Acton Institute Powerblog

10 Signs You May Be a Distributist

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The presence of one group at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests might be surprising: the Distributist Review has produced this flyer for distribution at the protests.  They don’t seem to have asked themselves whether G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc would have gone down to protest with the unwashed masses (the answer, of course, is never in a million years) but contemporary “neodistributists” are a more inclusive set. They go far beyond the metaphysical and aesthetic principles of Chesterton and Belloc’s economics. Since that flyer’s a little hard to read, we’ve put together a list to help you identify your inner distributist: herewith, Ten Signs You May Be a Distributist:

  1. You can’t wait for the Revolution: As we’ve explained before, the changes distributists want amount to revolution. That puts them squarely in line with the rest of the OWS camp, whose communications head told NPR, “My political goal is to overthrow the government.” Fortunately, the revolution will be prosecuted in accord with Catholic Social Teaching. (What’s a little property-snatching among friends?) If this idea excites you, you may be a distributist!
  2. You just want to grow heirloom tomatoes in a co-op: Or maybe your grandfather’s strain of prized carrot. Either way, if think the Catholic Social Teaching mandates this kind of lifestyle, you may be a distributist!
  3. You abominate the seedless watermelon: The seedless watermelon is an unnatural monstrosity, you say? If you oppose genetic engineering on principle and begrudge the one billion lives saved by the Green Revolution, you may be a distributist!
  4. You find yourself supporting environmentalist policies, but for different reasons: If you find yourself always on the side of radical environmentalists, but as with the seedless watermelon, different principles lead you to their extreme positions — well, puzzle no longer. You may be a distributist!
  5. You think you live in a polis: If you’d like to impose virtue on 307 million people the same way you would on 75,000; if you think that what worked on a co-op level in Spain can be scaled up 60,000 percent without distortion; and if you insist on economic self-sufficiency — in short, if you’re more attached to the form of the polis than Aristotle himself was, then you may be a distributist!
  6. You find yourself asking “What would Frodo do?”: Distributists often take The Shire of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings as a model society (mostly those who consider a return to the polis too fantastical). If you’re convicted that eating two breakfasts a day is more in line with Catholic Social Teaching, you may be a distributist!
  7. You really miss guilds: If you’ve mythologized the quaint, confraternal aspects of medieval guilds, and don’t mind overlooking how controlling they were; if you love the idea of long apprenticeships and don’t mind sweeping grants of patent and absolute trade secrecy, you may be a distributist!
  8. You dislike intellectual property: If you view Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as a tool for enriching the plutocracy (except of course when monopolies are given to guilds) and identify more with the Swedish-internet-pirate school of thought, you may be a distributist!
  9. You bleed your patients with leeches: If you long for the simpler, more local health care system of the Middle Ages, when your barber performed appendectomies and your doctor’s first instinct in case of illness was to send for leeches, then you may just be a distributist!
  10. You brew your own beer: Coors is the beer of Republicans, O’Doul’s is probably the beer of the Tea Party, and the unwashed hipsters at OWS all drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, but if you brew your own beer, you may be a distributist! (No word on what Chesterton thought of bathtub gin.)

Note: If you would like a more serious response to distributism, see here and here.

Kenneth Spence


  • Unnecessary pot shots everywhere.

  • jrendini

    Analysis is a better tool than is sarcasm in dealing with Distributists. Distributist concerns cannot simply be dismissed. Modernity places enormous strain on the family. I think it no coincidence that modern economies diminish workers’ “leisure” time (i.e., the time workers would otherwise spend on child-rearing and community activities), shift the enormous value of women’s work from their children and families to their corporate employers, and coincide with plummeting, unsustainably low fertility rates. Western culture cannot survive these trends.

    Thus, I think it is correct for Distributists to ask whether or not we are eating the seed corn. The problem is that Distributist responses to the problems are obscure, if not obscurantist. You are absolutely correct in pointing out how the Distributist contempt for patent rights stops short, without explanation, at the door of Guild monopolization. We should prod Distributists beyond their specific concerns toward specific solutions. 

    • Roger McKinney

      Jrendini: “I think it no coincidence that modern economies
      diminish workers’ “leisure” time (i.e., the time workers would
      otherwise spend on child-rearing and community activities), shift the
      enormous value of women’s work from their children and families to their
      corporate employers, and coincide with plummeting, unsustainably
      low fertility rates.” 

      Europe forces companies to give
      workers about three times the leisure time that US workers have. Do you think
      they spend it with their families and on community activities? And their women
      still work, too.

