get an economic advantage over imports even if their quality is bad. That would be an injustice to the local community. Economics is not primarily for the enrichment of corporations, but for the benefit of society at large. On the other hand, it is not right to argue that, because we find a benefit, we can disregard awful conditions others have to endure so that we can enjoy those benefits in comfort or at a lower cost.

    Solidarity always applies, even across borders. When it comes to products, we delude ourselves by saying that buying the products ultimately helps the poor workers in those countries. Ultimately, it keeps them enslaved and benefits their employers and government officials. Tarrifs, like economic embargoes, ultimately hurt the poor in the producing countries, but I think the better way to help them is to find a way to provide direct aid by supporting those who go into their countries to give them personal help rather than by allowing products made in unethical ways free access to local markets.

    This is very complicated, and I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I think that policies on tarrifs would have to vary based on both the country and the industry. If there are ethical reasons to impose an economic disadvantage to certain imports, whether it applies to a specific industry or an entire country, then such decisions should include efforts to address those ethical concerns rather than just punitive measures that ultimately only harm those who are already disadvantaged.

  11. David:

    Thanks for the explanation on the tariff issue. In a Distributist economy, would there be any non-monetary restrictions on a local manufacturer selling his products in another locality/region? If so, does it follow that the federal government would lose its jurisdiction over interstate commerce?

  12. dmiehls,

    I believe that such restrictions within a State or nation would ultimately be harmful. I tried to address some of these issues in the following article.

    http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/04/capitalist-monopolies-vs-distributist-guilds/

    The role of the federal government over interstate commerce, along with the authority to mint currency, was put in place to prevent exactly the sort of anti-competitive things we are discussing. The individual states used to impose tarrifs and currency exchange rates to put other states at a disadvantage within their own borders.

    In my view, under a distributist system, the role of the federal government in interstate commerce would be the following. In disputes between local areas over claims of unjust restrictions, the county would be the court of original jurisdiction if they were in the same county, the state if they were in different counties of the same state, and the federal government if they were located in different states of the Union. In those cases where the federal government is not the court of original jurisdiction, it would be an appelate court. Of course, this answer is assuming that our basic structure of state and federal government is the same while whatever constitutional changes necessary to implement Distributism have taken place. Remember that, while much of the U.S. Constitution can be considered compatible with Distributism, it was written by capitalists for a capitalist political/economic society. This was partly addressed in this article.

  13. Thanks David. I’ll read your other article.

  14. David, a question and a comment. The question is: in a country as large as the USA, might it be better to have some form of regional governments to handle matters involving states near one another, rather than having the national government take over jurisdiction even between bordering? The comment is: your description of the US Constitution as written by capitalists for a capitalist society seems questionable by today’s standards. The USA “Founding Fathers” most likely weren’t investors in vast, nationwide capitalist concerns, as Buffet and Soros are now, because I don’t believe there were any such. If one ignores the American FFs’ theological and philosophical differences from those of their Distributist counterparts, the former look quite a bit like highly successful members of a Distributist society.

  15. Sorry, the second sentence should end: “bordering states”, not just “bordering”, as I carelessly wrote.
    Viking

  16. Viking,

    It is true that the American Founding Fathers weren’t investors in large national and multi-national corporations. I did not mean to claim that they were. However, the philosophical foundations of today’s owners of large national and multi-national corporations and the American FF’s are the same. The American FF’s could not envision today’s businesses because of the technological limits of productions and distribution of their day.

    I do not say that they would readily accept today’s corporations. In fact, I think that many of them would not. However, it was their acceptance of Individualistic Liberalism that guided how they constructed the Constitution, and it is that same Individualistic Liberalism that is at the heart of today’s corporate structures. That is the point I was trying to make.

    I would not be opposed to the idea of regional areas to act as intermediaries for states. My comments were based on the idea that, other than Distributism, the governmental structure of the U.S. was essentially the same.

  17. Thank you David for the article.
    I appreciate the emphasis you place on the local economy, especially from the perspective of subsidiarity.
    Do you have any thoughts to share regarding the global
    regulatory environment and what “architecture” needs to be put in place at the level of the global economy? In responding, you might take into consideration the general tenor of recent statements by the Vatican for more oversight of banking and for more political and fiscal integration, in Europe at least.

  18. Makary,

    My interpretation of the Vatican’s recent statements is that Rome is attempting to address issues in the world as it is rather than as it should be. What I mean by this is that the recent statements often address how existing institutions and political realities should be changed to be more just.

    We have admitted that Capitalism and the current banking system could be “modified” to be more just. However, it would be less in keeping with a full understanding of human nature because it would require the international/global regulatory agencies. The Vatican’s recent statements address this reality, while never repudiating its other statements about the importance and justice of wide-spread ownership and subsidiarity. Other articles on our site have addressed this. Capitalism could be made more just, but it would never be as just as Distributism. However, I believe that the steps to make Capitalism more just on a global level would ultimately (eventually) lead to Distributism.

