Home / Economics / G.K. Chesterton and the Challenge of Poland


Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 speech said the following: “… just structures must be sought and elaborated in the light of fundamental values, with the full engagement of political, economic and social reasoning. They are a question of recta ratio and they do not arise from ideologies nor from their premises.”[1]

The pope pointed out the distinction between the recta ratio and ideologies, as two different ways of thinking about the economic, political and social order. Recta ratio means right reason, orthos logos in Greek. The concept of recta ratio implies the existence of an objective moral, political and economic order that men ought to recognize and fulfill.

In modern times, thinking in terms of righteous, practical reason has gone into oblivion. Instead, philosophers have begun to create their own visions of the perfect order. New ideologies increasingly promised universal prosperity of mankind, common happiness, and so on.

The Distributism of Chesterton and Belloc opposes the ideological distortions in the economic sphere. We are also confident that their ideas effectively ​​answers the requirements of recta ratio.

In the first part of our paper, the concept of the righteous practical reason will be outlined, and the emphasis will be placed on economic issues. Then, we shall briefly introduce the paradigm of modern economic thinking. In the second part of the article, Belloc and Chesterton’s Distributism will be examined within the recta ratio framework. We shall then try to defend the thesis that the tradition of classical political economy has been preserved to a greater extent on Polish territory than in Western Europe. Lastly, a few remarks will be made concerning practical examples of propagating Distributism.

The concept of recta ratio

The concept of righteous reason originated in ancient Greece. It has gained its full meaning in the writings of the medieval philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas. According to Thomas’s concept of recta ratio, the term primarily defines truths and principles that the human intellect reads in things and that makes them its own guidelines for action.[2] Secondly, the concept also delineates an improved intellect, capable of reading the first principles of knowledge, agency and creation. Aristotle pointed out that human knowledge can be focused on the theoretical (theoria), practical (praksis) and productive (poiesis) goals. All these areas of the acting reason are suitably manifested in the three relevant areas of culture: science, ethics (individual, economics, politics), as well as art and technology. These three areas of the acting reason are coupled with three types of science: theoretical science, practical science and productive science. In each of them, if reason is to work properly, it must be guided by a suitable principle of action. Hence, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes a tripartite domain of the acting rights reason: improved by the truth (righteous) theoretical reason, improved by the good (righteous) practical reason and improved by beauty, (righteous) productive reason.

The intellect (ratio) becomes a righteous intellect (rectus) when it is guided by the laws it adapts from things, and when it settles itself with those very things at hand. Such an approach relates to the metaphysics of St. Thomas, according to which every being is the bearer of truth, goodness and beauty, because as a derivative of the intellect and producer’s will (created entities) or of the Creator (the world of nature), it is performed in the design, purpose and perfection.[3]

The concept of the practical sciences

It has been said that economics belongs to the sphere of practical reason. Practical reason is responsible for the acknowledgment and implementation of the good in human actions. For a human person, the good is something that enables him to fulfill his rational and free nature. Morally good action is an end in itself, because according to Aristotle and St. Thomas, only such a man acts according to his nature and may be happy. In contrast, productive activity aims at achieving external objectives. Its aim is to create a piece of work, but it is not aimed at the improvement of the human person as a person. This distinction is also reflected in language: we say about someone, that he is a good man, or a good painter, or engineer, or gardener and so on.

Practical sciences include individual ethics, economics and politics. Ethics is concerned with implementing the good of the individual, economy with the good of the family, and politics is concerned with fulfilling the good of the political community.

The key concept in classical practical science is that of virtues. The virtues are human skills working toward the good and respectively, the vices are skills acting in the direction of evil. Human activities assume the use of conscious reason and free will, a use which necessitates their constant betterment. Man must therefore keep learning and bringing himself up throughout the course of his lifespan. “Only when human capacities are sufficiently improved, does the agency become easy, enjoyable and immediate.”[4] Because of the important and decisive part they play in human life, four cardinal virtues have been recognised: justice, temperance, fortitude and prudence.

Economics as a practical science

According to St. Thomas and Aristotle, economics is the art of managing the household, an art which can be realized through a virtuous life.[5] Classical economics had seen its role in the shaping of family life in a way that would mark it commendable for a human being. In the opinon of St. Thomas, the ultimate goal of economics is a good life of the entire household community. Wealth is thus achieved not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieving a decent human life.[6] Classical economics requires however, the skills needed to attain effectively life’s goals, to use them, and to exert one’s power over them. Yet it does not come down to the art of getting a source of revenue, but rather it assumes its possession, a prerequisite for a beautiful and decent life.