      My grandfathers worked 80 hours a week, and they were middle
      class. They only took Sundays off. US
      workers today work far less than previous generations and earn far more. They
      can use that time for family or community if the want.

      Women went to work in order to buy bigger houses. In the
      1950’s the “dream” house was 1,200 sq ft, had no air conditioner and had a one
      car garage. Women today would never live in such a small house. Materialism
      causes women to work instead of stay home, not the economic system.

      Jrendini: “Thus, I think it is correct for Distributists to
      ask whether or not we are eating the seed corn.” 

      What does that mean? Distributists are full of poetry that
      makes no more sense than the Zen nonsense about the sound of one hand clapping.
      And they don’t know enough economics to tell us what the seed corn is or what
      to do about it. 

      My generation would interpret “eating the seed corn” to mean
      that we aren’t saving enough to replace worn out equipment so that we can
      continue producing goods tomorrow. But doing so would mean reducing taxes and
      forced redistribution of wealth so that people can save more and invest in
      large corporations that produce the goods we need.  

  • Kenpatpeters

    Sweetly sardonic and amusing but since when does sharing with our neighbors classify someone as a distributist. Jesus and the Jerusalem apostles would certainly be on that list of distributists as well. Capitalism is an amazing engine of development and industry but you folks raise it up against the “knowledge of Jesus Christ” to the absurd. Since when can we exegete such hyper-individualism from the Sacred Scriptures? We are our brother’s keeper! It is the law of Jesus Christ that we bear one another’s ( overwhelming) burdens. Do you not understand that Covetousness is a two headed dragon with both Greed and Envy as heads. Both have destructive effects on society and unbridled capitalism has given us the current mess we are presently enduring. I do not resemble any categorization on your list BUT I will now proudly wear the label Distributist without shame. 

    • Kenpatpeters, two things: (1) the foundations of distributism are not wrong, and as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not really going to argue with Chesterton and Belloc–I think that soldier-farmer is a terribly noble occupation. However, distributists argue now that their theories could actually be effected in modern America, and for evidence, they point to a single cooperative in Spain that is 0.17% the size of the U.S. I’m not sure someone who insists on making that argument always deserves a grave response. (2) Acton’s not about hyper-individualism either. We are just as committed to solidarity, subsidiarity, thriftiness, and all the other economic virtues as anyone. What we oppose, for obvious reasons, is revolution.

    • Roger McKinney

      Kenpatpeter: “Since when can we exegete such
      hyper-individualism from the Sacred Scriptures?”

      You need to read Hayek’s “Individualism: True or False”,
      available in pdf at, and his “Fatal Conceit.” The type of
      individualism you deplore did not come from classical liberalism or capitalism.
      It came from atheists in the French enlightenment. Neither the Acton Institute
      or capitalism promotes hyper-individualism.

      Kenpatpeter: “unbridled capitalism has given us the current
      mess we are presently enduring.”

      And where have you seen “unbridled capitalism”? The US
      is as socialist as most socialist European countries. The Federal Register of
      new regulations has averaged 70,000 pages per year since 1970. Financial
      services are the most heavily regulated outside of transportation and health
      care. The only deregulation of the financial industry was the repeal of
      Glass-Steagall, which had nothing to do with the crisis, and the lifting of
      interest rate controls on banks.

      The US
      allows very little space for private property and free markets any more, but no
      matter how small that space, socialists always blame the tiny residual free
      market for crises instead of the government.

  • Angelo Bottone

    So, was Chesterton a Distributist?

  • Hmm.. I do brew my own beer and grow tomatoes. 
    I even believe in private property. 

    I would think that lots of people would want me playing on their team.

  • Rather dismissive of a school of thought that comes from the bosom of the Church’s tradition.  Did the Distributist Review join the protestors or did they go to present an alternative to them?  It seems to me that the latter was the case.  Distributists generally have that ability–called common sense–to realize that it is impossible to make common cause with those who would contradict the teachings of Christ and His Church.  

    I expect better from the Acton Institute where intellectual discourse should be the order of the day as opposed to cheap shots toward those that are truly seeking an alternative to the reigning orthodoxies.  Indeed, this is an occasion where good Catholics may disagree as to the right ordering of society in a particular country and place.  

    The Acton Institute is indeed a force to be reckoned with and provides valuable insights and contributions to the modern discourse on the Church, her social teachings, and economics.  Mr. Spence, clever as he may fashion himself, makes rather a fool of himself and the institute he represents–at least give us some Onion-esque wit!  

