17 November, 2010

Where Does One Begin?

This article was originally published by
on 17 November, 2010
Some of us begin to catch glimpses of saner principles, reflected in the Catholic social teaching and in Distributism (and elsewhere), but we have no idea how to approach these ideals in our day-to-day lives. The ideal appears to be something quite distant from reality. Where does one begin?
-Peter McCombs

08 November, 2010

Justice, Fairness and Taxation, Part Two

This article was originally published by
The Distributist Review on 8 November, 2010

In Part I of this article, I pointed out that a purpose of the Keynesian redistribution of wealth was to keep the engine of Capitalism working. It’s adherents advocate it from a sincere belief that this is the best way to help everyone. It sustains the poor and maintains the wealthy. The conservative and libertarian pundits who praise the small business owner do so on the assumption that he is an entrepreneur seeking to become a wealthy monopolist. They also believe that wealthy monopolists are required in a society to provide enough jobs for the mass of people. In other words, they advocate the growth and consolidation of businesses into wealthy monopolies because they sincerely believe it is for the common good. Distributists, on the other hand, seek to eliminate monopoly as a means of establishing the common good.

01 November, 2010

Justice, Fairness and Taxation, Part One

This article was originally published by
The Distributist Review on 1 November, 2010

John Médaille’s recent article on the “Fair Tax” stirred up quite a conversation on the nature and acceptability of methods of taxation in relation to distributist principles. Although some of the controversy was due to a misunderstanding of his actual views, distributists do need to present their ideas on taxation to stir up debate in a way that clarifies the issues. I’m hoping this article will be a useful contribution along with Mr. Médaille’s efforts to that end.

21 October, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, Part Two

In this article I will conclude the discussion of Centesimus Annus and bring the series on papal social teaching to an end. The fourth and longest chapter of Centesimus Annus concerns the twin truths of the right to private property, and at the same time, of the universal destination of material goods. This is the same truth that Leo XIII stated when he said, ” … the earth, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all” (Rerum Novarum, §7).[1] That is, the reason that God has instituted the private ownership of property among men is not to exclude anyone from his share of the earth’s bounty, but rather to make possible the efficient and peaceful provision of sufficient goods for all. Thus private property is simply a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. Though it is surely a means consonant with human nature, and therefore it cannot be abrogated by human law, it is nevertheless subordinate to its end, and thus can be regulated so as to better attain that end. Thus the chief matter that the Holy Father takes up in this chapter is what he calls “the legitimacy of private ownership, as well as the limits which are imposed on it” (Centesimus Annus, §30).

21 September, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, Part One

In this article I will begin the discussion of Centesimus Annus, the latest social encyclical, written to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, and issued on May 1, 1991. In some quarters Centesimus was hailed as a new direction in papal social teaching, and even as a repudiation of past doctrine. However, as we will see, this was not at all the case. But because this charge has been widely made, I will denote much of this article and the next to showing the continuity of Centesimus with the prior social doctrine of the Church.

17 September, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: St. John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

Just a few years after Laborem Exercens, on December 30, 1987, John Paul II issued the second of his social encyclicals, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Unlike most of the social encyclicals, which were published on an anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, was issued to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio. In fact, John Paul II states that he desires “to pay homage to this historic document of Paul VI” (§3) and “to extend the impact of that message by bringing it to bear…upon the present historical moment…” (§4). Not surprisingly the Holy Father devotes the first part of Sollicitudo to a discussion of Paul VI’s encyclical. He points out that Populorum Progressio brought out the “worldwide dimension” (§9) of the social question more clearly than any previous papal document. That encyclical had been devoted to the “development” or “progressio” of the peoples of the world, not merely to development conceived of as an accumulation of goods, but as promoting “the good of every man and of the whole man.”[1] Now in his own document, John Paul proposes “to develop the teaching of Paul VI’s Encyclical” (§11).