The subject of economics is, therefore, everything that leads to the achievement of those things which support human life, within the home environment, while providing a human person with autarchy ([autarkeia])-sovereignty and self-sufficiency, which is tantamount to the life of a freeman.[7]

This concept also implies that neither political nor family life is possible without mutual love.[8]

According to economics, seen as a practical science, economy belongs to the virtue of prudence (phronesis). Economic activity should also be subordinated to the other cardinal virtues such as temperance, justice and fortitude. It is also worth mentioning the virtue of generosity, the golden mean between extremes, such as avarice and prodigality. Exercising the virtues helps prevent the concupiscent part of the soul from reigning over the rational part, inhibiting the man’s fall into materialism.[9]

Thus, recta ratio based economics takes on the achievement of the family’s good. In conclusion, we quote the words of Adam Doboszyński, a modern exponent of the traditional concept of economics:

The Catholic view on ownership, housing and workshop is also dictated by familial considerations. The family being the cornerstone of society, it should not be a temporary association bound to dispersion once the parents die and the children grow up. It must represent a continuous factor, it must reckon its age not for years but for generations. Yet the most firmly established family becomes dispersed very quickly, unless endowed with property handed down from father to son.[10]

Modern times

In modern times one sees a departure from the classical concept of practical sciences, linked with the new scientific ideal. Now, knowledge needs to be absolutely certain, and the ideal of true understanding is the one inferred from physical sciences. Knowledge must also be useful. Familiarity with the laws of nature, and with the so-called economic and social “laws” is supposed to give humans unlimited power. People belonging to the era of modernity want to interfere with nature and society in order to improve and transform reality according to their own will. Entirely new creations are to emerge from the world of nature and human societies. Thus, the value of nature and society is reduced to the value of the raw material.

This utilitarian approach toward education makes science become a technology, and philosophy is transformed into an ideology. Piotr Jaroszyński rightly points out that philosophy is moving away from its purpose, which is to understand  being (granting the consistency of causes), and used as a tool for constructing utopia, since from now on, its only use is to provide the ideological foundations for new social constructs.[11] Henryk Kiereś also suggests that “ideologies do not explain the world of things and people, but they fashion it,”[12] treating people as yet another raw material, processed according to current wants. “Ideology is like a machine that works objectively, but impersonally”[13] freeing its followers from any culpability.

Throughout modern times a new type of practical rationality has emerged, which, according to Martin Rhonheimer, is inspired by the productive reason. Under this type of rationality, the judgments on morality and politics have to acquire the same status as that of  the physical sciences, and the solutions to practical problems need to be fully inferable from a theoretical backing. However, society is seen in terms of a scheme that can be fully designed and controlled.[14] According to this new type of practical rationality, society must be centrally designed and organised as though it were a machine.

The modern state has become such a machine.[15] It has become the means of constructing a social order through the conscious and deliberate organization of its citizens’s life.[16] To maximize its ability to control society, the modern state took over many functions previously assigned to the family and the Church. In this context, Chesterton has spoken of the destruction of monastic and parental impulses, i.e. modern shrugging off the supernatural and natural forces. In order to fulfil its new responsibilities, the state must also organise its economic base. Procuring the machine’s manoeuvrability required the gradual creation of the proper structure of national economies: centralisation, standardisation and concentration of ownership are all fully in line with this notion. They facilitate the control of such an apparatus. In the end, it is far easier for the state to communicate with a limited number of corporations, than with many small and medium-sized businesses, particularly in the case of warfare.[17]

In this way the whole society slowly becomes in economic terms a kind of large, mechanized family. Hannah Arendt rightly points out the fact that: “In our understanding… we see the body of peoples and political communities in the image of a family whose everyday affairs have to be taken care of by a gigantic, nation-wide administration of housekeeping. The scientific thought that corresponds to this development is no longer political science but ‘national economy’ or ‘social economy’ or Volkswirtschaft, all of which indicate a kind of ‘collective housekeeping'; the collective of families economically organized into the facsimile of one super-human family is what we call ‘society,’ and its political form of organization is called ‘nation.'”[18] Arendt points out that within an Aristotelian framework, the modern concept of political economy should be regarded as pure nonsense.

What Arendt describes as a supra-human family is the Hegelian civil society, becoming a new family for the individual, hence a person’s dependence on a “small” family, church or local community decreases. Hegel is often referred to as the modern world’s diagnostician and it is hard to disagree with such an assessment of his work. He rightly points out that Capitalism tears a person out of local community and the family, and possesses and “consumes” for its own purposes. In the modern world, the role of the family boils down to the provision of new members for the civil society. Therefore, it is no longer a family, but “Rather is the civic community the monster, which snatches man to itself, claims from him that he should toil for it and that he should exist through it and act by means of it.”[19] According to Hegel, it is for this reason that the civil society is obliged to replace the family unit and take over certain of its social functions.

Mark Siemek, the Hegelian scholar, indicates that the social process of modernisation leads to extirpation and alienation of individuals, who lose the support of their primary bond with community, its lifestyle and its ethical governance.[20] The result is a permanent state of divulsion and identity crisis, easily noticed in the whole of the  human life, thought and action. The Hegelian Left tried to solve this problem of what is called alienation by the definitive abolition of the family, the State and Capitalism.

Hegel also points to the fact that the division of labour unavoidably brings about human cooperation, even on the level of meeting the most basic needs. He judges such  a state of affairs positively because in his opinion, it is the best way of protecting individual freedom: no one will have an advantage over others. It seems, however, that his expectations were incorrect, and the  Hegelian Left was more accurate in predicting that under Capitalism, power is concentrated in the hands of a few.

