Exceptional Ignorance... of Distributism.

It was but only a short time ago that I stumbled upon a Catholic blog that happened to be discussing the most recent papal encyclical. Most all the gang was there. Libertarians! Neocons! Distributists! Oh, my! Each and every one of them making their claims and placing their stakes in the war-torn wastelands of public discourse typically surrounding the discussion of Catholic Social Teaching. Very little productivity, but plenty of huff-puffery.

For most of the readers here, nothing I have described is all that peculiar. In fact, it is relatively run-of-the-mill. What made this particular battle significant, though, was a question asked by very popular Catholic who presides over a rather popular organization that published a not-so popular book written by an undeservingly popular Catholic attempting to put a halt to the ever-increasing popularity of distributism. Then again, it wasn't so much the question as it was the fact that it was asked by this particular fellow, and with what he insists to be the most sincere of motives.

The question, in sum, was how distributists believe their view of the State and the political economy differs from that advocated by adherents to National Socialism.

Let's ignore for a moment that this question has been answered by a myriad of distributist thinkers much brighter than me. Let's also brush aside the fact that a handful of these answers are readily accessible to anyone willing to take a moment utilizing a search engine. Instead, let us focus our attention on the fact that this man, who has dedicated so much time, effort, and money into convincing Catholics (and non-Catholics) to move "beyond distributism" lacks what could in all fairness be consider a functional literacy of distributism.

To deem this as merely unfortunate would be an understatement. What it does for us, though, is reveal the heart and soul of what may be the biggest problem distributists have yet to overcome: general ignorance. Think for a moment. If this particular theologian/economist is ignorant of what differentiates distributists from fascists and socialists, then where does that leave the mass of people unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of all things CST? Not fearing redundancy, to deem this as merely unfortunate would be an understatement.

So what may be done? Plenty. In fact, plenty is already being done. Distributism has made great strides in recent years. It has found itself being discussed on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, talk radio, podcasts, as well as in books, magazines and newspapers. Distributist apologists have also found a place at the table of public debate along with the socialists and neoconservatives who have for so long dominated the CST scene. Furthermore, for all the chatter pertaining to the so-called "non-relevance" of distributism, enemies of the school of thought have dedicated decent sums of time and money combating it. They may be of the type that spends gobs of energy beating dead horses, but I'm not of the type that would believe such things.

Having said this leads me to conclude that it's not so much the lack of material that has led to this general ignorance (though an ever-increasing amount of material wouldn't hurt) as it is the fact that most distributists are distributists in the abstract. In other words, we talk the talk, but very few walk the walk.

None of this is meant to be demeaning, as I am the guiltiest of the guilty on this count. Instead, this is meant to be a simple reminder of a simple maxim: actions speak louder than words.

Take the Amish for example. I would bet that most of us have read very little about the Amish. Few delve into studies concerning their history, theology, philosophy, and traditions. But most of us are well aware of their being thoroughly agrarian and, giving Arthur Penty a run for his money, extraordinarily skeptical of machinery. Most of us have seen their clothing, their buggies, their working on farms or on houses, and many of us may even have some of their woodwork in our homes. The point here, though, is that while we may be largely ignorant of the Amish life, our seeing them put their beliefs into practice (and in such an open and consistent manner) gives us a decent idea as to who they are, where they are, what they believe, and why they do what they do. Better yet, for those who have bought food from their stands or furniture from their shops, we see the standard of excellence they strive to achieve.

In final analysis, it would do us well to have more than Madragon to talk about. How wonderful would it be to talk of the achievements and lifestyle of distributists and Catholic Worker communities nationwide? More importantly, what impact would seeing such achievements and communities have on the public? At bare minimum, it may provide an image that would give them some degree of functional literacy regarding distributism. Then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't have so many well-studied men asking such elementary questions concerning who we are and what we believe. That, in and of itself, may be worth the effort.


Paleocrat Monday, July 27, 2009 at 11:10:00 AM CDT  

I discussed this blog on PaleoTV.


robert Monday, July 27, 2009 at 12:21:00 PM CDT  

I think you give he-who-shall-not-be-named too much credit. Dishonesty is a much better explanation. His thought is so far (and so willfully) from the teaching of the Church that there cannot but be a darkness here.