    Ah well, quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.

    • If you’re going to say “quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis reipitur”–and I’ll agree with you partly there–don’t write above it, “I expect better from the Acton Institute where intellectual discourse should be the order of the day as opposed to cheap shots toward those that are truly seeking an alternative to the reigning orthodoxies. Indeed, this is an occasion where good Catholics may disagree as to the right ordering of society in a particular country and place.” Please read anything else we’ve written about distributism to see exactly what about it we don’t like.

      And there’s nothing very clever about this list. I’m not sure whether you mean to say that I “fancy” myself clever or that in some way I am affecting cleverness, but either way, I haven’t given any indication that I think I could write for The Onion–I couldn’t, thanks for pointing it out, but what humor there is in this post is mostly different from The Onion’s satire. The only thing that I actually invented was the medieval medicine part, and lots of people joke about wanting to return to that. No, I certainly haven’t fashioned myself clever.

      • Thank you for your reply, Mr. Spence.  I have read some of Acton’s commentaries–including some of the pieces that you have written–re: Distributism.  My comment was narrowly focused to your piece (“10 Signs You May Be A Distributist”).  

        You obviously have  problems with Distributism and Distributists.  Indeed your article is written in a style that is painfully condescending.  You make a major error in the beginning of your article when you assume that those from the Distributist Review are joining in “the revolution” of the OWS camp.  This is not the case.  Providing an alternative (i.e., a more human and humane philosophy of life) to those who might be open to it–especially given the economic realities of our day–is an entirely laudable action.  I would expect Acton to do a similar thing–articulate its economic vision and engage and persuade people (even if they are protestors) to consider it.  Where was Acton?

        Your caricature of the Distributist is a cheap shot that you use to discredit the practicality or philosophy of the movement.  I suppose that we could make a caricature of a public policy intern who loves to tweet, blog, and pronounce great truths and seemingly mock the interests of regular people (i.e., growing tomatoes and brewing beer), yet this would get us no further in the discussion of ideas.

        In the end, I suppose I  should have read the article for what it was.  The musings of an intern who very well may not have had to face the realities of family life and living in this valley of tears; and, though intelligent, he may yet not have had to seriously look at the principles of his economic creed and the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and decide what kind of world he wants for his children.

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  • Thecultcowboy

    So this author is not one of those people then?

  • Miki Tracy

    Spence is absolutely wrong about G.K. and Belloc–evidently, he hasn’t
    ever read “The Outline of Sanity.” And either one of them as having
    promoted “metaphysical and aesthetic principles”??? This man is
    delusional. Both were all about the real world as it really *is*! As for the rest, I love it, and if this is what I do (brew beer and wine, live in the Shire, grow tomatoes, eschew GMO watermelons,
    and bleed patients with leeches…which actually sounds like fun to try
    at least *once*!), I really think he should come live with us for a
    while before he knocks it. MY LIFE TRULY *ROCKS*!!! :D ♥ ♥ ♥ …I feel sorry for Spence. He quite obviously does not know how to have *any* fun in life….
    “Lastly, there is a fourth class of people who take whatever it is that
    they happen to want, and say that that is the ultimate aim of
    evolution. And these are the only sensible people. This is the only
    really healthy way with the word evolution, to work for what you want,
    and to call THAT evolution. The only intelligible sense that progress or
    advance can have among men, is that we have a definite vision, and that
    we wish to make the whole world like that vision. If you like to put it
    so, the essence of the doctrine is that what we have around us is the
    mere method and preparation for something that we have to create. This
    is not a world, but rather the material for a world. God has given us
    not so much the colours of a picture as the colours of a palette. But he
    has also given us a subject, a model, a fixed vision. We must be clear
    about what we want to paint. This adds a further principle to our
    previous list of principles. We have said we must be fond of this world,
    even in order to change it. We now add that we must be fond of another
    world (real or imaginary) in order to have something to change it to.”
    ~G..K Chesterton, “The Eternal Revolution” in ‘Orthodoxy’ In other word, Spence, our vision is quite clear. In fact, just as clear as it is deep. There’s nothing “neo” about it….

  • Guest

    By the by, you are also wrong about the “Green Revolution.” The term was actually used by Peter Maurin long before 1968, and it has nothing to do with advancing Big Ag technologies.

    • No, I am not wrong, I am using the mainstream definition of Green Revolution.

  • Phil

    You have simply caricatured Distributism. It’s not even funny enough for me to dismiss that this was a little resentful and cheap.

