Defending Distributism

by Patrick J. Deneen on December 1, 2011 · 15 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Until one of us finds the time to slap down Joe Carter’s attack on distributism (as Rod Dreher called upon us to do), I’ll direct our good readers to a searing post by Thaddeus Kozinski.

One small-owner money quote:

Robert Nisbet, in his prophetic The Quest for Community, makes clear the modern nation-state’s tendency to transform the manifold, pre-and-supra-state, mediating loci of economic and political authority (local community, guild, union, kinship relations, church, university, etc.) into nothing more than private factions with no authority and power in the public sphere. What is left are only individuals and the coercive apparatus of the state, with the in-between, politically, culturally, and economically powerless. The contemporary nation-state of America is a public-interest alliance pretending to be a common-good polis; it forbids genuine, non-alliance polises within its boundaries to have any share in governing authority and autonomy. All polises but the mega-polis-alliance thus are privatized and depoliticized. Only in private “civil society” can citizens pursue real goods and organize their lives around them, but it is always civil society under the state’s rule, which is becoming more and more totalitarian.

{ 15 comments }

avatar JA December 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Is Carter’s tendentious and question-begging hand waving worth refuting? To my eyes, it looks to be something like this:

P1: Utopian politics is bad.

P2: Distibutism is utopian.

P3: Contemporary market capitalism and technocratic statism is not utopian.

C: Distributism is bad and the status quo is good.

How is this even remotely serious?

avatar Carl Eric Scott December 1, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Pat, I read Kozinski’s book. Flawed, tedious at times, wrong on the biggest questions it raised, but impressive. Especially so on Rawls. And in other places, bracingly radical.

But I never would have read his book had I read his November 11 essay “Victims of Mammon” in The Distributist Review first. Skim down into his comments to learn why it is a “fact” that “Israel is an apartheid state,” and so on, and why he thinks it is relevant to bring such a fact into his discussion of how Christians should thank God for OWS because it functions as some theoretical anti-matter to the Evil that is Liberalism. Short of some remarkable repentance and turning, I doubt I will ever read him again.

If there are any MacIntyre scholars out there…I will say that his book really could be useful to you. And perhaps his now-evident trajectory or true-colors could serve as something of a warning to you.

avatar JD Salyer December 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm

JA is utterly correct, but I’ll take up the gauntlet nonetheless, provided I can steal me some time away from giving exams and grading papers.

avatar love the girls December 1, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Thaddeus Kozinski writes : “distributism for being utopian and ideological, but also for being incompatible with Catholic Social Teaching”

Well it certainly is easy to come to that conclusion after reading the articles written recently by distributist writers. And I would add that those writers are likewise highly impractical to the point of silliness where they make Catholic social teaching look like a farce.

The distributist writers appear to mistake book learning, which they excel at, for the kind of knowledge that actually matters down on the street where workmen and economic life actually occurs. Because when ever they venture into the realm of the practical they come off as rookies way out of their league.

What it comes down to is problem solving. Down on the street, that is what is desired, and that is what is paid for. Very simple and very practical. I have a problem, you solve it, and I pay you for it. That is the level distributism needs to address.

How it stands at present is there are a number of equally undesirable entities all claiming to be reasonable when none of them are. With distributism’s biggest problem to solve is how to be relevant in a modern world which is fully disposed against it. Other than everyone is getting screwed by the current system.

avatar MS December 11, 2011 at 1:35 am

‘lovethegirls’ like your blog – think you’re unfair towards distributist theoreticians. Someone has to do it, not many are. They’ve given me a theoretical basis from which to incorporate things like youtube: ‘Bill Mollison, Global Gardener, Urban 21min’. IMO the leisure time the parents in the video gain has the potential to generate all the innovation and commerce you think is put at risk in the distributist model.

I see families wealthier and happier all throughout Mollison’s videos, not financially imperilled. The first video ‘Sub Tropics’ has him establishing his permaculture garden, which afterwards needs no labour and supplies virtually all his requirements.

avatar C R Wiley December 13, 2011 at 8:20 am

“The distributist writers appear to mistake book learning, which they excel at, for the kind of knowledge that actually matters down on the street where workmen and economic life actually occurs. Because when ever they venture into the realm of the practical they come off as rookies way out of their league.

What it comes down to is problem solving. Down on the street, that is what is desired, and that is what is paid for. Very simple and very practical. I have a problem, you solve it, and I pay you for it. That is the level distributism needs to address.”

Just a quick couple of points here in response to, “love the girls” (nice name, btw). Although I’m not an economist — I’ve made a good deal of money. I think I’m a theoretical practitioner — I’m a Pastor, a reader, a distributist, and a real estate investor. I think I know more about economics at a practical level than 99% of the people I run across and I’ve got the experience and net worth to prove it. Furthermore, I have a number of people in my church who work as whilte-collar cogs in the current economy. To a person they want out — they want to work for themselves — they’re distributists. Why don’t they? Because of fear — the debt they owe and the security they seek can only be “realistically” addressed through wage-slavery. How does the current arrangement address that little practical problem? Economics should serve the soul — not the other way around. Man does not live by bread alone — especially Wonderbread. Joe Carter and his ilk basically tell us — “you are your bodily desires — that best way to satisfy them is through finance-captialism and the giantism of economies of scale. If you want your twinkies and your flat-screen tv — shut up and be a cog. Be satisfied with your life in the cubicle. Don’t aspire to independence, don’t take the large view — narrow your life and satisfy your appetites — and especially don’t listen to those silly banjo picking distributists!”

avatar Brandon December 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Count me as one of those “silly banjo picking distributists”!

avatar Rodger December 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Distributism won’t work. There is simply too many people living today for everyone to have a respectable amount of “property.” Trim the population by 3 or 5 billion, and we’ll talk. Also, what makes y’all think that everyone is cut out to be a responsible property owner who works for themselves? As Aristotle said, some people are natural slaves.

avatar love the girls December 14, 2011 at 2:43 am

Mr. Wiley,

I don’t think you understood a word I wrote.

Which of course, could be my fault. But nevertheless.

avatar C R Wiley December 14, 2011 at 6:36 am

Love the girls,

Sorry for the misinterpretation. Reading more closely I can see you are encouraging us to be more practical, which I am all for. Sorry about that. (I suppose my reaction to a quick read of Joe Carter’s comments at FB wrongly bled into my response to your post. I suppose I should take them over there.) Blessings.

avatar Anymouse December 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Practicality would be nice. Unfortunately, that is not what our leaders are selling us.

avatar love the girls December 15, 2011 at 1:26 am

Thank you Mr. Wiley.

I reread my post, and can see that while it’s clear to me, I can see that to others it would clear as mud.

_______________

Anymouse,
That’s an interesting observation. Just as usury is the selling of that which does not exist, so likewise can it be said of our ‘leaders’ that they too sell us what does not exist.

avatar John Haas December 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

So, the idea is to restore “authority and power in the public sphere” to the church (among other entities)?

Could be fun, I suppose. Last time we tried it, it was at least . . . colorful.

But why would anyone call such a proposal “Utopian”? I don’t get it . . .

avatar Anymouse December 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Because they think “You Can’t Turn Back the Clock!” Which as I have mentioned before is basically true.

avatar Anymouse December 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Only that it has no meaning because history goes through stages, and the latter may have little in common with the former.

Witness Sodom vs Israel, and Ancient Israel vs Modern Israel.

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