A dichotomy has been created some time ago where one’s political philosophy either aligns with capitalist or the socialist economic principles. There has certainly been a middle ground but it has not been discussed frequently. If you were to check any mainstream media outlet, or even go through university reading only from the required reading lists, one most likely will not have been directed to learning about distributism.
Common objections often spring automatically from the name alone, “Distributism”. Questions naturally come to mind, what exactly would you want to distribute? people’s hard earned money and property? No, thanks. However, if I were to say that we should distribute, say, Bill Gates’ farmland I’m fairly certain many people’s attitude would change. But it’s not about that either (those who had amassed an ungodly amount of wealth will suffer some loss, what can I say? You win some, and then you win some more), distributism is not the redistribution of wealth but rather it focuses upon the means of production. It stems from the idea that everyone has a right to land, and everyone has a right to control their own means of production. It becomes at once obvious in contrast that this is not the case in capitalism; “The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital.” (Chesterton, Outline of Sanity, p7) especially in a time where capitalism has morphed into a predatory monstrosity under the name of corporate lobbying power, defying the laws of countries and defiling the most sacred of resources. Time. The abhorrent 9 to 5 ‘job’ will cause the soul of the creative and the imaginative to whither, not to mention the plethora of health conditions that it could cause, from poor eyesight, anxiety induced from blue lights, and obesity that could potentially arise from the lack of physical activity.
As for the obvious alternative, socialism, G. K. Chesterton, a key thinker to the idea of distributism has this to say: “Socialism is a system which makes the corporate unity of society responsible for all its economic processes, or all those affecting life and essential living. If anything important is sold, the Government has sold it; if anything important is given, the government has given it; if anything important is even tolerated, the government is responsible for tolerating it. This is the very reverse of anarchy; it is an extreme enthusiasm for authority” (Cheterton, P8) you are again a slave to your superiors. Living on the government’s dime makes you its property, to an extent of course, for why would anyone invest in a failed project? Be it learned helplessness or a sense of dependency that emanates from this Pavlovian conditioning, the government rings its bell and we come running, naturally and subconsciously you will develop some form indebtedness or another for the hand that feeds, and the obvious question emerges “why shouldn’t I feed myself?” and the gob smacking and sudden answer is you cannot, and you will not. Man is a creature of habit and we have been habitually programmed to wage slavery and obedience, unless you want to subject yourself to the most extreme isolation and hardship that emerges from trekking in unknown territories for the sake of finding solace and salvation in nature, why not do it with a few people who could give you a helping hand, and in return you could as well aid them. Think Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” but on a communal level.
Karl Popper spoke about this in a sense that he had spoken about pluralism before. In his Lecture “three worlds” he splits the world into three categories, the first being the physical, the second is the mental, the third is the world of abstraction and imagination, in the third we find religions, myths, languages…etc. “of the products of the human mind, such as languages; tales and stories and religious myths; scientific conjectures or theories, and mathematical constructions; songs and symphonies; paintings and sculptures.” (Popper, Three Worlds, P4) and he further explains that the third is related to the first as thoughts are embodied in the real world. The people around us in any given town are more likely to think the way we think for they are subjected to the same sensory stimulus, who figuratively and literally speak your own language. It is worthy of our time to ponder upon such a thought, think of how better things could be if problems were solved locally. Think of how much easier it is to love your neighbor when there are not too many neighbors to love. And with subsidiarity of villages solving any given issue on a small scale, things will be much easier to contain on a larger scale. Their end goals for the wellbeing of their surrounding will be more likely closer to ours, even if their political ideals differ significantly they would still think about the people around them more than a multibillion dollar corporation or a dictator peering its ugly head into the picture would.
Distributism, if achievable, cannot be achieved from a governmental level but rather from a localist level, every local area should prove its ability of self-governance and in turn inspire other towns to be responsible for its own people. The people, in turn should be responsible for their own towns, and upon seeing this responsibility, a sense of genuine involvement arises for the person, like every other person, matters. Unlike the laissez-faire, every man for himself, dog eat dog world that is prevalent in capitalism and communism where you are forced to proclaim your love and loyalty for your higher ups in order to be able to put food on the table, higher ups who feign interest in you, higher ups who think you expendable, meanwhile in a localist setting, every person counts and is, for better or for worse, irreplaceable.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his “Principia Politica” creates the concept of “Fractal Localism” in which we “look at politics with the same eyes as when we examine highly dimensional interactive elements such as nature, biological systems, internet networks, and medical issues”.(NNT, P1) There are in a society interrelated groups in a person’s life, and in turn every person and every community adhere to the mathematical principle of self-similarity which according to Wikipedia is “In mathematics, a self-similar object is exactly or approximately similar to a part of itself (i.e., the whole has the same shape as one or more of the parts)”(wiki?) Fractal localism is natural as a social structure, it emerges organically in the social animal that is man.
Aristotle was the first to proclaim that “man is a social animal” and he also was the first to come up with distributist ideas, for in his times there was a lot of turmoil and trouble emerging from the people who lived in the gutters. He concluded that the poor would not revolt if they had enough and the rich would not be tyrannical if they had a bit less. I can see the obvious objection here, but if your only beef with this statement is that “it is ancient, thus it is backward”, time means nothing when it comes to ideas, just because an idea is modern does not make it in any way, shape or form better than the ideas which preceded it. One must consider what values they measure better against, it seems most systems measure what is better by what feeds wealth to the top fastest with minimal loss.
In conclusion, the old adage “charity begins at home” comes to mind. “Three cows and an acre” do not have to be taken literally…but maybe it’s a good place to start and I’d rather shovel cow shit than deal with Kafkaesque bureaucracy and red tape gobbledygook.
Karl Popper, Three Worlds
G.K. Chesterton, The Outline Of Sanity
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Principia Politica