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DISTRIBUTIST PERSPECTIVES VOLUME I
To the Yeomen, Craftsmen, Writers, Artists, and Social Critics of all countries who still have the courage of their Catholic convictions, and are fighting for real – natural and supernatutal – Christian civilization.
Distributist Perspectives Volume I
Essays on the Economics of Justice and Charity Cdr. Herbert W. Shove • George Maxwell Hilaire Belloc • G.K. Chesterton • Arthur J. Penty H.J. Massingham • Eric Gill • Harold Robbins
With “A Twenty-First Century Appraisal of Distributism” by Dr. Thomas H. Naylor, and an Introduction by Fr. Lawrence C. Smith
Norfolk, VA 2004
Distributist Perspectives Volume I. Copyright © 2004 IHS Press. Preface, footnotes, typesetting, layout, and cover design copyright 2004 IHS Press. All rights reserved. “And His Menatal Exodus,” from People and Things, by H. J. Massingham, is copyright The Society of Authors, the Literary Representative of the Estate of H. J. Massingham; the selection is included in the present volume by the Society’s gracious permission. “On Knowing the Past,” by Hilaire Belloc, is copyright the Estate of Hilaire Belloc, by whose gracious permission this article appears in the present volume. “Painting and the Public,” from Beauty Looks After Herself, by Eric Gill, is included in the present volume by arrangement with Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc. IHS Press was unable to locate the holders of the original copyrights to Distributism: A Manifesto and The Sun of Justice. Any information leading to their identification would, therefore, be much appreciated. Additionally, the Editors wish gratefully to acknowledge the contribution of Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society and Rodger Phillips of CatholicAuthors.com to the biographical sketches of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Notes to the original texts are included as footnotes. Editor’s notes have been included as endnotes and are therefore to be found at the back of this edition, immediately following the texts and just prior to the biographical sketches. ISBN-13 (eBook): 9781932528374 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Distributist perspectives / [compiled by John Sharpe ... [et al.]]. p. cm. Subtitle varies. ISBN 0-9718286-7-9 1. Distributive justice. 2. Wealth--Moral and ethical aspects. I. Sharpe, John, 1971 HB523.D568 2003 330--dc21 2003005883 Printed in the United States of America.
Table of Contents
Reclaiming the Tradition: Introduction to the Distributist Perspectives Series.......................................................7 by the Directors, IHS Press
Averting Self-Destruction: A Twenty-First Century Appraisal of Distributism..........................................................17 by Dr. Thomas H. Naylor DISTRIBUTIST PERSPECTIVES I
Introduction........................................................................27 by Fr. Lawrence C. Smith
I. On Knowing the Past...........................................................35 by Hilaire Belloc
II. The Truth About Work......................................................40 by George Maxwell
III. On Organisation and Efficiency.......................................46 by G.K. Chesterton
IV. The Growth of Industrialism.............................................50 by Cdr. Herbert Shove
Illustrations........................................................................58 V. The Buttress of Freedom.....................................................61 by Harold Robbins
VI. Painting and the Public.....................................................68 by Eric Gill
VII. And His Mental Exodus................................................76 by Harold J. Massingham
VIII. Distributism: A Manifesto............................................86 by Arthur J. Penty
I. Economic Principles......................................................86 II. Historical Observations.............................................100 III. Conclusion: Practical Applications...........................106 About the Authors.............................................................116
“...Distributism is not an ‘ism’ in the sense that that term is understood today. That is, it is not something like a new opening in chess which a few clever men have perfected in the seclusion of a library or academy. It is not some new variation in sociology. It is an organic thing, a thing that was growing before men were under the unhappy necessity of discovering that there was a subject called sociology. It was the mark of European life for centuries; it was taken for granted by the men who founded the New World. Our tragedy today is due to the fact that it never fully matured; but amidst all its imperfections, its tangle of feudal legality and the rest, the thing itself, the Peasant and the Guild, the reality of personal ownership of the means of production as the determining feature of economic life – that is clear to any man of insight. “...it seemed such a normal thing that men did not think of naming it until it had been destroyed.”
Reclaiming the Tradition Introduction to the Distributist Perspectives Series
July of 1934, Fordham University Professor of History, Ross J. S. Hoffman, wrote in the Catholic magazine The Sign: “It is not an uncommon circumstance for people to talk and argue a great deal about something without anybody bothering to define precisely what it is.” It is unfortunate that Dr. Hoffman’s words apply today to discussions of Distributism, and especially to those discussions that purport to deal with its alleged flaws, defects, and “unacceptable” baggage. Much of the confusion stems from the sloppy habit of mind that moderns have inherited from the degraded state of intellectual activity that characterizes the post-Renaissance West, and to which Prof. Hoffman partially refers. Another source of the confusion is the relative absence of committed, scholarly advocates of Distributism who are capable of articulating its wisdom with an objective and yet real sympathy. In their place are found so-called historians of ideas whose bias is inherently in favor of modernity and all its trappings, such as the near worship of liberal democracy, the “free” market, and industrialism. What permits this sad situation to continue is the absence of accessible primary source material that allows the defense to speak for itself; that allows Distributists to explain what Distributists thought, believed, and worked for. Aside from a few of the more popular and happily available titles by Chesterton and Belloc – such as What’s Wrong With the World, The Outline of Sanity, and An Essay on the Restoration of Property – that deal with general aspects of the Distributist vision, the huge volume of material, in the form of articles, pamphlets, lectures, etc., that was produced by the Distributists and their supporters during the inter-War years is simply unavailable to all but the most determined archival sleuth.1 This paucity of primary n
Among secondary works, the ones that are reliable are also nearly impossible to find. W. R. Titterton’s 1936 memoir of Chesterton is full of useful anecdotal (cont’d) 1
material leaves the defense and, more frequently, the criticism of Distributism to secondary “scholars” who themselves suffer either from ignorance of much of what was written by the Distributists, or, more frequently, from modern pre-conceptions which take the politically correct world of the third millennium for granted and who cannot appreciate or sympathize with the combat that the Distributists waged against modernism, because they neither see with the eyes of Faith nor reason with the Philosophy of St. Thomas. In a word, the majority of modern “scholars” who deal with the history and philosophy of the Distributist Movement are liberals, in the sense of that liberalism frequently condemned by the Church and refuted by her theologians. Nevertheless, it falls by default to these “scholars,” animated by motives pure or otherwise (ultimately only God can judge), to distill the content of Distributism for the modern reader who, absent a heroic act of reading between the lines, has little choice but to swallow the ideological bias in favor of liberal democracy, pluralism, and religious indifferentism – all cloaked as true “progress” and authentic “social reform” – that is proffered along with the simple facts of Distributist history and philosophy that are conveyed, awash in modernist propaganda, by most all modern writing done on the Distributist question. Though this is not the place to offer a wholesale rebuttal to errors of philosophy and perspective that plague most modern writers as regards Distributism, some trends may be profitably identified. The first is the frank hypocrisy that characterizes discussions of the Distributist approach to liberal democracy and the authoritarian governments of 1920s and ’30s Europe. In a recent issue of a journal dedicated to all things Chestertonian, leading contemporary commentators discuss the reaction of the Distributist circle to the so-called “rise of fascism.” Therein it is maintained that those who, with Belloc, supported Franco’s rebellion against the Spanish information but long out of print. John Sullivan’s 1974 Centenary Appraisal of Chesterton contains some interesting testimony by Distributists such as G. C. Heseltine, Patrick Cahill, and Fr. Brocard Sewell, but it too is relatively scarce. Even more so are the illuminating volumes by Fr. Sewell, an English Carmelite priest who, as Michael Sewell (before he took religious vows), worked with the staff of both G. K.’s Weekly and the St. Dominic’s Press of Hilary Pepler at Ditchling. Among these are G. K.’s Weekly: An Appraisal (1990), Saint Dominic’s Press: A Bibliography (1995), and his own memoirs, My Dear Time’s Waste (1966).
Reclaiming the Tradition
“Republican” Marxists were “ideologically driven,” “reactionary,” “crusaders,” and “integralists,” who engaged in “vitriolic attack.” Meanwhile, the ideological biases in favor of parliamentary democracy, liberalism, and pluralism possessed by the writers of these critiques (along with the biases of those who opposed the Catholics like Belloc who supported Franco’s Nationalists, and who effectively argued for “neutrality” in the face of Communist aggression) are not admitted as such, but are presumably to be accepted as neutral and objective positions. This obvious slant, with its accompanying hypocrisy in pretending that only (what is loosely, and often inaccurately, referred to as) the “Right” is motivated by ideological considerations, stems from a preconceived notion – if only implied – that genuine social reformers have agitated, since 1789, for the extension and expansion of democracy and the socio-political codification of liberal “rights.” Through such a lens, the attempt is made to re-interpret Chesterton as a great “democrat” who – rather than simply demanding that men be given the opportunity to manage their own affairs, in the best tradition of the decentralized, medieval social and political order – insists upon the penetration of society with liberal reforms and a commitment to indifferentist pluralism. This “Christian Democratic” Chesterton, however, bears little relation to the historical Chesterton, much the way the pacifist and liberal Jesus of the Modernists bears little resemblance to the historical Jesus who cast money-changers from the Temple and declared the Scribes and Pharisees to be “full of dead men’s bones.” The agenda of these modern critics is thus all too apparent as an exercise in propaganda for the politically correct vision of modern society. If Chesterton and his Distributist contemporaries weren’t Catholics, but rather Fabian social engineers or Marxist utopians, then the project to make them “politically correct” might stand a chance of success. But they weren’t. As Catholics, they were committed to a particular vision of society dictated by the unchangeable Faith to which they professed adherence. Among other things, that Faith taught them that the advent of universal Democracy is of no concern to the action of the Church in the world; ...the Church has always left to the nations the care of giving themselves the form of govern-
Distributist Perspectives ment which they think most suited to their needs. ...it is an error and a danger to bind down Catholicism by principle to a particular form of government. This error and this danger are all the greater when Religion is associated with a kind of Democracy whose doctrines are false (emphisis ours). (Pope St. Pius X, Notre Charge Apostolique, §31, 1910).
Pluralism was therefore never an objective of the Distributists, because insofar as they took their Faith to be the foundation of their movement, they were obligated to devise social structures to “thwart the efforts of the unscrupulous and enable all men of good will to attain their legitimate share of temporal happiness” (§44). In the words of one of their greatest theorists, they were all about laws and social structures designed to “enable good men to live among bad.” The second illustration of the inadequacy of most modern treatments of Distributism follows from the first. The assumption that real social reform equates to agitation for “more democracy” – which assumption lies behind the attempts to contrast the allegedly “liberal,” “friendly” Distributism against its more sinister “authoritarian,” “Latin,” “Bellocian” variety – is read into the history of the Catholic Social Movement. In this way the alleged dichotomy between genuine liberals (the “friends of the people”) and the authoritarians (dismissed as romantics, nostalgists, and misfits) is imagined to exist not only between the “good” and “bad” Distributists but between “enlightened” and “reactionary” Social Catholics who predated them by almost one hundred years. Such a conception is as simplistic as it is unhistorical. That it is insisted upon as “real” history by many “professional” historians reveals the degree of ignorance or ideological bias (or both) that plagues this field of study. The great German Bishop von Ketteler (1811–1877), for instance, is put forth as an example of an “enlightened” and “democratic” reformer. Yet his hatred of liberalism was as fierce as that of his “integralist” French counterpart Cardinal Pie (1815–1880), and his commitment to pure corporatism was as staunch as that of the “authoritarian,” Action Française sympathizer, René de la Tour du Pin (1834–1924).2 These same writers even number the great English ultramontane and social reformer, Sadly this is a trend that plagues not only modern writers but to some extent mars the work even of legitimate scholars, such as Heinrich Rommen (1897-1967), 2
Reclaiming the Tradition
Cardinal Manning of England (1808–1892), among the “liberals”! That such misconceptions exist among the contemporary writers on Distributism is evidence of a deeper failure to understand (1) the complexity of the Catholic social movement, (2) the subtle differences between the schools of Catholic social reform, (3) the diverse and varied issues that confronted Catholic social reformers in the 19th century, and – most importantly – (4) the essential opposition of all orthodox Catholics, Distributists included, to not only theological modernism but also its social expression. Much of what modern writers imagine to be a perfectly acceptable, nay, a desirable Catholic liberalism, allegedly espoused by the “nice” Distributists like the imaginary liberal-democratic Chesterton, is nothing other than social modernism. The same modernism condemned by Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI, the latter of whom wrote in his first encyclical (which many Distributists were sure to have read) that “There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.”3 As we have noted, the so-called liberal Distributists are often contrasted by modern writers with their less desirable “fascist” counterparts, in an attempt to demonstrate the existence of an allegedly “distasteful” strain of Catholic social thought which was tolerant of violence, oppression, and coercion, in ways which call to mind images reminiscent of other historical canards like the Spain of the Inquisition and the Italy of the Papal States. This approach to Belloc and his “Latin-minded” colleagues, who dared to utter things not wholly negative about the Italy and Spain of the late 1930s, illustrates yet a third aspect of the ahistorical approach that most modern treatments who dismisses the writings of great counterrevolutionaries such as Taparelli (1793–1862), de Maistre (1753–1821), de Bonald (1754–1840), Donoso Cortes (1809–1953), and Adam Müller (1779–1829) as mere “product[s] of the romantic movement” and undervalues the defense they made of institutions such as the traditional French monarchy, the hierarchical, medieval state, and feudal agrarianism. In Joseph Moody’s allegedly definitive Church and Society: Catholic Social and Political Thought and Movements 1789–1950, the essay on the German Catholic Social movement dismisses Voglesang (1818–1890) as a romantic and his corporatism as “medieval” and “reactionary,” going so far as to call Dollfuss’s attempt to incarnate the teaching of Quadragesimo Anno in a Corporate State as a “petty and faulty attempt to perpetuate [Vogelsang’s] great sociological and political misunderstanding.” 3 Ubi Arcano Dei, §61, 1922.
of Distributism characteristically take. Their notion of “fascism” is vague, rarely defined, and almost mythical. “Fascism,” it would seem, is something that everyone is supposed to recognize as evil, regardless of what it means. It is frequently equated with something else, i.e., with Franco’s Spain or Mussolini’s politics, but the “something else” is never substantially discussed. The bottom line is simply that whatever fascism happens to be equated with, it is evil. Not something that reasonable men can analyze, discuss, and form various educated opinions about. Underlying this vague sense of evil is the implied notion that fascism really refers to anything or anyone who does not accept the reigning orthodoxy of political correctness, which dictates subservience to popular notions such as the inevitability of British- or American-style liberal democracy; the indispensability to a healthy social order of Revolutionary freedoms of the press, speech, and pubic religious worship; the unquestionable desirability of the unrestrained free market and rampant industrialism; and the outmodedness of notions such as national and cultural identity and sovereignty. Under this conception all real Catholics are necessarily fascist; Belloc, Chesterton, and the Distributists certainly would be. As a useful historical descriptive, however, the term used in this way is worthless. But one should not assume that an accurate treatment of the relationship between the Distributists and the historical fascist movement is impossible. As Michael Derrick maintains in his study of Salazar, Fascism was first of all “something Italian.” To expand the meaning of the term beyond its Italian context makes it a mere tool of unenlightened criticism and polemic, as do those who equate support for Nationalist Spain with some kind of generic “fascism.” Professor Hoffman’s comment, that so many arguments occur “without anybody bothering to define precisely what it is” that is being discussed, seems directed precisely at the lack of precision with which “fascism” is used today. In spite of the confusion, however, Hoffman did not find it impossible to define the term, if only in a general way. Modern critics of the allegedly “dark” side of Distributism would certainly profit from exposure to his understanding, which, if it is to be believed, explains why many opposed to modernity – among whom we would obviously include the Distributists – would have sympathized generally with the Italian movement of the 1920s and ’30s.
Reclaiming the Tradition
For Hoffman says that fascism was essentially a “revolt” against the “atomistic and mechanical philosophy of liberalism;” it was “opposed to the individualist concept of society;” it was “nationalist;” and it was “a movement in defense of spiritual values....”4 Though not every thoughtful person will necessarily agree with Professor Hoffman, he is certainly not alone in his opinion. A recent review of Dr. Robert Paxton’s new book, The Anatomy of Fascism, reveals that the author, an Emeritus Professor of Social Science at Columbia University (and by no means a sympathizer with fascism), sees it not as the “flukish triumph of ‘thugs’ but the result of anti-modernist sentiment....” And the point is further confirmed by Nicholas Farrell, a mainstream (and Cambridge-educated) English journalist, in his new 533-page biography of Mussolini. What is disturbing about the ruckus raised by those who claim to sympathize with Distributism, while taking Belloc and his colleagues to task for their “tragic” support for Franco and their qualified sympathy for aspects of Italian fascism, is its essentially ideological and correspondingly ahistorical nature. It is a fact that serious social thinkers like Belloc, Chesterton, and their colleagues, who longed for a third way beyond the evils of corporate Capitalism and state Socialism, beyond plutocracy and bureaucracy, recognized attempts made by various European political movements (and even by governments) in places as varied as Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere to transcend the dichotomy between those two poles as steps in at least the right general direction.5 That fact is ignored, however, while the “unfortunate” nature of Belloc’s assessment of Franco and Mussolini is lamented and fretted over, based not upon Prof. Hoffman’s contention should not be misunderstood. The reference to spiritual values is not intended to imply an overt commitment to Christianity. Rather, Hoffman says, the Italian fascist attachment to spiritual values was merely a “revival of enthusiasm for the heroic life, for the supremacy of the will and human personality over the material factors in life; or perhaps...only an irrational and instinctive reaction of fright at the vision of a mechanized human society denuded of spiritual values.” One would obviously have had to look to the Catholic element in the Italian society of that period for the remainder of its spiritual content. 5 Happily, other scholars have recognized this point in a more objective and honest way. Cf., for instance, Martin Conway, Collaboration in Belgium (New Haven & London: Yale University Press), 1993, p. 5. 4
a consideration of what Belloc actually supported or opposed, but rather upon an implied, out-of-hand rejection (which seems both emotional and ideological) of anything that “sadly” fails to conform to a liberal democratic mold. Never mind that Douglas Hyde, a real “fascist-hunting” English Communist – who as news editor for The Daily Worker was assigned, in the mid-1940s, to cover the clandestine “fascists” behind the Weekly Review (a crusading Distributist paper then run by Reginald Jebb and Hilary Pepler) – was so “appalled” by the Distributists and their Faith that he decided, in 1948, to become a Catholic and a Distributist himself!6 Ultimately, this kind of shoddy approach – which prefers “P.C.” hand-wringing to inconvenient facts – that many modern writers take to the Distributist-fascist “problem,” may be an inevitable result of their being neutral (at best) to the Faith, while being at the same time saddled with a fair amount of modernist ideological baggage. But it hardly makes for useful or accurate intellectual history. As for real history, it might be worth remembering that we moderns have long ago been trained to recoil in fear at the sound of a term (like “fascism”) that we don’t even really understand. A famous Italian-American Communist wrote, in her autobiographical exposé of Communist activities before and during the Spanish Civil War, that the “[Communist] propaganda machine ground out an endless stream of words, pictures, and cartoons. It played on intellectual, humanitarian, racial, and religious sensibilities until it succeeded to an amazing degree in conditioning America to recoil at the word fascist even when people did not know its meaning” (emphasis ours). One might have hoped that the mesmerizing effects of such propaganda had largely worn off. The fact that there are slowly appearing, more than fifty years later, more objective assessments of the pre-World War II European political scene is encouraging. What is not encouraging is that the self-appointed “scholars” of the Distributist movement do not themselves seem to be exposed to this Interestingly, Hyde made accusations that many of our modern “historians” of Distributism have made more recently. The former, however, began to rethink his position as his Communism gave way to Catholicism. In a 1948 article for the Catholic Herald, he wrote: “[In 1943] I had accused [the Weekly Review] of providing a platform for Fascists at a moment when Fascist bombs were raining down on Britain. I came in time to realize that not only had I libeled it in law but also in fact.” 6
Reclaiming the Tradition
more nuanced vision of the past that some of today’s real, groundbreaking scholars have arrived at. Those on the left who have ever been and always will be enemies of the Faith and its Social Vision continue to skewer the Distributists for their failure to tow the “P.C.” line. Meanwhile, the so-called “Conservatives,” who should be supporting the Tradition that Belloc, G.K.C., and friends fought for, are busy apologizing for the regrettable “fascism” of those they claim to defend. Too busy, in fact, to actually present, in a persuasive and coherent way, the comprehensive view of the world that the Distributists struggled to uphold. As a result, the work of many of the modern “Chestertonians” ends up being simply a sterile exercise in reconstructing the past (a past which is viewed, of course, though a contemporary ideological lens), and a vindication of only those few “square pegs” of the Distributist program that can be crammed into the modernist “round holes.” What their work should be – a heartfelt, sympathetic, and manly passing to the current generation of the torch that the Chesterbelloc fought to keep lit – it, sadly, is not. We are delighted, therefore, to be able to present to modern readers, through the Distributist Perspectives Series, a sampling of authentic Distributist texts. Their availability, we hope, will mark at least the beginning of the important process of setting the record straight, enabling those who are so inclined to make an accurate, objective, and honest assessment of the wisdom of the Distributist vision, as it is expressed by the pure, compelling voices of its true spokesmen. Spokesmen who, though now dead, can speak again, loud and clear. And how ironic it is that allowing these voices to be heard and their message considered is a practice which Chesterton referred to as “the democracy of the dead” (emphasis ours)! There is however a further purpose to liberating the Distributist idea from the context in which it is so frequently presented by the agenda-driven doublespeak of apologists for modernity and enforcers of politically correct orthodoxy. Distributist Perspectives are not simply interesting milestones in the history of ideas. They are speculative and practical truths that answer to a need that is felt today with an incredibly greater intensity than when they were first put to paper. That need is for true restoration and reconstruction in all departments of society. And it was and is the glory of the Distributist vision to articulate a clear framework for that work of reconstruction
which, no matter how humbly begun, must tend towards the rebuilding of Christendom if our world is to survive at all. “There is no third issue,” as Belloc said. It will be the Faith, and the Social Vision that flows from it, or we will perish. We commend to our readers, then, this Series which in its totality forms not the final word, but merely the first word – and yet a vital word – on the long road back to a truly Catholic Society.
The Directors IHS Press May 5, 2004 Feast of Pope St. Pius V
Woodcut designed in 1921 by David Jones (1895–1974) for the checkbook of the Spoil Bank Association, which was the legal and corporate identity of the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic in Ditchling.
Averting Self-Destruction A Twenty-First Century Appraisal of Distributism
Communism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the 1920s, a group of mostly English, Catholic writers proposed an interesting alternative to Soviet-style Communism and Corporate Capitalism which they called Distributism. Thoroughly grounded in Catholic social teachings, Distributism called for broad-based, decentralized ownership of private property as well as small businesses, small factories, small schools, small farms, small crafts, and small towns. It advocated a return to farming, the primacy of the countryside, organic methods, environmental integrity, and human-scale enterprise of all sorts. The Distributist League was founded in 1926 by a group that included G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Maurice Reckitt, Capt. H. S. D. Went, and William Titterton. Other well-known Distributists included Eric Gill, Harold J. Massingham, George Maxwell, Arthur J. Penty, Harold Robbins, and Fr. Vincent McNabb. Unfortunately, the influence of these smallholder advocates was relatively short-lived. They were soon completely overshadowed by the Cold War. When I studied history of economic thought as part of my Ph.D. training in the early 1960s, there was no mention of the Distributists. Literally all of the action was between Big Capitalism and Big Socialism. It was as though no other alternatives even existed. However, with the demise of Soviet Communism in 1991, unfettered Corporate Capitalism became the only game in town. This resulted in the Clinton global economic boom of the 1990s with all of its fury. At the apex of Soviet political influence, it’s hard to imagine communist propaganda ever being as effective as our government, our media, and our academic experts in promulgating the lies, myths, and half-truths perpetrated by Wall Street, Corporate America, and Silicon Valley about the benefits of globalization and ith the rise of
the Internet. Before the e-bubble burst and the prices of high-tech stocks came crashing back to earth, millions had turned to cyberspace for everything from information, employment, business, shopping, entertainment, and low-cost telecommunication to more transcendental benefits such as spirituality, worship, meaning, and community. College graduates saw the Internet as a ticket to fame, fortune, financial security, self-actualization, and grassroots democracy. The Net was their virtual God. The intense frenzy with which the ubiquitous Internet was embraced was reminiscent of the nineteenth-century gold rush and the Texas and California oil booms. Americans were mesmerized by the techno-hype and cant dished out by Silicon Valley. Viewed by many as a limitless electronic marketplace, Bill Clinton called the Net “our new town square.” Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described the Clinton boom at various times as a “once-in-a-generation frenzy of speculation” driven by “irrational exuberance” and “infectious greed.” Pundits claimed that e-business, the use of PCs and the Internet within a firm, would radically transform the way megacompanies do business by extending without limit their ability to reduce average costs as output increases. However, the number of megamergers that have gone sour, such as AOL Time Warner, Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco International, and WorldCom, casts doubt on such thinking. Were Enron and WorldCom metaphors for America? Claims that information technology, the communication revolution, deregulation, and globalization would so alter the New Economy that increased productivity, record-high profits, levitating stock market prices, strong economic growth and job creation, low unemployment, and scant inflation would surely last forever have proven to be premature. Thirty-one months after the NASDAQ reached an all-time high of 5,049 on March 10, 2000, it had lost nearly 80 percent of its value and the Dow Jones average had fallen by nearly 40 percent resulting in a total loss of $8 trillion for investors. Personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high and United Air Lines and USAir are but two of a plethora of high-profile corporate bankruptcies. A cover-page article in Business Week (February 3, 2003) was entitled, “Is Your Job Next?” It suggested that, “A new round of globalization is sending upscale jobs offshore.”
An important contributing factor to the high-tech meltdown, mentioned by few, is global market saturation. In a world in which half the population lives on less than two dollars a day and over a billion people live on only half that amount, there is an upper limit on the number of PCs, Internet connections, cell phones, and DVD players which the market can absorb. The collapse of energy-trading-company giant Enron and telecommunications megacompany WorldCom provided at least a temporary wake-up call for Wall Street, Corporate America, the accounting profession, and the U.S. government. One of the greatest financial scandals of all time, Enron was a deceptive mixture of off-shore businesses, off-the-books loans, fake data, and creative accounting covered up by the firm’s auditor Arthur Andersen. The $107 billion collapse of WorldCom resulted in the largest bankruptcy filing in American history. Unfortunately, Enron and WorldCom have proven to be the tip of the iceberg as one major company after another has been accused of shady bookkeeping or other misdeeds. Some of them include Adelphia, Computer Associates, Dynergy, ImClone, Quest, Rite Aid, Martha Stewart, HealthSouth, and Xerox. In his recent book Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, conservative Republican Kevin Phillips takes note of the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States is now greater than that of any other industrial democracy. He argues that, “the imbalance of wealth and democracy in the United States is unsustainable.” Nothing better illustrates Phillips’ point than the compensation of senior executives of major American companies. According to Business Week, average total compensation (including salary, bonuses, retirement benefits, incentive plans, and stock option gains) for CEOs of the 365 largest American companies in 2000 reached $13.1 million, nearly 500 times the average wage of a blue-collar worker. During the 1990s the average CEO’s paycheck increased by a factor of six. Until recently, Japanese and German CEOs were earning only 20 times what average factory workers earned. According to Princeton economist Paul Krugman, “The 13,000 richest families in America now have almost as much income as the 20 million poorest. And those 13,000 families have incomes 300 times that of average families.”
