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Distributism: Summer 2021 Political Philosophy Seminar
This seminar met each Saturday in June and the first Saturday in July, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. CT (US Central Time) and took us through some of the top authors of the philosophy of Distributism. Sessions included a 30-45 minute lecture from Dr. Johnson, followed by a Q and A session which was moderated with the goal of dealing with a variety of questions. Participants were able to chat and pose questions throughout the session. Each session lasted 1 1/2 hours.
Distributism is neither liberal nor socialist—that is, it neither advocates for free market capitalism or government ownership and control of all property. It advocates for a third way in which property and ownership are more equally distributed among the citizens of a country. Government regulates the distribution of property so that monopolies and mega-corporations that concentrate wealth cannot develop and create a proletariat. Obviously, to create a distributist system, land reform and breakup of monopolies would be necessary, and the implications of these moves could be quite momentous. Whether distributism is desirable and possible, how distributism would work given how we’ve developed so far, and how to avoid negative consequences of distributist reforms, and where the Catholic and other churches stand on these issues now are all questions that will run throughout this seminar. Proceeds from this seminar will be for the benefit of MORTC Urban Farm in Kansas City, MO.
Suggested reading is just that, suggested but not required. All are welcome whether or not they have any prior knowledge of Distributism or have the time to read the selections. Suggested reading will be provided here on the Political Philosophy website.
Recommended pre-read: Allan C. Carlson, “Distributism: A Short History,” Local Culture: A Journal of the Front Porch Republic, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2020, pp. 7-16.
June 5: Aristotelian and Catholic Origins of Distributism.
Distributism has its origins in Aristotle and Aristotle’s philosophy as modified and developed by Catholic thinkers. This does not mean that the philosophy is inseparable from Catholicism or even from Christianity. In order to understand it well we need to go to the foundations in Ancient Greek and Medieval Christian thought, so that’s what we’ll do in this session. Recommended reading: Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, selections TBA.
June 12: The Distributist Critique of Capitalism.
Distributism is a “third way” that is equally critical of communism and capitalism. In this session we will deal with both critiques, but particularly with the Distributist critique of capitalism, since that is the system that has triumphed on the world stage. Recommended reading: Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, “The Capitalist State in Proportion as it Grows Perfect Grows Unstable,” “The Stable Solutions of this Instability,” and “Socialism is the Easiest Apparent Solution of the Capitalist Crux.” Also Ryan Hanning, “Hilaire Belloc’s Distributism: A Commitment to Place,” Local Culture: A Journal of the Front Porch Republic, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2020, pp. 68-75.
June 19: What Life is For: Distributism’s Vision of Work and Play.
Distributist thinkers go against the grain of much modern thinking, particularly adulation for technology, efficiency, mass production and mass culture. Here we’ll develop this critical way of thinking in the context of today’s economy and cultural production through exploring Chesterton’s views and how he might view the state of work and play in capitalist countries today. Recommended reading: G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, “Vows and Volunteers,” “The Holiday of the Slave,” and “A Summary.” Background: Eugene McCarraher, Christian Critics, Chapter 2: “After Such Knowledge: The Modern Temper and the Social Gospel, 1919-1932.”
June 26: Charity vs. Community.
The liberal model for dealing with what the state does not is charity in the sense of giving money to help people with what they need or to get them back on their feet. The distributist model is caritas at a different level, community. The anarchist ideas of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement ask what people can do for each other at this different, more profound level and will help us discuss why liberal charity is not good enough. Recommended reading: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. From the Catholic Worker: “Distributism vs. Capitalism,” “Reflections on Work: 1947,” “All the Way to Heaven is Heaven.” Background: Eugene McCarraher, Christian Critics, Chapter 3
July 3: How Would This Work?
The Distributist movement started a long time ago, and it ultimately didn’t take off. But lately its cause has been taken up by those who are beginning to question anew the ultimate sustainability of neoliberal capitalism but are leery of a state or internationalist socialist solution to growing economic, cultural and environmental problems. Why is Distributism getting a second hearing, what would it look like in today’s world, and is it feasible? Recommended readings: Allan Carson, Third Ways, Ch. 6. Karl Polanyi and the ‘Economy Without Markets;’ Ch. 7, Seeking a Moral Economy: The Christian Democratic Movement; and Conclusion: Dreams, Realities, Illusions.
We are surrounded by patterns that endanger the human spirit and our economic well-being, social life, and land. Permaculture means working towards stable practices that enable us to take care of ourselves, our fellow human beings and the land we depend on for our lives. Our political and economic system in its current form is not good enough to achieve those goals. We want to learn how to live better by fostering discussions (and actions) concerning our environment, economics, religion, food security, and social and cultural resilience.