This week in The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty has a piece titled “The Conservative Case Against Capitalism.” Relying on Belloc’s An Essay on the Restoration of Property, Dougherty argues that conservatives in days gone by offered a coherent critique of what today we call crony capitalism. Dougherty points out that Belloc (and his buddy Chesterton) give us plenty to admire but there is also plenty that would make many uncomfortable (and rightly so). Here are examples of both:
There’s plenty for the modern reader to choke on in distributist thinking. They were fiercely and unapologetically Catholic, and wanted to protect hearth and home. Belloc defended the gold standard (and was pretty improvident with money himself). They over-romanticized French peasantry and the late Middle Ages generally, and exaggerated Protestantism’s role in the Industrial Revolution. They exaggerated the role of Jews in finance and revolutionary politics, though they did both oppose Hitlerism very early on account of its anti-Semitism and eugenics. Their ideas have also been picked up occasionally by unsavory advocates of “third way”-style fascism.
But the distributists still have something to offer contemporary conservatives, namely the ideas that economic freedom is measured by the way families flourish; that economic freedom means more than just an income with a boss or a government agency at the end of it; that real freedom is the ability to say no to tyrants in both the public and private spheres. They could profit much from Belloc’s insights into how the plutocracy corrupts both representative government and the market. And they could also benefit from grounding their politics, as the early distributists did, not just in theories of liberty or trust in the invisible hand of the market, but in the supreme dignity of man.
h/t Rob G.