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Distributism is an economic theory asserting that the world's productive assets should be widely owned rather than concentrated. Developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, distributism was based upon Catholic social teaching principles, especially Pope Leo XIII's teachings in his encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (1931). It has influenced Anglo Christian Democratic movements, and has been recognized as one of many influences on the social market economy.
Distributism views laissez-faire capitalism and state socialism as equally flawed and exploitative. Instead, it favours small independent craftsmen and producers; or, if that is not possible, economic mechanisms such as cooperatives and member-owned mutual organisations as well as small to medium enterprises and large-scale competition law reform such as antitrust regulations. Christian democratic political parties such as the American Solidarity Party have advocated distributism alongside social market economy in their economic policies and party platform.
According to distributists, the right to property is a fundamental right, and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible rather than being centralised under the control of the state (statocracy), a few individuals (plutocracy), or corporations (corporatocracy). Therefore, distributism advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership. Cooperative economist Race Mathews argues that such a system is key to creating a just social order.
Distributism has often been described in opposition to both laissez-faire capitalism and state socialism which distributists see as equally flawed and exploitative. Furthermore, some distributists argue that state capitalism and state socialism are the logical conclusion of capitalism as capitalism's concentrated powers eventually capture the state. Thomas Storck argues: "Both socialism and capitalism are products of the European Enlightenment and are thus modernising and anti-traditional forces. In contrast, distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life." A few distributists, including Dorothy Day, were influenced by the economic ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his mutualist economic theory. The lesser-known anarchist branch of distributism of Day and the Catholic Worker Movement can be considered a form of free-market libertarian socialism due to their opposition to state capitalism and state socialism.
Some have seen it more as an aspiration, successfully realised in the short term by the commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (built into financially independent local cooperatives and small family businesses). However, proponents also cite such periods as the Middle Ages as examples of the long-term historical viability of distributism. Particularly influential in the development of distributist theory were Catholic authors G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, the Chesterbelloc, two of distributism's earliest and strongest proponents.
In the early 21st century, Arthur W. Hunt III in The American Conservative and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in First Things speculated on Pope Francis's position on distributism after he denounced unfettered capitalism in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, in which he stated: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. ... A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits."
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The mid-to-late 19th century witnessed an increase in the popularity of political Catholicism across Europe. According to historian Michael A. Riff, a common feature of these movements was opposition to secularism, capitalism, and socialism. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII promulgated Rerum novarum, in which he addressed the "misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class" and spoke of how "a small number of very rich men" had been able to "lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself". Affirmed in the encyclical was the right of all men to own property, the necessity of a system that allowed "as many as possible of the people to become owners", the duty of employers to provide safe working conditions and sufficient wages, and the right of workers to unionise. Common and government property ownership was expressly dismissed as a means of helping the poor.
Around the start of the 20th century, G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc drew together the disparate experiences of the various cooperatives and friendly societies in Northern England, Ireland, and Northern Europe into a coherent political theory which specifically advocated widespread private ownership of housing and control of industry through owner-operated small businesses and worker-controlled cooperatives. In the United States in the 1930s, distributism was treated in numerous essays by Chesterton, Belloc and others in The American Review, published and edited by Seward Collins. Pivotal among Belloc's and Chesterton's other works regarding distributism are The Servile State and Outline of Sanity.
In Rerum novarum, Leo XIII states that people are likely to work harder and with greater commitment if they possess the land on which they labour, which in turn will benefit them and their families as workers will be able to provide for themselves and their household. He puts forward the idea that when men have the opportunity to possess property and work on it, they will "learn to love the very soil which yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of the good things for themselves and those that are dear to them". He also states that owning property is beneficial for a person and their family and is, in fact, a right due to God having "given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race".
G. K. Chesterton presents similar views in his 1910 book, What's Wrong with the World. Chesterton believes that whilst God has limitless capabilities, man has limited abilities in terms of creation. Therefore, man is entitled to own property and treat it as he sees fit, stating: "Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven. But because he is not God, but only a graven image of God, his self-expression must deal with limits; properly with limits that are strict and even small."
According to Belloc, the distributive state (the state which has implemented distributism) contains "an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production". This broader distribution does not extend to all property but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, and so on. Distributism allows society to have public goods such as parks and transit systems. Distributists accept that wage labour will remain a small part of the economy, with small business owners hiring employees, usually young, inexperienced people.
Redistribution of wealth and productive assets
Distributism requires either direct or indirect distribution of the means of production (productive assets)—in some ideological circles including the redistribution of wealth—to a wide portion of society instead of concentrating it in the hands of a minority of wealthy elites (as seen in its criticism of certain varieties of capitalism) or the hands of the state (as seen in its criticism of certain varieties of communism and socialism). More capitalist-oriented supporters support distributism-influenced social capitalism (also known as a social market economy), while more socialist-oriented supporters support distributism-influenced libertarian socialism. Examples of methods of distributism include direct productive property redistribution, taxation of excessive property ownership, and small-business subsidization.
