Tuesday, March 28, 2017

4. Is Distributism a Parody of Christianity?


As we conclude this brief series examining “The ABC’s of Catholic Economics,” it becomes evident why Chesterton was so adamant that, while the principles of science, politics, and religion must be compatible with each other and consistent with reality, they cannot be combined or mixed without disaster.
All truth is true, but that doesn’t mean that, e.g., the truth that 2 + 2 = 4 is the same truth as mixing yellow and blue gives you green.  There is no contradiction between the two truths, and each is equally true . . . but they aren’t the same truth, and the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 does not disprove the fact that mixing yellow and blue gives you green.  Neither does it mean that 2 + 2 = green, or mixing yellow and blue gives you four.
Yet people who insist on mixing science and religion often end up making statements and drawing conclusions that are equally nonsensical — which is why Chesterton reminded people that you can’t prove the truths or science by those of religion, or vice versa, and the only sure guarantee against making this fundamental mistake is to keep first principles firmly in mind at all times.
So to reiterate and conclude our discussion of “The ABC’s of Catholic Economics” we restate the definition of distributism and the first principle of Catholic social doctrine:
Distributism: a loose theory of socio-economics based on the natural law assumption that it is better to be an owner than not to own, with a preference for small, family owned farms and artisan businesses and enterprises.  When enterprises must be large, workers should own the company through equity shares, presumably that carry the vote and pay dividends.
First Principle of Catholic Social Doctrine: Everything in human society, including any program of social betterment, must be subject to the precepts of the natural law.
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Keeping in mind that definition and that principle, we can conclude our commentary and answer the question whether distributism is a parody of Christianity:
R is for Rerum Novarum, the encyclical issued on May 15, 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. Rerum sought to address the shocking injustices of modernity by condemning usury, finance capitalism, and socialism. Rerum emphasized the dignity of labor and the rights and responsibilities of workers.
Commentary:
No.  As explained above, Rerum Novarum addressed the problems created by liberalism and socialism, specifically the “new things” of New Christianity and Neo-Catholicism that subordinate all things, including the natural law, to whatever goal is sought (usually the betterment of human society; “the end justifies the means”).  The response to all of these is widespread capital ownership as the primary means of empowering ordinary people to resist the intrusion of the State.
S is for Sheen, Fulton, the man known to so many as “America’s Bishop.” Archbishop Sheen inspired many to convert to the Catholic faith, and provided decades of books and lectures on the evils of atheism, socialism, and usury.
 Commentary:
No.  While what is said is true, it gives the wrong impression of Sheen’s work and primary focus throughout his career: taking Collective Man out of the spotlight and putting God back at the center.  This was the point of his first two books, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925) and Religion Without God (1928) and provided a constant theme in all his work.  By subordinating everything, including the natural law, to the demand for social betterment, liberals and socialists have turned the order of things on its head.  Collective Man, not God, is at the center.
T is for Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R. Tolkien), the famed author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Although Tolkien never understood his works to be allegories of the Gospels, nevertheless his close friendship with C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and other Distributist authors inspired Tolkien’s vision of the ideal Distributist community: the Shire.
 Commentary:
This is opinion.  No comment.
U is for Unity, a key teaching of the Church. For there to be peace, there must exist a state of harmony and shared purpose between clans, classes, and communities. The family (the clan) is the first and most important of these, then the economic groups (the classes), and then the political organization (the communities).
 Commentary:
No.  This appears to be a distorted version of solidarity, the internalization of the principles that define a group as that particular group.  Solidarity is a characteristic of groups per se.  As such, it may be virtuous, or it may not.  Nazis and street gangs, for example, have a high degree of solidarity.  As stated here, there is no distinction between voluntary unity and enforced unity.  If unity is taken as a virtue or principle in and of itself, then the temptation is to enforce it coercively, for anyone who does not appear to be going along with the group is, ipso facto, a criminal, a dissenter, or a social deviant.  This justifies shunning, deportation, imprisonment, or even — taken to the extreme — death camps to rid society of undesirables, i.e., anyone who does not go along with the program.  This is precisely what happened in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, when the laws were made deliberately vague in order to give judges wide discretion in cases involving anti-social behavior or attitudes contrary to the interests of the State.  Msgr. John A. Ryan advocated rounding up the unemployed and incarcerating them in work camps.
V is for Violence, condemned by the Church and the Distributists under all but the most exacting circumstances (Just War). Violence is endemic to the State, especially the modern total war State, which is, in part, why many of the Distributists preferred monarchy or anarchy as the best form of government.
Commentary:
Ralph Barton Perry
