Distributism, a better system than Capitalism and Socialism



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Distributism, also known as distributionism and distributivism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Roman Catholicthinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of Catholic Social Teaching articulated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum[1] and more expansively explained by Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno[2] According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (socialism) or wealthy private individuals (capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton’s statement: “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”[3]

Essentially, distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property. Distributism holds that, while socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers’ control), and capitalism allows only a few to own it, distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property. As Hilaire Belloc stated, the distributive state (that is, the state which has implemented distributism) contains “an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production.”[4] This broader distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, etc.[5]

Distributism has often been described as a third way of economic order between socialism and capitalism. However, some have seen it more as an aspiration, which has been successfully realised in the short term by commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (these being built into financially independent local co-operatives).


  • 1 History
  • 2 Economic theory
    • 2.1 Private property
    • 2.2 Guild system
    • 2.3 Banks
  • 3 Social theory
    • 3.1 The human family
    • 3.2 Subsidiarity
    • 3.3 Society of artisans
    • 3.4 Social security
  • 4 Geopolitical theory
    • 4.1 Political order
    • 4.2 Political parties
    • 4.3 War
  • 5 Influence
    • 5.1 E.F. Schumacher
    • 5.2 Mondragón Cooperative Corporation
    • 5.3 The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic
  • 6 Controversy
    • 6.1 Ultranationalist groups
  • 7 Key texts
  • 8 Thinkers
  • 9 See also
  • 10 References
  • 11 External links
    • 11.1 Links favorable to distributism
    • 11.2 Links unfavorable to distributism
    • 11.3 Links neutral to distributism
  • 12 Further reading



The articulation of Distributist ideas was based on 19th and 20th century Papal teachings, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. In 1930s America, distributism was treated in numerous essays by Chesterton, Belloc and others in The American Review, published and edited by Seward Collins. Pivotal among Chesterton’s and Belloc’s other works regarding distributism include The Servile State[6] and Outline of Sanity[7]

Distributist thought was later adopted by the Catholic Worker Movement, conjoining it with the thought of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurinconcerning localized and independent communities. It also influenced the thought behind the Antigonish Movement, which implemented co-operatives and other measures to aid the poor in the Canadian Maritimes. Its practical implementation in the form of local co-operatives has recently been documented by Race Mathews in Jobs of Our Own.


Economic theory


Private property

Under such a system, most people would be able to earn a living without having to rely on the use of the property of others to do so. Examples of people earning a living in this way would be farmers who own their own land and related machinery, plumbers who own their own tools, software developers who own their own computer, etc. The “co-operative” approach advances beyond this perspective to recognise that such property and equipment may be “co-owned” by local communities larger than a family, e.g. partners in a business.


Guild system

The kind of economic order envisioned by the early distributist thinkers would involve the return to some sort of guild system. The present existence of labor unions does not constitute a realization of this facet of distributist economic order, as labour unions are organized alongclass lines to promote class interests, whereas Guilds are mixed class syndicates composed of both employers and employees cooperating for mutual benefit.



Distributism favors the elimination of the current private bank system, or in any case, its profit-making basis. This does not necessarily entailnationalization, but would probably require government involvement of some sort.


Social theory


The human family

Distributism sees the trinitarian human family of one male, one female, and their children as the central and primary social unit of human ordering and the principal unit of a functioning distributist society and civilization. This unit is also the basis of a multi-generational extended family, which is embedded in socially as well as genetically inter-related communities, nations, etc., and ultimately in the whole human family past, present and future. The economic system of a society should therefore be focussed primarily on the flourishing of the family unit, but not in isolation: at the appropriate level of family context, as is intended in the principle of subsidiarity. Distributism reflects this doctrine most evidently by promoting the family, rather than the individual, as the basic type of owner; that is, distributism seeks to ensure that most families, rather than most individuals, will be owners of productive property. The family is, then, vitally important to the very core of distributist thought.



Distributism puts great emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity. This principle holds that no larger unit (whether social, economic, or political) should perform a function which can be performed by a smaller unit. Pope Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno, provided the classical statement of the principle: “[J]ust as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to the community at large what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so, too, it is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.”[2] Thus, any activity of production (which distributism holds to be the most important part of any economy) ought to be performed by the smallest possible unit. This helps support distributism’s argument that smaller units, families if possible, ought to be in control of the means of production, rather than the large units typical of modern economies.