On economic grounds, both Capitalism and Socialism are similar attempts to construct a new order. The order in which the man is just a cog that needs to be programmed in the right way so that the whole machine can operate smoothly. As stated by Adam Doboszyński, this is “The machine which procreates gold. The machine-abstract, plan and cypher, master and ruler of robots. The machine having an innate tendency to swell its dimensions, to grow colossal, to enthral thousands and millions of men. The machine which consumes not only fuel but also man’s independence and man’s personality. For a hundred years we were told and retold that the machine has its inexorable laws to which life of man must submit.”[21]

Distributism, Chesterton, Poland

Chesterton and Belloc vigorously opposed a mechanical order in which man was reduced to a cog in a machine. They were critical of both Socialism and Capitalism, and their answer was Distributism.

Distributism calls for a dissemination of the means of production, to a degree that would determine the nature of society. Chesterton said, “The opposite of employment is not unemployment, the opposite of employment is independence,” a statement which perfectly captures doctrine’s spirit.[22] Distributism is a personalistic social philosophy,[23] its authors drew heavily on the social teaching of the Catholic Church, and from other writers such as Cobbett and Ruskin.[24] The philosophy marks a return to historically proven, natural and spontaneous ways of achieving economic independence, and arranging the exchange processes of goods and services. According to Belloc, had England maintained its economically decentralized structure before the advent of the industrial revolution, the revolution would have been cooperative in nature.[25]

The economic direction of the Distributists fits in well with the concept of the righteous practical reason and economics as a practical science. Like  Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton was well aware that without property there can be no truly free and sagacious life. Correspondingly, he considered family as a basic unit of the economic order. In addition, through its adherence to Catholic Social Doctrine, Distributism is guarded against both communal relativism and anthropological voluntarism.

Chesterton has also shared the classical ideal of economic self-sufficiency, which can best be effected in the countryside. Although Distributism does not require anyone to return to the country, it is worth noting that for Chesterton, the independent farmer is the epitome of “the free citizen” or “the free man.” “When the small farmer disappeared in eighteenth century England, protest and lamentations came from everywhere; great poets sang his dirge, and the great orators, like Cobbett, lost their lives in an attempt to avenge his death. But when in front of our eyes, a small shopkeeper disappears today, somehow no one seems to notice.”[26] The farmer himself  decides how to fill his time: either with work, prayer, or anything else. The Christian ideal (recta ratio) has vetoed slavery, and replaced the old bios theoretikos[27] maxim with ora et labora, allowing everyone to be a philosopher, yet the philosopher is no longer understood as Plato’s seeker of death [28], but rather as a pilgrim in his own land, who uses reason in order to discover the laws of God and nature, hidden in his own experiences and personal relations. Nicolás Gómez Dávila says: “Only a wise man, and a dull man can live a settled life. The mediocrity is restless and keeps on travelling.”[29] The affection for one’s land, so cherished by both Distributists and American agrarians such as Wendell Berry,[30] does not itself  guarantee wisdom, but certainly predisposes one towards it. Distributist proposals for changes in the social structure may be roughly divided into two categories, with family and attitudes toward the family seen as their fastening buckle.

The first category relates to the social dimension of human existence within its political framework. It comprises of solutions for just coexistence, both fair competition (truly free market, the principle of subsidiarity), along with cooperation and assistance (the principle of solidarity). It involves the rational ability of any society to recognize and accept God-given, world underpinning principles. The implementation of the solutions included in this group requires a certain amount of political will, since they relate to such issues as taxes, or forms of political organization. In his book, What’s Wrong with the World, Chesterton reveals four causes of our troublesome reality, namely: big government, big business, feminism and public education. Big business, according to Chesterton, goes hand-in-hand with feminism, and benefits vastly from pulling women out of their homes.[31] Similarly, big government—as Chesterton pointed out—uses public education to strip the family of authority, whilst overtaking its responsibilities, and since the family is a seedbed of religious education, the State adapts the Byzantine model of trying to subjugate the Church, and set a framework for its acceptable performance.[32]

At this point, one has to mention that Chesterton was a fierce opponent of the Prussian model, in which the State’s foundation rested on compulsory schooling. The Prussian state education provided obedient officials and soldiers, citizens prepared for civil society, and disciplined workers for capitalist corporations. What Hegel considered history’s crowning victory of freedom, Chesterton simply as the path to universal enslavement.

In his critique of Prussia, Chesterton did not mince his words: “The barbarian of old times wondered at the great Republic because it was <<a nation of kings.>> The barbarians of modern times wonder still more at this strange notion–wonder so much that they give up trying to understand, and prefer to despise it. The Prussians were the supreme barbarians who supremely despised it. They could imagine no power except a power without limit. (..) The idea of the nation of kings is that every citizen respects every other citizen, as a king respects another king; not merely as a matter of equality but also of dignity. It is as if there were a flag on every roof and a frontier at the end of every front garden. (..) [Citizen’s] home, his habits, his relation to the family he has founded and the friends he has made—these are really regarded in true Republic as invested with a certain dignity and even sanctity that descends from Rome.”[33] How different these phrases sound when compared with the apologetic utterances of Hegelian-society proponents.