Paleocrat Monday, July 27, 2009 at 12:38:00 PM CDT  

I will give "he-who-shall-not-be-named" the benefit of the doubt. We disagree, but he is still "father" to me and my family. Literally.

JimB Monday, July 27, 2009 at 6:50:00 PM CDT  

"it's not so much the lack of material that has led to this general ignorance (though an ever-increasing amount of material wouldn't hurt) as it is the fact that most distributists are distributists in the abstract. In other words, we talk the talk, but very few walk the walk."

I've been saying this for a year. What is needed is a working model right here in the US that people can "come and see".

I don't think it has to be "agrarian" or a "separate" community though. We are called to be in the world but not of it. Based on where the population is (and is ever more migrating) I think the best example will be in a city.

Paleocrat Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 12:12:00 AM CDT  

I was contacted after having posted this e-mail by an individual who is looking for like-minded people willing to establish communities. This person appears to be very organized, having established a number of good locations and having what seems to be a very workable idea. The details are quite impressive. A lot of homework was put into this.

It is relatively confusing as to why there hasn't been greater reception amongst those who follow this blog, if in fact they are aware of it. If you are unaware of the project and would like details, let me know.


I was quite confident that there were many others who had similar (or identical) sentiments to those expressed in this post. How we work towards putting our heads together towards putting distributism into action is the tough part. The book "Action" by Jean Ousset (IHS Press) has good ideas, but they would be much better were they to be put into... well... action.

Let me clarify something here. It was not my intention to argue for a purely community-style agrarian option. I, too, believe that it would be best done in cities. We need our Jane Jacobs of the New Urbanists and the Wendell Berry agrarians as much as we do Catholic Worker Houses and independent practitioners. There is no single approach to reconstruction, and all play a part, being as essential to the scheme as they are compatible.

Discussions with Catholic Workers, New Urbanists, the Congress for the New Urbanists, Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (SHARE), and other groups would be advantageous. Doing this would diversify options, allowing for various means aiming towards a common end, and recognizing the realities (and restraints) of both urban and rural living and their respective appeal to the public at large.

I hope this was helpful in understanding my position concerning social reconstruction along distributist lines and the means we may employ in pursuit of our goals.

Chris Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 8:30:00 AM CDT  

Jeremiah, thanks for article, I post a lot articles from your wsite, this site and others to Fisheaters....we have a lot of capitalists and libertarians there.a few (James02, anastasia,etc) quickly come out of woodwork to rebut or.try to...Distributism.....so much for Trad sites,eh.....keep up fine work.....I have site with forum, welcome to all Distributists/Agrarians there:


Paleocrat Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 2:13:00 PM CDT  

I can't thank you enough for supporting our efforts. Overcoming the general ignorance of distributism amongst Catholics is difficult, but it is extraordinarily disheartening to see so many "traditional" Catholics falling into the web of classical liberalism spun by men such as Hayek, Mises, Rothbard and Co. Trading the wisdom of the Magisterium and the distributists/solidarists of yesteryear (and today) for the folly of the Austrian school is like swapping a birthright for a bowl of porridge. Disheartening.

I still insist (relentlessly) that we must push the debate beyond an exchange of "evidences." The controversy is really one of "first things." Competency, authority, and jurisdiction should be presupposed, as these are fundamental matters that should frame the discussion rather than function as some "side note" disconnected from the whole. Once this is demonstrated, relying primarily upon the internal witness (self-claims) of the Magisterium, the debate becomes one of fidelity to Holy Mother Church and Her social teaching.

This, in my opinion, is not so much where the debate should end as it is where the debate ought to begin.

ADMISSION: Men much wiser than I'll ever be would disagree with both my assessment and methodology. This should be of little surprise, though, as most CST apologists don't approach the table as presuppositionalists, but as strict evidentialists.

Peregrinus_PF Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 9:09:00 PM CDT  

I agree that a total agrarian model will not work. However, I do not see a total urban/city model working either.

