Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Democratic Distributism?

Recently we had someone ask the question, “Is the Just Third Way the antithesis of Democratic Socialism?”  No, we didn’t make that up in order to have a softball pitch to knock out of the stadium.  It was an honest question.
Keynes: "If you don't like what a word means, just change it."
It’s also a tough question to answer, if only because of the modern habit of (as John Maynard Keynes put it) “re-editing the dictionary.”  Apparently (if you believe Keynes) all that is necessary to bully or browbeat others into accepting your paradigm is to have enough coercive power to take what you want.  As in all varieties of moral relativism, might makes right.
So the first difficulty is in trying to figure out how “democratic socialism” is defined . . . and that depends on how good the individual you’re asking is at dodging questions.
Gardner: distributism is socialism.
For example, Martin Gardner claimed that what Chesterton meant by “distributism” is the same thing he meant by “democratic socialism.”  At the same time, Michael Novak declared that what Chesterton meant by “distributism” is the same thing he meant by “democratic capitalism”!
You see where this is going?  If democratic capitalism, democratic socialism, and distributism are all the same thing — two things equal to another thing are equal to each other — then, logically, there is no distinction between them.  These three systems, presumed to be polar opposites, are really the same, so that, ultimately, none of them means anything at all.
Novak: distributism is capitalism.
When we’ve tried to discuss these issues with Chestertonians and distributists, we’ve either gotten the runaround or no response at all.  We don’t do that anymore, and just let them say whatever they want.
That being the case, we got another question from someone else about our response to the first question:
I’m a little confused. I thought Distributism was redistribution of property, in the form of corporate property like stocks or actual property like land, as opposed to government redistribution of cash collected through taxes? I thought the only real argument was how to achieve this. On one side of the spectrum this should only be achieved through a grass roots effort, and on the other side those who argue it should be done through government fiat, and every shade in between.
“Sorry if my question seems simple.  I’m not an economics guy, but I do find Chesterton and Belloc’s arguments in regards to wage slavery and there being very little different between Capitalism and Socialism, along with many of Chestertonians complaints about Capitalism make sense to me.”
If you’re going by what Chesterton and Belloc said, the second questioner is absolutely right, although both would qualify the use of the word “redistribute.”  They wanted land and other capital distributed at a fair price, not simply confiscated and handed out.
Capitalism, socialism, and distributism are all the same thing?
If you’re going by what today’s distributists and Chestertonians are saying, however, fasten your seatbelt; you’re in for a bumpy ride.
The best way to illustrate this is by example.  Take, for instance, the distributist mantra of “three acres and a cow.”  That’s fine.  Nothing wrong there.  Unless, of course, you’re like us and don’t find subsistence farming particularly attractive.
And, yes, you need a bull, too, to freshen the cow to milk, but they never mention that for some reason, but we’ll pass that by for the sake of the argument.
"Uh, yeah, uh, Kingfish. . ."
Part of the problem is that the distributist movement seems to have tried to integrate various socialist theories into Chesterton’s and Belloc’s framework.  (They also tend to take what the Chesterbelloc stated as a preference, and make it mandatory, but that’s another issue.)
Specifically, a number of “name” distributists and Chestertonians have attempted to integrate the theories of the agrarian socialist Henry George into distributism . . . and George’s theories are based on the assumption that no one can own anything except that which he or she made with his or her own labor.  George states this explicitly in his 1879 tome, Progress and Poverty.
George: No property without labor.
For George, that meant only the State could own land, since God presumably granted property in land to the collective, not actual human beings. (That creates another problem in that it demotes God and puts the collective at the center, but that’s another issue.  It’s rather astounding just how many cans of worms the combination of incompatible paradigms opens up.)

Now, logically, if you cannot own anything you did not create by means of your own labor, you can’t own that cow, either.  Thus, under the influence of socialist thought, distributism’s “three acres and a cow” becomes a meaningless slogan.
And that’s just one issue.  We’ll look at another contradiction tomorrow.

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