Distributist Aims and Policies; 4x4

I've tried to base my understanding of Distributism not on the essentially humanist but non-economic Chesterbelloc, but rather on what people have written of it over the years and my own elaborations of Distributism's logic. Here, with thanks to John Medaille and Anthony Clooney, is a list of things before I move on. I make no concessions to the absurd worry that I have just had that I'm more a blend of Glenn Beck, Ignatius Donnelly, and John Kennedy Toole than I wish to be.

Taking its cue from Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, as reinforced by Pope John Paul II's personalism, Distributists think that modernity placed too much emphasis on aspects of people--class, race, sex, ideas--and not on the dignity of people as a whole. This meant that the human person, as defined by themselves and their relationships to others, was lost, and that society became heartless.

Distributists look to a vaguely-elaborated but clearly defined idea of the common good, which they think should be at the centre of policy in such a way that duties and rights are seen as aspects of public citizenship.


The test of a society is how it treats work and the poor; society and the government should be small, and should exist to serve, and to allow freedom through as widespread and secure a sphere of property ownership and liberty as possible. This means that distributists are neither socialists nor oligopoly capitalists, but that they also probably lack appeal to lower middle-class Poujadistes, Palinites, and Libertarians.


An ethic of solidarity and stewardship of the environment pervades distributist thought. The idea recognises that people are fallen and can be selfish, and is not dewy eyed, but proposes that people can create a sustainable and civilised public space, which obviously implies an humanist and critical, or initially canonical, education in how to think and to behave. It doesn't imply wasting money on mad carbomythic credit schemes to create new derivative markets for usurers. Indeed, giving people something to believe in again them may make them less prone to merchants of environmental or cultural doom.

What does this mean in practice?

Well, there are bodies of thought. Distributism is associated with the remarkable quarter century of modernity between the 1890s and the great war, but in truth one could quote New York Bishops from the 1840s, Fascists like Dolfuss in Austria, or the vicious but insightful Strassers (if one were being very unkind). Before you get the wrong idea, 'Good' distributists like some of the Christian Democrats could also be pleaded in evidence to make the point, and well, Hitler was a militarist Keynesian if he bothered about economics at all. Ideas should be distinguished from the crimes of those who held them, insofar as it is possible.

I think that four things that distributists could agree on would be;

1) The gradual elimination of income tax as something that encourages a large and unproductive state, and its replacement with a land tax that displaced inheritance taxes, stamp duties, and the like. Distributists would also probably favour strong anti-monopoly legislation when it came to companies, but would ease rules when it came to mutal banks, credit unions, cooperatives, and family businesses that cross-owned suppliers and funders, as in far eastern Chaebol and Keiretsu.

2) The use of something analogous to civil unions to create easy family trusts that would hold property intact within families and which would allow for tax-free investment in child accounts and education funds.

3) The representation of workers on the board, not on the basis of labour value added but rather as stakeholders within companies, just as citizens would become stakeholders again in a state that did a few things--health insurance, defence, a basic provision of education, and the regulation of public goods--well, rather than a lot of things badly.

4) Work being better than dependence, a just wage should be a floor, and benefits should be, insofar as they exist, tied to work. If tax allowances were expanded as part of a drive to remove state dependence on income taxes, simplicity and subsidiarity would allow the elimination of complex tax credits and welfare payments to all but the neediest of citizens, and people could choose mutual and local organisations, backed by local bonds, over government handouts.

Four and Four. I've been reading a great deal on the challenge that a revamped distributism would pose to liberalism, which has taken over the political sphere now that socialism has exploded and gone nuts, and over the coming week I want to work out what I think about it.


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