    We at The Distributist Review have an advantage over the Church authorities regarding how we discuss things. We can present the ideal and just make sure that we remember the realities that will be a factor. The Church can present the ideal, but she must also address the current reality and try to wedge at least some of the ideal into it. Our task is easier. In today’s political and economic world, the Church addresses existing injustices and tries to address those in power to make changes that are contrary to their interest in maximizing their power. While never forgetting the common man, these statements are addressed to the higher orders who wish the Church would just go away. We, on the other hand, are primarily addressing the lower orders of society. We work from the local levels that have been deprived of their natural powers by the higher levels. We try to get them to see that they have suffered an injustice by the higher orders taking these powers from them, so that they will be moved to band together and demand the societal changes necessary to get them restored.

    Ultimately, the global regulatory architecture will not be needed under Distributism. Industry and banking would be different that it is under Capitalism, and it is the Capitalist version of industry and banking that make global regulation necessary. The “global economy” (see my recent article on that subject) would cease, and we would go back to global trade which, in my opinion, is the more natural state of international economics.

  19. David :
    it seems that you think Rome is basically managing a bad situation rather than promoting an ideal we should all uphold. I’m not entirely comfortable with that. Can we in the lower orders and they in the higher orders afford to do anything other than keep the ideal ever before the eyes of the world?
    You write : “the steps to make Capitalism more just on a global level would ultimately (eventually) lead to Distributism”. I agree with the sentiment that the gradual approach can bring us to the same point as the radical approach.
    The same resistances in the power structure that the ecclesiastical hierarchy address are there in the lower order as well. Do not these resistances among commoners (who just wish the voice of conscience, the true Catholic voice, would go away) nourish and support the higher order resistances? Surely you would agree there are abuses of power within the home and local community; indeed, abuses of power in any private relationship. I suppose I’m asking, Aren’t we just as imperfect as our political and economic leaders? Do we not need to be careful about projecting onto the higher levels the cause of our problems?
    As a subscriber to the subsidiarity principle, you see a (circumscribed) role for the industry association, and for local, state and federal government. Does it not follow that there is a proper, not just expedient or temporary, role for the highest order of all : the global?

  20. Makary,

    Rome is doing both, expressing the ideal and addressing the current situation. My intent was to say that some of the recent statements primarily address the current situation without disavowing the ideal. The fact that change will be slow may be frustrating, but I think that it is the better and wiser course. The fact is that human nature will generally rebel against radical change. The best way to make real change is to change hearts, and that is often a gradual process. That is a reality of human nature.

    Of course there are abuses and injustices at the local level, and even in the home, just as there are in the higher orders of society. The point is that when they become institutional, they are more easily addressed and correct if they are contained to the local level. We should always be just in our acusations about the causes of the various problems we face, and we should not blame others for problems we bring upon ourselves. It is true that many of the abuses that government and corporations commit are enabled by us. We encourage individuals and families to seek Distributism because that would take away the enabling aspect of the situation.

    However, as I stated in this article, those who gain positions of power frequently believe that they are really better than the rest of us, that they know better than we do, and that this means they should be able to do what they think is best even if we don’t agree. They usually focus only on one aspect of justice which they use to defend their actions. Corporations point to the jobs they are creating in other areas of the world, the lower prices they are able to charge at home, and the greater profits to the company and dividends to the shareholders to justify laying off local workers and moving production to another country. They ignore the injustice to the local workers and the working and living conditions of the workers in the other country. Government point to the services they promise and the supposed overall benefit society will have from them. They ignore the fact that they are usurping the natural role of the lower orders of society and frequently forcing unwanted and unjust requirements as conditions of those services.

    I view the role of the global order as temporary because it is a ficticious order when it comes to society. Yes, it is true that we are all here on Earth, but it is a lie to state that we are all one society because of that. Society requires more than mere common presence. It requires a common culture, and that does not exist on the global level except in matters of faith. The only reason there is truly a need for a global authority at present is the global nature of the banking and corporate industries. Once those have been restored to be industries within individual societies rather than across different ones with conflicting cultures, then the global authority will no longer be needed (except, again, in matters of faith). At that point, we will return to the model of global trade rather that the false notion of a “global economy.”

  21. Capitalism, as Chesterton defines it, is the concentration of property
    in few hands, with the majority of the people derogated to be wage-earners.
    The managerial capitalism futher involves the domination of the wage-earners
    (“the managers”) over remaining owners.

    Now the modern ownership is a very peculiar thing. To be an “owner” means
    having a public and lasting relation of a person with a property.

    But neither the “investor” that invests in a pension, mutual or hedge fund,
    nor the manager of the said funds, have the requisite public and lasting
    relation. Thus the modern corporations are essentially ownerless, a most
    un-capitalist state of affairs!

