“Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.” – G.K. Chesterton
What do the great economic theories offer man? Capitalism makes much room for man’s potential but also is too often a great enabler of greed. The de-incentives of socialism leave us to wither in stagnation. Fascism’s greatest gift to man is tyranny. All have been tried and all have left man incomplete. No economic theory can fulfill man, surely, as we cannot live on bread alone, but can there at least be some philosophy of economy that truly reflects the many facets of the human heart?
I believe that there is – but its less of an economic theory and more of a life philosophy. That philosophy is the quixotically titled Distributism. The name is a misnomer for it suggests a socialist ideal. However, in contrast to the passivity resultant in the common man when all the burden of planning is placed upon the aloof ruling elite, Distributism seeks to release man’s inner dynamo. Distributism, in short, frees the masculine heart.
Distributism represents the masculinity illustrated by the economy of Man stemming from the roots of his family. Compare this to mainstream corporate America where the sterile individualism of the Wall Street stock broker is the image of capitalism. Capitalism alone deals with utility; things only matter as they aid as cogs in the great machinations of supply and demand. Unfortunately, when capitalism is divorced from morality, the mores of faith from the cold calculations of reason, mere utility applies to more than to just objects, for even Man in all his wonder is reduced to capital. The beautiful and the miraculous of the world and of all of God’s creatures great and small is reduced to profit: numbers on a ledger and crisp hard cash, sitting pitiless and sterile in its dark vault. Corporatism in terms of the common man may be generalized as the anonymous desk jockey repeating the shifts in a cubicle at a nameless corporation, working with bigger men’s capital, serving his masters. He gets his wages, yes, and certainly they will even be fair, but he does not own his work. The property of his work does not belong to him. It belongs to his boss, and should he be fired, or even should the company relocate his branch or have to let him go in a bout of lay-offs what is he left with? Maybe a severance check if he’s lucky but for all his hard work he has worked to build nothing for himself. Whatever he has exists outside his work – his job merely a means to survive and fund other interests.
Compare this credo of corporatism to Distributism: while growth and production, that is, making a profit, necessitates work it is through full autonomy, unshackled creativity, and ownership – the ability to claim your work as your own – that makes it fulfilling. But what if a man, even a common man, could own his own work? What if he could unleash the full force of his potential as he saw fit and call the end result fully his own? As we were created in God’s image we as men seek to create things in our own. However, this requires property. To be our own masters and live under God’s rule and not man’s requires we own our own means of production so that no matter our industry – whether it be crops or cattle, watchmaking or carpentry, medicine or law – we own our own fate and what we create does not fade away as we spend our paychecks but stays within our grasp to provide for our families and to be passed down as a legacy. This is far more masculine a thing than the property-less wage worker broken like a trained horse. Instead this is man owning his vocation as a father, husband, provider and protector. This is what we were made to do. Distributism attempts to actualize all facets of human nature in its economy instead of the solitary parameter of “profitability”.
In the words of Thomas Storck, “economic activity is meant to serve the more important aspects of life, our spiritual, family, social, intellectual and philosophical lives.” The principles of economics serve as nothing more than the means towards individual livelihood and social justice. When capitalism succumbs to unjust practices and corporatism results, it becomes worthless. Greed is not manly, it is cowardly; cornering a market and forcing out competitors isn’t clever, its anti-social. Instead, we must marry economics to social justice, adhere to the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and promote a culture where men own their work and recognize that they are producers first and consumers second. The economy that encourages men to forge their own path, own their own means of production and be free in their creativity is the economy that fosters true masculinity, opening the door for self-centered boys to become compassionate men of self-sacrifice.
I leave you with this quote from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on capital and labor, Rerum Novarum:
Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them.