My first post about Distributism

Self-portrait of G. K. Chesterton based on the distributist slogan "Three acres and a cow". Via Wikipedia

Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.

G. K. Chesterton

There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal Socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the State, and the present Capitalist system, in which the State is run by the big businesses.

G. K. Chesterton

The only difference between a Socialist state and a Capitalist state is whether power is concentrated in a few private or a few bureaucratic hands.

The Distributist Review

Self-portrait of G. K. Chesterton based on the distributist slogan “Three acres and a cow”. Via Wikipedia

You are probably, like me, frustrated at the ways in which our political, social, and economic discourse has been forced into a series of false dichotomies: socialism or capitalism, ultra-liberality or ultra-conservatism, ever growing government bureaucracy or ever growing big businesses, social justice or orthodox religion/traditional morality, and so forth. We do our best to navigate the polarizing dialogue of modern society, but the limited options we are presented with always force us to choose a mixed bag, considered to be the lesser of two evils. But even if in practice we must sometimes settle for such tough choices among limited options in the short term, we shouldn’t let these circumstances limit the ideal we work towards.

Many who lean liberal/socialist/big-government/etc simply do so out of a sincere concern for social justice and in reaction to the very real ills (whether inherent or circumstantial) of a laissez-faire capitalism as we know it. On the other hand many, like myself, have leaned conservative/capitalist/libertarian/etc out of a concern for freedom and in reaction to the very real ills of socialism/communism. Both are afraid of the other side, yet neither I suspect, were they truly honest and made to face the facts, is perhaps perfectly comfortable with their own.

If you want to breathe some fresh air outside today’s stale political conversation, consider taking a look at Distributism, particularly the wise writings of the great generalist G.K. Chesterton.

Distributism is a rich and yet practical economic philosophy based firmly on Catholic social teaching and the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. Most famously popularized by G.K. Chesterton in the late 19th and early 20th century, Distributist thought emphasizes the importance of widespread ownership – “three acres and a cow”, as the slogan goes -, strong local economies, small family and worker-owned businesses, and the Catholic social principles of Subsidiarity – things should be handled on the lowest level possible (individual, family, village, state, etc) – and Solidarity – concern for the common good (Click here for a longer explanation).

Stratford Caldecott offers this great summary in an article over at The Distributist Review:

“I take Distributism to be the view that private property should be widely distributed in society, rather than concentrated in a few hands, in order to enable more or even most people to be able to take responsibility for their own families by means of productive and dignified work. This can be seen as a practical expression or implication of the Catholic social doctrines of subsidiarity in solidarity, of the common good, and of the family as the best foundation of a healthy civil society.

Distributism is not socialism. It does not suppose that property should be stolen from the rich and given to the poor, or appropriated by the state or by a party representing the people, but rather that legislation should make it easier for the small property-owner, landowner, tradesman, and shopkeeper to survive, and harder for the tycoon to accumulate so much wealth and power that the former is forced to become a mere employee of the latter, or effectively a wage-slave.” – A Distributist Education

As I have begun to poke around amongst Distributist thinking and thinkers, I am finding  many natural connections with other topics I am already excited about – sustainable agriculture, homesteading, small business, real/traditional food and production, a rightly ordered concern for the environment, the important of addressing poverty on the local level, and the attempt to more authentically live out the Gospel calls to poverty, simplicity, and detachment.

As I continue to learn, I hope to write much more about Distributism and the ways in which my house and I are doing our best to serve God and neighbor. For now though, a few quotes, a bit of my own musing, one long citation, a couple appeals to authority, and finally a list of further reading (below) will have to do.

Thanks for reading and I hope the resources below inspire and challenge you further.

Here are the two books I am currently reading on the subject:

Here is a nice FAQ:

Here are 102 great action steps:

Rerum Novarum: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor

Here is a neat flyer on Distributism:


3 thoughts on “My first post about Distributism

  1. Kristin K

    Great post, JonMarc! I really like how you pointed out that without Distributism we are forced to choose between false dichotomies: “socialism or capitalism, ultra-liberality or ultra-conservatism, ever growing government bureaucracy or ever growing big businesses, social justice or orthodox religion/traditional morality, and so forth.”

    Looking forward to hearing more about how you and Teresa live out Distributism. It’s a journey for Nicholas and me as well!

  2. Nicholas Carrigg

    Excellent introductory post into Distributism, JohnMarc. I actually haven’t read either of those two books, but I’ll definitely now add them to the list. Thank you for posting this, and I look forward to the follow-ups!

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