The combined net worth of the Forbes 400 richest people in America reached $1.2 trillion in 2000—greater than the gross domestic product of China. That year there were 300 billionaires on the Forbes 400 list. Two years later there were only 209. Heading the 2000 list was Bill Gates whose net worth topped out at $90 billion before a federal judge charged Microsoft with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. At one time Microsoft’s market value was over $600 billion. Twenty-three of the people on the Forbes list had net worths of $10 billion or more. Five were heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton who, if he were sill alive, would have been worth $85 billion. The combined profits of America’s ten most profitable companies was only slightly higher than Gates’ peak net worth –ExxonMobil, Citigroup, GE, Verizon, Intel, Microsoft, Philip Morris, IBM, SBC, and Bank of America. At that time the net worth of the poorest 40 percent of the American population was less than that of the Microsoft czar. All of this flies in the face of the 1986 Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy which called for “the preferential option for the poor” as the central priority of American economic policy. According to the Epistle of St. James: And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without works; and I will show thee, by works, my faith. For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead. (ii:15–18, 26.)
Yet another form of unsustainability in America is the demise of the family farm. High energy costs, the increased cost of mechanization, depressed farm prices, a government farm subsidy program – which primarily benefits huge corporate farms – and the purchasing policies of the fast food industry have all taken their toll on small family farms. In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser makes a convincing case that the fast food industry has played a major role in transforming
the American beef, pork, chicken, and potato industries into a handful of megacorporations which have almost total market control over the small farmers and producers which supply them. McDonald’s is the nation’s largest buyer of beef, pork, and potatoes and the second largest buyer of chicken behind KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). According to Schlosser, the top four meatpacking firms—Con Agra, IBP, Excel, and National Beef—slaughter 84 percent of the nation’s cattle. Eight chicken processors control two-thirds of the American market. Schlosser claims that meatpacking is the most dangerous job in the United States. Working conditions in the vehemently anti-union industry are among the worst anywhere in the world. He further points out that a single fast food hamburger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different cattle. The effects of tainted beef could literally reverberate around the world. As though this were not enough, small farms—particularly organic farmers—also have to deal with the economic realities of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, and genetically altered crops and farm animals. How many people feel comfortable eating genetically-altered, taste-free fruits and vegetables grown and saturated with herbicides and pesticides on California megafarms and allowed to ripen during shipment across the continent? For capitalism to work effectively, those who do the work must believe that the path to happiness involves accumulating enough money and credit to purchase a nicely furnished home, a couple of cars, a computer, a boat, and a college education for our kids. To be able to afford all these things, we must work hard until we retire or die. The harder we work, the more money we will have, the more we can buy, and the happier we will be. Or so the story goes. But if that were really true, why are so many people in the United States so anxious, so angry, so unhappy, so cynical, and so stressed out? Why are the rates of divorce, suicide, depression, abortion, substance abuse, and incarceration so high, if the American dream is working the way it’s supposed to work? Why does the United States have the highest child poverty rate – 14.8 percent – of any industrial democracy? And why is that rate significantly higher than the rates found in
Switzerland (7.1), Japan (6.8), Germany (6.0), and Sweden (1.3)? Why are 6.6 million Americans either behind bars or on probation? Although real per capita personal consumption expenditure nearly tripled over the last half century, the percentage of people claiming to be “very happy” actually declined. The Index of Social Health decreased by nearly 50 percent during the past quarter century. Even though we live in a period of unprecedented prosperity, it is also the time of the living dead. Many affluent Americans who deny themselves virtually nothing in the way of material satisfaction seem to be more dead than alive. As novelist Walker Percy once said, “There is something worse than being deprived of life; it is being deprived of life and not knowing it.” The defining characteristic of the American Empire is that ostensibly free individuals allow Corporate America and the United States government to manipulate and control their lives through money, markets, media, and technology, resulting in the loss of political will, civil liberties, collective memory, and traditional culture. Even though we all have different genetic maps, most Americans think the same, vote the same, watch the same TV programs, visit the same Web sites, and buy the same consumer goods. Transnational megacompanies accountable to no one tell us what to buy, where we can work, how much we will be paid, and what the working conditions will be like. Like their counterparts in the former Soviet Union, these giant companies are among the least-democratic institutions in the world. They do everything possible to silence dissent and quell behavior which differs from the corporate norm. There are no rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or due process. One can be fired on the spot at the whim of one’s supervisor. This is called “free enterprise.” The environmental consequences of the American Empire have proven to be disastrous, taking the form of over-mined resources, over-logged forests, over-cropped farm lands, over-grazed grasslands, over-drained wetlands, over-tapped groundwaters, overfished seas, and over-polluted air and water. And according to the Worldwatch Institute, these results have in turn given rise to climate changes from greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion, toxic build-up and dispersion, extinction and loss of biodiversity, forest loss, decline in fisheries, and scarcity of fresh water.
With their unremitting commitment to growth and development at any cost, the high priests of Corporate America have set out to Americanize the rest of the world. But can the world afford the environmental cost of being Americanized? Although the U.S. accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s population, it produces nearly a third of the global output and is responsible for a fourth of the deadly carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere—the principal cause of the greenhouse effect and global warming. This is in stark contrast to China, which contains 20 percent of the world’s population but accounts for only 11 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita in Switzerland and Sweden are only one-third of those in the United States. These figures are hardly surprising when you consider that the U.S. is either number one or near the top of the list of countries in the emission of air pollutants, per capita energy consumption, and the percentage of total commuter trips made by private automobiles. Neither is it surprising that we import 60 percent of our daily consumption of oil, since the U.S. consumes 26 percent of the world’s supply of oil. In his book Consuming Desires, Roger Rosenblatt estimates that “it would take three planets Earth to provide an American standard of living to the entire world. Yet it is that standard of living to which the whole world aspires.” Consistent with Rosenblatt’s estimate is the fact that the average American produces 1,646 pounds of waste per year. Together China and India, two of the poorest countries in the world, have a combined population of over 2 billion. And we want them both to be just like us. One can’t even imagine the environmental impact of 2 billion more people behaving like us. What if every Chinese and Indian household had a computer and two cars? Neither the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, nor the European Union is committed to any other model of economic development than unlimited growth. Our government gives only lip service to environmental concerns while implementing one policy after another promoting free trade, unrestrained economic growth, and environmental degradation. As I watched the two flaming, 110-story towers of the World Trade Center crashing down to earth on live television, I had the eerie feeling that I was witnessing the collapse of the American equivalent of the Tower of Babel.
The Biblical account of the Tower of Babel is the story of a group of Israelites in ancient Babylon who, in defiance of God’s will, built for themselves a city and a pyramid-shaped tower “with its top in the sky,” so that they might make a name for themselves. The tower was grounded in hubris and the belief of its builders that they were bigger than life, truly invincible. They all spoke the same language and mistakenly thought there was no limit to what they might accomplish. God was unamused by the tower and the Israelites’ sense of unity and arrogance. By confusing their language, God effectively shut down their project and scattered them over the face of the earth. Surely there were no more important icons of America’s obsession with bigness, globalization, and imperialism than the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the other terrorist target. The unmistakable message of the twin towers could have hardly gone unnoticed – particularly by third-world nations, many of whom were innocent victims of globalization and American imperialism. Why would anyone in his right mind ever build two 110-story office buildings next to each other and then try to cram 50,000 people into them? Why would anyone consider rebuilding them? But that is exactly what most New Yorkers seem to want to happen. Each of the six proposals considered to develop the World Trade Center site called for four to six new towers each of which would be 50 to 85 stories high. It’s as though they still don’t get it. Just as the Israelites tried unsuccessfully to overcome their separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and fear of death by erecting the Tower of Babel, so too have Americans embraced consumerism, technomania, megalomania, globalization, and imperialism. In the words of William H. Willimon, Dean of the Duke University Chapel, “In the process of perverted human attempts to unify and secure ourselves, we end up destroying ourselves, fracturing into a thousand different voices, falling to earth in disaster. Meltdown.” A cursory study of world history reveals a self-evident truth. No major empire anywhere at any time in history has ever proven to be sustainable. Sustainability refers to the ability of a community, town, city, or nation-state to ensure the availability of political, economic, agricultural, social, cultural, and environmental resources for future generations. The British, Chinese, Egyptians, French, Germans, Greeks, Japanese, Romans, Soviets, and Turks have all presided over mega-
empires, some spanning entire continents as well as centuries. None of them survived the test of time. But what about the United States, the most powerful nation in history economically and militarily, the world’s first truly global superpower? Could it possibly be an exception to the rule? Might it be sustainable? We believe the answer to be a resounding “no.” That being the case, do we sit silently on the sidelines awaiting some apocalyptic event to bring down the house of cards or do we consider alternatives to the bigger is always better model of economic development? If the U.S. economy is to survive, a paradigm shift will be required to save it from self-destruction. Distributism represents such a paradigm. But is Distributism just the fantasy of some Catholic visionaries that could never be realized in today’s world? Maybe. Maybe not. Throughout the countryside in a number of European countries such as Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway, Demark, and Iceland – six of the richest countries in the world – one can find evidence of Distributism everywhere: small villages, small farms, small shops, small crafts, and small schools. Four of them have higher per capita incomes than the United States and all six have lower incidences of poverty, drug abuse, violence, and crime. They also have less pollution, less traffic congestion, and less urban sprawl than we have. Three of them – Luxembourg with a population of 438,000, Liechtenstein with 32,000, and Iceland with 281,000 – are actually smaller than the tiny state of Vermont, which has a population of 609,000. Interestingly, Vermont is one of the very few states in the United States in which a form of Distributism is practiced quite extensively. Vermont is different – very different –from most states. Two important factors contribute to Vermont’s uniqueness: its tiny size (one fiftieth the population of California), and the fact that it is by far the most rural state in America. With 72.2 percent of its inhabitants living in the countryside, Vermont stands in sharp contrast to the nation as a whole, which is only 19.7 percent rural. West Virginia, with a rural population of 70.0 of its total, is the only other state which even comes close to Vermont. In Vermont there are no cities, no big buildings, few shopping malls, no military bases, few big businesses, few homicides, virtually no gun control laws, and no waiting lines. In addition, there is almost no traffic congestion, little indigenous air pollution, and no death penalty.
The harsh Vermont winters are colder, darker, and longer than those found elsewhere in the United States and the annual snowfall often exceeds ten feet. Life is lived at a slower, more deliberate, casual pace in the Green Mountain State. Vermonters are not in nearly such a big hurry as their nearby neighbors in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Quebec. Theirs is a live-and-let-live lifestyle, not intent on sticking their noses in everybody else’s business. Compared to many, Vermonters are more caring, less greedy, less aggressive, less competitive, more tolerant, and less infected with affluenza—the obsessive-compulsive consumption of more and more stuff. In Vermont one finds a commitment to the land, to history, to culture, and to the environment. Civil responsibility is still alive and well. Although the Green Mountains pale in comparison with the Swiss Alps, Vermonters, nevertheless, share a number of common values with the Swiss: independence, self-sufficiency, democracy, hard work, perseverance, and a strong sense of community. Vermont is smaller, more rural, more democratic, less violent, less commercial, more environmentally friendly, more egalitarian, and more independent than most states. Even though Vermont is too small to save our nation from the debilitating effects of separation, alienation, powerlessness, and spiritual emptiness, it does provide a communitarian alternative to the dehumanized, mass-production, mass-consumption, narcissistic lifestyle which pervades much of the United States. Perhaps what has been good for Vermont might be good for the rest of the nation. With the help of Distributism maybe it will be possible to (1) regain control of our lives from big government, big business, big cities, big schools, and big computer networks; (2) relearn how to take care of ourselves by decentralizing, downsizing, localizing, demilitarilizing, and humanizing our lives; and (3) learn how to help others take care of themselves so that we all become less dependent on big business, big government, and big markets.
Thomas H. Naylor Professor Emeritus of Economics Duke University
distributist perspectives i
hicago is my hometown.
Not in the sense that I was born there and can claim lifelong residency. In fact, I lived there but five years during and after college and visit now but briefly every two years or so. Chicago can claim, however, to be the context where I started growing up and reached my majority, if not my maturity. Alas! that process continues to madden my friends and family even now. No, Chicago is my hometown not because I am from there, but because I found home there. Not a home, mind you, but all the elements that constitute home for us transients living on this sad rock of earth. In Chicago are neighborhoods every bit as parochial as the smallest European hamlet. One can find cosmopolitan art as sublime as anything wrought by man’s imagination at any time. Chicago’s reputation for crime, in the courthouse as much as in the courtroom, towers as tall as its skyscrapers. The cooks who cook home-cooked meals there might have made a journey across time zones, through war zones, or braved no-parking zones to find the cozy hearth where dinner is enjoyed. Whether prairie, ocean, or desert says home to you, Chicago can be your home for as long as you are looking for one. One can even recognize a bit of Davenport, Iowa, my birthplace, in Chicago. In the Loop one might see a chiropractor’s office – a product of the science developed in the 19th century by a Davenport man. Under an El platform, one might dream of the romance of trains that radiate from Chicago to all points of the compass, heading west thanks to the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi at a site near Rock Island, Illinois – opposite Davenport. On a summer afternoon in Lincoln Park, one might delight in the scent of fresh27
mown grass, cut, perhaps, by a tractor built by John Deere’s company – headquartered next door to Davenport in Moline, Illinois. There is a lot in Chicago to remind you of somewhere else. Practically anywhere else. Decades of planning and improvement have caused this phenomenon. Hogs are not butchered there these days, pace tanti viri Carl Sandburg. State Street, that great street, has been revitalized according to the principle by which Carson’s and Field’s were melded into conglomerates whose interests extend far beyond the shores of Lake Michigan. And as is so typical of 21st-century America, more “Chicagoans” live in the ’burbs than between Evanston and Calumet City and Oak Park and the Lake. Chicago today has better air, better water, better paving (if not better traffic), and better race relations than a century ago. One thing about Chicago most certainly is not better: Chicago is not very good at being Chicago. It can do a passable impression of New York. There are hints of Paris about it in the springtime. Beijing can be seen peeking out of portions of the near-south side. But the je ne sais quoi that makes a city unmistakably itself is being lost in Chicago – and everywhere else. The fact that behemoths like Chicago are finding their identities submerged by the multinational juggernaut of modern economics is the surest sign that the hydra of materialism – capitalism, socialism, and communism – is every bit as virulent and deadly as described by Pope Leo XIII and all other clear thinkers. Man’s peril is revealed by the destruction of the great no less than the small. The “global village” creates not a small world, but a hideously misshapen, cancerous, ravenous grotesque posing as Main Street. A world shrunk to the size of a town would be suffocating; a town swollen to the size of a planet is the stuff of nightmares. Who wants an elephant-sized amoeba in his intestine or a potted Sequoia in the living room? What is sorely needed is a sense of proper proportion, indeed, a sane and human perspective. Elsewhere than the essay included in this collection, G.K. Chesterton says that the madness of the mathematician is the attempt to draw a map of the universe – to scale. More sane is the artist’s effort merely to render reality in a picture. The eight writers in this collection paint pictures of the human project from a variety of per-
spectives. No one of them is complete, and taken together they are hardly exhaustive of the many facets through which man sees and is seen by the world around him. But their sketches give good glimpses of who man is and what he might be, warts and all. It must be kept in mind that capturing the “warts” is far easier than encompassing the “all.” Man is more than man knows. His knowledge of the universe is only partial, and his knowledge of that part of the universe which is himself is even smaller. We see as through a glass, darkly. Only God is far enough away from man to be able to get the proper perspective, so as to know all of man. God is the true artist who alone has a mirror big enough to hold up to His creation, by which man, the greatest of His creations, is rightly seen. Thus, if man is to know anything of himself, he must seek a God’s-eye view. Any intellectual endeavor trying to grasp the truth of man, any science seeking knowledge of man that omits mention of man made in the divine image is doomed from the start. At best the intellect will grasp the body and miss the spirit, the science will find itself knowing more of ignorance than of truth. In both cases, the part that is known will be neither the larger nor the better part. There is all the difference in the world between the doctor performing an autopsy and the cadaver that is its victim. Modern man examines man the corpse and learns deadly things. There is a place for autopsies, namely, learning which things are deadly to life; however, an autopsy is a woefully bad way to learn about how to live. A more wholesome desire is to contemplate human life and the final causes that make it worth living. George Maxwell, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Eric Gill, Harold Robbins, Arthur J. Penty, Harold J. Massingham, and Commander Herbert Shove lived in times of unprecedented social trauma. Their essays in this collection reflect an effort to shine a light into the morass that the unbridled greed of capitalism and the reactionary socialism of their day had created, threatening to destroy completely the humanity of man. These men and many of their contemporaries saw dark days ahead. Darker than anything they could have imagined has been our past, which was their future. Men of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries could not have envisioned the madhouse that
modernity has become. Theirs was a world where beauty had a place, man was at the pinnacle of creation, and God was held Lord over all. Sanity was taken for granted almost as much as was common sense. Unnoticed at the time was the peril to common sense posed by the economic attack being waged against the common man. The recent report from the field of psychology that rest makes some people sick underlines the point made by George Maxwell in “The Truth About Work.” That point, in short, is that work must come to an end because work is not an end in itself. Contemporary workers, nonetheless, have been conditioned to the reality that work is their life. Malaise, both physical and psychological, is setting in among some workers on their days off or holidays because the end of work seems to them to be the end of life. This is because the insane economic situation trapping mankind has made work the end, i.e., the purpose, of life. Retirement is no longer about resting but has become an excuse to find (or has created the necessity of finding) a new and different job. Life has not always ended thus. One who is intent “On Knowing the Past” – the title of Belloc’s contribution to this collection – will find that once upon a time oppressed people were seen by themselves and by their oppressors as unfortunate. Modern man, almost wholly ignorant of the history that was necessary to make him, now applauds the wage slave as the dawning of a new economic day. “Full employment” is a statistical fantasy, but, all the same, employment is everyone’s dream. It does not occur to employees that something better has ever existed for the ordinary man’s living than to provide extraordinarily wealthy men with their wealth. A serf might not have known where his next meal was coming from, but he knew his origin in the Creator and his final destination of Judgment Day. Wage slaves are assured of three hots and a cot, as prison inmates describe such a plight, but have almost totally abandoned belief in a transcendent goal for man. Serfs obedient to the Faith and wage slaves submissive to the almighty dollar would agree, for wildly different reasons, on one thing: the serf is better off dead. The smug wage slave does not realize that his peak salary signifies his highest accomplishment. His life insurance policy and 401(k), however, leave him, after death, worth significantly more to the taxman than at any time in his working life.
“Economies of scale” is the catchphrase that rationalizes this vision of disposable people, worth more in their absence than in their presence. It is embodied in the trend toward larger and larger corporations with fewer and fewer employees. Hordes of men are vital to the conglomerate, but any given man is entirely expendable. There is a colossal contradiction between the ideal in the law where each man is held sacred and the practical life of economics where any man can be disposed of at will. In the name of individual children, we herd them into ever-larger schools, while demanding smaller class sizes, paying teachers poorly, and slashing education budgets. In the name of customer service, we build ever-larger “big box” retail stores, whose corporate headquarters are far from the customer, who is himself subjected to survey-tested, market-driven, mass-distributed merchandise tailored to his individual tastes. In the name of more efficient government, we pay for it with a tax code that requires a multi-billion dollar industry to decipher it each year; we enslave “citizens” for forty percent of the year to pay their tax burden; and we, the people, habitually elect the kind of person who thinks this state of affairs needs only repairing, not replacing. Chesterton was able to wax humorous and ironic about this, laughing before he was driven to weep, in his essay “On Organization and Efficiency.” This laughable lunacy caught Eric Gill’s attention in his speech “Painting and the Public.” The fact that a modern employee is actually penalized if he thinks without permission, indeed, if he thinks at all, would not have surprised Mr. Gill. We have come to a pass where workmanship is exiled to the domain of the very wealthy and the rather eccentric. The average American eats food processed by ADM and served by McDonald’s; he lives in a house gift-wrapped in materials from Alcoa and sold by Century 21; he wears clothes slave-manufactured by Nike and peddled at Wal-Mart; and he pays for all of these “quality” products with the wages begrudged him by GM or money lent to him at usury by Bank of America. It would be the work of a doctoral dissertation to describe how we came from the art of the artisan to the product of the production line – and called it “good.” In our day no less than in that of Harold Robbins, “nothing has been done at all” to remedy the perverse economic and moral situation in which the world languishes. It is the unwillingness of many
men, and the inability of most, to recognize the dire straits of materialist economics that make a cure not just unlikely, but impossible. Robbins’s essay, “The Buttress of Freedom”, ends with the diagnosis that man formerly enjoyed a more evenly distributed economic power, but that political power was exercised almost exclusively by the rich. Modern man enjoys an even more distorted distribution of economic power amid a mere chimera of political power. What political power the common man now has is employed to ensure that he remains an employee – with his vigorous consent. Arthur J. Penty wrote the Distributist “Declaration of Independence” just before he died in 1937. “Distributism: A Manifesto” is a clarion call exhorting men who would not be slaves to throw off their shackles, all too often self-imposed. The specific points of the “Manifesto” are testimony to the fact that much of the enslavement of wage slaves is intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Wrong thinking throughout society has resulted in one part of society, the wealthy, oppressing and exploiting the other part of society, the working and middle classes – with the explicit permission of the oppressed. Certainly there is a necessity to plainly lay down the nature of the grievances held by those who wish human freedom against those intent upon human bondage. Missing, however, is sufficient and explicit reference to the role played by God and the Faith in effecting man’s freedom. The greatest slavery is not to matter, but to sin. Both the American Declaration of Independence and the Distributist “Manifesto” suffer from the failure to insist on God’s part not only as the origin of freedom, but as the object of freedom. Unless and until man desires freedom not for his own sake nor for the sake of freedom itself, but for the glory of God alone, he will find that his most fervent efforts move him all the farther from both goals – both the one he wrongly pursues and the one he was created to attain. Materialists of all stripes, whether they are the oppressed or the oppressor, have acquiesced to a common system. It is not until someone is able to insist that he desires something entirely different that a difference will be made in how life is lived. To quote from Harold J. Massingham’s essay, “And His Mental Exodus”: Become different from your enemiy; do not under another name manifest him in yourselves. It is not systems that need to change, but the hearts of men that need to be converted through the love of God, by the Love Who is God.
Captain Herbert Shove begins his essay, “The Growth of Industrialism”, with a quote from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. This is a terrific point of departure. Captain Shove recognizes that in the wholesale departure from a commerce governed by a Catholic ethos lies the ills of materialism. Industrialism as such is not the problem. Machines and industry are no worse than the men running them. The problem is the materialist indifference, which almost inevitably grows into hostility, to the Faith. Men without a moral compass will make a mess of whatever they touch, no matter how good the material with which they work. Perhaps it is because I am a priest that I am fervent in my hope that Distributism can find a home in our lives. Perhaps it is because I am a priest that I am not at all sanguine about the potential in contemporary society for making the profound changes which Distributism would demand of it. The man of faith knows nothing if not the wonder of the Hand of God at work in the world. The man of faith is painfully aware of how hard-won true repentance must be. Hope and realism meet on the Cross of Christ. And that, of course, is the crux of the matter. Man is God’s mirror. The works of man, therefore, must be godly, for their only proper object is divine. The ultimate success, wherein man achieves union with the divine, is the obedience of Christ crucified. The will of God and its reflection in man, the artistry of God and its perfection in man, are united on the Cross. It is there that the two orders, Creator and created, are made one, the one bringing the other to the fulfillment for which it was made. Distributism must be above all other things an effort to order human living according to that which it is called to imitate: the Living God. Conversations about Distributism with trained and professional economists invariably slide into other subjects, as the “experts” despair of ever making clear to the Distributist that he is not being practical, that he is ignorant of the incredible complexity of the mechanics of economics, that normal people do not desire the good sought by Distributism. Distributists, we are told ad nauseam, do not understand the facts. There are technical elements within economics that Distributism simply cannot address. With all due respect to economists who know merely more: Poppycock! They might know more, but they surely do not know
better. Faith informs both Distributism and the Distributist who endeavors to implement it. The love of money, the root of all evil, informs materialist economics and, all too often, its practitioners. A wise judge can overcome his worst errors of fact, but a corrupt judge does all the more evil as his facts improve. One would be hard pressed to demonstrate that the practical ends of materialism demonstrate anything other than the final degradation of the human person. Distributism has as its ultimate goal the elevation of the human person from his fallen state into union with God. It is certainly possible to argue about whether or not Distributism is fitted to attain this goal. The difference between Distributism and materialism is that the Distributist will defer to a superior means to his exalted end, whereas, obviously, the materialist will cling to his money until his bitter end. This conversation is finally one of morality. St. John Vianney said, “The eyes of the world see no further than this life, while the eyes of Faith see deep into eternity.” The perspective proper to man is not one that focuses upon himself, for in such a case he will find himself blind, seeing neither himself in his myopia nor the world in his disdain. Man’s proper perspective is one of seeking God; and in seeking Him, finding Him; and in finding, Him seeing Him; and in seeing Him, being able at last to see himself as he is meant to be: “In action like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” In short, man will see himself at last in Heaven. Materialism ends in this world. Distributism seeks life in a world that will never end. That is, indeed, the long view, and one of a better – the best – home.
