Conservatism and Distributism

My church cancelled its Bible study last night because the pastor and his wife were ill, so you’ll have to wait until next week to read my write-up on our Bible study!  In the meantime, I have some links for today.

1.  Rachel Held Evans has a post, Ask a Christian Conservative,  in which conservative Matthew Lee Anderson answers questions about conservatism.  Although I am more center-left these days in my political ideology, I appreciated Matthew’s thoughtful responses.  They’re unlike what I observe so often in modern American conservatism (and this includes things that I have done): bashing people on the other side, while elevating the heroes on one’s own side; saying that the other side is inconsistent in bashing your side because it has celebrities who do the very same things that it is bashing; questioning people’s patriotism; casually dismissing other points-of-view by calling them “liberal”; etc.  Matthew offers an explanation and a defense of conservatism, explains where he differs from Republican orthodoxy, honestly admits that he is grappling with certain political issues, and acknowledges validity in the concerns of people holding other perspectives.

2.  Under Rachel’s post, I got into a brief discussion with Catholic Devin Rose about a political ideology known as Distributism.  Devin said that he was a Distributist, and that stood out to me because I know another Catholic who is a Distributist.  Wikipedia says the following about Distributism:

Distributism (also known as distributionism or distributivism) is a third-way economic philosophy that developed in England in the early 20th century based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno.  According to distributists, property ownership is a fundamental right and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (laissez-faire capitalism). Distributism therefore advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership and, according to co-operative economist Race Mathews, maintains that such a system is key to bringing about a just social order.”

That reminds me of a couple of things.  First, I think of the Torah’s system of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25, 27).  Under that system, every Israelite family would have a plot of land, and, if it sold the land, it would get it back in the Jubilee.  This system had private property, as each Israelite family could sit under its own vine and fig tree.  But the return of the property every fifty years prevented the vast majority of the land being concentrated into the hands of a few, which could result in such ills as people being subject to oppressive landlords.

Second, I think of what the Pilgrims did in America.  At first, they had a system of communism, with the result that some people worked while others did not, since people could benefit from others’ labor.  But then the Pilgrims gave each family a plot of land, and productivity increased because people worked hard and could enjoy the fruits of their labor.  I’ve heard conservatives appeal to this story to argue that capitalism is better than communism, but they usually fail to notice that the Pilgrims were giving each family a plot of land.  That differs from modern American capitalism, in which some people start out with more advantages than others and disparities of wealth are characteristic. 

I wonder if Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (a Catholic) is influenced by Distributism.  This article by Zachary Roth discusses Santorum’s economic policy.  Santorum talks about poverty, expresses concern about America’s eroding manufacturing base, and has said that he supports a tax system that helps the middle-class.  Is Santorum’s belief in a strong middle class based on Catholic Distributism?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Candidates, Current Events, Political Philosophy, Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.