Chesterton and Belloc rejected the consumption based model, characteristic of both Socialism and Capitalism, in favour of what in philosophy is described as a wisdom-based (sapiential) model. This model rests on reckoning with the good of all people, since  it pertains to God and the truth in its social and economic solutions.”[34] Distributism is opposed to the dominance of technocratic rationalism that only looks for effecting pursued goals (in most cases—profit) “without reflecting on the significance and value of such goals(..), and therefore without any consideration given to their ethical or social dimension.”[35]

Sapiential model implies not only the need for an appropriate policy, but also the right ethos. Therefore, the second category is no less important than the political issues. It pertains to individual acts, the nature of which is ultimately defined by human conscience. Hence, these demands relate to a certain lifestyle, and can be implemented immediately without having to wait for favourable political winds. Chesterton has often said  that Distributism is not something to be done for the people, but rather something that the people do. He believed that there can be no wisdom in any ethical models that allow for the destruction of the family, shattering the sanctity of marriage and stripping parents of authority and power. Chesterton criticized contemporary ethical concepts that normalize perversion and validate the murder of unborn children, the most vulnerable members of the society. Today, as in the times of Carthage, the barbaric killing of children is taking place—a killing carried out by people who regard themselves as civilized.

Let us recall here some of Chesterton’s words: “But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilisation, abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilised than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilised people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace.”[36]

Distributism therefore requires an appropriate ethos that should be cherished by all members of the society—ethos, which cannot be replaced by any mechanisms or by any social engineering.

The Polish experience

The Distributists’ love of freedom, personalism and affection for one’s place on earth, are all typical of Aristotle’s and St. Thomas’s thought and all of Polish tradition.

In the early modern period, Poland has not adopted the centralized, absolutist state formula. Gabriel Maciejewski rightly noticed that “the worship of a strong state, that defends only those devoid of agency, taxpaying  citizens” did not conquer the hearts and minds of Poles living at that time. In his opinion, it is the doctrine of “the blind yearning of various Polish reformers, that was present throughout the years of occupation and annexation—a doctrine that is flawed, fundamentally false and perhaps even criminal, because a country like Poland may only be strong owing to the strength of its citizens, and not due to the power of bureaucrats or capital. Geopolitically, Poland is in a bad place for such arrangements.” The Polish state, built under the auspices of “strong central government, would really be strong only if its citizens were weak.” Maciejewski indicates that during the early modern times, the Polish state’s main force “was the gentry and nobility, who expressed solidarity, and were strengthened by privilege and property, and the belief in one God.”[37]

Hence, Poland did not go where the spirit of times took her, but chose her own way. According to Feliks Koneczny, Poland was one of the countries that first introduced the freedom of trade. For example, Poland was ahead of the whole Europe, when free trade on navigable rivers (chief communication arteries of that era) was announced in 1447.[38]

Moreover, in the area of ​​politics and law, Paweł Włodkowic has developed the innovative concept of the law of nations 200 years before Grotius. His idea shared the views of Pope Innocent IV, “who—referring to the Gospel and natural law—granted non-Christians with the same rights as those intended for Christians, that is with uninterrupted governance of their states, families, and all property. [..].”[39]  Instead of the standardized and centralized political system, Poland had yielded the fruit  of the Nobles’ Democracy. However, the democratic element of the Republic ought to be understood classically, as Jacek Bartyzel puts it–similarly to the “(plebeian tribune) in the ancient Res publica Romana, this model of classical republicanism, where power (potestas) belonged to the people (populus), but the authority (auctoritas) remained << by>> the Senate.”[40]

In addition, Ewa Thompson sees a common denominator between the  Polish Sarmatian traditions and Belloc’s and Chesterton’s concepts and the ideas of the American agrarians. In her opinion the Sarmatism that best describes twined  structures and attitudes that characterized pre-partitioned Poland is similar to Distributivism of G.K. Chesterton articulated three centuries later, and to the U.S. Agrarianism of the 20s and 30s.[41] Thompson points out that all three models “are appreciative of the nonaggressive life in the environment, that man belongs to by birth, they all value family life and small private property.” Thompson assesses positively what has been condemned by the literature of the Enlightenment: the Sarmat “is not curious about how other people live, and his intellectual horizons are rather narrow. He allows others to live a life of their choosing, provided that such tolerance will be reciprocated.” Neither is Sarmatism oriented toward conquests; nor does it give in to the emperor. Instead it appreciates republicanism.[42] Ewa Thompson argues that this attitude is grounded in the “acceptance of reality, with all of its shortcomings and in the assumption that in this reality, some things are normal and possible, whereas other are abnormal and impossible.”[43] It is worth remembering that this belief finds itself in stark opposition to the modern worldview that attempts to “correct” the reality. Thompson also points out that Sarmatism is founded on the tenet of subsidiarity, which means that “people at the top should not engage in addressing the problems, that can be successfully resolved by the people at the bottom.”[44] All of these features are also characteristic of British Distributism and American Agrarianism.

The subsequent economic growth in Poland covers the times of colonisation and the following attempts to squeeze the Poles into the structures of foreign machine-states. Partitions, the German occupation, the Soviet occupation, membership in The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), and now, regrettably the ever more bureaucratic and centralized European Union, is yet another feature of the same old story. The tradition of Polish landowners, and the economic freedom combined with the ethos of Catholicism had been largely destroyed. But the tradition taken as a whole has endured, and is still alive in the departments of independent universities, and most importantly, in many people’s hearts.

