Distributism: An Anti-Modern Ideology for the Modern World

Earlier this week, I took part in a conversation about global economics and politics.  I found myself so far outside of the assumptions of the other participants that we had difficulty communicating.  Although the other people were critical of capitalism and especially neoliberalism, they allowed themselves to get or even accept getting swept along by the dictates of spreading and interconnecting markets – not that markets are a real thing actually out there in the world.  I resisted this, while also rejecting communism, fascism, and socialisms of various sorts.

The closest modern ideology I can identify with is Distributism.  Traditionalist English Catholics developed Distributism in the inter-war period as one of the “third way” ideologies that sought a path between capitalism and communism.  They emphasized independence through the ownership of your own land or the tools of your trade.  They attempt to renew village based life centered around the local church.  While not seeking to reconstruct feudalism, with its serfdom and poverty, they were inspired by Medieval ideals.

One part of Distributism that awes me is its emphasis on the Medieval ideal (one surely not always applied) of doing all labor for the glorification of God.  Imagine how all production would be transformed today if we held to this ideal?  How could you rob or destroy someone’s property, callously pollute the Schuylkill River, or ruin people’s water with fracking if you did your work for the glorification of God?

I am suspect of much of environmentalism and other programs for reform because they do not grapple with the origins of problems in modern metaphysical assumptions.  These metaphysical assumptions about the nature of God, the cosmos, man, etc. limit and shape ideological possibilities.  Communism and capitalism, as historical ideologies, are kindred spirits in their assumption of a mechanical cosmos in which reason is held as the supreme way of knowing.  Both ideologies push us towards abstract societies of atomized individuals, in which the relationships between our production, consumption, and waste are made invisible and it becomes easy to destroy cultural distinctions and despoil the land.

One of the things I value and respect about Distributism is that, unlike the other modern ideologies (Liberalism, Communism, and Fascism as the core three), it is built upon a new metaphysics.  This, I believe, gives it a chance of actually solving modern problems.  I am not Catholic – I’m not even Christian – but I find much affinity with Distributism.  I see no reason why Hindus, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, and pagans could not all throw their lot with this.

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