4.15.2010

The Impracticality of Distributism

Why is distributism overlooked? Because it's nice in theory but in practice requires a centralized administrative state to ensure everybody follows the rules.

Distributists have some serious questions to answer: how do we implement distributism in practice? Where are the historical models we can look to in forming the new distributist economic arrangement? How will distributism change our political institutions, and what kind of political institutions are required to sustain a distributist economy? How does a distributist economy interact with other, free economies? How do the limitations imposed by a distributist economy affect the culture? I'm not the person to answer these questions, and I haven't found anyone who can answer all of them persuasively. Such a great political thinker the world has not yet seen. Maybe he will someday arrive. Until then it is best to spend our energy reforming and perfecting the current political and economic arrangements, because they are what we have now. There is something to maintaining the status quo, especially when the status quo has been conducive to prosperity and peace, two things which are not the historical norm. So people, rightly so, are not concerned with distributism because the implementation of distributism requires a full scale socio-political revolution. No one wants to wage a revolution because things are, on whole and considering the witness of history, pretty good.

The truth of the matter is that no one has laid out a persuasive practical plan for a distributist society, and until this happens distributism will continue to be marginalized by political philosophers everywhere.

Lastly a remark about distributism and what can correctly be called "beyondism". Distributists are often concerned with "getting beyond partisan divides," i.e. getting beyond capitalism and socialism. This is a particular temptation for Catholics, who are correct in thinking that Catholic morality (personal and social) transcends partisanship, but incorrect in thinking that a parallel truth exists for Catholic political thinking. Partisan political divides within and without the Church are not a bad thing. The only way we can expect all Catholics to agree about the best political and economic arrangements is if such truths (a) exist and we can know them and (b) such truths are divinely revealed. We know definitively, as the Church repeatedly teaches in Her social thought, that the specifics of politics and economics are not part of revelation. Therefore we should not expect Catholics to speak with one voice about politics: we should expect a healthy plurality of political and economic opinions grounded in the divinely revealed principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

2 comments:

Gregory J. said...

I agree that we would be hard pressed to find a distributist who has the solutions to your questions, but I don't believe the majority of them are advocating for a complete and immediate restructuring of our economy, and no true distributist would advocate a significant socio-political revolution to achieve their goals.

I believe among distributists there is a general consensus that there are small changes that can be made to promote the culture behind distributive economics. Local economies (even local currencies, like we find in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts), self-sufficiency within the family, and community land trusts (when done in light of Catholic Social Teaching) are all little ways that communities can tap into the principles behind distributism.

Zach said...

Gregory, I like that approach. What makes me nervous is the revolutionaries, or those who espouse principles without ever broaching the subject of how those principles are put into practice.

I like the examples you provide very much, and I would support such efforts even though I myself am not a distributist (strictly speaking)