Schedule Change for Chesterton Conference


If you plan to attend this year's Chesterton conference, please be aware that changes have been made to the schedule. Joseph Pearce will now speak on Friday.


The New Devereux

Dear Friends,

For some time the editors of The Distributist Review have been on a mission to move beyond the shores of Blogger. While this has been our happy home for almost six years, our principle objective to find a new design that could marry The Chesterbelloc Mandate and The Distributist Review is now mission accomplished. With this new site our readers will receive the best vintage material and current analysis of the Distributist model, and we are confident our template has the right spit and polish to attract new readership and bring attention to this very important journal.

What Can You Expect?
The Distributist Review's new home promises a fresh dynamic. While retaining its hard-hitting commentary and superb analysis, our site's attractive features will increase readership and re-energize the Distributist movement. We've added book and movie reviews, foreign language articles, guest contributions from academics and laymen in the trenches, social networking icons so you can post our articles on Facebook or Tweet them, podcasts, written interviews, and printing or PDF options (TBA).

An announcement with the new url for The Distributist Review will be made over the 4th of July weekend. We invite you to join us at our new home, add our new address to your websites, and tell your family and friends about us.

On a personal note, I wish to thank all our contributing editors over the years for giving so much of their time, effort, and heart. They truly outline sanity. They do not do this for thanks nor do they receive the compensation they deserve. What they do is not just for us, but for Christ the King! May God bless all of you. Your articles reflect how grace is a call to action.

Servire Deo regnare est!

PS: While some articles will be migrated to our new domain, this web site will remain available as an archive.


Chesterton Conference 2010

Remember friends, if you cannot make the entire conference you can always purchase tickets for just one day. This is a great opportunity to listen to some great Chestertonians and talk shop. Networking with one another is an excellent way to organize and build future relationships. I want to personally meet every single one of you.

So if you cannot make the entire event, consider coming out Friday or Saturday. Talks will include "Scientism: The Mistake About Science," "GKC and Edmund Burke: The Mistake About Conservatism," "The Mistake About the Social Services," and the highly anticipated talk by Joseph Pearce (author of "Small Is Still Beautiful") titled "The Mistake About Progress."

If you can't make all three days, come out Friday or Saturday. See you there!

To register, go to

29th Annual G.K. Chesterton Conference
Mt. St. Mary's University
Emmitsburg, Maryland
August 5-7th


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What Would Frodo Do?

By Jason Hamza van Boon, Reprinted by permission of Tikkun Daily Blog

I recently posted on Tikkun Daily the following quote on JRR Tolkien vs Ayn Rand:

“There are two novels that can transform a bookish 14-year-kld’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.” – “The Value of Nothing” by Raj Pate
It’s been somewhat of a hit with Tikkun Daily readers (as I write this, it’s ranked #5 on our “most read posts of the past 7 days” list). This led me to wonder: Did Tolkien have a view on political economy?

We know what kind of economics John Galt and other Randian heroes espoused. And many more people get turned on to lassez-faire capitalism by Rand’s novels than by libertarian economics treatises. (The first history of libertarianism, by Jerome Tucille, is actually titled It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand). So, if fantasy novels can provide an ideological basis for the opposition, can progressives find inspiration from Tolkien, one of the greatest storytellers of all time?

In other words: What would Frodo do?

I’m not an expert on Tolkien. Whether he had a worked out view on economics is an open question for me. I do know that he was part of the great English reniassance of writers and thinkers from the first part of the 20th century, largely Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic. Tolkien was a member of the Inklings, a literary discussion group that included such luminaries as C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams, and was also a friend of the illustrious Dorothy Sayers. (Alas, Albion, how far hast thou fallen!)

The milieu they inhabited was friendly to a movement called “Distributism” (also known as “Distributivism”), an alternative view on economics developed by Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton. They were inspired by the encyclicals of popes such as Leo XIII and Pius XI, who took prophetic stances against both robber baron capitalism and totalitarian Communism. They taught about he need to find a balance between individualism and totalitarianism through a judicious blend of market processes, co-operative associations of labor and capital, and progressive legislation.