Father Lawrence C. Smith April 30, 2004 Feast of St. Catherine of Sienna
On Knowing the Past by Hilaire Belloc
n apprehension of the past demands two kinds
of information. First, the mind must grasp the nature of historic change and must be made acquainted with the conditions of human thought in each successive period, as also with the general aspect of its revolution and progression. Secondly, the actions of men, the times, that is the dates and hours of such action, must be strictly and accurately acquired. Neither of these two foundations, upon which repose both the teaching and the learning of history, is more important than the other. Each is essential. But a neglect of the due emphasis which one or the other demands, though both be present, warps the judgement of the scholar and forbids him to apply this science to its end, which is the establishment of truth. History may be called the test of true philosophy, or it may be called in a very modern and not very dignified metaphor, the objectlesson of political science; or it may be called the great story whose interest is upon another plane from all other stories because its irony, its tragedy and its moral are real, were acted by real men, and were the manifestation of God. But whatever brief and epigrammatic summary we make to explain the value of history to men, that formula still remains an imperative formula for them all, and I repeat it: the end of history is the establishment of truth. A man may be ever so accurately informed as to the dates, the hours, the weather, the gestures, the type of speech, the very words, the soil, the colour, that between them all would seem to build up a particular event. But if he is not seized of the mind which lay behind * This chapter is taken from This and That and the Other (London: Methuen & Co., 1912).
all that was human in the business, then no synthesis of his detailed knowledge is possible. He cannot give to the various actions which he knows their due sequence and proportion; he knows not what to omit, nor what to enlarge upon, among so many, or rather a potentially infinite number of facts, and his picture will not be (as some would put it) distorted: it will be false. He will not be able to use history for its end, which is the establishment of truth. All that he establishes by his action, all that he confirms and makes stronger, is untruth. And so far as truth is concerned, it would be far better that a man should be possessed of no history than that he should be possessed of history ill stated as to the factor of human motive. A living man has to aid his judgement and to guide him in the establishment of truth, contemporary experience. Other men are his daily companions. The consequence and the living principles of their acts and of his own are fully within his grasp. If a man is rightly informed of all the past motive and determining mind from which the present has sprung, his information will illumine and expand and confirm his use of that present experience. If he know nothing of the past his personal observation and the testimony of his own senses are, so far as they go, an unshakable foundation. But if he brings in aid of contemporary experience an appreciation of the past which is false because it gives to the past a mind which was not its own, then he will not only be wrong upon that past but he will tend to be wrong also in his conclusions upon the present. He will for ever read into the plain facts before him origins and predetermining forces which do not explain them and which are not connected with them in the way he imagines. And he will easily come to regard his own society, which as a wholly uninstructed man he might fairly though insufficiently have grasped, through a veil of illusion and of false philosophy, until at last he cannot even see the things before his eyes. In a word, it is better to have no history at all than to have history which misconceives the general direction and the large lines of thought in the immediate and the remote past. This being evidently the case one is tempted to say that a just estimate of the revolution and the progression of human motive in the past is everything to history, and that an accurate scholarship in the details of the chronicle, in dates especially, is of wholly inferior importance. Such a statement would be quite false. Scholarship in
On Knowing the Past
history, that is an acquaintance with the largest possible number of facts, and an accurate retention of them in the memory, is as essential to this study as of that other background of motive which has just been examined. The thing is self-evident if we put an extreme case. For if a man were wholly ignorant of the facts of history and of their sequence, he could not possibly know what might lie behind the actions of the past, for we only obtain communion with that which is within and that which is foundational in human action by an observation of its external effect. A man’s history, for instance, is sound and on the right lines if he have but a vague and general sentiment of the old Pagan civilization of the Mediterranean, so long as that sentiment corresponds to the very large outline and is in sympathy with the main spirit of the affair. But he cannot possess so much as an impression of the truth if he has not heard the names of certain of the great actors, if he is wholly unacquainted with the conception of a City State, and if the names of Rome, of Athens, of Antioch, of Alexandria, and of Jerusalem have never been mentioned to him. Nor will a knowledge of facts, however slight, be valuable; contrariwise it will be detrimental and of negative value to his judgement if accuracy in his knowledge be lacking. If he were invariably inaccurate, thinking that red which was blue, inverting the order of any two events and putting without fail in the summer what happened in winter, or in the Germanies what took place in Gaul, his facts would never correspond with the human motive of them, and his errors upon externals would at once close his avenues of access towards internal motive and suggest other and non-existent motive in its place. It is, of course, a childish error to imagine that the knowledge of a time grows out of a mere accumulation of observation. External things do not produce ideas, they only reveal them. And to imagine that mere scholarship is sufficient to history is to put oneself on a level with those who, in the sphere of politics, for instance, ignore the necessity of political theory and talk muddily of the “working” of institutions – as though it were possible to judge whether an institution were working ill or not when one had no ideal that institutions might be designed to attain. But though scholarship is not the source of judgement in history, it is the invariable and the necessary accom-
paniment of it. Facts, which (to repeat) do not produce ideas but only reveal or suggest them, do nonetheless reveal and suggest them, and form the only instrument of such suggestion and revelation. Scholarship, accurate and widespread, has this farther function: that it lends stuff to general apprehension of the past, which, however just, is the firmer, the larger and the more intense as the range of knowledge and its fixity increase. And scholarship has one more function, which is that it connects, and it connects with more and more precision in proportion as it is more and more detailed, the tendency of the mind to develop a general and perhaps justly apprehended idea into imaginary regions: for the mind is creative; it will still make and spin, and if you do not feed it with material it will spin dreams out of emptiness. Thus a man will have a just appreciation of the thirteenth century in England; he will perhaps admire or will perhaps be repelled by its whole spirit according to his temperament or his acquired philosophy; but in either case, though his general impression was just, he will tend to add to it excrescences of judgement which, as the process continued, would at last destroy the true image were not scholarship there to come in perpetually and check him in his conclusions. He admires it, he will tend to make it more national than it was, to forget its cruelties because what is good in our own age is not accompanied by cruelty. He will tend to lend it a science it did not possess because physical science is in our own time an accompaniment of greatness. But if he reads and reads continually, these vagaries will not oppress or warp his vision. More and more body will be added to that spirit, which he does justly but only vaguely know. And he will at last have with the English thirteenth century something of that acquaintance which one has with a human face and voice: these also are external things, and these also are the product of a soul. Indeed – though metaphors are dangerous in such a matter – a metaphor may with reservation be used to describe the effect of the chronicle, of research and of accurate scholarship in the science of history. A man ill provided with such material is like one who sees a friend at a distance; a man well provided with it is like a man who sees a friend close at hand. Both are certain of the identity of the person seen, both are well founded in that certitude; but there are errors possible to the first which are not possible to the second, and
On Knowing the Past
close and intimate acquaintance lends to every part of judgement a surety which distant and general acquaintance wholly lacks. The one can say something true and say it briefly: there is no more to say. The other can fill in and fill in the picture, until though perhaps never complete, it is asymptotic to completion. To increase one’s knowledge by research, to train oneself to an accurate memory of it, does not mean that one’s view of the past is continually changing. Only a fool can think, for instance, that some document somewhere will be discovered to show that the mass of the people of London had for James II an ardent veneration, or that the national defence organised by the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution was due to the unpopular tyranny of a secret society. But research in either of these cases, and a minute and increasing acquaintance with detail, does show one London largely apathetic in the first place, and does show one large sections of rebellious feeling in the armies of the Terror. It permits one to appreciate what energy and what initiative were needed for the overthrow of the Stuarts, and to see from how small a body of wealthy and determined men that policy proceeded. It permits one to understand how the battles of ’93 could never have been fought upon the basis of popular enthusiasm alone; it permits one to assert without exaggeration that the autocratic power of the Committee of Public Safety and the secrecy of its action was a necessary condition of the National defence during the French Revolution. One might conclude by saying what might seem too good to be true: namely, that minute and accurate information upon details (the characteristic of our time in the science of history) must of its own nature so corroborate just and general judgements of the past, that through it, when the modern phase of wilful distortion is over, mere blind scholarship will restore tradition. I say it sounds too good to be true. But three or four examples of such action are already before us. Consider the Gospel of St. John, for instance, or what is called “the Higher Criticism” of the old Hebrew literature, and ask yourselves whether modern scholarship has not tended to restore the long and sane judgement of men, which, when that scholarship was still imperfect, seemed to imperil.
The Truth About Work by George Maxwell
nimals, machines and natural forces work.
But this essay is concerned with the work of men – human beings. Although men possess with the animal and inanimate creation properties in common, and the activities of both resemble each other in so many ways that these resemblances may give rise to an idea that in man there are two natures, a higher and a lower; although these common properties can in man be so developed as to hide his distinguishing character, there is only one nature in man. It is necessary to understand what this nature is in order to distinguish man’s work from the work of animate or inanimate creation. Man’s nature is that of a rational animal, spiritual and material. These two elements are organically united to form an integral whole. Each element in its own sphere is equally important. Man’s spiritual nature, manifested by intellect (the power of reasoning) and free will (the power of choice,) raises him above other created things to the dignity of a person, i.e., an intelligent, free and responsible being. The intellect by virtue of advertence to the dictates of reason is able to make a judgement as to the rightness of any action, i.e., its conformity with his rational nature; and the will by virtue of its freedom is able to choose to accept or reject this judgement. This is what is meant by responsibility. Praise or blame, encouragement or shame follow from the use of responsibility. And the morality of an action means its accord with right reason. So much for man’s nature considered as an individual person. But man is not merely an individual; he is also a social being. With* This chapter is taken from the Ss. Peter and Paul, 1948, issue of The Cross and the Plough, the quarterly journal of the English Catholic Land Movement.
The Truth About Work
out society his nature would be stultified and lack the means necessary for his development and perfection. Society may be defined as the living together of intelligent beings who co-operate to establish those material and spiritual conditions which will best promote the development and perfection of all who belong to society. This purpose of society is called the Common Good, as distinct from the Public or the Private Good. In the concrete the Common Good is the sum total of advantages which by reason of co-operation concerns all who belong to society. Co-operation means the willing activity of two or more intelligent beings for a common end or purpose. Thus man’s activities are not only personal but social. Considered from the natural aspect alone, the nature of man is different in kind as well as degree from other created beings. Furthermore, the Author of Nature has by Grace raised man to a still higher plane than the natural – the supernatural plane. Raised from a natural to a supernatural destiny, man is offered grace, which does not supersede or destroy nature but fulfils and perfects it. It is offered to all who accept the means. Thus the nature of man embraces in one complete unity the life of grace, the life of the spirit and the life of the body, i.e., material life. These three, united in that order of primacy and acting accordingly, are the subject of man’s life and work. The order is hierarchic and the functions of each knit inseparably with the others. There is a correspondence between what happens on the higher plans with what happens on the lower, and vice versa. Objectively, i.e., in reality, man’s purpose or reason for existence is the Glory of God. Subjectively or incidentally it is man’s own happiness. From the moment of his birth until his death man is ever striving after happiness. By Divine Providence the objective and subjective are organically united. Do God’s will and happiness follows. That order of action is vital and must be preserved. Should man give precedence to his own happiness before God’s will, the unity is destroyed and disorder and disease follow in place of happiness. With the exception of man, everything in nature obeys God’s law. Man alone is free to disobey, and we know from the doctrine of the Fall somewhat of the chaos and suffering which has resulted from man’s rebelling against the law. It is not to my purpose to deal with the doctrine of the Fall except to state that this rebellion did not change the nature of man; that the promised Redeemer did come, by
whose merits men might restore the order which was lost; and that while it would be an imbecility or worse to refuse to co-operate in God’s Redemption, it is no less so to be complacent about the evils surrounding us today, on the assumption that they are the results of Adam’s sin, when in great measure they are the result of our own. With this outline of the nature and purpose of man, the nature and purpose of human work can be examined. Work is that activity applied to other natures in order that man may perfect himself firstly as a person – a free responsible being and under God a creator, and secondly as a member of society. The order is important, but the two are not separate. They are organically united. The one flows from the other, as do the two great commandments of the law, love God and love your neighbour. The spiritual constituent of man, the intellect and the will, being free of matter and independent, is naturally immortal and has the primacy over man’s material constituent which is naturally mortal and is the instrument of the soul. Thus before all else, human work must be personal. Work must reflect in itself man’s love of Reality, Truth, Goodness, etc., and for its perfection, Charity, the love of God. The love of his neighbour is reflected by his work being good in itself and of service to society, which is bound by the same law as himself. “Work is not a punishment, a curse, or enslavement, but the cooperation of the labourer with his Creator and Redeemer,” says Canon Cardijn.1 It is a human activity and must conform to the laws governing human acts – acts which flow from a free will with the knowledge and understanding of the end and purpose, and as such have an eternal value. Man is the only person with a material constituent in his being, and therefore for the full development of his personality – his humanity – he needs material things to which he can apply the full combined powers of mind and body. This is so because his actions as applied to material things are his own actions only when he is free to treat those things as he wishes. Because of his animal nature he needs and therefore has a right to consumptive property. Because of his nature as a human person he has a right to productive property. Human labour and private property are the foundations without which no sound society can exist economically or otherwise. The form of private property may change, but its essence must always be stable – the effective ownership and control of the means to exercise one’s responsibilities. On the extent to which these two foundations are buttressed, so will the
The Truth About Work
wellbeing of man and society flourish. On the extent to which they are neglected, according to that measure will man and society decay. Until about 400 years ago, these principles were accepted by the whole of Christian Europe, and even many of them outside Christianity, as part and parcel of the Natural Law. For the most part the common man retained them until comparatively recent times either consciously or unconsciously. Man is perfected by virtue, and the normal man, whose search for the Kingdom of God and His Justice was mainly confined to his work, his family and his fellow workmen (sharers in his work), realised that virtue, and his perfection was developed chiefly in his work. “Work is the normal means of serving God,” said Cardinal Hinsley2 in one of his Advent Pastorals. Justice, Temperance, Fortitude were all called for if he was to be a good workman. Any craftsman today knows this, and all should be craftsmen. All those virtues which go to “make a man” of him are to be found in any work of which he is not ashamed or which is not beneath the dignity of a responsible being. “He spoke the truth with his lips and two hands,” said Piers Plowman.3 “Actions speak louder than words,” is a phrase which was often heard. That speech today for a vast and increasing number is the speech of the tongue-tied. That speech which should be louder than words – human acts – is mutilated and frustrated. If we examine the nature of the work which men are called upon to do under the present industrial system, can it honestly be said that it is human activity? Under this system men are deprived of speech of mind and hand and are more and more constrained to behave as gramophones – their animal nature providing the motive power – to turn out the songs and speeches of those who call the tune. Wind them up, oil them when they screech, and even provide them with “pious” records occasionally, for God will not be eliminated altogether. As the industrial system develops, with its consequent impersonal labour, so more and more it tends to what is termed massproduction. This in its turn develops from simple sub-division of increasingly irresponsible productive operations to a still greater and greater division, each operation so designed to relieve the workman from the exercise of anything except animal activity. “Foolproof” is the term used. Human characteristics are not required. Strangely enough, there are those who, so long as they themselves are not the victims, either defend or are complacent about the system
on the plea that those working in it are able to serve not only society by providing for its needs, and are thereby doing a good work, but also are able to serve God by offering up this work to Him. This suggests (1) that God’s plan for human beings can be set aside for the benefit of society, and that society can be developed by doing so; (2) that God can be honoured by the degradation of human beings; and (3) that it is of secondary or of no importance that the work, so far as the victim is concerned, should be human. Except where man has lost or been robbed of his sense of dignity, such work is repugnant to him. It deprives him of his right to manifest manliness in his work, and, where he is of good will, it throws him back on to disincarnate internal religion: an unsought and undesired Manicheism, the soul disunited with or revolting against the body, and vice versa. The work is not his own in any sense other than its being an activity exercising the instinct he shares in common with irrational animals and is not specifically human. Man cannot offer to God what is not his to offer. His work is only his own insofar as his reason and will have freely co-operated in the work. Human work is not merely applied physical or nervous energy. The Sunday Times of 10 August, 1947, contained an article written by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in which he emphasised the dignity of the person and went on to say: “It is because he brings to his work not only the faculties of his body but those of his mind and spirit that his labour of whatever sort it may be is endowed with a dignity of its own. This has special significance for those who are engaged in dull and monotonous work. If behind the work there is a real love of God and a desire to serve others by that work, then it doesn’t greatly matter what the work may be. We are all children of God.” The italicised words, isolated from their context, have been used by some concerned to defend the modern industrial system, as supporting the contention that the dull and monotonous work entailed in that system, particularly in what is called mass-production, is quite legitimate. That the essential factor is that man should bring to his work the faculties of mind and spirit before it can be human is not considered. The essential factor in mass-production – the elimination of the human element, in favour of the mechanical – is conveniently forgotten. Mass-production is the prostitution of the man to economic or other material motives and is spiritually contraceptive. To eliminate
The Truth About Work
the person and say it does not greatly matter what the work may be, is degrading and absurd, and provides an opening for all manner of injustice and oppression. Human work demands the use of the intellect and free will in the work itself, and before it can be in accord with human dignity must of necessity be orientated in accord with God’s plan for the man working and for society. Again a half truth has been expressed which runs like this: “There will always be degrees of personalness in man’s work. A doctor will always remain closer to his patients than an engine-driver to his passengers,” and similar examples. This misses the essential relationship between man and his work. Normally and naturally it is in his work that man is called upon to “seek the Kingdom of God.” The grace of Sacraments enlightens his mind and strengthens his will in this search for Reality, Truth and Goodness in his work. The difference between the doctor and the docker or engine-driver is only in the material they are called upon to use and the consequent reactions of their material. The doctor’s material may manifest more easily a greater social reaction, although this may be more apparent than real. The individual “personalness” demanded is the same from one man as from another, i.e., the whole. Where society demands some of this to be sacrificed, it may do so only in order to enhance the Common Good and so ultimately the individual’s personality. Would any sane person claim that such can be said of the industrial system? No one in his senses would suggest that the industrial system can be changed overnight, but to be complacent about it or to defend it even half-heartedly by “pious” half-truths is a betrayal of God, man and society. It is of interest to note that recently, when both France and Italy were in grave danger of the Communist “menace,” the Catholic Authorities emphasized the need and right of all men to private property. Private property and Industrialism cannot exist side by side for any length of time. One or other must go under. In the natural sphere, private property is the buttress of man’s freedom and an essential if man’s spirit is not to be chained. Can we not preach and work towards a restoration of ownership with all the liberty and responsibility that it gives? If we are not doing this, what is our objection to Communism?
On Organisation and Efficiency by G. K. Chesterton
Organisation means efficiency. It would far truer to say that Organisation always means inefficiency. This does not in the least mean that we should not organise. Sometimes the organisation is inevitable, and then the inefficiency is equally inevitable. Organisation necessarily creates a chain of human or living links on which everything hangs; the chain cannot be stronger than its weakest link, and it will have many weak links. To say that organisation means inefficiency is only to repeat, in the more pedantic modern language, the old proverb: “If you want a thing done, do it yourself.” If a peasant can grow a cabbage himself, cook it himself, and eat it himself, he has so far attained the maximum of efficiency and certainly the maximum of economy. Organisation means that he must trust the cabbage to strangers on a train, strangers on a trolley, strangers in a shop, until by infinite financial complications he can get it exchanged for a turnip or a cauliflower; and at every one of those stages it is in danger from every one of those strangers. I am not saying that he should not change his cabbage for a cauliflower, or that the exchange could be made without some organisation. What I say is that if there is some organisation there will be some inefficiency; and if there is more Organisation there will be more inefficiency. The only faultless and final piece of efficiency, full and rounded like the turnip, is that in which the same turnip or cabbage passes from the peasant’s kitchen-garden to the peasant’s kitchen, and from the peasant’s kitchen to the peasant’s inside. With every man you add to that process you do, by inevitable e have been told often enough that
* This chapter is taken from the May 28, 1921, issue of The Illustrated London News.
On Organisation and Efficiency
logic, increase the chance of the cabbage being lost, of the cabbage being stolen, of the cabbage being sold at a loss, of the cabbage being kicked about in the dirt till it is no more than a cabbage-stalk. I do not object to the peasant purchasing and eating the cauliflower as a variant on too continuous a diet of cabbage; but I say he should all the more value and even venerate the cauliflower because of the dangers it has passed, the myriad chances of destruction it has evaded, in threading its way through the deadly jungle of organisation. It has had a hundred hairbreadth escapes, for it has passed through a hundred human hands. That luckless vegetable has been lost in a forest of men as trees walking; of men of the sort summarised as mostly fools; of human trees which are at least tolerably green. It is almost a wonder that the peasant does not preserve the vegetable in a shrine instead of putting it on a dish. I cannot count how many vital and valuable human institutions have been sacrificed to this one simple and silly idea – the idea that by making a thing large we make it more orderly; whereas making it large is obviously more likely to make it loose. It may be necessary to send forty little boys to one schoolmaster, because it is practically difficult to provide one schoolmaster for one little boy. But a practical and conscientious schoolmaster will tell you that he had rather the forty boys were twenty, or even that the twenty were ten. But, curiously enough, the truth now everywhere admitted about schoolmasters is now everywhere reversed about schools. While a teacher is considered enlightened and even advanced if he firmly refuses to teach more than five and a half babies how to dissect a dandelion, a system of teaching is also considered enlightened and advanced if it can boast that 5,000,000.05 babies are all dissecting exactly the same sort of dandelion, at exactly the same instant of time. While the individual teachers express a longing to be allowed to get nearer to their individual pupils, the systems of teaching actually brag and boast of not being individual. And, of course, the first is modern and must be right, and the second is modern and must be right; and if they contradict each other, each must be right without the other being wrong. I see that Mr. Wells4 was lamenting the other day that our school systems were not sufficiently systematised. He did not use the word systematised; he actually used the word stereotyped. He said he wanted certain lessons stereotyped, notably the chemical experi-
ments, which he wanted fixed for ever on a film, to avoid the expense and bother of conducting them with a jar or a piece of wire. It would certainly have its advantages. For instance, it would conceal the fact that the real experiment often fails, or (with even grosser impropriety) proves the wrong thing. Behind the figured film, like the embroidered veil of Isis,5 the august secrets of science can be preserved. Of course, I know that Mr. Wells merely meant, in all innocence, to give efficient chemical instruction in the most economical manner; but I think there is a certain irony in the innocence which is not without its application to scientific infallibility. The point is here, however, that, whatever it is that Mr. Wells wants stereotyped, a considerable school of current culture wants everything stereotyped. It wants all the pupils in the school to be exactly the same, and all the schools in country to be exactly the same. It admits that many little mistakes have been made in the past, and pointed out in the past. It wants to make the next mistake on a really large and magnificent scale, with nobody to point it out. This is the great modern ideal of Organisation, of which the ideal would be too tight and the reality would be too loose. It menaces both England and America, but both in America and England there are many more or less submerged but very stubborn national instincts fighting against it. In England it is resisted by the English eccentricity of moods and humours. In America it is resisted by the American fire and fighting spirit, and a certain fine levity about obedience to the law. In the peasant democracies, like France or Serbia or Ireland, it can never get any real foothold at all. There the fundamental truism about wanting a thing well done and doing it yourself is instinctively and universally understood. This does not mean that a moderate amount of organisation is not good for peasants, or is not desired by peasants, or is not done by peasants. The point is that the proportions between primary and secondary things stand solid in the mind. The primary fact is that a man can support himself, and thus only can govern himself. The secondary fact is that he wishes to enrich and vary experience by various forms of experiment and exchange. To these secondary social activities are loosely attached a large number of more or less legitimate figures of speech and symbolical summaries such as that which compares
On Organisation and Efficiency
the community to a ship or a tree or a single man. But the theorists of modern amalgamation simply live by a metaphor, and generally a mixed metaphor. Nothing is really organised except an organism. We naturally use the terms of it in an easier and more extensive fashion, just as the same word “organ,” which is applied to the heart or the stomach, may also mean a barrel-organ or a church organ. But we should be misled if we expected from the barrel-organ the peculiar antics of the man or even the monkey. The organ cannot invent a tune anymore than it can grow a tail. And such things cannot be done merely by a social machine any more than by a musical machine. In church the largest and most elaborate organ must still depend upon the smallest and most minute organist. And, just as mistakes may be made by the organist because he is a man, mistakes may be made by the organiser because he is a man. The social organiser is not organically connected with society. He cannot raise a forest as he raises a finger, nor can he cast a city down merely because he puts his foot down. Though he may think himself a giant, his limbs do not really elongate themselves along all the roads of a continent; and, though he is very frequently a fool, his eyes are not in that sense in the ends of the earth. He can only reach out to all these remote things through a long series of intermediaries, generally in literally enormous numbers, as in the case of armies of organised labour. Other men must plant the forest, and they may strike. Other men must bombard the city, and they may mutiny. This is something like the sinister position to which craze for complex organisation has already brought us. I will not attempt to forecast here the issue of such a problem; but I think it well for us to remember the fundamental and forgotten fact – that the one and only real type of efficiency is the turnip-headed rustic left alone with his turnip.
The Growth of Industrialism by Cdr. Herbert Shove “A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the shoulders of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” —Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum
ew candid readers will be likely to quarrel
with the above outline of what has been the trend of affairs in the last few years in the industrialized countries, except in one respect. The writer has referred throughout to “commerce” and to “merchants,” whereas it is amongst “manufacturers” and “capitalists” that the process of amalgamation, the amassing of great fortunes, (i.e., really of great power) and the squeezing out of little concerns has been going on. Under modern conditions, this is really a distinction without a difference. For modern Industrialism is directed, not by men who occupy their positions in virtue of knowledge of the technical processes of the industry, but by “business men,” who understand the arts of buying and selling; by “financiers,” whose activities really consist in the buying and selling of the control of business concerns, the negotiating of the “combines,” and by expert judges of “costs” and “markets.” The men who understand the technical side are mere employees, and generally not very well paid employees. But it is this technical staff, the works managers, etc., who are the real master producers. The Finance and Sales Departments are purely commercial, simply merchants and commercial travellers. It is these who form the governing and highly paid classes in modern industries. So that it is * This chapter is taken from The Fairy Ring of Commerce, Chapter III (Birmingham: The Distributist League, 1930).
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fully justifiable to speak of “Merchants” as the dominating body in the industrial world. We have seen how “free competition” tends to destroy itself and to be superseded by monopoly amongst this mercantile class, so soon as the market refuses to expand faster than the supply of goods, i.e., than the number of more or less equally successful merchants, or “industrialists,” competing in it. We must next consider how Industrialism grows out of unrestricted and expanding commerce, i.e., how the merchants come to control the technicians. For this is the very definition of “Industrialism,” or “the industrial system,” and that which distinguishes it from “industry,” that the control is in the hands, not of the masters of the craft, but of the masters of exchange. There are two great factors in the bringing about of this state of affairs,
(a) the personal, (b) the territorial, division of labour.
In every community, which has emerged from completely primitive conditions, some personal division of labour is certain to arise. Within its proper bounds, this is perhaps the greatest factor making for advance in human comfort and refinement. The dexterity that comes from practice and experience in a special branch of work will inevitably lead to that work being better performed by the man who devotes his whole working life to it, than by one who only engages in it spasmodically to supply an occasional need. But the thing can very easily be overdone. In peasant communities, however, experience has generally indicated its healthy limits, and the principle governing it is respected in practice, though not often recognised as a clear theoretical basis of civic polity. This principle, once enunciated, seems however the merest common sense, being simply that it should be the rule for the normal family to provide itself by its own labour with all those requirements of which it needs a continuous supply, and in the provision of which its members will therefore necessarily become proficient, and should obtain from specialists those things of which the need is more rarely felt, and in the making of which its members will thus be less efficient, because less practised, than the specialists, and usually unprovided with the necessary appliances.
