Distributism Is A Friend Of Liberty

My dear Tuttle,

Everytime you and I speak of distributism, you scold me that socialism is nasty, nasty, nasty.  Nothing but coercion enforced by the threat of lethal violence by anti-Jeffersonian thugs.

Peace, brother.

I am afraid that you have misunderinterpreted what is meant by distributism.  Distributism, despite etymological similarities, is not wealth redistribution.  It is not what the Catholic social justice crowd call distributive justice.  Distributism  was embraced by thinkers who knew early and well the dangers of socialism.

Distributism is first of all a way of ordering one’s own life for maximum independence.  When Claire Wolfe writes that while waiting for the revolution one should find a job where one creates things of value using human scaled tools, she reveals herself as a closet distributist.

Government’s first role in distributism is to get out of the way.  Example:  my family buys raw milk from a local homesteader.  Because she does not have written permission from the government to sell milk from her own cows, her milk selling is illegal.  Government regulation, the bugaboo of libertarians, naturally favors big business at the expense of the small time operators.

They can take my home-made organic yogurt, when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

-Harry Dexter White


5 responses to “Distributism Is A Friend Of Liberty

  1. I thought you might be interested in my take on Distributism too:


  2. To MR & HDW:

    Just to clear up a couple of points, I should assert that, having read a number of sources on the subject, I believe that I’m reasonably well aware of what distributism is or isn’t. Believe me, I’m not confusing it with more overtly socialistic schemes to “re-distribute” wealth in society.

    And, as I’ve stated, I find that there is much to like about a more dispersed pattern of production and/or wealth. For many of us, these can be desirable personal goals. In many ways I believe that these goals arer compatible with a healthy, stable, and sustainable economy. I would go further, extending comments above, to add that some large measure of our current economic woes can clearly be attributed to overly concentrated political and economic power, notably in the financial sector of our economy.

    That said, I reiterate (and beat my dead horse yet again) my belief that the process by which any “desirable” social goal is achieved matters as much as, if not more than, the goals themselves. Thus, a society fails in it’s attempts at real charity when it funds it’s programs through theft. This should be as obvious as the futility of hoping to achieve love through the act of rape.

    However laudible the goal, the underlying process and/or policies had best respect the basic fact that any and all goodness only comes from the sincere voluntary participation of individuals. These are acts that can only be produced by through individual reason and personal commitment, not compulsion.

    Naturally, I do recognize that some forms of behavior can and do represent a real and substantial danger to others (or to the common good), necessitating discouragement, if not outright prohibition. And, naturally, this is where public policy gets sticky. It also signals the degree to which I am no more a true libertarian than I am a true distributist. However sticky the dilemma, I would rather err on the side of liberty and, to the best extent possible, would rather wait for demonstrable harm before acting as opposed to relying on proscriptive social engineering whereby we collectively pick (or stack the deck in favor of) winners and losers.

    I’m a bit tired of this process which, as often as not, only produces unintended costs, typically as a result of our limited skill at understanding, let alone modifying, human nature. Success or failure, fairly earned, remain the best motivational guidance.


  3. Mr. Tuttle,

    I am glad that you allow for voluntary communism on private property. Civilization owes alot to these people. I am thinking about monasteries, specifically. What would the world be like without monks and nuns? It would be less musical, lacking some of the best beer and champagne, many advances in science such as the theory of heliocentrism (Copernicus) and it would be lacking in places for busy people of the world to visit on peaceful retreats. We would also have many fewer places for sick and wounded people to be cared for – hospitals. I was attracted to monkhood myself at one time. And even though I didn’t become one, I would be very sad to hear that the monk had become extinct.


    M. Ragazzo

  4. Mr. White:

    Alas, I fear we may have to arrange for a prisoner exchange, perhaps the middle of the Hood Canal Bridge at noon…..after all, if Claire Wolfe is, in fact, a closet distributist, then what in the world am I?

    As I’ve maintained (I think), I don’t really have any significant problems with distributism as a personal (lifestyle) philosophy. In fact, I’ve no quarrel with communists either – silly and dangerous as they are, so long as they restrict their philosophy to their own property, ha, ha.

    I’m just not so idealistic about the human (or animal) character to forgo my fences just yet, but remain optimistically open to any and all constructive personal alliances and/or arrangements for small-scale cooperative economic endeavors. Likewise, I might find myself in the distributist philosophical camp whenever I fear the concentration of any sort of power, economic or otherwise.

    That I’ve expressed concern over the manner in which such systems might be achieved is, I think, only natural and reasonable. As I might expand on in a future post, I’ll travel only so far down the libertarian road as well. In a nutshell, I’m generally wary of any effort to institutionalize such utopian philosophies, for this is where (and how) whatever goodness might have been intended is surely lost (see Matthew 23 or Mark 7, for example).

    Now, I will agree that, in actual practice, we have effectively institutionalized some sort of Frankensteinian hybrid of corporatist socialism. (Perhaps, we might explore the scintilating topics of corporate immunity and social welfare programs in the future!!) I might also sympathise with Chesterton’s quote that “too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists”, at least insofar as a lack of access to capital, an economy afloat in debilitating debt, and a society bent on knee-jerk, regulatory, micro-management would tend to restrict the entrepreneurial spirit.

    But, let’s face it, the original intent of our founders (by and large) was to erect rather stout fences against centralized authority, notably the sort that would, through natural appetite, gobble up all competitors. This was a revolution not of mere egalitarianism, but of free will and free enterprise. To the extent that we constrain either (though I concede that some limits are necessary and prudent), we allow for the unleashing of the destructive appetite of worldly power, be it corporate, religious, or some other ostensibly benign democratic impulse.

    The sort of government regulations you cite are indeed a bugaboo to me and I would hearily support their removal. But, I’d go further still, as Thomas Woods does in his excellent essay “What’s Wrong With Distributism”, which you may already have read. As an example:

    “Those who care to support locally based and smaller-scale agriculture have already been doing so for two decades now by means of community-supported agriculture, which is booming….The organizers of this movement, rather than wasting their time and ours complaining about the need for state intervention, actually did something: they put together a voluntary program that has enjoyed considerable success across the country. Perhaps, if distributists feel as strongly about their position as they claim, this example can provide a model of how their time might be better spent.” (http://mises.org/story/1062)

    Like Woods, I am only arguing against those that might be inclined to instistutionalize distributism through state intervention. If, as you argue, that’s not really necessary or desired, well then, who am I to stand in the way? And, like Ms. Wolfe, I also see the practical advantage of protecting one’s self from the dangers of our present political and economic system. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that makes either of us distributists.


    Harry Tuttle

    ” Never trouble another for what you can do for yourself. ” – Thomas Jefferson

  5. Who could have guessed a hundred years ago that in 2010, the illegal, raw milk trade would be almost as exciting as smuggling drugs across the border? (Don’t worry, I do not know your source or the location of your drop-off point. I will be unable to give up the information – even under torture. On second thought…maybe you should tell me.)

    – MR

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