    • Nothing resentful here! And please, “cheap shots”? Toughen up a little–this is a good-natured post!

      • Roger McKinney

        You know you have a sound argument when your opponents offer nothing but insults.

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  • Roger McKinney

    Excellent post and so true! You know you have hit the mark
    when the responses from the opponents offer nothing but insults.

  • Roger McKinney

    Few people would object to the lifestyles that distributists
    have chosen. Who can really object to growing heirloom tomatoes or brewing your
    own beer? Distributists promote the lifestyles of my grandparents which I thought
    was wonderful.


    What’s wrong with distributists is their smug attitude and
    their insistence that theirs is the only lifestyle and if you’re not living it
    you’re harming the planet or other people. What if I don’t like gardening or
    brewing my own beer? What is I love WalMart’s low prices and prefer to use my
    comparative advantage to earn a living instead of composting?  

  • Roger McKinney

    If there I anything distributists hate, it’s bigness.
    Bigness equals evil. But as any economist will point out, relieving poverty on
    a large requires reducing the costs of life’s essentials, such as food and
    clothing. Reducing costs of producing those things requires lots of expensive
    machinery, and buying that machinery requires big businesses. If we all lived
    the distributist’s dream, we would revert to the mass poverty of the middle
    ages with frequent episodes of mass starvation.

    • James A.

      Bigness? Or the power over others? There are some monopolies out there such as water distribution that are quite benign.

      What you are referring to economies of scale and you would be correct to say this would be difficult to achieve. This is because separating production would accumulate financial costs which are reduced to nil with vertical integration.

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  • wj

    Cheap potshots with no relation to the truths of distributists, distributism, Chesterton, or Catholic social teaching.  Not worthy of any serious look at economics and CST.

  • Shane Schaetzel

    Cheap. Low. Petty. Lacking substance and disrespectful. Very adolescent.

  • Essem

    Hey. I never found Distributism funny before but I had a good laugh. What frightens me is that I even understand the jokes. And apparently Distributists lack a sense of humor! LOL

    • Anonymous

      Yes, of course we distributists(actually social Christianity would be a better label to my mind.) lack humour, after all one of our greatest spokesmen was only one of the greatest of all the humourists in English literature.

      • Christianity is by its very nature social. You’ll have to come up with a better definition of distributism than that.

        • Anonymous

          Unless of course you have simply misunderstood how I’m using the term social. I do not mean, of course, that distributism makes Christianity social rather than individual or even anti-social. I mean it is the application of Christian principles to society. 

          I think that distributists, and I am one, are wrong to place the distributive state as the centre of their vision. I of course support this state, but what is more important is to start with the traditional Christian view of man and society, that of Scripture, the Fathers and the Tradition of the Church(which has no time for modernists and liberals like Locke, Acton or Mises.) and then apply this to key areas like family, Church, community, work and consumption. It is only after these considerations and only following their lead do we reach the necessity of a distributist state. Hence I think Social Christianity is a better label.

          • Roger McKinney

            Church scholars gave us capitalism. The Church scholars at
            the School of Salamanca, Spain in the 16th century built upon the
            work of Aquinas, the Scripture and Church tradition to determine the just
            price. They determined that it can only be found in a free market. At the same
            time, the Church has always held to the sanctity of private property. But the scholars
            could convince no monarch to follow Biblical principles. Finally the Dutch
            Republic of the 17th century
            implemented those teachings and capitalism was born.

            There is nothing in the Bible that even remotely suggests
            that the state should redistribute wealth. Not a single passage. God always
            insisted that charity be voluntary or it had no moral value. God did not even give
            the government the right to enforce the Torah poor laws and Jubilee. He kept
            that right for himself.

          • Luke Daxon

            Might I enquire Roger, whether you think jubilees should be undertaken? The wholesale writing off of debt and the reversal of exchanges of land and property? I am not asking whether you think the state should compel them. I ask simply whether you think these should take place, morally speaking. What about the injunctions against usury in Exodus and Leviticus? Should these be honoured on not?

          • Roger McKinney

            Yes, I think jubilees are morally good things. But I think
            we have something similar to Jubilee in our bankruptcy laws. Keep in mind that
            Jubilee was less of a redistribution of wealth as it was a program of long term
            leases. As the Bible makes clear, sales of property were to be prorated
            according to the number of years to Jubilee. In modern terms, what Jubilee
            actually did was to prevent people from selling their land while allowing long
            term rents. If I became poor and had to sell my land one year before Jubilee, I
            couldn’t get very much for it, just the profit on one year’s crop.

