14 April, 2022

Distributism and "Preppers"

Distributists emphasize personal and local economic independence as the foundation of personal, political, and economic freedom. For nearly one hundred years, we have been saying that society overall needs to move away from our dependence, not only dependence on big government, but also on big business. As long as we continue to accept these things, we will be in a state of dependence, which means that we will not truly be free. So, what does this have to do with the so-called “prepper” movement that has gained popularity in the last two years? 

The prepper movement is one that emphasizes individual preparedness for what some say is an orchestrated economic collapse. Preppers stock up on pre-packaged food supplies and weapons, and even plan on escaping to secluded locations to escape the hordes of people who will be rioting and looting when they can no longer buy or get basics needs like food and water. As I write this, there is a war between Russia and Ukraine that is threatening to rise to some level of global conflict, right at the time many Western governments are relaxing the public restrictions that have been imposed for the last two years due to COVID-19. Even though rising gas prices and vaccine mandates were already causing problems with the so-called supply chain on which most cities are entirely dependent for basic every day needs, this conflict is being blamed for rapidly exacerbating these issues at the present time. Regardless of the proximate or ultimate causes of gas prices, the problems with the supply chain,[1] and inflation in general, the practical reality of these things seems to be that we are heading into an economic crisis for which the population at large is ill prepared. 

For the past one hundred years, while the distributist movement has advocated wide spread smaller scale local production, the nations of the West have steadfastly moved toward more centralized large scale production of basic necessities, even to the extent of becoming dependent on foreign countries for some basic necessities. This has resulted in us being very dependent on the continued movement of these goods through ports, across highways, and into local stores in an efficient and cost-effective way. It all seems to work just fine, until something happens to disrupt that movement. The lock downs and vaccine mandates of the last two years caused some disruption of this. Local stores were forcibly closed down and many of them went out of business. Requirements and restrictions on trucking resulted in less trucks being available to take goods from one area of the country to another. Shipping containers piled up in ports to the point where the ships had to wait outside of the ports for space to become available to unload their cargoes. People have gone to the stores that remain in business to find shelves that are either sparsely stocked or empty of some goods. People have even taken to looting the shipping containers as they are moved on trains, resulting in a lot of goods being tossed to the ground to be sifted through by the looters and others instead of reaching the people or stores who paid for them. 

The problem with our extreme dependence on this supply chain is that our major cities simply cannot support the basic needs of their populations. Stores might hold enough supplies to last for a few days, but without the constant flow of new goods, the people in those cities will very quickly face a very unpleasant prospect, and the situation in those cities is likely to quickly become very unsafe for the average person. It is reasonable to expect that looting and rioting will take place, and that a lot of people will be hurt in the process. This is not a difficult conclusion to reach, so it is easy to see why the preppers have taken the precautions they have. 

What, on the other hand, is a distributist response to this? Well, distributists have to speak carefully on this matter. I don’t think we can fault the preppers for trying to make sure they have provisions for their families if this type of situation arises. At the same time, we continue to reach out to everyone, including the preppers, to understand that this situation could be avoided, at least in the future, if communities throughout our societies decide to not be so dependent on the supply chain we currently use. Today’s distributists are making the same suggestions as the distributists of the past; communities need to make themselves as economically independent as possible. Preppers store up packaged foods to prepare for a time when trucks won’t be available to deliver enough food from distant producers to local stores. If, instead of this dependence, the production of food was dispersed and local to communities across the country, the preppers would not need to worry about the failure of the supply chain caused by an economic collapse. 

The preppers are being proven right. Given the actual economic structure in which we live, our dependence on long distance supply chains for the basic needs of daily life, and the recent actions of governments that resulted in wiping out a significant portion of the actual local economy, it makes sense to prepare for a time when basic needs cannot be acquired through normal economic activity. The main problem with the prepper movement is that it is essentially individualistic. This is not their fault. They are dealing with the reality of the political and economic environment in which they are actually living. Distributism however, takes a different approach. While there may be distributists who are preppers, because we too have to deal with the reality of the political and economic environment in which we actually live, we are also proposing sincere, realistic, and concrete changes at a societal level which, if accepted and adopted by a large enough segment of the population, would make “prepping” unnecessary. 

[1] David W. Cooney, “The Breakdown of the Supply Chain.” Pactical Distributism, 14 Oct. 2021 https://practicaldistributism.com/2021/10/14/the-breakdown-of-the-supply-chain/

Title photo by Heptarch.  Licensed under GNU General Public License.


  1. Prepping is not just about supply chain issues. There are other reasons to be prepared for a variety of problems that could arise that would make people be prepared. Loss of a job, storms, 3days of darkness, illness, broken utilities, etc.

  2. Yes, there are many reasons for which people would take steps to "be prepared." However, at the time I wrote this article, the emphasis - at least on social media - seemed to be focused on the idea that an economic collapse is approaching that would then lead to the total breakdown of society. One major aspect of why this breakdown would happen is that nearly every place, but especially large cities, would quickly run out of basic necessities, and this would primarily be because the normal supply chains would be part of the collapse.

    This is why so many "preppers" include weapons and how to use them as part of their basic preparations. Basically, while there are those who do try to prepare for what might be called "normal" situations like losing a job, storms, illness, broken utilities, etc., the people who were specifically called "preppers" were looking at something more catastrophic, and possibly deliberate, than those things. This is what the article is addressing.

    Finally, in regard to the three days of darkness, I don't think that this was in the minds of the vast majority of those who were classified as "preppers." Many preppers have "escape" plans, where they can quickly leave home and go out into the wilderness to survive. This certainly doesn't apply to the three days, when we are supposed to remain at home and not even step outside. Most people have enough food and drink at home to last three days, so the most preparation needed for the average person considering the three days of darkness is blessed candles, warm clothes, and lots and lots of fervent prayer. Now, many people who have prepared for the three days of darkness may also be "preppers," but they are making two different preparations for entirely different things.

    David W. Cooney


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