Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Distributist Bibliography

My friend, Matt, over at Christocentric asked me the other day to provide a Distributist Bibliography. Here goes:

The Outline of Sanity, by G.K. Chesterton: The astute reader will pick up on the propriety of listing this work first. Chesterton, the consummate democrat (with a lower case 'd'), was everywhere and always to be found in favor of anything that benefited the common man. And he definitely viewed the wide distribution of capital (the means of production) as favoring the common man. Chesterton argues that modern industrial capitalism has trended more and more towards the inhumane, and that a correction is necessary if we are to avoid becoming a proletarian people. In so doing, he argues for "proportion." Here's a quote:

Distributism may be a dream; three acres and a cow may be a joke; cows may be fabulous animals; liberty may be a name; private enterprise may be a wild goose chase on which the world can go no further. But as for the people who talk as if property and private enterprise were the principles now in operation--those people are so blind and deaf and dead to all the realities of their own daily existence, that they can be dismissed from the debate.

The Restoration of Property, by Hilaire Belloc. In this work, Belloc presents Industrial Capitalism and Socialism as two halves of the same coin--the former in which the means of production are concentrated in the hands of a capitalist elite; the latter in which the means of production are concentrated in the hands of the State. In both cases, the laborer becomes a proletarian, selling his labor to the capitalist. Belloc's book is much more of a primer on Distributism than Chesterton's. It includes definitions, a short history of the economic development of the West, and concrete policy suggestions that can be enacted to reverse the trends at play.

Beyond Capitalism and Socialism: A New Statement of an Old Ideal, ed. by Tobias Lanz. This work is a modern collection of essays by Chesterbellocians sympathetic to the distributist ideal. An essay or two leave something to be desired, but Part of this Complete Breakfast: G.K. Chesterton's Distributism (Dale Ahlquist), Capitalism and Distributism: Two Systems at War (Thomas Storck), and Economics Begins at Home (Tobias Lanz) are alone worth the price of the book, and more. This book would be a great place to start for anyone interested in exploring Distributism for the first time. A quote from Lanz' essay:

When the Southern Agrarians, the English Distributists and other radical Christians defended the family farm and rural life, they were not simply spewing forth nostalgic pap--they were defending the only economic culture that could truly counter the spiritual and material destructiveness of modernity.

I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Twelve Southerners. Previously introduced at length here.

Who Owns America? A New Declaration of Independence, ed. by Herbert Agar and Allen Tate. This collection of essays brought together the English Distributists and Southern Agrarians in perhaps the most important conservative book published in the 1930s, during the course of the Great Depression. It was a self-conscious "sequel" to I'll Take My Stand published ten years earlier, for which Tate was one of the contributors. The two groups common ground was a "belief that monopoly capitalism is evil and self-destructive, and that it is possible, while preserving private ownership, to build a true democracy in which men would be better off both morally and physically, more likely to attain that inner peace which is the mark of a good life."

Rerum Novarum, by Pope Leo XIII. This encyclical was distributed to all Catholic bishops in 1891, and was subtitled "On Capital and Labor." While I would be loathe to endorse many of the recommendations found herein, its foundational influence on distributism is profound.

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher. Schumacher's text is not self-consciously distributist in nature, but he does write in a similar vein. Schumacher observes that modern capitalism has become destructive and unsustainable and that fundamental reform is necessary to preserve even the advances that we've made thus far. For those of us who are predisposed to dismiss all environmentalists as left-wing nuts, Schumacher is a corrective in that he presents what could be called a conservative environmentalism.

Small is Still Beautiful: Economics as if Families Mattered, by Joseph Pearce. This is the single work on this list that I haven't read (yet!), but it has received enough positive reviews from people whom I respect that it deserves mention.

The list above is a layman's list, since a layman is all I pretend to be on this matter. Others could probably add worthy titles, and I invite you to do so in the comments section. Let me know if you read any of these and become a fellow sympathizer!

The list below I'll call "honorable mentions." They're probably not in the same category as those above, but would appeal to the same audience and extend the thought somewhat:

Revolt from the Heartland: The Struggle for an Authentic Conservatism, by Joseph Scotchie.

The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right, by Joseph Scotchie.

The Servile State, by Hilaire Belloc.

The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek.

The American Way: Family & Community in Shaping of American Identity, by Allan Carlson.

What's Wrong with the World?, by G.K. Chesterton.


Matt said...

Thanks Jason!

I'm currently reading William Cavanaugh's Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. He argues that Adam Smith's and Milton Friedman's definition of freedom as the absence of coercion actually leads to a coercive capitalism. He argues for a return to Augustine's definition of freedom as the ability to choose the Good. Without the Christian understanding of the chief end of man, nothing remains but lust for power.

He compares the Mandarin Co. who outsources jobs to El Salvador to the Mondragon Cooperative Corp in Spain. The former further widens the gap between employer and employee, but the later was founded on Distributist principles so that the employees are owners and the highest paid only makes six times more than the lowest paid. Mondragon is a multi-billion dollar co. who has created a healthy educated community with low crime rates. Which has promoted the human freedom? Asks Cavanaugh. Neither group is coerced but one of them as enabled human flourishing.

Post a Comment