  • Martin

    Your caricature is either woefully uniformed or just unfair or, most probably, quite a bit of both.  (Your references to Chesterton and Belloc not wanting to mix with the unwashed masses certainly indicates an ignorance of their character and writing, at the least.)  Satire is only funny and effective when it hits close to the mark; yours does not.  

    There is nothing silly or fantastical about being in favor of private property and free capital formation, while simultaneously concerned about huge concentrations of economic power in the hands of a few, such as the folks who run the “too big to fail” banks like Citibank and BoA.  Quite frankly, those banks have us all by the you-know-what, which is not healthy for the economy, and is not healthy for individual freedom.  There’s simply nothing positive about it at all, and it is by no means a foregone conclusion that any capitalist system needs to allow, much less encourage, such concentrations of economic power.  That doesn’t mean you give more power to the government either–too often those in favor of a free market seem to think that any concern about such issues smacks of socialism, which is not the case at all.    If the Acton Institute is in favor of expanding freedom, as it should be, then you should be able to recognize that at some point accumulations of capital can limit the freedoms of our citizens.  Bush’s plan to have people given more control over their Social Security accounts is an example of distributionist thinking.  Expanding freedom means expanding access to capital, and maximizing control over capital, for all, and distributionist policies favor that.  If you had a complaint about some mistreatment with respect to your bank account, and you needed to take it up with management, would you rather take the issue to your credit union or to BoA?    If ever there was a time that a thoughtful person should understand that letting GM, AIG, Lehman Bros., Citibank et al control huge portions of our economy is not healthy, I would think that should be obvious now.  And if you think there is something about free market capitalism that necessitates such huge accumulations of economic power, you are simply uninformed, both as to the risks of such entities, and the extent to which economists in the tradition have recognized the dangers they pose to human freedom.  Your references to beer and tomatoes and seedless watermelons are silly, and you obviously fail to realize that those favoring distributionist policies, like John Paul II and EF Schumacher (who was a highly trained economist who worked with Keynes and Galbraith) are not all backwoods simpletons.  In fact, I suspect their intelligence, and their experience of how economic principles affect individual lives, dwarf both yours and mine.  If you are disinclined to wrestle with the more intellectual among the distributionists, I suppose you could at least just watch It’s A Wonderful Life when it comes around this Christmas.  Some of Capra’s scenes were a bit sentimental, but he was deadly serious as to the threat to human freedom that emerge when folks become reliant on Potter and have no access to the savings and loan.  The sort of dynamic that Capra worried about goes on all the time.  Just ask the farmers trying to deal with the big agribusinesses how free the market is for them.   Assuming that you are a clever and curious chap, I suspect that you will one day regret having ridiculed a set of ideas that you have investigated so little, as you will come to recognize that, at their core, must distributionist ideas are very much about protecting authentic human freedom.   

  • Thomas Storck

    Chesterton’s own newspaper, G. K.’s Weekly, supported the General Strike in England in1926.  Perhaps that says something as to whether he “have gone down to protest with the unwashed masses” or not.

  • Cdswike

    My husband does all of the above and definitely a distributist.  I may add that he now has started to make his own butter….seriously.

    • BigPapa

      We must have butter at the revolution! (The event which, by the way, I did not receive the RSVP?!?!?!).

  • James Stagg

    Hilarious, Mr. Spence!  I look forward to more blood on the end of your pen!

  • Not a Moron

    The shocking thing is that anyone takes the Acton Institute seriously.

  • I wish to share the reaction of my little brother, from facebook:

    “Mr. Spence,
    You are clearly delusional fule who is congnizant of rien. I think distributism is ok, but I have never used leeches on myself–get a sense of humor. so many unjustified cheapshots
    Sincerely, p****d off comemtor”

    If you want, you can just like this comment, and we’ll add you to the roll of dissenters. Might keep the comments more orderly

  • Helgothjb

    The agricultural laborer in the mid fifteenth century could buy 23 pounds of bread with a day’s wages. In fact, he was frequently fed for free by the proprietor, and the meals were not charged against his wages, so his purchasing power was even higher. The more skilled artisan could buy 34 pounds of bread, which puts him at a standard of living which is 9 times higher than the Speenhamland subsistence allowance. It is obvious that these wages provided sufficient income for a wife and children.
    By any measure the eighteenth-century handloom weaver working his loom at home was a skilled artisan. In 1798 his purchasing power was 28 pounds of bread, again easily enough to support a family, although somewhat less than the carpenter earned in 1450. With the introduction of the power loom under the factory system, his wages fell to a mere one-sixth of their former purchasing power by 1831. To put a more human face on this statistic, imagine a 25-year-old hand loom weaver in 1798 with a family, good home, and income; by the time he was 58 years old, his income was reduced to the subsistence level, and getting worse with each passing year. –

  • Helgothjb

    So, you would have prefered the USA remained with the English empire? 