The model I envision is a combination of an agrarian/small town model that is closee enough to a minor (maybe even major) urban are to be noticed and have influence, but far enough away, about 50 kilometers or 31 miles, to have the ability to be independent of the urban are.

The small/medium town will be the main support both market and supply side but with a big enough small/family industrial/business infrastructure to not only support its local need, but provide goods and jobs to the near by larger urban areas.

Now, selecting the urban area to be close to is another issue. I do not believe one of the major urban areas would be a likely candidate. I would prefer a smaller urban area like Battle Creek, Dayton, or Kalamazoo (could not resist that one) would be prime candidates.

Paleocrat Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 9:48:00 PM CDT  

I am in full agreement with you P. Finding the golden mean here is of the utmost importance if we wish to provide a functional model for a distributist society.

There is an excellent book entitled "The Essential Agrarian Reader" that can be read online for free. Chapter 11 (Country and City: The Common Vision of Agrarians and New Urbanists) just so happens to deal with this very matter. It is worth the read.

Read the book here: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=sH7anDCtwn4C&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=The+Agrarian+Reader&ots=Roe4ne0Fsx&sig=zBgNdDGlbcAXH6YoU9rSGlt5jyQ

Battle Creek and Kalamazoo would be excellent locations.

Donnie Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 5:36:00 PM CDT  

The American education system, both Catholic and public, will not produce many people who will accept Distributism. The education system worships the "scientific method", even though it does not utilize it correctly. And even if it did use it correctly, the "Novum Organum" should still be subordinate to logic as a means for discovering truth. Our children need a true Catholic, medieval, Ratio Studiorum-style classical education (the basic modern sciences can be quickly learned by those who are classically educated in childhood).

Al Shaw Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 6:18:00 PM CDT  

Anyone over here in the UK want to start "walking the walk" together?

Shall we make contact?

John Médaille Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 9:12:00 PM CDT  

Al, you have lots of resources in the UK. I have just returned from one conference on Distributism at the Unversity of Nottingham, and there was another that I didn't get to at Oxford. You also have Phillip Blond, for example, and the "Red Tory" movement trying to push Cameron in the distributist direction. (Cameron seems to be interested, but one can never tell with party leaders.) See http://distributism.blogspot.com/2009/07/red-tories-and-civic-state.html

John Médaille Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 9:16:00 PM CDT  

Al, one more thing. Write Phillip at phillip.blond@googlemail.com. He is establishing a new Distributist think tank, Respublica. I don't think they have a web site yet, but I'm sure they will shortly. You also have Stratford Caledecott and the Second Spring website http://www.secondspring.co.uk/economy/

Al Shaw Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 6:19:00 PM CDT  

Thanks John.

I'll take a look at Philip Blond's work.

Your post is interesting from a British perspective because, back in the 60's and 70's, the British Conservative and Unionist Party (to give Her Majesty's Opposition its official title) was very much identified as the party of small business (Margaret Thatcher's father, famously, being an independent grocer).

How times have changed, as Colin Crouch demonstrates in his book Post-democracy, as global firms have come to not only dominate the economy but also the political process.

Thanks for a stimulating post.

Paleocrat Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 9:10:00 PM CDT  


You are quite correct in your assessment of the underlying philosophy of the American education establishment. I also agree with your insisting that it is an extraordinary obstacle to distributist social reconstruction. I also agree that classical education is one step in the right direction. I think, though, that there is good reason to be relatively optimistic. Realistic, not brushing aside the harsh realities we must confront, but optimistic nevertheless.

I think that Mater et Magistra, having been generally ignored in regards to its admonitions, must be taken to heart here. Pope John XXIII details in what way Catholic Social Teaching should be upheld and practiced by Churches, seminaries, businesses, schools and families. Working (fighting) to ensure that the popes mandates are finally taken seriously is an absolute must.

Let me reiterate here that this is not an easy task. I'm no triumphalist. I understand that it is uphill both ways, especially in America. But I also put a lot of stock in the power of the Holy Ghost working through that faithful remnant that, with childlike faith, embrace, advocate, and live out in everyday life the teaching of Mother Church.

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