What is "Distributism?"

By David M. Deane

Distributism is the political theory/movement initiated by Hilaire
Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, which gained a following during the 1920's
and 1930's. It is historically related to Guild Socialism and Social
Credit, all of which developed out of debates occurring in _The New Age_
in the early 1900's in England. Southern Agrarianism also bears some
resemblence to Distributism (don't ask me what Guild Socialism, Social
Credit, and Southern Agrarianism are; life is too short as it is).

Essentially, Distributism states that the basis of a stable and well
ordered society is the proper distribution of property. Since property
is the basis for all other rights (which are meaningless if one is too
poor and dependant to excerise them), it follows that an orderly and
democratic society must do two things: 1) prevent the excessive
concentration of too much property into too few hands, and 2) prevent
the creation of large groups of propertyless citizens.

What distinguishes Distributism from Socialism and modern Liberalism is
that Distributism rejects the notion of a centralized state power which
will redistribute wealth in the name of "equality", because the result
of such a policy is not the balanced distribution of wealth, but rather
the creation of an all-powerful property owner - the state - upon which
the propertyless masses will necessarilty be dependent on. The result of
such a state - our "welfare state" - would thus be the creation of an
ever larger servile class. Belloc forsaw this very early in his book,
_The Servile State_ (1912).

Distributism was very accurate in its analysis of this problem, but a
bit more vague in its proposed solutions. Since state redistribution was
not the answer, other solutions were proposed. Since small property
ownership was to be encouraged, ways needed to be found to encourage
small shopkeepers and farmers, and to discourage giant chain stores,
department stores, "factory farms", etc. The man who was his own master
at work was more likely to possess the skills needed to make democracy
and civilization work; whereas the wage slave would tend towards the
creation of the conditions needed for the "servile state" (socialism,
welfare state, etc). Various proposals were made: differential taxation,
for example, could encourage small shops and discourage the giant
department stores. Land laws could be taylored to protect those who
worked on, and lived off, their own land, and to discourage speculators.
The idea was to encourage people to find ways to earn their own living
and own their own property, and to discourage large concentrations of
wealth and power. That is, help people to help themselves and not simply
"redistribute" the wealth.

I should also add that Distributism was bound up with Chesterbelloc's
Catholicism, though of course many Distributists were not Catholic.
Belloc had some rather cranky historical theories blaming all the bad
things about modern Europe on the Protestants, whilst claiming that the
Catholic Church was the true promoter of his Distributist ideal, but
this is a sectarian sideshow; the meat of Distributism is as I have
described it above. More recently, Distributism has been taken up by
some white nationalists (mostly in Europe; American nationalists are, as
a rule, not as interested in intellecual issues), including that current
known variously as "Third Way" or "Third Position".