  • Helgothjb

    Actually, the purchasing power wages has dramatically decreased as has the amount of leisure time afforded the adverage citizen. 

  • Mario

    Well done!!!
    We have that “distributist” movement in Spain and South America too…

  • Wgrangerjr

    You may be a Distributist if you read and try to follow the encyclicals of the Popes regarding Social Justice.

    Didn’t Lord Acton hate the popes, or just those Catholics that didn’t?

  • Theotpr

    Why is this linked to a Catholic blog site?  This blog post is snarky, insensitive, narrow-minded and mocking towards people upset over the plight of the poor and powerless in this country.  Nice job, for linking to a blog post that is completely devoid of any Catholic teaching or Gospel message.  

    • Dear Mr. Theotpr,

      All the Catholic teaching and Gospel message you can handle are available right here in a link provided in the post itself. Knock yourself out, and if you disagree with the New Advent editors (to whom we are grateful for the link, btw) then you should probably start a site more “faithful” to Catholic teaching–run them out of business! That’ll show ’em!

  • Mike

    First time reader here came from NEWADVENT. You people need to calm down. This guy is ripping on a flyer, which is fairly packed with info (poorly packed I would say) and he’s making fun of their silly claims that if you brew your own beer you might be a distributist. They said it and that was funny, they were making fun of themselves. I know plenty of oligarchs and totalitarians that brew their own beer.

    • Thanks Mike–check out the rest of the blog, and — we hope you’ll become a regular!

  • 11. You think of a person with a family business as a brother or a sister in Christ and not as a capitalist competitor to be undersold and to be put out of business.

  • Mike Thomas

    Chesterton would be ashamed of the mockery of the efforts contained in this flyer. One could just as easily mock the Catholic Worker movement, for instance. Jacques Maritain was personal friends with Dorothy Day and supported actions similar to those dismissed by this article. The Catholic faith is radical. It may look foolish to ecular eyes, it may look doomed to fail or pathetic. Surely the crucifixion and the early Christian communities did as well. Constructing an economy based upon the Gospels, encyclicals, and the writings of the saints may appear worthy of derision. But so did Our Lord. Shed your arrogance before you approach this topic, Mr. Spence.

  • cwbullets

    Make mine a home brew, please.

  • Michael Lee

    I find it disturbingly interesting that the “Distributist Review” crowd (even as stated in their brochure) claim to support family-owned businesses.  One of the key precepts of Distributism (aka; Distributivism) as expounded upon by Chesterton and Belloc is the widest possible distribution of the MEANS of wealth creation.  Chesterton was not an uncritical anti-capitalist.  His critique was that capitalism as presently practiced, for the most part, was really not true capitalism, but wealth-cronyism.  But, as they say, I digress! My original point is that the “D.R.” crowd claims to support family-owned businesses, yet they vehemently — and with images of great upturned, neo-distributist noses — revile and oppose the one such opportunity available to the widest possible number of families; the much-maligned “Home-based Businesses” as made accessible by such entities as Amway, Avon, and others.  The “D.R.”ers condemn this sort of family-owned business as being the modern incarnation of usury!  Somehow, it’s noble if I grow an organic potato in my back yard, and offer it for sale on top of a stand made of old peach crates in my front yard; yet it is a sure sign of the Prince of Darkness should I order a case of organic cleaning fluid from Amway, and offer it for sale in an email to some friends and neighbors.  I shudder to think what horrors from Hell are behind the lady next door who sells Avon!  And, when the “D.R”ers take a break from sniffing out usury; they go back to their ad hominum attacks on Fr. Sirico.  As a Chestertonian, I can’t imagine he would think very highly of them.

    • BigPapa

      My personal objection to Multi Level Marketing-type businesses are the underhanded BUT LEGIT schemes to make money. For example, you require umpteen certifications to become a “Master such-and-such” in the organization. $$$. Then you get caught by the FDA promoting miraculous cures or downright medical claims, but not before you made some money. Requiring people to buy your products first, and if they don’t continue forward, the “starter” kit ($300, ballpark) has already been paid for, so no reason to work super hard to prove to customers your biz and products are really as value-added as your slick marketing makes it.