Ewa Thompson acknowledges that, when she calls for a revival of the Polish logos: “I ​​think the logocentrism of Polish culture could ask to take the floor here. The Polish historical Weltanschauung, which assumes the universe is somehow structured, and categories such as good and evil must not be considered irrelevant. Otherwise, if deprived of such categories, how else could we correctly call murders, lies and forgeries, where, after all, the God-given human dignity emerges. That among Poles, the often unconscious logocentrism plays continuously a significant role, should be a source of inspiration, akin to the predilection for freedom. Engraining these truths into the great desires of heroes, who fight with God—that is the task. I’m waiting for a great novel that would turn Polish reality into marble, before crows and ravens finish their picking of Polish Weltanschauung.”[45]

Polish elites’ leaning toward Distributism and more broadly, toward the classical understanding of economics, would mark a great chance for the revival of Polish logos. The concept of Latin civilisation, developed by Feliks Koneczny resonates well with the writings of Chesterton. Similarly, Adam Doboszyński’s book The Economics of Charity was inspired by the works of the great Englishman. The classical understanding of economics and politics has survived to this day and is available due to the outstanding achievement of Fr. Mieczysław Albert Krąpiec O.P. (1921-2008) and other scholars from The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. We are speaking here of their opus magnum: the ten-volume set of The Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

As a titbit of news, it is perhaps worth noticing that Polish Prime Minister, and a great composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski was also a Distributist, and in 1934 he ran for The Lord Rector’s position at the University of Glasgow on behalf of The Distributist Club.(46) Chesterton himself valued Poland highly, describing it as “a boundary between << Bolshevik hatred of Christianity and the Prussian hatred of chivalry >>”.[47] For him, Polish chivalry meant the splice of religiosity, “wit, culture, courtesy, and the craft of killing.”[48] On numerous occasions Chesterton had spontaneously praised Poland, pointing to the “deep love of personal freedom—the freedom that once existed in England, though now its attestations are scarce, (..) the freedom, that throughout history had always been cherished, even to the excesses, by the Polish nation.”[49]

With reference to Maciejewski’s words, we can say that geopolitically speaking, Poland remains the right place for the restoration of classical order. The tradition and the spirit of autarky, the sovereignty and self-sufficiency, which are tantamount to the life of a free man, are not yet completely “picked by the crows and ravens.” Returning to the Polish logos means going back to the tradition of recta ratio, and into the in-depth studies and propagation of ​​Chesterton’s ideas shall aid in transforming today’s society of hirelings into a country of free, property-owning citizens.

Practical tips for the future

Though aligned with practical reason, we still need to ask to what extent this idea of common proprietorship, can be implemented in real life? We notice here two groups of subjects. The first of these relates to the possibility of causing specific changes at the political level. The second concerns the question of whether or not modern men in general are still interested in a gradual and spontaneous departure from the proletarianized society. Is not Adam Doboszyński right in saying:

The modern worker is certainly unwilling to do it yet. The myth of Big Machine and Big Factory has still power over his fancy. Myths are easier to breed than to kill. The best way is to oppose to them another vision, brighter and more true.” (50) “A member of a modern industrial community, bored alike with standardised work and leisure, can hardly fancy the multiformity and  multihappiness of a deconcentrated world of small independent social units, giving the ordinary man full opportunity to expand his brain, skill and enterprise. Chesterton cherished this vision of a commonwealth of Notting Hills proud with their own weavers, brewers and bicykle-makers, mechanised cobblers and toy producers. (…) Chesterton wished the ownership of machines reserved for the community and their use limited to small producers. In his poetic imagination he saw the Big Machine set up in a shed between the Inn and the Church – the community-tool for the use of free men.[51]

Is modern man ready for such a vision? We shall not find out until we show it to him! Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of the practical implementation of these principles. Let us list a few of them now. If we want to assess the extent that Chesterton proposals are up and running, we see that in cases where complexity of production exceeds small businesses’ capacity to handle it easily, large employee-owned cooperatives have effectively stepped in. This is typified by the widely commented success of the Basque Mondragón Cooperative [52], or by a report from 2009, showing that over the last decade, in every year British co-operatives have outperformed the FTSE 100 companies by 10%.[53] Examples can be multiplied: there is Emilia-Romagna—a cooperative region in northern Italy, there are various programs of microcredit, employee share ownership (ESOP), and credit unions. But, most of all, there are millions of independent farmers, small businesses, artisans and professionals whose resilience, ingenuity and hard work give the best testimony of the socio-economic ideal of Belloc and Chesterton.

Currently, it is also possible to develop the “intermediate technologies” the British economist E.F. Schumacher had spoken of. The primary example of widely available means of production is the Open Source Ecology project (54), initiated by the Polish scientist Marcin Jakubowski. It is a project that makes people largely independent of the unholy alliance of big State and big Capital. Jakubowski and his colleagues develop and provide open source tools for human-scale production:

Global Village Construction Set lowers the barriers to entry into farming, building, and manufacturing and can be seen as a life-sized lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies, whether in rural Missouri, where the project was founded, in the mountains of Oregon, or in the heart of Africa. (..), GVCS can break down the barriers of feasibility and costs of building from scratch a real, lasting and sustainable communities, and a functioning economy based on local resources.[55]

In Poland, similar solutions are being implemented by the Cohabitat Group that works closely with Jakubowski. Moreover,  there are natural ways to organise the exchange of goods and services. We are speaking of LETS systems [56], barter, time banks, local currencies and so on. We can clearly see that Distributists (and we mean all practitioners and propagators of the human scale economic independence, even those not necessarily mindful of who Chesterton and Belloc were), are in fact realists, who can work without a glitch provided the state apparatus along with the big companies it supports do not overly interfere with their conducts.