No.  This is the a posteriori logical fallacy.  The statement, “Violence is endemic to the State, especially the modern total war State,” is presented as an empirical fact, and empirical facts cannot be known by reason alone; they are practical, not speculative, knowledge.  As an additional problem, the claim that violence is endemic to the State is opinion, not knowledge, and therefore non-factual.  The claim boils down to an assertion of a “non-factual fact,” what Ralph Barton Perry called a “hypothetical fact.”  Someone may deeply and sincerely believe that the State is inherently violent, but it is not proved.  This invalidates the argument even if the claim were not already a logical fallacy.  Finally, while it is permissible to prefer monarchy (although how or why monarchy, a system of State governance, is somehow separated from other forms of the State is not clear), at least as long as the monarchy — the term means “rule of one” — respects human dignity, to call anarchy a “form of government” is absurd.  Anarchy, which the Catholic Church condemns, is not a form of government, but an absence of government.
W is for Worker, Catholic, the movement and newspaper founded on Distributist principles by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933.
Commentary:
Peter Maurin
No.  If we accept that distributism is compatible with Catholic social doctrine, the first and foremost distributist principle is that all things, including programs of social betterment, must be subject to the natural law.  The first and foremost principle of the Catholic Worker movement is that all things, including the natural law, must be subject to the demand for social betterment.
X is for Xavier, Francis.  Although known more as a gifted missionary, Saint Francis Xavier was also a brilliant organizer of fledgling Christian communities, and a missionary who understood the importance of local clergy and leaders providing for both the physical and spiritual needs of their flock.
 Commentary:
This looks like something thrown in just to have the letter X represented.  In light of the fact that K and L were left out, perhaps X should have been omitted as well.
Y is for Young Men’s Institute, an example of the kind of fraternal benefit organizations that were once common amongst Catholic communities. Distributism views such organizations as key to community stability and family security.
 Commentary:
See the comment for the letter X, above.
Z is for Zita’s Home for Friendless Women, a shelter for women rejected by society. Mother Zita (Emily O’Keefe, an Irish immigrant to New York) founded the home and insisted that a Sister sleep by the door so that women seeking shelter could be admitted at any hour of the day or night.  The last of their nuns and some former residents now live in St. Zita's Villa, a home for elderly women, in Monsey, N.Y.
 Commentary:
See the comment for the letter X, above.
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Chesterton, Baring, and Belloc
Having gone through “The ABCs of Catholic Economics,” it becomes evident that the popular impression of distributism presented in the article has very little, if anything, to do with what Chesterton and Belloc were saying, or that the Catholic Church teaches.  Private property, ownership, sovereignty of the human person under God — these key principles and concepts are completely ignored in what appeared to be an effort to make science, even a social science, conform to, instead of being guided by, supernatural instead of natural principles.
That being the case, the only possible response to the question, “Is Distributism a Parody of Christianity?” is “yes and no.”
Frankly, Chesterton’s and Belloc’s system was not, in fact, a system at all, but a vague vision.  Chesterton avoided giving any specifics, and contented himself with describing the benefits of a society characterized by small ownership.  Belloc attempted to present a game plan, but it was based on incorrect assumptions — most notably the “slavery of savings” — that precluded his effort from being anything other than a frustrating exercise.
Economics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.  Inevitably, since neither Chesterton nor Belloc were able to give any specifics that had a chance of working, people filled in the blanks for themselves — and what they filled in the blanks with was, in many cases, Fabian socialism . . . which did have a program and that had already demonstrated it was politically feasible.  It is an almost an accident of history that the program into which many distributists have slid so easily is precisely the program distributism was designed and intended to counter.  Yet to this day few distributists are aware that some of the people they believe to be fellow distributists, such as R.H. Tawney and E.F. Schumacher, were members of the Fabian Society.

Ironically, twenty-two years after Chesterton’s death, and a short time after that of Belloc, Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler published The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) and The New Capitalists (1961) presenting a financially and politically feasible program of expanded capital ownership.  When the proposal was partly adopted in 1973 with the passage of the initial enabling legislation for the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) as the first step in “the Expanded Ownership Revolution,” it immediately proved its worth by turning millions of workers in thousands of companies into part owners without the use of the workers’ savings or reductions in pay or benefits.
What CESJ today calls “the Just Third Way” was, in fact, partly an answer to the problem of distributism — explicitly so.  In his Preface to The Capitalist Manifesto, Adler specifically mentioned Belloc as someone who had raised the issue of lack of capital ownership.  Why not mention Chesterton?  Because Chesterton never got into how to bring about distributism, just how nice it would be.  Belloc did address the “how” — inadequately — and Kelso and Alder presented him with a completed answer in The New Capitalists, which showed how to use the commercial and central banking system to finance expanded capital ownership without redistribution.
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