  • Stu

    Sometimes people try to be funny, and certainly satire is a good form of humor, but often when amatuers go down the road of comedy they simply come across as snotty. 

    • The thing is, Stu, no one would care what distributists think if I didn’t compile their central tenets in a snarky list!

      • Stu

        Except of course, you.  I, mean, given the post and everything.  Your reply reminds me of how a boxer will sometime smile when he take a really hard hit.  

  • Chuck Huckaby

    This is a sad foray into humor that attempts to dismiss the essence of distributism by caricaturing by by highlighting issues peripheral to its central thesis. The fundamental issue behind distributism is the broad ownership of capital under family control instead of the preponderance of capital being controlled by either the State or the Corporation. 

    Unfortunately by the time I finished, I came to doubt whether Acton could muster the honesty to provide a serious response to distributism elsewhere on the site. 

    • Chuck:

      Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan lectured on this subject at Acton University 2011. You can download the audio of the lecture ($1.99) at this link:

      Here’s the blurb for Kishore’s talk:

      Increasingly popular among Christians of all confessions, the economic theory of distributism, often associated with Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, is often presented as a Christian ‘third way’ between capitalism and socialism. This lecture outlines distributist theory and articulates a robust critique of its premises and workings.

      See his blog post, “Distributism is not Free-Market”

      You might also be interested in the Thomas Woods monograph “Beyond Distributism” available for only $6 through the Acton Bookshoppe. Here’s a link and the blurb:

      Troubled by rampant injustice and inequality, many conscientious
      Christians advocate radical economic reforms. Distributism, a program
      that traces its popularity to Catholic writers Hilaire Belloc and G.K.
      Chesterton, promotes the widespread ownership of property by tempering
      the market with guilds or similar associations. Thomas Woods, drawing on
      a wealth of historical evidence and informed by Catholic social
      teaching and economic insight, argues that the distributist case is
      severely flawed. By its nature, distributism must invoke the power of
      the state, a dangerous move that ultimately undermines its own
      objectives. Economic freedom in a market system, Woods advises, is a
      context more conducive to justice and human flourishing.

      Here’s a Woods commentary on distributism:

  • Helgothjb

    The one thing I think we can all agree upon is that the state has overstepped her bounds.  She has been co-opted by the captains of industry and made to wield her power in order to protect them from ordinary market forces.  This has given those industries, not only an unfair advantage, but a perverted form of commerce designed only for lining their pockets, no matter the consequences!  How else is one to explain the Federal Reserve or the current shenanigans of the Dow and the S&P?

    • Roger McKinney

      I think it would be a little more accurate to say that the
      American people demand that the government control every aspect of the economy
      and it does. Then corporations take advantage of that situation for their own
      benefit. I say that because if the American people didn’t demand socialism and
      give so much power to the government, politicians would have no power to sell
      to corporations.

      At the same time, keep in mind that the Fed and politicians rely on mainstream economists for advice. Outside of the socialist bent of the people, the main problem is very bad economic theory.

  • DMP

    Gentlemen, gentlemen. The post is a bit of good-natured ribbing. Calm down.

    “The lady doth protest too much.”

  • Bob Waldrop

    A few signs you may be a conservative. . .

    You long for the good old days before those communist ideas like the 40 hour week and child labor laws were enacted.

    You think that poor people are poor because they are lazy degenerates.

    You believe firmly in the utility of corporate welfare, and in fact, cash several corporate welfare checks yourself, but think that food stamps should be abolished because they encourage trans-generational welfare dependency.

    Your idea of a great intellectual is Newt Gingrich.


    • Was that an attempt at humor? If so, then it’s clear that you’re not in the same league as Kenneth Spence.

      • Anonymous

        Ah, that noted humourist. Who could hope to compete with his example? And with you as judge, someone who forgot that one of the founders of distributism was one of the greatest of all humourists, those who pretend to equal Spense’s staggering wit will no doubt be kept in their place.

        • Yes but why does it seem that the last Distributist to evince a real sense of humor died in the 1930s?

  • Anonymous

    The most interesting thing about this piece is it seems to lack teeth. Clearly you were trying to criticise distributism, but aside for the bit about the leeches your heart doesn’t seem to have been in it. 

    Distributism is just social Christianity. If you approach social issues by first asking what St.Augustine, St.Gregory of Nyssa and the Angelic Doctor, not to mention Scripture, would have thought of them, then you may be a distributist. If you approach them by first asking what Locke, Acton or Von Mises would have thought of them then you may be a modernist and liberal like those at the Acton Institute.