The financial crisis seems to confirm the words of Adam Doboszyński, that in the field of economics, “Imperceptibly we slipped into a realm of practical economics where quackery and medicine are so closely intertwined as to be hardly disentangled.”[57]

The reversal of economic quackery may be achieved ​​only by returning towards a genuine understanding of reality, namely to the concept of recta ratio. Chesterton’s works certainly could play an important  role at this juncture. In our opinion, his concept of Distributism may “revive” the world of the past, for it was created as a response to the problems of the modern world. It would surely be a good starting point in the process of adapting the ancient perspicacity to our contemporary world. On the other hand, the Chesterton studies in view of the classical notion of economics, may contribute to a better understanding of Chesterton himself.

We should be ready to act swiftly since the current political establishment is trying to use the crisis to further increase its own control over the lives of citizens. Running the “machine” is what gives them even more of the supremacy they simply are afraid of losing. However, the power of ordinary citizens is declining, a situation which makes it difficult for them to live in harmony with their rational and free nature.

But one needs to be candid. The fulfilment of this vision involves a willingness to take responsibility for one’s life and an  eagerness for self-development. As Adam Doboszyński points out: “Nothing can replace this inward call of equity, tick tocking within every conscience like a clock automatically sounding the alarm at every injustice. Within many people this clock has run down. It must be wound up by Christian education.”[58]

In these efforts we are helped by the Church is a call for  the New Evangelization. Stratford Caldecott rightly notes that both the New Evangelization, and Chesterton’s evangelization of culture works best through the family. In today’s world, threats to the family were accurately described by Pope John Paul II, who had unmasked the essence of the culture of death. It is the freedom raised to the rank of the absolute, technological appropriation of reality aimed at satisfying human desires. Chesterton described it as a madness that comes from Manhattan. Hence, the efficacy of evangelization hinges on winning families over to its side, the very basic cells in every society.[59] Therefore, fulfilling the concepts of Chesterton necessitates reviving the ideal of traditional education, which entails a growth  in virtue. This implies the increasing influence of parents on their children’s upbringing, and thus the reduction of the role of public schools, that have become a tool for propaganda, very instrumental in “cultivating” future hirelings, the Big Machine’s feedstock. Chesterton once noted:  “A hireling flees for he is a hireling, but a good shepherd will give his life for his sheep.”[60]

Returning to the order established once and for all by God requires a strong faith and a personal conversion that assents to valiant testimonies. Adam Doboszyński writes: “An individual without Faith, his soul parched and shrivelled, can offer no resistance to the autocracy of Finance, Machine and State .”[61] Reading Chesterton remains a good cure for this malady as well.


1. Inaugural Session of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, address of his Holiness Benedict  XVI, Conference Hall, Shrine of Aparecida Sunday, 13 May 2007; online access: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2007/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20070513_conference-aparecida_en.html

2. A. Maryniarczyk, RECTA RATIO, 2007, Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii, vol 8, pp. 672-674.

3. Ibid.

4. Z. Pańpuch, CNOTY I WADY, 2001, Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii, vol 2, pp. 216-231.

5. P. Skrzydlewski, EKONOMIKA, 2002, Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii, vol 3, pp. 77-83.

6. “Riches are compared to domestic prudence, not as its last end, but as its instrument, as stated in Polit. i, 3. On the other hand, the end of political prudence is “a good life in general” as regards the conduct of the household. ” S. th., II–II, q. 50, a. 3, Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, Translated by The Fathers of the English Dominican Province, [1947], http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum306.htm.

7. P. Skrzydlewski, EKONOMIKA, p. 82.

8. P. Skrzydlewski, EKONOMIKA, p. 81.

9. M. Ziętek, Ekonomia, etyka cnót, dobrobyt, 2012, online at: dystrybucjonizm.pl

10. Adam Doboszyński, Economics of Charity, London 1945 (with the foreword by A.C.F. Beales), p. 41.

11. P. Jaroszyński, NAUKA, 2006, Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii, vol 7, pp. 533-541.

12. H. Kiereś, 2000, Trzy socjalizmy, p.80.

13. Ibid, pp. 81-82.

14. Martin Rhonheimer, Konservatismus als politische Philosophie. Gedanken zu einer “konservativen Theorie”, in: Gerd-Klaus Kaltenbrunner (ed.), Die Herausforderung der Konservativen. Absage an Illusionen, Freiburg i.Br. 1974,  p. 111. See also: Martin Rhonheimer, The Perspective of the Acting Person, 2008, p.35.

15. C. Schmitt, Der Staat als Mechanismus bei Hobbes und Descartes, Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, 1937, Nr XXX, 4, p. 163.; A. Wielomski, Konserwatyzm – między Atenami i Jerozolimą, 2010, p. 59.

