As noted previously on this blog, the differences with neo-distributism on specifics like money, credit, banking, finance, size of enterprises, and the act of social justice are far too numerous to list. We should note, however, that the concept of distributive justice, understandably vague in classic distributism due to the confusion with social justice and charity, is completely transformed in neo-distributism.
In neo-distributism, “distributive justice” is redefined as distribution on the basis of need, a redefinition that completely overturns the Aristotelian-Thomist concept of distributive justice. There appears to be no substantive difference in neo-distributism between social justice, distributive justice, or forced charity.
This results in ceding overwhelming power to the State. This is necessary due to the fact that in the neo-distributist view, the State is responsible not for the common good properly defined, but the common good redefined as the aggregate of individual goods.
This makes the State responsible for providing for everyone’s individual wants and needs, not for maintaining the institutional environment within which people meet their own needs through their own efforts. Productive people are thereby forced to work for the benefit of the unproductive. As Karl Marx described this arrangement in his 1875 “Critique of the Gotha Program,” the principle governing economic life is summarized as “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Since this abolishes private property in both labor and capital, it is contrary to nature. Being contrary to nature, it is contrary to common sense, and thus to both classic distributism and the Just Third Way.
The major difference, however, between the Just Third Way and classic distributism on the one hand, and neo-distributism on the other, is on a fundamental principle of reality.
The Just Third Way is based on the Aristotelian-Thomist understanding of the natural law. That is, the natural law is based on what can be observed about human nature. The natural law is therefore discernible by “human reason by its own natural force and light.” (Humani Generis, § 2.) Right/good is what reason determines is consistent with human nature. Wrong/evil is what reason determines is not consistent with human nature. The fundamental precept of the law — lex ratio (“law is reason”) not lex voluntas (“law is will”) — is therefore that good is to be done, evil avoided.
Based on the fact that neo-distributists always cite some authority for their understanding of what is right and wrong (e.g., the pope, Gandhi, Karl Marx, Henry George, Arthur Penty, E. F. Schumacher, Keynes, Chesterton, Aquinas, Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker) as proof of their claims, instead of as evidence in support of their reasoning, it is fair to conclude that neo-distributism is based on faith/will, not reason/intellect, that is, on opinion (which may or may not be true), not knowledge (which is always true). (Cf. Mortimer Adler, “Knowledge and Opinion,” Ten Philosophical Mistakes. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985, 83-107.)
Conclusions based on sound reasoning are manifestly true even given human imperfection (humanity is infinitely perfectible, whereas God is infinitely perfect), and even though we exercise our reason and see the truth “as through a glass in a dark manner.” (1 Cor. 13:12) If something is clearly contrary to human reason, it is necessarily contrary to human nature, and is evil, or (at least) an incorrect or flawed idea of the good. All things strive for the good, but that doesn't mean that all things are correct in their understanding of the good. Reason must be good reason; it cannot be based on faith in anything.
Thus, there is no common ground between the Just Third Way and neo-distributism as there is with classic distributism. The Just Third Way and classic distributism share a common basis in reason, which applies to that which is manifestly true. Neo-distributism is based on faith, which applies to that which is not manifestly true.
This, of course, does not mean that faith and reason contradict each other. That would be impossible. The positive statement of the first principle of reason (the principle of identity) is, that which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true. Faith and reason complement and fulfill each other. They do not, nor could they ever, contradict each other.
Thus, the Just Third Way and classic distributism differ from neo-distributism not merely on certain specifics, such as the meaning of justice, charity, and private property, but on fundamental principles. Not surprisingly, Chesterton explained the problem best. In Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox (1933), Chesterton related Aquinas’s anger at being confronted with similar illogic:
“[I]n his last battle and for the first time, [Aquinas] fought as with a battle-axe. There is a ring in the words altogether beyond the almost impersonal patience he maintained in debate with so many enemies. ‘Behold our refutation of the error. It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves. If then anyone there be who, boastfully taking pride in his supposed wisdom, wishes to challenge what we have written, let him not do it in some corner nor before children who are powerless to decide on such difficult matters. Let him reply openly if he dare. He shall find me there confronting him, and not only my negligible self, but many another whose study is truth. We shall do battle with his errors or bring a cure to his ignorance.’” (Chesterton, The Dumb Ox, op. cit., 94. Cf. Aquinas, De Unitate Intellectus Contra Averroistas, § 124.)
Why such outrage? As Chesterton went on,
“If there is one phrase that stands before history as typical of Thomas Aquinas, it is that phrase about his own argument: ‘It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.’ Would that all Orthodox doctors in deliberation were as reasonable as Aquinas in anger! Would that all Christian apologists would remember that maxim; and write it up in large letters on the wall, before they nail any theses there. At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands, what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand. It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else’s principles, but not on his own. After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue ‘on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.’” (Chesterton, The Dumb Ox, op. cit., 95-96.)
Nowhere does this appear to be more evident than in the neo-distributist understanding of property and justice, especially distributive justice.
Thus, the lack of understanding our friend “Buck” finds in Capital Homesteading may not be due to any problem on his part, or even on the part of CESJ, but is the result of speaking different “languages” explaining concepts outside the frame of reference “Buck” employs.