Thus, every normal family is engaged in husbandry, which provides them with their daily food, and usually fuel, and the raw material of their clothes. The repairing of clothes is practically a constant need, and the making of them, especially for children, is very frequently required, so every woman learns to sew. Spinning the wool, an operation which gives thread for mending and knitting, and is moreover performed without very elaborate appliances, is also naturally a domestic, non-specialised pursuit. On the other hand, the weaving of this thread into cloth is more often carried out by specialists. This is because the requirements of cloth are not so frequently recurrent as to make it worth while for a family – unless it be so large as practically to constitute a community in itself, as that of a great Greek or Roman chief with his hosts of slaves – to maintain a private loom, or to have one or more of its members so constantly employed in the craft as to acquire professional skill. Hence each group of families, as a village, will support one or two weavers, who work at this trade for, at any rate, a great part of their time, though often, in small communities, they are not so engaged for the whole of it. Even in the developed and commercialised English weaving trade, before the Industrial Revolution, the weavers were very often also farmers in a small way. Of other trades in which specialisation early appears we may cite the smith, the potter, the miller and the carpenter. All these supply recurrent, and, taken over a community, constantly recurrent needs, but such as are comparatively rare in the daily life of a single family. Bootmakers, tailors, etc., appear later, and the last-named, with bakers, brewers, butchers, fishmongers, and the providers of more refined and luxurious articles of human consumption, do not begin to be specialised till we get an urban population. Their extension into the rural and truly peasant districts being generally a sign of the encroachment of commercialism. The merchant tends to upset the natural balance of this comparatively limited specialisation by creating an artificial demand for some special product beyond the needs of the district in which the producers live. Thus, if the weavers of a district have, from any cause, acquired a superior skill, merchants will seek them out, so as to have goods which they can sell at a good price in districts which cannot produce cloth of similar quality. As they must give something
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– and ultimately goods, not money, which is, of course, useless if there is nothing to buy – in exchange, there is apparent benefit to both the weaving and the cloth consuming districts. There is nevertheless a serious danger in thus encouraging specialisation, as the history of such districts shows. This lies in the dependence, first of the specialists, and, in the long run, often of the whole district, and, indeed, of other districts, on the merchants. Let us illustrate this by tracing the typical history of a weaving district. Before the advent of the merchants the special skill of the weavers will not enable them to live by their trade in greater numbers than suffice to supply cloth for the neighbourhood. There may be a small number of whole-time weavers amongst the unspecialised peasants, or a larger number who work at the trade only part of their time and are, for the rest, peasants. The extra demand created by the merchants will, in either case, increase their numbers relative to the peasants and the demand for food in the district will thus become heavier per head of those engaged in agriculture. This will tend to encourage more intensive cultivation, perhaps the clearing and improvement of new land, and an increase in the total population supported on the area. At the same time, goods imported to pay for the cloth will raise the general standard of living. This is the bright side of the picture, and if merchants were content to perform the service legitimately belonging to their occupation this is where things would stop. It is the proper function of a wise legislature to check the avarice of merchants and the temptation of the producers at this point. Unfortunately, under “free competition,” this is not done and the further stages, leading to the “territorial” division of labour in respect of the supply of raw material and food, are embarked on without a realisation of their ultimate effect. The extra demand for cloth naturally produces an increased demand for wool, which may be met either by a local increase of flocks or by importation. The first, if it does not lead to a decay of tillage and consequent dependence on imported food, will, of course, tend still further to increase the prosperity of the district. The danger in this case will be to other districts, which become dependent on the merchants for the supply of their cloth; and, perhaps, for a market for the non-essentials which the weaving district buys. But we must, for the sake of clearness, confine our attention to one locality. In any case the expansion of the weaving industry, as it
has now become, will be very limited if it has to depend on a local supply of raw wool and also of food. Yet, if this is not so, the weavers must ultimately become entirely subservient to the merchants. In practice the importation will probably first be one of raw wool, rather than of food, unless the district is naturally a very poor one from the point of view of arable cultivation. Foodstuffs are heavy and bulky in proportion to their exchange value, and the cost of transport will long restrict the import of them. The population must also be very dense, or very unevenly distributed, before any average district becomes incapable of feeding itself. The effects of the import of raw wool on the total wealth of the importing district will very likely be, at first, apparently beneficial. But it will put the weavers wholly at the mercy of the merchants, if they have been so far specialised as to be no longer able to support themselves in any other way than by their trade. For it will soon lead to the same merchant, or members of the same ring of merchants, both importing the wool and exporting the finished cloth. When this, the “undertaker” system of the eighteenth century English woollen, cotton and frame-knitting trades, is the established order of things, the next step is obvious. If the undertaker is selling raw wool, perhaps on credit, and at the same time buying it back as cloth, the two transactions can be combined into a simple agreement on the part of the weaver to work up the raw material into the finished goods for a certain sum, without any transfer of ownership to him during the time he is doing it. He then becomes simply a pieceworker, employed by the undertaker or merchant. The latter has now become a “manufacturer,” in the modern sense and the industry is ripe for that large scale mechanicalisation which is the mark of developed Industrialism and whose introduction dates from the Industrial Revolution of 1760–1830. It is often thought that it was the invention of machines, and more particularly of the steam engine, and the consequent application of “power” to manufacture, that brought about the Industrial Revolution. But this is not really the case. In the textile trades, which led the way and on whose model modern general Industrialism was formed, the machinery was originally introduced rather to equalize the speed of different specialised processes with one another than with any idea of utilising power. Spinning and weaving were
The Growth of Industrialism
already, and had practically always been, distinct pursuits. When the “territorial division of labour” had developed to the stage already outlined, through the growth of the mercantile spirit in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, raw material was provided and finished goods demanded in quantities beyond the capabilities of the weavers, unless they made use of the first of the speeding-up devices, Kay’s “flying shuttle,”6 a device which, on the whole, must be considered a real improvement. The extra speed thus given to the weavers tended to be nullified through the inability of the spinners to keep them supplied with yarn. The result was the series of spinning inventions, the Jenny,7 Mule,8 etc., which put the spinners proportionately ahead of the weavers. It was to these spinning inventions that power was first applied, so that they could be worked with sweated child labour, and they in turn produced the demand for the power loom and so on. It may be true that the introduction of power produced the factory system, though there were hand worked factories before it. The new power driven machines were obviously too expensive for the small worker and, as his own appliances could not compete with them in output, he was forced into the factories as a mere operative, owning not even his tools, far less, at any stage, his materials. But the factories could never have been manned had there not been an already dependent class to be forced into them. Everyone now admits that the conditions in the early factories were, to put it mildly, sub-human, and only the fear of starvation would have driven anyone into them. That there was such a class was due largely to the territorial division of labour under the conditions of dependence on the undertakers, whereby whole districts were dependent on one trade, controlled, not by the producers, but by the merchants. This class, the modern “proletariat,” was fed also from another source intimately connected in its origins with the growth of commercial ideas, viz.: the dispossessed cottiers and small agricultural holders. The return from land-holding depends on the seasonal time factor. Thus the landlord or farmer can never fairly expect the same rate of profit on his capital as the merchant or industrialist. But the ruling class in England, before the rise commercialism, had been a territorial aristocracy, basing their claim to pre-eminence on military leadership. The rise, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of
a new class of wealthy traders, anxious to win the social prestige attaching to landholding, but imbued, on the other hand, with the traditions of the counting house, and the struggle of the older landed gentry to maintain their position in face of the competition of this new wealth, were largely the causes of the enclosures and dispossession of the smaller yeomen that marked the period. The new methods of cultivation introduced at the same time, some of them real improvements, were not introduced with that object. What the landlords wanted was to be able to command a bigger rent. To the feudal landlord a numerous peasantry inhabiting his lands meant a reservoir of man-power on which he could draw for his military exploits. To the newer “squire” it meant niggling with a number of small, unprogressive tenants for an inadequate, and perhaps uncertain, rent, whereas the big farmer was less trouble in proportion to his less numbers, and both able and willing, by the adoption of the new methods, to pay a higher rent. The first attempts at rural depopulation, with a view to sheep ranching, were made centuries before the industrial revolution, and mark the evil effects of the merchants’ territorial division of labour in making Flanders a specialised weaving district, with England as its feeder of raw material. Up to the seventeenth century, English governments, not yet wholly dominated by the mercantile mind, repeatedly intervened to prevent the abuse. After the overthrow of the Crown by the squires all restraint ceased, and deliberate depopulation of the countryside set in, because it was found that more money could be made out of land by reducing the amount of human “stock” it had directly to feed. In the end cottages were pulled down, so as to reduce the numbers which the parish must either employ or support out of the rates. Nothing like this went on anywhere else than in England. Foreign peasants might be oppressed, overtaxed, even reduced to semistarvation, by the rapacity of overlords who had forgotten their feudal duties while exaggerating their feudal privileges. But they were not dispossessed of their land, they still fed themselves, however poorly, on the food which they themselves grew, and which, in the growing, as in the consumption, was always their own. The proletarian day labourer was an English product. It was his existence, as much as anything else, that made the factory a “commercial proposition,” and
The Growth of Industrialism
thereby enabled England to get the start she did ahead of her rivals in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The social conditions brought about by the acceptance of commercialism by the governing classes made Industrialism possible. Had the great inventions, whereby power superseded hand labour, been made in a society of free producers their history would have been very different. No doubt their triumph would have been delayed, perhaps, even now, mechanical technique would have been far inferior to what it is. But the men would have remained the masters of the machines. It was the avarice of the merchant, not the ingenuity of the technician, that enslaved the wage earner. Every improvement in the condition of the people which has been brought about since the blackest days of unfettered Industrialism has been wrung from the governing mercantile class through fear of revolt, or conceded by them simply because it has begun to be recognised that better conditions of life mean more “efficient” labour; and has, in the long run, been bought by the proletarian by a further surrender of his birthright of freedom. Instead of the general wealth and freedom once promised we can now see the impoverishment and dependence and consequent unrest of the masses of the people which are the real fruits of the attempt to make competition for private gain, rather than the mutual supply of social needs, the driving force of human labour.
Above left. George Maxwell (1890–1957), Ditchling craftsman and smallholder. Above right. Engraver, type designer, and sculptor Eric Gill (1882–1940). B elow. Sopers House, at Ditchling, in which Eric Gill lived with his wife, Ethel Mary, and family from 1907 to 1913.
Above. G. K. Chesterton (1875–1936), Distributist author and journalist. B elow Left. Cdr. Herbert W. Shove, D.S.O., Ditchling smallholder and craftsman, as seen in the only known photograph of him, taken ca. 1934. B elow right. Arthur J. Penty (1870–1937), Distributist social theorist.
Above. H. J. Massingham (1888–1952), ruralist and historian, with his wife, Penelope. Left. Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953), Distributist journalist and historian. Below. A map of Ditchling, in Sussex, England, where Eric Gill moved in 1907 and where, with H. D. C. Pepler, in 1921, he founded the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic for Catholic Artists and Craftsmen. The Guild was one of several successful (if only for a time) attempts by Distributists to put their ideals into practice.
The Buttress of Freedom by Harold Robbins “As a servant desireth the shadow – as the hired man tarryeth for the end of his work.” —Job vii: 2 “The surplus of the rich is the necessity of the poor. To possess superfluity is to possess the goods of others.” —St. Augustine, Comm. Psalm 147
s with marriage and the family, property is an
institution found wherever man is found. It is attacked and degraded only when a society is degraded and dying. And as with marriage and the family, the Church teaches that private property is a natural right of man. Leo XIII has stated the doctrine in striking words: Every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own. This is one of the chief points of distinction between man and the animal creation, for the brute has no power of selfdirection, but is governed by two main instincts.... But with man it is wholly different.... It is the mind, or reason, which is the predominant element in us who are human creatures.... It must be within his right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use, but to have and to hold them in stable and permanent possession.... Man’s needs do not die out, but recur; although satisfied today, they demand fresh supplies for tomorrow. Nature accordingly owes to man a storehouse that shall never fail, affording the daily supply for his daily * This chapter is taken from The Sun of Justice, Chapter V (London: Heath Cranton, Ltd., 1938).
Distributist Perspectives wants. And this he finds solely in the inexhaustible fertility of the earth. (Rerum Novarum)
St. Thomas Aquinas, in discussing the lawfulness of property, is severely realist. He assigns three reasons why it is “necessary to human life.” 1. Every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to many or to all. 2. Human affairs are conducted more orderly if each man is charged with taking care of some particular thing himself. 3. A more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented with his own. (2. 2. 66. 2.)
It is to be noted in the statements of both Pope and Doctor that widely diffused property is essential and implied by both arguments. A natural right is the right of all men. All men’s wants recur, and are to be distinguished from those of the brutes, in the same way, by the ownership of property. In St. Thomas, it is clear that a peaceful state where each is contented with his own can only occur where each has his own to be contented with. That this is the correct interpretation is shown by Pope Leo’s emphatic dictum later in the Encyclical. “The law, therefore, should favour ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the humbler class to become owners.” The point is well taken by one of the best-known Catholic writers on economics. The individual security and the provision for one’s family which a man derives from private property are obviously benefits which it is desirable to extend to the great majority of the citizens. It is not enough that private ownership should be maintained as a social institution. The institution should be so managed and regulated that its benefits will be directly shared by the largest possible number. (John A. Ryan, D.D., The Christian Doctrine of Property, p. 14.)
So emphatic and pressing is the need for this general diffusion of ownership, that both Leo XIII and Plus XI introduce the point into the wage question itself. It was said in the first chapter that the temporary tolerations and expedients of the Church would not be
The Buttress of Freedom
discussed in this book, but the evidence that they are temporary is so clear from the Papal treatment as to justify quotation here. It is surely undeniable that when a man engages in remunerative labour, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own.... If a workman’s wages be sufficient to enable him to maintain himself, his wife and his children in reasonable comfort, he will not find it difficult, if he be a sensible man, to study economy; and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a small income.... If working folk can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land...the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over. (Rerum Novarum) This is the aim which Our Predecessor urged as the necessary object of Our efforts: the uplifting of the proletariat.... The number of the dispossessed labouring masses, whose groans mount to Heaven from these lands, increased beyond all measure. Moreover, there is the immense army of hired rural labourers, whose condition is depressed in the extreme, and who have no hope of ever obtaining a share in the land. These too unless efficacious remedies be applied will remain perpetually SUNK [capitals mine] in their proletarian condition.... Every effort must be made that...an ample sufficiency be supplied to the working man. The purpose is not that these become slack at their work, for man is born to labour as the birds to fly, but that by thrift they may increase their possessions.... This programme cannot, however, be realised unless the propertyless wage-earner be placed in such circumstances that by skill and thrift he can acquire a certain moderate ownership.... But how can he ever save money except from his wages?” (Quadragesimo Anno)
It is clear, therefore, that in the mind of the Church, wages under Industrialism or any other system should be not only sufficient for the reasonable comfort of the family, but should permit of saving to acquire property. It is not necessary to emphasise that in no country do wages approach this level. The system, therefore, as it exists, is without even the toleration of the Church.
The alternative means, by which the natural right to property may generally be achieved, have not yet been stated, and Catholics are free to implement the principle in any way consistent with good morals. Perhaps there is a hint in the latest Encyclical of the present Pope. It must likewise be the special care of the State to create those material conditions of life without which an orderly society cannot exist. The State must take every measure necessary to supply employment, particularly for the heads of families and for the young. To achieve this end demanded by the pressing needs of the common welfare, the wealthy classes must be induced to assume those burdens without which human society cannot be saved nor they themselves remain secure. However, measures taken by the State with this end in view ought to be of such a nature that they will really affect those who actually possess more than their share of capital resources, and who continue to accumulate them to the grievous detriment of others.” (Divini Redemptoris.) [The italics are mine.]
Moreover, it is part of Catholic teaching that extreme need confers a right of participation in the goods of others. All things are common property in a case of extreme necessity. Hence one who is in such dire straits may take another’s goods in order to succour himself, if he can find no one who is willing to give him something. (St. Thomas 2. 2. 32. 7.)
Finally, there is the noble statement of our own Saint Thomas More: Thou wilt haply say, what if I cannot labour, or have more small children to find than my labour of three days will suffice to feed for one day, shall I not then care and take thought how they shall live tomorrow? Or tell what other shift I shall fine. First shall I tell thee what shift thou shalt make in such case; and after shall I shew thee that, if all shift fail thee, yet if thou be a faithful man thou shalt take no thought? I say if thou lack, thou shalt labour to thy power by just and true business to get that thee and thine behoveth. If thy labour suffice
The Buttress of Freedom
not, thou shalt shew thy state, that thou hast little money and much charge, to some such men as have much money and little charge, and they be then bounden of duty to supply of theirs that thee lacketh of thine.” (The Four Last Things.)
The italics, I regret to say, are mine. It did not occur to the saintly and distinguished author that they would be necessary. The benefits of diffused property are striking and decisive. Philosophically, we may assess them in three groups. 1. They are a buttress to freedom, because they make men independent of the domination of other human wills. This is as striking spiritually as socially and economically, for the “fear of the sack,” or extreme poverty, is a deterrent to the good use of reason, and frequently to good morals. 2. They promote the common good, for where property is equitably divided, great wealth and great poverty, both corrupters of good morals and order, are unlikely and rare. 3. The best possible use is made of productive powers. It is remarkable that this is not accepted more generally, for men who possess property cannot fail to recognise its “magic” in promoting harder and more intelligent work, even when they deny or ignore its equal possibilities for others. Moreover, this is one of the cases where we have a direct and emphatic lead from Our Lord Himself. In one of His most touching parables, He says, so simply that it is clear He regards the fact as self-evident: “The Hireling flieth, because he is a Hireling.” (St. John x:13.) Those eight words are themselves a complete condemnation of a system in which the Hireling is normal. Our Lord does not condemn the Hireling. He flies, not because he is a coward or a villain, but because he is a Hireling, and clearly no state in which the bulk of the people are of this category can attain either a real organic order, or a true civilisation. The point need not be elaborated. In none of their aspects have the stipulations of the Papal Encyclicals been accepted and worked for by Catholics generally. The failure or refusal to do so is disgraceful to us. Pius XI says grimly, in Quadragesimo Anno, “This state of things was quite satis-
factory to the wealthy.” It appears to have been equally satisfactory in other and more surprising quarters. Catholic Employers, in England at any rate, have made no noticeable attempt to implement even the temporary expedients. As regards the permanent remedies, nothing has been done at all. A well-known and influential Catholic layman recently had the hardihood to say: “I confess I see no real remedy in encouraging an artisan to hold property.” This was six years after Quadragesimo Anno, forty-six years after Rerum Novarum, about seven hundred after Saint Thomas, and nineteen hundred after Our Lord said, “The Hireling flieth, because he is a Hireling.” Other words of Our Lord are very much over-worked. “The poor you have always with you,” means something quite different from its use by the wealthy, but it is seen very frequently indeed. Perhaps if we overwork the definite reference to the Hireling our rich will be persuaded to do something about him. It is important to note that Capitalism is not capable of direct censure, because it is only indirectly, by casual monopoly so to speak, that it denies property to the bulk of mankind. As Mr. Belloc reminds us in his Catholic Church and the Principle of Private Property, Capitalism is a disease of Property. Unfortunately, Industrial Capitalism was not susceptible of direct ecclesiastical censure, though all its unwritten first principles had been denounced from the very origins of the Catholic Church, first by its Divine Founder, lastly in the Encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius X, and now in Quadragesimo Anno. (p. 15.)
He adds, and the words, to anyone who has studied the thing, are not immoderate: The avarice, the contempt for mercy and justice, the bestial lack of reason and almost equally bestial lack of art in this evil thing, sufficiently show from what seed it sprang. The reproach that individual Catholics rarely flourish in its atmosphere should be not a reproach to us but a glory. (Ibid., p. 16.)
It is pertinent to add a word of warning, which may be given in the words of the same distinguished writer.
The Buttress of Freedom
Finally, this function of property, like all other human attributes, is distorted when it is defined in isolation. It must be taken in with the mass of all other human functions, and is subject, as is every one of them, to the general modification imposed by the generalities of human existence. (Ibid., p. 6.)
I propose, for this and other reasons, to defer to later chapters on the Guild, Industrialism and Commerce, other aspects of this function of property. This chapter may end fitly with a brief analysis of a modern fallacy. The modern world began with a position where economic power was fairly widely diffused among the people, but political power was highly concentrated in nominally absolute monarchies run actually by the very rich. It is deplorable, but not surprising, that the struggle for political freedom absorbed the general attention. The purely economic onslaught of the very rich was delivered with little conscious opposition until it was too late. The diabolical selfishness of the squires who drove their surplus labourers into the towns by a series of frauds, beginning with enclosures and ending with the razing of cottages, coincided with the introduction of machinery and the factory system. It is a melancholy compensation that their act sealed their own doom as a class. But the dominance of the purely political approach remained. Nevertheless it is true that there is no real political power without economic power as a basis. In the peculiar conditions of the present, where both political and economic power are lacking to the bulk of the citizens, it will be necessary to react on both fronts simultaneously. But it is true that in the long run, political power can only exist where economic power is present. It is necessary only to prevent the rich from concentrating again on one of them behind the smoke screen of the other.
Painting and the Public by Eric Gill
y immortal fellow- guest† once said that it was
“funnier to have a nose than to have a Roman nose.” There are many things like that. For example: it is funnier to be a Catholic than a Roman Catholic -that is to say, it is funnier that a man should have any religion than that he should have the true one. Again, it is much funnier to wear trousers than to wear Bond Street trousers, and when I sit eating my lunch in a Lyons teashop it becomes abundantly clear that it is much funnier to eat anything at all than it is to eat even the Lyons “portion.” But, thinking of this meeting, perhaps the funniest thing of all funny things is the thing called art. It is funnier that there should be art than that there should be any particular kind of art, however fantastic. And this is specially true in these days. The word art of course means first of all simply skill – human skill. Thus we have the art of the dentist and that of the pickpocket, and thus we have the word “artful,” which is much the same as “crafty.” But there is a special sense of the word art which we are concerned with here, and in this sense art is not mere skill, though it involves skill (for nothing can be done or made without at least a little skill). Art in the sense we are concerned with is the thing made rather than the skill in making – and further, it means the thing made delightfully rather than the thing made skilfully – the thing made for the delight of the person who sees it (or hears it, or touches it, or tastes it, or smells it) rather than made simply for the convenience of him who uses it. It is work * This chapter, originally a speech given by Gill at the opening of a picture exhibition at a restaurant, is taken from Beauty Looks After Herself, Chapter XIII (London: Sheed & Ward: London, 1933). † Gill is referring to G.K. Chesterton. —Ed.
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raised above the plane of physical utility to the plane of intelligent pleasure or delight; to the plnce of the beautiful (the beautiful thing is that which being seen pleases) – the beautiful more or less consciously willed by the workman and consciously sought by his customer. But until the era of Industrialism (the approach of whose full development -it is not yet quite complete – we are now witnessing) the work of utility was commonly the occasion of the work of beauty, the delightful work, the work of “Art.” The line of demarcation between workman and artist was not between the picture painters (sculptors, musicians, and poets) on the one hand and, on the other, the people who made all the other things. There was no hard line of division. Every object of utility was in some degree a work of art. This was necessarily so and without any self-conscious or “high-brow” fuss about it – in spite of war, pestilence and famine, battle, murder, and sudden death; in spite of chattel slavery and serfdom; in spite of the tyranny of princes and the avarice of men of business – because, in the absence of a highly developed system of divided and sub-divided labour, in the absence of elaborate machinery, in the absence of cheap drawing paper and therefore of measured drawings supplied by architects and engineers, every workman was in some degree a responsible workman – responsible not merely for doing what he was told but for the quality, the intellectual quality of what his deeds effected. He was a more or less independent person who was expected to use, and was paid to use, his intelligence and, therefore (if only to make his work pleasant in the doing – for, as it says in the book of Ecclesiasticus, “a man shall have joy in his labour; and this is his portion”), he was a person who did to some extent, either more or less, regard the thing to be made as a thing to be made delightful as well as useful. But we have undoubtedly changed all that – not quite, but very nearly completely – and when I say “no ordinary workman is or could be an artist,” no one will say I am lying; on the contrary, everyone will say: “of course not.” The ordinary workman it is who by mass organisation makes the ordinary necessaries of life and even many of the luxuries; and whether or no it be necessary that luxuries be produced in mass, it is now clearly unnecessary that necessities should be produced one by one by independent individual artists.
The professor of fine arts in the University of Edinburgh has put the matter in a very small nutshell. He has said that Industrialism has released the artist from the necessity of having to make anything useful. All ordinary things are made for ordinary people by ordinary people working in factories. Artists are those special people who make special things for special people. Artists are the only responsible people left – because they are the only people who are really responsible for what they make – the only people you can still blame if what they make is bad. And as they are less and less called upon to make useful things (i.e. things physically useful), they are more and more sought after on account of their personal gifts of temper and sensibility. Hence the great insistence upon the artist’s individuality, upon his personality. Hence the notion that art is self-expression – the expression of the artist’s self. As emotion, feeling, sensibility, cannot be shown in machine-made things, it is thought that art exists specially for the expression of those things. As Clive Bell9 put it: what matters about a picture is not what you think about it but what it makes you feel. I don’t say he’s right, but that’s what he said. And so art, divorced from the common life in which men make useful things (whether hats or hammers, houses or ham-sandwiches) becomes a more and more fantastic or at least eccentric extra. Now artists live by selling what they make, and those who buy very naturally buy only what they like (what “appeals” to them as they say). And because there is every sort of buyer there is every sort of artist – from the purveyor of the sweetest chocolate-box pictures of creamy English beauty to the most fantastic kind of all – namely, that which makes it appeal exclusively to the person of disinterested intelligence and sensibility. But if the artist wants to live more or less in the same way as his contemporaries (according to the same standard of living), wear the same kind of clothes, have baths as the best people in Wimbledon do, eat similar food and dwell in houses such as will pass the building regulations, then he must, he simply must make things which his contemporaries like, even if he makes things which they can only like for the wrong reasons. Making things which people like for the wrong reasons is, indeed, the first trick to be acquired by the artist unless he be content either to live as a hermit in a desert or to depend for his livelihood upon the favour of a special coterie of wealthy aesthetes.
Painting and the Public
What is commonly thought and often said about the artist’s function is mostly nonsense – that it is his business to teach, to lead, to guide the world out of its natural and muddy ditch into the cultivated fields. This pedestal or pulpit upon or in which the artist has been placed is an erection of very recent, almost contemporary, design. The artist as prophet and seer and teacher is the creation of very modern times – times which are once again witnessing the submergence of all interests beneath commercial interests. But the kindly and very sentimental man of business is frightened, and no wonder! at the consequences and accompaniments of his rule. And, as everyone wants to have his pudding and eat it as well, we have the spectacle of Mr. Henry Tate building the Tate Gallery,10 Mr. Carnegie11 founding libraries, and all sorts of lesser men going in for “a spot of culture” in their spare time. But we do not witness any attempt on their part to destroy the commercial system itself – the system of usury which we politely call Capitalism and the system of slavery which we politely call Industrialism. I doubt if there are more than half a dozen people even here who wish to destroy either of those things. Nevertheless everybody is agreed that there are some things which they cannot produce in factories, which can never be produced in factories, very desirable things – at least things which very many people desire, things the very nature of which is that they are the product of responsible workmen, workmen working as human beings for human beings and not as irresponsible tools for the bereft of an impersonal thing called “the common good.” Painting and engravings are among such things. They cannot be produced by the factory system. It is not primarily a question of machinery; it is not that painting could not be done with the aid of a gas engine. It is primarily a question of the responsible workman. For the production of a painting you must have a responsible painter – someone whose will it is that the paint shall be put on just here and not just there. The very essence, the great charm of the factory is that you do not need workmen who want to impose their free wills, their idiosyncrasies, their emotions and sensibilities upon the design and manufacture of razor blades. I say the great “charm” – for it makes the business so much simpler from the point of view of management and, ever since Adam
said “Eve did it,” shirking responsibility has been the chief temptation of ordinary men and women. It is true that the Medici Society can have a factory for the reproduction of existing paintings – thus making painters even rarer birds than before; but though artists become rarer and rarer they can never be replaced, because there must be originals before there can be reproductions. However, do not let us be deceived by this rosy picture. The artist, as such, is irreplaceable; but the public, the thing which pays the money, is quite content with substitutes. If the walls of the Lyons teashop are covered with marble and the wireless is “on,” the public is quite happy, and there is simply nothing in its daily life and work to develop any capacity for knowing a good painting from a bad one. A painting consists of two things: its subject-matter and its paint. You may, if you like, forget about the paint, or if you prefer, you can forget about the subject. If the former line be your enthusiasm, if you are not interested in the possibilities of paint as paint, you can go to an art school and gain the skill necessary to make your painting look so like the life of flesh and blood, that from a short distance away, people will not know that it is made of paint at all. If your subjects are “popular” ones, you will be a “popular” painter. (But what sort of subjects are likely to be popular with men of business and factory hands?) If, on the other hand, your enthusiasm leads you in the other direction – that is, if you are so intelligent as to recognise that the popular subject business has gone to pot, if you are too intelligent to take upon yourself the business of prophet and seer in addition to that of painter, and yet not intelligent enough to become “as a little child” and have your subjects given to you by “authority” – then you can devote yourself to pure aesthetics and problems of the studio and make your “appeal” to the few aesthetes who have money enough as well as the will to support you. It is remarkable how many there are of them; but it still remains funnier that there should be any people who like art than that there should be many people who like fine art. I should like to add by way of postscript that nothing I have said implies any denial that motorcars and fountain-pens, telephones and aeroplanes and iron girders and typewriters and electric light and wireless and type-setting machines and all the other gadgets
Painting and the Public
profitably exploited by men of commerce (for of course they never invented anything themselves) are all clever things and wonderful things – everybody agrees that machinery is marvellous, “jolly fine,” splendid, and even beautiful to look at. Nor does anything I have said imply that all the paintings of the twentieth century, and the sculptures, music, and poetry, are mere charlatanry or even mere essays in practical aesthetics. I do not wish to mention names, but I think there is no doubt that the work of modern artists has carried the business of the expression of human sensibility, the sensibility of human beings to the spiritual implications of their physical environment, very much farther than it was carried by most artists of earlier periods, artists who, by the condition of their times and by their traditions, were more concerned with what is called “literary content” (or as I should say “subject matter”) and with the service, even the physical service, of their customers than the modern artist is. “What I ask of a painting,” said Maurice Denis,12 “is that it shall look like paint,” and I might say: “What I ask of a stone-carving is that it shall look like stone.” Modern artists have, very rightly and in spite of the Royal Academy, at least set themselves to explore their materials. They have in fact rediscovered their materials. They have rediscovered the fact that a painting or a sculpture has a value for what it is as well as, and independently of, its value as producing an illusion of being something else. They have rediscovered the fact that the artist’s business is to make things, rather than to produce effects. As to “subject-matter,” that is properly the customer’s business; in the first place, because the customer only orders what he wants; and, in the second, because he only buys what he likes – in the second case it is simply as though the painter had anticipated the customer’s order. If you paint something with the idea of selling it, you are, in effect, doing the same as a manufacturer who makes Christmas cards six months before Christmas. And from the point of view of the customer it is, with the rarest possible exceptions, always the subject-matter which is the important thing. When you show him a picture he asks, “What is it?” – unless, of course, he can see at a glance...and the exceptions are only apparent, for even in a picture which has no subject-matter or literary content in the ordinary sense, there is still a subject even if it can only be described in such terms as:
“the visual relations between a top-hat, a banana, and a glass door.” Such a subject may appeal only to the few – it is nonetheless a subject, and it remains true that it is for the subject that the customer normally puts down his money. It should be added, by way of warning to both buyers of pictures and those who merely look at them, that the subject of a picture is not merely what it is stated to be in the catalogue or in verbal descriptions. Catalogue titles are often only “catch” names to distinguish one picture from another, and when a customer says: paint me a “Madonna,” or a picture of “the Derby,” or of some “roses in a bowl,” the painter must know, and this is the crux of the matter, what precisely those words mean in the mind of the customer. The word “Madonna” may mean no more than a simpering maiden in the conventional attitude of the church-furniture shop. A picture of the Derby may mean anything from a photograph of the winner to a representation of the whole universe. A painted bowl of roses may mean only a naturalistic painting of roses such that I, who live in a flat, can think I have a bit of garden on my sitting-room wall, and very pleasant too!, or it may mean the concentrated essence of all the roses God ever made, or it may mean that the roses are only a spring-board from which the mind has jumped and the painting is the consequent splash. It may mean almost anything else also. But, whatever it means, the artist must know or guess. Heaven help him! The trouble today is not that the artists do not take any interest in subject-matter. The trouble is that the mind of today is, roughly speaking (and not very roughly), the Daily Mail mind. The trouble is that so few customers can put forward a subject worthy of an intelligent artist’s attention. Nevertheless, in spite of the great quantity of fine works produced by the reaction against the banality of the Academy subjectpicture, the pure aesthetic line of business is, in the nature of things, a cul-de-sac – a blind alley at the end of which is a sort of hot-house for the cultivation of man-eating orchids. The divorce of art from common life, the divorce of the artist from the company of ordinary workmen, the absence of any subjectmatter exciting enough, even interesting enough to command and control their enthusiasm, and the consequence that artists are thrown
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back upon pure sensibility or else pure charlatanism – such is the state of affairs. I am not a politician that I should suggest remedies. I can only hope that under the benign influence of good food and good drink people will continue to buy the works of those who, in spite of everything, are the only responsible workmen left. I apologise for the extremely elementary nature of my remarks. I confess I like elementary lectures much better than the advanced kind. As Mr. Belloc used to say during the war: “Two come from the left, and two come from the right – making four in all.”
And His Mental Exodus by H. J. Massingham
(I throw the net as widely as possible) is one at least of the types in modern life who has a regard both for his own welfare and the community’s. He has to secure the first in order to forward the second. He can never do either himself or the world any lasting good until, so far as is practicable, he can find out how to extricate himself from the body of society as organised today. There is a tale of some ingenious potentate who used to punish an enemy by tying him alive to a corpse – until the union ceased to be an artificial one. The artist cannot altogether cut the cords, because he, like each of us, is a “unit” of society. But he can withhold himself from the “democracy” in order to join the people. For art is the expression of the whole landscape of created life; not a decoration of the window-pane which looks upon it. We can think of the artist, rather, as a kind of mendicant preacher, without the preaching of the mendicancy – a doctor of souls. He rejects not only the systematised coercion and deceit of plutocracy, but public opinion. I am reminded of the excellent old phrase about being in the world, but not of the world. He has only withdrawn from the Man in the Street, the Populace, and the idea of it formulated in catchwords, summarised in the Average and embodied in the Press, so that he may penetrate to the dormant bud of being, where it protects itself in its sheath of darkness from the frost that paralyses and the heat that consumes. When Shakespeare combined pot-boiling with a passing attack of Jingo measles and wrote a school-boy pantomime, with plenty of masterly and rousing rhetoric in it, called Henry V, he represents his he artist
* This chapter is a slightly abridged version of that which originally appeared as Chapter VIII of People and Things: An Attempt to Connect Art and Humanity (London: Headley Bros., 1919).
And His Mental Exodus
brigand as wooing the unhappy Princess Catherine “in a soldierly manner”: “No, it is not possible you should love the enemy of France, Kate. But in loving me, you should love the friend of France; for I love France so well, that I will not part with a village of it; I will have it all mine; and Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine.” The artist should love mankind so well that he will work his way to occupying the whole of it. He has to consider that a country is composed of individuals and that the human being, as distinguished from the herd, the class, the institution is his affair – if we like, his “copy.” The importance of the human being is the paramount interest of his art, regardless of the knots of generalities into which that being has tied himself. He thinks of society in the same way. His interest lies in the relation that certain human beings have with other human beings, and his object (as the object of art) is to encourage the interdependence of those relations in harmony, a poise and balance, in which the particles (the individuals) will all contribute to the whole, without being lost in it and so exploited by the parts masquerading as the whole. His view both of society and the individual, that is to say, is creative. He sees that a society cannot be created unless all the members of it are creating it – that society cannot be a work of art until the individuals that compose it are all working artists In fact, he comes round – it appears to me inevitably – to Morris and the idea of art as a daily and co-operative function performed by the whole body of citizens both as individuals and social quantities. The greatest poems, he will say, if he is a poet, are those which have never been written. This, in itself, implies the second point – the artist’s dissociation from the existing order. “Passive resistance” is, perhaps, a better term than “withdrawal,” and standing aside than either of them, since “passive resistance” has acquired a special and narrow meaning. The artist cannot fight his plutocratic State; the dice and the pistol are always loaded against him. But he can know it for the thing it is, and that is the beginning of all things. In whatever order the pieces are set upon the board – whether we call it a duel as to the precedence of prices or values, between making shift or making use of life, between taking what you can get or getting what you want, between the shoddy or the “genuine article,” distinction or the average, free will or determinism, man or the machine – the artist stands on one
side, the business man and his State on the other. The quarrel is truly bitterendian and the prize of victory is the soul of man. “There must be no making friends with the children of Mammon,” as Charles Marriott says in one of his novels, and that will do very well for the artist’s emblazoned device. Parliament, the State, the Chamber of Commerce, the institutions of the “we’re all right” people – as the same writer calls them – appear to him a “barren technique” because they fail to translate into intelligible and active terms the human and creative needs of the people. They fail to speak its language – they spoil a naturally promising voice by vociferation, so to speak. If the people whisper, they shout. Consequently he must have noting to do with them. I cannot define what standing aside means. The artist must find things out for himself, and to bind him to a set of negative regulations is to harden the whole concept. The very name of regulation in these days maketh the heart sick. But one may say roughly that he should revive the obsolete term “scruples”; that he should not think too much about his career or (most difficult of all) the leanness of his purse; that he should not invest his money in any of those concerns (armaments is only one of hundreds) which support the interests of death rather than life; that he should say to himself as the name of any prominent statesman, financier, bishop, general or official, policeman, judge, Pressman, lawyer or ruler occurs to him – “there but for the grace of God, go I.”† That he should never allow his children to read the newspapers and never himself believe what he reads in them; that he should perceive officialism behind mob rule, disorder behind prosperity, vulgar appetites behind longwinded disclaimers of them; that he should connect on the one side and discriminate on the other in all his observation of the official and business world – a catalogue is out of place, a rough draft of one a little arbitrary. Take, for instance, his attitude to women’s suffrage. If, by our cumbrous methods of getting into hot water in order to get out of it, it were necessary for women to receive the vote, as a symbol of their equality with men, then he would accept the fact. But that women † I suppose one is bound to be harried by the literalists. Let me say here, then, that I think President Wilson to be a practical visionary and I know of no greater title. He truly has expressed the popular substance.
And His Mental Exodus
should in consequence share with men their exploitations, deceits, and oppressions, he certainly would not. Lastly, the artist would distinguish between sham art, between art which is exploited as a vested interest and so hands (under the counter) a moral certificate to the existing order, and genuine art. Shepherded by an autocratic State, men lose the royal power of rejection. The artist who rejects and again reflects is conferring a benefit in the first place upon his art (the artist whose real aim is to make money fails in his art) and, in the second upon society, the greatness of which benefit society, in its present blindness, cannot measure. Forcible opposition either strengthens the existing order by consolidating it or destroys it only to substitute another order founded likewise upon organised force. But simple rejection does more, it undermines the status quo. Here, at any rate, is no CloudCuckoo-land scheme of romantic rejection; no plan for a settlement in the South Sea Islands. Become different from your enemy; do not under another name manifest him in yourselves. A renunciation of this kind would seem to confound a disagreeable duty with personal choice. Putting the matter at its lowest, the pangs of delivery might be more than compensated by the relief. For the pursuit of materialism is rapidly coming to an end from a breakdown of the material advantages. The raw materials of force, for instance, are giving out in their expenditure upon material force. Self-interest – so must run this absurd recusancy – demands that self-interest be abandoned. The triumph of the business spirit coincides with the failure of the business policy. Here is where virtue or, as we should call it nowadays, creation gets the measure of vice or destruction. Destruction, by the law of its being, mutinies in its own camp and sends its loyalists packing into the meagre cohorts of the faithful. Is it not Donne13 who says “Death, thou shalt die!”? A very curious chapter in the study of reactions might, indeed, be written on the theme: Man shall not live by bread alone, for if he does, he shall not even have bread. It would open up the question as to whether the phrase “enlightened self-interest” was justified at all as the criterion of an actual law. I mean as to whether enlightenment and self-interest are not mutually exclusive. No man, for instance, flatly owns to self-interest – or very few. Therefore, nearly all selfinterest is enlightened. Perhaps the problem would be narrowed
down to a consideration of ultimate and immediate reactions, and it is safe to say that the policy of self-interest, whether it be called “enlightened” or no, is bound in the end to bear both a moral and a material retribution. One of the visible proofs of the interdependence of men, and so one of the strongest arguments for a stable, self-supporting fellowship, is the dreadful fact that a man’s self-interest does actually produce a material nemesis upon the persons of his innocent neighbours or descendants. We all share a portion of each others “sins” and “virtues,” now and hereafter. Honesty is the best policy, therefore, though that is no argument for pursuing honesty as a policy, since, thus endorsed, it ceases to be honesty. But the immediate reactions of self-interest are sometimes as frequent as the ultimate ones. The spiritual loss, for instance, has an immediate and powerful effect, since it makes men unhappy. By making them unhappy it causes them, knowingly or not, to despise the material profit of their self-interest. Take the case of the destruction of birds for the preservation of food crops. Anybody who knows anything about the life-habits of birds is aware that their levies upon fruit and corn, etc., are a minute wage for more than sweated labour in the interest of the farmer and the producer; that, without their services, there would be neither a blade in the cornfields nor a leaf upon the trees. Therefore those active workers on behalf of birds for the birds’ own sake and for the sake of the joy and tenderness they bring to everybody who is not a clod, very naturally appeal to owners and tenants of land to spare the birds, because it pays to spare them. Spare the bird and spoil the insect, they say. With people of a little nous, that has, of course, an effect. But it will not have much. At best, it will cause a respite, an interval here and there, in the process of destruction. For it is the very nature of self-interest to be shortsighted. Spare the bird and spoil the insect will never achieve a crushing victory over spare the bird and spoil the crops. Self-interest thinks in a narrow groove; it cannot take long and complete views because it is walled in, absorbed in trivial pre-occupancies. “There is a bird in my corn; that is good enough for me” – that sentiment is bound to be pre-eminent because it illustrates the philosophy of self-interest. Until, that is to say, we voice our enjoyment of birds; until we acknowledge that we have far less right to take their lives than they have to take our cherries; that our cherries are
And His Mental Exodus
but a minimum wage for their songs; and until we realise that they are delicate and aerial intelligences and so worthwhile preserving for their intrinsic beauty and the glad reactions of that beauty upon our perceptions, birds will go on being destroyed and insects multiplying, whether it be to the advantage of our food supply or not. I am not (to return) suggesting this easy road of desertion to be a good thing. On the contrary, it is a bad thing: not merely because the artistic conscience implies, as it certainly does, a moral conscience. The saint and the true artist differ not in the spiritual nature of their respective energies, but in their choice of theme. Religion is, as it were, a specialisation of art. Religion appeals directly to God; art may or may not employ various symbols, formulas and euphemisms for the conception of God. All the arts are but different ways of saying God. All the good roads point to Mecca, but they are not the same roads. I mean that the artist has to withdraw not only from the externals of society, but from the philosophy of those externals. In retiring from the commercial and official Te Deum, he must shake from his feet all that he can of their philosophic dust. It was suggested in a previous chapter that this philosophy does not consciously accompany the experts of power and money, although England has been making great strides in propagating it as a definite creed. Defined or not, it is implicit. The artist, therefore, has again to go one better. “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees,” and the artist will not carry through his withdrawal to its full implications unless he can build his house of faith in truth and beauty upon a ground-plan of first principles. He has to examine the meaning of art, the sources of human emotions and longings, the relation of humanity to God and the strategy by which the image of God is disclosed in stone, in paint, in bronze, in wood, in letters, upon the fair surface of the earth, and in the fertile human soil. He will regard his art, not as a profession, but a vocation. The professional artist is superior to the amateur, but he is as inferior to the initiated, the vocational artist. Rupert Brooke,14 for instance, was a genuine poet, but his was not poetic truth as discovered and revealed by Rupert Brooke, so much as the poetic truth of Rupert Brooke. The artist by vocation is careful not to sacrifice the end to the means. The advantage of the professional artist is that he knows his business; of the artist by vocation that he knows what his business
is for. Vocational art is at once natural, human and religious. For this reason I made, in the last chapter, some fumbling attempts to discuss the nature of art. Revolution in the accepted sense is not the artist’s business. His is substitution, an attempt to combat human machinery by the weapon of the human spirit. I call to mind the beautiful passage at the end of that witty and revealing book – The Revolt of the Angels.15 Satan has had his dream in which he has conquered the heavens and flung Ialdabaoth (God, the God of power) into the pit and seen Him develop those feelings of pity for suffering humanity that he (Satan) had lost in Heaven, but gained in Hell. He awakes and addresses the revolting Archangels:—“‘God conquered will become Satan; Satan conquering will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot; I love the Hell which formed my genius. I love the Earth where I have done some good, if it be possible to do any good in this fearful world where beings live but by rapine. Now, thanks to us, the God of old is dispossessed of His terrestrial empire and every thinking being on this globe distains Him or knows Him not. But what matter that men be no longer submissive to Ialdabaoth if the spirit of Ialdabaoth is still in them; if they, like Him, are jealous, violent, quarrelsome and greedy, and the foes of the arts and of beauty? What matter that they have rejected the ferocious Demiurge, if they do not harken to the friendly demons who teach all truths? As to ourselves, celestial spirits, sublime demons, we have destroyed Ialdabaoth, our Tyrant, if in ourselves we have destroyed Ignorance and Fear.’ And Satan, turning to the gardener said:— ‘Nectaire, you fought with me before the birth of the world. We were conquered because we failed to understand that Victory is a Spirit and it is in ourselves and ourselves alone that we must attack and destroy Ialdabaoth.’” Therefore, the artist should aim at substituting human values for automatic recoil. Caedmon rose up from the banquet, from the thunder of the curtains and the shouting, and in a quiet place laid his ear to the Song of Creation, a song that makes no sound, because it is compounded of all sounds:—
“there is in God, some say, A deep but dazzling darkness....”
And His Mental Exodus
The question remains of organising this withdrawal into a definite society; of founding the church in the centre of the congregation. Perhaps one is unreasonably afraid of this. The maker of things – and the artist is the maker – is not a confident organiser or administrator. He is rather a centre of suggestion – his practical policy consists of throwing off vibrations like an electron. Theories of art are too liable to shibboleths and (worst than that) such a society may take itself too solemnly and even priggishly. Let organisation arise, if it will, of itself and that is another matter. If again, its growth were generous, it would admit other workers not technically ranked as artists. “Liberty,” as Don John of Austria wrote to his master, Philip II, “is a contagious disease which goes on infecting one neighbour after another, if the cure not be promptly applied.” In such a society none of our modern divisions and artificial hierarchies would find any place; all men would be its province, for in mankind as in Nature, an instinct exists for free and spontaneous living. But mere theoretic discussion of a potential society is sterile, because it must happen of an idea and impulse moving among men. If that is lacking it will not be formed. “I search, but cannot see What purpose serves the soul that strives, or world it tries Conclusions with, unless the fruit of victories Stay, one and all, stored up and guaranteed its own For ever, by some mode whereby shall be made known The gain of every life. Deth reads the title clear – What each soul for itself conquered from out things here, Since, in the seeing soul, all worth lies, I assert – And nought i’ the world, which, save for soul that sees, Was, is, and would be ever – stuff for transmuting – null And void until man’s breath evoke the beautiful – But, touched aright, prompt yields each particle, its tongue Of elemental flame – no matter whence flame sprung From gums or spice, or else from straw and rottenness So long as soul has power to make them burn, express What lights and warms henceforth, leaves only ash behind.” says Browning in “Fifine.”
To return once more to the condition of the artist’s “withdrawal” as they concern his own welfare; he will not be able to give up the world for Christ’s sake unless he give it up for his own.† While he is in the machine he will be exploited by it. He must avoid, therefore, not only the mechanism of modern society, but that society’s view of his art. Quite apart from the obvious pressure of advertisement, and the “what the public (that is to say the trade) wants” fallacy, there is a kind of hypnosis of closeness which saps the artist’s independence. It is as if he drew into his very lungs the floating particles of a foggy atmosphere. Whatever apparent freedom he may have to cultivate his art, is but that of a horse given a loose rein on the road and a wide tether in the fields. He is still the passive instrument of a spurious law of supply and demand, and no less a commodity for purchase than any labourer. Nor has his price to the buyer any ratio to his merit as an artist. His work has no absolute value. Anything – circulation, expense of production, subject matter, the pressure of certain styles and mannerisms, amenability to the vested interest of art, fashionable claims, the “right thing” for the “right people,” the whole system of endowment, all take precedence of the simple test of quality. The man who pays the piper will always call the tune. This fact is partly responsible for the petty but internecine feuds between artists, their chance rivalries and jealousies, the contempt of the successful for the unsuccessful artist and vice versa. Art seems nothing but an auction-room in which the artists fiercely compete to sell and to be sold to the highest bidder. Is not all this the effect of commercialism? Artists are the pastime of powerful men; they must fight one another to catch the interest of these men, as sheep driven by the dogs struggle who shall first pass the gates. Thus they trample and jostle one another and the dog has his way. Lastly, I will say nothing about “art, made tongue-tied by authority” – a crude fact sufficient to be recorded and calling for no elaboration. How cruelly difficult it is for the artist to escape from being a mere sequin upon the social dress! How overwhelming the practical difficulties of detachment! Still, perception is half the battle, and the preservation of the “artistic conscience” – as jealously as may be – a calling up of the reserve. † He cannot give it up for his own unless he learn to laugh as well as to frown – both at himself and the rich absurdity of what he is leaving.
And His Mental Exodus
My intention in this chapter has been to show in broad outline that the nature of art, widely interpreted, responds so delicately to the human need that the release of it from the barracks of business and State policy might one day end by drawing after it all the victims of those powers and discharge follow demobilization. Patently the artist is not the only type who has men’s interest at heart. At any rate, an art purged of contact with human commerce, concerned with the idea of the human being and the things he makes and uses, and discriminating between the true and the false, would be a cornerstone of the Civitas Dei.
