06 February, 2014

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

This question seems so simple, but the complex differences of our varied circumstances make simple answers seem trite and ill-conceived. Until Distributism gains wider acceptance in society, it will view us as though we are crying out from the asylum – just silly people with quaint, but unrealistic, ideas. My belief is that the best way to win that acceptance is by example; while we continue to live in our unbalanced system, we must strive to apply Distributism to our lives to the greatest practical extent. Saying this, however, doesn’t address the question at hand. Therefore, let’s take a look at where we can begin. What are some of the things we can actually do today to begin applying Distributism in our day-to-day lives and, by doing so, show others they’re wrong about us?


Distributism remains an unknown idea for the overwhelming majority. Talk to people about it. If enough people in your area become interested, consider forming a study group to discuss how distributist principles could be applied in your local area. Even if you haven’t fully accepted our premises, if you think it’s a worthy discussion, bring others to our site or other places where the ideas can at least see the light of day. We are here to share ideas and participate in civil discussion.


This, in many ways, can be the most difficult aspect in our current environment and culture. However, I would encourage you to take what steps you can given your current situation.

Plant a garden to provide at least some of your own fruits and vegetables.
Purchase your produce from a local small farm or cooperative.

Support small local businesses whenever possible. I would add that you give preference to businesses run as a cooperative instead of the standard employer/employee model. Pass the big-name coffee stand and go to the locally owned one a little further down the block. Pay a little extra to support that small grocery store rather than the big chain discount “super” store. If there are products produced locally, give them your preference over non-local options. If the only grocery stores around you are chain stores, complain to the management if they don’t sell locally grown produce. Let them know that you’ll switch to any store that does.

Don’t be exclusively local. Yes, Distributism favors the local over the remote because maintaining local economies so that they are as self-sufficient as possible establishes economic stability overall. However, this is a preference of the local, not the exclusion of the remote. If the businesses in the next town (or even further away) are run in a way that’s more compatible with Distributism, choose them over the more local businesses that aren’t.

Focus on more than economics. Distributism is about more than the process of exchange. Commitment to the community, particularly to those in need, is an integral part of Distributism.

If you own or are planning to start a business, consider what it would take to run it on distributist principles. Can your current employees buy in – or at least have the option to do so – to become a cooperative? Can you organize with other local people in the same type of business to establish something like a guild. In the beginning, this could start as a forum on common issues and interests through which these other business owners could be introduced to distributist principles.

Become Active

It is not enough for us to post back and forth about how great we think it would be to live in a Distributist society. We live under various sets of laws, many of which put our way of doing things at a great disadvantage (if not nearly impossible). Contact those in power to let them know you want change. We will undoubtedly be ignored as an insignificant minority at first, but that won’t remain the case if, as our numbers grow, more and more people start requesting the same changes.

Don’t neglect regional and national policies, but focus on local issues. Why are we forced to commute by zoning laws that require the separation of all businesses from residences? If you want to be a baker, why can’t you live in a house behind your shop? I can understand the isolation of certain industries that are particularly noisy or smelly, but that does not necessarily apply to the shoe shop or local grocer. If higher levels of government are blocking local change, tell them you believe they are harming the local community. (No politician likes to hear that.)

If you are affiliated with a political party, get involved in the local chapter and promote distributist principles. Distributism is not Republican, Democrat or anything else.

If you’re really a glutton for punishment, run for office.


Don’t give up hope, be patient and, above all, pray.

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