09 September, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: St. John Paul II, Laborem Exercens

After the brief pontificate of John Paul I (August to September 1978), John Paul II began his reign in October of 1978. As is well-known, John Paul is the first non-Italian pope since 1523 and the first Pole ever chosen as Vicar of Christ. John Paul II’s encyclicals and other writings have often been longer and more meditative than those of previous pontiffs. In a sense, he has created a body of work which is a consciously interrelated statement of the Faith. He himself often points out the connection of one dogma with another, for example, the relationship between the Church’s doctrine of the nature of man and her doctrine of man’s rights and duties in society.[1]

02 September, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: From Pius XII Through Paul VI

The successor of Pius XI in the papacy was Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958. Although today he is often not appreciated, I think he was one of the greatest popes of the last two centuries. He issued major encyclicals on the Mystical Body of Christ, on the sacred liturgy, on biblical studies and on modern philosophical and theological errors. Most notably, in 1950 he infallibly proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of our Lady into Heaven. He also re-instituted the Easter Vigil Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday, and, in reaction to the changed conditions of modern life drastically reduced the Eucharistic fast to three hours in order to allow more people to receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

Although Pius XII did not issue any social encyclicals, he gave a great number of addresses on social topics. And because of their importance, I will quote from a few of them in this article.

31 August, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: Pius XI

In the last article I discussed the contribution of Pius X and Pius XI to the social teaching of the Church, including the first part of Pius XI’s great encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. The next topic that Pius XI takes up is the immense one stated in the title of the encyclical, the reconstruction of the social order. This reconstruction is divided into two essential parts, “the reform of institutions and the correction of morals.” Pius treats moral reform in the third and last section of the encyclical, and now turns his attention to the reform of institutions. This is probably the most important section of Quadragesimo Anno, for in it Pius XI elaborates his teaching about “occupational groups,” sometimes known in the United States as “industry councils.” But first he introduces the concept of the principle of subsidiarity and begins the discussion by reminding his readers about that “highly developed social life which once flourished in a variety of prosperous and interdependent institutions,” but which has subsequently been destroyed “leaving virtually only individuals and the State…” (§78). What is the Pope talking about? In the English-speaking world we are apt to consider the individual as the foundation of the state, which was formed when a number of separate individuals joined together to form a body politic. We consider only individuals and the state to be normal or necessary parts of any society. Of course, we might admit various private and voluntary organizations, from clubs to political parties to labor unions and trade associations. But all of these are private, essentially nothing more than groups of individuals having no more status in the constitution of society than a chance gathering of friends.

30 August, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: St. Pius X through Pius XI

In the last article in this series I spoke of Leo XIII, and especially of his great encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891. Leo XIII was the first pope to systematically evaluate modern economic conditions in the light of the teaching of the Church, and the tradition he began has continued and developed to this day. In this article, I will cover the period from the reign of St. Pius X (1903 to 1914) to Pius XI. During this time successive popes developed the doctrine of Rerum Novarum according to the needs of the time, in particular in the encyclical Pius XI issued commemorating its fortieth anniversary in 1931.

27 August, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: From the Beginning through Leo XIII

The social apostolate of Christ’s one Church began while that Church’s Founder was still on this earth. In fact, even before the Incarnation, during the Old Testament dispensation, the law of God and His prophets insisted continually on justice and charity toward the poor. For example, the law of Moses proclaims that every seventh year “every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor” (Deuteronomy 15:2) and nearly every prophet denounces those “who oppress the poor, who crush the needy” (Amos 4:2). In fact, social justice was linked with faithfulness to the God of Israel and the keeping of His covenant.

26 August, 2010

Catholic Social Doctrine: An Introduction

Within the body of truths taught by the Catholic Church, truths about what we must believe and about how we are to live, there are those truths commonly called Catholic social teaching or the Church’s social doctrine. They are an important and integral part of Catholic doctrine, but not so well known or so well understood as they might be. In this series of articles I will be presenting this teaching by way of expounding the principal documents in which it has been embodied by successive popes. In this first article I will give an introduction to the teaching, including what I think are important points we should remember to prevent misunderstanding, and to perhaps lessen the disagreements which sometimes arise in this area.

20 August, 2010

A Problem With Over-Centralizing Production

This article was originally published by
The Distributist Review on 20 August, 2010

We distributists advocate the decentralization of production whenever practical. We are challenged by claims that centralization is more efficient in terms of cost. “What’s wrong with Big Business” is a question we need to answer. The founders of Distributism focused on the idea that, when the overwhelming majority of citizens work for a wage at jobs controlled by relatively few wealthy individuals, their situation is a form of slavery. It may not be as bad as the slavery of the 19th century but, in many ways, the house slaves of that era didn’t have it as bad as the slaves of the field.

