Saturday, April 18, 2015

Houellebecq defines distributism well

Convergence, what Jung might call "synchronicity," is what I experienced this morning reading a post by Pater Edmund, who composes what, at least in my estimation, is a very good Catholic blog, Sancrucensis. The convergence that struck me was reading this post after posting about the Republican effort to abolish the estate tax for wealthy people.

The post is Pater Edmund's provisonal "take" on Michel Houellebecq's latest novel Soumission, which is currently being translated into English. His "take" is specifically on on Houellebecq's invocation of the economics of distributism, sometimes called "distributivism," in an imagined French government led by an Islamist, Mohammed Ben Abbes.

Houellebecq describes "distributivism" very well, indeed (thank you to Pater Edmund for his English translation):
an economic philosophy that had been developed in England at the start of the 20th century by thinkers such as Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. It wanted to take a ‘third way’ between captialism and communism (which it understood as state capitalism). It’s basic idea was the overcoming of the division between capital and labor. The normal form of economic life was to be the family business. If certain branches of production required large scale organization, then everything was to be done to ensure that the workers were co-owners of their company, and co-responsible for its management. […] An essential element of political philosophy introduced by Chesterton and Belloc was the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, no association (whether social, economic or political) should have charge of a function that could be assigned to a smaller association. Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, provided a definition of this principle: "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do"


In my view, it is precisely this principle of subsidiarity, which requires solidarity (i.e., people working together in pursuit of the common good- it is not libertarian), a far cry from individualism, that we have lost and would do well to retrieve. It is not an overstatement to note that from the beginning of modern Catholic social teaching, which is usually said to begin with Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, to Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, distributism, which maintains the connection between and balancing effects of solidarity and subsidiarity, is the method espoused.

Being organized into parishes ought to help us in such a retrieval. What I have in mind here is something along the lines of what my friend, one of the best young Catholic thinkers writing today, Artur Rosman, suggested last fall in his post "Synod14: The Church Needs to Replace the Family." Don't be put off by the provocative title. His proposal is not for radical social engineering, but sets forth a concrete proposal for how the Church might respond to the very real needs of our time and place, while fostering koinonia.

I don't mind saying, unapologetically, that I am a distributist. I believe today it is possible to do very many things, from electrical power generation to food production and distribution, along distributist lines. Don't only buy locally, but produce locally as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment