The 2014 Acton Lecture Series took a dramatic turn last week as we welcomed G.K. Chesterton – or at least a quite remarkable facsimile of Chesterton in the form of Chuck Chalberg, who travels the country performing in character as Chesterton, among other notable historic figures. In this presentation, Chalberg’s Chesterton speaks about America, which he thought was the only country with the soul of a church. He also addresses the state of the family–and not just the American family–past and present. His starting point–and end point– is this: “Without the family we are helpless before the state.” We hope you enjoy the performance as much as we did!
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) is considered by many to be one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century. But you’d be hard-pressed to find him discussed in any public high school (or even most colleges or universities, for that matter.) A prolific writer (he penned everything from a popular mystery series to epic ballads), he thought himself mainly a journalist. While he never attended college, his knowledge had both depth and breadth:
Chesterton was equally at ease with literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology. His style is unmistakable, always marked by humility, consistency, paradox, wit, and wonder. His writing remains as timely and as timeless today as when it first appeared, even though much of it was published in throw away papers.
Part 1 is here.]
An economically free society doesn’t have to be hyper-utilitarian, materialistic and banal; and yet, here we are, living in a capitalist age marked by these very features. Some social conservatives who see capitalism as one of the main culprits argue that we should turn away from both socialism and greedy capitalism, toward a more humanitarian and community-based approach, toward a small-is-beautiful aesthetic of farmer’s markets, widespread property ownership, social responsibility and local, collective enterprise, a political and economic strategy that would allow us to move beyond the noisy, vapid, bustling tackiness that has come to characterize so much of modern life.
The poet farmer and essayist Wendell Berry, and journalist and Crunchy Cons author Rod Dreher are among the more prominent contemporary defenders of this view. They build on the earlier work of writers such as E.F. Schumacher, Malcolm Muggeridge, G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
Belloc, in particular, often regarded as the father of Distributism, advocated government policies that would divide productive property more equally and spur the economy toward more buy-local patterns and greater individual contact with the land. His Distributist vision called for an active, top-down approach to the reallocation process. Here’s how Belloc put it in his 1936 work “An Essay on the Restoration of Property”:
We must seek political and economic reforms which shall tend to distribute property more and more widely until the owners of sufficient Means of Production (land or capital or both) are numerous enough to determine the character of society…. the effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice.
There are some problems with this vision of cultural renewal. (more…)
Today the Acton Institute announced the 2013 Novak Award winner. Full release follows:
Although he has only recently obtained his doctorate, David Paul Deavel’s work is already marking him as one of the leading American scholars researching questions of religion and liberty. In recognition of his early promise, the academic staff at the Acton Institute has named Deavel the recipient of the 2013 Novak Award.
Deavel is an associate editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and a contributing editor for Gilbert Magazine. He is also currently a Fellow of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.), where he teaches courses in the Department of Catholic Studies and the St. Paul Seminary.
Deavel pursued his undergraduate degrees in philosophy and English literature at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and earned a Ph.D. in historical theology from Fordham University in New York.
Much of Deavel’s research and writing has been on topics related to the Catholic intellectual tradition, most often reflecting his acquaintance with John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton. His writing has appeared in numerous books and a wide variety of popular and scholarly journals including America, Books & Culture, Catholic World Report, Chesterton Review, First Things, Journal of Markets and Morality, National Review, Nova et Vetera, New Blackfriars, and Touchstone.
He is a native of Bremen, Ind., and a 1992 graduate of Bremen High School. Deavel currently lives in St. Paul, Minn., with his wife, Catherine, a philosopher at the University of St. Thomas, and their five children.
Named after distinguished American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, the Novak Award rewards new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. Recipients of the Novak Award make a formal presentation on such questions at an annual public forum known as the Calihan Lecture. The Novak Award comes with a $10,000 prize.
The Novak Award forms part of a range of scholarships, travel grants, and awards available from the Acton Institute that support future religious and intellectual leaders who wish to study the essential relationship between theology, the free market, economic liberty, and the importance of the rule of law. Details of these scholarships may be found here.
Samuel Gregg is quoted in today’s New York Times story about the Vatican note calling for a central world bank — he gives the final word on the document. The “politically liberal Catholics” quoted before him reveal that they have missed a crucial distinction in the document produced by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. Gregg, of course has picked up on that distinction; he wrote yesterday:
Putting aside doctrinal questions, this text also makes claims of a more strictly economic nature…. The text makes a legitimate point about the effects of a disjunction between the financial sector and the rest of the economy.
Unfortunately, many of its authors’ ideas reflect an uncritical assimilation of the views of many of the very same individuals and institutions that helped generate the world’s most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The academics and activists who see in the document a way forward to socialism have missed the split between the note’s diagnosis of the world economy, and its proposed economic reforms. I cannot resist quoting G.K. Chesterton: “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”
To say that “the time has come to conceive of institutions with universal competence,” as PCPJ President Cardinal Turkson did yesterday, is all well and good, but the possibility of such institutions running effectively is another matter.
Indeed, Kishore Jayabalan, the director of Istituto Acton and a former staffer at the Council, asked the National Catholic Reporter, “What makes the [Council] think that ‘global’ leaders will succeed where so many national ones have failed? It is a shame this document is based more on sentimental political hopes for world government than on actual experience and expertise of financial markets.”
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:
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.)