m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...
Against Mr. Krotz
The following essay was published in the December 1996 issue of Generally Speaking: The newsletter of The American Chesterton Society as a response to Daniel Krotz' column "The American Distributivist", which appeared in a previous issue. In my essay I take issue with several of Mr. Krotz' points, especially his vision of a modern-day American Distributivism including home ownership, garage workshops and income from rental properties, which, I would claim, is only a shadow of the Distributivist ideal of self-sufficiency for all.
Against "The American Distributist" by Daniel Krotz
M. C. De Marco
Distributivism is and must be about redistribution. Mr. Krotz has denied the philosophy written in the words Distributism, Distributionism, and Distributivism since the beginnings of the movement by claiming, "... nor does Distributism mean that the wealth of Capitalists is taken away from them and 'distributed' to the poor." If we no longer believe that redistribution of the means of production is the road to the just society, then we are no longer Distributivists. If we are unwilling to say that the natural resources (especially the land) of a nation should be taken away from the Capitalists and distributed among the citizenry, then we lie when we call our political opinions Distributivism. We need not advocate the immediate, violent dispossession of the Capitalists - one common suggestion is restoring the land to the people one family at a time, by private means.
Mr. Krotz alleges "There is little room for relativism in a Distributist's belief system and such a system always concludes in belief in a soul and the idea that God will not abandon man after his death." I fail to see why the simple economic ideas of Distributivism lead so inevitably to an answer to the complex and vexed philosophical question of the soul. As a fervent Distributivist, I believe that would still be obliged to establish a just society, even though we 'be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb'. Also, as a potential possessor of a soul, I look for more in true religion than glib statements like "God is the Head of the family."
Mr. Krotz is not the first to link Distributivism and a thinly-disguised Christian faith or to posit Distributivism as the only political philosophy amenable to religious belief. Yet a multitude of Catholic Communists, Orthodox Socialists and Evangelical Capitalists vie to prove him wrong. Likewise, Distributivism, as a theory about the just society, can be detached from the spiritual as easily as any of its rivals. So on the issue of Distributivism and Religion, let us say instead that if religion is a good (and if any particular religion is the best) then it is bound to flourish in the just society. For once men are free and self-sufficient, they will have ample opportunity to know the good and follow it. Likewise, let us say that the unjust society must discourage true religion, either by outright oppression or by the institution of values (such as covetousness) which corrupt men.
Now that the Separation of Distributivism and Religion has been established, I am faced with the more challenging task of dividing the political theory of the just society from conservatives' fondness for the American way of life. Distributivism is not buying the right shampoo or investing in the appropriate companies. Distributivism is not weeding the garden or puttering in the garage. Distributivism is the farthest thing from paying off your mortgage, or, Heaven forbid, letting spare rooms to the dispossessed. Mr. Krotz implies that such actions are small steps on the road to Distributivism, but what they truly are is the pacing of a Distributivist soul back and forth in the narrow cell of Capitalism.
Let us consider, for instance, the home mortgage. Why, one might ask, does a slapdash, half-plastic house on a tiny plot of fallow land cost a hundred thousand dollars or more? How does one pay such a price? Normally, one pays for the land by selling one's labor elsewhere, and even after the mortgage is paid, one must go on selling oneself in order to retain the home, else the government come and sell it at auction to someone who will. Likewise, if a willing capitalist cannot be found to buy you, eviction results. Distributivism is not about owning the chain that binds you in wage-slavery, but about controlling the means of your own sustenance. A garden will not sustain a family, but a farm will. A toolbox and a bench in the garage will not pay the mortgage or the taxes, but a genuine workshop might, in the unlikely event that the government would allow you to run a shop out of "your" home.
Even in the heady days at the start of the movement, those who came before us knew that distribution of the land was a dream not easily realized. Yet if we forsake the dream, what then will distinguish us from the fruit-juice drinkers or the Small-is-Beautiful dilettantes? Distributivists must call for redistribution, if only as a voice calling out in the wilderness.