    Oh, and, aside from the good point by Thomas Storck, it seems you are not that familiar with Chesterton as you ironically use the term unwashed masses as an insult. Chesterton’s work is suffused, like Dickens, with an overflowing love of humanity in all its rude, vulgar glory. Read his biography of William Cobbett and then tell me he would recoil from the ‘unwashed masses’. I’m just astounded you would make a comment like that to be honest. Have you read Chesterton at all?

  • Stephen

    You know you’re a supporter of the Acton Institute when, anytime someone identifies social injustice, you cry “revolutionary!”

  • joshua

    Satire must at least have a resemblance to the truth. As this lacks that, it fails as satire. Of course cheap shots are possible in both directions. What can you expect from an organization that names itself after a famous dissenter from Catholic doctrine? Oh wait…that is true.

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  • Alberto Hurtado

    As someone who frequently participates in Acton discussions and conferences, I find this post unfortunately sophomoric and childish. There is a great synergy between Belloc, Chesterton, Leo XIII, Routhbard, Hayek, and Lord Acton himself: that is this mixed bag of thinkers very much think alike on a very many key points. This post adds nothing to the discussion and seeks to childly caricature the Distributist viewpoint. Best to stay quiet and let the rest of the world think you’re a fool than open your mouth and confirm it.

  • not a slave

    Capitalism is a dying system. It cannot survive without government bailouts for the rich. Mammon is their only god. The heretics, idol worshippers, and lovers of self are all clowns. Any true Christian knows that these fools are nothing but liars.

    • fundamentalist

      Capitalism in the US died with the election of Herbert Hoover. What you are witnessing today is the death of democratic socialism. The process began with the death of the USSR and the changes in China following the death of Mao. It proceeded to the recent collapse of the most socialist states in southern Europe. The death of democratic socialism in Northern Europe and the US is next. It will be painful.

  • Ross Arlen Tieken

    What utter nonsense. Acton does it again; completely misunderstanding Distributism in every possible manner.

    From Chesterton, “The Circular Argument”

    “We say, for instance, that the only tolerable ideal for a man is that of
    a free man; and the only tolerable ideal of a free man is that of a man
    free over a fairly wide area to choose and to create. We say that while
    this ideal is nowhere ideally realised, it can be really realised. We
    say there was more of it in a free craftsman than in a modern mechanic;
    more of it in a farmer’s wife doing as she liked with her own herbs and
    cordials than in a factory girl doing as she is told by a capitalist
    combine. We do not desire to produce this precise example of this
    precise state of things. We do not limit the craftsman to carving
    gargoyles; we do not force the critic to drink cowslip wine. We give
    these things as examples of the various ways in which a healthy humanity
    has attempted to approach this ideal, rather than the other ideals. But
    when we describe the ideal in such general and ideal terms, we are
    accused of describing a legendary Arcadia or a mythical Golden Age.”

  • James A.

    As Lord John Acton himself stated, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”.

    What more could pave the way to absolute power then centralism? Who could be “greater” then those that founded ideologies that continue to influence our world posthumously?

    A centralism that is expressed today both at a bloated government level and at a world level by a huge concentration of ownership made possible by selective liberalisation.

    This is what the distributists of a century ago apparently feared and one of the relics of that time are competition laws.

    So you can drag the ideology in the dirt all you want, the situation we have today is due to post-war generations being politically naive and incessantly oscillating between the polar opposites of privatisation and nationalisation.

    You can laugh at co-ops and specifically credit unions even though no other legal form enables the potential of oversight that essential services would require to deal with flaws observed with public and private healthcare.

    You can also giggle at the idea that systems should support life instead of life supporting systems even though it is rational to consider that the non-sentient should be subordinated to the sentient.

    You can cherry-pick every detail you want to paint something as just-another-socialism ™.

    In fact, you can put all of your energy into repelling all the things that do not conform to your ideology and world view.

    This while completely missing the point that what most people question is the apparent lack of ethics in the economic medium and perfectly valid concerns such as seeing the tragedy of the anticommons developing.

    What will have been achieved? Nothing except maintaining an untenable status quo. That is unless one goes beyond refutation to propose alternative solutions to the valid problems that have been brought up.

    If debate continues to stall solutions then I’m afraid that James Wolfensohn’s prediction of a shift in economic power will go full swing and the “binary” West will be superseded by the Confucian world.