In response to these teachings, the Distributists proposed that there was an alternative to the extremes of laissez-faire capitalism and complete state ownership of the economy. In fact, they pointed out these two extremes shared a common feature: the means of production become concentrated in the hands of a few. The “choice” is between a corporate oligarchy and a governmental one. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

An alternative would be to have private property widely distributed throughout society, so that every adult person is an owner of capital, or productive property. They proposed a commonwealth of independent farmers, small proprietors, and worker-owners in co-operative firms and guilds. Each household would have enough to live a life of dignity, but not so much that they could tyrannize over others.

A nice vision, one that’s often been criticized as utopian and romantic. Recently, however, there’s been a Distibutist and “natural law” economics revival, with sharp thinkers such as John C. Médaille working out the economic logic of a feasible Distributism.

But back to Tolkien. I knew that he wrote when Distributism was in its first heyday. And the Shire does seem like an ideal Distributist society. So, was Tolkien a Distributist?

Matthew P. Akers makes a case in St. Austin’s Review that Tolkien’s Middle Earth writings do exemplify the principles of Distributism–both as a positive model in the Shire and critically through showing the destructive processes of an inhuman, anti-natural regime (think of Mordor as the first BP!) St Austin’s is a conservative Catholic journal, but of a distinctly non-Ayn-Rand, non-neo-conservative kind, and progressives will find Akers’ remarks on economics, the environment, and imperialism to be very congenial.

Some selections:

In the modern world, we are accustomed to a highly-centralized industrial economy that engages in international trade and is controlled by the twin powers of “big government” and “big business”. In contrast, the Shire’s Distributist economy is a diffuse system based upon small farmers, small business, and local trade….

The two controlling powers of the modern industrial economy — big government and big business — are absent from the Shire. Bigness in any form is foreign to the Shire’s economy, which is localized, agricultural, and hobbit-sized in every sense.

After Sam, Frodo, Pippin, and Merry leave on the quest to destroy the ring, the Shire’s economy changes dramatically.

When the four hobbits return from their quest, big government and big business have encroached upon the former hobbitsized economy, industrializing it. A large bureaucracy comprised of outsiders now controls the Shire’s economy, and its principles of production have expanded well beyond what is necessary simply for maintaining the needs of the Shire and its inhabitants. Pimple and Sharkey, two aptly named villains who lead this attack upon the hobbits, buy up much of the Shire, concentrating land and resources in the hands of a few, which is antithetical to the Distributist insistence upon the necessity of widely distributed private property….

This environmental destruction has also destroyed the indigenous culture of the hobbits. They have become industrial serfs rather than agricultural freemen (sic). Now, the hobbits depend upon the industrial work they perform at the new mill for their livelihood rather than enjoying the fruits of their agricultural labor. They also crouch in fear before the big government that has taken over the Shire, for this new government controls the mill, the hobbits’ source of livelihood. Once the hobbits are severed from nature, they are severed from their very essence: they are no longer free and fun-loving. Instead, they have become industrial slaves, both to their masters at the mill and to their bureaucratic masters in government. Ted Sandyman, the former owner of the mill, now works there as a wheel cleaner — a menial laborer — for the new owners. Once the hobbits’ reliance upon nature is destroyed, their self-sufficiency follows. The hobbits and their community are lost when the land is forsaken….

Like Sauron, Sam wishes to use the ring, but, unlike Sauron, Sam wishes to use the ring to promote freedom. He has a vision in which he sees himself brandishing a sword and using the ring to lead an army into Mordor in order to conquer it and to transform the industrial wasteland into a giant garden. While this vision is highly appealing to Sam, he ultimately realizes that “the one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.” Sam recognizes that he cannot make his agrarian vision a reality through imperialism, and he rejects this imperialistic and militaristic temptation.

I certainly recommend reading the whole article.

Now, I can anticipate some snarky comments from the pro-capitalist Right. I do not propose using magic rings or elvish charms to fix the economy (although I suspect those are less fantastic than supply-side economics, or certain forms of Keynesianism). The case for a progressive, “third way” economics must be made through the cold logic and dry prose of economic theory and empirical analysis.