A Manifesto by Arthur J. Penty, for the Distributist League
Communism derives from its possession of a creed – the Communist Manifesto – which operates to bind all Communists together. It is a weakness of the opposition, of those who are opposed to Communism, because they believe it to be an unrealizable ideal and take their stand on the eternal validity of Tradition, that they are not in possession of a corresponding statement of beliefs. The outline which follows is an attempt to supply this common need. uch of the strength of
I. Economic Principles Distributists agree with Socialists in their condemnation of the present system of society, but they think the evil is far more deeply rooted than Socialists suppose. For, whereas Socialists accept the industrial system as a foundation upon which to build a perfect society, Distributists deny the possibility of erecting anything of stability upon it. Such a policy they believe to be as mistaken as it would be to nurture a tree at the head that was dying at the roots. Accordingly, Distributists propose to go back to fundamentals, and to rebuild society from its basis in agriculture, instead of accepting * This chapter was first published in pamphlet form in 1937, in London, by The Distributist League. As originally published, it bore this explanatory note from H. D. C. Pepler, the Honourary Secretary of the League: “This Manifesto was almost the last work of Arthur Penty; he offered it to the League for publication, giving me authority to correct any statements which might inadvertently conflict with our accepted principles – a gesture of confidence to which, in the sad circumstances of his death, I have not felt free to respond. The Distributist League is proud to publish the work of one of its distinguished Vice-Presidents
Distributism: A Manifesto
the industrial system and changing the ownership, which is all that Socialists propose. Apart from their conviction that Industrialism is essentially unstable and cannot last, Distributists refuse to accept it as a foundation upon which to build, because they believe that largescale industry may be as great a tyranny under public as under private ownership. They therefore seek to get the smallholder back into industry as they seek to get him back onto the land; and they accept all the implications which such a revolutionary proposal involves. 1. Property. Distributism arose in opposition to the Socialist and Communist proposal to abolish the private ownership of property, because, in the opinion of Distributists, without private property there can be no economic freedom, initiative, or sense of personal responsibility. When property is nationalized, the individual finds himself at the mercy of the State, to the tyranny of which resistance is impossible. Distributists affirm that the evils which Socialists trace to private ownership of property do not flow from the institution as such, but from the maldistribution of property which has come about as a consequence of laws favouring large ownership at the expense of small, and the absence of laws to prevent the misuse of money and machinery. By manipulating money and machinery, a few become rich and the many are dispossessed. Hence, Distributists conclude that until a stop is put to such practices, and laws favouring large ownership abolished, it will not be possible to effect a redistribution of property; and when it is redistributed, they propose that laws be enacted to secure the small owner in the possession of his property, and to protect the public against possible abuses in private ownership. Distributists affirm that if money and machinery, which are found at the centre, were regulated, it would not, perhaps, ultimately as it left his hands.” Lest readers form the wrong impression from Pepler’s note, the Editors wish to point out that, according to an “appreciation” of Penty by Stanley B. James in the January 28, 1937, issue of G.K.’s Weekly, Penty’s Manifesto was in fact accepted by the League a week before his death on January 19, 1937. The point is further confirmed by the following week’s issue of the Weekly (February 4, 1937), which mentioned in an editorial note that the Manifesto was actually on its way to the printer when Penty’s death was announced. Finally, it may be of interest to some to note that the first paragraph of the present text was set apart from the remainder with the heading, “Author’s Explanatory Note.”
be necessary to regulate the thousand and one things which lie at the circumference. The institution of private property is organically a part of the Old World that Industrialism is destroying. Hence its restoration involves in some measure the recovery of the values which the Old World stood for. In general terms, Distributists work for a return to the past. But they do not wish to revive everything in the past, for bad things as well as good existed in the past; nor yet do they reject everything that is new; they seek to revive the things which are eternal in the past, the things of permanent value; while they reject so much of the present as cannot be reconciled with them, that is, the things which experience proves are destructive of the values of the past. Their policy is therefore, generally speaking, a deliberate reversal of economic tendencies. Under the influence of the idea of Progress, the pendulum has swung too far to the left; they propose to restore the equilibrium by pushing it to the right. Distributists would point out that the Bolshevists are returning to the system of private property. After putting millions of people to death, including one million peasants, three millions into concentration camps, and causing untold millions to die of famine, they have come to the conclusion that pure Communism does not work, because it destroys initiative and leaves people without a motive in life. Hence, in the future, people in Russia will be permitted to own property up to a certain amount. The new Constitution (1936) guarantees private property in houses, household furnishings, articles of personal consumption and comfort, and savings accounts; further, it permits a peasant on a collective farm to own animals, implements, and a small plot of land, while he may dispose of his crops freely. 2. Machinery. Communists and Socialists take the unrestricted use of machinery for granted as a permanent hypothesis. Recognizing the antagonism that exists between society and the machine, they propose to reconstruct society to accord with the machine. They propose to abolish private property because they cannot reconcile it with the unrestricted use of machinery. The nationalization of land, capital, and the means of production and exchange was originally advanced by them as a means to an end; the end being the adjustment of society to circumstances of
Distributism: A Manifesto
machine production. But, as so often happens in history, ideas originally advanced as means to ends, come to be looked upon as ends in themselves; while the original purpose they were intended to serve is obscured and forgotten. This is what happened to Socialism and Communism – nationalization of everything came to be regarded as the sole purpose of their activity, while the problem of machinery, which this proposal was originally intended to solve, was not merely forgotten, but until yesterday its very existence was denied. From this, it follows that if the institution of private property is not merely to survive but to be extended, the use of machinery will have to be drastically curtailed. But Distributists would not only restrict the use of machinery where it stands in the way of widespread distribution of property, but also where it conflicts with what they are accustomed to regard as the permanent interests of life. They believe that, in the last resort, a man ought to be able to fend for himself, and they are opposed to the extensive use of machinery because it prevents him from so doing; the specialization it involves by depriving men of manual dexterity undermines their personal independence and self-respect. They also insist that the interests of society, religion, human values, art and culture come first, and that the use of machinery should be prohibited wherever it runs counter to them. Science, machinery, mechanization, chemistry, are useful and good up to a certain point, but become cruel tyrannies when they are allowed to develop to such dimensions as to threaten the existence of all other forms of activity. If machinery was restricted in this way, it would no doubt do the things it is supposed to be doing; reduce drudgery, and add to the comforts and amenities of life. Unrestricted, in the service of power and avarice, it is proving itself to be an agent of destruction, for the wholesale destruction of man and his works, and the extinction of human culture. That there are great difficulties in the path of the realization of such an ideal is not to be denied; for very few people appear to be capable of seeing the situation as a whole. They see that machinery can produce goods more cheaply than by hand, and that is all they do see. They do not see that while machinery reduces the cost of production enormously, when its use is unrestricted, it also increases the costs of distribution enormously; since when goods are produced in quantities, they have to be distributed over a much wider area, and because
of that have an increased selling cost. So that, on the balance, there is less saved by using machinery than might be imagined. And what little there is saved is wasted in other ways: in higher rents, owing to the fact that the costs of building tend progressively to rise (they have quadrupled in this last forty years), for machinery does not lower the cost of everything; increased personal expenditure due to the fact that as machinery increases competition and obliterates distinctions, life becomes organised on a basis of bluff; in increased travelling expenses and the need of telephones resulting from the growth of complexity; and in the enormous increase of rates and taxes for all kinds of public services which are unnecessary under simpler conditions of life and society. The time has gone when the employment of machinery could be defended on the grounds that it raised the standard of living as a result of reducing costs and selling prices. What its increased use does today is to raise prices by intensifying competition, which adds to selling costs, thereby adding to the cost of living. Though most people have failed to observe these reactions, they do realize that on the whole the cost of living tends to rise. But instead of connecting these rising costs with the misuse of machinery, they connect them entirely with the misuse of money. Distributists are not concerned to deny the part played by money, but to insist on the part played by machinery, to understand which is to know that it is very questionable whether we are better off even materially as a consequence of the use we make of machinery; to such an extent does machine production run to waste. Certainly we are not so well off spiritually, for not only has unrestricted machinery introduced a tension that fills all our lives with anxiety, but it has de-humanized and de-spiritualized the industrial workers, and has given rise to a spirit of revenge that in these days is finding revolutionary expression. Do not let us deceive ourselves. There is a definite connection between the growth of the revolutionary spirit and mass production. The connection is the corner-stone of the Marxian theory. Nevertheless, a restriction of the use of machinery may not be as far removed from practical politics as it might appear. The public are at last awakening to the existence of a problem of machinery, to the fact that, unrestricted, it has become an instrument of power rather than of wealth, that it is mechanizing life, creating unem-
Distributism: A Manifesto
ployment, and, by undermining purchasing power, threatening to bring industry to a standstill; and that by enormously increasing the competition for markets and raw material, along with the destructive power of armaments, it threatens the existence of civilization. But they do not yet realize that civilization is in peril, apart from war and economic stagnation, by the disintegrating effect of machinery on the social fabric. The artist knows it, the philosopher knows it, but the majority are still unaware of the peril. 3. Money. The truth about money is extremely simple; so simple, in fact, that it is difficult to get it accepted. People have got so used to the idea that money is a mystery that can only be understood by bankers and other specialists in finance, that they are incredulous when told the simple truth: that the only legitimate use of money is to use it as “a common measure of value,” and that all the problems of money, which so often lead people to believe in the existence of a kind of economic witchcraft, arise from the fact that there are so many people in the world who do not want to use money as a common measure of value, but to make more money. Thus, the problem of money is seen to be primarily a moral issue. But it is not entirely a moral issue. The problem of money has two ends – a moral and a technical. Professional economists, anxious no doubt to avoid the awkward questions inseparable from a moral approach, have preferred to attack it from a technical end, as the question of the volume of currency, and evade the moral issues. Their action has involved the whole subject in confusion and is largely responsible for the Bolshevism of the younger generation of intellectuals, who, impatient at the hair-splitting distinctions of the economists, react towards revolution. Whilst recognizing that the problem of money has a technical aspect, Distributists insist that it is only intelligible when approached from the moral end. The way to make money a common measure of value is to fix prices, wages, and rents at a just level. To do this would not only solve the problem of money, but take the first step towards a general restoration of property by destroying the power of the capitalists to undersell small men; as a consequence, the latter would find themselves in a position to acquire property.
And it would do other things. If prices and wages are to be fixed throughout industry, it will be necessary to organize Guilds to maintain them, for it would be impossible by means of bureaucracy to fix the price of more than a few staple things. There is a limit to the successful application of the principle of control from without, because, as bureaucracy increases in size, its machinery gets clogged. And if Guilds were made co-extensive with society, usury would disappear because there would be no room left for the usurer. The fact is generally overlooked that the problem of usury was in the Middle Ages essentially a rural one, and flourished there because Guilds were never established in rural areas. Moreover, if Guilds were coextensive with society, there would be no problem of credit, for the Guilds could supply credit to their members. Thus the key to the problems of property, usury, and credit are seen to be found in the fixation of prices, wages, and rents at a just level. Fix them, and the capitalist and the banking system would be gradually undermined. From a moral point of view the difference between usury and interest is a difference in kind; one is blameworthy and the other not. But from a technical viewpoint the difference is only one of degree. For the law of compound interest is to accumulate, to produce a load of interest that, in the long run, society is unable to support, viewed in which light, the only difference between the consequences of usury and interest is that in the latter case the evil takes longer to develop. But the end is the same, as is apparent to anyone who reflects on the famous arithmetical calculation that a half penny put out to 5% compound interest on the first day of the Christian era would by now amount to an octillion, an amount in bullion which, as incredible as it sounds, would occupy a space equal to several gold globes as large as the earth. It is only necessary to be acquainted with this fact to know that our financial system is socially disruptive, for it proceeds upon the assumption that there is no limit to the possibilities of compound interest; and because of this it is warring against the nature of things. Bankruptcy and financial breakdowns are its inevitable accompaniment. At the back of this destructive process is the popular heresy that money is never so usefully employed as when it is used for the purpose of making more money. It is true to say that our difficulties must progressively increase until this heresy is uprooted, for when
Distributism: A Manifesto
people accept it as a guide for their financial life they are forever increasing the means of production, while they refuse correspondingly to increase consumption by spending money on the crafts, arts, and amenities of life, which are the ends that production exists to serve. As a consequence, the balance between demand and supply, production and consumption, has got permanently upset; our economic life has got corked up, so to say, at both ends, and there results a kind of economic constipation to relieve which recourse is had to war. The reason why we are driven to spend so much on armaments is, in the last analysis, because we refuse to spend on arts. If the labour which machinery displaces is not absorbed in the arts, it will be finally absorbed in armaments. The great architectural monuments of the past witness to the falsity of this theory, for they could never have been built by people who believed that money is never so usefully employed as when it is used for the purpose of making more money. In the Middle Ages every little town knew itself to be rich enough to build a cathedral. Today, in spite of the fact that the means of production have increased one hundred fold, we never think we can afford to do anything properly, much less magnificently. We are alternately mean and shabby, extravagant and wasteful, in our public and private expenditure. What we seem incapable of doing is spending wisely. Nor is it true that these architectural monuments were built at the expense of the people who were condemned to a life of poverty to pay for them; for economic historians are agreed that the man of the Middle Ages lived in rude plenty, and that the working class was never so well off as in the fifteenth century, when such expenditure was lavish. No, the trouble is not lack of means, but a meanness of spirit that possesses the modern world, particularly England. We suffer from a kind of hypochondria. Just as the millionaire who is rolling in wealth will often imagine himself poor and be haunted by the fear of poverty, so modern communities are similarly obsessed. And, curiously enough, this meanness of spirit has given rise to a theory and system of economics which justifies this meanness. The money lying idle in the banks is a sign and a portent. Such a thing could only happen to a people whose meanness had strangled its imagination, a people enslaved by the idea that money is never so
usefully employed as when it is used for the purpose of making more money. The man of the Middle Ages would have said: “Let us spend it in building a cathedral.” The man of today waits for profitable investment; and he finds it in investing in armaments. His mean spirit has brought into existence a system which compels him so to invest to his peril or destruction. It is the nemesis of a false, mean, and negative philosophy. Modern man has concentrated his attention so exclusively on the art of making money that he has forgotten the art of spending. That, in the fewest words, explains the economic deadlock that has overtaken the modern world, and why Industrialism moves towards war. There is finally only one path to escape from this impasse, and that is to learn to spend wisely; and that involves, among other things, some knowledge of the arts and the dissemination of culture. 4. Guilds. Mention has been made of the Guilds. Distributists advocate their organization as the natural agencies for the control of money and machinery. But the Guilds advocated are regulative, not producing, Guilds. The latter is not an impossible form of organization but a very difficult one, for to be successful there must be a very careful selection of workers to ensure that they are personally acceptable to one another, and that they fit in. On no other terms can men co-operate in production. When producing Guilds do succeed, it is invariably due to the presence of some outstanding personality whose leadership the others accept, when the principle of equality is qualified by that of authority, in practice, if not in theory. The central weakness of National Guilds16 is that as their constitution is ultra-democratic, no such careful selection or leadership is possible. Regulative Guilds, as their name suggests, do not propose to organize, but to regulate industry. The proposal is to superimpose over each industry an organization to regulate its affairs, much in the same way that the professional societies enforce a discipline among their members; with this difference, that in addition to upholding a standard of professional conduct, they would be concerned to promote a certain measure of economic equality among their members. Such Guilds would insist that all who in engage in any industry, in whatever capacity, whether as masters, wage earners, or co-operators,
Distributism: A Manifesto
should conform to the regulations of the Guild, which would concern itself with such things as the maintenance of fixed and just prices, the regulation of machinery, volume of production, apprenticeships, size of the unit of production, the upholding of a standard of quality in workmanship, the prevention of adulteration, mutual aid, and other matters appertaining to the conduct of industry and the personal welfare of its members. Though such regulative Guilds are identical in principle with the medieval Guilds, there is yet no technical difficulty that stands in the way of their establishment over industry today, for the principles to be applied are finally nothing more than the enforcement of moral standards. Among the reasons why Distributists advocate the establishment of regulative Guilds is that the enforcement of standards, moral conduct, and workmanship, over industry, would operate to take the control of industry out of the hands of the financier and place it in those of the craftsman and technician. 5. The State. Distributists believe that in a perfect society people are held together by personal and human ties, and not by the impersonal activity of the State. But no society can be perfect, because of the presence in each of a certain percentage of people who pursue their own interests regardless of that of the community. Hence the necessity of the State to keep such people in subjection, and to protect the community against the depredations of other States where such “men of prey” find themselves in power, since it is only by such means that Justice, and in the long run, Order can be maintained. In the preamble of a seventh century code of laws, the aim of Law is defined as being “to enable good men to live among bad.” This was the seventh-century ideal. It would not be far from the truth to say laws exist today, or at any rate until yesterday, “to enable rich men to live among poor.” And because of this perversion all manner of social evils have come into existence which the State is called upon to remedy; and all kinds of functions have been thrust upon the State which are foreign to its nature. Distributists do not necessarily object to the State performing these functions in the absence of other agencies capable of perform-
ing them. But they think that the initiative, which only the State can take in many matters, should be exercised for the purpose of putting self-governing organizations on their feet, rather than for the inauguration of State enterprises, because it is fatally easy for the State to degenerate into an intolerable tyranny when it is in the hands of people who identify the State with “the good.” Distributists are therefore opposed to the Totalitarian State. A defect of the State is that it cannot function except by means of bureaucracy, and bureaucracies are most efficient when they are comparatively new and on a small scale; because on a small scale, and at the start, they have not too many regulations. The longer they live, and the larger they become, the more regulations they accumulate. The end of all bureaucracies is to become entangled with red tape. Because of this, the Unitary or Totalitarian State must end in paralysis; it ends in destroying its own foundations. The only reasonable arrangement is that of a plurality of powers which preserves liberty by ensuring that the excesses of one power are corrected by the others. 6. Agriculture and Self Sufficiency. Distributists believe that a society is only in a stable and healthy condition when its manufactures rest on a foundation of agriculture and home-produced raw material, and its commerce on a foundation of native manufactures. This is an ideal that can never be attained in practice except under the most primitive conditions, for no country can be self-supporting according to the standards of civilization. But it should be followed as closely as possible, since insofar as the opposite principle comes to prevail, society will become unstable. St. Thomas Aquinas says that: “the more a thing is found to be self-sufficient, the better it is; because what one needs, another is clearly wanting.”17 In respect to agriculture the principle needs to be qualified, for a country which aims at producing exactly the amount of food it requires will be liable to famine in the event of a failure of crops. It is better that some countries should produce more food than they require, and others somewhat less, in order to keep in existence machinery of exchange which can be expanded in times of emergency. But no country should produce less than about eighty percent of the food it requires. At the present time we are dependent upon other countries for between sixty and sixty-five percent of the food we consume, which
Distributism: A Manifesto
means that we have trespassed very considerably on the margin of safety. No other country in the world has been so short-sighted as to allow such a situation to develop. Each and all abandoned Free Trade when they found that it threatened their agriculture. But the British government of the eighties committed the supreme folly of allowing our agriculture to be largely destroyed for the temporary benefit of her industries and holders of foreign securities. During the war this brought us within a fortnight of starvation. But the lesson that it should have taught us has not been heeded, and since then agriculture has suffered a further decline. The immediate interests of food importers, shippers, bankers, and holders of foreign securities are allowed to come before those of the nation. For different reasons these people are interested in keeping agriculture depressed – food importers, because a revival of agriculture would rob them of profits on imports; shippers, because it would reduce the volume of foreign trade; bankers and holders of foreign securities, because it is by means of food imports that the interest on foreign investment is collected and exports paid for. This folly can have only one ending: famine. We shall be lucky if it does not some day bring military defeat and loss of national independence. This situation the noble-souled Free Traders have built up for us. Free Trade has brought into existence powerful vested interests that can only function at the expense of national life, and which maintain their position by circulating lies about the position of agriculture in this country. By means of the Press and school textbooks they have succeeded in persuading the public that we are incapable of growing more than a small percentage of the food we consume, though all authorities – see, for example, Food, by Sir Charles Fielding,18 Director-General of Food Supplies during the Great War; Agriculture after the War, by Sir Daniel Hall;19 and Britain’s Food Supply, published by the Rural Reconstruction Association20 – are agreed we could produce as much as eighty percent, and some think we could produce all. All national prosperity, in the long run, rests upon agriculture. Its destruction during the last two decades of last century did not, at first, affect us adversely because we were still the foremost manufacturing power. We were the first to use steam-driven machinery, and this for long gave us an advantage in the markets of the world.
But we are no longer in this position of advantage. Industrialism has spread all over the world, and in proportion as other nations take to manufactures, we must return to agriculture, or a time will come when we have no money to pay for the food we must import to keep our population alive. We should not be misled by the present revival of trade. It is artificial and can, at the most, only last a few years. The basic facts of the situation will reveal themselves at the finish. There is another reason why we should return to agriculture. Experience proves that an industrial population, divorced from the soil, rapidly declines in physique. It came as a surprise to most people, during the war, to learn, as recruiting statistics revealed, that we had a larger percentage of physical inefficients than any other country at war. But it should not surprise us when we remember that no other country has been industrialized for so long, or has so neglected its agriculture. In the past the vitality of town populations was renewed every generation by a stream of population from the countryside; in which light a peasantry on the soil is to be regarded as a reservoir from which the towns replenish their stock. Agriculture therefore stands on a different basis to any other industry, and its welfare should be protected at all costs. Distributists are concerned to revive agriculture and to reestablish a peasantry on the soil. But they recognize that it is no use trying to plant them there until prices are fixed, and fixed at a just level; for, until that is done, to urge men with small capital to settle on the land, is to urge them to commit economic suicide. Only big men with large capital can stand up to our fluctuating price system, which Free Trade, internal and external, has brought into existence. Big men survive because they can reduce operations when prices fall, and can afford to wait until they rise again. But men with insufficient capital cannot do this, and so they get caught when a slump comes, and get ruined for life. 7. The Fiscal Question. Closely associated with the question of agriculture is the issue between Free Trade and Protection. Though we have abandoned Free Trade, in the sense of a policy of free imports, we did so entirely from motives of expediency, without repudiating Free Trade theory, on the assumption that Free Trade was an intellectually defensible proposition and Protection not, and
Distributism: A Manifesto
looked forward to a day when universal trade will be established. The position is altogether indefensible, for universal Free Trade is an unrealizable ideal. When two or more nations are joined together for Free Trade, the one which has the superiority of productive power and national resources tends to impoverish those that suffer from inferiority. It gets rich while they become poor, and because of this it will not at any one time suit the interests of more than one country to adopt a policy of free imports. Under such circumstances, to abandon Free Trade in practice and to cling to it in theory, bespeaks a fixed habit of mind incapable of learning by experience. Distributists are opposed to Free Trade theory even more than its practice, recognizing in it the principle of social disintegration. To Cobden21 and his predecessors, Free Trade meant not only all we understand by a policy of free imports, but all we mean by laissez-faire. It meant the abolition of all restrictions on trade, home and foreign. The true antithesis to Free Trade thus understood is a fixed and just price system, combined with the control of imports. Viewed in this light, Protection is a half-truth. It is not a consistent theory because it combines external Protection with internal Free Trade. It is this inconsistency of Protectionists which gives Free Traders their sense of intellectual superiority. Nevertheless, Protection is to be preferred to Free Trade, as a half-truth is to be preferred to an untruth. The inconsistencies of Protection open the door to corruption, but the corruption associated with Protection is superficial. It is on the surface, like a skin disease, whereas that of Free Trade is concealed and more deadly: it is like a cancerous growth. Free Trade, as commonly understood, is only another name for international competition. The notion that it makes for peace is not supported by the facts of history. There is no necessary connection between a bellicose, war-like spirit and Protection, as is demonstrated by the fact that China, which, of all nations in the world, was the most exclusive in its economic policy, was, of all nations, the most pacific. It is well to remember that it was in the interests of Free Trade that we picked a quarrel with that country. It stands to reason that nations which pursue policies of national self-sufficiency will have less reason to quarrel with one another than those which follow international policies; while nations with normal and mixed economies will better understand each other than nations of specialists.
Distributist Perspectives *****
All civilization, as distinguished from agriculture, owes its existence to the introduction of money; modern civilization to the introduction of machinery. It follows that money and machinery are the two creative central forces in society. By controlling them we control society. Left to themselves, they become destructive. II. Historical Observations 1. Money. Before the introduction of money, which happened in the seventh century before Christ,† culture existed, for culture is of the spirit, and does not finally depend upon the development of the material accessories of life, which is what we understand by civilization. But the introduction of money enlarged the area of culture. The development which followed upon its arrival was stupendous; by facilitating exchange it led to differentiation of occupation, specialization in the crafts and arts, city life and foreign trade. But along with the undoubted advantages that came with a recognized medium of exchange, there came an evil unknown to primitive society – the economic problem. Within a couple of generations of its introduction, the peasantry everywhere began to find themselves in need of money, and they found it could be had by pledging their holdings as security for loans. After such transactions the land tended to pass into the hands of the merchant and money-lending class to which the coming of money gave rise. Thus private property in land came into existence. As a consequence of this economic revolution, the Mediterranean communities became divided into two distinct and hostile classes – the prosperous merchant, money-lending, and land-owning class on the one side and the peasantry and debt-slaves on the other. It is the same story wherever prices are determined by the higgling of the market – the distributor enslaves the producers. It happened in Greece, it happened in Rome, and it is happening everywhere in the modern world, for economic license has always the same result. † See The Greek Commonwealth, by Alfred Zimmerman.
Distributism: A Manifesto
Though the philosophers and lawyers of Greece and Rome thought a great deal about the problem of money, to the end it evaded them; and as a consequence they were unable to stop the economic rot that destroyed pagan civilization. It was not until the Middle Ages that a solution was found. It came with the organization of the Guilds, when the Just Price, inculcated by the Church, was enforced as a Fixed Price, and for the first time in history money was brought into a close and definite relationship with the real values it is supposed to represent. It is one of the tragedies of history that the significance of this great discovery was not understood at the time. The Church, perhaps because the clergy were without experience in the world, made the mistake of assuming that because the problem of money was primarily a moral issue, it was entirely moral. She failed to see that just prices could only in the long run be maintained on the assumption that they were fixed prices with Guilds to maintain them. In consequence, no effort was ever made by the Church to make Guilds and fixed prices co-extensive with society, with the result that they were never established outside of the towns. In rural areas prices were left to be determined by the higgling of the market, and experience was to prove that neither moral exhortation nor laws against profiteering could prevent a steady deterioration of commercial morality, which, establishing itself in rural areas, reacted to undermine the position of the Guilds in the towns. In the sixteenth century prices doubled all over Europe as a consequence of the importation of gold from South America, and in the changed moral atmosphere that came into existence, coupled with the economic uncertainty of the time, the Guilds found it impossible any longer to exercise the economic functions that had brought them into existence, and became closed corporations that exercised their privileges at the public expense. Capitalism developed. Simultaneously, the laws against Usury broke down, because of the mistaken attitude of the Church. She treated the problem of usury as She had that of price, as an entirely moral issue. The result was that no provision was made for people who stood in need of money and, as a consequence, in rural areas, where there were no Guilds to protect them, they had no option but to have recourse to usurers. Other causes which led to the break down of the prohibition of usury, were connected with the question of public convenience, as
in the case of travellers who would have to carry large sums of money about with them in the absence of bills of exchange, and there was the question of risk involved in a loan. All of which had nothing to do with morals. The result was that exception after exception was made until the whole system of prohibition broke down; it never occurring to the Church that the principal reason for their failure to hammer out some principle whereby public convenience could be related to some definite moral standard was due to the fact that they had treated as entirely moral a problem that was only partly moral. As a consequence the idea grew that the failure of the Church to suppress usury was due to the fact that it attempted the impossible, whereas, in fact, it mistook the nature of the problem; and the idea was promoted that the only rational thing to do was to stop meddling and leave the problem to settle itself, on the assumption that if there was no legal prohibition, the rate of interest would fall and usury would no longer present a problem. The change of attitude towards usury began that drift in public opinion which eventually led to the triumph of Free Trade. 2. Machinery. Until the middle of the seventeenth century the efforts of the workers to resist mechanical innovations found support in high quarters, for the Tudors and the Stuarts were persistently opposed to the introduction of machinery which was injurious to craftsmen by creating unemployment, or would lower the standard of quality in the articles produced. For a long time this opposition was successful in checking the mechanical tendency in industry. But with the defeat of Charles at the Civil War, the old order came to an end and nothing henceforth stood in the way of mechanization, industrialization, business enterprise, and exploitation. There followed in the next century the great series of inventions culminating in Watt’s steam engine, which created the Industrial Revolution. Shortly afterwards came the new political economy of Adam Smith which gave the new developments an official blessing and reversed all hitherto accepted standards. Adam Smith became known as the father of Political Economy because he made himself the apologist of a vicious system already in existence. Many attacks have been made on the conclusions Adam Smith22 reached in The Wealth of Nations. But strange to say no one has hitherto attacked his premise – that the aim of economic activity
Distributism: A Manifesto
should be the indefinite increase of wealth. Yet it is evident that until we can substitute for this aim the idea of “sufficient production,” we shall remain in the grip of the industrial system; man will continue to be slave of the machine. The immediate result of this new gospel combined with the widely accepted theory of natural law23 – the theory that there is in society a power, capable by its own internal volition of producing a social and economic equilibrium, which would assert itself in proportion as governments abandoned all attempts to direct the course of social and economic development – was to remove all obstacles in the path of the increase of wealth. From an early date it had been assumed by political and economic writers that the comparative poverty of the many was due to the scantiness of nature, and that if only means could be found to produce commodities in abundance there would enough for all and to spare; and in spite of the fact that since then production has been increased a hundredfold, people still continue thinking in the same terms. They do not, like Marx, see that “all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the workers.” As a consequence at the end of the process we do not get wealth for all, but a problem of power, the struggle for which does not end in the factory but on the field of battle; for industrial rivalries transform themselves into national rivalries. In the long run, warfare, and preparations for war, use up the surplus wealth which the machine creates. Thus we see that the pursuit of wealth defeats its own ends; unrestricted machinery becomes an instrument of power rather than of wealth. But while Marx saw that all measures of increasing the production of industry are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer, he did not see that the root of the trouble was to be found finally in a wrong attitude towards machinery and not in ownership. As a consequence he came to advocate Communism on the illogical assumption that all the evils and contradictions of Industrialism would disappear once the workers took possession of industry. But it has not worked out as expected, and is not likely to do so, for the mechanization of labour, which, incidentally, Marx himself recognized as degrading, is proving itself as disruptive of Communism as Marx saw it was being of Capitalism. Thus Adam Smith’s dictum
that the aim of economic activity should be the indefinite increase of wealth is seen to defeat its own ends. It has not ushered in the millennium but made the peril of war an ever-present contingency, for by committing the nations of the earth to policies of industrial expansion it has inevitably brought them into collision with each other. Adam Smith had a large share of responsibility for the Great War. 3. Property. In this process of evolution the people are being progressively dispossessed of property. We saw what happened to the peasantry of Greece and Rome after money was introduced. History has repeated itself in the modern world, though the process of expropriation was not so rapid because for a long time Christianity was able to keep the evil in check. Under the feudal system the serf had a share in the land. But he lost it when Roman Law was revived, which gradually transformed feudalism into landlordism, and replaced the medieval conception of reciprocal rights and duties by the pagan one which made rights absolute and duties optional. The process of expropriation was very gradual. It began with the Statute of Merton (1235), which is the foundation of the law on the subject and which made a present of “waste woods and pastures” to the lords. Three hundred years later there came the suppression of monasteries which resulted in the transference of about a fifth of the land of England to the hands of the rich. In the centuries which followed, the peasantry was progressively dispossessed by piecemeal legislation. Four thousand separate Enclosure Acts were passed, which divided up the common land among commoners; a technique which enabled the large owners to increase their possessions in a perfectly legal way by buying out the small owners who sooner or later had to sell because they were in need of money. In the fourteenth century enclosures were made to provide sheep runs, because sheep farming was more profitable than arable farming. In the eighteenth century enclosures were undertaken to increase the food supply. As the population increased it was necessary to grow more food, and agriculturalists maintained that this was only possible on the assumption that the common lands were enclosed because they were wasteful. Thus the peasantry were jockeyed out of the land. Three other influences combined further to depress the position of the peasantry in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.
