What We Want, and How: The First Phase

In 1927, K.L. Kenrick, Honorable Secretary for the Birmingham Branch of the Distributist League, wrote an article titled, “What We Want, And Why.” Kenrick carved out the early League’s aims for the restoration of property, the plight for man’s independence from wages through self-ownership, and an appeal for the small shop over the large. With each passing paragraph, Kenrick summarized why distributists held firm to these requisites for the betterment of society. In the spirit of his original essay, I will attempt to discuss how we may implement these prerogatives for the furthering of our movement.

The reinstatement of the Guild System for small-scale production, cooperatives for larger scale, creation of CLTs (Community Land Trusts), agricultural apprenticeship programs, Micro-credit loans and local currencies, are just a part of our intended goals. Perhaps some of these serve strictly as rebuilding tools or temporary measures used to educate our communities about local economics. Without a doubt however, their counter-revolutionary qualities serve to combat against the intellectual and material devastation wrought upon our present society. Some of these programs are permanent solutions we will use towards a parallel economy (see Dr. Chojnowski’s article A Distributism How-To), i.e. a stream of thought and action —made by us and for us— operating beside the existing structure and generating stability for the public.

The question most asked amongst newcomers is how, given the present circumstances, does one become a distributist?

The answer is that Kenrick, along with the early League, believed Distributism begins with the individual. One need not wait for a political party or organization to start living distributist ideals. What it does take is a drastic change in philosophy, replacing an economy of growth in favor of an economy of use. This would, as Fr. McNabb said, “put first things first.”

In today’s Western world, altering life and replacing it with distributist principles requires an incremental transition. Drastic ventures are often beyond the reach of most middle-class families who cannot simply dismiss their mortgages or wish their credit card debt away. The poor and homeless can’t pick up and purchase parcels of land or buy into an urban co-op either.

We should be clear that there are things the individual can do. First off, one should start by consuming what one needs instead of what one desires. He or she can decide to cease shopping at Costco or Sam’s Club, opting instead to purchase goods at the small shop. This may mean a higher price, but it also means greater value, quality, and investment in community. Due to this cost, the individual will practice thrift or what Solzhenitsyn called “self-restraint.” He or she will utilize discernment when expending earnings and limit resources rather than exhausting them, because judgment will be regulated and more acute.

The household may be fastened to the slavery of wages, restricted to their current occupations and incapable of starting their own businesses, but they can conserve energy, rely less on machinery, work with their hands, or they can study and incorporate distributism to their family’s educational curriculum. It may be difficult for some to live a full distributist ideal, but the efforts made today will benefit the next generation, who will lead this nation sooner than any of us realize.

Furthering distributist education demands self-examination. We have a divided audience separated into two categories: people familiar with the ethical/moral and historical challenges of economic philosophy, and those literate in the complexities of political economy and social development. In other words, we can fairly divide our audience into men of letters and of science. Generally speaking, the former is ill equipped in the latter and vice versa. We must therefore encourage the distributist to become proficient in both areas, mingling the two.

Tying in these two categories are two classifications: the novice and sophisticated distributist. For every apologist, there is a recruit coming in from the rain, carrying a heavy load of social conditioning. It is unrealistic to expect the novice to understand the difference between “mark to market” accounting and derivatives, if he can barely grasp why he shouldn’t be a capitalist or socialist and urgently needs conversion to distributism. The budding distributist also wishes to pursue further growth and may grow impatient with the repetitive nature of the basic information we provide. It is clear, and must remain so, that both sets of distributists require nurturing.

Of course, short and long term objectives are natural to any organization. All of these goals must be calculated and tested, evaluated and reformed. By necessity, our current aims are conceived according to a realistic picture of our limitations at this stage in the movement.

A consideration of the following may prove helpful:

A. Support our new non-profit The Society for Distributism. I recently wrote an article for Gilbert Magazine called “From a League to a Society” and we’ve received many email subscribers because of it. The featured website, http://www.distributist.org/, currently under construction, includes a sign-up form in order to keep abreast of our efforts (if you have given us this information in the past six months there is no need to send a fresh request, or email us). This site will also be the principle font for donations, literature on implementation programs, and information for the confirmed April 4th debate with capitalist Michael Novak. We are working on many projects, including free downloadable material, local lectures and events, and strategies for the creation of local chapters. Starting your own chapter or non-profit can be a successful way of making Distributism a household name. Catholics may be reminded of the successes of Una Voce or the 180 Catholic Worker houses worldwide, which have strewn a valuable print on Catholicism, thanks to their tenacity.

B. Educate yourself. Read our websites. We also suggest looking over the bookshelf right here on The Distributst Review. Time and time again when newcomers ask me what book to read first I insist they have to pick up a copy of John Médaille's The Vocation of Business. To purchase the work of the early distributists look no further then IHS Press. Their material includes work by Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Amintore Fanfani, A.J. Penty, Fr. McNabb, and many others. Read Thomas Storck's The Catholic Milieu as a basis for understanding economics and its relationship to man.

C. Press. All press is good press. Thanks to the hard work of publishers like IHS, and no doubt our own efforts, we have managed to intimidate the leading Christian-capitalist think tank. The Acton Institute, which recently published “Beyond Distributism” wouldn’t waste their time on our movement if the laws of supply and demand didn’t warrant their response. This should tell us our numbers are growing at a formidable rate. Refer us to your friends, family, religious leaders, local politicians, and anyone else you can think of. Consider submitting an article for your local paper, or an essay to an online or print journal. People have a knack for truth and common sense. They will listen. Don’t be intimidated. The more the movement spreads, the harder it is for our opponents to ignore us.