But, to her credit, Ayn Rand did show us something. An economic policy will never gain popular support unless we show how economics relate to meta-economic principles of ethics and “the nature of things.” Literature is certainly an appropriate vehicle for this. And, to paraphrase E.F. Schumacher, Tolkien shows us that hobbit-sized is beautiful.


The Biggest Earmark is Empire


Lethal Loyalties: Dulce et Decorum Est...

It is, alas, a story we hear almost everyday. A “terrorist” straps explosives to his body and walks into the crowded market to cause mayhem. Or “Holy Warriors” fight endless battles to prevent the spread of democracy in their homelands. When we see these things, we shake our heads and lament that in the name of God, these people not only commit terrible crimes, but resist the very things—democracy and liberalism—which will bring them the same peace and prosperity that we enjoy. We have no doubts about how these events are to be interpreted, for we know that misdirected and irrational violence is part of our own history, a history from which we were rescued by the liberal state, and the separation of religious and temporal affairs.

But what if our understanding is wrong? What if the nation-state was not the cure but the cause of the wars that we term “religious”? In other words, what if all that we “know” isn't so, is in fact a myth used to justify the nation-state and marginalize certain kinds of discourse, most particularly “religious” discourse? This is the theme of William T. Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence.

We know the story very well: after the Reformation, Europe fell into a murderous cycle of sectarian violence, from which we were rescued by the nation-state, which cordoned off “religious” concerns from the temporal order, imposing a political tolerance on the contending faiths while concentrating on building prosperous kingdoms (at first) and then liberal democracies, in which the religious realm was kept separate from the secular. It is this story which provides us—all of us, whether “left” or “right—with the framework by which we view both domestic and international events, and most particularly the Muslim world.

But is this story a history or a myth? Prof. Cavanaugh contends that it is a myth, one that simply does not conform to the facts of history. In support of this thesis, he makes a number of remarkable claims:

  • Religion in not a severable category from cultural political, and economic life. IN fact, “religion,” as we understand the term is a creation of modern West, and would have been unintelligible to previous ages and cultures.

  • The modern state precedes the so-called wars of religion, Indeed, the “wars of religion” weren’t about religion at all.

  • There has been a transfer of the sacral from the religious order to the political. Far from separating religion from the state, the modern state creates its own sacred space, with its own rituals, hymns, and theology, and its own universal mission.

The universal mission of this new Church is mainly tied up with practical solutions to particular problems elevated to the status of transcendent truths. As Alasdair MacIntyre put it:

The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf… [I]it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.

If Cavanaugh is correct, than it would have a profound effect on the way we view the world, or rather, on the story we tell ourselves about how the world works. Humans always tell themselves stories about how things are; it is the only way to organize information into a coherent whole. But it does help if the story bears some relationship to the way the world is, or was; if its details can in general be correlated with some actual history, and in this case, it is not. But even if we allow that religion is not something severable from the rest of life and culture, can we go along with Cavanaugh's claim that religion itself is a modern invention?

The moderns would hold that “religion” is a trans-cultural, trans-historical reality, a universal genus of which “Christianity,” “Hinduism,” “Islam” etc., are particular species. The problem is, any attempt to define this genus in such a way as to include what the moderns want to include and to exclude what they wish to exclude turns out to be contradictory. Nationalism is no less a cult than Catholicism. Including a belief in God would exclude many major “religions.” One might attempt to limit religion to the “transcendent,” but ideas such as “the nation” or “liberty” are transcendent ideas, as are all values. Hence, there is no coherent way to distinguish “religious” from “secular” violence. What counts as “religious” or “secular” in any given society always depends on the configuration of power within that society. Indeed, the demarcation of the “religious” sphere is itself an expression of secular power, a political act.

