Saturday, 13 July 2024

‘Old Thunder’: Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism (Part 4)

THIS IS the fourth and final part of an article which appeared in 2014 on the Old Thunder Belloc blogsite.  It is a reprint of Hilaire Belloc’s Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism, first published in the July 1937 issue of The American Mercury.  (‘Old Thunder’ is a reference to the Anglo-French historian, essayist and poet, Hilaire Belloc.)  You can read the original article here:  

It’s important to note that National Liberals regard Belloc as a ‘point of interest’ in that he said – or did – things that are of interest to us.  As we’ve noted before, that doesn’t mean that we place him on a pedestal, so to speak.  

What interests us about Belloc & his Distributist ideas are that they offer an alternative to both Capitalism & Socialism.  Despite outward appearances, both systems are similar in that they oppose individuals owning private property.  Capitalism restricts ownership to an elite few, whilst socialism wishes to restrict ownership to the state.  

As National Liberals we’re against centralism.  We feel that it can be dogmatic, undemocratic & totalitarian in nature.  However, we have to be both principled & pragmatic.  We accept that there may (and probably will) have to be some central planning associated with the phasing out of Capitalism & Socialism and the introduction of Distributism.  Indeed, as Belloc notes ‘You cannot have a Distributist State without a strong executive to safeguard the small man permanently against the aggression of the great’.  

It goes without saying that there are no links between The American Mercury, the Old Thunder Belloc blogsite & the National Liberal Party.  It should also be noted that whilst Belloc was a Catholic, the NLP welcomes members & supporters from all religions and none.  Please note that we’ve kept the original US spellings as they are.  

This section of the article should be read directly on from Parts 1 and 2 – see the links below.    


‘Old Thunder’: Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism (Part 4)


Hilaire Belloc – together with Arthur Penty, G. K. Chesterton & his younger brother Cecil – developed the economic philosophy of distributism. Opposed to the centralizing tendencies of both Capitalism & Socialism, they believed that productive assets should be as widely owned as possible. Therefore, distributism favours small independent shops, craftsmen and producers, worker co-operatives & mutual societies.

Inevitably the obstacles to its achievement are very great. Many would pronounce them insurmountable. First, as always, come the spiritual factors. Men have grown used to capitalism and have come to think in terms of wage-earner and employer. It is difficult to go back to another mood. Next, our existing laws are nearly all in favor of large accumulations through the action of competition. Increasing rapidity in the transmission of information and orders, work in the same way; so does the increasing efficiency of the machine.  

But all these factors making for the putting of control into a few hands can be counteracted. You may preserve the expensive centralized machinery in transport and manufacture, but you may divide its shareholding individually. You may aid the division of accumulation by differential taxation weighing heavily upon great accumulations of wealth, but we do not use it for the furtherance of better division. Were we to do so, better division could be achieved. It is not enough to super-tax the rich man; you must use the proceeds to build up property of the small man, both by subsidy and by giving a premium upon purchase of capital and law by the small man with a penalty for purchase by the big man. Your differential tax can gradually extinguish the chain store and the department store; and in the very important department of public investment, you can see to it that the small subscriber is favored when State or municipal bonds are issued, and the large one handicapped.  

With sufficient will to create small property, well distributed throughout the community, the thing could certainly be done: the difficulty would be when once it was done to keep it stable. The two forms of slavery, Communism and personal slavery, remain stable of themselves; but, just as political freedom requires for its maintenance a permanent attitude of alert defense, so does economic freedom—and a permanent attitude of alert defense is difficult to maintain. Moreover, if it is left to competing individuals, un-co-ordinated, it is impossible to maintain.  

Therefore, in order to make the Proprietary State stable, you must have laws (or customs with the force of laws) which make it difficult for the small man to alienate himself and yet safeguard him in his share of the means of production. Laws of hereditary succession will do this, so will the natural play of differential taxation, which profits the small purchaser at the expense of the large purchaser whenever there is a transfer of capital or land. But the best instrument of all for maintaining the stability of small property is the Guild.  

If we can re-establish the Guild we shall have done the trick. With men incorporated in chartered guilds having the power of the State behind them, small property, once achieved, will be secure. The Guild regulates its own affairs, it sets limits to competition within its boundaries, it provides for a succession of new free guildsmen by apprenticeship (which is a form of initiation), it sets the price of the goods produced (another check on competition), it regulates the method of production also, it has every advantage and every power for dealing with property after a fashion that shall maintain it in spite of the threat of competition. If we are to build the Distributist State, the Guild must be the keystone of that arch, and until men are trained in the idea of the Guild, until the Guild is set up and begins working before their eyes, the attempt to restore a Distributist State will be in vain.  

And there is the last proviso, the Distributist State to be secure must include large fields of State action, not only political but economic. Whatever is of its nature a monopoly must be under State control, more or less developed. You cannot have a Distributist State without a strong executive to safeguard the small man permanently against the aggression of the great. In most communities of the Middle Ages, this function was performed by an official called a King; the name does not matter, but the office is all-important. A society without a strong, centralized executive is a society inevitably doomed to plutocracy.  

• THIS ARTICLE should be read in conjunction with:

‘Old Thunder’: Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism (Part 1)‘old-thunder’-neither-capitalism-nor-socialism-part-1  

‘Old Thunder’: Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism (Part 2)‘old-thunder’-neither-capitalism-nor-socialism-part-2  

‘Old Thunder’: Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism (Part 3)  


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