Distributism: A Manifesto
The first was a decline in the value of money which, in spite of a rise in wages, reduced purchasing power by about a third; the second was the destruction by Industrialism of the cottage industries by which the labourer had been able to augment his income and fill in his time in the winter months; and third was the coming of Free Trade which enabled the town populations to sweat the agricultural in the name of cheap food: a process which ended in the decline of agriculture and the departure of the peasantry from the land. And Free Trade, we should not forget, was advocated during the anti-Corn Law agitation to relieve the intolerable economic situation that had developed as a consequence of following Adam Smith’s dictum that the aim of economic activity should be the indefinite increase of wealth. Meanwhile, a parallel process was at work in industry which destroyed the position of the independent craftsman. It began in the Middle Ages when the merchants began to employ rural workers in spinning and weaving for distant markets. It continued when the Guilds lost their public functions and degenerated into closed corporations and prevented journeymen from setting up business in the towns. But the big thing which destroyed the position of independent workers, reducing a large proportion of them to the position of robots, was the Industrial Revolution. In the opinion of Socialists the loss of personal freedom and independence, which mass production involves, is more than compensated for by the abundance of goods produced and accruing to the individual. But it is all illusion. For with the loss of personal freedom and independence, the workers are absolutely at the mercy of the impersonal machine, and in practice are not in a position to claim their share of the fruits of industry to which in justice they are entitled. The industrial proletariat does not rebel; it is the class above it which does and it does it in the name of the proletariat. Distributists do not believe there is any solution of the economic problem as a separate and detached proposition. Though they recognize that many things in economics have a technical cause, they nevertheless in the larger sense see the economic problem as the more obtrusive symptom of an internal spiritual disease, as a consequence of the separation of men from the wholesome influences of religion, art and nature; and think that it is only when the economic problem is studied in the light of the spiritual that it is finally capable of being
understood. The modern world has been living on the spiritual capital of the Middle Ages. That capital is becoming exhausted. Hence our plight. With the decline of the spiritual, man loses control of the material. What happens in the realm of the spirit has repercussions lower down. III. Conclusion: Practical A pplications 1. Distributist Policy. Distributists do not attempt the formation of a new political party, but seek to attain their ends through the permeation of existing parties, the platform, the Press, and other organizations; though they may at times run political candidates for propaganda purposes. Distributism is a principle of universal application. It represents a viewpoint from which the various problems of society may be attacked. But the League limits its activities to those things of central and general interest which do not call for specialized knowledge. It cooperates with specialists where specialized knowledge is required. Thus the reconstruction of agriculture demands specialized knowledge which the townsman has not got. In consequence, Distributists restrict their activities to urging upon the public the necessity of reviving agriculture, to the end of making this country as self-supporting as possible as regards essential foodstuffs; while in connection with this revival it advocates the fixation of prices at a just level (standard prices), organized marketing, and the control of imports. Beyond this they do not for the present propose to go, believing it to be necessary to achieve price stability before asking to get the smallholder back on the land. Meanwhile they cooperate with the Rural Reconstruction Association which has been at work along these lines since 1925, and with astonishing success. During that time it has not only succeeded in uniting agricultural opinion in favour of its policy, but to some extent the Government, whose various marketing schemes are based upon the policy of the Association. Fixed prices have a general as well as a particular application. Distributists urge their extension over the whole of industry as the next step in industrial reconstruction. To some extent this process is already at work, for the trustification of industry is everywhere being
Distributism: A Manifesto
followed by the fixation of prices. Distributists will have to see that they are also just prices, and that they pay fixed and just wages and charge fixed and just rents, for only on that assumption will money become a common measure of value. Simultaneously with this Distributists seek to uproot the notion that money is never so usefully employed as when it is used to make more money, which interlocks with Adam Smith’s dictum that the aim of all economic activity should be the indefinite increase of wealth. This introduces us to the spiritual side of the problem, for if money is not to be used for the purpose of making more money it will either be hoarded or spent. And if it is spent it will either go in increased personal expenditure or be spent upon religion, art, or culture, which is capable of consuming money in great quantities. There is no purpose of increasing expenditure upon the arts if it is to be spent on Modernist architecture and other forms of Modernist art, for to do so is only to strengthen the forces of spiritual and social disintegration. “The introduction of a new style of music must be shunned as imperilling the whole State,” said Plato in The Republic. Whatever would he have thought was being imperilled by Modernist architecture? Surely nothing less than the order and sanity of the universe. Distributists recognize the importance of being clear about this issue. If art is to be used for the purposes of social reconstruction, as an instrument for getting machinery into subjection, and restoring the financial balance of society, as they believe it can, then it must be the right kind of art; and the right kind of art will be one which is prophetic; it will be an art which challenges the trend of the age, which is based upon tradition, on the things that are eternal in the past. It cannot be an art of surrender whose highest ambition is to reflect everything that is disorderly in the modern mind. Distributists see Modernist architecture as a process of barbarization and vulgarization that is overtaking everything. In this sense it is true that Modernist architecture is an expression of the age. But to say that Modernist architecture is an expression of the age is not to justify it. Indeed the phrase is finally meaningless, for by no possible means can anything be produced at any time which is not an expression of the age in which it is produced. All kinds of evil things are expressions of our age. But we do not feel ourselves called
upon to surrender to them. Neither should we surrender to Modernist architecture and throw overboard our common sense. The revival of the arts is certainly necessary to social salvation. But their revival will avail nothing apart from a drastic curtailment of machinery, since so long as machinery is used to increase production and displace labour it will be impossible to balance production and consumption. The commercial notion that trade revivals follow reductions in the cost of production is not true. On the contrary they follow expenditure of money. It was not reductions of costs which led to trade revivals in the past but the expenditure of capital on new plant. It was this which caused money to circulate. But it circulates just the same whether it is spent on plant, armaments, or the arts. The immediate effects are the same: it is the ultimate ones that are different. It will not be until people learn that money is never so destructively employed as when it is used to make more money. 2. Distributism and the Douglas Scheme. Some people regard the Douglas Scheme24 as a form of Distributism. But this is not so, for it does not go back to fundamentals and distribute property, but proposes to distribute purchasing power which is a very different thing. For though the distribution of purchasing power gives security, it does not restore economic freedom, which is what Distributists are after. Though at the beginning the Scheme was associated with the cause of freedom, Major Douglas himself now admits that it involves labour conscription.† Distributists regard the present condition of society as abnormal, and the distribution of property and other measures they propose have for their ultimate aim the restoration of normal conditions of life and society. But the Douglas Scheme has no such object. It does not seek to restore the social organism to a normal condition by restoring property, making money a common measure of value, and restricting the use of machinery, but seeks to stabilize the abnormal. It accepts †“For a period of five years after the initiation of this scheme, failure on the part of any individual to accept employment in whatever trade, business, or vocation he was classified in the last census, under conditions recognized as suitable to that employment (unless exempted on a medical certificate), will render such individual liable to suspension of benefit in respect to the National Dividend.” “Draft Social Credit Scheme (for Scotland),” by C. H. Douglas. New English Weekly, March 23, 1933.
Distributism: A Manifesto
the present system with all its injustices, distortions, anomalies, and servile conditions of labour – seeking only to remove what it regards as a technical obstruction to the further expansion of industry by the distribution of purchasing power which it considers necessary to equate consumption with production and prevent industry from coming to a standstill. Strange to say, the scheme was originally advanced as a business proposition which Douglas thought would be immediately acceptable to both Capital and Labour. As it set out to be a business proposition, it did not go back to fundamentals but began by taking the world as it found it. If it had gone back to fundamentals it could not have pretended to be a business proposition. The Douglas Scheme is not an attempt to solve the problem of money, which is the problem of how to bring money into a close and definite relationship with the real values it is supposed to represent, that is, to make it a common measure of value, but a device for keeping money in circulation whilst evading its more fundamental problems. As a measure of temporary economic expediency there is a great deal to be said for it, for a free distribution of purchasing power. By giving people a certain measure of economic security it would enable us to keep the old machine running until we had time to build the new one. But it is an artificial arrangement, as artificial as artificial respiration, to which it may be likened, and therefore only acceptable as a temporary arrangement. But such a qualified acceptance of the National Dividend is not acceptable to the Douglasites who regard the scheme as the foundation of a new social order. They subscribe to a Wellsian social idealism according to which our present difficulties are not to be regarded as symptoms of a deeprooted organic disease, but as maladjustments incidental to a time of transition, on the assumption that the equilibrium will eventually be reestablished at a higher level. The society to which Douglasites look forward is the Leisure State. Distributists are irreconcilably opposed to such a social ideal, believing that if translated into practice it would be the Servile State, for, as we saw, it involved labour conscription. The idea behind the Leisure State is that of exploitation of machinery to the utmost. Distributists take exception to this. The right policy, they believe, is not to seek to reduce work to a minimum by increasing the use of
machinery, but to make work more leisurely. But there is no need to take it too seriously, for the Leisure State is not a realizable ideal; it is a mirage. The trend of social and economic development is not in the direction of anything so rational, but towards a vast increase of the irrational – to social hysteria, collective insanity, gangsterism, class warfare, revolutions, national hatreds, militarism, and perhaps war and the destruction of civilization. The driving force behind all these developments is Science and Machinery, which is darkening men’s minds and hardening their hearts. It is vain to ignore these developments and take refuge in such a daydream as the Leisure State. If the worst is to be avoided it can only be because the situation is boldly faced, that we drastically curtail the use of machinery and deliberately reverse the economic tendencies that are carrying us to destruction. The belief of Douglasites in the Leisure State links the Douglas Scheme with Socialism rather than with Distributism. So also does their pathetic belief in the myth of Progress and the pseudoscientific theory of social romantics they have taken on trust without examination. One of the implications of the Douglas Scheme is that a country must be largely self-sufficient before it would work. It was because Douglas ignored this implication of his position that his followers in Alberta promised the impossible. As Alberta is anything but selfsufficient, producing only wheat for export, Social Credit touches none of its problems, which would be helped by mixed farming and the fostering of native industries – a conclusion which the Douglasites at Alberta after bitter experience have been forced to accept. Conversely a prior condition of the establishment of the Douglas Scheme in Britain is the revival of agriculture.
Notes. Canon Joseph Cardijn (1882–1967). Belgian priest, ordained in 1906, founder of the Young Christian Workers Movement, whose members became known as Jocists, from the letters “J.O.C.” of the original French title of the movement (Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne). In early life he became interested in the problems facing the working class, and decided that something had to be done. He travelled to England to study Trade Unionism, and met leading union men such as Ben Tillett and Tom Mann. The Jocist movement was founded in 1924; the Belgian bishops appointed Cardijn as its National Chaplain. When he met Pius XI in personal audience in 1925, the Pope declared: “At last someone who comes to speak about the masses. The greatest scandal of the nineteenth century was the loss of the working class to the Church.” The Jocist methodology, developed by Cardijn, was informed by a three-fold approach: “See, Judge, Act.” The method’s appeal led to the expansion of the Jocists to 62 countries. Created an Archbishop and Cardinal so that he could take part in the Second Vatican Council, Cardijn became widely known as one of the propelling forces of “Catholic Action,” of the kind promoted by Pius XI. He was thought by many, however, to have opened up the Church to penetration by the Left. 2 Arthur Cardinal Hinsley (1865–1943). English Catholic priest, ordained in 1893 and consecrated a bishop in 1926; Archbishop of Westminster from 1935 to 1943. He spent several decades as a school teacher and a rector, and served as a missionary to Africa until his appointment to Westminster. He was given the Cardinal’s hat in 1937. A noted opponent of Nazism, he set up the Catholic Institute of International Relations in 1941 to stimulate a Christian spirit of resistance to Hitlerism; the Institute still exists. His view of the world is reflected in The Bond of Peace and Other War Time Addresses, a collection of his sermons and speeches published in 1941. 3 Piers Plowman. A reference to the subject of The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman, an allegorical poem in unrhymed alliterative verse by William Langland (c1332–c1387), which is regarded as the greatest of Middle English poems prior to those of Chaucer. The poem expresses the vision of the simple Christian life, and offers Piers Plowman as the model Christian. 4 H. G. Wells (1866–1946). A leading advocate of Socialism in his day, linked for a time (until 1909) with the Fabian Society, until he became impatient with their “gradualist” approach to the inauguration of a socialist society. He remains famous for his novels, such as The Time Machine (1895), The War of the Worlds (1898), and The Invisible Man (1897). He is regarded by some as the father of modern Science Fiction. 5 Isis. In Egyptian mythology, the goddess of life and maternity, protector of women and marriage, guarantor of agricultural fertility; “mistress of the house of life.” In mythological, occult, and arcane tradition, the Veil of Isis hides a great secret or mystery. As W. Winwood Reade relates in The Veil of Isis (1861): When Isis died, she was buried in a grove near Memphis. Over her grave was raised a statue covered from head to foot with a black veil. And underneath was engraved these divine words: 1
“I am all that has been, that is, that shall be, and none among mortals has yet dared to raise my veil.” Beneath this veil are concealed all the mysteries and learning of the past. 6 Flying shuttle. A device used in weaving which was introduced by John Kay (1704–1764) in 1733. Prior to its invention, it was only possible for cloth to be woven up to a maximum of the width of a man’s body, across his arms. This was because he had to pass the shuttle backwards and forwards, from hand to hand. The Kay shuttle was put on wheels and controlled with a driver, so that not only did a wider bed become possible, but greater speed was gained also. 7 Jenny. Known as the Spinning Jenny, it was invented by an illiterate weaver, James Hargreaves (1720–1778), who claimed that one day his daughter, Jenny, knocked over the family spinning wheel. Seeing that the spindle continued to revolve, he conceived the idea that a whole line of spindles could be worked from one wheel. His new machine, which featured eight spindles, was made in 1764, though it was only patented in 1770. By the time of his death, there were over 20,000 spinning jenny machines in use in England. 8 Mule. A machine for simultaneously drawing and twisting fibre into yarn or thread and winding it into cops, which are cylindrical- or cone-shaped tubes upon which thread or yarn is stored. 9 Clive Bell (1881–1964). English art critic best known for promoting his theory of Formalism. He was an enthusiastic champion of Post-Impressionists like Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso; he was also the art critic of the New Statesman from 1933 to 1943. Part of the Bloomsbury Group, his works included Art (1914), Since Cézanne (1922), Landmarks in Nineteenth Century Painting (1927), Enjoying Pictures (1934), and Warmongers (1938). 10 Sir Henry Tate (1819–1899). Son of an Anglican clergyman who built up a small chain of grocery stores by intense work and ambition. He sold the chain in 1859, and became a partner in a sugar refining company which he took over completely in 1869, whereupon it became Henry Tate & Sons. They patented a new method of cutting sugar cubes in 1872, and were able to finance the building of the University Library in Liverpool, where Tate lived. In 1890 he left his collection of paintings to England on the condition that the government find a suitable site for the proposed gallery. The Tate Gallery thus opened in 1897 at Millbank, and featured the 65 paintings which he donated. 11 Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919). Scottish-born industrialist who set up the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh in 1865, which he sold in 1900 to J. P. Morgan for $400 million. In 1889, he wrote The Gospel of Wealth, in which he asserted that all personal wealth which went beyond one’s reasonable needs should be used for the benefit of the community. He set up, as a consequence, a series of foundations to promote philanthropic and educational projects. By the time of his death, he had given away some $350 million. 12 Maurice Denis (1870–1943). One of the original members of the Nabis group of self-styled artistic prophets, which included Pierre Bonard, Xavier Roussel, and
Edouard Vuillard. Denis, the chief theoretician of the group, wrote Manifesto of Symbolism in 1890, which became a sort of precursor to the development of Abstract Art. He also produced religious murals, devotional works, tapestries, and stained glass windows. 13 John Donne (1572–1631). A convert to Anglicanism who was the most outstanding of the English Metaphysical Poets. He was also renowned as a preacher, and was made Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1621. His main literary accomplishments are Divine Poems (1607), Anniversaries – An Anatomy of the World (1611), and Of the Progress of the Soul (1612). His apologetic prose included Biathanatos (1608) and Pseudo-Martyrs (1610). One of his most famous lines is found in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623): “...any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” The passage quoted is from Donne’s Sonnet, “Death be not Proud,” one of the Holy Sonnets, written ca. 1609. 14 Rupert Brooke (1887–1915). Described by W. B. Yeats as “the most handsome man in England,” Brooke was born into a well-to-do English academic family. His friends included a wide range of well-known personalities such as Virginia Woolf, J. M. Keynes, and E. M. Forster. He died during WWI when an infected wound was allowed to fester. His fame is based on five War Sonnets written in 1914, and which convey an enthusiasm that both soldiers and poets lost later in the war, a loss reflected in the poetry of Owen and Sassoon. Earlier poems included “Fish,” “Helen and Menelaus,” and “Heaven,” and showed an altogether different talent and temperament. 15 A reference to the book written by Jacques Thibault (1844–1924), who wrote under his now famous pen-name, Anatole France. 16 National Guilds. An English political movement of the early 20th century which advocated the establishment of nationwide industrial guilds, and which developed from the combined intellectual and political efforts of A. J. Penty, A. R. Orage, G. D. H. Cole, M. B. Reckitt, and S. G. Hobson. The self-stated aim of the National Guilds was the restoration to the workers of “control of industry.” Though it bore some relationship to the guilds which Penty and other Distributists envisioned, and though it had a general and superficial similarity with other aspects of the greater Guild Socialist movement, its aims were limited – bringing workers into partial ownership and near complete management of the respective industries in which they worked. Reckitt was the only self-styled Distributist to accept the limited aims of the National Guilds; most other Distributists felt that the concentration upon workers’ collective industrial ownership did not provide sufficient diffusion of productive property to small landholders, small craftsmen, and shopkeepers. The more thoughtful of the Distributists, such as A. J. Penty and Fr. Vincent McNabb (with Belloc and Chesterton in a more general way), felt both that the National Guilds program did not pay sufficient attention to the role of spiritual truth in sketching the path to economic restoration, and that its refusal to deal with the essential problems of industrialism, machine production, and the control of the use of money was a fatal flaw. Penty thought that this flaw stemmed from the
National Guildsmen’s notion that the desired guilds should be producing rather than regulative guilds. 17 Cf. De Regno, II, 3: “The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient.” 18 Sir Charles Fielding was also on the committee that set up the College of Science and Technology in 1906. After WWI he became a prominent writer on the problems confronting English farming in the face of food imports from outside of England. 19 Sir Alfred Daniel Hall (1864–1942). An eminent agricultural reformer of the modern school, who was Director, from 1902 to 1912, of Rothamsted Experimental Station, an agricultural experiment station founded in 1843 by John Lawes, and later Director at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, from 1926 to 1939. Also served as President Secretary of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries (ca. 1918) and was a member of the Trades Union Congress Scientific Advisory Committee. An expert on Tulips, he wrote The Tulip (1929), The Cultivator (1934), There Is no Over-Production (1934) and Reconstruction and the Land (1941). 20 Rural Reconstruction Association. A movement established in 1926 with Montague Fordham as “its moving spirit [and] Council Secretary,” according to Philip Conford’s 2002 article for Rural History (13, 2, 225–241). “The RRA’s aim,” Conford continues, “was to revive agriculture and de-centralise Britain’s population. It concentrated on introducing standard prices, standard grades of produce, regulation of imports, and efficient marketing schemes. Fordham wanted a balance between agriculture and industry, intending RRA proposals to benefit both sectors of the economy, with a prosperous rural population providing a market for industrial goods, and absorbing unemployment. The government’s tentative shift from laissez-faire to protectionism, demonstrated most notably by the 1932 Wheat Act, was a vindication of the RRA’s work, as were the major Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933.” A. J. Penty was an ardent supporter of and frequent collaborator with the RRA. 21 Richard Cobden (1804–1865). English reformer and Free Trade capitalist, whose successful crusade to repeal the protectionist Corn Laws made a lasting name for him as an advocate of liberal, unrestricted trade and commerce as the key to national and international prosperity, a position which had a close affinity to that advocated by continental liberal Frédéric Bastiat. He founded, with Archibald Prentice, the Anti-Corn Law League in Manchester, in 1838, as a successor to the London Anti-Corn Law Association founded by Joseph Hume, Francis Place, and John Roebuck in October, 1837. The industrialists and merchants of the major cities of England and the North of Ireland fully supported Cobden’s demand for repeal of protectionist laws which tended to favor aristocratic landowners to the detriment of the merchant class. Cobden’s movement was the foundation of the Manchester School of economic liberalism. 22 Adam Smith (1723–1790). Scottish political economist and philosopher whose lasting fame is due to his major work, The Wealth of Nations, written in 1776. Was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University (1752–63) and also wrote
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). A friend of the rationalist David Hume (1711–1776); in 1763 became tutor to the young duke of Buccleuch, an employment which was the motive for his lengthy visit to France (1764–1766). This visit brought him into contact with the famous “Encyclopedists,” notables (noteworthy for their irreligion, skepticism, and rationalism) of the so-called French “enlightenment.” These include D’Alembert (1717–1783), Helvétius (1715–1771), and particularly François Quesnay (1694–1774), the Physiocrat who, as one of the founders of economic liberalism, exercised such great influence over Smith’s later writings. Celebrated Catholic economist C. S. Devas remarks of him, “[his] true position...is that of the great interpreter of the Physiocrats to the English world, and the great apostle in the British Isles of economic liberalism. His particular merit is that he is so much better than the doctrines he represented.... Thus, like all great men caught in erroneous systems, he is full of inconsistency” (Political Economy, 1891, p. 553). 23 Penty is here referring to the Protestant, Enlightenment, or Rationalist conception of Natural Law, which confuses the principles of causality governing the physical and material world with the normative laws governing the actions of rational beings (i.e., moral laws), ultimately substituting the former for the latter in the operation of social and economic forces. In the final analysis the Rationalist “Natural Law” conceives of socio-economic phenomena as quasi-material, almost mathematical operations governed by their own self-contained, mechanical processes, which bear no correction by normative, moral laws. It should be evident how far removed is this conception from the true Aristotelian and Thomistic understanding of the Natural Law, which is that part of the Eternal Law of the Divine Legislator engraved upon man’s heart and written in his conscience. 24 A reference to the theory of Social Credit devised by Major Clifford Hugh Douglas (1879–1952). Douglas was a trained engineer who believed that prices had to be liberated from the cost of production by subsidies. He therefore advocated a National Dividend to provide the needed purchasing power to consumers, who would be obligated, in exchange, to work at whatever occupation they were deemed suited for. His ideal was the establishment, through the use of machine production, of the Leisure State. His main work of exposition is Economic Democracy, published in 1920. Most Distributists and many prominent Guild Socialists, such as A. J. Penty, G. R. S. Taylor, W. R. Titterton, G. C. Heseltine, G. K. Chesterton and many others, never believed in the Douglas Scheme, though a minority of Distributists, such as M. B. Reckitt, believed that it was compatible with and complementary to Distributism. For his part, Fr. Denis Fahey wrote: “Though many, including the present writer, do not agree with Major Douglas’s Social Credit scheme of reform of the monetary system, nobody questions his knowledge of the financial world.”
