Thursday, February 16, 2012

Conservatism and Distributism

My church cancelled its Bible study last night because the pastor and his wife were ill, so you’ll have to wait until next week to read my write-up on our Bible study! In the meantime, I have some links for today.

1. Rachel Held Evans has a post, Ask a Christian Conservative, in which conservative Matthew Lee Anderson answers questions about conservatism. Although I am more center-left these days in my political ideology, I appreciated Matthew’s thoughtful responses. They’re unlike what I observe so often in modern American conservatism (and this includes things that I have done): bashing people on the other side, while elevating the heroes on one’s own side; saying that the other side is inconsistent in bashing your side because it has celebrities who do the very same things that it is bashing; questioning people’s patriotism; casually dismissing other points-of-view by calling them “liberal”; etc. Matthew offers an explanation and a defense of conservatism, explains where he differs from Republican orthodoxy, honestly admits that he is grappling with certain political issues, and acknowledges validity in the concerns of people holding other perspectives.

2. Under Rachel’s post, I got into a brief discussion with Catholic Devin Rose about a political ideology known as Distributism. Devin said that he was a Distributist, and that stood out to me because I know another Catholic who is a Distributist. Wikipedia says the following about Distributism:

Distributism (also known as distributionism or distributivism) is a third-way economic philosophy that developed in England in the early 20th century based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno. According to distributists, property ownership is a fundamental right and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (laissez-faire capitalism). Distributism therefore advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership and, according to co-operative economist Race Mathews, maintains that such a system is key to bringing about a just social order.”

That reminds me of a couple of things. First, I think of the Torah’s system of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25, 27). Under that system, every Israelite family would have a plot of land, and, if it sold the land, it would get it back in the Jubilee. This system had private property, as each Israelite family could sit under its own vine and fig tree. But the return of the property every fifty years prevented the vast majority of the land being concentrated into the hands of a few, which could result in such ills as people being subject to oppressive landlords.

Second, I think of what the Pilgrims did in America. At first, they had a system of communism, with the result that some people worked while others did not, since people could benefit from others’ labor. But then the Pilgrims gave each family a plot of land, and productivity increased because people worked hard and could enjoy the fruits of their labor. I’ve heard conservatives appeal to this story to argue that capitalism is better than communism, but they usually fail to notice that the Pilgrims were giving each family a plot of land. That differs from modern American capitalism, in which some people start out with more advantages than others and disparities of wealth are characteristic.

I wonder if Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (a Catholic) is influenced by Distributism. This article by Zachary Roth discusses Santorum’s economic policy. Santorum talks about poverty, expresses concern about America’s eroding manufacturing base, and has said that he supports a tax system that helps the middle-class. Is Santorum’s belief in a strong middle class based on Catholic Distributism?


  1. Four programmes on British TV recently: National Health Service, Supermarket wages, Louis XVI and taxes, USA poor.

    The privileged, powerful and wealthy in each case claim, in effect, that if they don't get to keep their privilege, power and wealth society will collapse.

    NHS: needs more money, which they claim can only come through privatisation. However, why can't it come from more taxes on the wealthy?

    Supermarket wages: the big four Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons say that they can't afford to pay more wages because of competition, and if wages increase there will be fewer employed. (Their employees - 900,000 - can't afford to buy produce at the places they work, but go to cheaper shops such as Lidl and Aldi. Their wages are made up from various state benefits, paid from taxes.)

    Louis XVI apparently tried to make life better for all the French by suggesting the nobility and the clergy paid taxes (only the common people did), but they refused on at least three crucial occasions saying if the status quo of privilege was not maintained there would be anarchy. (Many then lost their heads, of course!)

    USA poor: Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation claims there are no poor. His claims and 'statistics' etc and pronouncements by Mitt Romney of the dangers that the nation faces from the encroachment of the “Entitlement Society" are disputed by eg Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

  2. Thanks for this info, Davey! I'll be mentioning Robert Rector in a post that will come up in March.

    Are you from Great Britain?

  3. That's cool! Have you gotten to see the Margaret Thatcher movie?

  4. No, and I don't intend to. Mrs Thatcher did a lot of damage to England, along with Reagan damaging the USA. And both damaging the world.

    Though Nixon had grave faults, he was at least a politician. Now it's 'send in the clowns'.

    More from British media:
    Tesco are taking on unemployed people on benefits to stack shelves, with the collusion of the Government, claiming it gives them work experience. Why can't they give them proper pay, they are doing a full job and the work is simple so there is no training element? They say they can't afford it. And the unemployed ought to be grateful for the marvellous opportunity they are being given.

  5. Hi James!

    I am a newbie Distributist, so I have a lot to learn. I don't know whether Santorum would be openly advocating distributism or be that informed about it.

    God bless,

  6. Thanks for commenting, Devin! I just read some of the discussion you were having on Rachel's blog about Abby Johnson. I wrote a post about her, which will be appearing in late March. The wikipedia article about her talks about why her story about how she became pro-life is disputed. Ultimately, though, I don't think that matters as much as some think. Even if she did not see an unborn baby by ultrasound when she was about to perform an abortion, and then realized that the unborn baby was the same age as her own child in her womb, it's still problematic that an unborn baby is considered a child in one context, and a disposable mass in another.


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