Saturday, 15 June 2024

Distributism: An idea whose time has come? (Part 2)

IN EARLY MARCH we published the first of a two part article – both looked at Distributism and provided a brief history of the wider Distributist movement in Britain.

Written by Glasgow-based Andrew Hunter, this second and concluding article charts British Distributism from the foundation of the Distributist League in 1926 through to its adoption by the Nationalist movement.

In the near future we hope to feature another ‘stand alone’ article which will look at Distributism through the eyes of the National Liberal Party – NLP – which was founded after the publication of the seminal work A Declaration and Philosophy of Progressive Nationalism in 2005


Distributism: An idea whose time has come? (Part 2)

GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc (top left and right respectively) were the founders of British Distributism. Arthur Joseph Penty (bottom left) was influential in promoting Guild socialism via his 1906 book, Restoration of the Gild System. After WWI he became interested in – and helped develop – the Distributist ideas of Belloc and Chesterton. In 1937 Penty’s 24 page essay Distributism: A Manifesto was published.

Distributism is effectively a holistic socioeconomic system. It a nutshell, however, it provides a way of opposing both the tyranny of the marketplace (capitalism) and the tyranny of the state (communism/socialism) by promoting a society of owners. Both capitalism and communism/socialism are seen as ‘evil twins’. Capitalism allows the concentration of ownership in the hands of a few. Both Communism and Socialism tries to deny any form of private ownership. Distributism aims to create a community of free men and women.

In 1926 the Distributist League was formed, the aims of which Richard Howard sums up in his paper on Distributism as: “In Britain in the 1920s and 30s, the distributists sought the restoration of family and individual liberty by a revival of smallholder agriculture and small business and an end to grasping landlords, by attacking monopolies and trusts and denouncing what they saw as anonymous and usurious control of finance.

“Opposed to laissez-faire capitalism, which distributists argued leads to a concentration of ownership in the hands of a few and to state-socialism in which private ownership is denied altogether, distributism was conceived as a genuine Third Way, opposing both the tyranny of the marketplace and the tyranny of the state, by means of a society of owners”. (The Third Way – A Secular Party paper by Richard Howard).

In 1937 the League published Arthur Penty’s Distrubitism: A Manifesto. Sadly, the League went into decline in the late 1930s after the death of GK Chesterton in 1936 and Penty in 1937, a matter of weeks after his manifesto was published, and the organisation came to an end in 1940.

The ideas of Distributism did not fade away entirely after the passing of its founders. One quarter in which it continued to influence thinking was in the Liberal e.g. Elliot Dodds and nationalist movements. For example, nationalists/patriots have long been drawn to Distributism because they see it as fulfilling the goals of Social Justice through the ending of wage slavery and the exploitation of workers and National Freedom by the breaking-up of huge private corporations that are only interested in profit even when the pursuit of those profits is detrimental to the national interest. Such corporations are owned by a handful of people but their power is such that they can bend governments to their will.

In these days of financial turmoil and the mask having slipped from the face of unbridled global capitalism, is Distributism now an idea whose time has come?
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