Our concept of “religion” was simply unknown to the ancients. There is no word in Greek, Latin, Egyptian, Aztec, Chinese, or the Indian languages that precisely corresponds to our term. The Latin religio, “re-binding” referred to the rites which bound the social order together, and would include anything from the Japanese tea ceremony, to the rites of hospitality, to the temple rites of the various gods. Augustine writes De Vera Religione, “Of True Religion,” but his subject is not Christianity. Rather it is about worship, which can be given either to the creator or to the creation. But true religion is directed toward the creator alone, and religion is not something contrasted with a secular realm. In the City of God, Augustine uses the term religion to refer to the worship of God, but he finds the term ambiguous, because:

In Latin usage...”religion” is something displayed in human relationships, in the family (in the narrower and wider sense) and between friends; and so the use of the word does not avoid ambiguity when the worship of God is in question. We have no right to affirm with confidence that “religion” is confined to the worship of God, since it seems that this word has been detached from its normal meaning in which it refers to an attitude of respect in relations between a man and his neighbor.

When we turn to a work like Aquinas's Summa Theologica, we would expect it to be concerned with what we call “religion,” but Thomas uses the term only once, as one of the nine virtues that are a part of justice; it is that part which renders to God what is due to God and refers to the rites and practices that offer worship to God. It is not a term that designates a sphere of human activity that stands apart from some other sphere, called the “secular.” Indeed, the terms “religious” and “secular” in the middle ages normally referred to the two orders of clergy, those bound to monastic vows and those which were a part of the diocesan structure. The different “religions” were Benedictine, Cistercian, Dominican, etc.

If there is no analytical severable category of “religion,” then the idea of the “wars of religion” from which we were saved by the secular state can’t be correct either. The neat narrative of a struggle with Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other simply doesn’t work out. The framework of the 30-Year’s War was a struggle between three Catholic monarchies, the French and the two branches of the Hapsburgs. Prof. Cavanaugh gives of 10 pages of examples that run counter to the standard narrative: Catholics allied with Protestants against Catholics, Protestants allied with Catholics against Protestants, Protestants battling Protestants, etc. Obviously, the facts exceed the narrative.

Nor was the rise of the modern state the solution to the problem, it was the cause. Long before the Reformation, the state was expanding its power at the expense of the Church. The taxing of the clergy, the consolidation of ecclesial courts into civil ones, intrusion into the educational system, the replacement of the Church’s charities with the welfare state, and royal control of clerical appointments were some of the signs of the expanding power of the state. The Reformation itself was part of this process, since so many of the “reformers” were more than willing to replace the pope with the prince to enforce a confessional conformity. The Reformation depended on lay power, and gave a justification for that power. The biggest source of power is always property, and the wealth of the Church was a tempting target. In 1524, King Gustav Vasa of Seeden welcomed the Reformation because it allowed him to transfer the tithes from the Church to the crown, and three years later he appropriated all Church property, nine years before Henry VIII did the same. In France, “secularization” meant the transfer of Church property to the crown.

But this confessional conformity required that local privileges and independence to be overturned. The Catholic Monarchs desired absolutism as much as did their Protestant counterparts. Charles V made war against the Protestant princes, with the help of at least some Protestants, in an attempt to turn the Holy Roman Empire into a centralized, sovereign state. In France, the crown attempted to unite the country under un roi, une foi, une loi, which required a war against the nobility. The nationalized churches became part of a clientage system, so much so that Pope Julius III could write to the French King Henry II, “You are more than pope in your kingdoms.”

Having been a cause of the wars, the state and its apologists now proposed the state as a solution. Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, and Rousseau saw a state religion as a necessity. After all, membership in a religion was voluntary, but membership in the state was compulsory, and the state required a degree of conformity. It is not that the new state would be intolerant. On the contrary, it would enforce religious “tolerance,” but only for a “religion” shorn of any civil interests. Religion was to be a private passion—or fantasy—one which would not be allowed to serve as a source of resistance to the totalizing state. Hence, Catholics were excluded from this tolerance, not because of bigotry, but on the quite rational grounds that the Catholic Church could never confine itself to being a “religion” that could be conveniently domesticated and striped of its civil and economic concerns. This church could never fit into the truncated category of religion, and hence could not be compatible with the modern state. The actual trajectory is that first the state was “sacralized” by absorbing the powers of the Church, and then the state was “liberalized” by being tolerant of the “religions,” but only insofar as they present no genuine opposition to the power of the state.

