Exceptional Ignorance... of Distributism.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Exceptional Ignorance... of Distributism.

It was but only a short time ago that I stumbled upon a Catholic blog that happened to be discussing the most recent papal encyclical. Most all the gang was there. Libertarians! Neocons! Distributists! Oh, my! Each and every one of them making their claims and placing their stakes in the war-torn wastelands of public discourse typically surrounding the discussion of Catholic Social Teaching. Very little productivity, but plenty of huff-puffery.

For most of the readers here, nothing I have described is all that peculiar. In fact, it is relatively run-of-the-mill. What made this particular battle significant, though, was a question asked by very popular Catholic who presides over a rather popular organization that published a not-so popular book written by an undeservingly popular Catholic attempting to put a halt to the ever-increasing popularity of distributism. Then again, it wasn't so much the question as it was the fact that it was asked by this particular fellow, and with what he insists to be the most sincere of motives.

The question, in sum, was how distributists believe their view of the State and the political economy differs from that advocated by adherents to National Socialism.

Let's ignore for a moment that this question has been answered by a myriad of distributist thinkers much brighter than me. Let's also brush aside the fact that a handful of these answers are readily accessible to anyone willing to take a moment utilizing a search engine. Instead, let us focus our attention on the fact that this man, who has dedicated so much time, effort, and money into convincing Catholics (and non-Catholics) to move "beyond distributism" lacks what could in all fairness be consider a functional literacy of distributism.

To deem this as merely unfortunate would be an understatement. What it does for us, though, is reveal the heart and soul of what may be the biggest problem distributists have yet to overcome: general ignorance. Think for a moment. If this particular theologian/economist is ignorant of what differentiates distributists from fascists and socialists, then where does that leave the mass of people unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of all things CST? Not fearing redundancy, to deem this as merely unfortunate would be an understatement.

So what may be done? Plenty. In fact, plenty is already being done. Distributism has made great strides in recent years. It has found itself being discussed on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, talk radio, podcasts, as well as in books, magazines and newspapers. Distributist apologists have also found a place at the table of public debate along with the socialists and neoconservatives who have for so long dominated the CST scene. Furthermore, for all the chatter pertaining to the so-called "non-relevance" of distributism, enemies of the school of thought have dedicated decent sums of time and money combating it. They may be of the type that spends gobs of energy beating dead horses, but I'm not of the type that would believe such things.

Having said this leads me to conclude that it's not so much the lack of material that has led to this general ignorance (though an ever-increasing amount of material wouldn't hurt) as it is the fact that most distributists are distributists in the abstract. In other words, we talk the talk, but very few walk the walk.

None of this is meant to be demeaning, as I am the guiltiest of the guilty on this count. Instead, this is meant to be a simple reminder of a simple maxim: actions speak louder than words.

Take the Amish for example. I would bet that most of us have read very little about the Amish. Few delve into studies concerning their history, theology, philosophy, and traditions. But most of us are well aware of their being thoroughly agrarian and, giving Arthur Penty a run for his money, extraordinarily skeptical of machinery. Most of us have seen their clothing, their buggies, their working on farms or on houses, and many of us may even have some of their woodwork in our homes. The point here, though, is that while we may be largely ignorant of the Amish life, our seeing them put their beliefs into practice (and in such an open and consistent manner) gives us a decent idea as to who they are, where they are, what they believe, and why they do what they do. Better yet, for those who have bought food from their stands or furniture from their shops, we see the standard of excellence they strive to achieve.

In final analysis, it would do us well to have more than Madragon to talk about. How wonderful would it be to talk of the achievements and lifestyle of distributists and Catholic Worker communities nationwide? More importantly, what impact would seeing such achievements and communities have on the public? At bare minimum, it may provide an image that would give them some degree of functional literacy regarding distributism. Then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't have so many well-studied men asking such elementary questions concerning who we are and what we believe. That, in and of itself, may be worth the effort.
Posted by Paleocrat


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