Pope Pius XI further stated, again in Quadragesimo Anno, “every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.”[5] To prevent large private organizations from thus dominating the body politic, distributism applies this principle of subsidiarity to economic as well as to social and political action.


Society of artisans

Distributism promotes a society of artisans and culture. This is influenced by an emphasis on small business, promotion of local culture, and favoring of small production over capitalistic mass production. A society of artisans promotes the distributist ideal of the unification of capital, ownership, and production rather than what distributism sees as an alienation of man from work.


Social security

Distributism favors the elimination of social security on the basis that it further alienates man by making him more dependent on the Servile State. Distributists such as Dorothy Day did not favor social security when it was introduced by the United States government. This rejection of this new program was due to the direct influence of the ideas of Hilaire Belloc over American distributists.


Geopolitical theory


Political order

Distributism does not favor one set of political order over another, from democracy to monarchism. Distributism does not necessarily supportanarchism, but some distributists, such as Dorothy Day, were also anarchists. Distributism does not support political orders that go towards extremes of individualism or statism.


[edit]Political parties

Distributism does not attach itself to one national political party or another in any part of the world. There are some modern political parties in the United Kingdom which espouse distributist views.



Distributists usually use Just War Theory in determining whether a war should be fought or not. Historical positions of distributist thinkers provides insight into a distributist position on war. Both Belloc and Chesterton opposed British imperialism in general, as well as specifically opposing the Second Boer War, but supported British involvement in World War I.




E.F. Schumacher

Distributism is known to have had an influence on the economist E.F. Schumacher, a convert to Catholicism.


Mondragón Cooperative Corporation

The Mondragón Cooperative Corporation based out of the Basque Country in the region of Spain and France, was founded by a Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, who seems to have been influenced by the same Catholic social and economic teachings that inspired Belloc, Chesterton, McNabb and the other founders of distributism. The Mondragón cooperative, however, may be considered “distributist” in the sense of valuing the ideal of the worker owning the means of production as much as possible, while some of its more international and capitalistic leanings seem to veer away from a true distributism.


[edit]The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

Distributist ideas were put into practice by The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a group of artists and craftsmen who establish a community in Ditchling, Sussex, England in 1920, with the motto ‘Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses’. The Guild sought to recreate an idealised medieval lifestyle in the manner of the Arts and Crafts Movement; it survived until 1989.




Ultranationalist groups

Controversy in the Distributist community has occurred because of associations of distributism with some ultranationalist groups. This would include groups such as the British National Party which claims to hold some distributist views.[8] Supporters of national anarchism also advocate distributist economic models, with Troy Southgate indicating his own commitment to the idea.[9] It should also be noted that since most Distributists are Catholic, they believe in the Church’s rejection of Anarchism.

Many ultranationalists trace their ancestry back to Fascist movements, and may see Distributism as a version of Corporativism. [10] There are some similarities between the two systems, notable parallels between the Corporativists’ Corporations and the Distributists’ Guilds. But there are fundamental differences between the two philosophies, notably the secular Corporativists’ permissiveness towards big business and big government, and their ignoring of the principle of subsidiarity. Furthermore, most Distributists are Catholic and follow the Church’s rejection of secular nationalism.

Key texts


See also


  1. ^ Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891.
  2. a b Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1931.
  3. ^ G. K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity, 1921.
  4. ^ Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, 1913).
  5. a b Id.
  6. ^ Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, The Liberty Fund, originally published 1913.
  7. ^ G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, IHS Press, 2002, originally published 1927.
  8. ^ N. Griffin, “Moving Forward for Good”, Identity, No. 21, June 2002, p. 7.
  9. ^ S Y N T H E S I S – Interview with TROY SOUTHGATE
  10. ^ David Baker, “The political economy of fascism: Myth or reality, or myth and reality?” New Political Economy, Volume 11, Issue 2 June 2006 , p. 227–250.

External links

Links favorable to distributism

Links unfavorable to distributism

Links neutral to distributism

Further reading

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