Seen in this light, the so-called “separation of church and state” is a complete sham. As Robert Bellah put it, the state becomes “an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion” that “has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does.” the real issue is where we place what Cavanaugh calls our “lethal loyalties,” which have been transferred to this new religion and its universal mission: the imposition of democracy and market economics on the whole world. None of us would think of killing for the faith, but killing for the state becomes “patriotism.” It was in the trenches and the gas attacks of World War I that Wilfred Owen discovered the price of this new religion in “the old lie, Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori.” And of course, what we die for, we also kill for.

The actual trajectory of history is that the state absorbed the powers of the church, and then “solved” the problems this creates by offering “tolerance” to any church which would become a “religion,” a domesticated, private fantasy that could pose no challenge to secular authority. As Christians, our best response is to accept the role that Hobbes and Locke assigned to us: permanent outsiders, to be viewed with suspicion at best and persecution at worst. This new state, actually just another cult, rationalizes some forms of violence and condemns others. We are horrified at the violence of those whose countries we invade, but “shock and awe” over Baghdad is a regrettable, but rational form of violence in a noble cause; in the end, it will bring free trade, democracy, and better phone service.

The obedience that the state requires is total, and dissent is worse than traitorous, it is unpatriotic. Every combat soldier instinctively recognizes the truth of Randall Jarrett's The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, and tells his own version of the grim joke:

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.


Light in Darkness: Mondragon and the Global Economic Meltdown

By Dr. Race Matthews

The current economic crisis will not have been in vain if the world is reminded that grass roots initiative can triumph even over seemingly overwhelming adversity. In the aftermath of the devastation of the Basque region of Spain in the Spanish Civil War, a young priest, Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, himself only recently released from concentration camp confinement and narrowly spared imminent execution, was sent by his bishop in 1941 to the small steel industry town of Mondragon. It was here over the subsequent decade and a half that he through painstaking pastoral care, grassroots organization, community development, consciousness-raising and technical education laid secure foundations for the great complex of some 260 worker-owned industrial, retail, agricultural, construction, service and support co-operatives and associated entities that the world now knows as the Mondragon Co-operative Corporation.


29th Annual G.K. Chesterton Conference

Friends, join us this August for ChesterTEN!

29th Annual G.K. Chesterton Conference
Mt. St. Mary’s University
Emmitsburg, Maryland
August 5-7, 2010.


Thursday, August 5

4:00 pm Registration begins

6:00 pm Dinner

7 pm Welcome

7:15 pm
Dale Ahlquist (President of the American Chesterton Society)
“In Praise of Jones”


What's Hellman's(tm) Game?

I have to wonder if Hellman's(tm) is trying to cash in on the Local Food trend, and the broader movement towards a rational food system.

See the video here.

I love it - it's a great, thoughtful video, and hits the really big, really important points. But why is a multinational like Unilever(tm) saying it? I mean, they bear personal- well, as personal as a multinational corporation can be- responsibility for the disastrous trends outlined in the advertisement.

Is there anyone else who sees the remarkable irony here? One poster on YouTube(tm) said it well... kinda like the Devil selling air conditioners. My goodness.

pax, caritas, et bonum


Doing God's Work at Goldman

Nothing is quite as boring as reading about a banking crisis, unless it is reading about somebody else's banking crises. It is hard enough to follow the mind-boggling maneuvers of Wall Street and its complex, ponzi-scheme finance. But when it comes to the banks in Athens, most of us say, “It's Greek to me.” But we generally assume that the Greeks deserve what they are getting. Besides being Europeans, a category just a cut above being French, with their welfare states and high taxes, they seemed to be overly generous with their government pensions (often starting at age 50—a mere youth by my standards) and have surrendered the economy to the unions and other nefarious interests. And so we treat them like all the other “lesser breeds without the (financial) law.”


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