09 August, 2010

The Distributist Review

The folks over at The Distributist Review have asked me to join them and contribute articles to their web site.

21 July, 2010

A Potential Step in the Right Direction

On 19 July, [2010], British Prime Minister, David Cameron gave a speech that should perk up the ears of Distributists, especially any that live in United Kingdom. Mr. Cameron’s “Big Society” initiative seeks to divest responsibilities and authorities absorbed by the British Parliament and transfer them to the local level. Of course, this is already being harshly criticized by groups with operational ties and other vested interests in the central government, but this initiative has the potential to unleash precisely the sort of philosophical shift that men like Chesterton and Belloc knew would be necessary if Distributism were to ever have a chance. Now, I don’t assume that Mr. Cameron is a Distributist – he may or may not be – but I can’t help picturing Messrs. Chesterton and Belloc smiling.

19 July, 2010

Distributism and Campaign Finance Reform

This article was originally published by
The Distributist Review on 19 July, 2010

It’s campaign time again in the US. The issue of how political campaigns are financed has become a popular topic in recent years, with both of the major parties accusing each other of bad practice. Everyone knows that the ability to fund political campaigns has a direct influence on political policies. Our constitutional republic is supposed to act in the interests of the several states and the people, not those of corporations, union leaders, or other groups. However, as John Médaille says, we really live in a republic of PACs. As long as organizations with large bank rolls can exert influence on our government’s policies, putting their interests over those of the people, we will remain a plutocracy.

13 July, 2010

The Economists Are Beginning To Crack

Tim Duy asks “Why Is the American Jobs Machine Broken?” In the article, he describes the discussions economists are having about the reasons the job market continues to decline, and declares that he has become a heretic in regard to the theories of Free Trade. The fact that economists are beginning to question their policies is only the beginning.  The only choices they appear to see are between Free Trade and protectionism. In fact, the issue goes much deeper than that. This small crack in the faith of modern economists is just the first step in a long journey to seeing what is truly necessary for economic stability.

20 April, 2010

Distributism and Government Entitlement Programs

One important aspect of any economic view is how to meet the needs of those who, for some reason, cannot meet their own needs. The views on this subject vary, not only within society, but even within individual economic views. However within the economic views, there is generally a common philosophy that determines the direction of how to address such things. Those who hold more of a socialist view advocate the government's direct involvement in just about anything. Those who hold the more “conservative” or libertarian view advocate as little government involvement as possible. One aspect of the philosophy which forms the basis of Distributism is the principal of subsidiarity.

09 April, 2010

Distributism and the Possibility of State-wide Cooperative Ownership of Certain Production.

Are there some areas of production where collective ownership is compatible with Distributism? In The Servile State, Hilaire Belloc proposes that the remedy to the problems of the inequities of Capitalism are either to move ownership from the few to the many (toward Distributism), or from the few to none (toward Collectivism which is essentially Socialism). If toward Distributism, the process will be slower and more painful because it will involve the decentralization of the property into the hands of many small owners. The process toward Collectivism is easier because it is less disruptive to what already exists in Capitalism.

27 March, 2010

Distributism and Campaign Finance Reform

During his State of the Union speech, the president was critical of the Supreme Court ruling that removed limits on corporate political contributions. This is one time where I actually agree, in part, with him. Our constitutional republic is supposed to act in the interests of the several states and the people, not those of corporations, union leaders, or other groups.

24 March, 2010

Distributism and Obamacare

A favorite charge against distributism is that it is just another form of socialism. This is based on a false assumption taken from the name of the movement, that distributism is nothing more than the redistribution of wealth. While distributism desires to establish a wide distribution of wealth, the means of accomplishing that goal are not socialist in nature. In fact, the moral and philosophical foundation of distributism is completely incompatible with socialism. This is why I sometimes refer to distributism as “distributist capitalism,” as a distinct form of capitalism compared to “monopolistic capitalism” (the capitalism under which we live).