See also: Gremialismo
Distributists advocate in favour of the return of a guild system to help regulate industries to promote moral standards of professional conduct and economic equality among members of a guild. Such moral standards of professional conduct would typically focus on business conduct, working conditions and other issues in relation to industry specific matters such as workplace training standards.
Distributism favours cooperative and mutual banking institutions such as credit unions, building societies and mutual banks. This is considered to be the preferred alternative to private banks.
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G. K. Chesterton considered one's home and family the centrepiece of society. He recognized the family unit and home as centrepieces of living and believed that every man should have their property and home to enable him to raise and support his family. Distributists recognize that strengthening and protecting the family requires that society be nurturing.
Distributism puts great emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity. This principle holds that no larger unit (whether social, economic, or political) should perform a function that a smaller unit can perform. In Quadragesimo anno, Pope Pius XI provided the classical statement of the principle: "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do".
The Democratic Labour Party of Australia espouses distributism and does not hold the view of favouring the elimination of social security who, for instance, wish to "[r]aise the level of student income support payments to the Henderson poverty line".
The American Solidarity Party has a platform of favouring an adequate social security system, stating: "We advocate for social safety nets that adequately provide for the material needs of the most vulnerable in society".
The position of distributists, when compared to other political philosophies, is somewhat paradoxical and complicated (see triangulation). Firmly entrenched in an organic but very English Catholicism, advocating culturally traditionalist and agrarian values, directly challenging the precepts of Whig history—Belloc was nonetheless an MP for the Liberal Party, and Chesterton once stated, "As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals".
Distributism does not favour one political order over another (political accidentalism). While some distributists such as Dorothy Day have been anarchists, it should be remembered that most Chestertonian distributists are opposed to the mere concept of anarchism. Chesterton thought that distributism would benefit from the discipline that theoretical analysis imposes and that distributism is best seen as a widely encompassing concept inside of which any number of interpretations and perspectives can fit. This concept should fit a political system broadly characterized by widespread ownership of productive property.
In the United States, the American Solidarity Party generally adheres to Distributist principles as its economic model. The Brazilian political party, Humanist Party of Solidarity, is a distributist party, alongside the National Distributist Party in England, and the Democratic Labour Party in Australia. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam view their Grand New Party, a roadmap for revising the Republican Party in the United States, as "a book written in the distributist tradition".
E. F. Schumacher
Distributism is known to have influenced the economist E. F. Schumacher, a convert to Catholicism.
The Mondragon Corporation, based in the Basque Country in a region of Spain and France, was founded by a Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, who seems to have been influenced by the same Catholic social and economic teachings that inspired Belloc, Chesterton, Father Vincent McNabb, and the other founders of distributism.
Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic
Distributist ideas were put into practice by The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a group of artists and craftsmen who established a community in Ditchling, Sussex, England, in 1920, with the motto "Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses". The guild sought to recreate an idealised medieval lifestyle in the manner of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It survived for almost 70 years until 1989.
The Big Society was the flagship policy idea of the 2010 UK Conservative Party general election manifesto. Some distributists claim that the rhetorical marketing of this policy was influenced by aphorisms of the distributist ideology and promotes distributism. It purportedly formed a part of the legislative programme of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement.
List of Distributist Parties
- Australia - Democratic Labour Party
- Romania - Pirate Party Romania
- United Kingdom - National Distributist Party
- United States - American Solidarity Party
- Herbert Agar
- Hilaire Belloc
- L. Brent Bozell Jr.
- Cecil Chesterton
- G. K. Chesterton
- Seward Collins
- Dorothy Day
- Adam Doboszyński
- Peter Maurin
- Horacio de la Costa
- J. P. de Fonseka
- Eric Gill
- Douglas Hyde
- Saunders Lewis
- Vincent McNabb
- Arthur Penty
- Hilary Pepler
- Óscar Romero
- William Purcell Witcutt
- Dorothy L. Sayers
- J. R. R. Tolkien
- Rerum novarum (1891), papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII.
- Quadragesimo anno (1931), papal encyclical by Pope Pius XI.
- Centesimus Annus (1991), papal encyclical by Pope John Paul II.
- Evangelii gaudium (2013), apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis.
- What's Wrong with the World (1910) by G. K. Chesterton ISBN 0-89870-489-8 – eText.
- The Outline of Sanity (1927) by G. K. Chesterton.
- Utopia of Usurers (1917) by G. K. Chesterton.
- The Servile State (1912) by Hilaire Belloc.
- An Essay on The Restoration of Property (1936) by Hilaire Belloc ISBN 0-9714894-4-0.
- Jobs of Our Own (1999) by Race Mathews ISBN 978-1871204179.
- Related concepts
- Catholic social teaching
- Distributed economy
- Distributive justice
- Localism (politics)
- Market socialism
- Mutual aid (organization theory)
- Similar positions
- ^ a b c Zwick, Mark and Louise (2004). The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins . Paulist Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-8091-4315-3
- ^ Coulter, Michael (2007). Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science and Social Policy. Scarecrow Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-8108-5906-7
- ^ McConkey, Dale; Lawler, Peter (2003). Faith, Morality, and Civil Society. Lexington Books. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-7391-0483-5
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- ^ a b "Platform". American Solidarity Party. Archived from the original on 10 June 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
The American Solidarity Party believes that political economy (economics) is a branch of political ethics, and therefore rejects models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest. We advocate for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as 'distributism') rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.