16. H. Kiereś, Służyć kulturze, 1998, p. 30.

17. A. Doboszyński, op. cit., p.89.

18. H. Arendt, The Human Condition, 1998, p. 28-29.

19. G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 2001, tranl. S.W. Dyde, § 238, addition.

20. Marek Siemek, Hegel i filozofia, Warszawa 1998, p. 122.

21. A. Doboszyński, op. cit., p. 66-67.

22. Dale Ahlquist, Catholic Social Teaching: Why both Liberals AND Conservatives Get it Wrong!, lecture for the Argument of the Month, 2008, online: http://www.aotmclub.com/Media

23. John Haldane, DISTRIBUTISM, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2005, p. 218.

24. P. Kaliniecki, Wprowadzenie do dystrybucjonizmu, 2012, online: www.dystrybucjonizm.pl

25. H. Belloc, The Servile State, 1912, T.N. FOULIS, pp. 61-69.

26. G.K. Chesterton, “Our Note Book”, Illustrated London News, 08.03.1930.

27. Ł. Dominiak, Życie w ukryciu jako droga prawdy. Uwagi hermeneutyczne do scholiów Nicolása Gómeza Dávili, [in:] Między sceptycyzmem a wiarą. Nicolás Gómez Dávila i jego dzieło, 2008, p.63.

28. Ibid., p. 64.

29. Ibid., p. 67.

30. W. Berry, It All Turns on Affection, Jefferson Lecture with Wendell Berry, 2012, online: http://www.neh.gov/news/2012-jefferson-lecture-wendell-berry

31. Dale Ahlquist, op. cit.

32. The HHS Mandate, fashioned by US president Barack Obama comes to mind.

33. G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, 5.06.1920 (fragments), [in:] G.K. Chesterton, Obrona Wiary, Fronda, 2012, pp. 292-293.

34. M. Gogacz, Życie społeczne w duchu Ewangelii, Warszawa2006, pp. 42-43.

35. J. Filek, Teorie filozoficzne a ekonomia społeczna, [in:] M. Frączek, J. Hausner, S. Mazur, Wokół Ekonomii Społecznej, 2012, pp. 41-42.

36. G.K. Chesterton, Wiekuisty Człowiek, Fronda, 2006, p. 227.

37. G. Maciejewski, Baśn jak niedźwiedź, 2012, vol 2, p. 16.

38. Feliks Koneczny, Polskie logos a ethos, vol. 1, Warszawa 1921, pp. 115-116

39. S. Wielgus, PAWEŁ WŁODKOWIC, 2007, Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii, vol 8, pp. 69-74.

40. J. Bartyzel, Demokracja, 2002, p. 54.

41. Ewa M. Thompson, O naturze polskich resentymentów, 2007-11-05, online: http://wiadomosci.dziennik.pl/wydarzenia/artykuly/193060,sarmatyzm-i-postkolonializm.html

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. Ewa Thompson, Wielka polska powieść, Rzeczy Wspólne 9 (3/2012), http://www.rzeczywspolne.pl/2012/07/wielka-polska-powiesc/#more-1812

46. D. McRoberts, „The Catholic directory for Scotland, 1829-1975”, Innes Review, vol. 26, pp. 93-120, 1975

47. E. Thompson, Narodowy Egoizm i Kompleksy,  “EUROPA”, Nr 180/2007-09-15, p. 8.

48. G.K. Chesterton, Rycerskość, [„On Chivalry”] from: An Anthology, London 1957, Oxford University Press, [in:] Przemysław Mroczkowski, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 1874-1974 Pisma wybrane,  1974, pp. 250-253.

49. R. Dybowski, O Anglji i Anglikach, F. Hoesick, Warszawa 1929, pp. 91-100. Originally: Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 1927-04-23.

50. Adam Doboszyński, op. cit.p. 68.

51. Ibid., p. 85.

52. This is an example of what Fr. Ian Boyd C.S.B. called as the ‘evolved Distributism’, see: M. Black, The Sources and Uses of Distributism: A Roman Catholic’s View of Anglo-Catholic Genius, The Oxford C.S Lewis Chronicle, Vol. 7, No. 2, Trinity, 2010, see also: John C. Médaille, Toward a Truly Free Market, ISI, 2010, pp. 120-121.

53. P. Blond, Better for less?, Ethos Journal, 2011, online: http://www.ethosjournal.com/component/k2/item/232-phillip-blond-better-for-less.

54. Link: http://opensourceecology.org/.

55. Link: http://dobraidea.pl/2011/04/marcin-jakubowski-open-source-ecology/.

56. Wojciech Czarniecki, Serwery aukcyjne, 2012, online: www.dystrybucjonizm.pl.

57. A. Doboszyński, op. cit., p. 77.

58. A. Doboszyński, op. cit.p. 61.

59. S. Caldecott, Chesterton’s Strategy for Evangelizing the Culture, The Chesterton Review, XXX, 3-4 Winter 2004, pp. 329-349.

60. G.K. Chesterton, “The Wolf and the Wage Slave”, G.K.’s Weekly, 1925-09-12.

61. A. Doboszyński, op. cit., p. 108.


About the author: Magdalena Ziętek & Pawel Kaliniecki


Magdalena Ziętek - studied Law and Philosophy at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, University of Warsaw, Universities of Bonn and Heidelberg; doctoral studies at the Faculty of Law, University of Bonn and at the Institute of Philosophy, RWTH Aachen University.

