Thursday, 6 May 2021

‘Old Thunder’: Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism (Part 1)

AS FAR as we’re aware, the National Liberal Party is the only political grouping in the UK (and maybe within the British Isles) that promotes Distributism.  For those who don’t know, Distributism is a visionary idea which offers a genuine alternative to orthodox capitalist and socialist (or communist) solutions.

Distributists – those who advocate Distributism – believe in the widest possible spread of ownership of land, property, or workplace.  The phrase ‘where owners work and workers own’ sums up this position fairly accurately.

With the above in mind, our attention was recently drawn to an article – http://oldthunderbelloc.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/neither-capitalism-nohtmlr-socialism.html -  which appeared way back in 2014 on the Old Thunder Belloc blogsite.  ‘Old Thunder’ refers to Hilaire Belloc and the blog describes itself as ‘a place to appreciate the works of the renowned Roman Catholic, Anglo-French historian, essayist and poet’.  Belloc (along with GK Chesterton) remains one of the most well-known advocates of Distributism.

This article – entitled Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism – was first published in the July 1937 issue of The American Mercury.  During the 1920s & 30s it featured articles by some of the most important writers in the world.  We feel that it presents a very clear explanation  of Distributism – an idea that we hope to promote to a wider audience.

As we’re passionate believers in free thought and free speech (‘speech is free with the NLP’) we invite our readers to share their thoughts when this article is reproduced on our Facebook site – https://www.facebook.com/groups/52 739504313 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.

Known as ‘Old Thunder,’ Joseph Hilaire Pierre Belloc (1870–1953) was born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France. His father, Louis Belloc, was French & his mother, Bessie Rayner Parkes Belloc, was English. Hilaire was brought up in Slindon, West Sussex, and became a naturalised British subject in 1902. He sat as a member of Parliament for Salford South in Lancashire from 1906-1910, first as a Liberal and then as an independent. As well as being a well-known Distributist he wrote more than 150 books on subjects as diverse as history, politics, economics, travel, warfare and poetry. His Catholic faith had a strong impact on all of his work. Belloc died in a Guildford, Surrey and is buried at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Consolation and St Francis, West Grinstead, West Sussex.

DISTRIBUTISM is a long clumsy word which is coming into use for a very simple and normal thing: the system of society in which the average citizen possesses enough property to give him and his family economic freedom.  There was a time when everyone took it for granted, especially in the United States, that the typical free citizen would be an owner – generally an owner of land and if not the owner of land then the owner of a business or the master of a craft.  But today, wherever industrial capitalism rules – and it rules in our main industries, including our transport system – a perilous and unnatural state of things has come to pass.  The bulk of men are still called free citizens, for they are still politically free; but they are no longer economically free.  They no longer possess the wherewithal to live.  They live only at the mercy of employers who possess the means of life – the reserves of food and clothing and house-room and instruments of production – or by support from the community doles out by the officers thereof.

In the presence of this unprecedented arrangement of society, a new word had to be found for the old thing, which had been nameless mainly because it had been taken for granted and was universal. For myself I should have preferred the word Proprietary, though this is rather long and pedantic. But on the existing models of Socialism and Collectivism, it was agreed to take the word Distributism. As the Socialist desires or accepts an arrangement of society wherein the means of production are vested in the community (society itself, the collectivity), so the Distributist desires a society in which the means of production are distributed as property among the several units of the State—the families and the individuals which compose it.

Now to begin with, let me emphasize certain negative points with regard to this creed of ours, which was, within living memory, a matter of course, and yet now sounds so odd in the ears of many contemporaries. Distributism does not propose the equal distribution of the means of production among the several individuals or families of the State. That is a mechanical, inhuman conception opposed to, and even contradictory of, the spirit which has moved men to attempt a return (if it be possible) to a good distribution of private property. A man is not unhappy or degraded because another man is richer than he; his suffering only becomes inhuman and abnormal when he has not the wherewithal to live as a free man. One can be free without being rich, but one cannot be free without the means of livelihood.

Again, Distributism does not mean the possession of sufficient land or capital by all families or all individuals of the State. That might be the ideal, but it is not the practical goal which we aim at, which we think possible. There will always in practice be among men, even where property is well distributed and guaranteed a certain minority who cannot handle it, a certain exceptional number, large or small, who are incorrigible spendthrifts. What is more, there will always be a certain exceptional number, large or small, who not only have no appetite for economic freedom but positively dislike it, and prefer to shift onto other shoulders the responsibility of keeping them alive.

No, the goal of the Distributist in a society wherein so many of the citizens are economically free that they give their tone to the whole community. We all know the difference between a countryside where farmers live securely upon their own land, and industrial urban quarters where great herds of men turn to their ineluctable labor at the sound of the factory siren. In the one place there may be considerable numbers who possess nothing, who are working for hire under the farmers, or who are in domestic service with the wealthy of the neighborhood. But the tone of the place is a tone of ownership, of economic freedom. In the second instance you may have many a small shopkeeper possessing some economic independence, you may have many a man owning his own home, and not a few possessed if industrial shares or city or national bonds on a small scale, but the tone of the whole place is proletarianism, just as the tone of the first place is distributist.

Lastly, Distributism is not, most emphatically not, the ownership of the means of production in small units of simple instruments. It does not mean the return to the carpenter’s bench, the local blacksmith, the hand-weaver, and the hand printing press; nor does it mean, in transport, a return to the carrier’s horse and cart. A simple society, based upon small craftsmanship, may be preferred to the highly complex society based upon concentrated machinery; it may even be held that the small craft and the small industry alone are permanent and that our great modern concentrations must inevitably crash sooner or later; but all that has nothing to do with the definition of Distributism. A railway between two great cities involves high concentrations of capital, but it does not of itself involve the possession of capital by one or a few men. The capital may be possessed in shares, and those shares widely distributed. The management of a national loan involves high concentration of capital, but there is no necessity for the bonds being held by a few; they could just as well be held by individuals and families composing the mass of the community.

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