What is Distributism?

Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.

–G.K. Chesterton, Commonwealth, 10-12-32

Distributism is an economic theory, proposed as an alternative to capitalism and socialism, that was promoted by early 20th century thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, and Fr. Vincent McNabb. But it is not confined to one century. Its roots lie back in medieval agrarian society and papal encyclicals such as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. Based upon the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, the cornerstone of distributism is the belief that the means of the production of goods and wealth should be as widely distributed as possible, down to the level of individual families. In short, the average person ceases to be a mere consumer and begins to be a producer. Hence the famous distributist battle-cry that “three acres and a cow” should be had by every family. Distributism is tied to many ideas and concepts (local economics, self-sufficiency, community, rural life and so on, as our blog’s subtitle suggests) which we intend to explore on this blog, but its ultimate spirit is that the best economic system is one which exists for the sake of people, rather than one where people exist merely for the sake of the system. It is about a world where all men are owners and producers and families—not factories—are the smallest units of production. The home-based business, the family farm, and true craftsmanship take the place of megalith corporations, sprawling agribusiness, and cheap manufacturing. That, at least, is the distributist ideal.

Another tenant of the theory is the belief that man is happiest and healthiest when he lives close to the rhythms of nature and the rhythms of family life. Thus the rejection of large cities which force us to live in the artificial man-made rhythms of commerce and traffic and TV and electric lights, and a preference for small towns and agrarian communities which are more in touch with the world as it is. To help achieve this, distributists call for a redistribution of land, a re-settling of the country, where we move from 98% of the population living in cities to 98% of the population living on small acreages.

But—you ask—isn’t all of this terribly archaic, terribly fanciful and naïve? Firstly, we answer, nothing that is true is naïve. And if distributism is truly a better economic and social model than capitalism and socialism, then it cannot rightly be called naïve. But is it realistic? That is a different question. It is certainly difficult to imagine this country ever converting to the distributist system. But that doesn’t mean that distributist principles cannot be adopted on a personal and familial—or even communal—level in order to try to enrich our lives and draw closer to a healthier way of living. That’s what this blog is about. And if enough people began to live this life, who knows? Perhaps things could change. But for the moment, we are concerned with trying to help individual families to benefit from this new (or old, depending on how you think of it) distributist perspective which, ultimately, is a perspective on more than merely economics, but a perspective on culture and family and society itself.

 The true destination of every journey is home. That is the main idea behind Distributism. The Distributist ideal is that the home is the most important place in the world. Every man should have his own piece of property, a place to build his own home, to raise his family, to do all the important things from birth to death: eating, singing, celebrating, reading, writing, arguing, story-telling, laughing, crying, praying…Chesterton’s Distributist ideal not only called for mothers to stay at home, it called for fathers to stay at home as well. The home based business, the idea of self-sufficiency would not only make for stronger, healthier families, but a stronger, healthier society.

 –Dale Alqhuist, Part of This Complete Breakfast: G.K. Chesterton’s Distributism

We hope herein to explore not only theories and concepts, but practical applications of these theories in our daily lives which, in the words of Alqhuist, will be means of building stronger, healthier families and communities.

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