Thursday, September 1, 2016

Distributism and Population Growth, I: A “Catholic System”?


We’re not sure why, but we keep getting questions about distributism, the rather loose proposal by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc that was developed in the early twentieth century as an alternative to Fabian socialism with its heavy reliance on State control of the economy, of the law, of individual lives, and of anything else it could get its mitts on.  Distributism, by the way, is more or less defined as a system in which most people own capital, with a preference for small, family-owned (meaning members of the family have defined ownership stakes, not that the family unit owns) farms and artisan, worker-owned businesses.  That’s “preference,” by the additional way, not “mandate.”
Neo-Paganism and distributism?  Why not?
Anyway, someone who seems to identify himself as some kind of neo-pagan recently wrote an article about distributism.  Nothing wrong there, of course.  Whether you’re a neo-pagan, paleo-pagan, atheist, agnostic, theist, Jew, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, there is nothing stopping you from being or becoming a distributist.  The basic principles — though not necessarily the applications — of distributism are based on (Chesterton’s and Belloc’s understanding of) Catholic social teaching, and Catholic social teaching is based on the natural law written in the hearts of every human being, not just yourself or the people you like.
The Catholic Church even goes out of its way to explain that it offers no systems other than its own.  Even that is restricted to the Magisterium (the official teaching authority of the Catholic Church), not economic systems, political systems, lunch meat, or type of car to drive.  As Pope John Paul II rather broadly explained,
John Paul II: "The [Catholic] Church has no models to present."
The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another. For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which, as already mentioned, recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good. This teaching also recognizes the legitimacy of workers' efforts to obtain full respect for their dignity and to gain broader areas of participation in the life of industrial enterprises so that, while cooperating with others and under the direction of others, they can in a certain sense ‘work for themselves’ through the exercise of their intelligence and freedom.”  (Centesimus Annus, § 43.)
In other words, if a system conforms materially with the precepts of the natural law, it’s pretty much okay with the Catholic Church . . . but it is not thereby entitled to call itself “a (or, worse, the) Catholic system.”  So is distributism a (or the) Catholic system?  No.  Only the Catholic Church is that.
The Fabian "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" Emblem
So if a neo-pagan (or anyone else) wants to be a distributist, so what?  Come on in, the water’s fine.  A little tepid, perhaps, a trifle stagnant due to the failure to filter out a few non-essentials and contradictory elements that have gotten themselves grafted on (e.g., the whole Fabian socialist “Small is Beautiful” ethos . . . or do we mean mythos?  On consideration — and going to a dictionary — it looks like a little bit of both), but nothing that can’t be corrected with the application of the principles of economic and social justice.
There is a problem, however, and it’s not in the article itself.  It’s in one of the comments the author gave in the, er, comments section . . . a good place to put comments, hence the name.  He declared, we kid you not:
“First, I think a shift to distributist economy would go hand in hand with an enforced reduction in population growth — especially in industrialized nations — but that’s a post for another day.”
On Monday — if you haven’t figured out what’s wrong with the comment by that time or already — we’ll go into why we think this is “bad.”
#30#

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