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- ^ a b Prentiss, Craig R. (2008). Debating God's Economy: Social Justice in America on the Eve of Vatican II. Penn State University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-271-03341-9
- ^ "Why Isn't Romania Rich?". Front Porch Republic. 5 December 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
- ^ "Distributism as an equalitarian economic policy". Humanist Society of New South Wales Inc. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
- ^ Storck, Thomas. "Capitalism and Distributism: two systems at war," in Beyond Capitalism & Socialism. Tobias J. Lanz, ed. IHS Press, 2008. p. 75
- ^ Dorothy, Day. On Pilgrimage. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999. p. 40.
- ^ McKay, Iain. An Anarchist FAQ Volume One. AK Press, 2007. p. 75
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- ^ Hilaire Belloc, "The Servile Institution Dissolved," The Servile State, (1913; reprint, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1977), 71–83.
- ^ Fitzgerald, Ross et al. (2003). The Pope's Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split. University of Queensland Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-7022-3389-0
- ^ a b Riff, Michael A. (1990). Dictionary of Modern Political Ideologies. Manchester University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7190-3289-9
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- ^ "Pope Francis and Distributism". www.frontporchrepublic.com. 3 April 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
- ^ "Let's Listen to Pope Francis on Economics – Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry". firstthings.com. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
- ^ O'Leary, Naomi (23 November 2013). "Factbox - Key quotes: Pope Francis condemns unfettered capitalism". Reuters. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
- ^ Adams, Ian (1993). Political Ideology Today. Manchester University Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0-7190-3347-6
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 3.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 6.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 46.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 42.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 45.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 49.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 4.
- ^ Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 15.
- ^ Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, The Liberty Fund, originally published 1913.
- ^ G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, IHS Press, 2002, originally published 1927.
- ^ Pope Leo XIII, Rerum novarum : 47, 1891
- ^ Pope Leo XIII, Rerum novarum: 8, 1891.
- ^ Chesterton, Gilbert Keith, What's Wrong with the World (1920), p. 59.
- ^ Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, 1913.
- ^ Baccelli, Zebulon. "Practical Policies for a Distributist Economy: Part Two". imagodeipolitics.org. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
- ^ Aleman, Richard. "INDUSTRY: THE DISTRIBUTIST SOLUTION". distributistreview.com. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
- ^ "Platform". American Solidarity Party. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
- ^ "Christian Democracy". American Solidarity Party. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
- ^ "Did you know there's a third party based on Catholic teaching?". Catholic News Agency. 12 October 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
We believe in the economic concept of distributism as taught by GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
- ^ McKay, Iain. An Anarchist FAQ: AFAQ Volume One. AK Press: Oakland, CA. (2008) pp 22.
- ^ "A Misunderstanding About Method". Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. 20 November 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2022.
- ^ Penty, Arthur (21 October 2019). Distributism: A Manifesto. The Real Press. ISBN 9781912119820.
- ^ Staff, T. S. I. "G K CHESTERTON, HILAIRE BELLOC AND DISTRIBUTISM DOWN UNDER". The Sydney Institute. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
- ^ "G.K. Chesterton's Distributism". The Distributist Review. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
- ^ Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, 1931.
- ^ Cath (11 September 2015). "Policy: Students". Democratic Labour Party. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
- ^ "Solidarity Party Platform". American Solidarity Party. Archived from the original on 10 June 2021. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
- ^ Chesterton, G. K. (2008). Orthodoxy. BiblioBazaar. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-554-33475-2.
- ^ G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity(Norfolk, Va.: IHS Press, 2001), p. 90
- ^ "View registration - The Electoral Commission". search.electoralcommission.org.uk.
- ^ Ross Douthat (27 March 2013). "Twitter post".
- ^ Opdebeeck, Hendrik, ed. Frontiers of Business Ethics, Volume 11 : Responsible Economics : E. F. Schumacher and His Legacy for the 21st Century. Oxford, GBR: Peter Lang AG, 2013. p. 12.
- ^ Mathews, Race. Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society. Fernwood Publishing. 1999.
- ^ A Potential Step in the Right Direction Archived 21 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine 21 July 2010
- ^ Cameron and Clegg set out 'big society' policy ideas BBC News 18-May-2010
- ^ "Distributism". Democratic Labour Party. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
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- ^ "Platform". American Solidarity Party. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
- ^ "Articles on Distributism - 2" Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine by Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker, July–August 1948, 1, 2, 6
- ^ "Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, & Distributism", in The Hound of Distributism.
- ^ "The Distributist Review – Dale Ahlquist". Distributistreview.com. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- ^ Allan Carlson (12 July 2009). ""A Distributist View of the Global Economic Crisis": A Report". Front Porch Republic. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- ^ "What is Integralism?". 9 September 2020.
- ^ "Alfa y Omega, nº 775 / 1-III-2012, En portada". alfayomega.es. 27 May 2013. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013.
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- "Union Square Speech" by Dorothy Day
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