Why do I have a feeling that most serious distributists would agree?

English: Drawing by Chesterton

English: Drawing by Chesterton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who wrote the following? A distributist, a socialist, or something altogether different?

“The encyclical [by Pope John Paul II] ‘On Human Work‘ [Laborem Exercens] … [mistakenly] asserts that some of the basic problems of capitalism—the commodity status of labor, oppressive working conditions, even exploitation—are not caused by the nature of the system, or by the fact that there are two classes with conflicting material interests, but by non-Christian attitudes on the part of individual capitalists. … Even if some capitalists were to take a more charitable attitude, none of this would change because of the competitive pressure of the market. … [P]rivate possession of the means of production inevitably results in exploitation. … [In contrast, we] advocate a cooperative commonwealth of labor, free of exploitation and oppression. … [This] is no pipe dream. It does not seek to end exploitation and oppression by appealing to the oppressor class to be more benevolent, but by organizing to overthrow that class. It does not base its vision on idealistic premises, but on concrete facts.”

I’m remiss to reveal the source, although finding it easy enough by using a search engine. Instead, I want to lay out each claim, so it’s easier for the willing distributist, to explain to me how, contrary to my reading of distributist literature so far, a distributist would not agree with much of it. I will assign a value (S for socialist, D for distributist, a tilde ~ sign to show negation, and no signs to show what I think is a neutral statement) to each thesis, so the reader can see which look or don’t look to me like they follow from distributist claims.

“The encyclical [by Pope John Paul II] ‘On Human Work‘ is premised on false, self-serving contentions.”
S, ~D

[No duh! heheh]

“It asserts that some of the basic problems of capitalism—the commodity status of labor, oppressive working conditions, even exploitation—are not caused by the nature of the system, or by the fact that there are two classes with conflicting material interests, but by non-Christian attitudes on the part of individual capitalists.”

“… Even if some capitalists were to take a more charitable attitude, none of this would change because of the competitive pressure of the market.”
S, D

[Hence, I find distributists saying that the concentration of capital and its alienation are inevitable effects of capitalism, simply by virtue of its profit motive and its basis in a cleft between production and consumption.]

“… [P]rivate possession of the means of production inevitably results in exploitation.”
S, ~D?

[Hence, I find distributists saying that the sense of the term “private” in capitalism leads to concentration of capital, etc. A distributist reform, by contrast, will require a more collectivist sense of “private” property.]

“… [We] advocate a cooperative commonwealth of labor, free of exploitation and oppression.”
S, D

[Co-ops, guilds, worker-shares, no “wage slavery,” and all that.]

“… [This] is no pipe dream.”
S, D

[Hence, distributists say that their system is the only actually successful one in the bulk of human history, that the free market is a just an abstraction/model, that a distributist order is the natural aim of human nature, etc.]

“It does not seek to end exploitation and oppression by appealing to the oppressor class to be more benevolent, but by organizing to overthrow that class.”
S, ~D

[If the term “overthrow” is meant in a violent way, obviously that’s not what distributists want. Nonetheless, they are pretty explicit that distributists need to organize in order to convince the state to step in and bring down the capital-owners by some pretty direct and stringent means (tax policies, fines, re-zoning, maybe even prohibition, (maybe even incarceration, if the history of medieval guilds is any indication) etc.).* I also agree that distributists primarily want to use moral suasion to convert capitalists to Christian priorities in their business practices; but again, not a few distributists argue that the nature of capitalism itself inevitably leads to oppression, inequality, etc., which is exactly what the quotation is claiming, too.]

“It does not base its vision on idealistic premises, but on concrete facts.”
S, D

[Ditto, above.]

The rest of the article cited herein has many other similar claims which seem to be S and D, but it’s too tiresome to cite any more here. So, here you go: “A Socialist Labor Party Statement – The Church and the Class Struggle”.

* In An Essay on the Restoration of Property Hilaire Belloc (p. 38, my italics) writes: “There must be some official machinery today for fostering the destruction of small, widespread property by large owners: and the effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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5 Responses to Why do I have a feeling that most serious distributists would agree?

  1. Daniela says:

    I’m struggling to understand your point of view. Are you advocating for Distributism or Capitalism? Because I don’t see how you can disagree with the fact that “the concentration of capital and its alienation are inevitable effects of capitalism, simply by virtue of its profit motive and its basis in a cleft between production and consumption.”

  2. My current motto is “distributist values by free-market means in Catholic natural-law terms.” My short answer to your confusion is “free-market capitalism ≠ crony capitalism”.

  3. Do you honestly think the mere production of capital gains leads to all the evils that Marxists lament? When were the working “classes” worse off: when they could freely enter the labor market or when they could not? When did capital concentration take place most: when government abetted various corporate lobbies with regulations or when it did not? History is a pretty plain witness here, but the anti-capitalist mentality has deep roots in this country.

  4. Daniela says:

    I’m not sure how you read Marxism into my comment. After all we were discussing the Distributists who were not for Socialism or Marxism. Are you suggesting there should be no regulations – that businesses should be allowed to do as they please and the forces of supply and demand will take care of everything? Because what I see in the world right now are monopolies that control many sectors of the economy, who have enormous corrupting powers over governments. Finally when you refer to the anti-capitalist mentality with deep roots in this country – are you referring to the US or the country in which you live?

  5. Daniela:

    Daniela :

    I’m not sure how you read Marxism into my comment. After all we were discussing the Distributists who were not for Socialism or Marxism. Are you suggesting there should be no regulations – that businesses should be allowed to do as they please and the forces of supply and demand will take care of everything? Because what I see in the world right now are monopolies that control many sectors of the economy, who have enormous corrupting powers over governments. Finally when you refer to the anti-capitalist mentality with deep roots in this country – are you referring to the US or the country in which you live?

    I don’t read Marxism per se into your comment, except that you seem to swallow the Marxian definition of capitalism as a system INHERENTLY based on the concentration of capital in a minority class. That is an effect of semi-fascist cronyism, and is lamented over and over by free-market theorists as an abuse, as a fundamental rejection, in fact, of the free market for political lobby-appeasement.

    As for the anti-capitalist mentality, I did mean in the USA (my home country), but you’re right: it’s been a consistent theme in Britain and continental Europe since at least the mid-nineteenth century. I hope to post some excerpts from a book soon that deals with the mentality on historical grounds, Capitalism and the Historians. Good stuff!

    (BTW, I’m sorry if I come across as a bore or an a**hole. I really appreciate your comments and tone. I just tend to be very curt when writing online, since I’m usually trying to cram my replies in between other chores.)

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