    Thus we are suffering from the bane of large-scale anonymous property with
    attendent lack of stewardness and alienation of people (either as wage-earners
    or investors) from the property

    This is here the Distrubutism could make its mark by pointing to the ideal of Property.

  22. David :
    I take your point, mentioned in several of your articles, about international banking and multinational corporatism leading the charge of globalisation. It is as though we are being pushed and dragged faster than is natural.
    However, I cannot agree that it is merely a fictitious and temporary order which is being forged. Wouldn’t you say that, historically, national and imperial orders must have felt like this to lower order communities?
    Also, if a global authority is needed for Church, why not for State? The Church must contend peacefully in a multifaith world, where at least Christianity and Islam have universalist aspirations. The many faiths raise up many intermingling cultures. Why should there be a special case for global order as regards religion, but not for political-economy?

  23. Makary,
    The reason for there is a need for a global authority for the Church and not the State is that the State is an institution for the defense and preservation of a society (people of a common culture) and there is no such thing as a global society except in the case of certain religions. You say the many faiths raise up many intermingling cultures. I disagree. They may become subcultures within a culture, but the societal culture is the defining one for political purposes. The examples of Jews and Christians where they have been a minority shows this. Arab Christians are definitely Christians, but they are just as definitely not European, they are Arabic. Jews may have a common religious culture within different cultures, but their societal culture is different from country to country. Religion transcends societal culture, but societal culture cannot transcend itself.

    Distributism seeks to re-establish subsidiarity. Under subsidiarity, the higher the order of society, the lower its scope of its authority. This means that the family has the greatest authority over itself within a society. Churches, guilds, and other local associations would next highest amount of authority, but only over their members. Local government has authority to establish laws to keep the public order for the common good between the families and associations in one community. State government provides for the defense of the people, their culture and their land within their borders.

    If you establish a political authority above the state, either over the entire world or just over particular states, what purpose will it fulfill? Federal/Imperial orders were historically established by war – either by conquering other states or by banding together for common defense. How the emperors regarded their subordinate states depended on the time and the philosophy of the seat of the empire. Some allowed the local kings to maintain and defend their culture, while relegating national defense to themselves. Others completly subjugated them.

    Another problem with federal/imperial/global orders is the diminished ability for the people to rise up against tyranny. We in the U.S. have great difficulty preventing our own government’s trend of assuming more and more power. Those unfortunate members of the European Union are beginning to learn that they are having the same problem with it – and it isn’t even offically a government (yet).

    Federal and imperial orders inevitably include multiple societies, multiple cultures. Those societies and their cultures find themselves in the minority within the federal/imperial representation and their cultural society will eventually get attacked. Because their own state government has become subjugated, it is powerless to defend either its people, its culture, or even its land – the very purpose for which it exists!

    No, I don’t want the United Nations (or anything like it) making laws that are binding on the United States any more than I want the U.S. federal government multiplying its laws over my own state, or my own state making laws that interfere with my rights within my local community and my family. That is precisely what we’ll have if we accept the notion of a permanent global political authority. There is no societal need, no need that fulfills the purpose of the common good, that is met by such an authority.

    People desire different kinds of society and different cultural norms. This is true all over the world, it is part of human nature. This is why a political authority over the whole world, or even over large parts of it, are ficticious institutions. Such an authority cannot defend all of the different cultures without becoming indifferent to them all. If it is indifferent to culture, then why should it exist?

  24. Gian,
    The fundamental right to property has been defended as part of human nature going all the way back at least to Aristotle. It is definitely part of the philosophical outlook that underlies Distributism.

  25. Gian, that’s an excellent point you make about the ownerlessness of modern corporations. (Actually, we should specify large corporations, as small ones often retain the direct relations of ownership and control, sometimes being composed of just one person. At least that’s the case in the US.) With that in mind, a question comes to mind: is “capitalism” an accurate term for what the modern industrialized world now has?
    Viking

  26. Viking,
    One aspect of Capitalism is the wide-spread separation of ownership from work (or, at least, the acceptance of it). That certainly applies to today’s modern publically traded organizations. I believe taht most are still controlled by a group of shareholders who hold onto the majority of the stocks. In this they constitute the controlling interest and ownership.

    One thing that Hilaire Belloc predicted is that Capitalism, in order to survive, would have to come up with schemes to placate the dispossessed masses. In my opinion, the purpose for these investment schemes where shares essentially remain without a specific owner is for that purpose. The average person investing in the market believes he is participating in the “American Dream.” In reality, he is merely being fed a palliative. He usually doesn’t actually own anything because he merely participates in an investment portfolio, and this means that he doesn’t even get the benefit of the vote a share is supposed to grant the holders. Even if he does own specific shares, the average person’s holdings constitute such a miniscule share that his vote is completely ineffective. Thus, the majority holders who run the boards of directors for these corporations get to control the wealth invested by the rest and maintain control of the companies.