Pawel Kaliniecki - jubilant husband and father of two children, studied Psychology and Business Management at the University of Central Lancashire. Long-term admirer of G.K. Chesterton’s works and a founder of the Dystrybucjonizm.pl portal. Member of the Media WNET Co-operative.


Recent posts in Economics



  1. I gratefully acknowledge Dr. Zientek’s pointing out that distributism is not an isolated twentieth-century invention and that various movements in history bore similarities to this economic and social proposal. Polish Sarmatism is one of them and American Agrarianism is another. The core similarity consists, I think, in the idea (to borrow Witold Gomrowicz’s phrase) that man is a creature of temperate and moderate zones, and that extremes are not conducive to developing a civilization. Human beings should lead a life commensurate with their nature, possess enough property to assure a decent life, meddle not into their neighbors’ business and expect similar consideration from the neighbors. Human beings should neither be fabulously rich nor desperately poor; all should own some property and live within their means. Their ambitions should be likewise moderate and oriented toward personal and family fulfillment rather than toward domination and power.

    The trouble with this vision of man is that it provides no means to counter the desire to dominate and conquer, or more generally, the existence of evil in the world. There are plenty of men who do not wish to practice moderation, and people tend to be blind to the needs of others. For almost four centuries Polish Sarmatism provided a good life for fifteen percent of the population; others lived as best they could. Similarly, American Agrarianism could not have been practiced by blacks. And it does not take an Edward Said to understand that the idea of distributism arose in a country whose welfare and stability were propped up by conquest and violence elsewhere in the world. Distributism offers no means to cope with the unpleasant truths about man’s desires and passions.

    Still, the ideas of distributism are worth promoting, if only to increase the number of people who have access to sound thinking about society.

    And, incidentally, Dr. Zientek has a rare ability to present complex issues in an easily understandable way. Her remarks on Hegel which I read in her Polish blog are among the best explications of this influential philosopher. Wish they found their way to this blog as well.

  2. Dear Professor Thompson,

    Please accept my sicere words of gratitude for joining The Honourary Committee of The G.K. Chesterton and The Challenge of Poland International Conference that took place 26-29 Oct 2012, where the above article was presented under a slightly different title.

    May I take the freedom to comment on one of the poits you’ve mentioned. Indeed, distributism is not an isolated twentieth-century invention for it is just a peculiar name chosen by Belloc and Chesterton to desribe a phenomenon known since time immemorial. Since it had not been invented but rather rediscovered England’s prior annexations bear no other influence in its constitution than sheer disgust offered by its proponents (Chesterton’s opinions on The Boer War immediately come to mind).

    With regards to countering the human desires to dominate and conquer, I think Chesterton begged to differ and beeing the realist perfectly acquainted with a flawed human nature he was, he has obviously never advocated any forms of state-induced morality.

    Rather, he saw distributism as a system that allowed men to practice moderation and one where intrinsic checks and balances prevented residual erosion, and sometimes even long-lasting opposition to brute-force. Please find attached the three excerpts from Outline of Sanity that neatly illustrate the point:

    “What upholds an arch is an equality of pressure of the separate stones upon each other.The equality is at once mutual aid and mutual obstruction. It is not difficult to show that in a healthy society the moral pressure of different private properties acts in exactly the same way.”

    “The truth is that there is no economic tendency whatever towards the disappearance of small property, until that property becomes so very small as to cease to act as property at all. If one man has a hundred acres and another man has half an acre, it is likely enough that he will be unable to live on half an acre. Then there will be an economic tendency for him to sell his land and make the other man the proud possessor of a hundred and a half. But if one man has thirty acres and the other man has forty acres, there is no economic tendency of any kind whatever to make the first man sell to the second. It is simply false to say that the first man cannot be secure of thirty or the second man content with forty.”

    “Needless to say, those who insist that roughly equalized ownership cannot exist, base their whole argument on the notion that it has existed. They have to suppose, in order to prove their point, that people in England, for instance, did begin as equals and rapidly reached inequality. And it only rounds off the humour of their whole position that they assume the existence of what they call an impossibility in the one case where it has really not occurred. They talk as if ten miners had run a race, and one of them became the Duke of Northumberland. They talk as if the first Rothschild was a peasant who patiently planted better cabbages than the other peasants. The truth is that England became a capitalist country because it had long been an oligarchical country. It would be much harder to point out in what way a country like Denmark need become oligarchical.But the case is even stronger when we add the ethical to the economic common sense. When there is once established a widely scattered ownership, there is a public opinion that is stronger than any law;and very often (what in modern times is even more remarkable) a law that is really an expression of public opinion.”

  3. Dear Mr. Kaliniecki,

    How nice of you to respond. I do not see much disagreement between us—like yourself, I greatly value Chesterton’s vision of the world. My concern is with the HOW—how do we make that vision prevail. Through personal example? It invariably works, but on a small scale. It is natural for human beings to want to speed things up. And when we ponder how to do it, the context of our ideas comes to the fore. It is not by accident that Chesterton does not hail from, say, present-day Syria. It takes a peaceful and predictable atmosphere to think Chesterton’s thoughts. The English fought all their wars abroad (yes, I know about Coventry), and the flourishing of thought and science that they experienced in the meantime had this necessary undercurrent of peace.
    Thomas Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” approaches this issue from still another angle.