About the Authors The following brief and, in many cases, all-too-inadequate biographical sketches are provided for interested readers who wish to acquaint themselves, if just generally, with the lives and characters of those featured in this Volume of Distributist Perspectives from among the loosely yet organically connected group of men who made up the Distributist Movement of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. The widely varied careers, backgrounds, talents, and achievements of the men involved in the Movement are an eloquent testimony to its depth and seriousness. JOSEPH HILAIRE PIERRE BELLOC (1870–1953)
of the true lords of the English language, Belloc was not an Englishman by birth. His father was French, his mother was Irish; and when he married, his bride was an American. But he looked more like the traditional figure of John Bull than any Englishman could. He was born at La Celle, near Paris, on July 20, 1870. His father, Louis Swanton Belloc, was a well-known barrister in France. Bessie Rayner, his mother, was of Irish extraction. Belloc studied at the Oratory School at Edgebaston, England, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he matriculated in 1893. In his third year he was the Blackenbury History Scholar and an honor student in the history schools. Between the Oratory School and Oxford, Belloc served in the French Army, where as a driver in the Eighth Regiment of Artillery he was stationed at Toul. It was from this spot that, years later, he was to set forth on the pilgrimage to St. Peter’s that furnished material for The Path to Rome, the book that many critics consider his best. At Oxford Belloc became President of the debating society, the Oxford Union, and was known for his brilliance and high energy. His literary career followed his Oxford period immediately. He rapidly achieved success as a newspaper and magazine writer and as a light versifier. From then on a torrent of books, pamphlets, letters, etc., poured from his pen. It astonishes, not only in its bulk but in its diversity: French and British history, military strategy, satire, comic and serious verse, literary criticism, topography and travel, translations, religious, social, and political commentary, long-running controversies with such opponents as H. G. Wells and Dr. G. G. Coulton. His published books number one hundred and fifty-three. It is little wonder that A. P. Herbert described him as “the man who wrote a library.” In 1903 Belloc became a British subject, and in 1906 was sent to Parliament by the South Salford constituency. His maiden speech in the House early in 1906 won him an immediate reputation as a brilliant orator. The same year he was the nominee of the British Bishops to the Catholic Education Council. Belloc remained in the House of Commons until 1910, but refused to serve a ne
second term because, in his own words, he was “weary of the party system,” and thought he could attack politics better from without than from within. From that time on he devoted his entire efforts to writing and lecturing. In 1911 Belloc founded the Eye Witness, which he edited with Cecil Chesterton (1879–1918), who with Belloc wrote their rousing condemnation of Parliamentary politics, The Party System. Together they scooped the notorious Marconi scandal in England in 1912. In the same year Chesterton took over the editorship of the Eye Witness, transforming it into the New Witness and editing it until his enlistment in 1916. At that point his brother G. K. assumed the editorial role for the paper, which he renamed G.K.’s Weekly in 1925. A year after G.K. died, in 1936, Belloc was persuaded by Hilary Pepler (1878–1951) to edit what was the successor to G. K.’s Weekly, called simply the Weekly Review. As was typical, Belloc soon found the editorship tedious, and passed it on to his son-in-law, Reginald Jebb (1884–1977). Belloc was largely responsible for the conversion to the Faith of G. K. Chesterton. They went on to become numbered among England’s greatest writers and considered to be two of the most brilliant lay expounders of Catholic doctrine. The two were close friends and frequent collaborators, especially on G. K’s. Weekly, in which they waged many a valiant crusade together. Their journalistic collaboration also produced corresponding political movements, small but intense. The New Witness inspired and guided the Clean Government League, founded to unmask, combat, and eliminate government corruption. That League was also the inspiration for the later effort in 1926 to establish a New Witness League of sorts, which would take its inspiration from G. K.’s Weekly; it was this vision that flowered into the Distributist League that endured for some 13 years. During World War I Belloc wrote detailed and authoritative war commentaries, each week filling much of the journal Land and Water, which was dedicated to covering the war. The Times paid high tribute to Belloc’s amazing powers in the field, drawing attention to his article that had appeared in London Magazine over two and a half years before the start of the war, “in which he predicted, with the most extraordinary accuracy, the proceedings of the Germans at Liege as they have happened at the opening of the present war.” The Times described his prediction as “one of the most astonishingly accurate prophecies of a great war in the history of journalism.” Mr. Belloc visited the United States on many occasions. In 1937 he served as a visiting Professor of History at the Graduate School of Fordham University in New York; from these lectures came his book The Crisis of Civilization. He was decorated by Pope Pius XI with the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1934 for his services to Catholicism as a writer. In the same year Oxford conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts. Later he shared with the then British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, the distinction of being the only persons to have their portraits hung in the National Portrait Gallery while they were alive. Just four days before his eighty-third birthday, while dozing before the fireplace in his daughter’s home, he fell into the flames and was so badly burned that he
died soon afterward in a hospital at Guildford, Surrey, on July 16, 1953. Because of his antagonism to many British sacred cows and his free and caustic criticism of them, he was not a wholly popular man in England. Nor did his espousal of the Nationalist cause against the Communists during the Spanish civil war add to his popularity there. His refusal to tone down his views, and his contempt for the political, literary, and social establishments of the day, militated against recognition of him as a major writer and thinker. Neither was he helped by the range of his work; critics like to pigeon-hole a writer as poet, historian, playwright, or novelist, and they could not cope with his diversity, huge output, and overwhelming ebullience. They resented him. Even today, that fear and resentment is to be seen in the dismissive little articles and reviews, and the obsession with his alleged “fascism” which stems from his willingness to speak the truth as he saw it on topics which today are “untouchable.” But slowly the truth is emerging that Hilaire Belloc is among the great writers of English prose and that the best of his verse is of equally high quality. More importantly, he was a thinker of power, significance and – how rare these days – integrity. Where are the people today who would sacrifice the material rewards of public life and office as did Belloc when he demanded, in Parliament in 1908 and repeatedly thereafter, that the funds of political parties should be subject to audit? Contrary to the lack of recognition which he received in some quarters during his lifetime, and despite his own prediction to the contrary, his place in English letters is secure. GEORGE MAXWELL (1890–1957)
Maxwell was a Catholic layman and Third Order Dominican who was very knowledgeable in Thomistic theology. He was induced to join the Ditchling community in 1922 by Fr. Vincent McNabb. Maxwell was a handy man, skilled as a carpenter, wheelwright, and loom-builder. When he came to Ditchling, he became a member of the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic, established by Eric Gill and Hilary Pepler, and built the carpenter’s shop, which provided furniture and other objects for the community. During the 1930s he built his first loom, and in the aftermath of WWII he expanded this craft immensely, supplying art schools and workshops throughout England with looms. A good friend of Harold Robbins, whom he had known since 1919, he lived the Distributist ideal, working in his company while managing the land and livestock on his smallholding. He died in 1957, leaving his son, John, to continue the shop. eorge
GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON (1874–1936)
London, Chesterton was educated at St. Paul’s and studied for a time at both University College and the Slade School. A fellow-student whose family controlled the publishing firm of Hodder & Stoughton gave him some art books to review in the firm’s monthly, The Bookman. During this period Chesterton formed friendships (that were to last a lifetime) with the future orn in
writer Edmund C. Bentley and with Lucian Oldershaw, which latter individual introduced, in 1900, the twenty-six-year old Gilbert to the thirty-year-old Belloc. The reciprocal influence and friendship of Belloc and G.K.C. lasted a lifetime. In 1899 Gilbert began writing for The Speaker, a Liberal weekly. His first book, a volume of comic verse which he also illustrated, Greybeards at Play, was successfully published in 1900; later that year, his father financed publication of his second book, The Wild Knight and Other Poems. But it was his brilliant though unpopular pro-Boer stand on the Boer War which first brought him to public attention, and by 1901 he also was writing regularly for The Daily News. From this time on there was an almost constant stream of lecture engagements far and wide and to almost every type of organization – religious, literary, social, and even political. (Later of these engagements included speaking tours to Palestine – which became a determining factor in his conversion – in 1919, to Italy in 1920, which included an interview with Mussolini and an audience with the Holy Father, and to the United States in 1921–22 and again in 1930–31.) And from this beginning he went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote a hundred books, contributions to two hundred others, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, five plays, five novels, and some two hundred short stories, including a popular series featuring the priest-detective, Father Brown. At one time he had thirty books contracted for with various publishers. In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years worth of weekly columns for the Daily News. 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 throwaway papers. This man who composed such profound and perfect lines as “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried,” stood 6’4” and weighed about 300 pounds, usually had a cigar in his mouth, and walked around wearing a cape and a crumpled hat, tiny glasses pinched to the end of his nose, swordstick in hand, laughter blowing through his moustache. And he usually had no idea where or when his next appointment was. This absent-minded, overgrown elf of a man, who laughed at his own jokes and amused children at birthday parties by catching buns in his mouth, was the man who wrote a book called The Everlasting Man, which led a young atheist named C.S. Lewis to become a Christian. This was the man who wrote a novel called The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which inspired Michael Collins to lead a movement for Irish Independence. This was the man who wrote an essay in the Illustrated London News that inspired Mohandas Gandhi to lead a movement to end British colonial rule in India. This was the man who, when commissioned to write a book on St. Thomas Aquinas, had his secretary check out a stack of books on the Saint from the library, opened the top book on the stack, thumbed
through it, closed it, and proceeded to dictate a book on St. Thomas. But not just any book. The renowned Thomistic scholar, Ettienne Gilson, had this to say about it: “I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement.” And the Master General of the Dominican Order, Pere Gillet, O.P., lectured on and from it to large meetings of Dominicans. His interest in politics, which he had had from boyhood, grew over time. He began by fighting the sale of peerages as a means of secretly raising party funds, and continued blasting every other form of political corruption. Of necessity this interest included social reform, public education, a free press, etc. He resigned from the Liberal-owned Daily News (a property of the Cadbury of Cadbury’s Chocolate) to write for the Daily Herald. With his brother Cecil and Belloc, reacting against what they believed wrong with the English social-economic condition, they formulated their own program: Distributism. One of their principal points of controversy was over private ownership, chiefly ownership of the land, which was tragically curtailed by the English law of enclosure by which some five million acres ceased in effect to be the common property of the poor and became the private property of the rich. In books and articles they carried on their fight for the liberty of Englishmen against increasing enslavement to a plutocracy, and to expose and combat corruption in public life. In support of this cause Chesterton contributed to the paper which was for many years, though under different names, effectively their common patrimony: The Eye Witness (1911–12), The New Witness (1912–23), which Chesterton edited from 1916 on, and G.K.’s Weekly (1925–36), which he edited until his death. The time between the death of The New Witness in 1923 – a year after his conversion to Catholicism – and the birth of G.K.’s Weekly in 1925, gave him sufficient leisure to write two of his most important books: St. Francis of Assisi (1923) and The Everlasting Man (1925). But to the paper which he took over following his brother Cecil’s enlistment and untimely death, and which enshrined Cecil’s memory though it now bore his own initials, Chesterton devoted a tremendous amount of his time as editor from 1925 to 1930. Most of those who knew him regarded it as a sacrifice. Besides Belloc and himself, a steady contributor was Eric Gill; out of friendship for Gilbert, Shaw and Wells contributed occasionally. In 1926 the social and economic program of the paper became incarnate in the Distributist League, of which Gilbert was elected president, and the “simple idea” of which, according to G.K.C., ‘‘was to restore possession.” Branches were soon established throughout England and the circulation of its organ, G.K.’s Weekly, rose from 4,650 to 8,000 copies. The influence of the movement far exceeded its numbers; men like Father McNabb, O.P., in England (who was instrumental in helping to formulate its doctrine), Msgr. Ligutti in the United States, Dr. Coady and Dr. Tompkins in Canada, as well as others in Australia and New Zealand, acknowledged its influence upon their labors. From 1932 until his death, Chesterton engaged increasingly in radio lectures, delivering as many as forty a year over the B.B.C. These talks were so well
received that a B.B.C. official remarked after his death that “G.K.C. in another year or so would have become the dominating voice from Broadcasting House.” Chesterton debated many of the celebrated intellectuals of his time: George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Clarence Darrow. According to contemporary accounts, Chesterton usually emerged as the winner of these contests, though the world has immortalized his opponents and forgotten Chesterton, and now we hear only one side of the argument, as we endure the legacies of socialism, relativism, materialism, and skepticism. Ironically, all of his opponents regarded Chesterton with the greatest affection, with George Bernard Shaw saying: “The world is not thankful enough for Chesterton.” His writing has been praised by an incredible number of well-known figures, including Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karel Capek, Marshall McLuhan, Paul Claudel, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Sigrid Undset, Ronald Knox, Kingsley Amis, W.H. Auden, Anthony Burgess, E. F. Schumacher, Neil Gaiman, and Orson Welles. In 1934 he was elected, honoris causa, to the Athenaeum Club. He was invested as Papal Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory with Star. At his death in 1936 the Holy See cabled Cardinal Hinsley: “Holy Father deeply grieved death Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton devoted son of Holy Church gifted Defender of the Catholic Faith. His Holiness offers paternal sympathy people of England, assures prayers dear departed, bestows Apostolic Benediction.” His monument was designed by Eric Gill, and he was buried at Beaconsfield. T.S. Eliot said that Chesterton “deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.” CAPTAIN HERBERT WILLIAM SHOVE
World War I, LCdr. Herbert Shove commanded the Royal Navy Submarines C-2 (1915–1916) and E-29 (1915–1922), during which latter period he was received into the Catholic Church by a Dominican Naval Chaplain; he was called up again during World War II for service organizing the defenses of the Port of London, and was promoted to Captain. He was later transferred to the Gold Coast where he suffered severely from the climate, such that he had to return to England where, shortly thereafter, he died. He won both the Distinguished Service Order and the Order of the British Empire. During the inter-war years, he lived at Hallett’s Farm at Ditchling, where he worked alongside the others in the village community of craftsmen and artisans; he was especially well-known for his “illicit still”! Somewhat of an ideal Distributist, Shove was considered an authority on such varied arts as silversmithing, beekeeping, farming, and distilling. He devoted much of his mental energy to economic theory, the best expression of which can be found in his excellent book on the history of trade and manufacturing, The Fairy Ring of Commerce, which was published in 1930 by the Birmingham Branch of the Distributist League. He also served as the Secretary of the South of England Catholic Land Association, and Chairman of the MidSussex Branch of the Distributist League. Fr. Brocard Sewell said that because of his beard Shove looked very much like William Morris. uring
Distributist Perspectives HAROLD ROBBINS (b. 1888)
Robbins was involved in the Distributist movement from his earliest years. He was attached to the “New Witness League” in Birmingham from 1918 to 1921, and was the Chairman of the Birmingham Branch of the Distributist League from 1926 to 1933. He was chiefly instrumental in founding, with Mgr. Dey, the Midlands Catholic Land Association, and was its Honorary Secretary during the years that it was active, 1931 to 1936. He also edited the journal of the English Catholic Land Associations, The Cross and the Plough, from 1934 to 1946. During the relevant period, he was also a contributor to G.K.’s Weekly. He co-authored with K. L. Kenrick what came to be known as “the Birmingham Scheme,” a pamphlet entitled Unemployment: A Distributist Solution; his friendship with Kenrick spanned many years. In 1946 he wrote a short biography of GKC dedicated to Kenrick and entitled The Last of the Realists, though it was not published until 1948, and then only serialized in the Cross and Plow because of wartime restrictions on paper. Robbins wrote extensively; his better-known works are The Sun of Justice: An Essay on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church, published in 1934 by Heath Cranton, Ltd., of London, and An Examination of Eugenics, published by Burns, Oates and Washbourne, Ltd., of London, in 1930. The American Distributist Dorothy Day (1897–1980) noted in a 1954 issue of her paper, The Catholic Worker, that The Sun of Justice “contains the best thinking ever done on Distributism.” arold
ARTHUR ERIC ROWTON GILL (1882–1940)
Gill was an engraver, sculptor, typographer, and writer. He was trained as an architect in London and also took classes in writing and illumination at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Inspired by well-known calligrapher Edward Johnston, who was himself an admirer of William Morris and later a member of the Ditchling community, Gill acquired a passion for lettering that remained with him for life. His professional career thus began with carving letterforms in stone for numerous tombstones and memorials in and around London. This work further led to a series of stone sculptures exhibited in galleries, as well as others executed for the BBC Headquarters (such as Prospero and Ariel), the London Underground, numerous churches, and various war memorials, among which is the WWI memorial at the University of Leeds which depicts a powerful Christ driving modern-day money lenders from the Temple. He also produced the magnificent Stations of the Cross that are still to be seen in Westminster Cathedral in London, and designed St. Peter the Apostle (Catholic) Church, located in Gorleston-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth. As a type designer Gill produced Perpetua and the companion italic Felicity (1925), Gill Sans (1927), and Joanna (1930), the latter named after his daughter. The majority of his type designs were done for Monotype Typography, a company still in existence. In 1931 Gill produced his influential Essay on Typography. ric
As an engraver and illustrator, much of Gill’s notable work was produced for the Golden Cockerel Press, established in 1920 and owned and directed from 1924 to 1933 by engraver Robert Gibbings. The Press was one of the most renowned English private presses of the early 20th century, and its books served as outlets for the wood engravings of numerous well-known engravers, including Gill, Gibbings, David Jones, and John Buckland Wright. The most famous work to result from the Gibbings-Gill collaboration is the 1931 book, The Four Gospels. Along with Gibbings, Gill was a founding member of the Society of Wood Engravers, which was formed in 1920. Among the many engravings and illustrations that he produced are The Song of Songs (1925), The Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ (1926), and Troilus and Criseyde (1927). He also produced numerous wood engravings for bookplates and posters. Gill was also the founder (with Hilary Pepler) in 1921 of the Guild of Saint Joseph and Saint Dominic at Ditchling, a village in Sussex, England, where Gill lived from 1907 to 1924. His apprentice Joseph Cribb went with him to Ditchling; fellow craftsmen and their families followed later on, including Edward Johnston (1912) and Hilary Pepler (1915), and their families. Another early member of the Guild was the painter and poet David Jones. Some consider Pepler’s Saint Dominic’s Press to have been in some respects the heart of the Guild. Even after Gill left Ditchling for Pigott’s farm, he continued to train pupils and assistants, and his legacy inspired a generation of stone carvers and letter cutters. His apprentice remained at Ditchling, taking over the stone carver’s workshop, and the Guild numbered among its members in the 1920s craftsmen such as carpenter George Maxwell, weavers Valentine KilBride and Bernard Brocklehurst, and wood-engraver Philip Hagreen. In 1932 the silversmith Dunstan Pruden (who taught Cdr. Herbert Shove the trade) joined, followed by artist and engraver Edgar Holloway. The affairs of the Guild were not wound up until 1989. As a thinker, social critic, and art philosopher, Gill expressed the life that he had attempted to lead at Ditchling and thereafter. His ideas on art and philosophy were influenced by the work of French Thomist Jacques Maritain, whose work The Philosophy of Art was published by Gill in 1923 as the first-ever translation of Maritain in England. Gill’s works of philosophy and social criticism include Art and Love (1927), Art and Prudence (1928), Art and Manufacture (1929), Clothes (1931), Money and Morals (1934), Beauty Looks After Itself (1935), Work and Leisure (1935), Work and Property (1937), Christianity and the Machine Age (1940), and It All Goes Together (1944). His faithfulness to the Catholic social vision is best illustrated by noting a remark that Pope Pius XII made when he happened upon one of Gill’s books: “This man has understood our encyclicals.” Gill was a remarkable man, himself a convert to the Catholic Faith in 1913, who combined theoretical erudition with manual dexterity to a high degree, thereby influencing an enormous range of people that included Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Not a few of his contemporaries considered him to be remarkable for his holiness; Fr. Brocard Sewell, the English Carmelite, in fact remarked of him that “he represents my ideal of the holy man.... [For] the saint...is the man who loves God and his neighbor with all his heart, and Eric did that to a degree I have seldom encountered.”
Distributist Perspectives HAROLD JOHN MASSINGHAM (1888–1952)
of the well-known newspaper editor, H. W. Massingham (1860–1924), H. J. was a journalist, author, and one of England’s leading natural historians and ruralists. During a rich life of activity, he contributed to papers such as The Field, The Spectator, Country Life, The New Age, The Adelphi, The New English Review, and The Weekly Review. In addition, he wrote some 40 books which covered the cultural, agricultural, and religious patrimony of England and made him the “Englishman’s Englishman.” Beginning his career as an agnostic, he eventually came to affiliate with the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, probably under the influence of Philip Mairet and Maurice Reckitt. This move towards a specifically Christian view of life and society became evermore accentuated in his later writings, and eventually led to his conversion to Catholicism ca. 1940. A declared Distributist, he was involved in a number of bodies which propounded his view of the world: the Right Book Club, founded by Captain Jock Ramsey, MP; the Council for Church and Countryside; and the Soil Association, of which he was a Founding Member. He was also heavily involved in the Kinship in Husbandry group, which was active from 1941 to 1950, and was composed of agriculturalists and writers who together attempted to both formulate and propagate a vision of organic farming and a philosophy of husbandry. Its first clerk was Lord Northbourne, the author of Look to the Land; other members included the poet Edmund Blunden, the journalist Philip Mairet, the soil expert Sir Alfred Howard, the nutritionist Sir Robert McCarrison, and the historian Arthur Bryant. Apart from his autobiography, Remembrance, written in 1941, Massingham’s important works include A Treasury of Seventeenth Century English Verse (1919), Cotswold Country (1937), Rural England (1939), The Tree of Life (1943), Wisdom of the Fields (1945), Where Man Belongs (1946), and Faith of a Fieldsman (1951). His leadership of the field in which he labored is illustrated by his having edited several volumes of essays, such as England and the Farmer (1941) and The Natural Order (1945), which included contributions from important figures such as Viscount Lymington and Sir Albert Howard. The significance of Massingham’s love for English agriculture and its fine traditions of husbandry and craftsmanship are happily becoming more and more appreciated. Dr. Hilda Kean of Ruskin College at the University of Oxford has referred to Massingham as “the forerunner of the modern ecological movement, who looked to organic farming and the benign treatment of animals to create a new way of life.” And Richard Moore-Colyer, a leading researcher of English Ruralism and Professor at the Rural Studies Institute of the University of Wales, wrote recently that on
taken overall, the Massingham œuvre is characterised by a profound sincerity, a deep love of England and Englishness, and an omnipresent fear that the traditions which lay at the root of all he believed to be good about the English
were under threat from a mechanistic economo-centric world in which the individual played but a minor role. Lyrical in description and pungent in criticism, Massingham’s writing is refreshingly free of pedantry; the considerable learning is worn lightly and he manages to enthuse profusely without resorting to overindulgence. At his best he bears comparison with the very finest ruralist writers, and in the literary celebration of the English countryside and its culture he probably has no twentieth-century rival. As a polemicist, meanwhile, he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Cobbett (many of whose ideals he shared) although as a mild-tempered and gentle man he was entirely without the former’s trenchancy and bombast.
ARTHUR J. PENTY (1870–1937)
Penty was born in York, in England, in 1875. His first practical and professional experience was in his father’s drawing office, and by 1902 his skill as an architect was rather widely acknowledged; his work received public commendation and was the subject of at least one work published in Germany. Intellectually Penty’s development was marked initially by association with the Fabian Society in London, whose members, including Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Philip Snowden and George Bernard Shaw, advocated a moderate form of State Socialism. Though routinely referring to himself as a Socialist, he was a vigorous opponent of bureaucracy, centralization, and collectivism; as Fr. Kiernan noted in his 1941 thesis on Penty for the Catholic University, “in those days [‘Socialism’] had a rather loose significance, and anyone who was not in agreement with the prevailing social and economic philosophy was liable to term himself or be called a Socialist.” Penty’s association with the Fabians broke in 1916, by which time his vision had been further formed by thinkers such as John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, and William Morris, who looked to the Middle Ages as the quintessential example of a period in which sound principles governed society, and which principles could be applied to remedy modern social ills. As a result of his acquaintance with A. R. Orage, a onetime fellow Fabian, and part owner of the weekly newspaper The New Age, Penty became involved with various thinkers like Orage who were questioning – from various perspectives – the industrial and wage-earning nature of the modern economy; these included the Distributist thinkers Chesterton and Belloc, who were also working out their own theory in the pages of The New Age, among other places. Penty’s thought developed greatly during the period of his association with the paper, and he began to concentrate upon two problems which he thought fundamental to the economic ills of society: the unrestricted use of machinery, and the unrestricted use of money. Both problems, he believed, could be addressed by the formation of Guilds modeled – but in updated form – upon their medieval predecessors. From then on Penty was the champion and chief spokesman of the Guild System, and became the most profound thinker of the Distributist and related Guild movements. Penty’s thought was also significant in that it reacted upon
other thinkers such as A. R. Orage, G. D. H. Cole, M. B. Reckitt, and S. G. Hobson to produce the movement known as Guild Socialism. This latter was, again according to Fr. Kiernan (paraphrasing H. G. Wells), “the result of the impact of guilds and Mr. Penty on the uneasy conscience of Mr. Orage.” Penty expressed and defended his vision in numerous different forums. His published works on the economic question include The Restoration of the Gild System (1906), Old Worlds for New (1917), Guilds and the Social Crisis (1919), A Guildsman’s Interpretation of History (1920), Guilds, Trade and Agriculture (1921), Post Industrialism (1922), Towards a Christian Sociology (1923), Agriculture and the Unemployed (1925), Protection and the Social Problem (1926), Means and Ends (1932), Communism and the Alternative (1933), Tradition and Modernism in Politics (1937), and Distributism: A Manifesto (1937). Of these titles several were translated variously into German, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese. His works received considerable attention in his day, being reviewed by organs of the Catholic, Anglican, and secular press with remarkable regularity. His articles appeared in various journals such as The New Age, The New Witness, New Standards, G. K.’s Weekly, The American Review, The Criterion, The Daily News, the Daily Herald, A Journal of Workers’ Control, The Church Socialist, The Crusader, The Guildsman, The Guild Socialist, the Architect’s Journal, and the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. He was a member of various organizations advocating the Guild System and/or a moral and spiritual solution to the economic problem, such as (for a time) the Fabian Society, the Church Socialist League, the Crusader League, and the Rural Reconstruction Association (which he helped to found); he also served as President of the Architects’ and Surveyors’ Assistants’ Professional Union. Though he attended the first meeting of the Distributist League in 1926, he did not consider himself to be a “Distributist” until much later, after he became confident that the Distributist commitment to private property was not an absolute one, according to the laissez-faire mentality, but a relative one, which recognized both rights and duties of ownership, and which saw property ownership not as an end in itself but as a means to higher goods proper to men and facilitated by their ownership of property. In spite of his brief journalistic exchange with “card-carrying” Distributists in the pages of G. K.’s Weekly in 1926, after which he concluded that he was not a Distributist, he wrote in 1933 to Fr. Witcutt affirming his commitment to Distributism, but insisting characteristically upon the need to tackle the machine question for it to be successful. That the Distributists were willing to consider – if not embrace – his perspective on machine production is demonstrated by the fact that his Manifesto, which includes his own perspective on the issue, was accepted and published unedited by the League in 1937. Its willingness to do so illustrates the profound contribution that Penty made to the content of Distributist thought.
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