DISTRIBUTISM: A SOLUTION TO NEO-LIBERALISM?
As with our ‘political’ policies, National Liberals seek to find the right economic balance and thus support a mixed economy. State ownership therefore would only exist where it was absolutely necessary in the public interest e.g. a state bank to compete with private institutions to bring down the cost of borrowing (as a state bank wouldn’t charge interest).
In principle however, we believe that the greater the spread of business ownership the greater the productivity, happiness and spread of wealth. We would favour for example, the self-employed, small businesses and cooperatives. This is sometimes explained as ‘Distributism’, an idea founded in the 1920′s, and is a key principle in the NLP’s economic thinking (on political economy).
After many years in the doldrums a new generation is beginning to rediscover this idea and none morseo than in Romania. Below we reproduce an abridged version of an article written for the journal the Distributist Review by one of the leading thinkers, Dr. Ovidiu Hurduzeu, explaining the situation there. Sadly he also says that “liberalism has been entirely hijacked by neoliberals and internationalists in favor of Big Business, the EU and local mafias. Nationalists are more or less ethnic nationalists without a clear economic doctrine. I don’t see any national-liberals in the old inter-war vein in Romania.” Still, perhaps one day, this new generation of activists will expand their thinking and embrace national liberalism in full?
The newly-formed Romanian Distributist League “Ion Mihalache” (see http://www.facebook.com/notifications#!/groups/192652520759544/) marks a first victory for Distributism in Romania. It should come as no surprise that Distributism is being touted as the best vehicle for radical change in this post-communist country.
In the post-World I period, Distributism e.g. increasing land ownership found concrete success in Central and Eastern Europe. After the World War, Eastern European countries, except Hungary, adopted democratic institutions and enfranchised the peasant both politically (by the universal vote) and economically (by the land reform). “Peasant parties,” writes George D. Jackson, Jr., “having been suddenly thrust to the pinnacle of power by the new electoral laws professed their devotion to democracy, anti-Bolshevism, and significant social and economic reforms.” It was a period of hope and enthusiasm. The “vast victory for the peasant” came at a time when new national states in Eastern Europe were created. After 1918, Romania also rejoiced national statehood as she came to include all provinces with an ethnic Romanian majority. Peasants had no accumulated grievances against their governments and stayed immune to the Bolshevik internationalist propaganda (In Romania, for instance, the National Peasant Party vehemently rejected a Comintern-inspired “single great union of workers’ and peasants’ republic in the Balkans”). “The vast victory for the peasant” was short-lived; by the end of the thirties, the agrarian regimes were ended by dictatorship.
Analysis of those movements however show a connection between the agrarian project in Eastern Europe to the aims and principles of Distributism. Like the distributists, the Eastern European agrarians viewed their doctrine and practice as a Third Way, neither capitalist nor socialist. They shared the Distributist antagonism to Big Business, Big Finance, trusts, cartels and the unlimited accumulation of wealth. They were ahead of their time when they advocated sustainable industrialization–industries to be scattered widely in smaller units across the land—and rejected large-scale heavy industries, depending on the interests of foreign investors and the mercantilist national state.
In line with the Distributist view, the agrarians in Eastern Europe believed that humans became free and independent through well-distributed productive property, that is, through ownership and work. Concentration of property and power in the hands of a few was considered degrading to human dignity and disruptive to the social order; it ran against the peasant’s democratic nature–agrarians considered the peasant a “democrat by nature”–and against the peasants’ compelling desire for a sane and stable social order. The keen desire for social stability made the agrarians resist violent changes and revolutionary trends and turned them, in most cases, into pacifists.
Eastern European agrarians were not much less anti-statist than the distributists. They placed emphasis on decentralization, local-self government and the idea of building a state from the bottom up. The agrarians viewed occupational organizations and cooperatives as ideal vehicles, both in securing social stability and organizing the economy of peasant farming. They believed cooperative principles, private property, responsibility towards the community and cooperation in voluntary associations, were valid for all of society. Most programs of the peasant parties demanded that workers should share in the ownership of factories and own their homes.
The prospects of a Distributist order in Central and Eastern Europe (put on hold by dictatorship – Ed) were finally brutally destroyed by communism. Communist rule embodied what the agrarians hated most: giantism, dictatorship, slavery, violence, no God. In Romania, the members of the National Peasant Party were persecuted, murdered or condemned to many years in prison. And yet, the longing for the Distributist order envisaged by the agrarians in the inter-war period is more alive than ever among the Romanians. John Médaille’s (a leading American distributist) visit to Romania and the publication, in that country, of an anthology of Distributist texts, edited by John Médaille and myself, made a breach in the wall of false beliefs and justifications. Many Romanians now realize there is life beyond neo-liberalism, globalism, consumerism, and other delusional “isms” recklessly imported to their country after 1990. Distributism opened their eyes to alternatives they did not even dare to imagine.
Today, if Distributism is to be successful in Romania, and hopefully in other Eastern Orthodox countries, it has to take a somewhat different path from both today’s neo-distributism in the West and the agrarianism of the past. First of all, it has to be rooted in the Orthodox tradition and envisage the world, neither in individualistic nor collectivistic, but personalist terms. Only grounded in the anthropological model of a dialogical personalism can Distributism become an active force in reforming Eastern European societies. Distributism is best equipped to oppose the dehumanizing schemes of both neo-liberals and neo-communists since it never subordinates ends to means. In Romania, neo-liberals, socialists and bureaucrats from Brussels all plan to destroy the “unproductive” peasants, turning them into wage-slaves or commercial farmers, that is, into something other than peasants. The distributists, like the agrarians of yesteryear oppose such a “market revolution” in the village. They offer instead their own economic model, based on co-ops and other forms of voluntary associations.
In Romania, distributists face the daunting task of saving a country from total ruin. To implement their RRR (remoralize the market, relocalize economy and recapitalize the poor), distributists must first repersonalize the economic and social life which became “profane” under communism and Economic Liberalism (capitalism). There is no such thing as a separate, isolated and autonomous economy. Like the England of the “Chesterbelloc”, Romania has no peasant class left to mobilize. The villages are underpopulated and the typical Romanian peasant is an old poor person. The countryside cannot trigger a “vast peasant uprising” (Mitrany) as it did in the 1920’s. And yet there is hope. The 99% of the Romanians do have accumulated grievances against the neo-communist kleptocracy, Big Business–transnational corporations, foreign banks, hedge funds, “strategic investors,” the IMF and the European Union. They now realize the dice are loaded. The crisis has strengthened the already stifling neo-liberal mechanisms and the anarcho-tyranny which grinds down the people at the behest of foreign bankers and local oligarchs. Under the circumstances, Distributism is not an alternative solution. It is the solution, pure and simple.
A fuller version of this article can be found at http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/12/distributism-in-eastern-europe/
Date: January 3, 2012