Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does Distributism Hold Up to Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno?

Commemorating the 120th Anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum novarum.
And the 80th Anniversary of Pope Pius XI's Quadragesimo anno.

Reading Suggestions:

- Just to get you into the debate: read the post, "Why are Distributist Leaders Misleading their Aduience about Capitalism?," by Patrick Odou (in*

- Have you ever studied these two encyclicals?  If you haven't, can you think of a better time to do so than now?!  I would recommend you read Quadragesimo anno first, then Rerum novarum.  Reading them in this order might help you avoid some misunderstandings about the latter.

- An excellent summary of traditional Catholic social doctrine is Ryan and Boland's The Principles of Catholic Politics, available on pdf from ITOPL.

* N.B.: I should not have to point out--but a number of complaints force me to do so--that I do not subscribe to everything that is affirmed (and especially the way in which it is affirmed) in  My approach to issues is a bit more careful and reserved.  Nonetheless, I am able to discern some very incisive and interesting points in some of its posts, and I find that much of what they write resonates especially well with a thoroughly traditional Catholic way of looking at things.  I particularly benefitted from this article.


Theodore M. Seeber said...

What I posted on facebook, bears repeating here:

I'm a distributist- and I agree with the article. Let me make it downright clear: Without capitalism, without protection for the right of private property, distributism *cannot exist*.

It's modern crony corporatism that is the enemy, not capitalism itself. Crony corporatism is what happens when the libertarian gets enough money to get a politician elected- he rejects good libertarian values and starts abusing the free market through the use of law and regulation to reduce the number of his own competitors. Distributism fixes this by limiting the number of his competitors and the number of his customers by use of political boundaries and tariffs- that is, protectionism. Which also harms the international trade market, but preserves the local free market.

So I'd have to say this article comes from a position of not understanding that distributism, in essence, REQUIRES capitalism to work.

And in fact, the very reason distributists cannot be socialists- because socialists and communists reject the notion of private property- which is a necessary requirement for distributionism.

Yes, that private property right should not be unlimited- your right to own, say, air, should end where my lungs begin- and as an owner of air, you have a responsibility not to let your profit taking kill anybody and you should be liable for many times the profit earned if it does; but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have the right to own air, it just mans that there are responsibilities connected to that right.

Nick said...


Thank you for your comment, I share your sentiment.

The way I see it, the Tradition In Action article was curbing an abuse/excess on what the broad field of Distributism critiques about "Free Market Capitalism." In reality, Distributism never seeks to eliminate social classes nor seeks to eliminate a 'profit motive'.

Distributism is basically *one* form of Capitalism done right, that is Capitalism according to Church Social Teaching. The problem is, the term "Capitalism" today means something else, particularly the brand known as "free market Capitalism," which is an economic scheme that seeks to be totally divorced from morals and make the sole criteria for "success" and even goal of life the accumulation of as much wealth as possible.

Really, it's all based on an equivocation with the term "Capitalist." Distributists tend to avoid it and use it pejoratively because they are speaking of the 'modern' form. TradInAction is using it in the more classical sense.


Attending the "social question", "the problem between rich and poor" distracts the Church from its main purpose: the communion with God and salvation of souls.

Remenber Jesus words: "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

All economic models assume that everyone is going to do its part but this never happens, we are sinners and temptations force us to do the wrong that we don't want to do and to not do the good we want to do (Paul).

Sin is the responsible of the oppression. This doesn´t mean we need an inquisition, faith can not be imposed.

To Ted: You are assuming that the distributors will be saints but this never happens. Distributors fight all the time to earn the power to dictate in an economy and this power enslaves them to do bad; in power they will need to return favor to contributors and allies.

Nick said...

Hi Francisco,

I would partially agree with you, but I would also say some of your premises are flawed. For example, I would not agree "all economic models assume everyone is going to do their part," because some models are designed to appeal to man's baser motives and some inherently violate natural law (e.g. Socialism which forbids private property). For example, a system which encourages crushing the opposition at all costs, especially by employing slave-wage labor, is not encouraging members to "do their part."

In fact, the key to Catholic Social Teaching is that Government is to be sufficiently informed by Catholicism that it *legally* sets up certain restrictions to protect people precisely because mankind is sinful and needs to have restrictions imposed to help redirect them towards the path to virtue. And in this regard, the Church knows man needs assistance in the temporal realm if he is going to hope to be successful in the spiritual realm (i.e. it's hard for a person in a sweat shop to devote time to prayer and family).

In short, there is nothing "utopian" about Distributism, even if it's promoters come off idealistic. What shocks so many people about Catholic Social Teaching is that they never imagined such a systematic and beautiful framework existed.

Eric said...

I don't see how distributist claims are any more utopian than, say, libertarian claims that deregulation would solve certain problems. To claim that distributism would help certain economic problems is not to claim it would solve all problems for all time. Despite their supposed opposition to distributism, the "organic society" page on TIA is in fact largely in agreement with distributism on such key points as regional economies, the importance of traditional crafts, and much else that is contrary to contemporary capitalism.

I certainly agree with much of what TIA has to say about distributism insofar as distributism sometimes aims at a classless society (though in my experience many distributists are also monarchists, so I can't imagine they really want to do away with class), but I say it is an even more serious case of one-sided quoting when critics of distributism assume that because capitalism as such is not condemned the "free market" as such is beyond criticism. For an example, here is an excellent analysis of how such selective quotations of the Salamancan school have been used by libertarians to equate just price with market price:

Stomachosus said...

Francisco, distributors? Are you familiar at all with distributism? I am afraid the name has mislead you. It is named for Distributive Justice, which, at least in the minds of many, is lacking in many economic theories

Distributors are the people who buy from the source and sell to the stores. Distributists or Distributivists are those who adhere to Distributism, which is inspired by Catholic social teaching, especially on distributive justice (whether it is the only thought that is in line, or the best is another matter).

In anycase Odou's article is a bunch of junk. He makes a very ridiculous strawman and then argues fallaciously against it. For instance, he ignores major parts of Quadragesimo anno on competition. He ignores the Church's calls for associations. He ignores the fact that distributists, actual one that is, do not believe in egalitarianism as such. EF Schumacher was heavily influenced by respect economist, not naive....Pesch is good....hmmmno evidence that is guy ever read any actual economists who talk about distributism. Sure glean a little from the anger filled articles of Chesterton and then refute a system of thought...that sounds wise

At least this is better than his other, calumnious articles on the same subject (he tries to link distributism to sexual perversions). All this to defend what? Our current system (where money is literally created through the sin of usury, and which guarantees unemployment etc even if we were all virtuous?) Or to defend so capitalism as it exists in his mind? And whose, Mises? Novaks? These people never stop to even ask what they mean by capitalism or free market. It ends up being just a vague sentimental ideology. Heck one could defend everything distributism holds and just use the same terms, free market, etc and there would be this kind of attack

Fernando said...

Is the Ryan and Boland book the same as their "Catholic Principles of Politics: The State and the Church"?