D. The Internet is an instrument Howard Dean, Ron Paul, and Barack Obama have used effectively to benefit their candidacies. If you have a blog or website, talk about Distributism, start a chat board, comment on other sites, etc. Don’t underestimate the potential success of your efforts. It may “just be the net” but the Internet has grown the movement exponentially. Several years ago one could barely find the word “distributism” online. Today, one search results in pages talking about it. Remember, many people are sympathetic to distributist ideals. They just don’t envision it. That is a world away from being against it. Be the catalyst or plant seeds that will open up minds.

E. Networking. Those interested in the pursuit of Distributist ideals should join the Distributist Yahoo Group. Distributists need to get in touch with one another. Yahoo Groups, forums, and chat boards are good tools to find other distributists in your area. Meet with them, start study groups, and collaborate on future projects.

F. Start your own lectures. Ask your local Parish priest if you can use a recreational area or cafeteria, or book your community center to host a talk. In most cases, a box of two-dozen doughnuts and fresh coffee will suffice to draw in a crowd. Get together with local distributists or invite famed distributists to speak in your area. There are plenty of lecturers eager and ready to give a talk. They are passionate, dedicated, and interested in the growth of this movement.

G. Activism. Have your co-workers ever heard of the E.F. Schumacher Society? Probably not. Academia might have, but not the man on the street. We certainly need to work with the intellectual establishment, but if we don’t talk to the common man, distributism will stay in academia. This means talking to our neighbors, our coworkers, or just borrowing a table from your Aunt Phyllis and standing on a street corner or (with permission) outside our churches. You can also contact sympathetic groups in your area. Check and see if they will allow you to hand out flyers or information packets at their next meeting. Remember, faith without works is dead (James 2:20). Volunteering to educate pedestrians is a greater investment to our movement than handing out money.

H. Foreign languages. Have you noticed a new international section on my site, The ChesterBelloc Mandate? Interest in Distributism has grown beyond the English language. There is a craving for alternatives to socialism and capitalism worldwide, and whether we call it distributisme, distributismo, or dystrybutyzm, our French, Spanish-speaking, Polish, Czech, and Philippine readers are growing. They are our allies, just as thirsty as we are, gathering information about the economic model and philosophy which once originated in their lands. We tip our hats to them and offer our support. If you can write in another language fluently, why not translate our articles or create your own essays from scratch?

I. YouTube videos and podcasting. Do you post your own videos on YouTube? Why not join radio personality “Paleocrat” Jeremiah Bannister, and post videos of your own on YouTube, Google, Metacafe, or any other video-based website? If you podcast, consider talking about distributism from time to time. Interested in interviewing an expert on distributism? We will assist anyone who needs to get in touch with them, and make sure to advertise your work on The Distributist Review and The ChesterBelloc Mandate.

One need not have three acres and a cow to be a distributist, although we pray God may bless us with both.

Always remember, there are those who argue Distributism cannot happen. They believe people will refuse to return to the small shop. They claim families will never want to work for themselves. But, if this economic crisis is any indicator, a transition in the world is already taking place. The question is whether this catastrophe will delve us into further capitalist-socialist collaboration, or if informed people will restore us to a Distributive State.

There is ample evidence to suggest more citizens sympathetic to our cause exist, who simply need exposure to some of these avenues, which can set us in motion. Until they see the diligent work ahead of us, they will remain on the fence.

Kenrick told us why, and I examined the “baby steps” needed straight away in pursuit of our objectives. The rest is up to all of us. Distributism begins with me.


Kate Friday, November 28, 2008 at 9:38:00 AM CST  

May I make a practical suggestion? Simply telling families to, ya' know, live distributism, is a little vague. What we need is a nitty-gritty guide. We need a book on home economy.

Now, I wouldn't title this "Home Ec for Distributists." I'd call it something like, "America on $5 a Day." EIther way, it needs to be filled with information on how to plan meals, how to shop (chain store or local grocery), how to cook (this is so important--do you realize how many families can't cook? Wage-slavery is compounded by TV-dinner slavery!), how to bake the basics, what can be easily grown in a small home garden, and basic instruction on how to do things like hemming pants, replacing zippers, sewing buttons, and basic mending.

I know this may not be your authors' forte, but surely someone of you (Or your readers) can gather information. The Yahoo group doesn't appear to have such a practical info section. BUt those of us who are tryignt o get batter about consuming our needs, not our wants, need some help. There are people who would love to cut down their grocery bills, but have never cooked from scratch. One of the things that lifts distributism above mere capitalism, in my opinion, is its insistence that the home economy is just as important as the domestic economy. FOr those of us homemakers who don't have the time to stand on the streetcorner and preach distributism, a home ec book would be a huge help in making distributist ideals a practiced reality.

Richard Aleman Friday, November 28, 2008 at 10:20:00 AM CST  

Hi Kate,

You are entirely correct. We need this as well, however, I would note that we could use help in this department.

If there are volunteers amongst our readers who could offer articles on everything from vegetable dyes to homecooking, we would be more than happy to include these pieces in The Review.

I'll also do my best to find articles of this nature and include these.

Thank you once again for the thoughtful suggestion Kate.

Edward Rhodes Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 4:16:00 AM CST  

I have written a short article on my blog about Distributism (as well as one on mutual societies and the bank bailout in the UK) and have linked to this blog. I know it is only a small beginning, but already I have been able to explain the principles of Distributism to a number of my family members and friends. Keep up the good work.

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